When Sparks Fly

When Sparks Fly

After reading the “verse of the day” on my YouVersion Bible app (one day last week), I made this post based on a verse that is familiar to many:

Iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.

Proverbs 27:17 NLT

Do you have a goal to be sharper, to become better at your craft? That means a willingness to be critiqued, even if critics may not have the best intentions. Instead of feeling hurt because we are hearing criticism, we could see this criticism as an opportunity for growth. Criticism has come in my life, and I have felt like my best was not good enough, so the criticism was at first, not helpful to me. It was only after moving past the hurt feelings I was able to see that the critique was meant to improve me.

Differences of opinion can cause sparks to fly in relationships, but maybe the other person does have a point. What can be learned from this difference?

Why are the sparks flying? Is it not to make the instrument sharper? We often take what is being said personally and are hurt by it, rather than accept it as a refining moment to make us sharper.

If we dig deeper, we’ll discover that there is value in the sparks, particularly because the sparks provide evidence that something is being filed away from us. If that something remains, it means we are not being sharpened. It is for this very reason:

You can trust a friend who corrects you.

Proverbs 27:6a CEV

The sharper the tool, the better it functions and the easier the work becomes. If the axe is not sharp, you will work much harder to cut down the tree. If you are iron that is not connecting with iron that is different than you, you are missing out on becoming sharper.

Maybe this idea of becoming sharper best defines the purpose in coming together with other people – it’s to motivate others, or to make others sharper, moving them toward specific actions.

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.

Hebrews 10:24 NLT

In the verse that follows (Heb. 10:25), we are instructed about “not neglecting to meet together.” Maybe the very purpose of our coming together is: “to motivate one another,” in essence sharpening one another. I have often heard the instruction about “assembling ourselves together” as the church, gathering for fellowship which is good, but it may not be the best or even the biblical reason to come together. By coming together, we may get to know our neighbour better, but the higher purpose is to become sharper, motivated because there was an interaction together as friends.

When Cathy and I first started to date, it was because we felt we had so much in common and enjoyed one another’s company. Now, after being together married for 36+ years, the differences have become more evident and personality tests have confirmed we are more opposite than alike. Interestingly, despite our personality differences, we still have some important things in common, like our passion for ministry and love for family. Our differences have served to sharpen each of us, but we first needed to understand that criticism was not meant to hurt, but to improve one another.

So my advice is this: Let’s get together and let the sparks fly so we can become sharper – that way we don’t have to work as hard!

Client Meetings & Unexpected Questions

Client Meetings & Unexpected Questions

Financial advisors all have access to the same or similar tools and products. While they have different backgrounds, they still have similar training. They attend many of the same conferences and are exposed to the same content from the financial industry. So then …

“How is a Christian advisor different from an advisor who is a Christian?”

It can be very difficult to answer that question or explain it in such a way that the advisor truly gets it, and to be honest, understanding the difference is a journey. As an advisor myself for 24 years, I did not fully comprehend this difference. As I reflect back on the early days of my career, I recognize now that I was “an advisor who was a Christian” rather than a “Christian advisor.” My advice was not that different than a non-Christian advisor because I was trained in the same way they were, but I was on a journey …

Kingdom Advisors offers a training program that is meant to go deep into the core of who an advisor is and even why an advisor does what he/she does. There’s good reason it is referred to as Core Training.

Since October, I have been walking with a group of advisors through this training which concluded this past week. One advisor shared a conversation that he had with his clients who are in their 80’s, which I believe illustrates how a Christian advisor is different.

This elderly couple have both had health challenges and called to have a discussion with their advisor because they have been working through an important decision. The decision they had reached and wanted to discuss was that they both wanted to move forward with medical assistance in dying (MAID). A discussion on this topic certainly was not something this advisor was expecting and felt, in some respects was beyond his area of expertise; yet something within him felt this was an opportunity for a deeper conversation.

In a very thoughtful way, he complimented them for always educating themselves about important decisions they’ve had to make since that was his experience with them. He then asked a question that was a little outside of his comfort zone: “Have you considered this from a spiritual aspect?”

