Why We Should Value Death

I attended a conference a few weeks ago that focused on living a meaningful life. One of the first speakers asked us a simple yet profound question: How do you want to be remembered?Why We Should Value Death

When you contemplate that type of question, you must inevitably contemplate death, that inescapable commonality of humanity.

We are all going to die.

Steve Jobs probably had the best outlook on death I’ve ever heard in a statement he made several years before his death during a commencement address at Stanford. He said death is a motivator in life:  

“Almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

I don’t like to think about death. I don’t want to consider dying. I know it will happen one day, but I have plenty I still want to do and can do before that transition. Yet, the best tool to push me toward those things I want to do and the person I want to be is my mortality.

We never know when our time will be up. Any day can be our last. Unfortunately, we don’t live by that reality. But what if we did? What would that look like? What would you start building if you were more conscious of the fact the clock was ticking down on your time here? What are you afraid to lose, or afraid to start? See how that fear shrinks when you stand it next to death.

Then think of what matters in light of death. Who do you value most? What do you value most? Is your time spent in proper proportion when you measure it by your values?

There are some simple things we could do now, simple steps we can take today to live in light of our mortality. I started to prioritize time with people since contemplating the questions I encountered at the conference. We’re all busy. There’s always work to do. But an extra 30 minutes of conversation, or lingering a little longer while visiting friends or relatives won’t ruin your schedule.

I much rather be remembered as someone who was available for people than one who was just a hard worker and always busy. We wear busyness like a badge of honor these days, as if our lives are more meaningful because we’re always occupied. Sure, we have important things to do and responsibilities to fulfill, but if we don’t put a premium on people and being available, at the end of our lives, we risk being remembered for things that don’t matter.

Death is inevitable. You get no choice in the matter. But living a life of meaning and the type of life you want is up to you. As Steve Jobs said, death is a tool to help you make the right choices in life. Make sure you spend your days on what you value most.

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God has a Role for Rejects

Have you ever tried out for a team or auditioned for a role and been rejected? It kinda sucks, right? Or how about applying for an organization or job and getting that kindly worded rejection email? We’ve all been there.

courtesy of compfight

courtesy of compfight

I was reminded of my times of rejection while reading about Gideon in the Bible recently. I’ve always been fascinated with the story Gideon, one of the judges of Israel, because of his journey from being fearful to a mighty warrior leading a pack of 300 men to defeat the Midianites (sort of like Leonidas, but more successful).

In Judges 7, God devises one of the most preposterous battle plans in history, which couldn’t have done much to ease Gideon’s fears. Gideon started with an army of 32,000-strong to take on the Midianites, but God told him that he had too many people and instructed Gideon to tell all those who are afraid to go home — 22,000 departed… 22,000 rejected.

Down to 10,000 men, God said there were still too many, so he devised a test where all the men who didn’t drink water a certain way (whatever that means) were sent home. That left 300 men.

9,700 rejected.

So with 300 men, Gideon went to the Midianite camp in the middle of the night, they played their trumpets, broke some glass, and shouted and that was enough to cause the Midianites to run for their lives. But the intriguing part for me is Judges 7:23, which says:

“And the men of Israel gathered together from Naphtali, Asher, and all Manasseh, and pursued the Midianites.

Though just 300 were set apart for the first battle with Gideon, God used other men to complete the work. And I believe the same men who were sent home because they were afraid or because they were deemed inadequate for the mission by God’s test at the water, were the same ones who gathered together to pursue the Midianites.

God used the rejected.

Despite their original fears, deficiencies, or maybe just not being destined to be among the 300, God still used them. Despite their initial rejection, they still had a role in God’s purpose and plan to deliver Israel.

That should be encouraging to us because despite our weaknesses, fears, and deficiencies, Jesus still has use for us. We still have a role in His plan, and our role is just as important as the 300.

