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  • Writer's pictureDwight Smith


reflections on life

What was it about the legacy of Al, Truman and Nancy?

Death has a way of bringing the most important things into clarity. With the gift of hindsight, we can more easily see what the lives of those who have died really meant. I am not referring to the nice platitudes that of course accompany just about anyone.

I refer to the well thought out exegesis of a life in the months and years that follow the last breath. With a bit of honest reflection of the words, and more importantly the decisions they made across the totality of their lives, who they really were becomes more evident.

Patti and I have had the opportunity to say goodbye to the whole generation of our parents and a good number of friends who preceded us. And, that brought reflection.

What was it that we saw in them that left such a strong impression? At the home going of her mother I took the moment in time to write down what we saw in our parents and a few friends who left strong impressions.

Impressions that have helped to shape the trajectory of our lives. I noted six things they did and four lessons that I extracted from my mulling over their lives.

(1) It was the unique and daily things we saw in them!

My parents named me Dwight Paul after Dwight L Moody the evangelist and the Apostle Paul. I am sure that there were many occasions when they wondered if that naming and many hours of prayer they offered up on my behalf would yield the desired fruit.

My father could be seen every morning on his knees early, praying for me and a myriad of other people and things. The sight of that commitment sticks in my mind even to today. My parents hoped that my life would follow the lives of the men they named me after.

Patti’s parents had four children. The hope was that at least one of them would serve the Lord of the Harvest overseas. In fact, two served overseas, and one served with John Perkins (Let Justice Role Down author) in Mississippi. The fourth diligently supported all of us.

Our parents set apart one day a week to pray for Patti and I when we served in Latin America. I am sure that my parents would have loved to have seen their grandkids more often. Or, to talk with them on the phone more easily than the 1970s actually afforded. But their commitment to their Savior and His Gospel for the world prevailed.

My good friend Al Telford demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to availability to people, especially young leaders. Hardly a week went by that he was not up early two or three days a week to meet one on one with young leaders

(2) It was the length of years we saw these things in them!

Hebrews 12:1-2 reminds us that our journey of faith is not a sprint but for most of us, a marathon. All of these demonstrated to us in living color what the journey was all about.

They finished well, even though for some of them their going was not easy. Patti’s mother died after more than a decade of Alzheimer’s. But even in the early years when she recognized what it was and what it meant, there was only praise.

My father died after more than a decade of suffering through the ravages of Parkinson’s. His mind was more or less lucid the whole time. But, his confidence in our Heavenly Father didn’t waver. And, my mother who cared for him daily, demonstrated the same full faith commitment.

Such living examples of faith weigh heavy on the memory and inspires like minded faithfulness.

(3) It was the explanations that they gave!

If you asked them why, it was because early on in their lives they had made choices. They chose to follow Christ no matter what the cost. They chose to serve Him everywhere He gave them opportunity.

They chose to spend their expectations on the things that glorified God and extended His kingdom. Their homes were places of welcome and hospitality. Their time was most often available to others. Their church fellowship took front and center time in their lives.

And their greatest asset, their children, were fully dedicated to God’s eternal designs.

(4) It was the intensity with which they held their convictions.

The growing cultural conflicts around them and I am sure the occasional dismay that appeared, did not deter them from living the life that they had chosen when they followed Christ.

While others struggled with the radicalizing culture around them, they remained firm and adamant about the primacy of living the righteousness that they had received from Jesus.

At times, in our own juvenile struggles and peer pressure, we might have wavered. But I can still hear the strong assertions coming from their mouths. We might have chuckled or argued. But now, many years later the power of their contrarian words still linger in my hearing.

(5) It was the habits they developed!

In all of them, we had more than one occasion to observe times of personal solitude, Bibles open on their laps, and their relationship with their Heavenly Father being developed.

Patti remembers her mother coming home from a day of teaching and going straight to her room. She advised her children that she needed a few minutes with her Father. From time to time Patti would peek through the keyhole and see her Bible open, or on her knees praying.

My father’s chair side table was never without his Bible open and other supporting books opened and stacked.

These kinds of vivid images stick in our minds decades after and remind us of the habits that we too need to choose. Relationship to God in the finished work of Jesus, has to be daily nurtured from and in His inspired word.

(6) It was their extraordinariness through the ordinary of their lives!

In the worldly sense, none of them were extraordinary people. They weren’t rich. They did not write books. They didn’t preach to thousands. Few outside of our family would recognize their names.

And this is precisely why the impressions from these our parents and friends linger so strongly. In the ordinariness of daily life they demonstrated that life lived in concert with relationship with our Heavenly Father could still be extraordinary.

When so many around us are failing, they show what consistent strength looks like. When so many others are living self obsessed lives, they showed what it meant to follow Jesus and serve others. When so many are confessing Jesus, but not obeying Jesus, they showed us what true Christianity looks like.

What do we learn from them?

(1) First, the roots of life are developed in the disciplines of the private. Corporate Christian activities have their place. But the relationship and representation that we are called to live because we are made new in the image of Jesus is built upon the disciplines of the private.

Our world clamors for attention 24 hours a day seven days a week. Our waking hours are invaded by others. Unless......we turn them off!

The quietness of solitude is a choice. And one that must be taken if we are to grow up in Christ. Few other decisions are as important as this one. If the solitude is rooted in time with God in Scripture, we have the opportunity to push back the noise and all of its mundane, worldly and spurious calls.