This question led to a much deeper discussion, one that this advisor had never had with these clients in previous meetings. The end of this story is not written but these clients expressed such a deep appreciation for the thoughtful question that has led them to deeper soul-searching. Near the end of the meeting, the clients had a question for the advisor:

“Why have we never had a discussion like this before?”

That is definitely a valid question from this client. It’s a clear example of “an advisor who was a Christian” and successfully practiced for many years being transformed into a “Christian advisor.” His immediate thought was to send these clients to a spiritual leader, but because he had journeyed through the KA Core Training, he felt compelled and confident enough to ask a non-financial question that caused the clients to think more deeply.

One of the quotes from the Core Training Module that we ended with this week stated:

“Your practice can become indispensable to your client families.”

This incident has helped me realize what truly differentiates a Christian financial advisor from other advisors, and from those who may even be Christians. It’s not just a willingness to go deeper in client conversations but a deep sense of calling to go where other advisors fear to tread.

I am truly grateful there are so many Kingdom Advisors in Canada, where I get to serve, as well as in the USA and other parts of our world; advisors who care enough to build an indispensable practice for their client families. Where are you on the journey?

If you are a financial professional in Canada, I would encourage you to join one of the upcoming Kingdom Advisors Regional Events in May 2022.

What Is Your Legacy?

What Is Your Legacy?

Every month, I am involved in a Kingdom Advisors Study Group and January’s focus is on legacy.

Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.

J.W. Whitehead from Exploring Stewardship section of The Stewardship Study Bible

Did you know that there are three kinds of legacy!

1. The Legacy We Received

Father’s Day 2006 with my Grandfather, Arch Woodworth

When considering the legacy I received, my thoughts immediately went to my grandfather, Arch Woodworth, who has been described as “a good man.” He was consistent in his work, loved his Lord and maybe without realizing it, was an example to me. I remember as a child seeing him stand in church and quote: “Be not weary in well doing, for in due season you will reap if you faint not.” He lived that verse; it was part of the fabric of who he was.

As a financial advisor, when I was asked about my family background (particularly when doing business on the Baie Verte peninsula), I would often share who my grandfather was and that he had worked in Advocate mines. When they knew whose grandson I was, it created an immediate connection of trust because of him. That’s part of the legacy I received.

2. The Legacy We Leave

As we age, we think more deeply about the legacy we will leave. What will our children and grandchildren receive from us? A similar word for legacy is inheritance, which is what you receive from another person, usually through a legal document, like a will. We can leave a financial legacy which can be valued by our heirs, but Ron Blue says, it is important to transfer wisdom before you transfer wealth. In his book, Splitting Heirs, Ron warns;

The worst thing you can do is to pass wealth if you haven’t passed wisdom. Good stewardship includes not only providing for your family, but also being sure that every family knows how to manage that provision.

Ron Blue, Splitting Heirs, p.71

3. The Legacy We Live

This may be the most challenging, but because you are reading this today, it means that you still have an opportunity to live out your legacy. One activity we did with our adult children was to ask them to think of 5 words that would describe our values as a family. This provided a significant opportunity for conversation and helped reveal what we have lived as parents. Words such as compassion, respect, delight, authenticity, and fun-loving were some of the values shared.

Surprisingly, all of the kids chose one word in common and that was “generosity.” You may have heard the phrase, “sometimes things are more often caught than taught.” That was the case here because even though mine and Cathy’s lists did not include that word, our children had seen it lived out. That’s when your values actually become virtues.

We may hold generosity as a value, but the virtue is behaving generously. Alignment occurs when we transform our values into virtues. Simply identifying our primary values is not sufficient. The next step is to define more precisely how we intend to embody the values in our daily lives – regardless of external pressures.

Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, The Power of Full Engagement

Take the time to ponder the questions in these four areas of legacy as you pass on the wisdom you have acquired in life.

1. Personal Legacy Question:

What will you be remembered for? You will leave a legacy whether it is by design or by default.

2. Family Legacy Questions:

Are you intentional to build into, or live out the values that represent your family? Have you discussed your family values and codified your family vision/mission statement?

