Archive for October, 2015

“Supplying Every Need,” Day 6: The gifts you give when you’re in love

October 31, 2015

cover_graphic3I recently created a 14-day devotional booklet for my church called “Supplying Every Need.” We’re using it to prepare for our upcoming Stewardship Commitment Sunday on November 8. I will be posting a devotional each day between now and then. Enjoy!

Scripture: Matthew 13:44-45

We’re fast approaching Thanksgiving, which means the start of the Christmas shopping season. Among other things, this means the return of those sappy jewelry store commercials that show a husband surprising his wife with an expensive necklace or earrings. Or a husband surprising his wife with a new car in the driveway—with a big red bow wrapped around it.

The message is simple: If you really love your husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend, you’ll spend a lot of money on them without giving it a second thought!

And you know what? These commercials may be on to something.

When you’re in love, after all, you don’t ask, “How much do I have to spend on this person I love?” Rather, you ask, “How much do I get to spend—how much can I afford to spend—because what I want to spend isn’t enough. If I had more, I’d spend more—because this person is worth it to me.”

Why wouldn’t this be true of the money we give to the Lord through church? Financial stewardship is the most tangible and practical way that we show the Lord how much we love him.

Think of an extravagant gift that you bought for someone you loved. How did it make you feel to give it to him or her? Pray the the Lord would give you the same sense of joy about giving through church.

“Supplying Every Need,” Day 5: It’s a cat’s life

October 30, 2015

cover_graphic3I recently created a 14-day devotional booklet for my church called “Supplying Every Need.” We’re using it to prepare for our upcoming Stewardship Commitment Sunday on November 8. I will be posting a devotional each day between now and then. Enjoy!

Scripture: Matthew 6:25-34

Our cat, Peanut, is the very picture of contentment. Obviously a creature that sleeps 18 hours a day doesn’t worry about much. He doesn’t worry, for example, where his next meal is coming from. When his food bowl is empty, he’s learned through experience that all he has to do is meow and purr loudly and rub up against the leg of some human being in the house and one of us will fill his bowl.

Our cat, Peanut, obviously doesn't worry about much.

Our cat, Peanut, obviously doesn’t worry about much.

Peanut is being exactly what God created him to be. He doesn’t worry; he isn’t anxious. Instead he lives in a relationship of complete dependence on us humans—day by day—never doubting for a moment that we’ll provide everything he requires to live.

This is Jesus’ point about the birds of the air: it’s not that they don’t work. As Dallas Willard points out, “They are among the busiest citizens of the earth.” They work hard, “but our feathered friends do not seem to worry about the physical supports of their life, such as food and water and shelter. They simply seek it as they need it and take what they find. And that is how we should be. Having our treasures in heaven frees us to live simply in the present so far as our vital needs are concerned. We work hard, of course, and we care for our loved ones. But we do not worry—not even about them. Having food and clothing and God, we can be content.”[1]

Jesus used birds and flowers to make his point about not worrying. What can a cat or dog teach you about it? As you go through your day today, make note of how frequently you start to worry. Whenever you feel worry coming on, use it as a cue to pray: “God, please handle this thing that I’m worried about. I’m putting it in your hands.”

1. Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (New York: HarperOne, 1997), 209-10.

What our lives are “supposed” to be

October 30, 2015

Today I was reading a book by a megachurch pastor on the subject of financial stewardship. Our church, as you probably know from recent blog posts, is currently in the midst of our annual stewardship campaign. Let me preface these words by saying that there was nothing wrong with anything this pastor said. He aimed to inspire us to be more generous.

To that end, he gave many examples from the church that he pastored. By all measures he (or his church) was incredibly successful: the size of the church’s budget, the size of his congregations spread across multiple campuses, the extent of the church’s generosity. And, yes, even his personal anecdotes about learning to trust in the Lord more and more with his money were impressive, if not intimidating.

And as I was reading his words, I wanted to throw the book across the room.

Why? Because I felt judged by it. This deeply critical inner voice within me said, “If you were more like him, you would…” And here I could finish this sentence by inserting any number of personal dreams or aspirations. If I were more like him, I wouldn’t have the problems that I have.

