Early to bed, early to rise, just makes me grumpy and somewhat despised

stock-vector-the-poster-with-the-portrait-of-the-owl-wearing-the-mask-of-hero-vector-illustration-330174836So I’m trying this getting up early thing again. I am 42 freakin years old and I have tried this numerous times in my life. I never can seem to make this a pleasant routine. Before kids, I used to stay up until 1am pretty much every night. I would roll out of bed around 7:30 or 8, start working around 9:30, then finally wake up after lunch. If you asked my wife and my mom what animal best describes me, they would both say a bear due to the indiscernible guttural utterances I make every morning.

So why in the heck is every author, speaker, business leader, spiritual guru, butcher, baker, and candlestick maker always lauding the act of getting up before the birds do? There has got to be something to this and I am bound and determined to experience it before I die. I can imagine myself sitting on a porch one day in my swing with my grandson telling him the hair-raising story of when papaw finally crawled his happy ass out of bed. Not exactly the story I expected to be trying to live at 42. But hey, got to be present where you are I guess.

I have tried the going to bed early methodology, thinking that eventually my body would just start waking up earlier, as it would normalize to the amount of sleep it needed. Wrong. As a bear, I can simply hibernate whenever. I began sleeping like 10 hours a night. That’s not helping anyone, though I did start accomplishing a lot more in my dreams. Considering that we are living in the Matrix anyway, that should be equally sufficient, right? Well, probably not. So I abandoned the 8 o’clock bedtime.

Because I believe that you become the books you read, I decided to start reading books about how to get up early. I know, it sounds ridiculous. Set your alarm clock and just place your feet on the floor when it goes off. . . not that easy. I bought the sleep cycle app as well, so that it will supposedly wake me during a time when I am stirring, making it more likely that I will actually make the decision to get up instead of hitting snooze repeatedly until the app gives up and goes to sleep itself. I actually tried this app a year ago and it did not work for me. Maybe the book plus the app will work.

As a musician, I used to think I wanted to live the rock n roll lifestyle. My dad, who was a police officer, always said that nothing good happens after midnight. That was when I started having the most fun. I was always the last one to shut it down. As I have gotten older, I am beginning to agree with my dad, and I no longer have FOMO (fear of missing out) syndrome. Nevertheless, this departure has not equated to earlier rising. . . yet.

My wife loves sleep more than I do. She would prefer to go to bed early and wake up late every day. I am learning from reading these books about getting out of bed, that people like to sleep often because they do not like their lives. We have been married for 19 years. Maybe my wife sleeps so much because it makes it easier to deal with me. I can’t say that I blame her.

I thought that once we had kids, I would finally begin to wake up early and adopt new habits. Turns out our kids are like mom and dad and they like to sleep as well. When left to their own natural rhythms, our 7 year old and 3 year old go to bed around 8ish and wake up at 9ish. The apple does not fall far from the hammock.

This was my first morning up early. I am determined to make this work. The book said I needed to write, so I wrote this crap that you are reading now instead of working. The problem is that I am completely irrational when I am sleepy, so I cannot trust myself to follow through. Every time I do this, I feel like a night owl wearing an early bird mask. Is it really possible to change my routine so that this becomes natural. . . or that I will actually prefer this? Would it help for me to hire a drill sergeant to come wake me up every morning and make me do push ups? I might be willing to do that as a last ditch effort. If anyone has gone to such extremes, please let me know how it worked out.

I am open to any suggestions from night owls who have ACTUALLY made the transition to early birds. I’m not talking about night owls who simply HAVE to get up early. I want to hear from night owls who now PREFER to get up early.

Early birds. . . keep your beaks shut. I have never liked you anyway.

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Tiny Houses

I was reading this morning Psalm 37:23-24.  The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.  Craig Denison states in his devotional, First 15, that there is no greater pursuit than simply delighting in the Lord.  When we do this our lives become incredibly simple.  It’s in the mixing of God and the world that our hearts become confused.

glamper-tiny-house-camper-4I have been reading quite a few articles about tiny houses lately.  You know, trailers for those who prefer to be referred to as tiny house recyclables as opposed to trailer trash.  Sorry that seemed funny in my head, since I am from Bossier City, Louisiana (a.k.a. trailer park world headquarters).  I am mesmerized by this tiny house movement.  I always loved building forts and tree houses, and tiny houses are like the adult version.  Plus, I can relate with the desire to simplify and committing to live in 200 square feet definitely forces some level of simplification.  But to live simply for the sake of living simply makes simple living an idol.  It then becomes more elusive than ever.

It has been said by everyone from Calvin to Keller that our hearts are idol factories.  We can see this manifest itself in a new book, movement, Pinterest page, Facebook post, blog post, etc.  We chase down the symptoms of what we are feeling instead of addressing the root cause and we live a life of swatting flies.  We set out to quash every little nuisance in our lives. Then, because we are Americans, we create a website about it, followed by a cable TV show, which then starts a movement among the millions of people who are trying desperately to figure out why their lives suck.

The fact is, my heart is often confused because I worship God and. . . my family, my work, my stuff, my desire for less stuff, my desire for life in the mountains, my need for autonomy and any other idol I can create.  The older I get, the more I realize how little I actually control.  The more flies I swat, the more flies I find.  Trying to delight in the Lord and trying to control my life seems to de-light my life, so to speak.  As my life becomes cloudier, I become frustrated and cry out to God for help way more than I find myself delighting in Him.

“Simple, not easy” is a phrase I find myself saying often.  This is what I want of my life.  A life of faith is simple really:  Matthew 6:33, Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto to you as well.  Simple, but not easy.

Pursuing simplicity is a form of pursuing happiness, because if we are pursuing simplicity we believe it will make us happy.  I believe our forefathers established the modern mental health profession in America when they endowed us with the right to pursue happiness.  Happiness, like simplicity is ever so elusive in our modern “me first” culture.  We inherently know that we will never be happy if our own well-being is our pursuit.  Happiness is a by-product of pursuing the well-being of others, yet we continue to pursue our own happiness with every Amazon Prime purchase that is sure to help us simplify our lives.

Pursuing simplicity is a rather complex endeavor if we start from the outside in.  We have to individually unshackle ourselves from every item and system we have spent our lifetimes acquiring and building.  Simplicity will come not when we pursue it as an end, but when we pursue God and delight in him.  Then the shackles will likely begin to fall off as those complexities of life become less and less important.  So practically how do we learn to “delight” in the Lord.  One of my favorite quotes is by Walter Brueggemann, “Faith on its way to maturity moves from duty to delight”.   So we start by fulfilling the duties of faith by loving God with all our hearts and loving others as ourselves.  We do this by acting out our love in service for God and others.  This will lead us to delight in the Lord, which will make so many other “important” things in our lives less important.  We will begin to naturally simplify our strongholds.  Then, if we want to move into a tiny house, it will be because it is cool and not because we hope it will be the holy grail in our quest for simplistic bliss.

