I can still see him when I glance over at my living room table.
Beard full and white. Eyes full of the humility, joy, and the wisdom of a life fully lived for Jesus. One of the few in my life who was there when I was a baby. He and his amazing wife helped introduce my parents to life in Africa. A part of my spiritual heritage. He wasn’t my blood uncle, but there’s a lifelong bond when Africa is in your blood. So we called him “Uncle Gene”.
And there he sat, at my dining room table – laughing, telling stories, giving gifts, eating half frozen cheesecake with my family and sipping his tea. He gave me a fresh glimpse of Jesus that day. And then he was gone.
I didn’t know that day would be the last time I’d see him and get to hear his stories – this side of heaven. But I’m so glad we had that beautiful day.
And I can’t get these words out of my head. These beautiful words from his wife as cancer was taking over his body. “All his assignments were completed and now he waits for deliverance to his eternal home… we are grateful. We have lived a full almost 58 years in God’s service and are thankful that He chose us as His messengers, weak and sinful as we are. But we are also redeemed by the blood of Jesus and lack nothing”
All his assignments were completed. Or as Jesus puts it, “Well done, good and faithful servant… come and share your Master’s happiness” (Mt 25:23)
This isn’t about death. This is about life! Your life, my life, right here, right now.
Come with me here – into another story. Because this too – this beautiful and strange juxtaposition of the things of life. This is what I saw, driving by our local taekwondo studio.
I was surprised. We expect to see trophies and medals in display cases, declaring to the world our accomplishments, not thrown out to rust and be put in the dumpster. So I asked my friend why – why have all your trophies just been thrown away like that?
He simply said they were his personal trophies and he was throwing them out because he didn’t have space for them and didn’t need them anymore.
I couldn’t help but think of the moment he won each of those trophies. Of the years of hard work, dedication, and practice that went into each win. I know him – he once told us that it took him 10 years of competition before he won anything. 10 years of trying and failing – before he landed the trophy. I think of the rush he must have felt – the accomplishment, the confirmation that he was the best. And yet, here they lie, rusting under the rain and sun, a discarded heap.
We all know the value of a trophy isn’t in the metal or plastic they’re made of. We value our trophies for what they represent. What they say about us. When the rest of the world rushes by and we feel small and insignificant, this symbol tells us that we matter. That we are good at something.
You may not be into martial arts. You may not care about sports at all. I have never won a trophy in my life … but I have built up a closet full of other trophies.
Those things we hold on to because they tell us what we want to believe about ourselves.
Those accolades that say we are important.
The applause of our peers, the affirmation of our parents, the “good works” that we hope others will see, that big house or fancy car that lets everyone know we matter.
I spent most of my life chasing the approval of others. I remember moving to Los Angeles from Africa at 14 years old… shy, insecure, awkward, and desperate for approval. I met a girl at a “get to know you event” and when she found out I was from Africa, she rolled her eyes, said, “oh, well that’s weird”, and walked away. We don’t forget those moments that make us shrink back and wish we could disappear, do we? I did well in high school, I graduated with honors and got a load of awards, but I don’t really remember those – I remember the awkward moments of not belonging, not fitting in. Because that was the trophy I craved. That is what I felt I needed.
What is the trophy that you chase? What is it that will finally tell you that you’ve “arrived”? That you are important to someone or matter to the world? We all have them, we store them up in our hearts until the dust makes our souls decay. We find we are selling ourselves for a drink that will never quench our thirst and we can no longer stand under the weight of our own expectations.
You probably have heard these words in many contexts … read them again and let them read your heart.
“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” Matthew 6:19-21
What is your treasure? It will define every part of how you live you life, and how you assess your life. The great irony here is that we can’t produce what we need our treasure to be – it all comes as a gift. A proper aligning of who we are in the big picture of mankind. We can only determine true treasure in our lives when we see ourselves as the treasure we are.
“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:10
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.” 1 Peter 2:9
“You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.” Isaiah 62:3
“For you created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Ps 139:13-14
When we bow our hearts to His majesty, when we repent of our attempts to build idols in the mud of our ambition, when we let His death on the cross cover over a lifetime of sins, we enter into the stream of true treasure. Come! Sit here with me awhile. Let the renewing flood of mercy fill your soul and show you who you truly are.
My heart is full and tinged with that bittersweet mixture of sadness and joy today, when I think about my dear Uncle Gene. I am overjoyed at the glory he is experiencing now, the hope lived his whole life in light of has been fulfilled. I am sad because I will miss his presence in my life. But when I think of that day sitting around my dining room table, and I remember the stories he told and the fire in his eyes, I am drawn to true treasure.
Thank you, Uncle Gene.