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The Monk and the Merchant

I received a gift in the mail a few weeks ago. And it was from an old friend who has blessed me in many ways over the years. Dave Ramsey.

Yes. I’m talking about that Dave Ramsey. No. I don’t know him personally. But he has really blessed me.

A few months ago, I was at a conference in Atlanta where I received three copies of his new book Entreleadership and three more books from him for FREE. Not only that, but several years ago, his practical wisdom based on Jesus’ truth led my family and me out of debt as a young couple. After our stupidity led us back into debt, his ministry is currently guiding us back out. I think it’s safe to say this relationship has been pretty one-sided and I’ve been on the receiving end. Thanks, Dave.

Anyway, I received a package in the mail from Dave. (Our church had led some 15 or 16 families through his Financial Peace University class. I believe this was his way of saying ‘thanks’ in addition to his ongoing investment in young leaders). He sent out a book to which he had written the forward. It is called The Monk and the Merchant by Terry Felber. I’d never heard of the book before. I’d never heard of Terry Felber. I didn’t even realize that there had been a legend on which the book was based. It turns out, I had been missing out.

In the book, a grandfather is imparting wisdom in his 19-year-old grandson who is himself setting out on manhood. The younger character was preparing to make some decisions that would determine the course of his life. What would he do with his life? How would he make his living? At the center of the decision was his question whether to pursue full-time, vocational ministry or go into the market and become a merchant. The grandfather shares his own journey with the boy and passes on several nuggets of wisdom along the way.

Of all the great things I read, my main walkaway points were:

1) Do what you love. That way you’ll never have to work a day in your life.

2) Put God at the center of your pursuit, and you’ll find blessing and favor at every turn.

and 3) Trials should develop your character, not crush your spirit.

I’ll admit, these were all three lessons I had heard before, but I really needed to be reminded of them. Yes, I’m past the decision of choosing what to do with my life. But the reminder that ministry was (and IS) the passion of my heart was vital to me right now.

I feel blessed to be where I am in life. Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. But I’m thankful for the subtle reminders that bring me back to an attitude of gratitude with regards to the part I get to play in this world.

I would highly recommend The Monk and the Merchant to anyone, particularly young people who are at that crossroads of deciding what vocation to pursue. It very simply lays the groundwork for making clear-headed decisions and trusting God’s leading through our passions and desires as we stay centered on Him.

God’s Strength or My Weakness?

I came across a quote by Mother Theresa in a book I am reading. The book is Furious Pursuit by Tim King and Frank Martin. I highly recommend it. It’s one of the good books I’ve come across on the power of God’s Love and Grace. But I digress.

The quote began Chapter Five. It read: “[God] will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in his love than in your own weakness.”

So, I ask myself, and I ask you a very important question. Which do you have more faith in: God’s ability or your inability? God’s strength or your weakness? God’s faithfulness or your faithlessness? God’s love or your shortcomings?

So, which is it?

May Christ increase, and may all of our circumstances and problems decrease. And may He use His Church to accomplish great things in this world for His glory.

Don’t Try. Trust.

I generally practice what I preach (by God’s grace). But like everyone else, sometimes I realize that I am not doing as well with that as I should be.

I often talk about “trusting in God.” In fact, I talk about it a lot. If someone is going through a hard time. My advice: “Don’t try. Trust.” And I mean it. Every word of it. (All three words anyway.) But when it comes to me practicing what I preach… well… let’s just say I’m learning, too.

When a problem arises, my usual response is to try to immediately fix it. So, I start thinking about what action steps I need to take to get through the problem. I tend to be a very deliberate person, so I don’t usually act on impulse. I generally gather all the information, think, get advice from people I respect and trust, and put together a plan of attack.

At first glance, you may think, That sounds pretty good. What’s the problem? But what I’m learning is that there is a problem with my response to adversity.

My first thought has always been, Okay. Something’s wrong. How do I fix it? What I feel that God has been teaching me over the past couple years is to reorder my thinking so that when adversity rears its ugly head, my thoughts are not focused on what I need to do, but on what God wants to do through the situation. Instead, my thoughts should be: Lord, I know that You love me, and I know that everything is under Your control. You cause all things to work together for my good. I trust in you. Lead me in this situation. That’s it.

Recently, Jessica, who is our children’s pastor, posted a very simple status update on her Facebook page. It simply read “Psalm 91.” I was curious what was in Psalm 91, so, I opened my Bible and read it.