The 31,700 rejected didn’t abandon the cause. They didn’t stop serving God. Sure, they had no clue what Gideon or God was up to. And that journey home was probably frustrating and confusing. They may have questioned God, they may have cursed Gideon, they may have doubted their own abilities. But when the time came to act, when their number was called, they didn’t hesitate. They knew it was their turn. (Heck, they even had the fun part. They didn’t just play trumpets and shout, they actually got to fight).

So even if it appears that you didn’t make the cut and you were initially rejected — whether in ministry, career, business, personal, or professional life — don’t give up, don’t be discouraged, don’t let your dreams die. Your time is coming. God is still calling you to a key role in His plan. Stay ready. You’re not rejected, you’re just reserved for a particular purpose.

 

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What Inspires You?

We all need a kick in the butt sometimes…a little inspiration, that thing that sparks a dream, ignites passion, pushes hopeyou past procrastination, or causes you to light up inside. Sometimes it’s a speech or sermon, a scripture, a person, a book, song, album, or another work of art that stirs something inside you. We all need it, and we know when we come across it. It’s often small but profound in its impact. So if you feel stuck, if you feel lost, if you feel like life is passing you by, look for some simple inspiration. Here are five things that have inspired me in recent years:

The Book of Acts

Is there anything in history that documents a more significant, purpose-driven movement that turned the world upside down and still resonates today? Acts is the birth of the Church, Christianity in its purest form. It’s the ultimate grassroots movement. It shows what a group of people can do when they’re united, selfless, follow God, and empowered by His Spirit. It’s inspiring to see how the Gospel was spread and how a small group of regular men and women literally changed the world.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Don Miller

This is one of my favorite books by my favorite author. Any book Don Miller writes inspires me, but this one will help bring clarity and meaning to your life. You start by asking if your life was a book, would anyone want to read it, or would they put it down after a few chapters because of boredom? The book helped me find meaning in my life by simplifying what I wanted. Most importantly, it helps you realize conflict is an inevitable part of life, but it carries an important purpose — character development — therefore, we should embrace it.

“Live Forever” by Shad

Music is inspiring, whether for the gym or just life. This song by my favorite artist, Shad, always gets me thinking and focused.

My Past

There are plenty of things in our past that we’d like to forget. We all have regrets. We’ve all made mistakes, struggled with sin, wasted money, said stupid things, etc. But when I look back at my life (which is much easier to do when you keep a journal, so I highly recommend it) I focus on how much I’ve grown and how far I’ve come from the guy I used to be. It makes me grateful for the progress I’ve made and inspires me to keep pushing forward because I won’t be the person I am today 10 years from now. I’ll be better.

People

Nothing inspires me more than seeing someone using his/her gifts or taking a risk to follow a dream. These people are models of success, exuding inspiration. They show that it can be done. That a risk is worth it. That if there’s an opportunity for them in this world, there’s also one for me. They are people living life, in the game, taking full advantage of it. Their lives push me to do the same.

Hopefully you find some inspiration from this short list of things that have inspired me. Feel free to share what has inspired you in the comments section below or on your own social media feed. I’m sure others can use some inspiration as well.

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Your Greatest Weakness is Your Strength

One thing I love about the Bible is the honesty in which it displays historic figures. No one’s flaws are hidden. Everyone’s life is pretty much laid bare — the good and the bad. And in certain places, the writer shares his own weaknessflaws, like the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians.

“I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” 1 Cor. 3-5

Paul admitted he was in weakness, fear, and much trembling when it came to speaking to the church of Corinth. Essentially, Paul feared public speaking. There are other instances in his letters where he admitted he wasn’t an eloquent orator. It’s odd because I always perceived Paul as a great theologian and preacher who commanded attention and respect when he spoke, but that wasn’t the case.

Public speaking ranks as one of the greatest fears for people. Most of us have suffered from it to some extent, which makes us much like Paul in that sense. Yet God knew Paul was weak in this area and He still called him to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, an assignment that regularly put him in front of complete strangers to share a radical message none of them had heard before. Way to set up a guy for failure, God.