Generosity Heals Even the Deepest Wounds

IMG_5125Early one morning three ubiquitous white vans full of smiling barang (the Khmer term for gringos) departs from Phnom Penh headed north on the only northern road out of town.  From the back seat of the lead van, Bong Ta (aka Dennis Ledford) shouts above the enthusiastic conversations up to the front seat, “You awake up there Kyle?”  Kyle, in fact, is oh so awake; he is just finding it difficult to smile and converse amidst the weight of the many memories rushing through his brain that he still cannot appropriately process nearly thirty years later.  He apologizes for his occasional sense of being overwhelmed when he is back in his home country.  How could he not be overwhelmed? We were headed north for a 6+ hour drive to the Cambodian province of Battambang, where nearly 30 years prior, the evil Khmer Rouge all but ensured that Kyle Y would become another statistic in the count of nearly three million people murdered by their own neighbors at the direction of Pol Pot, arguably the most psychopathic ruler in modern history.  He told us that he simply could not stop the flashes of the blood splattering everywhere and the huge hole left in his uncle’s head after he was executed while 9 year old Kyle watched from his position tied to a nearby tree, shins bleeding from being beaten with bamboo sticks.  “I can still smell the blood when I think about it,” Kyle told me when I asked him to describe his tragedy, “They killed everyone.  There was blood everywhere, and they left me to die.”  After the Khmer Rouge soldiers killed the rest of the group, they turned their bayonets on Kyle and cut open his chest.  They then covered him with fire ants and left.  But God had other plans for Kyle Y.

Cambodia Trip 2015 1448To meet Kyle and Amy Y today is to be immediately attracted to their warm and welcoming personalities.  Amy, who also suffered immeasurable trauma at the hands of Pol Pot, is the vivacious and outgoing one.  She has an infectious smile and is not afraid to take charge of the situation.  She and Kyle have been married for twenty-seven years.  Kyle —although the tail of his dragon tattoo peeking out from the sleeve of his muscle tight t-shirt might say otherwise— is shy and sensitive.  It was not long ago, however, that anger raged just beneath the surface in Kyle’s heart.  Having been in Fort Worth, Texas for almost thirty years, he is 100% Texan, from his TCU shirt all the way down to his cowboy boots.  He had only one intention of ever setting foot in his home country again:  He strongly desired to find the people who had destroyed his family and to exact a similar punishment upon them.  He hated Cambodia and was not particularly fond of the many Cambodians who had settled here in North Texas.  He had come to know Jesus as his Lord many years before, but Jesus had not yet saved him from his past.

Kyle quietly went to his job everyday, pursued the American Dream, and loved his family.  The gym was his outlet where he was able to release some of the pent-up frustrations and gain some satisfaction in the results of his efforts there.  One day while working out, one of the guys who was often there at the same time as Kyle asked him casually why he was always smiling.  Ed Machel did not know how common it is for Khmer, regardless of what they are feeling inside, to naturally smile a beautiful warm smile that has captivated the world for centuries.  This opened the door to a conversation ending with Ed’s inviting Kyle to an evening Bible study they had just moved into Fort Worth from Aledo.  Kyle reluctantly agreed and soon found himself in a group of 6 men sharing their stories, worshipping Jesus and praying together.  Kyle did not really fit in and was not sure why he kept coming, but he did.  He just sat quietly and listened for the first several weeks. Eventually, Kyle shared his story. It was at that point that the group leader, Dennis Ledford, knew that Kyle would continue to return to these evening meetings.

Cambodia Trip 2015 700Not long after Kyle began attending the Bible study, Amy traveled back to Cambodia to visit her uncle.  It was the first time she had been back since she had left almost thirty years before.  Amy had suffered a fate similar Kyle’s.  She graphically recounts the stories of labor camps, her brother’s dying from starvation, children murdered simply because they were not working hard enough or because a child of the Pol Pot regime did not like them.  When her family finally escaped to Thailand in 1979, she remembers running for weeks through the jungle, having to remain in a straight line to avoid land mines.  She was riding on her father’s back because she was too weak to run on her own. She remembers seeing someone in front of them in the line step on a land mine.  It was at that point that her father told her he did not think he could go on.  She remembers night-time fire fights when her father crawled through the jungle with her attached.  The tracers lit up the dark sky, and she could feel the whiz of the bullets near her head.  They pressed on with strength beyond what they possessed.  As she was preparing to go back to this land, though she was thankful for her life, she was not sure why God had allowed her to survive.

She wanted Kyle to come with her to their homeland, but he had absolutely no interest if revenge were not on the itinerary.  Amy did not harbor the same animosity.  She had forgiven her persecutors and wanted to see her home and the uncle she remembered fondly from her youth.  Amy arrived in Phnom Penh during Bon Om Touk, the Cambodian Water Festival, when the Tonle Sap River reverses its flow.  Millions of people flood into an already overflowing capitol city.  WaterfestivalPhnomPenh23Amy, her nephew and their driver went out one night to the evening festivities.  The influx of visitors also brought with it an influx of beggars to a city where poverty is already rampant.  While walking back to their hotel that night along a busy street where everyone was crammed together and moving in a herd, Amy nearly stepped on a little girl who was crying.  She was lying against a dark wall stained with urine and she was trying to cover up with newspapers.  Her mother was sitting next to her trying to get her to sleep in the midst of the chaos.  Amy had taken several photos of the beggars she had seen, but she was immediately drawn to this little girl.

People who live in Phnom Penh become hardened to the poverty that is in their faces at every turn and these dying people are a fixture of daily life.  But Amy, seeing this little girl through the eyes of the Holy Spirit that night, knew she had to help.  This little girl had sores all over her body.  She was crying because she was in pain and no one seemed to care.  In her Americanized naiveté, Amy asked the mother why she had not taken her daughter to the doctor.  After visiting with them for a while and praying with them, Amy gave them some money to go to a clinic (a likely violation of the “When Helping Hurts” model to which I so adamantly subscribe), took their photo, and got as much information from them as she could.  She was not sure what she planned to do, but she had to do something.  On the long flight home, she could not stop thinking about this poor little girl who was not likely to survive without someone intervening.  There were 2+ million people in that city on the other side of the world; why did she have to be that someone?

On the ride to a restaurant after Kyle picked her up from the airport back in Dallas, Amy handed him a photo of the little girl she had met.  She continued to tell Kyle about her trip, but his mind was transfixed on the photo.  When they got to the restaurant, Kyle told Amy to go ahead, and he would be in shortly.  He climbed into the back of their Expedition and began to weep.  It was at that moment that God began to gently tear away the anger, bitterness, hatred, and vengeance that had plagued Kyle for his entire life.  Images of his lost childhood in Cambodia flashed through his mind.  Why was God bringing this little girl to his comfortable doorstep here in Texas?  He had successfully walled off this part of his life with the cold, hard, resilient stones of bitterness, and this little girl was tearing down those walls.  Like Amy, he knew they had to do something, but what?  He was not making much money at his job, he had never raised money for anything and he did not really know a lot of people with money.  God began to direct his heart toward the guy who was leading that evening Bible study he was reluctantly and quietly attending.  The problem was that Kyle did not really know Dennis Ledford very well, and, frankly, he was scared of him.