I can’t express how much those words ministered to me as I read them that day.

My eyes watered. My throat swelled. My heart raced. And in that moment, a sense of peace and calm came over me.

Psalm 91 (NLT): 1 Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 This I declare of the LORD: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I am trusting him. 3 For he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from the fatal plague. 4 He will shield you with his wings. He will shelter you with his feathers. His faithful promises are your armor and protection. 5 Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor fear the dangers of the day, 6 nor dread the plague that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday. 7 Though a thousand fall at your side, though ten thousand are dying around you, these evils will not touch you. 8 But you will see it with your eyes; you will see how the wicked are punished. 9 If you make the LORD your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, 10 no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your dwelling. 11 For he orders his angels to protect you wherever you go. 12 They will hold you with their hands to keep you from striking your foot on a stone. 13 You will trample down lions and poisonous snakes; you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet! 14 The LORD says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. 15 When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue them and honor them. 16 I will satisfy them with a long life and give them my salvation.”

For the past week, I have meditated on these words and received them as God’s promises of love and affection for me and my family. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had moments of weakness. Moments where I needed to be reminded of these truths. I’ve had my share. But when my natural response would be to TRY something. To DO something. He is teaching me to TRUST.

I once heard Pastor Joseph Prince preach on a subject similar to this. He said that when he was young and worked as a lifeguard, he was trained to let a drowning victim give up before he was to attempt to save them. The reasoning was that, as long as the victim was trying, he was dangerous. He would more likely drown his rescuer than be rescued as long as he was flailing about. So, the lifeguard was trained to get close and wait for the drowning victim to QUIT TRYING before he could offer help.

I wonder how many times God has stood nearby, waiting for me to quit trying, so He could swoop in and save me.

Dreaming Wide Awake

wide awakeMy dreams tend to be quite ridiculous. I mean, my dreams while I’m sleeping.

One night I dreamt that I was holding onto a weather balloon that caused me to float high over a lake where my family used to camp when I was a kid. The next thing I knew I was wearing a cat mask while walking through a Middle Eastern Bazaar and looking for a certain kind of food. (I’m not even sure what kind of food it was. I think I made it up.) Not long after that, I was probably running a marathon with watermelons for shoes or playing hopscotch with an alligator. I can’t remember. The point is, my sleeping dreams are usually quite ridiculous.

I have learned though, the power of the dreams God gives us when we are awake.

Erwin Raphael McManus wrote a book entitled Wide Awake. I have had it on my “To Read” list for quite a while, but until just recently, it never made it into my hands.

McManus is one of my favorite authors and speakers. I find that when I read his books, I feel the Holy Spirit gently speaking to my spirit about the dreams He has put within me. Dreams that have been lying dormant for a while, but that He is awakening within me.

I feel that I have been sleepwalking for a while. I tend to do this (go through the motions without really living life to the fullest) when I get busy, but my actions aren’t driven by my dreams. I think we all struggle with this. And we need people and events that rekindle the burdens in our heart that God has given to us.

When we started LGC, we felt that the world absolutely needed this church. We felt that the message of the finished work of Jesus Christ was one that needs to be heard. We felt that the church world (as well as the unchurched world) needed to know of God’s love for them. Everything He ever did was motivated by love. There is nothing we can do to make Him love us more. There is nothing we can do to make Him love us less. His love is perfect and unchanging.

Lately, I’ve asked myself, If LGC picked up and left, would Sunnyland and Washington even know we were gone? The sad answer is, no. I don’t think they’d notice. However, I’m convinced that if we begin to dream God-inspired dreams again and follow those dreams with clarity and focus, we will leave such an impact on people’s lives that the community views our presence in their town as vital – so that the feeling is mutual.

God is challenging me to pray for vision that requires His force behind it. I don’t want to come up with my own ideas and ask God to bless the work of my hands. But I want to ask Him what He is up to in our world and get on board with it. I want to dream. Because I want to have an impact on more than just my couch.

Empowered by Grace

 

Jean Valjean and Bishop Bienvenu

Jean Valjean and Bishop Bienvenu

What happens when a hardened criminal looks deep into the eyes of love and experiences the power of grace? By my own experience, I can say that he can only respond in love and gratitude right back. No, I wasn’t a hardened criminal, but by God’s definition (Romans 3:23), I was under the same guilt.

