Grace—The Fire Power of God

There was a time in my life when I went to confession, having been told by the good nuns (and they were good), that I would receive “grace” for going and that the more I went to confession, the more grace I would get. That was all fine and good – except that I didn’t really have any idea what grace was.

For the most part, I reasoned that grace was synonymous with mercy. Makes sense, right? I mean, you confess your sins and you have to receive mercy in order to be forgiven. The only problem was, I couldn’t understand how you could get “more” mercy; either you had it or you didn’t have it; either your sins were forgiven—or they weren’t. How could they be more forgiven or less forgiven?

What??

Now while I didn’t lose a lot of sleep over the issue, it was certainly a mystery. But I filed it away in the back of my mind and figured that some far off day when I finally got to heaven, some angel or saint would no doubt explain it to me. (It would, I thought, probably be Apostle Paul since he was always declaring “grace and peace” to someone or other.) However, that day came sooner than I thought – and not from Paul. One day as I was sitting in church mostly listening, I heard a woman begin to teach on the difference between grace and mercy. My ears perked up.

Simply put, mercy is defined as not getting what we do deserve – for example, punishment for sin, while grace is defined as getting what we do not deserve –  in this case, the power and ability to accomplish whatever it is we need to do.

I took a moment and thought about that. Suddenly it all began to make sense: Mercy and grace are not the same thing. Mercy is the forgiveness of sin, and grace is the power to overcome sin.

Grace is not just some vague, wimpy, “nice” little Christian concept. Grace is the fire-power of God.

Think about that.

What Is Grace For?

Grace is the power of God to accomplish and achieve the extraordinary, the supernatural, even the impossible things we are called to do in order to fulfill our destinies.  

The fact is that grace, like faith, is an actual substance, a “thing” which we can receive from God in order to accomplish whatever it is He has called us to do. And although it’s probably an insufficient analogy, I like to think of grace as a tool without which we can’t get the job done. Can we split wood without an axe or saw? Can we drive without a vehicle? Can we communicate without language?      

Can we fulfill our destinies without the fire of God’s grace empowering our lives?

Possibly, but not well. But that’s all right because God says, “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (Romans 12:9).

Have you ever been so frustrated trying to achieve your calling, your destiny, that you just can’t seem to do what you feel you’ve been called to do? Have you even doubted that calling?

Have you ever just wanted to quit?

There’s fire for that.

FOMO: Fear of Missing Out

FOMO is really a thing. It’s a malady of the mind most generally characterized by a feverish inclination—perhaps even an obsession—to act upon a particular “opportunity” before it’s deemed the dreaded “TOO LATE!” Symptoms of FOMO often include anxiety and indecisiveness leading to irritability, insomnia, irrationality and, in extreme cases, a nasty rash.

Fear of missing out.

Exemptions

There are no exemptions. FOMO is an affliction to which no age, nationality, race, religion, gender, social status or economic rank is immune. And there is no vaccine. A person with FOMO is hijacked with the terror of missing that “once-in-a-lifetime” gig, often referenced in places like Wall Street (probably the most famous of all high-stakes casinos), on college campuses (epidemic among first-semester freshmen), amongst indiscriminate news junkies, and perhaps most notably, in singles’ bars.

While usually not fatal, FOMO has been known to lead to poverty, drunken episodes followed by indeterminate blackouts and miserable hangovers, night terrors involving Russian collusion in pre-K classrooms, and marriage/children/divorce (or just children). Currently there is no cure for FOMO so people exhibiting symptoms—especially bad decision-making—should be quarantined without electronic devices to aid in making bad decisions until such time as the fever passes. Unfortunately, this could take months. Or maybe it never passes.

But God.

As with most horror movies involving most monsters, any prospect driven by FOMO never really ends well. And we know that. Mostly. Nevertheless, we chase that “opportunity” anyway—even when every alarm in our heads is blasting like a Cat 5 tornado siren but still, we’re compelled to ignore that warning and chase the impending disaster. And why? Because we want that thing—whatever “that thing” is—and we know deep down that if we wait to hear from God, he’ll tell us to pass on that particular prospect. So we cover our ears and plow forward.