But God did this regularly, on purpose. Think back to Moses. He tried to explain to God that he couldn’t speak for Him to Pharaoh because he stuttered. It’s not like God was like: “Oh, my bad, I forgot you stuttered, let me find someone else.” He knew speaking was Moses’ weakness and He called him anyway.

Today, we do so much to hide our weaknesses. We focus on what we’re good at and pursue interests in those areas and hone skills pertaining to our strengths. We are caught up in a culture that only displays its best — we retake photos on our phones until we have our best-looking selfie; we search through pics to use our best-looking one as our profile image; we use Instagram to make our sucky photos look professional, all in an attempt to display an image of strength, beauty, and competence to the world. But none of it is true.

I admit, only God and I know my weaknesses. I’m the king of playing it cool, faking it til I make it, and if need be, just plain frontin’. But God, throughout history, takes the opposite approach with us. He doesn’t want any of those weaknesses, blemishes, fears, or things that make us tremble hidden. He calls us into those areas. He pushes us into those areas. He uses us in those areas.

Why?

Paul said it in his letter to the Corinthians: So that anything we accomplish and any life we impact won’t be because of our wisdom or skill, but solely by the power of the Spirit so our faith (and subsequently others’ as well) will be in the power of God, not in our own ability.

Have you been concealing or shying away from a weak area in your life God is nudging you toward? Have you shut your ears to what He’s been saying because of fear? Have you been worrying about what others will think? Fearing failure? God knows what He’s doing. He’s calling you there for a reason — to display His power and glory.

Like Paul, embrace your weakness. It’s the only way to see what the power of the Spirit can do in your life.

 

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Today is a Good Day, If You Choose

Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once said hell is other people. You may agree to an extent, especially if you’re facing800px-Smiley.svg those kinds of people today at work, school, or wherever your day takes you. But I like what Christian philosopher Ravi Zacharias says: Heaven can be other people too, and we have the ability to bring a little of Heaven into people’s lives today (hat tip to Don Miller for this). We carry the presence of God within us. After all, Jesus said the Kingdom of God isn’t some ethereal place, it’s within us. This day we can bring a taste of Heaven to this world. What a way to begin the week!
Love is a response to His love, and happiness is a choice. Respond and choose well today, and let Pharrell get you in the mood with this:

 

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5 Lessons From My 80-year-old Self

On the heels of writing some tips to my 18-year-old self, I was thinking of what advice I could use now. If my older self,

photo by Andre Delhaye via compfight

photo by Andre Delhaye via compfight

say the 80-year-old Kevin, could give me some guidance on navigating life from here on out, I wonder what he would say? I wonder what lessons, tips, and words of wisdom he’d share.

He’d probably start by saying I know less than I think I know right now. Then he’d say my future is bright and I become filthy rich (OK, wishful thinking there).  Most of all, he’d probably focus on regrets he has and how I can change my life to avoid them. So here are five things my 80-year-old self would tell me to live a fuller life:

SPEAK YOUR MIND

You tend to be cautious, young Kevin (yes, you’re still very young). You speak up when needed, but you’re guarded with your words. You’re diplomatic by nature, which has been helpful in gaining friends, bridging gaps, and defusing conflicts. Yet, your opinion needs to be heard more — unfiltered and direct. It will catch people off-guard, and it may hurt some feelings, but as long as it’s done in truth and love, it’s worth it.

BE SILLY

There’s nothing more beautiful in life than being able to laugh at yourself. It’s more natural for the youngest and oldest among us, but it’s something you need to rediscover and embrace. Laughing is one thing, but being able to make a complete fool of yourself — and awaken the silliness in others — is a moment you’ll never forget, trust me.

TAKE RISKS

You’ll never regret taking a risk. Do they all pay off? No. Is there embarrassment or discomfort in the moment? Yes. But looking back, taking a risk was always the right decision. Risks always result in either the outcome you desire or a lesson learned. The only thing that holds you back is fear. And you’ll find out what you fear most about risks never happens. The greatest risk of all is the risk not taken.