Cambodia Trip 2015 1112Dennis is a man’s man with a tough exterior.  He is a bright and confident construction guy with a sharp country wit and he is always in charge of the situation, whatever it may be.  Kyle, being shy and sensitive, was not quite sure how his request would be received.  He knew Dennis loved the Lord, but why would he want to help this little girl on the other side of the world.  Nevertheless, God and Amy continued to encourage him to ask Dennis for help.  After several weeks, Kyle finally screwed his courage up tight enough to call Dennis and ask if he would be willing to meet.  Dennis immediately agreed and Kyle drove the 30 minutes out to Dennis’ shop in Aledo.

Dennis says that Kyle came in stammering around with his head down.  He was not really sure what Kyle wanted, but Dennis Ledford is always willing to meet with anyone at anytime to help them with their relationship with the Lord.  Beneath his rough exterior is a heart in tune with the Holy Spirit.  Dennis is so committed to the Lord that his answer is always “yes” to whatever he senses the Spirit leading him to do, regardless of how outrageous, embarrassing, or inconvenient.

I first learned about this story when I went to Dennis’ shop to visit with him about a real estate deal.  Two hours later we had barely even scratched the surface on the real estate deal,  but I had seen this tough, respectable businessman cry four times talking about what God had been doing through him and within people around him.  It’s funny that I thought this guy was a staunch fundamentalist who believed that God only spoke through His Word.  This guy knows and listens to the Holy Spirit like few people I have ever met.

Dennis said that Kyle continued to look down at the floor as he handed him this horrific photo of the little girl and reluctantly asked for twenty dollars.  “Twenty Dollars. . .” Dennis whispered as he shook his head and began to tear up.  “Can you believe he was just asking me for a mere twenty dollars to save this girl’s life?  I gave him 100 dollars and told him to send whatever was needed” As Dennis also subscribes to the “When Helping Hurts” model of giving, he offered to give Kyle some work to help him raise some more money.  He also began to ask Kyle more questions about his life and learned about the anger and hatred that Kyle had toward Cambodia and its people.  Dennis felt like God was leading him to do much more than give this guy some money.

Kyle invited Dennis to come speak at his Cambodian church in Fort Worth. Dennis had no idea what he would talk about, but he was continuing to lean in to Kyle, so he agreed. He met the pastor of the Cambodian church and saw the sacrifice this church was making to support a few churches in Cambodia. Dennis felt like God wanted him to be involved, so he invited his own pastor to hear Kyle’s story.

Dennis’ church was hosting secret meetings to simulate the persecuted church. The pastor, Lee Brewer, had not decided on the topic of this week’s secret church until he heard Kyle’s story. He was immediately certain that God wanted Kyle to share his story with the secret church.

That Sunday, 100 people gathered on a cold night in Dennis’ barn to meet Kyle Vuthy and hear his incredible story. Little did anyone know, the best part of the story was yet to be written. That night, Dennis, Craig Nichols, Don Matthews, and Rick Casey committed to go to Cambodia.  They were taking Kyle and they were going to find this girl’s family and help them.  Kyle was blown away by their response, and, truth be told, while he wanted to help this girl, he did not want to go to Cambodia.

A few weeks later, Kyle and four larger-than-life Texans —he would later refer to as the Four Horsemen— landed in Phnom Penh.  Using Amy’s contact information she had gathered, they were able to locate this little girl and her family, a miracle in and of itself.  Kyle found them in deplorable conditions working as indentured servants for a brick maker.  The entire family, including the children, were essentially slaves making clay bricks all day every day for little wages.  As soon as Dennis and the 3 other Horsemen saw the conditions, they knew they had to extract them from their life of slavery.  Dennis and his team negotiated with the slave owner and actually purchased freedom for the girl’s family and the families of her two uncles.  The freedom of three families cost only $2500.  They got medical help for the little girl and helped the families get on their feet.  The entire group of families soon came to faith in Christ, and one of the uncles is now attending Bible school to become a pastor.  The little girl is healed, is attending school, and is doing very well.  Interestingly, her parents had a son and named him “Aledo” in honor of the generosity of their neighbors on the other side of the world.

On the first night in Phnom Penh, Kyle could not sleep; there were so many thoughts and memories flashing through his head.  He still felt resentment, but he sensed that God was leading him out into the streets to talk to his people.  He walked out of the hotel early in the dark hours of the morning and struck up a conversation with the first guy he saw, a tuk tuk driver in front of the hotel.  After visiting with him for a couple of hours and telling him about Jesus, this driver was ready to join Kyle in following Christ.  Kyle’s adrenaline was skyrocketing, as was his love for this guy.  He could feel his resentment toward his people melting away as he acted out love for this one tuk tuk driver.  However, once the driver told him he was ready to follow Jesus, Kyle did not know what to do.  He had never led anyone to the Lord, so he asked the guy to come upstairs to meet the Four Horsemen.  Kyle suppressed his fear of Dennis and banged on the door.  As Dennis stumbled to the door, he told Kyle that it better be important.  Obviously, it was, so Dennis woke up the other horsemen, and they all came into Dennis’ room to pray with this man and help Kyle lead his heart into a relationship with the Lord.

Afterward, Dennis placed his hand on Kyle’s shoulder and told him that he was a son of the most high God and that he had all the power that God had given to Jesus.  He encouraged him not to be afraid or shy about sharing his faith and leading his people all the way to a saving knowledge of Christ.  He told Kyle that he was created for this.  Miraculously, these encouraging words ignited a fire within Kyle and he began going “fishing” on the streets of Phnom Penh nightly, leading people to Jesus every night they were there.

Cambodia Trip 2015 1175God soon began to introduce Kyle to various pastors around Cambodia and continued to build within him a solid Biblical knowledge and lion-hearted strength to evangelize and teach despite his perceived inadequacies.  In Kyle’s humility, the Lord continues to raise him up today.  There are fourteen churches around Cambodia now a part of an association led by Kyle and Amy and supported by Church at the Crossing in Aledo, Texas.  These pastors meet together regularly and encourage one another.  Kyle counsels them and trains them weekly via Skype and conference calls.  There are other pastors who are taking notice and seeking to join the association.  Each of these churches serve between forty and seventy children and their families, totaling well over a thousand people.  These pastors are receiving solid Biblical teaching and encouragement, and they are pouring this out in their communities.  As a result, these churches are bright lights, and people are coming to Christ.