Aside from breaking the tenth commandment, this barely conscious thought is wrong in other ways. First, if I were more like him, I wouldn’t be me, and God, for whatever reason, wants me to be Brent White. Second, I have no idea what kinds of problems this pastor has—only I can be sure that he has them. It just so happens that this book isn’t about his problems. So I’m falling into that spiritually deadly trap of “comparing his outsides to my insides,” which I’ve preached against.

Finally, do I believe in God’s sovereignty or don’t I? I talk a lot—I blog a lot—about how God is in charge, about how God’s plans are better than my own plans, about how “everything happens for a reason,” but let’s face it: I often fail to live as if I believe it. Instead, I have a pretty definite idea of the course that my life should take, and I don’t want anyone, God included, to mess with it.

In fact, so much of my unhappiness in life is related to unmet expectations. A while back I referred in a sermon to an interview with actor Michael J. Fox, whose life and career have been dramatically altered by Parkinson’s. Fox said the following:

michael_j_fox

Yes! This is exactly right! Usually, if not always, it isn’t what happens to me that causes suffering; it’s that what happens to me isn’t what I planned, wanted, or expected.

But I’m a Christian. I follow a Savior who tells me to take up my instrument of torture and death and follow him. Jesus doesn’t seem terribly interested in my plans, my desires, or my expectations. Not because he doesn’t care, but because he doeshe knows what I need better than I do!

My point is, I bring so much suffering on myself through how I respond to external events. It’s not the event itself!

By contrast, the Bible gives us the example of the apostle Paul: languishing in prison, afflicted, facing execution, ruminating on everything that—from a worldly perspective—has gone badly wrong with his life. Yet in the midst of a life that hasn’t gone according to his plans, he can say things like, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Or “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” Or “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.”

O God, I want to be like that!

But I think I’m making progress: for example, I’m encouraged that I now recognize that there’s something wrong with my desire to throw the successful pastor’s book across the room!

In her book Self-Compassion, Kristin Neff writes about the “hidden assumption” that “colors our emotional reactions”: that our life is “supposed” to go a certain way. I’ll leave you with these words. Maybe you’ll benefit from them, as well.

And even when we’re having a painful experience that is not our fault—perhaps we’ve been laid off our job because of an economic downturn, for instance—we often irrationally feel that the rest of the world is happily employed while it’s only me sitting at home watching reruns all day. Or when we become ill, it feels like sickness is an unusual, abnormal state (like the dying eight-four-year old man whose final words were “why me?”). Once we fall into the trap of believing that things are “supposed” to go well, we tend to think something has gone terribly amiss when they suddenly don’t. Again, this isn’t a conscious thought process but a hidden assumption that colors our emotional reactions. If we were to take a completely logical approach to the issue, we’d consider the fact that thousands of things can go wrong in life at any one time, so it’s highly likely—in fact inevitable—that we’ll experience hardships on a  regular basis. But we don’t tend to be rational about these matters. Instead, we suffer, and we feel all alone in our suffering.[1]

1. Kristin Neff, Self-Compassion (New York: HarperCollins, 2011), 63.

“Supplying Every Need,” Day 4: Our pockets are always empty before God

October 29, 2015

cover_graphic3I recently created a 14-day devotional booklet for my church called “Supplying Every Need.” We’re using it to prepare for our upcoming Stewardship Commitment Sunday on November 8. I will be posting a devotional each day between now and then. Enjoy!

Warren Buffett is the world’s second-richest man. Several years ago, he announced that he would donate 85 percent of his $44 billion fortune to five charitable foundations. When asked to comment on this extreme act of generosity, he said, “There is more than one way to get to heaven, but this is a great way.”

This statement is wrong on many levels. First, it’s wrong because there’s only one way to get to heaven, as Jesus makes clear in John 14:6 when he says that he’s the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through him. And he’s wrong when he says that doing good things like giving away most of your fortune will get you into heaven. We can do nothing to earn God’s gifts of forgiveness and eternal life. Even $44 billion can’t pay for it. It’s all grace.

This is why, I think, Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God belongs to little children, and unless we become like them we’ll never inherit it: Children depend completely on their parents for survival. Everything they receive is a gift, not a “payment for services rendered.”

