Sunday, November 25, 2018


These days with the various responsibilities that have been given to me, I spend a good amount of time visiting with old people. I am not talking only about old people like me, but people who know that even under the very best of health circumstances, their days left on this earth are few.

At that time of life, all pretense is gone. All need to impress anyone has disappeared, and it becomes evident what is truly important to these old folks.

As I visit with these people, do you know what we talk about more than anything else?

They do not tell me about how much money they made, or how big their house was or how many houses they had. They don’t tell me about how much land they once owned or the biggest buck that they ever shot. I have never had anyone tell me the lowest golf score they ever played or that they were part owners of the Green Bay Packers and that they went to the Super Bowl that one year way back when.

Do you know what these old folks talk about more than anything else? They talk about people—they talk about the people that have been part of their lives. They talk about their mothers and their fathers. They tell me about their husbands and their wives, their sons and daughters, uncles and aunts, and about their most significant friends. They tell me about the people in their lives that have influenced them in some way, or they tell me about people who have had an important part in their lives.

I don’t hear about how wisely these old folks made their financial investments and what the percent of growth they managed to get through the years. Rather than that, I hear about how they were once in deep trouble and someone came to their aid, or about that time someone else was in trouble and how they were able to help them.

 Rather than hearing about the investments of their money that they have made, I hear about the investments that they have made in the lives of people. 

In the past two weeks, I spoke at the funerals of two separate friends of mine. One of these funerals was just yesterday. These were two individuals who were not only my friends, but they were people whom I admired greatly. They each had their own uncanny knack for knowing when someone needed help, and never failed to step in. They were people who invested their lives in people. 

The Apostle Paul was also one who invested his life in people. He wrote to his friends in the city of Philippi: 

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart. (Philippians 1:3-7 NAS) 

Paul actually had a lot going for him in his life in the world before he forsook everything to answer the call of God upon him. Paul had pedigree and he had influence. He was educated in the best schools and was well respected among his peers.

But of this life he said, “Whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:7).

Part of what that meant for Paul was that he invested his life in people instead of things. 

We have just celebrated our Thanksgiving week. It was this week, specifically on Thursday, that was set aside as a time to give thanks to God for the many blessings in our lives. All of us here can give thanks for the abundance of what God has given us in our lives. I know that there are people in our country that do not have enough to eat, but even the poorest among us have many more opportunities than a very great number of people in the world. We are truly blessed in this way.

At many thanksgiving gatherings, people often express thanks for those things for which they have been blessed, and these things are numerous. But above all, thanksgiving for many mostly revolves around family. If we come from a family whose God is the Lord, our thanks is to God for our families.

I think that this is a priority that we should maintain with Thanksgiving. Increasingly, the aspect of giving thanks for our families and even the value of the family gathering itself is being crowded out by other pursuits. I am afraid that shopping is the most pernicious of these pursuits. We first had Black Friday and now we have Black Friday eve, Cyber Monday and probably all the days in between. The fact of the matter is, we love to buy stuff.

I am not a prude when it comes to taking advantage of getting in on some deals, but do we not see that our love for things is slowly edging out our love for people? We are beginning to be influenced to think that our lives will be full and meaningful if we are surrounded by many and expensive things instead of even a few but very significant people.

I am afraid that our American capitalist economic system drives this in part. Not that I am a socialist by any means. I have seen by my years spent in Venezuela what the system of socialism brings about.

Own system of capitalism is a driver of innovation, and that can be a good thing, but I am afraid that it is not always the type of innovation that brings about true improvement of our lives. Our capitalist industry is mostly driven to instill in us a need to buy just stuff—things. These are not things that bring improvement in our lives, but rather take true meaning away from us.

Unfortunately, it sometimes takes tragedy for us to realize this fact. How many times have you seen a family on the evening news who had just suffered a devastating fire or a flood in their home and who had lost everything—everything that is, except their family. Their family survived.

I am not putting any judgment on what any of these individuals’ lives were like beforehand, but what we often hear is, “We only lost stuff. We can rebuild and replace, but thankfully our family survived.”

What they say may be almost have become a cliché, but it is true. We can get over the loss of things. We never get over the loss of people—not completely. 

We do not know much about the Apostle Paul’s personal life. He seems not to have been married, since he once spoke wistfully about the possibility of having a believing wife with him on his journeys, as did Peter and some of the other apostles (1 Corinthians 9:5).

Instead of a family in the traditional sense, Paul looked to those whom he trained in the Christian faith as being his family of sorts. It was not only the church in Philippi, but the other churches as well, and especially of those helpers who traveled around with him.