In God’s divine plan, one of the pastors (pictured near the top of this article) was once a feared Khmer Rouge soldier.  He killed many people and even ate their flesh.  When sharing his story, he told of his practice of eating part of the heart of his enemies when he killed them.  He represented the evil that Kyle desired to avenge his entire life.  Today, Kyle prays with this man several times a month.  This man loves his flock and exudes joy from his countenance.  It is clear when you meet him that he is a man changed by the Holy Spirit.

God used the obedient generosity of one family to another to pour out His love upon well over a thousand people and counting over the course of five short years.  Had Amy passed this little girl on the street and simply prayed “be well,” thinking that she could not truly do anything to help her; had Kyle looked at the photo and said to Amy, “Honey, this is really sad, but what can we do?”; had Dennis simply said “here is $100″ and not followed the Holy Spirit into the inconvenient, this story might have ended.  Even if God had chosen to fulfill this story without Amy, Kyle, Ed, Dennis, Lee, Craig, Don, and Rick, so many people on the giving end would not have had the incredible opportunity to participate in this ongoing blessing.  It was God’s working on the heart of each person involved and using him or her according to how He had gifted him or her that exacted this enormous blessing upon the givers and the receivers.  None of them had any idea what was coming next.  They just had compassion on the least of their neighbors, and they followed through.

Is there any “little” act of generosity that God has laid on your heart today that you are putting off until tomorrow?  God’s plans will be fulfilled regardless of whether you choose to be a part of them.  But in His grace, He invites us in to join Him in so many aspects of what He is doing daily all around us.  I just pray that I recognize and accept the invitation as these guys did.

Am I the Only Sheep that Does not Know my Master’s Voice?

sheep hear1
Why does anything good even happen at all?  Because of the fall, should we not simply expect the worst and be thankful when anything good happens, recognizing it as a blessing from God?  I have tried to believe this way for much of my adult life.  We as wretched humans born into sin have so much for which to be thankful.  But reading so many of God’s promises and the fact that our heavenly father will give us so much more than we would or could give our kids as earthly fathers has me questioning whether this is the right way to look at life.  It is the safe way and it helps explain why bad things happen to good people, but is it the abundant life that God promises us?

Can we stand on His promises?  Can we trust God to answer the prayers of the faithful?  If I am being honest, I am not confident that I am consistently seeing God answer prayer.  Well, you say, that must be because I am not praying…
  • Hard enough
  • Long enough
  • With the right amount of faith
  • With enough Love for the father and for others
Right, right, right, and right.  How much is enough?  Is it ever enough?

I see those who truly abide and I am drawn to them. I am mesmerized by their faith. While they experience great difficultly, their yoke is easy and their burden light.  How?  My mother used to tell me to smile long enough and I might actually become happy.  I used to say that I would fake it til I made it.  These are just examples of common mantras, but we have spiritual mantras as well.  And mantras, though sometimes true, are really just brainwashing.  I don’t want to be brainwashed.  I want to find the truth.  I feel like we often hide behind mantras or even scripture wanting to believe them, but not really experiencing them for ourselves.  I feel a little like Jerry McGuire here, where I basically vomit everything that is frustrating me right now and then get fired.  Surely I am not the only Jesus follower out there who lacks faith, so don’t stare at me like I am the only doubting Thomas.

So how do we know when we find truth?  Do we feel it?  Maybe, but we cannot trust our feelings.  We have to compare them to the Word. That is the only solid truth that we have.  We have to come to some intellectual ascent as to the truth of the Bible or we have no foundation. So if we take the Bible as truth, then we must believe God’s promises. How do we know if we believe Gods promises?  Do we feel that we know?  Maybe, but we cannot trust our feelings.  The only way I know to know if I truly believe is to act on that belief.  That is the Western way, right?  Just act.  Why do I act?  Is it to earn favor with God?  Not if I believe His promises.

I act because I am thankful for Jesus and for salvation. I know the blackness of my soul. And the older I get, the more dark corners I discover.  But the faith that God will answer my prayers is so fleeting. I try to believe that I will truly hear his voice, but I am not sure that I do believe that I will.  I feel like I am finally at a place where I am more willing than ever to simply say yes, but I am not sure I know the sound of my Father’s voice.

“I believe; help my unbelief!”  Mark 9:22-24

Think of how frightening it would be for your son.  If he was in a foreign land where he felt uncertain and out of place all the time and he was constantly crying out for you.  You could see him, but he could not see you.  “Dad, I’m trying to remain calm and simply put one foot in front of the other. I know that you are out there I just can’t see you or hear you.  I remember you a little from when I was younger.  You said a sheep could always recognize his master’s voice. Either I have forgotten the sound of your voice or you are not speaking. It is dark in here and there seems to be evil all around. Fortunately I have some of my brothers and sisters with me and they tell me they can hear you, so that gives me a little comfort that I am on the right path.  But dad, I really want to hear from you myself. I have been doing my best to follow the instructions you gave me.  But I just really want to know that you still love me and want me to succeed in this life. That you want me to be all that you told me you wanted me to be when I was younger….are you there?”  Would you not just scoop up your son in your arms and make sure he never doubted the sound of your voice again?  I would, but then I remember my existential angst:  oh, yeah. . . I’m not God.  A friend patiently listened to this rant of mine and insightfully commented: “But what if your son was 41 years old and needed to experience your silence in order to get him to a place that would be better for him, would you remain silent, or would you scoop him up?”

Then I see some of the faithful literally dying in the streets with no clothes and food for their kids. They are crying out to God and we cry out on their behalf.  I do not understand why God does not clothe them and feed them like He promises in Matthew 6.  He tells us to love the poor, not to simply say “be well” and pass them by.  But are we that answer to prayer?  Maybe, but why did God let them get to that point?  What about “When Helping Hurts”?  What if someone does not help them and they die?  How is He fulfilling His promises of Matthew 6?

“Oh ye of little faith,” the scoffers and Pharisees are saying.  Go ahead and say it.  It is true, but I am still seeking the Father and I am trying to hear and understand. Instead of criticizing how about helping if you have it all figured out?  I’m reading all your books.  I am applying all the faith and action I can muster. I am trying to rest on Gods promises as well.  I love to quote the phrase, “God cannot steer a boat if it is sitting still.”  Faith in action: just move and trust God to guide.  That all sounds wonderful, but how will He guide if I do not recognize His voice?

I am just so tired of drumming up some false faith or some guess as to the Father’s voice.  I am trying to learn to simply act on what I perceive to be His voice.  A friend encouraged me that It does not matter if I get it wrong so long as what I think I hear is in line with the character of God.  I am trying to do that and I understand it conceptually, but dang it, I want to know it in my soul when God is telling me to act or when He is just saying, “Hey Troy, I love you,” like I am constantly saying to my son.

Growing up Baptist I was pretty much taught that God speaks through His word, PERIOD.  I was then introduced to people who are truly tapping into the power of the Holy Spirit and I read about George Mueller and so many Christians who are experiencing His Holy power living in them.  I just want to experience it enough that I have faith enough to encourage my children to live a radical life of faith.  I know in my heart that is the best life, but I fear that my knowledge is similar to that described by Pascal.  I want my children to know so much more faith than a wager for eternal life.  A life of faith based upon Pascal’s wager cannot be the abundant life that God promised.