3. Financial Legacy Questions:

Considering your financial legacy, what do you hope your inheritance will accomplish in the lives of your heirs? How prepared are your children to receive an inheritance?

4. Charitable Legacy Questions:

What are your current giving practices? If you are leaving money to charity, are your children the ones to give it away and are they trained and prepared for such a task?

Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.

Psalm 90:12 NLT

Happy New Year – A Choice or a Greeting

As we enter a new year, we tend to greet each other with the term, “Happy New Year” but I have been wondering if these words are better suited as a choice rather than a greeting. After all, we cannot control what will happen in the coming year.

The sad reality is that we may face difficult circumstances in 2022 that will bring grief rather than happiness. One Kingdom Advisor in NB shared with me during the holiday season that his wife’s cancer has returned; the news from the doctor is anything but positive and he is afraid he may lose the love of his life at some point this year.

Another advisor in AB suffered a brain bleed and was rushed to hospital just before Christmas. She posted this on Christmas Eve:

“I have a new joy. I have life. Dec 13th about 9:15, I had a headache like I have never experienced.

I knew I was in trouble almost immediately. As I crawled the hallway, the prompting, tell the 911 operator the door code. They can get you. Just rest now. I felt the Angels with me. They kept me safe and my heart at peace.

Since then, I have been told I am of the most unlikely to have survived this. Only 25% survive. 1 in 5 have no known cause and that is me.

I am so ready to count my blessings, treasure my loved ones and many dear friends, and to help those I have been entrusted to work with after a little time to fully heal.

Beyond blessed, beyond grateful, and weeping again.

On Boxing Day she posted some “post event observations” …

“In life there will be times we disagree with each other. Sadly this often leaves a broken relationship even amongst people that dearly loved one another. One of the many blessings to come of this medical event is healing in some of these breaks. It’s made it worth going through! It’s been a life changing time but for the better.

It seems that the events of our lives, no matter how challenging, are really meant to be opportunities, even though it may be difficult to see it that way at the time.

When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

James 1:2-4 (NLT)

Jesus himself gave us the ultimate example of endurance: “in view of the joy lying before Him endured the cross …” (Hebrews 12:2 Berean Literal Bible). We have to determine our difficulties to be an opportunity for joy. Therefore, “Happy New Year” is not merely a greeting, but a choice we make in life.

Make 2022 your best year ever. Life is so very worth the living.

A Child is Born!

A Child is Born!

Christmas Day, December 25th has become a day focused on gift-giving and receiving. On Christmas Day 2019, our granddaughter, Eleanor was born which has changed Christmas Day for our family into her birthday celebration.

Queen Elizabeth said it well in her Christmas message:

In the birth of a child there is a new dawn with endless potential.

Queen Elizabeth, Dec. 25, 2021

When a child (or grandchild) is born, it brings about significant change in the family dynamic. You become more centred on someone new rather than on yourself. Before children (35 years ago), we were newly-weds and the focus was on each other as a young married couple. We were transformed into parents and the years since brought further transformation – We became grand-parents! Christmas Day 2021 was delayed until Boxing Day because our focus intentionally shifted.

Photo taken on Dec. 27, 2019

The process of transformation often involves painful experiences. Here is how the Apostle Paul described it:

I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives.

Galatians 4:19 (NLT)

While we celebrate Christ being born on a specific day, we have continued the celebrations from a single day to a full season. Paul said he was experiencing labour pains which “will continue until Christ is fully developed.” It is not just the experience of Christ being made alive in our hearts but also that He continues to develop in our lives. Children grow and parents grow with them so each can be brought to maturity and that is the journey of life.

When I think about Christmas, it’s about a child being born but also about that child becoming “fully developed in our lives.” What this means is the focus of life and yes, even our business, is changed forever so that Christ becomes the centre.

There is much in our world that draws our attention away from what is truly important. Often the influences that impact our daily decisions are so subtle that we are completely unaware of them. Make no mistake the goal is to shift our focus away from what is essential. The context of Paul’s statement about labour pains is that there are competing voices that are “zealous to win you over” with the ultimate goal of distraction so that we “would pursue them” (Gal. 4:17).