We have the opportunity to breathe in, if only for a short time, the air of eternity. We are reminded that time is temporary and that we were created in Adam and recreated in the last Adam for the righteousness of God's eternity. Not the muck of our present disobedience.

(2) Second, one has to be in a relationship with others to significantly impact the way that they think and live. Again the corporate church activities have their place. But, true impact is relational. And in fact, most people have come to faith because of relationships with others who were followers of Jesus. In fact, it could be said that becoming a follower of Jesus and not just a confessor, demands more than crowd type relationships.

If I am right in this, then a few other things also stand true. One, we are capable of only a few deep relationships. So, two, pick them wisely. Indeed here is where God can give us daily direction. We can be kind and compassionate to all. But, the Spirit of God knows the people He is preparing that need more than just a kind and compassionate nod.

I have become fully convinced in the words of the apostle Paul, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

(3) Third, be prepared to invest more significant time in these God prepared relationships. My good friend Al Telford was the living incarnation of this. He spent untold early mornings meeting, instructing, admonishing young men to walk as a disciple of Jesus, not just a confessor of religious truth.

My good friend John Curlin who is still with us has shown me the same. At retirement from his medical practice he dedicated himself to praying with people. One on one and demanding great intensity, he gives himself to helping people find the healing that God has provided in His word, and by His Spirit. Such selfless tasks stick in your memory to motivate us to similar selflessness......if we allow them.

I like to think that I am following their model as now, later in my life I am attempting to follow their example. While there is value in the public commitments, I am becoming more convinced that it is of limited value.

Accordingly, I am trying to give the greater part of my energy and learning to younger leaders in much smaller environments. If it has the same effect on them that Al Telford and John Curlin had on me, I think that God will be pleased.

(4) Fourth, the longest lasting convictions or values are in significant antagonism to the norms around us. When we are born again, we are immediately placed into contrary positions to the world we still live in.

I remember vividly the day my dad died. He had suffered for a number of years from Parkinson’s disease. When we went to say our goodbyes to him, and collect up all of his “assets,” they all fit into a paper bag!

He had been faithful to His Lord and to His calling. And, now after the last few years of wasting away from the ravages of Parkinson’s, nearly nothing remained except to inherit the “city” he had anticipated for most of his adult life. He lived in this one, but he never really belonged to it. As such he collected little of its assets!

If you are a follower of Jesus, you must be a contrarian. This does not mean that we have to be mean, or unloving, nor that we cannot live in pluralism. But, because we have believed God, there is precious little in this world with which we can actually fully agree. And there are mountains of ideas, actions, decisions with which we must disagree.

Everything in this world is polluted by sin according to God’s story. Romans 3 hangs over all of us, and even the physical world because of us. In spite of this pollution, those of us who belong to God, through Jesus Christ, can still enjoy meaning, purpose, fulfillment and joy. But we can never allow the polluted ideas, actions nor decisions of this world to determine any of this. We have been called to believe God above all else: to live by faith.

Faith means that we not only believe God, we also embrace the life of faith as He has designed it. As a result, you will be called upon to live contrary to much if not everything that surrounds you. You too must be a contrarian!

(5) Fifth, life in its ordinariness is the crucible for extraordinary discipling. Our culture seems to celebrate only the extraordinary. If you can throw a ball better than any of your peers, or run faster, or throw more accurately, you are exceptional. And exceptional people, especially in sports and entertainment, are to be esteemed, paid unrealistic sums.....worshiped?

When in fact, there is little if anything that these people do that has any redeeming eternal value. And it could be strongly argued that their activities have little to no human redemptive value. But we seem to prefer to live in a world of “smoke and mirrors” rather than be warned by the facts in the underbelly of these people and their activities. It doesn’t take even 10 minutes of internet search to find the “ugly” facts that are underlying.

But with God, the ordinary is the crucible for the extraordinary. Jesus Himself is the prime example. Son of God, creator of the universe, promised one of Israel, savior of the world, born in a manger with the livestock.

His earthly mother, Mary, was a woman not of worldly wealth and grandeur but from simple and ordinary people. Yet without great explanation of the miracle of God that was being worked in her and through her, she responds, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Luke 1:38. And even more “extraordinary,” “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” Luke 1:46-47

We easily lose sight of the sovereignty of God and all that this entails. For He is: first holy, righteous , just. 1 Peter 1:16. Only then, surprising us with love. 2 Peter 3:9. The great oxymoron of scripture is not God’s right, indeed obligation to judge, but His love appearing: CHOOSING to take the full extent of His own wrath upon Himself in His Son.

And when it comes to us, Genesis 1-3: gives us the storyline of the Bible! Chapters one and two the design, chapter three the aberration.

The Son, Jesus Christ, has undone the aberration, the world we live in today. For those who are in Jesus, the designs of Genesis 1-2 have been reborn and are being rebuilt by the Spirit of God. We can indeed have a relationship once again with God our Creator.

The whole trajectory of our lives has been reset. We are restored to representing our Father, His holy image and stewarding His assets. Any and every role He gives uniquely to each of us is already “extraordinary!”

Extraordinary because it comes from Him. Extraordinary because it represents Him. Extraordinary because it accomplishes something He wants done. Extraordinary because it becomes a part of defining who we are.

Death is stark, painful, ugly. But it can also be a gift from God. For it gives us a moment to reflect upon ourselves, our lives, and, more importantly, the outcome of our life. It is never too late to reflect and adjust the disciplines and decisions we have made. To be inspired by those among us who have finished faithfully!

Psalm 11:7

For the Lord is righteous;

he loves righteous deeds;

the upright shall behold his face.


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