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!

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.

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.

Is There Wisdom in Losing Wealth?

Is There Wisdom in Losing Wealth?

I read the story of the prodigal son this week. Considering the context of this chapter in Luke’s gospel, the focus is on the things that are lost: the sheep, the coin and the son. The other consideration around loss that is seldom spoken about is the loss of wealth.

What a challenging decision it must have been for the father when the son asks for his inheritance. I expect the father may have known or would have at least suspected how the son was likely to handle the amount he agreed to transfer to his account. Parents usually have some idea about the path a child may choose to walk, especially when they ask for money. Did he know that the son was, in many respects, already lost since he was discontent and felt receiving these funds would answer this discontentment? I have never considered before that maybe the father knew that the only way for his son to truly “be found” and “come to his senses” was to give him his inheritance.

At the time of writing this blog, the verse of the day in the Bible app is this:

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. 

1 John 2:15
https://www.bible.com/verse-of-the-day/1JN.2.15-16/6032?version=116

I have never connected these verses with the prodigal son before, but there is an alignment. There is a competition in each of us for our hearts. What the prodigal saw in front of him was pleasure and possessions; without realizing it he being pulled from the love of the father. Jesus revealed the greatest competitor for our hearts.

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Jesus – Matthew 6:24 ESV: English Standard Version 2016

In some sense, maybe the father was actually choosing to invest in his son’s future by giving the inheritance. The story reveals that the wealth given to the son would be completely consumed, so in that sense the return on investment (ROI) was not that great. However, the son hits rock bottom and decides to return to the father. It seems the father was willing to take a loss on the financial side in order for his son to come back to who and where he was supposed to be. The money was lost but the son was found and the rejoicing begins. The lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son were recovered, but likely the lost wealth was not found. It seems the father was ok to sacrifice the wealth to save the son.

Ron Blue shared a story about parents completing their will and interestingly, their son had a lifestyle they did not approve of. They were thinking because of this they might “cut him out of their will.” Ron asked an important question: “What is the likelihood of your son returning to the Lord if he receives nothing when you pass on?” They had to admit that the chances were nil. Then Ron asked, “Well then, what’s the likelihood of your son returning to the Lord if he IS included in your will?” The fact is, his heart would be more open to the Lord if he was included in their will. I believe that is the heart expressed by the father of the prodigal.

It seems clear to me that one of the overlooked messages that can be taken from prodigal son is this: It’s more important to pass on wisdom to your children than it is to pass on wealth. We need to practice the wisdom principle.

“If you pass wisdom to your children, you probably can pass wealth to them. If they have enough wisdom, then they may not need your wealth.”

Ron Blue, Splitting Heirs, page 70

When discussing the transfer of wealth to children, Ron recommends asking yourself three questions:

  • What’s the worst thing that can happen if I transfer wealth to ___________?
  • How serious is it?
  • How likely is it to occur?

Preparing the next steward to receive any wealth we transfer is a significant part of a parents responsibility.

Is it possible that the prodigal gained enough wisdom to be a better steward in the future? Are you intentionally passing on wisdom to your children? Sometimes more is “caught” than “taught” and our children pick up our wisdom unintentionally.

Becoming a Shrewd Manager!

Becoming a Shrewd Manager!

Jesus often spoke in parables and fulfilled the prophecy that he would speak things that were hidden (Matt. 13:34, 35). The parable of “The Unjust Steward” or “The Shrewd Manager” in Luke 16:1-13 is possibly one of the most difficult of Jesus’ teachings to understand. Interestingly, it precedes a very familiar and often-quoted verse (13) which says, “You cannot serve two masters…You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.” This shrewd manager, despite his unrighteousness, was “praised” by his master which is the shocking part of this parable . There is a powerful truth about eternal perspective revealed in this parable.

The facts are important and need to be clearly understood:

1. The main character has the job of stewarding the assets of "a certain rich man."
2. There is going to be an audit of the books because of the steward’s poor management.
3. The steward’s days in his role are numbered because of the "squandering of his (the owner’s)possessions."
4. The steward uses the relationships that he has developed to re-negotiate the debt that is owed his master.
5. Despite being “unrighteous” or “unjust” he is praised for his “shrewdness” in his handling of the circumstance. 

What principles can we apply to our own management of money and possessions? Here are some of my conclusions:

1. The main thing that we need to understand about this life is that ultimately our role is to be a steward over what is put into our hands.

We are each given talents “depending on each one’s ability” (Matt. 25:15b). My goal is to invest my gifts with the time I have to bring glory to God. We have also been given resources (or treasure) to manage. The Lord also gives us relationships which is often an overlooked element of our stewardship responsibilities. The requirement of a steward is to be found faithful (1 Cor. 4:2).