Never underestimate the human tendency toward self-deception.

The Hardest Thing

Fear, as we know, is the opposite of faith, and faith is the ability to trust God—no matter what. Faith equals trust. The problem is that sometimes we have less trouble trusting God to do something he tells us to do than to not do something he says to wait on. And why?

Because we’re afraid of missing out.

Eve was afraid of missing out in the Garden of Eden when the devil convinced her that God was withholding knowledge from her—the knowledge of good and evil. So, instead of doing any fact checking on his little accusation, Eve ate the magic apple that was supposed to infuse her with vast knowledge, understanding and insight. And we all know how that ended. Ironically, her IQ probably dropped several hundred points as she munched away.

FOMO often leads to heartbreaking losses in many areas: prosperity, reputation, love, opportunity—and most tragically, a loss of destiny. Or it changes a destiny forever. Abraham had received a promise from God that he would have a son with Sarah and birth an entire nation. However, it didn’t happen by the time Abraham thought it should and so he arranged to have a son with a younger woman. Eventually, Sarah had a son but the damage had already been done: Both of Abraham’s sons, Ishmael and Isaac, fathered nations and the Arabs and Jews have been at war ever since. And why? Because Abraham suffered from a severe case of FOMO—fear of missing out.

The 21st Century

I wish I could say that FOMO is a thing of the past and that, as Christians led by the Spirit of God, we’re past all that. And we would be—if we listened to God. However, listening for God’s permission is often difficult, especially when we have a deadline to meet or that “opportunity” will—POOF—vanish. Instead, motivated by fear, we close our eyes, grit our teeth, and plunge all in.

Here’s the bottom line: God is more interested in what we’re learning than in what we’re getting.

And, given that, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict that God may allow that “opportunity” to crash and burn so that we don’t get the mistaken impression that any day we ignore God’s input is going to be a good one. God will not reinforce the idea that fear should be our motivator over faith. Let’s remember that as we’re destiny chasing.

The Wall

   This past year, I hit a wall. I had a huge disappointment in terms of a goal I’d been working toward for months—and frankly, it was crushing. I questioned everything I thought I knew about anything: What I was doing, what I was supposed to be doing, what God wanted me doing—or didn’t want me doing. Now I find myself at a crossroads: to continue or not to continue—that is the question. In seeking the answer, I returned to what I know. Here’s what I know…

   Sometime, somewhere, we’ll encounter some massive roadblock. I will. You will. There will be a point in the pursuit of your goals during which something goes wrong or people say you can’t do that thing or you feel overwhelmed with the scope of the task or you simply get tired of working, working, working and waiting for something to break your way. You’ll run into adversity or out of money, resources, time, energy—even faith.

    Welcome to “The Wall”.

The Wall is any seemingly insurmountable obstacle, which, by definition, simply means “game over”. Walls come in all shapes and sizes: the bank account,the lack of training, the glass ceiling, the adversary or just plain failure. So the question then becomes—then what? Is the game over? Is the dream dead? Was the vision only a mirage? Is our very destiny teetering on the precipice of doom? Maybe.

The War Room

   But before you throw in the proverbial towel, it’s time to hit the War Room. Now, I’m not talking about the war room in the movie War Room—although stopping by that room to pray is highly recommended. But no, I’m talking about your other war room—the one which every military general has, the one in which your strategy is conceived, planned, and from there, implemented.  It’s the room in which you “map the dream,” “plan the work and then work the plan” and, sometimes, “go back to the drawing board”.

Everybody who’s ever achieved his destiny has a “War Room”.

   Don’t have a war room? Maybe you do. War rooms go by other names, too: board rooms, conference rooms, “think tank” rooms—all places where people meet to brainstorm, “hash out,” and make decisions regarding ideas, problems/solutions, and tactics. Chances are very good that you have one at work or even at home. It’s where the dream/vision/goal is tracked, nurtured and, if necessary, revised, repackaged, re-marketed and re-released.