The Warren Buffetts of the world imagine that they have to pay for everything, and their generosity comes from their own pockets. A child’s pockets, by contrast, are always empty. They know they have nothing in and of themselves. What they do have comes from their parents.

And this is the secret to generosity toward God: We know that whatever we give comes from our heavenly Father. And we give generously, the way the Lord wants us to, because we know that there’s more where that came from.

Think of ways that children trust in their parents. What can children teach you about trusting in our heavenly Father?

What’s right with “everything happens for a reason”?

October 28, 2015

This blog post, “Everything Doesn’t Happen for a Reason,” is making the social media rounds this week. The blogger, Tim Lawrence, is only the latest to attack the oft-repeated aphorism “everything happens for a reason.” Like a good politician, I’ve been both against it and for it—not the expression itself (which, like all platitudes, should be used sparingly if ever) but the meaning underneath it. Do you remember when I attacked Laura Story’s song “Blessings” before deciding, a year later, that it was profoundly good?

Isn’t that funny? What can I say? I’m a work in progress.

Regardless, with proper qualification, I now endorse the belief that “everything happens for a reason.” I believe it’s an inescapable consequence of God’s sovereignty, it accords perfectly well with the witness of scripture, and, personally, I find it immensely comforting, as I’ve blogged and preached several times before (including here). For my fellow Christians, I always recommend three books on the topic: C.S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain, Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, and Timothy Keller’s recent masterpiece, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering.

If you want to know why I changed my mind on the subject, start with those three books. They blew me away. They exposed how shallow my thinking on the subject of suffering and God’s providence and sovereignty had been.

Would they make any sense to someone who isn’t already a Christian? I don’t know. (Frankl was a Jewish survivor of Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz. His is a “secular,” non-sectarian book, but, in my opinion, it’s premised upon a God who must be there to give meaning to our suffering.)

With that in mind, I don’t know if Lawrence is a Christian, or even a religious person. He uses the language of blessing, as you see below, which is religious language. I read in his bio that he suffers from cerebral palsy and epilepsy. His blog aims to encourage people who are experiencing pain and suffering.

He writes:

I now live an extraordinary life. I’ve been deeply blessed by the opportunities I’ve had and the radically unconventional life I’ve built for myself. Yet even with that said, I’m hardly being facetious when I say that loss has not in and of itself made me a better person. In fact, in many ways it’s hardened me.

His own loss, he says, has not in and of itself made him a better person.

That seems right, as far as it goes: No loss, no suffering, no pain, in and of themselves, can make us better people. As Frankl observed from his experience in the death camps, the suffering that his fellow inmates endured often did destroy their souls. But—and here’s the key point—he didn’t believe that even the most intense amount of suffering necessarily would. As he writes:

Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate…

Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food and various mental stresses may suggest the inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him—mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp. Dostoevski said once, “There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.” These words frequently came to my mind after I became acquainted with those martyrs whose behavior in camp, whose suffering and death, bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom cannot be lost. It can be said that they were worthy of their sufferings; the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom—which cannot be taken away—that makes life meaningful and purposeful.[1]

Lawrence, by contrast, is unwilling to put the responsibility of that decision on the person who is suffering. Ever. He’s indignant at the suggestion:

Let me be crystal clear: if you’ve faced a tragedy and someone tells you in any way, shape or form that your tragedy was meant to be, that it happened for a reason, that it will make you a better person, or that taking responsibility for it will fix it, you have every right to remove them from your life.

While I sympathize, one consequence of Lawrence’s thinking is that the suffering person can only ever be a victim, or, as Frankl puts it, a “plaything of circumstance.” Does Lawrence want that to be the case?

I don’t. Although I recognize that wanting something to be otherwise doesn’t make it so.

Still, if Lawrence is right, let’s concede that much of what the Bible tells us about suffering is also nonsense. I’m thinking, for example, of Joseph’s profound words to his brothers after their reunion in Genesis 50: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Or Paul’s discussion of his “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Corinthians 12: This thorn, whatever it is, is both a “messenger from Satan sent to torment” Paul and a gift that “was given” by God (notice the divine passive) to keep Paul from “becoming conceited.”

