Category Archives: Family

The Incredible Impact of Love

A couple of weeks ago, my family attended the funeral of my wife’s grandmother. She was 97 when she died. The visitation and funeral were attended by many family and friends. As we were driving to the cemetery following the service, I looked at the long line of cars in front of us. I looked in the rearview mirror to see the long line of cars behind us, going out of my range of sight. I looked at the cars stopped on the other side of the road, watching the long procession go by. I could tell, by the expression on some of their faces, that they were wondering who this person was, that so many people were attending the funeral. It must be someone really important.

As we continued to drive, I asked my wife if she knew what was significant about this long procession of cars. She gave me an answer or two, but it was not the answer I was looking for. Grandma Ray had a large family. Her obituary states that she had nine children, twenty-two grandchildren, thirty-two great-grandchildren, and twenty-three great-great-grandchildren. The sheer number of this group, especially if you add in spouses, could make for a large turnout. However, I have known of people with large families who would not have many attend their funeral. In Grandma Ray’s case, many of the family did attend. Many friends attended as well. Why?

Grandma Ray cared for others. With a family this large, it would be easy for people to fall through the cracks. But no matter how old or young, whether you came by frequently or seldom, whether your life was a mess or you seemed to have it all together, whether you had been in the family more than 70 years or just a day, you were always welcome at Grandma’s house.

Grandma Ray probably did not think that she was anyone of great importance. She was just a regular person. In the eyes of the larger world, most people would not know who she was. Neither Hollywood nor Washington DC ever came knocking on her door. But if you ask her family and those whose lives of families she touched over the years through babysitting or ironing (which she did almost up to the very end), they would tell you that Grandma impacted their lives significantly. And they will tell generations to come about their mom, mother-in-law, grandma, babysitter, and friend, and about what a special person she was.

This is the message I wanted my wife to hear. Many people do not see themselves as great persons, highly gifted and influential. They don’t figure that their lives make much of a difference. And yet, I believe that, most of the times, it is the regular people that God uses to make the biggest impact in other’s lives. I think that Scripture teaches this.

The Bible teaches that it is servants who make the biggest impact for the kingdom of God and that to be the greatest, you must be a servant. Only if we humble ourselves will we be exalted in God’s eyes. Even Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life up as a sacrifice (Matthew 20:25-28; 23:11-12). In fact, God chooses to use those who not viewed as great in the eyes of the world (1 Corinthians 1:26-31). God uses these people to demonstrate His love to others. I believe this is why Grandma Ray’s life impacted so many. She was trusting in God and the sacrifice of Jesus for her life. And God’s loved worked through her life in a loving and sacrificial way that impacted many others.

God’s love is amazing, beyond our comprehension. When we receive the life He offers us through Christ, He pours His love into our lives. But it is not just for our benefit. It is for the benefit of others as well. Therefore, we become a means of God showing His love to others. He uses our lives to touch others with His love. By His grace we are saved, not by our good works, but as a gift from God, in order that we might do the good works that He has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:8-10).

I believe that Grandma Ray’s life was an outpouring of this love from God. The impact of her life could be clearly seen from those who came to pay their tribute to her that day. It is a reminder that God has specially created each one of us. Today, if you think you are not specially gifted or talented and that you will never be able to do great things, you need to think again. In fact, if you think you have anything to offer to God, you also need to think again. Those who come with empty hands before God can be used to share His love in ways that will impact others for generations. The life of worship is not doing big things for God. It is being faithful to share the love of Christ as we walk along the way. God may use us to do some big things, but most of the time, it will involve being faithful to serve and touch the lives of those we meet. God will use us in ways we could never imagine. The world may never notice, but our eternal reward will be great. And God will use us to impact others with His love.

Together for His glory…

Spotted Dishes and Wrinkled Shirts

Yesterday and today, I wore a wrinkled shirt. Seems kind of strange, I know, but I had my reasons.

Earlier this week, my wife and I spent a day out, going to lunch and doing some Christmas shopping. Our oldest son graciously agreed to stay at home with our youngest son, Caleb, so we would have the day out together. I have always been very thankful for how our older sons, and now also our daughter-in-law, have been so willing to spend time with and care for their brother. Even though they have busy lives, they will help out with “man-sitting” whenever they are able. “Man-sitting” is, of course, another one of those Caleb coined phrases called “Calebisms.” It was first used a number of years ago, when he did not appreciate the term “baby-sitting” being used to refer to someone taking care of him for a day.