There is always a competing voice – one that is louder than the whisper of truth! The truth is that we are on this earth to complete the work that was prepared for us and to bring glory to God. The louder voice calls us to focus on other things in our business like products and sales targets. While these are a necessary elements for our success in business, the focal point is to bring glory to God by completing the work given to us.

For every industry, there are “best practices” to follow to be successful. When Christ is fully developed in us, the “best practices” will naturally flow through us into our lives and businesses.

It’s quite interesting that “the glory of God” is something we have all fallen short of (Rom. 3:23) whether in life personally or in business. We have all missed opportunities but the object of our hope is the glory of God (Rom. 5:2).

So as we wrap up another Christmas and journey into 2022,

I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion!!

Philippians 1:6 ESV

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday

Following the US Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday comes “Black Friday” where consumers shop for great deals which is a great lead-up to the frantic shopping Christmas season. I’m sure you have received and have maybe even taken advantage of some of these deals.

The shopping frenzy typically goes through the weekend and even extends into “Cyber Monday” – more deals.

In response to all this spending comes “Giving Tuesday” which highlights the importance of not just spending our resources on ourselves or the people we love, but also on giving to those we may or may not even know.

We have to set our priorities because all of these uses for our money are calling to us everyday! Honestly, I wish “Giving Tuesday” was a week earlier, before the big sales weekend.

The sequence of these days speaks to what is priority for most. There are typically only five places that money is directed:

  1. Lifestyle – typically the top priority / when we get a raise or bonus we tend to increase our standard of living.
  2. Owe – when we are not able to pay immediately for large purchases (house or vehicle), we often borrow for it, so in essence, debt is an extension of our lifestyle.
  3. Owe – let’s not forget what else we owe – tax. Amounts for tax are deducted from our pay so the taxman makes tax our top priority since this deduction happens as we receive our pay.
  4. Grow – “Pay yourself first” is a tag line used by many financial advisors to motivate you to save for your financial future.
  5. Give – sadly, giving is often the lowest on the priority list.

Maybe it’s time we adjust our financial priorities: instead of focusing on our lifestyle first and giving out of what’s left, maybe we should adjust our priorities:

  1. Give – Let this become our top priority / When we get a raise or bonus let’s increase our standard of giving (instead of our standard of living).
  2. Owe – The bank and CRA sets this as a high priority for us anyway.
  3. Grow – The wise save for the future while the fool spends whatever is received.
  4. Live – Our lifestyle can be based on what remains which will mean some adjusting.
Rev. Billy Graham

When we set the right priorities, our spending habits and our attitude toward money will change. Billy Graham believed that our thinking toward money has a profound impact on the areas of our life.

I didn’t realize Billy Graham shared so much wisdom about how to use money:

“God has given us two hands, one to receive with and the other to give with.”

We would do well to “remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35 ESV).

During this weekend, remember your priorities! Will you give on Tuesday based on what’s left after Black Friday and Cyber Monday? Or is Giving Tuesday more of a priority?

Is Your Olympics Over?

Is Your Olympics Over?

It’s been quite interesting to watch some of the Olympics this summer and now the paralympics begin. The display of talent in the closing ceremonies and the endurance and strength in the athletes is something that comes through discipline and training. What human beings are able to accomplish is astounding.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.

Psalm 139:14 NLT

I am certain that not every athlete may consider a higher power when they are competing. I do find it interesting to see a photo of Canadian Andre De Grass after winning the gold in the men’s 200m; he is on one knee, looking and pointing up. It reminded me of a blog I wrote about olympic medalist, Eric Liddell.

Eric Liddell was a devout Christian and missionary to China, who felt it a priority to run in the Olympic games. His sister felt that his training for the 1924 Olympics deterred him from returning to China. He said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast! And when I run I feel His pleasure.” We usually would not class running or involvement in a sporting activity as spiritual, or God-honouring, but more a physical activity. For Liddell, running wasn’t just a fun activity but a God-honouring one.