Oh that God will sanctify me despite my hard and dark heart, that He will show me mercy enough to use me as part of His body to fulfill the prayers of others even if I never learn the sound of His voice.  I have been learning about Soren Kierkegaard and Christian existentialism, and it resonates with me.  I am so ego driven that I have always wanted to be the hero.  Well, I am obviously not and never will be.  I now just want to play a role In a story bigger than my own. It is a much better story than the one that says “God is everywhere and everything” or “God is found within each of us” or the ever-popular “life sucks and then you die.”  But am I simply wagering on what I believe to be the best story?  That is not faith.

In John 6, when Jesus tells his disciples that they must eat of His flesh and drink of His blood, many of them turned back.  He then turned to the twelve and said, “Do you want to go away as well?”  Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life and we have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.”  That is what I say as well.  “Lord, to whom shall I go?”  “Yours is the life I want for me and my family.  I will eat of your flesh and drink of your blood, so please….be more than an intellectual ascent to a worldview and more than a wager for the afterlife.  Be my Lord and Savior and help me to learn the Father’s voice.”  AMEN

Work hard and you will be blessed

view from Tree Fort Studio (entire Austin skyline)….inspiring

Our band was in Austin for a 5 day recording session at the Tree Fort Studio, a very cool studio in the hills overlooking Lake Austin. We were starting our days bright early for rock n roll, around 11am. Considering our start time, I was able to go visit one of these great Austin churches I had been hearing about. After 3 days of recording, I was longing for some worship time alone with Jesus. . . and 2000 of my closest friends.

I diligently followed the guiding orange flags of the parking posse into a prime visitors spot at the front of ONE of the sanctuaries. As I walked down the center parking lot isle almost to the front door, a nice shiny Bentley caught my eye. These are attractive vehicles and I usually notice them, though they are not really my style (I am more of an old Land Cruiser guy myself). It was parked strategically for all to see, like the valets usually do at nice hotels and restaurants. I kept my stride and did not really think anything of it, until the vanity plate stopped me in my tracks: “WRKHRD”!

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view from local mega church parking lot….not so inspiring

I just stopped and stared. I am pretty sure I threw up a little in my mouth. I was immediately transported back to 25 years old, fresh out of law school, one foot in the world, one foot in the word, and leaning pretty hard on that worldly foot. I thought with my 25 year old mind for a second, which is not hard to do. If I were going to church seeking to figure out LIFE and how I could “kill it” for Jesus, I would certainly try to find this guy. He clearly has figured out the secret to having it ALL, and who doesn’t want to have it ALL. But. . . does God want us to “have it all”? Did He give us the recipe, such that all we have to do is follow the directions and we will attain the worldly success we seek? Work hard boys and girls and you too can drive a Bentley and park on the front row at the Temple.

Now this guy might be a great dude, and there is clearly nothing wrong with owning nice things, but what does this message scream? Hard work leads to worldly success, the American Dream! We as Americans are working harder and longer today than any group of people in the history of man and some would argue that our wealth is a result of that hard work. If we make $48,000 per year we are in the top 1% of all wage earners in the world. But, can everyone who works as hard as this guy afford to drive a Bentley?  Does God really want us to work hard so that we can be rich? Is this the message of the Bible, the way that God wants us to live our lives?

There is plenty of evidence in the Bible indicating that God intends that we work hard. But what is our motive? Are we working hard to build God’s BIG kingdom or our own little kingdoms?

The Lord God took the man and placed him in the orchard in Eden to care for it and to maintain it. Genesis 2:15

“If anyone is not willing to work, neither should he eat.” 2 thes 3:10

When I saw this license plate, I could not help but think of a story I had previously heard about an Indian man whose father worked in the quarries, and taught him to work in the quarries. This man was now teaching his underage son to work in the quarries.  They lived in a quarry and chipped at rock from the time they awoke until dark.  What would this man think of this license plate? “Hopefully my son will work harder in the quarries than I did, then maybe he can drive a Bentley”? Uhhhh…..sorry, but it does not work that way in India. “Wake up Merika!” Our brand of protestant work ethic = monetary reward does not translate in other parts of the world.

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I say this all the time, we won the birth lottery (or for the more crass among us, we are all members of the lucky sperm club) dropping us into the most prosperous nation in the world at the most prosperous time in human history. Then we had people around us who helped us and had the capacity to be able to help us.

“Wait,” you say, “you did not grow with my dad, you have no idea how hard it was. I made this wealth on my own. I am a self made man.” Really? Was there ever a teacher, another parent, a coach, a friend, a colleague, someone at church who encouraged you along your way? Did you have anything to do with that? What about getting into college? Did people on an admissions committee have to accept you? What about your first job? Did someone have to hire you? Did you meet people in business who helped you along the way? I submit to you that these people and circumstances were not luck or coincidences. They were all divinely orchestrated by a sovereign God, and we should be asking Him this question:

God, for what reason or reasons did You divinely orchestrate my life such that I have accumulated and have the capacity to accumulate so much wealth?

Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are different ministries, but the same Lord. And there are different results, but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. It is one and the same Spirit, distributing as he decides to each person, who produces all these things. 1 corinthians 12:4-6, 11

God modeled work for us in Genesis when he created the universe and everything in it. He created us in the image of himself to create. There is intrinsic value we should find in hard work because that is how God created us.

So what is the message we should be conveying?

Work hard and you will be rich or receive any extrinsic reward is the WRONG MESSAGE! Work hard and you will eat, RIGHT MESSAGE! Work hard and find enjoyment in the work itself, because that is how God created you, RIGHT MESSAGE! Work hard, because it glorifies the Lord and in turn will bring joy to you, RIGHT MESSAGE! I am wealthy because I worked hard to capitalize on the opportunities that were divinely given to me, and with such wealth comes great responsibility, RIGHT MESSAGE!

Unfortunately (or fortunately) none of these messages fit very well on a vanity plate, so please. . . just trade that one in for “HK EM”. Or at the very least, back into your parking spaces.

He needs it. . . I have it. Is it really that complicated?

In our western, protestant, pull yourself up by your bootstraps doctrine, why do we make it so complicated to help someone?  I do believe that we have to use wisdom with regard to how we systemically help people in poverty.  Clearly our methods of providing AID have not been very effective in truly helping those in poverty.  If we individually help someone without using wisdom, does that misguided “help” eventually become systemic?  Certainly.

So are we just not to help when someone needs help and we have what they need for fear that such action will lead to a welfare state?  What about that guy on the side of the road who had been beaten by robbers?  Was there much thought given by the Samaritan who helped him?