He calls Timothy, “My true child in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2).

To the Ephesian church he wrote this: “I am continually giving thanks for you and remembering you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” (Ephesians 1:16-17). 

Paul invested his life in people. Not only that, was also an investment advisor. Here is some of his investment advice: 

Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. (2 Corinthians 9: 10-12 NIV) 

The Old Testament prophet Hosea was also an investment advisor. He told his nation of Israel that they had invested foolishly in their lives because they had trusted in their own judgment about what would bring them security.

Like a man who constantly looked to the stock market or to other investments to get the highest yields so that they would have security for the future, the Israelites were looking to their own strength.

“You have plowed wickedness, you have reaped injustice,” he told the people. “You have eaten the fruit of lies, because you have trusted in your way, in your numerous warriors.”

His advice? “Sow with a view to righteousness. Reap in accordance with kindness. Break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord until He comes to rain righteousness on you” (Hosea 10:13, 12). 

In the work that I did in Latin America years ago, I traveled to many countries and often to quite remote places. Several years ago, I found myself standing in the shade of a spreading mango tree behind a little church in the similarly little village of San Antonio, in the Central American country of Belize.

The day was hot, and I had been sweating from walking outside. It was still the middle of the day, but there in the shade I felt a breeze blowing through the green leaves of the tree. The air swirled over my face and then down my open collar, and it felt like the coolness of the shade was washing down my shirt to refresh the energy that had been drained away by the sun of the morning.

I was listening to an older man named Arturo tell me about the old days in the village. It was the village where my uncle Ed and his wife, Jewell, had served as missionaries many years earlier.

 Arturo told me that San Antonio is surrounded by two rivers so that the village is really on an island. There is now a bridge, but it was not so many years ago that it had been built. I learned about the ferry that used to cross the river and how, if someone returned to San Antonio too late in the evening from Orange Walk Town, they had to swim the river to get home. Electricity had only come into the village about ten years before.

I listened to the story of how the first church was constructed with bricks made by hand. It was built, Arturo told me, even before he was a Christian. He showed me what was once the pastor’s house. It is no longer used and has somewhat fallen into disrepair.

“This house,” he told me, “is where your uncle and aunt lived when they started the church.”

“This mango tree also has a history,” Arturo told me. “Mr. Blomberg,” as he called my uncle, “brought it here, dug a big hole and put in the tree, and filled in the rest of the hole with fertile soil.” I looked up through its leaves. It had grown tall and had spread its branches wide.

“Over there,” he said, pointing with his chin as they do in Belize, “is where your uncle and aunt had their garden.

“Mr. Blomberg is my spiritual father,” he told me.

I felt a little odd. I was standing in that spot for the first time, but in a strange way I felt a little tied to the soil. I also felt a remote kinship to the town and even to Arturo himself. 

The house had fallen into disrepair, as houses do if no one is there to care for them. Houses are actually a very poor investment, if one is investing for eternity.

But Arturo, although then an old man in his body, was flourishing in his spirit. As illustrated by the mango tree itself, he was alive and he was growing. His roots had penetrated deep into the Word of God. 

Arturo talked about the first baptism in San Antonio. It was held in a cenote.

“Let’s go and see it,” he suggested. “It’s not far.”

A cenote is a small, even tiny, and almost always round natural pool. Cenotes are scattered throughout many areas of the Yucatán peninsula and down into Belize. The whole peninsula of the Yucatán is a huge limestone shelf jutting up into the Caribbean Sea. It is the limestone that gives the water of the cenotes a rich turquoise color. They are generally very deep, and many contain Mayan artifacts.

We walked down to the cenote, and Arturo told me how they had made steps down into the water and, with stones, they built a little platform under the water. It was there where my uncle Ed stood with the person that he was baptizing. I was very glad that I could see this place.

God is a God of history. He is working in this present day, but what he is doing today has grown out of what he has done in the past. And what we see God doing today will in turn become the basis of what he will do tomorrow.

We walked back to the mango tree. My uncle Ed was no longer living in Belize. His house has fallen into disrepair, but the tree he had planted continues to flourish. It was not only the mango tree that he had planted and nourished but also the church that stood next to where it grew and the people who worshiped there. Arturo himself found his spiritual roots in the teachings that my uncle had brought to that village.

Jesus tells us this: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.”

And here is how Jesus concluded this thought. It is the best investment advice you will ever hear.
“This is my commandment: Love one another other” (John 15:16-17).

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