Word4Now Blog – June 2017

The Bible describes our bodies as temples and indicates that there is a greater purpose in everything we do, maybe even greater than we realize.

You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

Paul, 1 Cor. 6:20 ESV

Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord, and not for men.

Paul, Col. 3:23 HCSB

The Apostle Paul made many references to sport like “running in a race” with the goal to “get the prize” and also referenced boxing and wrestling in his writings. This got me to wondering if he might have attended the Olympics. In my search I found this article titled: The Historical Background of Paul’s Athletic Allusions by Jerry M Hullinger which states:

The chief athletic contest in Greece was the Olympic games. Founded in 776 B.C., these games were held every four years.

Many other athletic contests were spawned from the Olympics and there was one held in Corinth. The Isthmian Games form the backdrop for 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.

Paul probably was in Corinth when the games of A.D. 49 or 51 were held. A further reason that lends weight to the idea that Paul attended these games is his profession as a tentmaker. At such occasions, large numbers of tents would be needed to provide shelter for the crowds of visitors …

Even if Paul were not, technically speaking, a tentmaker but rather a leatherworker, this would not have precluded his making or repairing tents or shelters.

It’s quite fascinating to think that Paul’s writings were influenced by these competitions because he was likely an eyewitness to many of these events.

24Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! 25All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. 26So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. 27I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.

Paul, 1 Cor. 9:24-27 NLT

Some lessons Paul shared from these games:

  • Bring glory to God by using one’s strength and talent, not only in sport, but also in life’s work.
  • Apply the same sort of discipline and training in life as those in sport in order to obtain a crown (earned in the ancient games) or a medal in our modern day Olympics
  • To know your purpose you need to look up (beyond the sun).

Sometimes it’s easy to think that what we do on this earth lacks meaning and purpose and finding fulfilment can be exasperating. There is even a book in the Bible dedicated to “the Futility of All Endeavour” (Ecclesiates).

I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Solomon, Eccl. 1:14 NIV

It is natural to only look “under the sun” to discover our purpose. I recently read that the way to discover meaning is to look beyond the sun, into the heavenliness. That’s why Paul encouraged us “to work for the Lord” (rather than men) and this is to “win a prize that will not fade away.” Through the games, Paul was reminding us that our focus can so easily be on the wrong prize.

Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 9:25 that the reason he exerted him­self in his ministry was so that he would obtain an incorruptible crown (στέφανος; cf. 2 Tim. 2:5; 4:8).

Jerry M Hullinger, The Historical Background of Paul’s Athletic Allusions.

Paul’s references to the believer’s prize seem to be related to conflict in the spiritual life, a prize that can be won only if one throws himself and his resources entirely into the struggle.

Ethelbert Stauffer, “βραβεύω? in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament
vol. 1 (1964), 638; and Smith, “Games,” 2:1173.

What a powerful statement: the prize can only be won by a complete investment of oneself and the resources that have been entrusted to our care. Are we putting all our energy and resources into what we have been called to do? Are we looking beyond the sun daily in order to walk in the work that God has prepared (in advance) for us to do (see Eph 2:10)?

Possessing this crown signified spiritual, emotional, financial, and social benefits. Yet as Paul wrote, as grand as this earthly attainment was, it paled in significance when compared to the heavenly reward for the faithful believer (1 Cor. 9:25).

Jerry M Hullinger, The Historical Background of Paul’s Athletic Allusions.

Any recognition or reward for our efforts and accomplishments in the industry that we work in or sport in which we compete, will pale in comparison to the reward we can look forward to. This happens when we invest our lives with a perspective that’s beyond this world.

Just as a side note: My son, David completed some research and did a project using Legos to explore the history of the Olympics in a 7 minute video for one of his classes in university. Thought you might find it interesting.

Not Just a 100 km Ride

Not Just a 100 km Ride

July 24th was special in 2021, not because I went on a 100 kilometre bike ride, but because of “why” I did that bike ride. It was a “Ride to Thrive” in order to raise funds for International Missions. For my ride, I was so thankful to have friends and family who donated from BC, AB, ON, QC & NL.

