by Phil Strong - At the risk of alienating readers, I’m going to quote Michael Jackson; “If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change.”
Funerals are such sobering events in that they force us to think about the brevity of our lives and invite us to consider what truly matters in light of eternity. Do we matter to anyone, and have we left a good mark on the side of the planet? Have I spent my life in positive contribution to the betterment of others? Did I honour Jesus in the way I lived my days? Challenging ourselves in deep reflection often forces us to admit the truth we hide under bravado. You may have worked out by now, I recently said goodbye to a friend.
My mate Stu was a good bloke. He was big-hearted, fun to be around and diligent in all that he put his hand to. Fiercely competitive where I am not, I am thankful we never played golf together. But, as we are both passionate about overseas mission work, I’m grateful for the many weeks we spent together abroad.
Stu’s sudden death, (on the golf course of all places), was shocking to us all and caused a tremor right across our community. It’s forced many of us to dig deep, to look in the mirror, as M.J first sang in 1987, and perhaps this reflection will yield a benefit – perhaps we all might try and make the world a better place.
One of the astounding aspects of the countless tributes shared of my friend, Stu, was the remarkable and obvious difference in his life after he met Jesus. B-C (before Christ) he was self-motivated, strong-willed and rough around the edges. His life was heavily geared toward his family, but with all his drive for worldly success there was no room for a Loving Father. W-C (with Christ) Stu was a testimony to the deep, loving, life-altering transformation as the revealed work of Christ and not man. Accolades have flowed, as time after time people have come and shared of the “new man” that emerged after Stu surrendered his life to Christ. This left me looking at the man in the mirror, wondering if my friends could see any evidence of transformative love in my life. My greatest fear would be to spend all my energy in life on the wrong ambitions.
Michael Jackson sings, “I've been a victim of a selfish kind of love” and I have to wonder if he realised he was the victim of his own choices. Do we?
Stu was a big man with long arms, and his reach across our community was widespread. It didn’t matter which side of the tracks you came from; Stu would help you. He spent his life serving: from coaching kids’ sport to administering a widow’s estate, travelling dozens of hours to serve in an overseas orphanage, or sitting on a local community Board. The impact of his life was unbiased and extensive. Now, in memorial, his influence is ubiquitous.
His lack of preference challenges me. Would I cross the road to stoop and serve one that was beaten and abandoned, as my friend would do?
Previously self-motivated, Stu became a man who gave himself in service to others. Short-sighted, he mistakenly thought his self-sacrifice was only obvious to those who were truly blessed by his generous nature, like the men who sheltered in his home while in some form of life-transition. Bro, we were all deeply impacted by the limitless generosity you showed by repeatedly lifting others from their mess – no message could have been any clearer.
A keen rugby fan, (understatement!), Stu admired all top-level athletes who excelled among the elite of their field. And yet, instead of striving for the acceptance and praise of his family and friends, Stu served an audience of One. Jesus was not only his Saviour, but also his Lord. Time after time I was blown away by his obedient faith; if Stu had a conviction the Lord said something, then he was going to follow through, no matter the cost. You might be forgiven for thinking it’s all about the money, but not with Stu. Sure, pennies mattered, but treasures in heaven were the new currency accumulated.
My wife and I chuckled recently at the time Stu travelled overseas with a checked in bag full of children's clothes. We secretly hoped his bags would be searched, but also prayed the gifts made it to their favoured recipients. Willing servants always yield to the higher purpose.
Stu had learned from his hours of being quiet before God that how we live our days on earth will determine how we live for eternity. For that reason, and that reason alone, he kept his eyes on his prize. While he was trying to win a golf trophy with his name engraved on the side, Stu was sharing the message of Jesus with his playing partners. People follow the pattern of the wind, you see... that is, until they know The Way. And how will they know unless they hear the message of Jesus from our life that we share with them?
I have been deeply challenged as I have paused, pondered, and presented eulogy of my friend’s life. I’m starting with the man in the mirror, as I desire to be the change I wish to see in the world. I know there’s no message that could have been any clearer. It’s time to take a look at myself and make that change.
If you’re prepared to stand in the face of the wind or bend under the weight of measure, perhaps, you, too, might consider this an opportune moment to lift yourself, to stand up and rise above, and make that change.
Phil Strong is Senior Leader at ZION, a church community in Te Awamutu. He's an author who has inspired many with his practical teaching for transformational living. You can find Phil's blog, podcast and books at https://philstrong.com.