Returning to the topic, my wife and I were spending the day out together. When we arrived back home, we walked in the door and noticed the dishes were all done. Our oldest was sitting on the couch and my wife asked if he had done the dishes. He said that Caleb had done them. He then proceeded to tell us that Caleb had also done a load of laundry. He had decided to wash our dress clothes. I walked back to our room and saw the pile of clean clothes on the bed. Normally, when our hang-up clothes come out of the dryer, they go straight to the hanger. However, Caleb, not being a normal part of doing the dress clothes, did not do this. So, the clothes were in a big, wrinkled pile.

My wife said to me that she would re-do them, but I told her not to. I would wear the shirts wrinkled. It would be a reminder that our son did something special for us. Besides, what are a few wrinkles, right? She did, however, rewash the dishes. There were quite a few missed places. But the point is, however, Caleb was trying to do something special for us and it was meaningful to us.

As we go through our lives as Christians, I think there are many times when we try to do things for God. For some, they may do this out of obligation, only because they think they have to or because they think it earns them points with God. Neither of these attitudes is reflective of what God wants for our lives. But when we, out of love and gratitude for God, respond in celebration and service to Him and others, it reflects a genuine life that wants to be a part of doing something special with and for God.

And yet, we are limited and flawed human beings. How can we offer anything of value to the eternal God Who possesses everything? The same way our children offer something to us, such as taking care of their brother or trying to wash dishes and do the laundry. They demonstrate their love for us. When we think of all of the things we have tried to accomplish over the years as Christians, it must be a wonderful assortment of spotty dishes and wrinkle shirts in God’s collection.

I don’t know how God fully operates, for Who can fully know the mind of the Lord? However, I know from His Word that He delights in His children and rejoices when they rejoice in Him. We can never earn His favor or approval through good works. But we can express our love and gratitude for Him through a pursuit to know Him better and living to glorify Him and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. No, our human efforts will never be perfect, but when done out of love for God, I believe they are a fragrant offering to Him, just like a wrinkled shirt.

Together for His glory…

Remembering Mom and the Faithfulness of God

This past week, my mom went home to be with the Lord. The visitation was Sunday and the funeral was Monday. It was incredible to see the amount of people who came. Family, friends, colleagues, and students, some who had mom or dad as a teacher or coach forty years ago, stood in long lines to pay their respects and support the family. I estimate that well over a thousand people came to the visitation alone. Many others came to the funeral service. It is a great testimony to how someone’s life can be used to touch the lives of many others.

As part of the service, my dad asked me to speak on behalf of the family, which I was honored to do. As my blog entry for today, I thought I would share with you what I shared in the service, as a tribute to my mom and also to remind us all of the love and faithfulness of God. For those who read my previous blog entry, some of the content will sound familiar, as I had begun to put my thoughts together a couple of weeks ago, in anticipation of this event.

Reflections:

As we go through this day and those to come, we will continue, as we have for the past several days, to recall and retell our fond remembrances of Mom.  That is how it should be.  So, as I speak for the next several minutes, I will recall a few of these memories that I have of her life.

Mom had a long and productive life. It was a life which included times of struggle, especially in her early and later years.  The early years were filled with the economic struggles of the depression and post-depression years and being raised in a single parent home.  Her later years brought with them many health struggles.  But throughout her life, she never seemed to lose her determination. She demonstrated this time after time, regardless of the aspect of life.

Mom had many accomplishments.  She touched the lives of numbers of people as an English teacher, school newspaper editor, coach, neighbor, friend, painting instructor, Sunday School teacher, and many more ways we could recall.  She also loved her family and she touched each of our lives in different ways.  She always took the time to be a part of what we were doing.  Even during our high school years, when we were all so busy, she made sure she was at our events, even if it meant driving around the city to four different sporting events on a Saturday.  Now, that I think about it, the way Mom use to drive, we were probably putting much of the city at risk on those days.  But that is a whole other story.

She always asked about how things were going.  Whether it was kids, grandkids, or other family members, she was always willing to take a look at your latest project and ask for updates.  Then, maybe she would offer her thoughts or “suggestions” about your work, as only an English teacher can.  She definitely had a direct way of saying things, in the true spirit of the Hayhurst women before her.  But, you always knew what she was thinking, and you always knew she cared.

She loved literature and reading. Almost every night you could find her in bed, reading a book. I was always amazed at how fast she went through them. She loved to teach writing. Even at home, we were rarely ever able to get a school paper out of the house before Mom had reviewed it and marked it in red pen. This meant, of course, that we had to rewrite it. It was annoying then, but it has produced fruit for years to come as we have taken that input and put it to use in our lives.