In both Joseph’s and Paul’s cases, therefore, we see God transforming a genuinely evil event or circumstance into something good for them and for the world.

Does God work like this all the time? Is their experience universal?

I think so, at least for us Christians. I’m thinking of the apostle James’s words about the trials we endure, in James 1:2-4, and how they are for our good: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness…” Or Paul’s words in Romans 8:28: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

Even Paul’s admonition in 1 Thessalonians 5 to “give thanks in all circumstances” only makes sense if God is working providentially through everything. It’s also worth noting that when Paul wrote his “epistle of joy” to the Philippians, telling them to “rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say Rejoice,” he was enduring a brutal imprisonment that he wasn’t sure he would even survive.

My point is, while it’s true that pain and suffering in and of themselves can’t make us better people or the world a better place, the good news is that we don’t experience anything in the world in and of itself! There’s no corner of the universe untouched by God’s grace. There’s no place in this world where the Holy Spirit isn’t actively at work. There’s no evil more powerful than God’s redemptive love.

If God can take the greatest evil imaginable—the cross of his Son Jesus—and transform it into the greatest good imaginable, can he or will he not do the same with lesser evils in our own lives?

Lawrence replaces one aphorism (“Everything happens for a reason”) with another: “Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.”

That’s true, although we can trust the Lord that whatever we’re “carrying,” we’re carrying because God wants us to, that it’s good for us, and that we’ll receive the grace we need to do so.

1. Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (Boston: Beacon, 2006), 66-7.

“Supplying Every Need,” Day 3: The parable of the pack of Mentos

October 28, 2015

cover_graphic3I recently created a 14-day devotional booklet for my church called “Supplying Every Need.” We’re using it to prepare for our upcoming Stewardship Commitment Sunday on November 8. I will be posting a devotional each day between now and then. Enjoy!

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 9:6-14

Occasionally, in the checkout line at Publix, I’ll give in to my boys’ request for gum or candy. The truth is, I have a sweet tooth, too, and I love Mentos. Let’s say there are twenty pieces of Mentos in a pack. Would I be asking too much of my son if I said, “Could you give me two pieces?” Of course not! (Two pieces in a 20-piece pack would literally be a tithe.)

But wouldn’t it be ungrateful for one of them to say, “These Mentos are mine. I can’t let you have two pieces. But I’ll tell you what I will do: I’ll cut one of these pieces into three smaller pieces, and I’ll give you one of these smaller pieces”? This would equal about one-and-a-half percent of the pack. (The typical churchgoer in America gives only one-and-a-half percent to church.)

As a father, should I be happy with that tiny portion—especially given that I bought the pack in the first place? Should I be happy with a third of one Mento in a 20-Mento pack? Should I be happy with one-and-a-half percent of a pack of Mentos that I bought with my own money?

Of course not! I’d have a right to be disappointed in my child, wouldn’t I? I’d even have a right to discipline my child by withholding additional future blessings—for instance, the next time they asked for a pack of Mentos.

My point is, we often treat our heavenly Father this way in our financial giving.

As Paul makes in clear in today’s scripture, we’re only hurting ourselves by failing to be generous. We’re the ones who miss out on a spiritual blessing from God—who, Paul says, will “enrich us in every way” and “make grace abound in us.”

Do you tithe (i.e., give ten percent of your income) to God through church? Are you as generous in your giving as you want to be? If you’re not currently tithing, what concrete steps could you make this year toward reaching that goal?

Sermon 10-25-15: “The Religious Person and the Christian”

October 27, 2015

choosing_sides

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector has been viewed, by Protestants at least, as an important passage pertaining to justification by faith. This sermon explores this theme as well. In the process, though, I hope we can identify ways in which we’re not so different from the put-upon Pharisee—and learn from him!

Sermon Text: Luke 18:9-14

[To listen on the go, right-click on this link to download an MP3.]