I was at an event the other day where this lady spoke about an incredible experience whereby God had blessed her with a car someone had given her.  We heard her side of the story as well as the side of the story of the folks who gave her the car.  I had seen a video about this gift numerous times with an organization called Generous Giving, but I had never heard the intricacies behind the story.  In all honesty, though I have always enjoyed the story, this pragmatic devout follower of “When Helping Hurts” was certain that this kind of reckless giving must hurt the receiver of this gift.

I knew that the receiver of this gift, Catherine, had given her car money away.   The giver of the gift, the Ochs, saw an opportunity to fill Catherine’s need as she had filled someone else’s need.  Though I thought it very altruistic for Catherine to help this other person in need, there was a part of me who thought it foolish to give away the money you had been saving for a car that you really needed.  I was also a little angry at the person who asked Catherine for this money.

When I met Catherine at this event, I had to ask her:  “How did you know that God wanted you to give this lady $5000?”  Her response was very simple but it was packed full of an ongoing relationship with God:  “She needed $5000 and I had $5000.”  She then began to tell me more of the details behind the decision.  She did not want to give her money away.  She had worked hard to save that money.  She had numerous conversations with God and even delayed in hopes that someone else would fulfill the need.  The longer she waited, the more she began to feel like it was a test.  Where was her faith?  Once she made the decision to give the gift, she felt as if she had passed the test.  She had relinquished her idol and placed her faith in the provider instead of the provision.  I so appreciated and was encouraged by her authenticity.

Earlier in the year, I had come across the name of a friend I had met 15 years ago on a trip to Kenya.  He had worked at the Mayfield Guest House in Nairobi and he was the only guy I had remotely stayed in touch with after spending the summer in Kenya.  I felt like God was prompting me to reach out to him.  I looked up Mayfield online and emailed the general inbox:  Is John (name changed in case he does not want others to know) still working there?  How is he?  Please tell him that I said hello.  John responded.  He had been faithfully working at Mayfield serving missionaries for 22 years.  In his first email to me he asked me to pray that his son would find funding to attend college.  I had been initially put off by this response:  typical stereotyping of the westerner as the aid giver.  However, God had been working on me gently encouraging me to rethink my position.

Was I fearful that he would misuse the money?  Was I hurt that he saw me as a source of capital?  Did I feel taken advantage of?  I knew that I needed to love him, but how?  God had clearly prompted me to reach out.  Was the reason to provide for this need or simply to pray for it.

James 2:15-17   Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

My friend had been faithfully and sacrificially serving for 22 years at the same place, attending the same church, just trying to raise his family well.  God began to soften me to the fact that this was not reckless giving and it really was not as complicated a decision as I was making it.  Once I heard the simplicity of Catherine’s story in person, I knew God was telling me that He want me to use His money to pay for college courses for my old friend’s son.  Once I made the wire transfer, I knew I had done what God wanted me to do.

Giving should be like breathing.  Our lungs need oxygen, so we breathe in.  When other members of Christ’s body need something, we should give to them.  Our body does not foolishly give oxygen to our lungs, but it gives in the proportion that our lungs need it. . . simply without fuss.  We too should give to others as they need. . . simply and without fuss.  The body of Christ will grow stronger with every gift and God will be glorified.

May we each purpose to do our part in 2015 to grow and strengthen the body of Christ.

Radical Grace = Radical Demands: trying to warm up to Abraham and Isaac

I am currently pursuing a better understanding of grace.  I am not very good at receiving grace, nor am I good at showing grace to those I love.  This pursuit led me to the Doctor of Grace, Brennan Manning, and his Ragamuffin Gospel.  This was a popular book back when I was in college and law school, but I never read it then.  At that point in my life, I did not associate myself with the likes of the Ragamuffin.  I was on a path to success and though I might have the occasional Ragamuffin reflexive twitch, mainly with regard to my music pursuit or sexual desires, I never tarried for long.  Therefore, I was sure this book was not for me.

Fast forward 20 years and I am quite scarred from life, the reality of this fallen world and the blackness of my soul.  Something brought this book to my attention again and I began to see indications that I was to read it.  My father, far from an admitted Ragamuffin, expressed how much he enjoyed the Rich Mullins story, Ragamuffin, on Netflix.  Then I knew I had to move this to the top of my reading list.  I started by watching the movie, which is not an adaptation of the book, but the story of Rich Mullins, who was discipled by Brennan Manning.  I admit, I was expecting the typical cheesy Christian, Lifetime, made for TV, low budget film with horrible acting.  Wow, was I pleasantly surprised.

The movie was very well done and was convicting and gripping.  It was timely for someone like myself who has such a difficulty understanding and embracing grace.  The movie did not shy away from Rich’s demons and it included real language and struggles, which are often missing from Christian films.  For the first time in a long time, I found myself crying at the end of this movie while I drifted off to sleep.  I was trying to identify my reason for crying.  It wasn’t that I was sad for Rich’s death.  While his death was tragic, I would not have normally cried about such in a movie.

I was crying because I desperately wanted to have a relationship with God that was free from my works and from my preconceived conservative western notions of how God communicates with me.  I wanted to find my worth in God’s love for me.  I wanted to feel this love.  I truly wanted the same thing that Rich wanted.  However, I have spent most of my life pursuing a physical scorecard:

  • Money
  • Experiences
  • Stories
  • Friends
  • Influence
  • Autonomy

If I truly want to find my worth in God’s love for me, why do I spend the time I have been given pursuing these other results?  So what does this have to do with Abraham and Isaac?  Well, I had no idea either until this morning while listening to the Ragamuffin Gospel on the way to work.  Thank you Audible for providing an outlet for a reader who cannot seem to sit long enough to finish a book.

Brennan Manning tells the story of a pastor teaching on Genesis 22, Abraham’s assent up Mount Moriah to sacrifice his son, Isaac.  I have always HATED this story.  I have never HATED it as much as I have since having a son.  I cannot stand to think that I worship a God who would demand this of someone in order to demonstrate loyalty to him.  Therefore, I was interested as to how this story was going to be used to show us grace.

The pastor offered some historical background on the prevalence of child sacrifice during this time.  The pastor then asked what the story meant to the members of his congregation.  One middle aged man spoke up and indicated that it meant that he and his family would be looking for another church.  I expected that this man’s disdain for the story would be similar to mine.  However, I was surprised to hear him say this:  “when I look at that God, the God of Abraham, I feel I’m near a real God, not the sort of dignified, businesslike, Rotary Club God we chatter about here on Sunday mornings. Abraham’s God could blow a man to bits, give and then take a child, ask for everything form a person, and then want more. I want to know that God.”

What?  Why would I want to know a God that wanted more than I could possibly give?  This is not what I was expecting out of a book that was supposed to be remedying my pursuit of works.  Then Brennan goes on to say that the child of God knows that the graced life calls him or her to live on a cold and windy mountain, not on the flattened plain of reasonable, middle-of-the-road religion.  This is the God of the gospel of grace. A God, who out of love for us, sent His only Son He ever had wrapped in our skin. He learned to walk, stumbled and fell, cried for His milk, sweated blood in the night, was lashed with a whip and showered with spit, was fixed to a cross and died whispering forgiveness on us all.

