Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Life According to Phillip

I was grateful and honored to speak for the PCA commencement, 2013.  I wound up speaking about what I have learned from the life and phone calls of my cousin Phillip.  It is written for the ear not the eye but if you have a few minutes skip over the commencement verbiage of the first paragraphs and learn 7 life lessons according to Phillip!

Life According to Phillip

Pastor Dave, Mrs. Dixon, Dr. Burton, honored guests, PCA board members, faculty and staff, parents, family, friends....graduates! What a great day this is – wow!! We are here, you are ready to graduate, and I'm supposed to say a few words and sit down so you can! I understand. I feel deeply honored to share this time with you in this way and have looked forward to it for months. May God be pleased to bless these few words.

This class and I go back two years to when I was blessed to serve as Dean of Students at PCA. This is payback time! They had the audacity to write a song about me – something about Mr. Huff – and there was this little green puff ball, and the song said I was buff (well, I didn't mind that of course – it rhymed with Huff, I know) and then they said something about falling asleep in chapel. Hard to not love you – each of you: Austin, Ben, Daniel, Lorelai, Lorin, Anna, Holly, Bridgit, Amber, Harmony, Sarah, Hailey, and Bailey. Maybe I should write a song about you – not sure how I'd get all those names to rhyme! Along with all those in this room today, I honor your achievement and pray God's richest blessing on your life.
I have been blessed in life with a large family – both of my folks had 7 siblings and there were 7 kids in our family and then I married Jane and she has 11 siblings – family was everywhere! And there were a lot of cousins. One of those cousins was Phillip. Phillip is a special man. He lives alone in Texas not far from his sister and parents. One of my earliest memories of Phillip is when we were about 6 years old and he had found this long pipe and he was chasing me around with it. I realize now that was his way of saying “I love you!” Go figure! Phillip is a large man as you can see in this picture. When we used to play football we would say, “OK Phillip, you be the line.” He is 5' 9” and about 180........plus a few!
Phillip calls me everyday. Sometimes several times. No I do not always pick up.  Phillip is a man of few words – usually – and many phone conversations only run 2 minutes, after which he often abruptly says “bye” and hangs up. But across these several years I have learned some things. If you have someone like Phillip in your life you know what I mean – he has some special insight into what matters and he is a real blessing. I want to share some of that with you today – I call this “Life according to Phillip.”

Lesson One: Limits (calling)

Phillip knows his limits, which enables him to know his calling. Phillip will not be an aerobics instructor or a zip-line demonstrator or a skydiver. Instead he finds his daily calling within the gifts and abilities he has.

I know, we usually don't say this – instead we say, “The sky is the limit, you can do anything you set your mind to do.” I get that, but really? Maybe. But it seems far wiser to know yourself and follow a path that is within the limits – and gifts – of who you are. The standard answer is to find the place where your gifts and passions meet. True enough but if you leave God and loved ones out of the equation you are doomed to fail. Each of you have gifts that will be a great blessing to the world. Know your limits – don't try to be someone you are not supposed to be. Discover your calling and live it with a passion!

Lesson #2: Phillip cares about people

Did I mention he calls often. I am putting this phone on the podium here just for fun to see if he calls during this address. When we talked earlier today, you know how he finished? Very simple – and wonderful: “I love you.” Phillip knows that people matter. The things that matter are not things – Phillip knows the truth of that saying in his bones. But this means suffering. Loving people has rewards built in but it also has pain and frustration. Phillip has time on his hands but he has to put up with me not answering. And he still calls and leaves messages. The greatest gift you have to give is yourself, made in the image of God. Give yourself away in love for people and your life will be a thing of beauty and blessing. It takes time and self-giving but as Jesus said, giving brings blessing.

And Phillip is tender in his spirit. Over twenty years ago he visited in our home and accidentally broke the glass cover on our stereo. Now and then he still mentions it: “Sorry about that glass I broke that one time.” And often he will say, “Sorry you don't have your Dad here to be with you [I lost my Dad 20 years ago] – I know it must be hard living without a Dad.”