SPEND TIME WITH PEOPLE YOU LOVE

You’ve been telling yourself to do this for years, and you’ve gotten better at it, but remember this: You can never spend too much time with the people you love. No one ever reached 80 years old and said, “You know what, I think I spent too much time with loved ones.” Take every second and every minute that they give you. Too many people let work, school, church, chores, sports, Scandal, and social media get in the way of real relationships. By the way, Facebook, Instagram, and Olivia Pope won’t last that much longer anyway. If your loved ones are really loved, prioritize time with them.

SAY ‘I LOVE YOU’ OFTEN

Those three words mean the world to people, Kevin. They don’t part your lips enough. The people you love — which include pretty much everyone — need to hear it. You’ll regret not saying it enough. Your words are sincere. You only say what you mean. If there’s anything people should remember about you, it’s that you loved them.

Enjoy the journey, young Kevin. You’ll be OK. Oh, and get off Facebook!

What do you think you’d regret most at an older age? What are some changes you can make to avoid those regrets?

 

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How to Live the Good Life

By Kevin Howell

Take two minutes to watch this video before you start reading:

A friend of mine shared hilarious video on Facebook. It’s a group of fathers rapping about the “Dad Life”: going to work, cutting the grass, doing yard work on weekends, taking their kids to different functions, driving minivans, and watching Disney movies. It’s comical and pretty much true.

I’m not a father, but having been around my brother and friends with children, that’s exactly what fatherhood is like today.

Obviously the video is a parody of materialistic hip-hop videos where rappers boast about luxury cars, mansions, money, hot chicks, jewelry and other stuff they really don’t own. Unfortunately, hip-hop culture causes the young people it influences to yearn for the “finer” things in life over practical things, like not spending your savings or refund check on $350 belts or $2,500 purses at Barneys (racial profiling aside, what the hell were they thinking?).

Though it would be cool to “ball so hard” like Jay and Ye, I desire the dad life more than the flashy life. And if they’re honest, I bet Jay and Ye are enjoying being new fathers more than entertaining millions (on second thought, it’s impossible to ever know what’s going through Kanye’s mind, so…).

I guess I’ve always been one to appreciate and desire the simple things. Desiring to be a husband and father is a noble goal. And whether you’ve achieved it yet or not, it’s likely the most important thing you’ll ever do. We tend to be fascinated with people who live celebrity-like lifestyles or do extraordinary things. Most of us want to do something extraordinary in our lifetime. It’s good to have big goals for your career, business, organization, etc., yet the simple things in life are often more fulfilling.

The Apostle Paul writes in 1Timothy 6:6 that being godly and content is a life of wealth. Whatever in life makes you content, treasure it. We’re all tempted to covet what others have or a particular lifestyle glamorized in the media. But for me, sitting at home on Saturday morning watching cartoons with the kids is the “good life.” I guess I’m more “Dads in the Suburbs” than “Niggas in Paris.”

You determine what the good life is for you. It may not involve kids, a spouse, and yard work. Just make sure you’re choosing what it is, not the Kardashians or Carters.

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How Heartbreak and Grief Help Us

By Kevin HowellHow Heartbreak and Grief Help Us

Pain sucks.

I’m not talking about physical pain (though I’m pretty sure that’s high on the suck level as well), but emotional pain. When I think back to the hardest times of my life, they came from heartbreak, grief, and loneliness.

Though I learned lessons from those experiences, I couldn’t find a benefit of going through them.

Though the pain from those emotions pierces our hearts, we can’t avoid them. If we live long enough, we’ll experience heartbreak, grief, and loneliness multiple times to various degrees. They are a part of life…an unwelcome part of life.

I’ve been wrestling with this topic lately after hearing comments on the subject from a pastor and a comedian.