   But mostly, the war room is the place where you go when you need to fight through and you need the resources to help you to fight through. It’s where you come up with a strategy to get around The Wall—somehow, some way: climb over it, dig under it, tunnel through it or, my personal favorite, blow it up.    

Seeing the Future

So what’s a war room like? Well, if you’ve ever seen one, there are maps all over the room – lots of them. That’s because winning a war requires taking territory and maps are essential for determining which territories you already possess and which you want to possess. In terms of our dreams and visions, a map then would be the equivalent of a vision board or a goal chart. What are our goals? Which ones have we already achieved? Which ones do we want to achieve? These goals need to be clearly articulated and clearly visible.

   Sometimes the best way to depict a goal is through a picture. Some people, in pursuing their fitness goals, post pics of people who have the waistline or muscle mass they want to have. Or someone who’s trying to save money toward a goal might post a picture of a car or house or vacation spot. Someone working toward a career goal might post a picture of someone doing the job she wants or even (you’ll think I’m so shallow) the salary she’ll earn. Use pictures or statistics or words to illustrate your goals – just make them visible.

   Next you need a plan: how, specifically, will you achieve your goal? In our school district, I’m part of a team which designs and implements what we call, appropriately enough, our district-wide “Strategic Plan.” We meet in a conference room and everything. But the point is we create a plan with goals, steps for meeting those goals, and a timeframe within which those goals should be met. We meet occasionally to evaluate and, if necessary, tweak the plan.

“What If…?”

But what if you hit The Wall—what then? First and foremost – define the problem. What is it, how serious is it, who’s involved and who or what might be impacted? Next, what are all of the potential consequences of the problem? Go to worse-case scenarios: what happens if? And don’t skip any of them. Odd as it sounds, I like this step; I like mapping out all of the potential problems with a vision and/or the ways that a dream could fail. Why? Because it’s really true that the fear of the unknown is scarier than the actual reality. In other words, in identifying the ways something could go wrong, we often find that the worst-case scenarios aren’t as bad as we might have imagined. And, as importantly, it gives us a chance to plan strategies “just in case” the worst happens.

   For example, what if we own a business and we run short of money to keep it going? Brainstorm: What are worst-case scenarios? Would we have to close up shop? Would failure mean bankruptcy? What are the possible ways to get more money? Loans or investors or partnerships? What’s the game plan if we can’t get more those ways? Cut backs on products/services or staff? A raise in prices on products/services? Point? Don’t wait until you hit The Wall to try to solve the problem—especially if pre-consideration of potential problems might prevent them.

   Does all of those “presupposing” make you a worrywart or pessimist? Not necessarily—unless after considering what might happen, you walk around expecting it to happen. For example, before I bought any stocks (not that I have a lot), I considered the possibility that, given the market’s history, it might crash before I retire (someday). Does that mean I expect it to crash; do I go to bed scared at night? No. It simply means I haven’t invested more than I can afford to lose.

“Acceptable Risk”

    “Acceptable risk”—another war room strategy: What can you afford to lose without resulting in total failure or ruin? Think resources: money, time, energy? Are relationships or health at risk, etc.?

    All of these considerations are why we need a war room to offset The Wall. Obstacles will happen. Even Jesus said tribulation would come. So get ready for it.

   What’s going down when you and The Wall collide? Will it be you—or the wall?

The Myth of the Weed-Eating Vegetable

Squash

THE MYTH OF THE WEED-EATING VEGETABLE

   Wouldn’t it be great if you could rub a little circle of wax on the hood of your car—and it spread to whole the rest of your car? Wouldn’t it be great if you could plant a few squash plants in the corner of your yard—and they choked out all the weeds on the whole rest of the property? Wouldn’t it be great if you never exercised ever—and your body just atrophied into rock-solid muscle?

   Not going to happen.