On the Quebec side with Parliament Hill in the background

It helped me realize that there are all sorts of ways to give. The riders all gave their time and energy to ride for almost 4 hours. Volunteers gave their time to meet us at the halfway point and provide us with drinks to fuel us for the last half of the ride. They also volunteered to do a BBQ for us hungry riders at the end. Then there are others, like some reading this post, who chose to support financially. We all contributed to a great cause.

I have been cycling now for 15 years and I have learned a few things when riding:

1) It’s easier to ride when you have someone directly in front of you and

2) Stay as close as possible to the back wheel of those riders.

There’s a great life lesson here: stay close and ride with someone on this journey of life.

This reminded me of when I did the cycling portion of the Iron Man triathlon in Corner Brook back in July 2008. (My average speed for that race was 29.8 kph). The difference in that race and this ride is that the triathlon was an individual race. You had to keep your distance from the rider in front of you or pass that rider; you could not ride in another’s slip stream. That was not the case in our Ride to Thrive journey. It was a joy to be able to take advantage of someone else’s strength, even when your own strength is wavering.

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”

Galatians 5:25 ESV

The cycling journey exemplifies this truth. The energy you gain by being close to someone else is more valuable than you realize. You can go at a faster pace for a longer time than you can on your own. “In step with the Spirit” means you get the advantage of the Spirit’s activity in your life and you can go further and accomplish more than you ever can on your own. If however, you are out of step, the effort becomes more of your own and you end up accomplishing a whole lot less than you might desire.

Notice the distance gap between the front 3 riders

Ottawa is friendly to cyclists and the McDonald Parkway is closed to traffic on Saturday’s and Sunday’s during the summer to give bikers the road. On the ride back, I watched two of the stronger riders in our group begin to accelerate and I realized quickly that I needed to get on the wheel of the second rider or I would be gapped and left behind. The speed began to increase from 32 kph to 36, to 40, then 42 until we had to slow for a stop light. It felt good to exert that energy and keep pace with those riders (believe me, I was not always able to do that).

If you are not attentive on a ride, these gaps can form and you can be distanced. That happened at one point with Murray Cornelius, the Executive Director for Missions with the PAOC and ride organizer. He shared with me after that he was able to catch us, but was not able to maintain the speed because he had exerted so much energy to reach us. He did keep up with us for the rest of the ride but for that short time, he ended up being gapped.

I’m reminded of this verse:

I have not yet reached my goal, and I am not perfect. But Christ has taken hold of me. So I keep on running (cycling) and struggling to take hold of the prize.

Philippians 3:12 Contemporary English Version

Keeping attentive to the working of the Spirit will ensure that we are not gapped. Even Christ Himself, while on this earth, kept a-tune to the will of His Father. We can know how the Spirit is directing us day-by-day and feel the strength of being in His slip-stream.

Just like in 2008, I finished the course completing the 100 km ride. Thanks again for all those who donated.

Recorded July 24, 2021 – Gloucester, Ontario

A Pastor’s Legacy

A Pastor’s Legacy

It’s been a month now since the tragic accident and loss of Ralph Benson. Today, June 10th is Ralph’s birthday. Despite not being that close, I have thought of him, the church he pastored and his family every day since receiving the shocking news of his sudden passing. I’ve been considering the legacy he has left his congregation and family.

Some of his own words that were shared at his funeral made me realize just how significant an impact he had. What he told his grandchildren is deeply insightful: “Poppy is never going to die.” What a counter-cultural thing to say. Thousands watched his funeral while his family and church had to come to grips with the immense loss. There seems to be a clear contradiction here between what he told his grandchildren and what happened on May 9, 2021. We all need to understand this more clearly.

Do you Really Believe John 3:16?

The most recognized verse in the Bible reveals significant truth that is so easy to overlook.