Rick Warren, a renowned pastor and author of Purpose Driven Life, was interviewed on CNN a few weeks ago, talking about the death of his son, Matthew, who committed suicide. It was a touching interview with Warren and his wife as they shared their heartbreak.

In explaining his grief, Warren said he has cried every day since his son died, and he sees that as positive. Yes, he believes those negative emotions are good: “Grief is a good thing,” he said. “It’s the way we get through the transitions of life.”

That statement stood out from everything else he said in the interview. It’s so profound, and honestly, I still don’t fully comprehend it.

How can grief be good?

Inherently, it isn’t good because it comes from some sort of loss. But it’s good because of its purpose, as Warren explained. It helps us transition. It’s the way we move on. We let it out. We hurt. We let it burn — Usher style.

The alternative is burying the pain somewhere in our psyche to avoid the onslaught of negative emotions. The bad thing about that is it delays the transition. Comfort, peace and joy await on the other end of grief. The longer we hold the emotions in, the longer it takes to arrive there. Though we can arrive there partially by bottling up emotions, the pain still emerges without proper grief.

Experiencing negative emotions makes us human. Ironically, comedian Louis C.K. explained this perfectly — and quite off-color — during an appearance on the Conan show. He said sadness is poetic and we’re lucky to live sad moments. It’s a human emotion. It’s a part of the human experience. Yet, most of us do anything to avoid it — including occupying ourselves with our cell phones to avoid feeling lonely.

I’m no different. I’m a pro at bottling up emotions and avoiding pain. Ultimately it catches up to me. Pain sucks. But it doesn’t last forever. It eventually dissipates. Contentment and joy settle in.

I don’t think I’ll ever welcome grief, heartbreak or loneliness. But they will come. And when they do, I know the pain is simply a vehicle to help me transition. It is healthy. It heals. It makes way for peace and joy to return.

After pondering Warren’s statement that grief is good, I wonder if God created grief. We know every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17), and if grief has a good purpose, is it godly? It’s weird to think God would “create” grief, but I know what God calls “good and perfect” doesn’t necessarily mean comfortable and easy.

Whether He created grief or not is probably not important. What’s important is how He uses it and how we respond to it. Our response determines whether, in our lives, grief is good.

Kevin is the founder and editor of Transparency. Connect with him @transparencymag or kevin(at)transparencymag.com

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Your Past has a Purpose

By Kevin Howell

The Past

photo by kusito via compfight creative commons

Your past has a purpose.

I know we’ve been told to move on from the past in order to grow, and even a certain R&B singer hates it when we bring up the past, but what we’ve been through shouldn’t be forgotten or hidden.

The Apostle Paul says in 1 Timothy that God shows him off as proof of His mercy and patience to those who have yet to trust Him.

His past had a purpose.

As wrong and forgettable as it was, his past pointed to a beautiful attribute of God. Your past and mine are no different.

If you’ve been around the church, you’re familiar with hearing testimonies of what God has done in people’s lives. You may have even shared your testimony with a friend, relative or co-worker in hopes of changing their lives.

But that doesn’t come easily for everyone. Some of us don’t freely and confidently share our past. No matter how much we’ve changed, no matter how much we’ve grown in God, it’s still difficult to reveal our “past life.”

The primary culprit is shame. We’re ashamed of what we used to do and who we used to be. That’s understandable. But if we keep letting shame of the past impede us from sharing our lives in the present, it not only hinders our growth, but also the growth of others.

OVERCOMING SHAME

If anyone had a shameful past it was the Apostle Paul. His mission was to persecute Christians, throw them in prison, and rid Israel of what he considered heresy. I’m sure along the way he may have cursed Jesus and His followers. He was anti-Christ in many ways.

After his dramatic conversion, Paul probably felt a sense of guilt. And even when God called him to share the Gospel, he felt inadequate, unqualified, and unworthy because of the shame of his past. Yet, he recognized Jesus made him adequate for the work, and “grace mixed with faith and love” cleared the shame that hindered him from ministry.

