Tuesday, January 22, 2013

If only I had ...

Listen to an audio version of this post at http://media1.imbresources.org/files/167/16719/16719-93243.mp3

Woulda, coulda, shoulda.

Regret is a painful thing. We look back on the foolish things we have done and the good things we have left undone. We lament wasted years, wrong attitudes, hurts inflicted on others, missed opportunities.

Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse, spent years caring for patients in their last days. She identified the most common regrets they expressed about their lives in an article, and later a book, titled “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.” They are:

1. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

“This was the most common regret of all,” writes Ware. “When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.”

2. “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”

“This came from every male patient that I nursed,” Ware reports. “They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”

3. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”

Many people regretted staying silent or living dishonest lives just to “keep the peace” with others. They often developed illnesses from bitterness and resentment.

4. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”

Ware: “Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. … It all comes down to love and relationships in the end” — not money, things or accomplishments.

5. “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”

Many people failed to realize until it was nearly too late that happiness is a choice, Ware discovered. They willingly remained in the bondage of patterns and habits that were familiar, yet brought little contentment.

I’ll add a few more regrets that I have experienced. Perhaps you have some, too:

-- I wish I had spent more time glorifying God and less time cursing the darkness.

The world stinks. People are evil. Terrible things happen all the time. This is not exactly news. Constantly bemoaning it is a waste of time. Praising the Lord, His greatness, His grace and mercy and His salvation is time better spent — both now and in preparation for eternity in His presence. It’s also a better way to eliminate darkness. Jesus said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” (John 12:32, NASB).

-- I wish I had spent more time serving God and people and less time serving myself.

God created you and me to love Him, not to squander our brief time on earth loving ourselves only. The Westminster Shorter Catechism of 1647 is a far better guide in this regard than all the pop psychologists and phony priests of self-worship: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

-- I wish I had told a lot more people about Jesus — and helped other believers to do so.

If Jesus meant the words He uttered in Matthew 28:19-20, when He told His followers to make disciples among all nations (peoples), this is our agenda. Nothing else comes higher on the priority list. And we have more resources to do it on a truly global scale than any previous generation of believers.

What are your regrets? If you’re still alive and alert enough to read this, you can change the habits and patterns that caused them.

“People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality,” Ware says of her experiences with the dying. “I learned never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal.”

We are all dying. Some of us have a few days left; some of us have many years. Make every day count.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

New Year's resolution: Be like Harold

Listen to an audio version of this post at http://media1.imbresources.org/files/166/16664/16664-92331.mp3

“He who breaks a resolution is a weakling; he who makes one is a fool.”

Harold Hurst didn’t say that, but it sounds like one of his zingers. He believed in commitment, not wishful thinking. I’m making this New Year’s resolution in his memory anyway: Be more like Harold Hurst.

It won’t be easy. Harold, who died Dec. 15, accomplished more in 88 action-packed years than any 10 lesser men. He often did it the hard way, but he never complained. Not about hard work, at least. I did hear him complain once or twice about slackers and lollygaggers. Harold was old school. Look up “old school” in the dictionary and you’ll probably find his picture. You’ll also find him beside “faithful.”

Who was Harold Hurst? Glad you asked.

Born in Illinois, he grew up on a Missouri farm during the toughest years of the Depression. He gave his life to Christ during a revival service in 1941. Hard work held him out of high school, but he finished a diploma by correspondence while in the United States Army Air Corps during World War II. He organized ministries to Christian servicemen and went on to lead several churches as pastor during college and seminary. But he felt God beckoning him toward farther horizons.

“I surrendered to His service,” Harold wrote. “I knew His call was to the foreign mission field.” He became a member of the great generation of postwar missionaries who took the Gospel to a suffering world crying out for hope.

I first met him many years later, during the “second act” of his eventful life. He had joined the International (then Foreign) Mission Board staff in 1977 to help Southern Baptist churches and volunteers do medical ministry and disaster relief more effectively. He “pioneered concepts in mobilization and deployment of responders to natural disasters and other crises,” said Lewis Myers, his friend and IMB colleague, at Harold’s funeral service. “He led our response to Hurricane David in the Dominican Republic in 1979. It still stands as a model for disaster response and established Southern Baptists as a major and effective contributor to global relief.”

Harold gained the know-how he later shared with others from long personal experience as a missionary — and “general flunky first aid,” as he described it — in Honduras. Harold and Alice, his wife and sweetheart for 65 years, opened Southern Baptist mission work in the Central American nation after they were appointed in 1952. He started First Baptist Church in Tegucigalpa, Honduras’ capital, and many more in towns and villages around the country.

In addition to nearly nonstop evangelism, preaching and starting churches over the next 20-plus years, he managed the Baptist bookstore in Tegucigalpa, directed and taught at the Baptist theological institute (begun in his house), coordinated university ministry and administered a medical clinic.

On top of all that, he taped a popular weekly TV program, “The Church in the Home.” At one point the station manager tried to move the program from a prime Sunday evening spot to a far less favorable time. Harold, never one to go down without a fight, appealed to viewers to voice their opinion about the change. The show’s fans jammed the station’s telephone switchboard and sent nearly 1,500 letters within a week demanding that it stay on the primetime schedule. Harold ended up getting a nice Saturday evening slot — plus a second program on Sunday morning.

Things didn’t always go smoothly in desperately poor, sometimes unstable Honduras. The Hurst family once experienced three revolutions in a single year — including one on Harold’s birthday. “The kids were asking, ‘Dad, are all those firecrackers outside for your birthday?’” he recalled. It was gunfire.

Many of Harold’s greatest adventures, however, came on the back of a mule. Getting to many of the isolated villages where Harold and Alice, a skilled nurse, took their evangelistic/medical caravans involved spending “a lot of time on a quadruped with long ears,” as Harold put it in a 1957 letter. “I discovered after two years on mules that I needed to invest in a saddle with a foam rubber seat.” He often spent a week at a time circuit riding between scattered preaching points.

Once he was arrested for riding a “stolen” mule. It was a big misunderstanding, but Harold and two fellow workers spent a night in jail in the village of San Jose. They seized the opportunity, announcing they intended to hold a preaching service that night. They began singing hymns, soon attracting about 80 listeners to the room where they were being held. Harold gave his testimony and one of his co-workers preached. Nine people gave their lives to Christ, and a church was begun in San Jose.

That’s why I want to be more like Harold. He never missed a chance to tell people about Jesus.

In Honduras, during later service in Panama and Mexico — and in retirement, when he continued to teach local churches (including my own) how to do missions — Harold had one priority: declaring Christ is Lord. He continued to lead volunteer trips to Honduras, sometimes three or four a year, into his 80s. Only health problems slowed him down. He never stopped preaching.

One of the last times I talked to him, Harold wondered why fewer churches were inviting him to speak. “Is it because I’m too old, or because I tell them what they don’t want to hear?” he asked with some indignation. I’m guessing it was the latter. Harold never sugarcoated the Word of God for anybody.

One of the songs we sang at Harold’s funeral was “Find us Faithful.” The chorus says:

“Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey.”

Farewell, Harold. You were faithful.