If God is going to be a God of radical grace, then his demands must be equally as radical.  He knows that we cannot meet his demands, but his grace is sufficient to cover our failures.  Our failures leave room for us to experience God’s love and grace.  I think of how I respond to my son’s failures.  I only ask that he try, not that he succeed.  Oh that he would find his sufficiency in his trying as I do.  Oh that we would find our sufficiency in trying as God does.

In The Geography of Bliss: One grumps search for the happiest places in the world by Eric Weiner, he explores why Iceland is one of the happiest places on earth.  He explains that Icelanders’ embracing of failure, what we in America would see as a negative, is one their foundations for happiness.  Their embracing of failure allows them to more freely try new things.  Would we not encourage our children to try new things and show them grace when they fail at them?  Would these efforts not bring us joy as parents?  Why then would our heavenly father not show us at least this same grace and experience at least this joy?  Of course he would and He does.  We are created in His image, you know.  So why can I not embrace His grace as sufficient and find my worth there and not in the lack of grace I receive from this world?  Why can I as a believer not exhibit this type of grace to myself as well as to my brothers and sisters in Christ?

Lord, please call me to be your Gallbladder

I hear it all the time and I am usually skeptical (unfortunately):  “God told me”, God called me”, and the much more conservative version that I like to use, “God prompted me” to make this move.  Well, back in September of 2010, God prompted me to make this move.  The prompting went something like this:

God:  “I want you to do more to help the poor.”
Me:  “huh?”
God:  “I want you to do more to help the poor.”
Me:  “uhh, but what about that time I helped the refugees, and the time I bought that guy dinner, and my trip to Africa and Tajikistan, and . . . . ?
God:  “I want you to look into MicroFinance.  I know you have interest.”  (though he knew I was currently a high interest lender, I don’t think He intended the pun here, but I am not quite sure.)
Me:  “uhh, OK.”

I had looked into micro finance some 4 or 5 years ago, got excited, called Dale Dawson who started Urwego Opportunity Bank in Rwanda, then dropped the ball and never did anything.  I got busy “killin it” and never pursued it any further.  This time, however, was much different.  You see, I don’t usually hear God.  I know that he speaks, but I don’t usually hear, and I am leery of those who do.  I am too busy being high “D” and high “C” (according to my DISC profile that is a Dominant and Calculating personality. . . I lovingly refer to it as the D_CK profile).  Don’t get me wrong, I believe God still speaks to us, but I just do not hear Him, nor do any of my friends or anyone else I know, might know, or might hear about or read about and actually listen to.  That night I researched local micro finance organizations, found one, watched some videos on it and called the executive director the next day.  I told her we had to meet THAT DAY, but I did not really have an agenda.  She was kind enough and probably listening to God enough to adjust her plans and meet.  I told her of this crazy prompting and she began to help plug me into the world of micro finance, my new found ministry pursuit.

The very next day was scheduled our first law firm partnership meeting after my return from a very special summer in Colorado.  At the meeting, I was greeted with some unexpected turmoil.  As the business development manager, I had allegedly angered one of our clients.  My partners then began to lay out a plan of how they needed to separate me from this client, who happened to be our largest client. It soon became clear that during their summer together without me, my two partners had become quite hot here in Texas while I was in Colorado and a coup was underway.  Though I was initially angered by the suggestion, I eventually saw this as an opportunity to depart with a payout that would allow me time to spend in Colorado while determining my next business move.

After a month or so of discussing the buyout and dreaming about what was next, I was encouraged by a friend to read through my years of journaling and try to determine if God was using this incident to “call” me into full time service for the Kingdom.  You see, this ministry prompting had occurred at luncheon for the National Christian Foundation.  We were exploring the use of our God given resources for Kingdom service.  I always thought I was called to be a business guy, a multiplier for God’s Kingdom.  I knew I was part of the body, but I never thought my role would be in ministry, and still didn’t.  I told him that I was clearly not “called” into some sort of career.  My job in my career was simply to make money and then do ministry.  Nevertheless, I agreed to humor his request.

The review of my journals along with my September prompting revealed some unexpected twists.  There were at least 5 instances where I had pleaded with God in bold letters with overused exclamations points to CALL ME.  Maybe he was calling me into micro finance.  Maybe this prompting was a career move and not a compartmentalized ministry move.

Being the consummate strategist and desiring entrepreneur, I quickly began to devise the plan that I was certain God wanted with this new calling.  I would learn as much about micro finance as possible and then start a for profit business that provides services to the micro finance industry.  I was certain that this was the direction, so I set out on my own to find MY place in the world of micro finance.  I was an attorney with 10+ years experience in the credit stressed lending industry.  I was perfect for micro finance.  Plus, I was willing to take a significant pay cut to pay the price to serve.  How could anyone refuse to hire me.  I would have offers pouring in in no time, right?

After a year of trying (15 applications, numerous conferences and trips, 2 interviews and 2 rejections), I learned that the workers in micro finance were way smarter, better educated, better traveled and much more sacrificial than me.  Micro finance had little need for me.  I was quite humbled.  In need of funds, I retreated back over the neglected bridge that was fortunately still intact, the default mortgage industry.  I worked as a consultant for large bank for a year and pretty much gave up the dream that God was calling me into full time ministry.  I told my friend that he must have been mistaken, God was not calling me, at least not right now.  I still knew, however, that He had prompted me in September to do more to help the poor, but I was back to my original thought that this prompting was a ministry I needed to participate in as opposed to into a career shift.

As I began to drift back into the consulting world and let go of the supposed call to full time ministry, I finally started releasing the outcome of this prompting to God.  I kept my ear to the ground and continued to support Hope International, one of the organizations with whom I had interviewed.  When the opportunity came later that year to work in the area of stewardship ministry in the oil and gas industry, I knew it was not of my making.

My wife had asked me previously if I would like to do what the local president of the National Christian Foundation was doing.  I told her that I would not.  It was just too nebulous and I would likely become frustrated.  I spent 3 months praying through it and seeking counsel before deciding that this was in fact God leading me into the next chapter.

How did I know?

Well, it made total and complete logical sense (insert sarcasm here):  I had been in the oil and gas industry for years, I was a tremendously generous giver and I had been freed from all desires for worldly wealth and material possessions and I was the most astute and organized business man I knew with great influence.  WRONG!  I had none of these things.

What did I know?

  • I was prompted to serve the poor
  • I wanted to serve, but did not know where or how
  • I had been volunteering for National Christian Foundation for 4-5 years
  • I wanted to do something that combined business and ministry
  • I knew and liked the president of the local organization and trusted his walk with God
  • I am a better starter than a ongoing operational guy and there was an opportunity to start something new with NCF
  • I saw opportunity to be involved in Kingdom multiplication and I wanted to be a multiplier
  • I wanted to hang out with better people than I was used to hanging out with in the mortgage industry
  • I was located in Texas in the heart of the oil patch
  • As I was thinking about other businesses I would consider when moving out of mortgage banking, oil and gas continued to surface in my thoughts

I saw it as an opportunity that God was presenting and I took it despite the fact that the salary was about 1/3 of what I was previously making, that I had no clear direction on what we would actually be doing and I had no relevant experience.  I simply showed up ready to serve.