   Why? Because this world is wired for ruin, death, and decay. Now, I’m not trying to nuke your day, but it helps to note that we live in a fallen world and so one of the principles of success in any endeavor this side of the wormfest is that we have to stay on top of the wreck and ruin. Whether your goal is to achieve in the physical, spiritual or emotional realms, we have to “mind the farm,” so to speak. With the exception of Divine intervention, things don’t “just happen,” “fall into place,” or “work themselves out”.

   Don’t believe me? Let the electricity bill, mortgage, and car payments go and see if those simply “fall into place”. Forget about that annoying rust on your undercarriage and see if that just “works itself out”. Forget about whether your supervisor thinks you’re doing a good job and see if your paycheck “just happens”.

No Toil = Trouble

Work is way over-hyped, anyway. I mean, who needs to study for a test? We all know “remembering” is a given. And why worry about cleaning houses, doing laundry or even showering? We all know people and things just morph from dirty to clean. And relationships? None of that “touchy-feely-emotional” stuff is really necessary; people “just know” they’re loved—unless you tell them they aren’t. Right?

   The assumption in all of these instances is that the job or the relationship or the possession won’t suffer if it’s neglected; it’ll at least maintain.

But that’s a bad assumption because in a fallen world, nothing maintains; things have to be maintained.

   And the word “maintain” doesn’t even imply “progress;” to maintain simply means to keep something from devolving or degenerating or dying. To make progress, we have to work even harder than we do simply to maintain the status quo. So—it all equates to work.

   But c’monwho doesn’t know that?

   Really? So why don’t we do the work? The bottom line is because we don’t want to do it; work, after all, takes work. So we procrastinate and we postpone and we neglect and we ignore our negligence—until it’s too late to fix that problem or take that opportunity or even to achieve that destiny.

Target #1: Relationships.

One thing we wreck through neglect is relationships, not just with people, but with God. Neglecting to read his Word or worship or pray are all things which will sever our personal lifeline to God; we kid ourselves that we’ll “get to it eventually” and so, sadly, we never really get to know him at all. Moreover, our neglect of time with him puts an end to receiving the direction, guidance and/or provision we need in order to fulfill our assigned purposes in life.

   Satisfying relationships with people don’t just happen, either. We’ve all heard of the book The Five Love Languages. If not, the premise is that everyone has one love language which, when spoken to him/her, makes them feel loved. These love languages include words of affirmation, acts of thoughtfulness, gifts, touch, and time spent together. Point? Neglecting to fill the “love language tank” of your loved one and then expecting the relationship to blossom is on par with filling your car’s gas tank once in New York and expecting to make it to L.A. without filling it ever again. Not happening.

Target #2: Finances.

Money is another thing that requires deliberate attention. If we neglect to budget, for example, bills won’t get paid and the savings account will be empty. Nor is there any magic fairy dust we can sprinkle on the credit cards to make the debt disappear. (Sorry.) Of course, this all sounds so elementary that it’s almost insulting to point out but… if it were so simple, then no one would be overspending, going into debt, and struggling. The reason? Things that were supposed to “work themselves out” in terms of money, didn’t.

Target #3: Success.

Did you know that if success is achieved, it can also be lost? Achieving that weight loss—and then neglecting to eat right once the goal has been achieved? So disheartening… Or one year sober? Five years? Ten years? Amazing accomplishment! But then to neglect the vigilance it took to maintain sobriety for all of those months and years is a tragic tale told the world over… Or the midnight oil burned for decades to build the business and the reputation and the financial success—all now casualties of health neglected in favor of fortune and fame…

   To neglect a thing is all that’s required for that thing to go downhill in a hurry—and the same is true of our destinies. I don’t know who said it but, “If we’re not moving forward, we’re falling behind.” If we’re not being proactive and taking ground, then we’re forced to be reactive, to try to clean up the mess we’ve allowed to accumulate and the ground we’ve lost through avoidance, carelessness, and negligence.