Phillip knows what matters – he cares about knowing and loving people.

Lesson #3: Remember the forgotten ones

When Phillip calls he often prays. And one thing that he often includes is this: “And Lord be with Jane and the boys and all they are doing this Sunday...and the dog.” Yes we should love animals – it is part of honoring God and this amazing world He has made. But I draw from this a larger lesson as well. What Phillip doesn't know is that our dog, Oreo, is a gift from God to us, showing up abused and starving, afraid to come close to me for about 3 months. We nursed Oreo to health and love him like crazy. But we are busy and we too easily neglect him. Often Phillip asks, “Have you walked the dog today?”

The lesson is this: Take time for the neglected, for those starving for affection. Sometimes Oreo wants our attention so much I think his tail will fly off from wagging. You will encounter people every day in your life who are dying inside, hurting, begging for someone to care about them, to just “love me for me” as the song says. It's true. Pain is one of the universal human realities and you are called to give the salve of kindness and attention and a listening ear whenever you can. Know your calling, love people, and especially give attention to those who are starving for love.

Lesson #4: Enjoy and embrace the fun and goofiness in life

Twenty years ago this summer Phillip and I attended a Promise Keepers event in Boulder, CO with our Dad's and my younger brother. On the last day some 25,000 men were making their way across this enormous field to the sack lunch stations. Crazy! How do you manage that many people?! Somewhere in the middle of this huge, moving crowd a man was standing on a scaffold, yelling repeatedly: “Craig Hogie! Craig Hoagie!” For some reason that scene tripped the funny meter in our brain and all these years later, often times when Phillip calls I will answer like this: “Craig Hogie!” I know, I know, you are not blown over by the humor in that. But we are! 

You have your own craziness to laugh about and if you keep your eyes open and live out loud you will always have plenty to laugh about and enjoy. I know that is true because I heard Mr. Bryan's excellent roasting of each of you at the Junior/Senior banquet. You guys are a hoot. My favorite line was about Harmony – “she comes to class late and leaves early just to make it fair.” This is a key part of “living like there's no tomorrow, loving like you are on borrowed time, knowing it is good to be alive!” Learn to enjoy and embrace the fun and goofiness in life.

Lesson #5 Encourage always

Do you know what Phillip says most of the time? “I love you. You are a promise keeper. You are God's master piece. I'm praying for you.” He says it over and over and over – and I never get tired of it. He means it and he stands behind it with prayers and time and love and care. Life will press you down to be sure. This is a fallen world with struggles and challenges all around. Deeply held hopes and dreams will be cruelly crushed and there will be days when you do not want to go on. This is not doom and gloom – it is reality.

Can I tell you something? Other people are feeling the same.

So, look to Jesus, trust Him to pick you up, and encourage those around you. This is a life lesson that always pays and as soon as you step out of yourself and encourage others you will find yourself encouraged. And one more thing – this business about being God's masterpiece. Don't let me hear you saying you are an idiot or some such nonsense. God doesn't make junk – don't go disrespecting God like that. Yes we do dumb things and sin messes up our lives and we need forgiveness and redemption. But when Phillip says to me and I say to you, “You are God's masterpiece” it is the truth: As you surrender your life to Jesus, He is healing a life that was broken, turning night to day, making a great blessing of you. So look up and believe: know God is working and let that faith encourage those around you.

Lesson #6: Forgive always

This is a tough one but Phillip seems to have it down. Many times when I have hurt him in someway I have apologized and before I can finish he butts in by saying, “That's OK” and then changes the subject to remind me to walk the dog or something. Forgiveness or lack of it will be a touchstone of your life, a key arena that will determine much of your success or failure. It starts with knowing you yourself have sinned and desperately need forgiveness. Once you know the sweet honey of forgiveness you can begin to truly forgive others.

Can I speak plainly? You have been hurt, deeply, by various people in your life. This does not mean you are bad – it means you are human. But if you do not release it – that is what forgiveness means, to release – that hurt will own you. I have been bound by pain that I would not let go and it kept me imprisoned for years. Jesus set me free and I continue to learn to forgive because I myself have been so well forgiven.