Mom loved science fiction and mysteries. In my elementary school years, during the summer, Mom gave me copies of some Tom Swift books to read (because you can’t go the whole summer without reading, of course). I was fascinated with the stories of adventure and space travel. I was hooked. Mom would watch Lost in Space with us. This was followed by Star Trek, Star Wars, and many other sci-fi stories and movies.

Mom was gracious with her home. It seemed every time you would turn around, someone was moving in or staying overnight. Whether it was providing young people in need with a home or their older children moving back in (and bringing their kids with them), there has hardly been a time when someone was not staying with them. Mom and Dad demonstrated a true spirit of generosity. During the years of desegregation in St. Louis, there were frequent times, following sporting events or school activities, that the house was filled with students from the city, so they would not have to take a cab home late at night.

Mom was beloved by many colleagues and students at South County Tech, Lutheran South, Affton, and many other schools around the city. Even though she was not a teacher at Affton, she was known by hundreds as “Momma Hill,” and they would frequently be at our home for various events or just to talk. She shared with students her love for learning, athletics, and dance. She share with them her life and faith.

Mom was a very independent and determined woman.  That is why it was difficult to watch her struggle during her final years.  Following the first bout of cancer and then the stroke, she was still determined to manage things for herself.  But as time went on, and the health issues increased, she began to lose ground.  And I think that is where many of us have struggled, as her family and friends, watching her decline and lose the ability to do the things she loved to do.

It can be hard to watch suffering.  It raises many questions in our minds.  Where is God in all of this?  I know some of you have struggled with your faith.  Many of us have been angry with God through these time and others.  We have asked questions of God and not seemed to get any answers.

But God was with Mom all along.  He never turned His back on her.  And He has never turned His back on you or me.  Yes, there are a lot of bad things that happen in this world, including the suffering we have watched Mom endure.  It can cause us to question the goodness of God.  And yet, as I stand here today, I am confident that God never turned His back on anyone in their suffering, except once.

When Jesus Christ was crucified, He bore the penalty for the sins of the world.  But He not only bore the weight of the sin itself, He bore the burden of everything ever associated with sin. Every disease, illness, cancer, deformity, or disability resulting from our fallen world was borne by Christ. Every evil or treachery ever done was placed on Him. Every struggle, sorrow, or tear ever cried was felt by Him. All sin and suffering was endured by Him (Isaiah 53:3-6). He suffered as no one ever has or ever will.

Even the anticipation of the cross, when Jesus was in the garden, was so great that it was almost enough to kill Jesus (Matthew 26:38). He was grieved to the point of death. He knew what was coming.  Jesus would be forsaken on the cross (Matthew 27:46). This is the only time in history when God turned His back on injustice. Jesus was not guilty, but God allowed this injustice to take place so that all evil, sin and injustice could be atoned for. Jesus endured the punishment that was mine and yours. He did it so that the justice of God would be satisfied and so we could find peace, joy, and freedom in Him, even in the midst of our suffering and grieving.

We can be confident that there is a Savior Who knows our weaknesses and struggles (Hebrews 4:15). He knows the depth or our sorrows and fears and grief. So, as we weep and struggle in these days and those to come, we can know that Jesus knows our suffering intimately. He bore it in His own body on the cross. And if God has gone to such lengths to bring us freedom from sin and death, we can truly trust Him. If God has allowed pain and struggle to continue in our lives, we can be confident that His sovereign purpose can and will work all things together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). He has a greater purpose, beyond what we can see at the present time.

We may never understand all of the reasons why God has allowed certain things to happen.  We may not understand why Mom had to go through all that she did.  But we can be confident that God is faithful and that Mom’s suffering and that our suffering and grieving is near to His heart – today and every day of our lives. And now, her suffering is over, and she has been made new, by the One Who makes all things new.  She is at rest in the presence of the Lord.  And she now waits, in joy and peace, for all of us who will join her.  And if she could speak to us today, Mom would tell us that there is a glorious Treasure to behold and possess, and His name is Jesus.  And she would say, with the apostle Paul:

“Therefore, we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Or as the great lion, Aslan, says at the close of the C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, “The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.” And then Lewis adds in closing, “All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

Thank You, Father, for sharing Mom with us.  And thank You for giving us an eternal hope in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Do I Love You More Than Before?

I do not love my wife the same as I did when we were married. We have both changed over the years. Our relationship has changed. Our roles have adjusted and shifted during our years together. We are several years older. It is just not the same as it used to be.

