Great Souls

David Aikman, a former senior correspondent for TIME Magazine, authored a book called "Great Souls" - Six Who Changed The Century. In this series of biographical profiles, which later went on to be a PBS documentary, he chronicles six "great souls" of the 20th century and the virtues each represented: Billy Graham (salvation), Nelson Mandela (forgiveness), Alexandr Solzhenitsyn (truth), Mother Teresa (compassion), John Paul II (human dignity), and Elie Wiesel (remembrance). Mr. Aikman explores their historical background, family experiences, and the cultural settings that surrounded each of them. What I found compelling was that he lifted up virtue as the chief qualifier and contributor to becoming a great soul. The only thing that I would add is that a great soul is not just the result of someone’s accomplishments or noteriety. "Great souls" are who a person is, the type of person they become, the character of Christ embodied in them. Over the years I’ve been privileged to know and pastor people I would classify as "great souls." Last week I preached the funeral service for Soffia Elias who had been a member of our church congregation since 1982, and passed away at the age of 97. She was not rich or famous, but she was a woman who loved the Lord Jesus Christ and delighted in His word. She had been married to her husband, who preceded her in death, for 61 years. She selflessly cared for her special needs daughter, Mandita, for 67 years. As people spoke at her funeral and told part of her story I couldn’t help but think, "Lord, she was a truly great soul!" What a blessing I had to be her Pastor, to teach her to love the Lord Jesus and His precious word. This made me think of so many others in that "great cloud of witnesses" that have gone before us to be with the Lord. Sister Sally Salas, who my wife would always refer to as "Sal, my pal" as she helped faithfully in the kitchen during our many fellowships and special occasions. Mercy Quihuis who was such a fragrant witness for Christ to her family and in the workplace as well. Ernie Martinez who had a huge heart to serve people both in and out of the church. There are so many others that I can’t mention in this article, but what stands out in my mind, no exaggeration, is they were "great souls" in their commitment, their devotion to Christ, and their witness and service to others. I have to contrast these with the recent spectacle of Michael Jackson’s life, death and funeral. We were inundated with news reports, stories and biographies of this pop singer as if it was the most important thing in the world. I feel he was eulogized inaccurately, and the State of California spent anywhere between $1.4 million - $4 million dollars to bury him, money they don’t have. This was the same State that prosecuted him as a child molester, but, hey, the ratings were huge! I believe that what we saw was a potent commentary on our culture and the "cult of celebrity" that reigns supreme. I read that more than 1.5 million people tried to get tickets to his funeral service, and it was a world-wide event. You’ve got to be kidding, right? We saw a revealing lesson on how people try to process the great and inevitable mysteries of life and death. It was like people tried to re-write the script of his life, working hard at making him out to be some kind of hero. If we can just say enough good things, if we can market it just right, then we can eulogize someone into heaven after they’re dead. It brought home to me so powerfully that many that are called "great" in this life, will be utter failures in the next when they stand before God. True greatness is distorted by the confused and misplaced priorities of this age. Needless to say, though, death is the great leveler of all mankind! The scripture says, "So be careful not to jump to conclusions before the Lord returns as to whether someone is a good servant or not. When the Lord comes, he will turn on the light so that everyone can see exactly what each one of us is really like, deep down in our hearts. Then everyone will know why we have been doing the Lord's work. At that time God will give to each one whatever praise is coming to him." (1Cor.4:5) I just peached a sermon in the Prescott Bible Conference I called, "How Do You Spell S-U-C-C-E-S-S?" Americans worship at the altar of success, but the problem is that we’re using the wrong blueprint! Prosperity, power and prestige are viewed as markers of success; but in God’s eyes you can have all of these only to hear one day, "Depart from me you workers of iniquity, I never knew you." If a set of blueprints are written using metric measurements, and you are not using metric tools or measurements, then whatever you’re working on will one day end up being perfectly wrong! This, beloved, will have eternal consequences for all of us. So what is the purpose of this life? How does someone become a great soul, or better yet, how does someone "grow" a great soul? Jesus simplified it for us by telling us that the first commandment is "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength." The companion to this is "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." That’s definitely a good place to start to cultivate a great soul. Let me leave you with one final thought. I love the Bible’s testimony of Barnabas, "Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and strong in faith. And large numbers of people were brought to the Lord." (Acts 11:24) Those are some of the makings of a "great soul"! Lord, give us more of these, and help me to be numbered among them!