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

Cordell Broadus was a four-star college football recruit—a wide receiver—who played for an elite high school football program in Nevada. He was recruited heavily by several top-tier colleges, including USC, but eventually he committed to crosstown rival UCLA. In August, however, he didn’t show up at training camp. He told his coach he didn’t want to play football anymore, and instead wanted to concentrate on his studies.

cordell3

Now, to add to the story: Cordell Broadus isn’t just another gifted athlete… He’s also the son of Calvin Broadus, otherwise known as the rapper Snoop Dogg. And just last week, on Snoop Dogg’s birthday, Cordell wrote a birthday message to his father on Instagram, which also explained publicly for the first time his decision to quit football. He said,

I played football for my father because I thought that was the only way he would love me and be a part of my life. It took me 12 years to realize he loves Cordell Broadus the person, not Cordell Broadus the football player. The best day of my life was when I heard those exact words; I love you, Dad, and hope you have a great birthday.

That’s a very sweet message. And I’m sure that Snoop Dogg is very proud of his son and has told him so—and reassured him a thousand times over since his son told him all of this. But as a father, can I just say that it also breaks my heart! It breaks my heart to imagine that one of my own kids, for example, would believe—for twelve long years of their life—that I loved them for something they did for me, rather than for who they are!

I made reference to this a few weeks ago, but in my own family I grew up thinking that I was a disappointment to my parents, especially my dad, because I wasn’t more athletic, that I didn’t play more sports, that I wasn’t more normal—that I was more interested in music and books and church than I was in sports or girls or socializing. I was kind of a geek, what can I say? Steve Jobs was a geek. Mark Zuckerberg… Look how they turned out! Except for several billion dollars separating us, I’m just like them!

My point is, I can completely understand how someone like Cordell could think this about his dad; I just hate that he had to go through that. Read the rest of this entry »

“Supplying Every Need,” Day 2: Financial giving is one way we say “thank you, God”

October 27, 2015

cover_graphic3I recently created a 14-day devotional booklet for my church called “Supplying Every Need.” We’re using it to prepare for our upcoming Stewardship Commitment Sunday on November 8. I will be posting a devotional each day between now and then. Enjoy!

Scripture: Luke 8:1-3

My friend Keith and I arrived at the concert venue early, as soon as the doors opened, because we wanted to make sure we got the best spot for the show. My favorite band was playing. I left Keith to “hold my spot” near the stage while I went to the concession stand. There was only one person in line in front of me: the lead singer of the band! She was dressed inconspicuously, in street clothes, and the people milling about in the lobby didn’t recognize her. But I did—and I was standing right behind her!

I was tongue-tied for a few moments. Standing in front of me, after all, was this person whose music has brought me so much joy over the years! What on earth would I say to her? Before I could figure it out, another fan recognized her, as did several others. Soon there was a crowd.

So I missed my chance.

Of course, all I wanted to say to her… all I needed to say… was thank you. Thank you for blessing my life with your music.

Each of the women that Luke mentions in these three verses were saying “thank you” to Jesus. They had been healed by him, and their way of saying “thank you” was by “providing for them [i.e., Jesus and his disciples] out of their means.” These women were literally underwriting Jesus’ ministry. They made it possible for Jesus to leave behind the carpentry shop, and Peter, James, and John to leave behind the fishing nets, in order to focus on the work of God’s kingdom.

How have you been healed by Jesus? Does your financial giving reflect your gratitude for this healing? The next time the offering plate comes by, tell yourself: “The money I give is one important way I have to say thank you.”

The scholarly nonsense surrounding John 8 and Romans 7

October 27, 2015

Years ago, when I was in theology school at Emory, a professor wrote a critique in the margins of one of my essays that began with these sympathetic words: “For those of us who live in our heads…” And I thought, “Oh, right! I guess I do tend to live in my head!” What can a I say? It’s a blessing and curse.

It was a curse recently, for example, when I ruminated over this margin note on John 7:53-8:11 in the otherwise conservative ESV Study Bible:

There is considerable doubt that this story is part of John’s original Gospel, for it is absent from all of the oldest manuscripts. But there is nothing in it unworthy of sound doctrine. It seems best to view the story as something that probably happened during Jesus’ ministry but that was not originally part of what John wrote in his Gospel. Therefore it should not be considered as part of Scripture and should not be used as the basis for building any point of doctrine unless confirmed in Scripture.

