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Three Powerful Lessons from a Small Giant

Three Powerful Lessons from a Small Giant

Every now and then, you meet a giant in your life.  I’m talking a good giant here, not a bad one. The sort that Isaac Newton spoke of when he said:

If at times it appeared that I could see further than others,
it’s because I’ve stood on the shoulders of giants.

Here are 3 powerful lessons that I learned from a “small giant” in my life.

 

His Name Is Phil Littlejohn

He was the pastor of a tiny church – the Oyster Bay Christian Church – in the southern suburbs of Sydney, Australia, when I arrived there a broken man, just a few months after giving my life to Jesus in October 1995. Phil had been the pastor there for ages – in fact, he’s only just retired.  

Now Phil is a great and passionate Bible teacher, so I learned a lot from his teaching.

But as is always the case, you can learn so much more from the sermon preached through a man’s life, than you can from the ones he preaches from the pulpit.  So here are the three big lessons I learned by watching Phil live his life:

 

Lesson 1 – Stickability

Phil used to talk a lot about what he called – stickability. Just hanging in there through thick and thin. Just showing up – whether it felt good, or not. Whether it was convenient, or not.  I don’t know quite how long he pastored that church – must be over 3 decades.

He had it when it was big. He had it when it was small. Some days the people loved him. And some days those whom he’d ministered to, poured his life out for, laughed with and wept with … stabbed him in the back.

Some people love to live out what I call a convenient Christianity.  Do it when it feels good and doesn’t cost you too much. Funny, I’ve been looking for that form of Christianity in my Bible – but I just can’t find it anywhere.  

Yep. The biggest thing I learned from Phil … is stickability. 

 

Lesson 2 – Humility

Without a doubt, Phil is one of a handful of giants in my life. He had me preaching within months of becoming a Christian. He encouraged me to go to Bible college. He laughed with me and most importantly he wept with me. So much of what I share with millions of people each week through my radio programs, I heard first from him.

In every sense, he is one of the giants upon whose shoulders I stand. But … here’s the paradox.  

He leaves a small footprint. In fact, the bigger the giant, the smaller the footprint.

Phil is, physically, a small man. His surname is Littlejohn. His voice is rather high pitched – by his own admission, not well suited to preaching or teaching. An odd giant indeed. But, it’s not just his physical stature.

If ever there were a man who personified Paul’s command for us not to think more highly of ourselves than we should (Romans 12:3) – it’s Phil.

He genuinely doesn’t care about title, position or reputation. While he’s a strong and effective leader, he seems not to factor himself into the decision making process. He’s interested in building teams and achieving outcomes instead of promoting himself. 

I arrived at the Oyster Bay Christian Church back in 1995 with an ego the size of a small planet. 

Yep – the small footprint of a true giant was the second most important lesson I learned from Phil. 

 

Lesson 3 – Religiosity (NOT!)

And the third one follows pretty close on its heals. Phil had a very healthy disdain for religiosity. He refused to be called “Reverend”. He refused to be bound by religious traditions. Here was a man with a passion for opening the Word of God, discovering what God was saying to us, sharing it with the flock under his care and living it – to the best abilities – with the life that God had given him, in the place that God had planted him.

I remember when I asked to be baptised. He said “Well, who would you like to baptise you?”

I was shocked – Well you of course! You’re the minister.

What followed was a lesson – there’s nothing in the Bible that says that the ordained minister has to baptise you. In fact, there’s precious little about being an ordained minister at all.

Through that and many other lessons like it, God birthed a passion in my heart to open the Bible, hear what He was saying, and share it with others.

Plain and simple. No religious bells and whistles.  

 

A Quiet Reflection

On that day in February 1996 that I wondered into that humble little church in Oyster Bay … I simply had no idea of the journey that was about to begin. I had no idea the lessons the Lord would teach me … through this small giant.

And Phil, on the occasion of your retirement, the most powerful thing I can do, is to share the Word of God with you:

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5:11,12)

 


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8 Comments

  1. Thank you,Berni! Phil has been our pastor at Oyster Bay Christian Church since 1976 (it was called Oyster Bay Baptist Church then) and I remember the day you first arrived at our church. My husband and I emphatically agree with everything you wrote about Phil. He said you were too kind but that is just an example of his humility.
    Just one correction – Phil hasn’t actually retired, he has just stepped down from being senior pastor to associate pastor, he is still very much involved in the church.
    Jean.

  2. I supposed I should also thank Pastor Phil for being the “giant” that he is to you for you are certainly to me, bro. Bernie! And I’m learning a lot(still is!) from your daily radio broadcasts! Yes, we are in some way, form or another, standing on the shoulders of those ‘giants’ that God sends our way. And I’m grateful to the Lord for He made me hear you talking on the radio about ‘Faith, in Hannah’s life’ while I was searching for a Christian Station in Manila, Sept.25th last year. It was a fateful day alright because it got me started Metanoia Cafe Text Ministry(oh you must hear the story behind it!) and as of to date, the phone numbers are growing.

    I can’t thank God enough for the encouragement your daily radio program gave me all those ‘humbling’ mornings. I am still in awe and thanking God for you brother Bernie, the daily text ministry is now in it’s #172 day. God bless you more and your family, may He keep you do what you’re doing for there’s a lot more of us people that need real good teachers, ‘giants’ in the likes of you both!

    Shalom!

  3. Thanks Bernie, I also know your “Small Giant” & wholeheartedly endorse your comments. Phil was one of a few people who gave freely of their time to regularly preach at our very small church, when we did not have a Pastor of our own. We were blessed by his teachings over those years & enpowered by his ability to guide us by way of “Bible Teaching”. Ron

  4. Beautifully written as always Berni. I am at Bible College and my main teacher is like your friend Phil. It’s an honour to learn under my teacher. I guess he is one of the giants in my life.

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