His testimony became his greatest tool in ministry. He realized his past was not about his mistakes but about God’s character. Paul’s past is evidence of God’s “endless patience to those who are right on the edge of trusting God forever” (1Timothy 1:16).

Paul began to freely share his testimony because it could help others who felt shame. Those who felt they weren’t good enough for God. Your past can do the same. It can help those who think they need to get their lives together before they can go to church. Those who think they’ve done too much to be forgiven and accepted by God.

SECURE TO SHARE

We carry shame of the past because we haven’t given it to God. Either we haven’t fully accepted His forgiveness because we haven’t forgiven ourselves, or we still feel the sting of past hurt so we can’t bear to bring it up.

Security in our relationship with God buries shame. It gives us confidence in His forgiveness. It helps us find a redemptive value in our past. Once we do, the past no longer becomes shameful, but useful.

God has made us adequate. Adequate and strong enough to share our past without fear. Our past, no matter how bad or hurtful, doesn’t hinder our purpose, it empowers it. So go ahead and bring up the past. It points to God’s redemptive work and will help set someone free.

Kevin is the founder and editor of Transparency Magazine, and yes, he used the Shaliek song as partial inspiration for this article.

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Why Your Destiny Doesn’t Matter

By Kevin Howell

photo via Creative Commons

photo via Creative Commons

I was reading the book of Jonah recently, and my eyes were opened to just how meaningful of a story it is. For the most part, Jonah is taught in children’s church, seen in Bible cartoons and whatnot. But there are powerful, relevant lessons in this Old Testament prophet’s life.

Many times when we hear a message based on the book of Jonah, a minister will point out that no matter how much you run, God will get you to your destiny. Or that nothing can stop God from seeing you fulfill the plan He has for your life.

Those messages are encouraging and inspiring, but that’s not the theme of Jonah.

The book of Jonah is not actually about Jonah. Sure, he’s the central character and involved in every scene, but the book is about the people of Nineveh.

It’s not about Jonah’s calling to preach. It’s not about him running from God. It’s not about him eventually fulfilling his destiny. Jonah is a love story. A story about God’s love for a city of people. A love so strong that God had a big fish swallow and spare a prophet so the people could be saved.

The people of Nineveh were wicked. They probably deserved judgment. But God was so slow to anger, merciful, and rich in love — yes, even in the Old Testament — He not only sent a prophet to preach to them, but He ensured that they’d hear the message.

We know Jonah was quite resistant to going to Nineveh. In chapter 1, he’d rather die than obey what God said. When he was swallowed by the fish, he then thanked God for rescuing him. Then he finally obeyed God, preached the message in chapter 3, and the people of Nineveh listened and repented.

Jonah’s attitude is quite similar to ours. Well, at least mine. Sometimes I resist obeying God and sharing the faith because of how people will respond. I think this person is so far from God, there’s no way he/she would receive the gospel. The truth is, just like the people of Nineveh, people we encounter today will listen and respond to the grace and love of God. People desperately need the grace and love of God.

The last verse of the book of Jonah, the conclusion so to speak, sums up what the story is about. God calls the people of Nineveh “more than 120,000 childlike people who don’t yet know right from wrong.” That’s the heart of the Father. That’s how He sees the lost.

Jonah didn’t get it. Even at the end, he still didn’t get it. It’s not about punishing wickedness. It’s not us against them; saints vs. sinners; the church vs. the world. It’s not about our fears or our abilities or our knowledge. It’s about having the heart of our gracious, merciful Father. The same way He described Nineveh is the same way He sees the lost today: childlike people who don’t yet know right from wrong.

The principle of the story of Jonah applies to your story and my story. Your story is not about your destiny or call. It’s about those people around you. The hundreds of childlike people you encounter who don’t yet know right from wrong. Your life is about their destiny more than yours.

Kevin is the editor of Transparency Magazine. You can connect with him on Twitter @kevbhowell or email kevin(at)transparencymag.com

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