Cheryl and I met when we were in 7th grade. I was interested in her from the first time I saw her, but we attended different school districts, so I did not see her that often. In high school, she started attending our church. We knew each other on a surface level until we reached our junior year of high school, which is when we started dating. Our relationship was very serious from the beginning. By the spring of our junior year, we had already discussed marriage. By our senior year, we had started discussing timelines. My father, seeing where this was all going, said he wanted us to wait to get married until we had finished two years of college, which we agree to do. We set the wedding date for the weekend following finals of our sophomore year!

Our dating and engaged years had been filled with time spent together, going on dates, spending time with family, church and youth group events, and many phone conversations. The first two years of college were spent in different parts of the state, so there had been many letters, cards, and phone calls (and phone bills). About every four or five weeks, I would make the drive across the state. We would spend every second possible with each other. As the wedding drew near, I started coming back every other week. I could not stay away. Then, we were married, and things began to change.

Life happened. Our first son was born. I graduated college. I attended seminary. Our second son was born. I worked in ministry. I left seminary. Our third son was born. We returned home to St. Louis. We lived with parents. I worked various jobs. We moved out on our own. Then, we lived with parents again. We moved out again. After nine moves in thirteen years, we finally lived in the same home for fifteen years. I worked the same job for over 15 years, while working in ministry also. Cheryl homeschooled our children. Two of our sons went to college, graduated, and got jobs. Our first grandson was born. One of our sons was married. And so life continued.

As I said, things in our relationship were changing during these years. You may think I mean that they changed for the worse, but that is not the case. Oh, we had, and have, periods of struggle and distance in our life and relationship together. However, as the years have passed, our relationship has grown deeper – richer. There are times of backtracking, but we have eventually been guided and worked through those things and move forward. So, today, I can honestly say that I do not love my wife the same as I did when we were married. I love her far more.

We have weathered trials, uncertainty, failings, and sorrows together. We have celebrated victories, joys, and many special moments together. I have seen her giftedness, compassion, and giving spirit displayed on a level that I could only hope to duplicate. She has endured with me when I am at my best and when I am at my worst. She knows me better than any other human being on this planet, and she loves me anyway. I can be a royal pain to live with. I have a personality that can be annoying and flat out depressing. I have a tone (so I have been told) that can come across as very critical, especially with those I am the most comfortable with. Cheryl sees more of this than anyone. Yet, she still loves me and puts up with me. And Cheryl, my love, if I had it to do all over again, I would choose you, every time.

Our love for each other is great, but it is limited and imperfect. There is a love far greater – a perfect love that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:14-19).  This past Sunday our pastor taught from Philippians 3:1-11. Here, the apostle Paul speaks of the exceeding greatness of knowing Christ and that there is nothing else in life that can even compare with it. Jesus Christ bore the punishment and shame that belonged to us. He took upon Himself the judgment of the Father for my sin and your sin – the sin of every human being that has lived, is living, and will ever live. He also bore the pain of our sorrows and suffering – every evil that is the result of sin (Isaiah 53:4-6). The weight of it all was placed on Him on the cross. Just the sorrow and weight of anticipation of the cross was almost enough to kill Jesus (Matthew 26:36). Any sin we have sinned and any pain or sorrow we have suffered – Christ bore them all. He endured it all for the glory of the Father and to provide our redemption. He died to save us and set us free.

So, the question I ask myself is how well do I know Jesus today? Do I love Him more than when I first started on my journey with Him? Have I taken advantage of the time I have been given to grow in knowledge of Who He is and what He has done in my life? Can I say, with the apostle Paul, that I consider everything else a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ? That is pretty tough stuff. That is a pretty high standard and regardless of how I answer this question right now, it also provides motivation for me to continue the journey. Because what Paul is saying is that I will find no greater joy and satisfaction in life than through knowing and following Christ. It is to my advantage, as a follower of Christ, to pursue Him. And the more I know of Christ, the more I will love Him and want to become more like Him. Christ, working and dwelling in me, will transform me.

I love my wife more now because of the journey we have traveled together and because she knows me even better than at the start, and yet still loves me. That makes her more precious to me. Jesus Christ knows everything about me and, in love, drew me to Himself so that I would reach out my hand to Him. He saved me and is renewing me daily into His image. He never grows in knowledge of me. He knew me completely before I was born, and loved me still. I, however, can grow in knowledge of Him through His Word and His work in my life. And as I grow in knowledge of God’s glory and holiness, I better understand how far from that I am. I become more aware of how amazing and unbelievable the love of Christ is. I understand more clearly how hopeless I would be without Him. I am grateful for His mercy to me, a sinner. I know that I have so much more to learn, but I want to know Him better because as each page of discovery opens before my eyes, it is better than the one before. If we open our eyes, God will never cease to amaze us – every day and for all eternity.