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 NLT

Will not perish” – that’s the truth Ralph told his grandchildren, but the fact of his death has been established. So how are we to reconcile the fact of death and the truth that he would “not perish?” Many believers understand that you have to die (this life must end) and then your eternal life begins. Or is life a continuation and we simply transition from life on earth to life in eternity? The real question is when do we receive eternal life – when we believe on Christ, or when we die physically? Our perspective is more important than we might realize. It is pretty clear from Ralph’s words to his grandchildren that he had already received eternal life and death was not part of his future. Ralph lived most of his life based on a biblical worldview and had received eternal life in his twenties.

June 10, 2020

Think about birth for a moment. You had life in the womb months before your date of birth and after your birth, life continued in a different realm outside the womb. I believe Ralph understood that his death would be similar in some fashion to his birth – death was not the end of his life but rather, like another birth into a different realm. Ralph revealed his eternal perspective when he said “Poppy is never going to die.” Let’s face it, most Christians don’t speak with an eternal perspective like he did. Most would say something like, “Poppy is going to die, but then he is going to heaven.” This statement is a half-truth and has some sense of eternity but contradicts the words of John 3:16 (shall not perish). We have eternal life now and we are not going to die – we are simply being birthed into a new realm.

Is your Tombstone Accurate?

Think about it for a moment: a tombstone records the date of your birth into this world and your exit from this world (for Ralph Benson June10, 1955 – May 9, 2021). The truth is that you existed before your date of birth and your belief in Christ means you continue to exist after your date of death (based on John 3:16). Having an eternal perspective matters and how we communicate this is more significant than we realize. Ralph communicated an eternal perspective to his grandchildren because he was a steward of eternal truth. We are all called to be stewards of truth!

We are called to live as citizens of heaven!

Here’s what Jesus said in the parable he told about the unrighteous steward:

The rich man had to admire the dishonest rascal for being so shrewd. And it is true that the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with the world around them than are the children of the light. Here’s the lesson: Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home.

Luke 16:8-9 NLT

If you read the complete parable, this manager is being fired because he did not steward well what was given to him to manage. Since he is losing his job as steward (like when our life on earth comes to a close), with his time remaining, he quickly decides to use the relationships that he has for his own interest by making deals that favour the people owing the master. He reduces the amount each of them owe which serves to secure his own future. They would treat him favourably by “welcoming him into their homes.” The shock of the parable is the master praises this steward even when he comes to understand that he will now receive less from these people. Why?

It is important to note that “the actions of the steward are not upheld as models in the parable.” He acted with his own self-interest in mind and is still referred to as “the unrighteous manager” yet he is “more shrewd than the children of light.” This explains why he was praised: he acted according to his worldview. We are citizens of heaven and therefore, should live with an eternal perspective in view, but we often communicate only as citizens of the earth. Ralph communicated a biblical worldview by telling his grandchildren he would not die. At this point, it seems very confusing but he communicated the truth of John 3:16 in a way that many Christians fail to understand: Ralph Benson did not perish.

The Legacy

The legacy Ralph left is the challenge we face daily: to live as stewards of biblical truth and treat others according to this worldview! The message of this parable is encouraging us to align our speaking and our management of relationships and resources with the interest of the owner in mind. This is the task of the children of light.

The unrighteousness manager’s actions were consistent with his worldview more than the actions of most followers of Jesus are consistent with their worldview. The instruction of Jesus is “store up treasures for yourselves in heaven” and we can do this in our present day by the way we use our “worldly resources.” Let’s not limit the stewarding of our worldly resources to our finances only, but understand that how we communicate with others on a daily basis will result in praise from the Master (or not).

How are we doing at managing and communicating our biblical worldview? Have we, as children of light,” become more shrewd in the use of our worldly resources to benefit others? Are we living and communicating based on an eternal perspective?

I Remember Ralph

I Remember Ralph

The last few weeks have been very difficult for Cathy and I; we have gotten a glimpse of the “valley of the shadow of death.” Yes, death touches us all, but the closer it comes to us, the more challenging it can be. Maintaining an eternal perspective is the key when walking through these times.

First, our friend and former neighbour, Marlene Baker, lost her physical battle with cancer. When we last visited home (Newfoundland), we spent some time with Gerald and Marlene and they were actually the last two we saw because we have not been able to return due to the pandemic. It was difficult to lose such a good friend.

