FIRST-PERSON: Investing in people
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (BP)--How much is enough? In America, where we live in luxury compared to the rest of the world, we have a hard time answering that question. I've seen too many people -- including Christians -- who are racing toward disaster. They never stop to ask:
-- Why are we working?
-- What are our priorities?
-- What are we doing instead of investing in the lives of other people?
Investing means more than your mutual fund's rate of return. Far more. Fifty years from now nobody will remember what you earned on your stocks -- especially you, when you're a memory in the cemetery. But if you train your children in righteous living and teach them God's Word, and they teach their children, who teach their children, your impact will continue for eternity.
What treasures are you leaving for the next generation? Are you toiling to leave behind piles of cash that will evaporate in a few years? Automobiles, finances, insurance policies, jobs and public recognition ... all headed for the scrap heap of history.
The things that last are simple: God's Word and His children. The people that we invest in and minister to will leave a lasting imprint. This starts with our natural children and extends to our spiritual children. They are fruit that lasts.
In Matthew 28:19, Christ instructed us to go and make disciples. Not converts, church members or backers of our favorite organization. In other words, He was telling us to pour our lives into people. Disciple your children at home and others in the community.
Be like the man I know who came to Christ in his 60s. Despite his age, he didn't agonize over his failures. He devoted the next 20 years to making disciples. He went back to his kids, reconciled their differences and taught them well. He talked to family and his neighbors.
Today there are young men and women and couples up and down the West Coast who owe their solid standing in life to his influence. It was amazing to see what that man accomplished later in life. His impact won't fully unfold for years to come. He left behind lasting treasures.
In 2 Timothy 2:2, the Apostle Paul instructed Timothy to pass on his teachings to others. This is the principle of spiritual reproduction. The older generation teaches the younger, who teaches the generation coming after them. The payoff comes at the end of life.
This is demonstrated by two friends who offer a contrast between the value of discipling and the emptiness of activity.
The first man, named Chuck, was a wealthy factory owner. However, what mattered wasn't his money. It was how he spent the latter half of his life. Realizing what made a difference, he discipled a few men a year. Gradually, he passed on his business acumen, insights on life and confronting problems, and the Scriptures that had helped him withstand pressures.
When Chuck died, the church was packed. Besides his family and church, many of his spiritual sons and grandsons came. They wanted to pay their respects and praise the Lord for what He had done through this man. At the end, he had given what truly mattered -- his life.
I visited the other friend, who I'll call Randy, on his deathbed. A Christian, he had filled his hours with public service and prestigious awards. But he never got down to the nitty-gritty of sharing with others to train, instruct and encourage them.
As a result, he felt empty. I could see it in his eyes and hear it in his prayers. Despite his service, those ministries were going on without him. The church boards no longer needed him. He wasn't a bad or neglectful father, but since he had failed to build much of a relationship with his children, they were moving on without him as well.
He died in a lonely state, embittered over the lack of caring he felt in his dying hours.
Discipleship is a tough task, because it calls for acting as a role model. The job includes transparency. Don't be afraid to reveal mistakes. We can help others overcome their problems by sharing what helped us correct our errors. That is how the man who first discipled me helped me take a major step toward Christian growth.
When Jim volunteered to meet with me weekly, I was still struggling. I had accepted Christ as my Savior, but I still had a lot of rough edges. I carried a lot of garbage and my temper bursts at home hadn't subsided.
One day, as we discussed investments, Jim opened up. A doctor, he was obviously embarrassed as he talked about losing a lot of money on a deal that went sour. He was afraid I would laugh when he revealed this truth. Despite those fears, he shared what he had learned from it.
My first thought when he told me about the investment was, "Stupid doctor, lost all his money." Yet because of his willingness to be transparent, I learned the lesson from Romans 5:1-8 that suffering produces endurance; and endurance, character. From character comes hope, which doesn't disappoint us.
We need to be open to others. Everywhere we look people are dying inside and struggling with difficult problems because they don't have someone to confide in and help them withstand the challenge.
While we may be rich materially, modern America is like the church at Laodicea -- wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked. Though steeped in money and creature comforts, we are lacking in the relationships that will enrich our lives and society. We need to reverse this trend -- today.
Adapted from "Optimize Your Marriage: Making an Eternal Impact on Family and Friends" (Christian Publications, 2003) by Phil & Susy Downer with Ken Walker. Phil and Susy lead the Discipleship Network of America (www.DNAminstries.org), based in Chattanooga, Tenn. Ken Walker, of Louisville, Ky., is a frequent contributor to Baptist Press.