   The bottom line is this: If we’re trying to avoid work, the fact is that it takes a whole lot more work to have to go back and attempt to fix the rotten fruit of our laziness than it does simply to do the work the right way in the first place.

   Life is a garden. And while it would be nice if I didn’t have to weed my garden, until my squash starts doing it for me, that’s what’s on the agenda in this lifetime.

2021: From the Ashes

Sunset Tree

      Once upon a mountain top, three little trees stood and dreamed of what they wanted to become when they grew up.

   The first little tree looked up at the stars and said: “I want to hold treasure. I want to be covered with gold and filled with precious stones. I’ll be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!”

   The second little tree looked out at the small stream trickling by on its way to the ocean. “I want to be traveling mighty waters and carrying powerful kings. I’ll be the strongest ship in the world!”

   The third little tree looked down into the valley below where busy men and women worked in a busy town. “I don’t want to leave the mountain top at all. I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me, they’ll raise their eyes to heaven and think of God. I will be the tallest tree in the world.”

   Years passed. The rain came, the sun shone, and the little trees grew tall. One day three woodcutters climbed the mountain. The first woodcutter looked at the first tree and said, “This tree is beautiful. It is perfect for me.” With a swoop of his shining axe, the first tree fell.

   “Now I shall be made into a beautiful chest. I shall hold wonderful treasure!” the first tree said.

   The second woodcutter looked at the second tree and said, “This tree is strong. It is perfect for me.” With a swoop of his shining axe, the second tree fell.

   “Now I shall sail mighty waters!” thought the second tree. “I shall be a strong ship for mighty kings!”

   The third tree felt her heart sink when the last woodcutter looked her way. She stood straight and tall and pointed bravely to heaven. But the woodcutter never even looked up. “Any kind of tree will do for me,” he muttered. With a swoop of his shining axe, the third tree fell.

   The first tree rejoiced when the woodcutter brought her to a carpenter’s shop. But the carpenter fashioned the tree into a feedbox for animals. The once beautiful tree was not covered with gold nor with treasure. She was coated with sawdust and filled with hay for hungry farm animals.

   The second tree smiled when the woodcutter took her to a shipyard, but no mighty sailing ship was made that day. Instead, the once strong tree was hammered and sawed into a simple fishing boat. She was too small and too weak to sail on an ocean or even a river; instead, she was taken to a little lake.

   The third tree was confused when the woodcutter cut her into strong beams and left her in a lumberyard. “What happened?” the once-tall tree wondered. “All I ever wanted was to stay on the mountain top and point to God.

   Many, many weeks and months and years passed. The three trees nearly forgot their dreams.

But one night, golden starlight poured over the first tree as a young woman placed her newborn baby in the feedbox.

   “I wish I could make a cradle for him,” her husband whispered.

   The mother squeezed his hand and smiled as the starlight shone on the smooth and sturdy wood. “This manger is beautiful,” she said.

   In that moment, the first tree knew he was holding the greatest treasure in the world.

   One evening a tired traveler and his friends crowded into the old fishing boat. The traveler fell asleep as the second tree quietly sailed out into the lake. Soon a thundering and thrashing storm arose. The little tree shuddered. She knew she did not have the strength to carry so many passengers safely through with the wind and rain.

   The tired man awakened. He stood up, stretched out his hand and said, “Peace.” The storm stopped as quickly as it had begun. 

   Suddenly the second tree knew he was carrying the King of heaven and earth.

   One Friday morning, the third tree was startled when her beams were yanked from the forgotten woodpile. She flinched as she was carried through an angry, jeering crowd. She shuddered when soldiers nailed a man’s hands to her. She felt ugly and harsh and cruel.

   But on Sunday morning, when the sun rose and the earth trembled with joy beneath her, the third tree knew that God’s love had changed everything. It had made the third tree strong. And every time people thought of the third tree, they would think of God. That was better than being the tallest tree in the world.             (Source unknown)

  Whether you know it or not, you’re where you’re supposed to be.

   You’re in God’s plan.