Do I love Him more than I once did? I would like to think so. Only God really knows. I long to know and love Him more because I know that is where true joy and satisfaction is found. Let us spur one another on to a greater knowledge and love of our great Savior.

Together for His glory…

What Do I Treasure?

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!  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.”  Matthew 6:19-24 (ESV)

Our youngest son, Caleb, was born with Down Syndrome. His birth changed the course of our lives, literally. As parents, we have learned many things through the lives of all of our sons.  We love each of them deeply and we do not love one more than any of the others. However, there is uniqueness to Caleb’s life that God has often used to demonstrate certain truths to me.

I have often wondered what life would be like in this world if everyone was as satisfied with life as Caleb. We do not have a fancy house. He does not have a large room. We don’t travel or go out to eat a lot. Yet, the majority of his life, you would think Caleb is the richest man in the world. This is not to say that he never wants something that he doesn’t have, isn’t ever disagreeable, doesn’t get upset when his schedule gets changed, or is sometimes as stubborn as a mule! These things do happen. However, most of the time, he is more satisfied with less than any person I have ever known.

Most of us would not consider grocery days a big deal. Years ago, when we had just one car, I would pick up the groceries on my way home. As I was bringing groceries into the kitchen, he would help unpack them and put them away. “Cereal!” “Cookies!” “Broccoli!” “Milk!” You would have thought it was Christmas morning from his response to every item pulled from the bags – simple enjoyment in simple things.

Caleb has his TV and ESPN. He loves to watch his sports and his favorite athletes, like Albert Pujols. He will frequently listen to his iPod, while drumming the air with sticks or playing my old guitar, while also watching sports, muted on his TV. However, he is also content to sit and draw or paint or copy the lyrics to worship songs he loves. He has endless copies of lyrics and original designs of our “dream house” and his “man-room.”

He and my wife clean a church building together, where he will vacuum for several hours. He never seems bored and looks forward to it as one of his days of the week. He delights in his birthday. As soon as one is over, he starts talking about what he wants to do on the next one. He loves to help serve communion at church and also helps as a greeter. Someday, he says, he wants to be on the worship team. As Caleb likes to say, “This is the life.” So we did not go on a vacation this year. Instead, we sat together as a family, had popcorn and watched a movie on DVD at home. Isn’t life great? Caleb sure thinks so.

However, I find that I am frequently not so content with the life God has given to me. What does it take to satisfy my heart? Does it take reaching a certain level of income? Do I need to drive a certain kind of car? Does it require a bigger home? Does it require me to go on one or two vacations each year? Maybe material things are not what take hold of my heart. Maybe my satisfaction comes from making sure everyone knows that I am right. Does it come from receiving the approval of others? Or does it come from going to a church where they do everything just the way I like it, whether it is programs, preaching style, or music? There are so many things in life that can take hold of us and steer the course of our lives. In of themselves, there may be nothing evil about these things and many more that I did not mention. They can all be a wonderful gift from God. However, as shown in Scripture, the gifts of God can frequently become idols in our lives.

Jesus was clear. No one can serve two masters. No one. If obtaining anything else than Christ becomes the driving force in my life, then, according to Jesus, I am not serving Him. I am serving whatever that other thing is. I am worshiping it because I have valued it more than Christ. In reality, I am worshiping myself because I have placed my wants and desires above the desires of God for my life. I have placed myself on the throne. How easily and quickly this can happen in our lives. I find it to be a constant battle in my life. Instead of beholding the wonder of Christ and all that we have in Him, I become engulfed in my own self pursuits and desires. Instead of worshiping Christ and being transformed into His image, I allow myself to be satisfied by cheap substitutes, which never satisfy for long and have little or no eternal value.

Our lives are so cluttered with many things. We place so much importance on finding those things which will bring us happiness. Yet, there is a simple peace and joy that comes from being satisfied in Christ. When our gaze is fixed on Christ, everything else comes into proper focus. For then, we truly worship and our lives and priorities flow out of that worship and satisfaction. Our son, Caleb, values the simple things in life and he delights in them. Many of the trappings of life do not faze him, mostly because he does not understand them. He has the mind of a child in a man’s body. However, didn’t Jesus say to come to Him like a child? There is joy in simplicity. Simple trust. Simple life. Simple joys. Simply treasuring Christ, our Savior, and trusting Him for each moment of each day. This life is a gift. If we are in Christ, we have true life, for it is not just for our brief days on earth, but for eternity in glory with Christ. This is the life.

Together for His glory,

Phil