Consider this:

The first to apologize is the bravest,
The first to forgive is the strongest,
The first to forget is the happiest.

Forgive always.

Lesson #7: Pray always

Phillip is always praying for me. Often his first words are, “Heavenly Father, bless Randy today and Jane and the boys....” Sometimes when he is done praying he says 'bye' and hangs up. Once as he was praying he got his words tangled and couldn't figure out what he was trying to say so he just said, “O well, Lord – you know what I mean” and went on.

Pray always. The world needs saints. Your neighborhood, your friends, your family need for you to be godly, holy and wholesome, honest and hard-working and reliable and kind and considerate and fun and serious, too. People want that from you – know how I know? Because that's what you want from other people!!

But it doesn't come easy – for this reason I remind you that looking to God, talking to Him and listening to Him is the highest goal of life, the greatest good. To know God is eternal life. Hear the words of Jesus: “The greatest command is to love the Lord your God with all your heart soul mind and strength; and your neighbor as yourself.”

Solomon said it this way: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” This is not a slavish fear, a paralyzing dread; it is seeing God for who He is: It is remembering that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Pray always because in prayer you carry on the greatest adventure of life – knowing God! I urge you to live beyond petty ideas and careless thinking about God. I plead with you to read the Bible and good theology at least as much as you watch – what is on TV these days? :) The point is this: the world is dying for lack of people who think deeply and understand life and are walking with God so they can bring His life to their world. YOU do not have to be a great thinker or philosopher – God wants to help you whatever way of life you find your self called to. But you will never live the vibrant life of God in that world unless you diligently and fervently seek Him and leave off careless thinking.

You will not be like the person in Wilbur Rees' poem who said:

I would like to buy $3 worth of God please

Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep

but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk

or a snooze in the sunshine

I don't want enough of God to make me love another race

or pick beats with a migrant.

I want ecstacy, not transformation

I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth
I want a pound of the eternal in a paper sack

I would like $3 worth of God please.

If you are going to have a life worth living look to God – always. Let Him search your heart and lead you in His good and everlasting way. He rewards those who diligently seek Him and I promise you, I promise you – you will never regret surrendering your life to Him.

Pray always because knowing God is the greatest possible treasure. That is
life according to Phillip.


How would you wrap this up? What is the lesson of Phillip? I didn't tell you that 12 years ago Phillip tried to take his life. He had a good job for many years, good basic work in a print shop. But due to some painful mistakes over time they had to let him go. Along with the mix of everything else in life this crushed Phillip and one day I got the call that he was recovering in ICU from an attempted drug overdose. What happened? The pain of sin weighed him down. No doubt he needed limits, encouragement, forgiveness, prayer, joy, and fun. For sure he felt forgotten even though his family loved him dearly. The wound of sin led him to a point where he decided life didn't matter.

Can I tell you – please listen – we are all born with the deep wound of sin – the estrangement from God our Father, made in his image but broken and lost, knowing deep in our soul that we are made for something great but sin has knocked us down. Eventually we act out that pain in sinful deeds that hurt others and we are hurt by others who are equally wounded. But Phillip found the cure – and now his life is one of blessing to me, and many. He is being redeemed in new and fresh ways within the calling he is able to fulfill.

You know this is what your church and family and PCA have been pressing into your life for all of these years, and it is the charge I leave you with today. Life is broken but Jesus came and was broken for you and for me. And because of Him – this is the Gospel! – we can live life according to Phillip. We can know and live our calling, we can love and feel deeply for others, we can have fun and love life, encourage others on the journey, forgive always and walk in communion with God! This is the good life, the right life, the only life – go live it and be a miracle of blessing wherever you go!


  1. Wow Randy! This touched me deeply. Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. Excellent message for people in all stages of life.

  3. Thanks. Excellent! And I know your Dad would be mighty proud of what God has done, and is doing, in your available life. ("U Tom")

    1. Thank you, Tom. I love and appreciate you and Any Mary.