Now here we are a year later and the feeling of inadequacy is at its peak.  We have hit few of our goals and have had to adjust our business model.  I find myself stuck between the “do” and the “be”.  “Do” is my default but everything I am reading and hearing is telling me to be.  I am praying that my inadequacy in the “do” will force me to “be” better.  In turn my “being” will make me a more “capable doer”.  But for now, I am just continuing to show up ready to serve.  My new favorite description of our team is that we are the Triumphant Fellowship of the Inadequate!

We just finished reading a new book, The Choice.  It encourages ministries to take the spiritual path to ministry as opposed to the common path.  The common path looks much more like pure business and it is where I find comfort.  The spiritual path does not abandon business practices in your ministry, but it is one degree different and that one degree means everything.  We heard during our retreat this week that water can boil vegetables at 211 degrees, but can run a locomotive at 212 degrees.  That one degree makes all the difference and the degree of the Holy Spirit in our work makes all the difference as well.

I continue to rest in the fact that God is leading and I am simply one part of a much larger body of Christ.  For the body does not consist of one member but of many.  If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.  1 Corinthians 12: 14-15.  I have always aspired to hold a more “important” role in the body but I am finally learning to recognize that all members of the body are important, even those that are not used as much.  Take the Gallbladder for instance.  It is responsible for helping people digest when they bite off a little more than they can chew.  It fills up with nasty acid and pours it into the digestive tract as needed to accomplish a necessary function that helps people live a more peaceful existence.  As evidenced by my previously mentioned DISC profile, I am sometimes a little acidic.  Nevertheless, I pray that God will use me as a member of His body to help people digest all of this wealth we are called to steward and find a little joy and peace in the midst of our seemingly force-fed, fat-filled diet commonly known as the American Dream.

Story over Stuff

Some would say I have a tendency to place a little too much emphasis on the value of story. I love to listen to someone tell a good story. Strangely, I feel that reading fiction is a waste of time unless it is set to “good” music, but I do enjoy movies. . . . good and bad. Go figure. Most Americans place great value on material possessions, whereas I place great value on the stories I could tell. Notice, I said “could tell”. Though I value living a life worthy of good stories, I never feel like I am there yet, so I do not tell as many stories as I would like. I am a fabulous story teller in my own mind, but it never quite translates as I intend. I was once told by a dear friend that “experientialism” was my materialism and that I was creating an idol out of experiences and their potential stories just like others created idols out of material possessions. While my friend was right at the time, the pendulum found its way back to a happy medium since the birth of my son and the somewhat recent rediscovery of story with Donald Miller and Bob Goff, two tremendously insightful authors. One of whom tells a great story but did not live one and the other who could lives a great story but did not tell one. Now they are both living and telling great stories and they inspired me to focus more effort on my story.

My appreciation for story was grounded in the fact that you can’t take “stuff” with you, but you can take memories. Therefore, my pursuit of experiences seemed somewhat noble, but it was really more of a self-focused, even self-righteous exercise of trying to check items off of my bucket list. I would then secretly look down my nose at those relatively materialistic shallow souls who did not see the world the same as I did. Donald Miller and Bob Goff have helped me realize that living a life worthy of a story does not have to be self-focused and can actually be very God honoring. In our culture of 140 characters, the story is definitely an endangered species. Oral traditions in the west have all but disappeared. The Bible is a collection of stories, many of which were told orally before being transcribed. Capturing and sharing our stories are important to our legacy, and they should point others to God. This does not just happen, we must be deliberate with our lives today in order to tell good stories tomorrow.

In Donald Miller’s book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Don realizes that he has simply been writing good stories but he was not living a good story. He then takes deliberate steps to live a better story and is now helping others do so through his Storyline conferences and blog. No one wants to hear a story about how I woke up late, went to work, came home, watched tv, surfed the web and went to bed. This story honors no one. In order to live a good story I must want something and overcome conflict to get it. How do I do this? The first step is awareness that our decisions today make up the stories we will tell. Don taught me about the inciting incident, the event that sets me on my journey from which I cannot turn back until I accomplish the goal. This could be something that occurs that is outside of my control, such as my wife telling me that she is a lesbian and wants a divorce after 20 years. It could also be something that we initiate, such as booking a trip to climb Kilimanjaro while surfing the web after going to work, coming home, and watching tv;) The story is not good or bad based upon the incident that occurs, but based upon our response to that incident.

I was listening to a sermon from Andy Stanley the other day entitled The Story of Your Life. I am not sure if I am just paying more attention to discussions on stories these days or if there is an overall resurgence of the art of story, but I am finding myself stumbling across story resources constantly without searching for them. Andy was talking about making decisions using the power of story and recognizing that today’s decisions will be a short story that I someday tell. It will either be a good story or it will not. The choice is up to me today. Is it a better story for God to take you around difficulty or give you strength and carry you through difficulty? Unfortunately, the better story requires us to go through the difficulty and overcome conflict.

My friend’s wife did tell him she was a lesbian and is leaving him after 20 years. He could have responded in a way that told a very bad story and did not leave a God honoring legacy for his kids. He chose, however, to return to God and to do everything he could to save his marriage and to love his wife as well as he could during this stressful time despite the fact that she was not responding to his efforts. The marriage is sadly ending in divorce, but the story will not end for my friend. His response has caused him to grow in spiritual grit and he will be able to boast in Christ’s sufficiency to hold him up during what is hopefully the worst tragedy he will ever face. His decisions today will afford him a worthy story as part of his legacy and will provide him a foundation from which he can help others who are going through similar trials. This extremely devastating inciting incident does not define my friend, but his response to it will.

How will you respond so that you live a good story and leave a good legacy? Please let me hear your story.

Throw off the warm comfortable blankets of apathy — A CHALLENGE TO US ALL

Shout it aloud, do not hold back.  Raise your voice like a trumpet. . . DECLARE. . .  Isaiah 58:1

We are witnessing that awakening.  But the shout is not enough.  Like flopping a sleepy hand onto the snooze button, we’re at risk of muting the shout.  Until we swing our feet out of bed and take action, we risk oversleeping the alarm.  And getting out of bed requires a willingness to become uncomfortable.

The blankets of apathy and familiar thinking are warm and comforting.  It will take an intentional act to throw them off to get ready for the day.  But it is out there in the uncomfortable elements that the vigor, adventure, purpose and joy of life await.  If we intend to journey with Jesus, we’d better listen to what the guide says about the road ahead — “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”  Matthew 8:20.

excerpt from Fast Living by Dr. Scott Todd