One night, my son, Nolan, asked my wife a very thought-provoking question. Nolan tends to be a very deep thinker. He asks several questions that we have to pause to think about before responding. (After all, we don’t want to answer glibly and make him more confused since he is asking sincerely.) He said, “Mommy, why do some people not love Jesus?” I was in the other room tucking the girls in, and my wife was in the boys room with them. I heard this question and paused to hear her answer. (Not because I was checking up on her, but because I wanted to know the answer myself.) Jess paused and thought for a moment. Then she spoke deliberately, saying, “Because they don’t know how much Jesus loves them. They think Jesus just wants them to follow a bunch of rules. But if they knew how much He loves them, they would love Him right back.” This seemed to suffice my son’s curiosity, as he had no more follow-up questions. He was left to ponder her response, while I did the same.

Grace gives freely when the gift is undeserved. Grace gives again when we have spit in its face. Grace doesn’t look to our actions to see whether we merit its generosity. By definition our actions have nothing to do with it. If they did, the gift wouldn’t truly be grace. It is given because of the love of the giver. That’s it.

In Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables,  Jean Valjean has an encounter with grace that changes him for good. Being a hardened criminal who continues to do the wrong thing, when he faces the possibility of judgment that would cost him the rest of his life, he receives grace and mercy. After being welcomed into Bishop Bienvenu’s home, he steals the Bishop’s fine silverware. When the Bishop catches him, he punches him, dropping him unconscious to the floor and leaves with the goods. 

The subsequent encounter with the authorities, and again with Bishop Bienvenu, bring Valjean to a crossroads that would forever change him from the scoundrel who took advantage of good people who offered him kindness to the man who extends grace and mercy to others who don’t deserve it.

Watch the five minute video clip to see grace in action. And rent the movie to see the power of a life changed by grace.

Grace Walk

Grace WalkI’m going on another Grace Walk.

A couple years ago, I went on my first Grace Walk, and I am forever glad I did.

Steve McVey wrote a tremendous book by this title. He also has a very good blog which is in my blogroll. In his book, he tells his testimony of being a pastor who saw tremendous results in his ministry. But along the way, he came to the end of himself until he found himself lying on his office floor, weeping on a Saturday night – the night before he was supposed to preach to his congregation a message entitled “The State of the Church.” The idea was that on his one year anniversary at this church in suburban Atlanta, he was going to motivate and inspire the people of his congregation by sharing with them all the wonderful things God had done in their church over the past year. But unable to think of anything, and feeling like a failure, he lay weeping, wondering what he was going to tell them.

I think every follower of Christ can relate to McVey’s feelings of not measuring up. For much of my Christian journey, I knew everything I was required to do, but felt like a failure. Not only did I not do them very well, but when I did them, I had to force myself most of the time. I didn’t think that was the way it should be. So, I felt like a failure as a Christian. But I kept on keeping on, because after all, that’s what I had heard taught from the mouths of many godly preachers I really looked up to. “You have to choose.” “You have to be persistent.” “You have to be passionate and go after God” they would say. But I got tired of going after God. I wanted to know that he was willing to go after me. That’s when I experienced God’s grace.

The Grace Walk is an understanding of God’s pursuit of you and me. In my Grace Walk, I learned that I needed to stop TRYING to live for God. And instead, I needed to allow Him to live through me. Ever since I came to this revelation, I find myself WANTING to do the things I have been taught I need to do as a Christian.

Huh! Imagine that. My desires have changed. Now, the Christian live is… (dare I say it?)… EASY.

Four Corners

 

four-cornersOkay. So, I’m not very good at this blogging thing. Few people are. I love to write, but I rarely take the time to actually sit down and blog.

Now that that’s out of the way…

I had a pretty cool opportunity a couple weeks ago. My work took me to Farmington, New Mexico. Farmington is about an hour away from the famous Four Corners location. It is the one place in the USA where you can be in four different states at the exact same time. Five if you count the state of confusion. (Bad joke. I know.) But I digress.

Most people say it’s impossible to be in two places at the same time. Those people haven’t met me. I’ve been in not two. Not three. But four – that’s right – FOUR places at the same time. I was in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. 

As I stood on that spot, I thought about how cool it would be to build a house there. Then I realized the tax implications of being a resident of four states and also the fact that the land is on a Navajo reserve. (I think my ancestors have done enough stealing of their land.) So, we’ll just glory in the moment and move on.