Should not be considered part of Scripture? It’s one of the greatest passages in the gospels! Oh my goodness!

My own theory is that, regardless how it got there, the Holy Spirit put it in our Bibles because God wanted it to be there: whether it belongs in this particular context in John or somewhere else, it belongs in the Bible! I have preached this passage and will continue to do so.

So I was ruminating over this margin note when, providentially, I listened to Paul Zahl’s latest podcast, in which he discusses this very passage, and the controversy surrounding it. He apparently has even less patience for Bible scholars who say it doesn’t belong. Transcribing the fast-talking Zahl, with his endearing Newhart-like stammer, is a challenge, but here goes:

I remember in Tübingen reporting that all sorts of New Testament so-called “scholars” would be saying that the long ending of John 8, with the woman taken in adultery, was unquestionably an insertion from a later text, and it couldn’t possibly be… you know, it was an insertion. And I kept always thinking, you know, “This is the core of the entire religion—is what he says: ‘Go and sin no more,’ but ‘neither do I condemn thee.’” I mean, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” This is the core of the Christian insight about the universality of human fallenness, human suffering, brokenness, waywardness, and the forgiveness of Christ—mammothly the core. And isn’t this the classic case of the Satanic mechanic hypnotizing a collective scholarly consciousness to somehow believe this doesn’t even belong there?

But he’s not finished! Next he attacks the idea—prominently featured in N.T. Wright, among others—that Paul, in Romans 7, is speaking hypothetically about a non-Christian—rather than from his own present experience as a believer—when he says, for example, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing”:

I mean the one thing… it’s like when people used to say that Romans 8—Romans 7, I should say—was not really a Christian. It was a so-called pre-Christian, or it was some kind of… Paul trying to get into the head of some putative pre- or non-Christian to relate to this. Whereas obviously anybody—you know, “I don’t do the things I want to do, and I do the things I don’t want to do. Who will deliver me from this body of death?” It’s everybody. It’s the unity of all people. It’s a Christian. It’s a non-Christian. It’s a pre-Christian. It’s a post-Christian. It’s a pagan. It’s a non-pagan. It’s a dualist. It’s a secularist. It’s a nun. It’s a Jew. It’s a Christian. It’s a Protestant. It’s a Presbyterian—my golly. It’s Charles Simeon and it’s Pope John Pall II. It is utterly true to life—Romans 7.

And then when I also related to Herr Moltmann that they had also decided that Romans 7 was not what it was obviously about. And he just shook his head and said, “Isn’t it amazing [says something in German] can actually believe this?” It’s so obvious this is true from experience. Anybody reading it—of any shape, size, form—understands that Romans 7 is about him- or herself…

What cerebral place of total non-existence are we bringing to these things? It’s a devilish thing!

I love when Zahl gets carried away! I love his passion.

“Supplying Every Need,” Day 1: Living with urgency

October 26, 2015

cover_graphic3I recently created a 14-day devotional booklet for my church called “Supplying Every Need.” We’re using it to prepare our church for its upcoming Stewardship Commitment Sunday on November 8. Over the next two weeks, I’ll post a devotional each day from the booklet.

Scripture: Luke 12:13-21

My dad died of cancer 20 years ago. For about a year, we knew the cancer would be terminal. Fortunately, God blessed us with a talented team of oncologists at Emory, along with the best resources of modern medicine, which enabled Dad to live most of that final year near full strength.

We both made the most of it. I saw him nearly every day. For the first time in Dad’s life, words like “I love you” and “I’m proud of you” flowed freely and easily from his lips. Every time he saw me—or Lisa, or anyone else in the family—he would make a point of telling us how much he loved us. On more than one occasion, he said: “I love you, Brent. You may get tired of hearing it, but I’m not going to get tired of telling you. And I’m going to keep on telling you because it’s true.”

What a gift that was for me! Knowing that his death was near enabled both of us to live with greater urgency, to rearrange our priorities, to focus on what’s most important.

Jesus tells this shocking parable to challenge us to live every day with this same urgency.

How would you live differently if you knew you only had a year to live? How would your priorities change? Who would you want to talk to, and what would you want to say? What changes would you make in your relationship with God? What’s stopping you from making these changes now?