The Continuum

Larry Burkett. Paul Brand. Sydney Elizabeth Simmons.

Two names you may be familiar with. One you’ve likely never heard of.

Larry Burkett was founder of Christian Financial Concepts and host of “Money Matters,” a show heard on over 1000 stations nationwide. After his conversion in 1971, he dedicated his time and talent to helping people understand how to be “good stewards” of their financial resources. I met him in 1979, and he was the “real deal,” a humble servant of Jesus who loved God and loved his neighbor as himself. Following a long and courageous battle with cancer he died on July 4, 2003.

“Money Matters” opened up the phone lines to allow people to share what Larry meant to them. Jay Sekulow talked about his mother’s battle with cancer, and told of Larry’s visit to her that resulted in her deciding to become a Christian. Another woman reported that she was always wary of Christians, but she started listening to Larry and sensed he was different. A few years later, she is a follower of Jesus and her financial house is in order. Millions of people were touched by this quiet, unassuming guy named Larry Burkett.

Paul Brand was a pioneering missionary surgeon who died July 8, 2003. He was the first surgeon to use reconstructive surgery on ‘leprosy’ (Hansen’s disease) patients and later applied the same techniques to those affected by Diabetes. In 1961, Queen Elizabeth awarded him the Commander of the Order of the British Empire. His professional accomplishments, as outstanding as they are, might have gone unnoticed had it not been for his theological reflections on what he called “the most problematic aspect of creation: the existence of pain.”

Those reflections were captured in books he co-authored with Philip Yancey, “In His Image, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made and “the Gift of Pain.” Brand became a mentor to Yancey who said of him, “I see the world largely through his eyes. My father died just after my first birthday, and in so many ways Dr. Brand became a father figure to me in the best way. I have never known anyone more brilliant, nor anyone more humble. I have written often of bad doses of the faith I got here and there. Truly, I believe that God brought Paul Brand into my life so that I could take all the time in the world to examine one human being and learn what God had in mind with the whole creation experiment. No one has affected my faith more. You need only meet one saint to believe, and I had the inestimable privilege of spending leisurely hours on visits, trips, and phone conversations picking apart a saint piece by piece. He stood up to scrutiny.”

Like a flame passed from one candle to another, physical life is passed on at conception than birth. How is spiritual life passed on? The Apostle Paul taught that transmission of faith happens when “what you have heard from me before many witnesses is entrusted to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2).” Faith is passed on, one person at a time, by a person who has received it from another. It is a continuum. When a Larry Burkett or a Paul Brand dies, a bright light passes into eternity, but their presence is still known, because they were faithful in passing on what was delivered to them by someone else.

As an experiment, I asked listeners to my show to share about the person who passed faith on to them. The first caller was Everett, who after his divorce was desperate and had no place to turn. So he called his ex-wife’s uncle Lyle, because he knew Lyle was a Christian. Though living in another state, Lyle and Everett began meeting by phone to discuss “Design for Discipleship.” Months later Lyle came to Tacoma and participated in Everett’s baptism service. And then a few weeks later Lyle was killed in a freak accident. Lyle was hit by lightning, but Everett is still talking about him today, because Lyle was faithful to his trust.

Charlie talked about being a street person when a black evangelist, James McCurdy, took him into his home. Greg talked about how being raised an evolutionist made him skeptical about God, until he met Brad, an intelligent Christian, who met with him every Wednesday night to provide reasonable answers to his questions. Billy was the son of a preacher, who remembered getting home at 2AM stoned on marijuana, and seeing his dad on his knees in the living room praying for him. Connie talked about her husband’s depression and how a guy repairing a gate on her property introduced her husband to Andrew, Mark and Nick, who loved and supported her husband back to emotional and spiritual health and ‘never took a nickel” for their time.

Each of these stories reminds us that the continuum’s effectiveness is dependant on the delivery of faith to others, by those of us who have received it from another, which is why when a noteworthy and faithful Christian dies, I always stop to ask whether I have been faithful to MY trust; have I been worthy of those who invested their lives in me?

Which brings us to Sydney Elizabeth Simmons. You’ve probably never heard of her. She is less than one year old and was dedicated at our church service yesterday. When our pastor mentioned her name he said, “at first I thought you’d been named after a WHOLE city! Then I found out you were named after your Great-grandfather.” As I watched this little girl’s parents, Grandparents, uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews, I thought about the continuum of physical life—we’re all here because someone “passed it on.”

Then I thought about the continuum of spiritual life. What will life be like for this little girl 20 years from now I wondered? I know the answer depends on the faithfulness of the Christians surrounding this little girl. And what part did Great-Grandpa Sydney play, I wondered? So I asked Uncle Pete about Sydney. “He was the life-of-the-party, fun-guy Christian,” Pete answered. “Seattle cop, honest, hard working.” The more Pete talked, the more Sydney sounded like a “love God, love neighbor” kind of guy. Sounds like Great-grandpa Sydney was a faithful part of the continuum as were Larry Burkett and Paul Brand.

Be faithful to your trust; fulfill your part in the continuum–precious lives depend on it.

Posted in Staublog, Thoughts in July 14, 2003 by | No Comments »

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