Speaking of the pandemic, two days after Marlene’s passing, Cathy’s first cousin, Mitch Ball, only 48, took his last breath after being on a ventilator for two weeks. I had never met Mitch but it’s a shock when someone younger than yourself loses his life without really having the ability to say good-bye to his parents, wife or children.

A week later, Cathy’s Aunt Flo, who was 88, had a heart attack but thankfully, was able to say good-bye to her family. When our kids were younger, we would visit during the summer and we have so many fond memories of her over the years.

One day after Aunt Flo’s passing, the tragic accident of our friend Ralph Benson occurred. I graduated from Bible college with Ralph in 1985 but we were more classmates than friends. Almost 10 years older than me, he was a married student living off-campus. We both went into pastoral ministry, had seen each other through the years and most recently, enjoyed a few deep conversations. I respected Ralph because I saw in him a heart after God, truly caring for people.

Ralph & Paulette at Ministry to Missionaries in 2016

Honestly, in his death, I gained more respect for my friend and his ministry. At the funeral, his son, Adam, told how his own three-year-old son asked the question, “Why did Poppy have to go to heaven?” The response provides such an eternal perspective: “Poppy’s work for God on earth is done, now Poppy’s work continues in heaven” (my paraphrase).

I appreciated hearing from Ralph’s children and in-laws. One described him by saying despite his being a pastor, “he was not a subscriber of religion.” That explains to me why he was able to accept this son-in-law into the family, who had fathered a child before meeting and marrying Ralph’s daughter. He displayed not only a father’s heart but also a pastor’s heart by welcoming not only a new son, but also a grandson. That is more of a challenge when a pastor is subscribed to religion. How many relationships have been severed or hindered because of religion?

One of the things shared at the funeral was how he accepted people even when they messed up. The words shared by Evangel’s Administrative Assistant was, “He helped me understand grace.” Ralph demonstrated the love of Christ, shared the truth of the good news, but he led with grace in order to infuse life-changing truth. Generally, the church is more known for “preaching the truth” and if you don’t line up with that truth, you are an outsider and remain that way until your behaviour lines up with that truth. When a pastor leads with grace, the church learns to accept people as they are, with all their failures and mistakes. Grace provides the time needed for the truth to penetrate lives providing the opportunity to change.

Thank you Mike Freake for sharing your heart at the celebration of Ralph’s life. He said Ralph “was stubborn about people – he gave people a chance and God did the work.” In that regard, he refused to institute policy because situations were so different. Mike, you revealed so much about his heart as he pastored Evangel in Gander for the past 19 years especially that he preached grace for the first 6-7 years!

“He wanted to rebrand the church – A heart for people.” Ralph clearly understood that the church was not meant to be only a place that believers gather to worship. “He wanted this building to be constructed not for a congregation, but he wanted this building constructed for a community.” The church building is a place of worship but this was never meant to be the limit of its work. Its energy, focus and resources are to be on meeting needs in the community: a furniture warehouse, a place to meet socially, to exercise, even to provide housing for many who may have financial difficulty. It was refreshing to hear that while believers may be gathered for worship, others are also in the building for different reasons. “Everyday of the week there are classes happening, sports, community exercise groups, people of all faiths and no faith in the building.” How cool is that? This is not a typical Sunday morning in a church building, because the church is clearly not subscribing to religion either.

Let the church be the church! If church buildings are only being used for religious activities like Sunday gatherings and mid-week prayer, are we really being the church? Our buildings should function for the community as much or more than it functions for its members.

I have to be honest, I felt a profound heaviness over Ralph’s passing; it was certainly a most unexpected death, but after watching his home-going service, my spirit was truly lifted, especially when I saw what became his favourite t-shirt – “65 and fully alive!” He explained to his grandchildren that he was never going to die! The accident on May 9th shifted Ralph from the land of the dying to the land of the living. He is now truly alive! We may feel that his work on earth is complete but I get the sense that it will continue on through countless others who have been well equipped with the same spirit that Ralph Benson possessed.