Understanding that whatever we have in this life belongs to another is a very deep concept. We work and earn money so it is easy to assume it belongs to us. The Israelites had the same thoughts but in Deut. 8:18 it is made clear that it is God who gives us “the power to gain wealth.” This parable teaches that we are called to be faithful in what belongs to someone else (Luke 16:12). Considering what we have been called to manage, it’s definitely a high calling.

2. At some point, the books will be audited. 

As followers of Christ, our lives will be examined or judged by God with the goal of providing a reward. Paul describes how our works will be revealed or become obvious; “the fire will test the quality of each one’s work” (1 Cor. 3:13b). What we do with the resources we have been given may have no eternal consequence (they are burnt up or consumed) or they remain after being tested.

Some of the final recorded words of Jesus are these: “I am coming soon and my reward is with me to repay each person according to his work” (Rev. 22:12). This is likened to a settling of accounts (Matt. 25:19) and the goal is to hear the words: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt. 25:21).

3. We must understand that we have a limited time to accomplish the goal.  

This adds a significant level of urgency to the management of the resources we have been entrusted with. To realize that we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do” is a very sobering thought. Are we completing that work or are we squandering the opportunities that present themselves during our days? There is a reason for the instruction: “Teach us to number our days” (Psalms 90:12).

For this manager, the loss of his job made him think more deeply about his options. He knew he had a limited time to act, so he called the clients for a final meeting. This is certainly one of the reasons he is considered to be shrewd.

Shrewd” is not necessarily negative – to call a businessman shrewd is generally a compliment, meaning “taking advantage of hidden opportunities”.

Until he was faced with this personal crisis, this opportunity was hidden to him and not a consideration. In a similar fashion, we do not have unlimited time and we all could use more wisdom that comes by numbering our days. Maybe the difficult things we face (like job loss) in life, have the purpose of growing wisdom within us.

4. We need to understand that the relationships that we have with others are truly a gift from God. 

“When you are with people, they are his people, relationships he’s given you, people whom you can serve with eternal values at heart.”

Ken Boa, Rewriting Your Broken Story, p. 15

This may require us to intentionally focus on those relationships strategically in order to accomplish all that God intends for us to produce from that relationship. Consider that God actually has a plan for each of those relationships and he positions us at the right time in that person’s life.

What happens next is most interesting: he calls “his master’s debtors and reduces their debt, thereby engendering their friendship.”

Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions & Eternity, p. 142

From the point of view of the debtors, the steward will have used his last moments in office (though they will only learn later that these are his last moments in office) to show generosity to them on a grand scale. The ancient world ran on the basis of a reciprocity ethic: good turns given and returned. The steward’s move gave him a claim upon his master’s debtors that was much more secure than any contract. Public honor required that they make some appropriate return to their benefactor. The steward had secured his future!

John Nolland, Luke 9:21–18:34, vol. 35B, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1993), 796–803.
5. The results that will bring praise from the master is when the impact reaches beyond this temporal life and extends into the eternal.

What the steward is praised for is not his unrighteousness but his “shrewdness” or “prudence.” This is the key that unlocks the parable. He is indeed a “son of this world,” but he is more prudent in planning for the only future he is concerned about than the typical religious person is in planning for his eternal future with God.

James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Luke, ed. D. A. Carson, The Pillar New Testament Commentar

The “worldly wealth” can be used strategically to invest in relationships with people. Only then can it be transformed into “true riches” (v. 11). The parable ends in verse 8 when the steward accomplishes his goal. What follows is the instruction to use “worldly wealth so that when it fails, they may welcome you into eternal dwellings.” Why was this steward “more shrewd than the children of light?” It might be because he acted according to his worldview (securing his future).

The natural inclination is to view all of the resources as our own (just as the children of this age do). This parable demonstrates the importance of managing prudently the relationships and resources on behalf of the owner or master (the task of the children of light). Instead of squandering the “worldly wealth” we ought to seek out hidden opportunities, likely relationships we already have. We are to become “faithful in the use of that which is another’s …” (v. 12).

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.”

We can accomplish this by our “shrewd” use of “worldly wealth.” To be shrewd means to find hidden opportunities to live according to our worldview, as citizens of heaven. This means we make investments that are long term … really long-term, as in eternal!

How shrewd are we in handling the resources that are placed in our hands? Are we looking for hidden opportunities to use “worldly wealth” to establish “true riches?” (cf. v. 11) Are we living as citizens of heaven, while we are citizens of this earth?