Walking in Unfamiliar Territory

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Barnabas loves to hike! It doesn’t matter if we’ve walked the same trail a hundred times; he acts like it’s a whole new experience. He runs and plays and wears himself out. And because he is so good at hiking off-leash, Jason and I can hike at our own pace. Barnabas knows his boundaries. He understands he is allowed to venture off the trail, run ahead, or lag behind as long as we are always in his sight. And Barnabas follows the rules better than any other dog we’ve had. He’ll run over to the side to study something and pop his head up every few seconds to be sure he can still see us. If we move far enough away that he loses track, he forsakes his current study and runs after us. He stops at every bend in the trail to ensure we’re never out of sight. Every hike is a pleasant experience for each of us, and we love that we can depend on him to be so cooperative. Despite his many quirks, he truly is a good dog!

When we took him out yesterday for some much-needed exercise, we did a portion of the trail we’ve only done once or twice with him, and we immediately noticed something. Because the path was unfamiliar to him, he stayed within ten feet of us at all times. He still explored and kept his own pace, but he never strayed too far from our presence. Once we reached the familiar portion of the trail, however, he let loose and did his own thing though still within the bounds of what he knows we expect of him. As we discussed his behavior, Jason made a comment that echoed the words of my prayer that morning. He said, “Yes, he stays close when in unfamiliar territory, but once he’s back in his comfort zone, he feels more comfortable to stray farther from us.”

During my prayer walk earlier that day, I had poured out my heart to the Lord about how far out of our comfort zones Jason and I felt lately. For me, I’m a creature of habit and routine, so the concept of being in a different church every week and always meeting new people is a bit overwhelming. For Jason, he is one who loves to be active and doing, so sitting at a desk for hours on end calling and emailing pastors and churches to book meetings is tiresome and tedious. We’ve both had to fight the temptation to say, “Let’s do something else today. Let’s do what we’re familiar with, what we’re comfortable with.” Some days, we have to make ourselves to what we know we need to do.

As I laid out my heart, a thought struck me, and I verbalized it to the Lord. “But maybe that’s the way you want it to be, Lord. Maybe you want us to be out of our comfort zones so we’ll stay close to You, so we’ll lean on You for strength and support. Maybe our time here is so we can learn to depend and trust on You more. So, Lord, please help us to keep this in mind when we get discouraged and want to quit. Remind us there’s a purpose for being in unfamiliar territory and give us the grace and strength to accept where we are.”

I guess we’re no different from Barnabas. When we’re in familiar territory, we tend to do our own thing and go our own way. Sure, we stay within sight of our Master, but are we really walking with Him? Once we’re out of our comfort zones, it’s an entirely different story. We stay close to the Master. We have to. We don’t know which way to go or what to do. We need His guidance. We crave His assurance. We depend on His knowledge and strength. Yes, in our uncertainty, we’re less likely to stray. And considering that—as difficult as it is for me to say—I thank God for removing us from our comfort zones. I praise Him for loving us enough to lead us through unfamiliar territory. The entire process serves as another reminder that what I think is good is not always what is best. Thankfully, God knows the difference!

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way.
— Psalm 37:23
A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.
— Proverbs 16:9
And they commanded the people, saying, When ye see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then ye shall remove from your place, and go after it. Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure: come not near unto it, that ye may know the way by which ye must go: for ye have not passed this way heretofore.
— Joshua 3:3-4

Holding Nothing Back

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I’ve been told by the experts in the field that the only way to grow my outreach within the community is to tap into the power of funnel systems. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a funnel system is a method of giving away a small gift, which leads people to invest in a more significant product like a video series, which then pushes them to sign up (and pay for) the next step which is something like an in-depth course, which persuades customers to reach the final level—one-on-one coaching or consulting.

The system itself is fine, but the way it’s generally implemented makes me sick. It begins with a promise that the gift will answer all your questions and solve all your problems. What they don’t tell you is that will only happen if you follow all the way through the funnel. The idea is, within each step, they give people just enough information to whet their appetite and then promise they can find out more by signing up for the next level, which does the same thing. Only after spending hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of dollars and jumping through a million hoops do you achieve the results you were promised.  

It’s so underhanded, but it’s prevalent these days. Why? Because people are desperate for answers to life’s toughest problems, and many deceivers prey upon those who are hurting and know they can make easy money by promising solutions. Once people are hooked, they feel they’ve already invested too much time, effort, and money to not see it through to completion, so they continue to hand over their money in hopes they will finally find the peace for which they’ve been searching. And sometimes they do find that peace, but typically, they also discover they have a new stressor in their life—financial trouble. But they need not worry. There’s someone else out there who has a funnel system to help with that.

When I was approached about setting up a funnel system in connection with some of my books, I was told I would have to rewrite the books because they gave away too much information. I didn’t hold back the good stuff. I was too honest and forthcoming, so people wouldn’t see a need to go any further or purchase any additional products from me. The ironic thing about this conversation is that they intended the comments as a criticism, not praise. I was being criticized for being too honest and giving people the information I had promised them. Talk about a messed-up world!

I told the individual I would not be rewriting my books, and if I developed videos, a course, or coaching based off the books, it would be done to help people who desired further help and information. I would not willfully withhold the “good stuff” from them simply so I could have more money in my pocket or have a greater outreach across the web. That’s not the way I roll because it’s not the way Jesus rolled. He didn’t hold back the truth. He said what needed to be said, even when it wasn’t what the crowd wanted to hear. To do anything less would have been outside His Father’s will.

Suppose Jesus was content to speak with the people for five minutes but charged a fee for every moment after that. Oh, and if you wanted healing, that was an even bigger fee. Time alone with Jesus? Better hope you have your checkbook. No, Jesus didn’t act like that. He didn’t use people’s pain and trouble as a means to fatten His money purse or spread His fame. He met them where they were and did what He could to help them.

Before I go any further, I want to make one thing clear. I am not saying that a Christian worker or minister shouldn’t be paid for his or her services. God uses His people to further His work here on earth, and that includes in the financial area. It takes money to run a ministry, and that money has to come from somewhere, and I thank each of you who faithfully support this ministry each month. I couldn’t do what I do without you. The difference lies in giving money to help a cause or to purchase merchandise (like Christian books, wink, wink) and being taken advantage of by those who only offer empty promises and are continually trying to sell you the next, best thing because they know full well you’ll want it since they didn’t deliver on their promise, to begin with.

My challenge to you today is don’t hold back. Don't hold back from doing all you can do and being all you can be. Don’t hold back that smile from the coworker who is having a rough day. Don’t hold back from sending that card to the shut-in. Don’t hold back from taking time to call your parents, siblings, grandparents, etc. Don’t hold back from being a witness to anyone and everyone you see. Don’t hold back from giving God your all. Whatever you do, give it your best. Hold nothing back!

Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it.
— Proverbs 3:27

Yes, You Matter!

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There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
— Luke 16:19-31

This is a bittersweet passage in that we are told of Lazarus passing on to Paradise and the rich man passing into hell.  It's important to understand that the rich man was not cast into hell because he was rich.  No, it was because he was trusting in those riches to get him into Paradise.  But no matter how good or how rich he was, he didn't have the key to entrance into Paradise.  He didn't know Christ.  He had not accepted the gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus.

What I find so fascinating about this passage, however, is that the beggar is named while the rich man remains anonymous.  That's backwards from the way things are done today, isn't it?  The wealthy are known.  The names of the famous grace the covers of magazines.  Many people today are striving to make a name for themselves.  Why?  Because no one likes to go unnoticed.  Everyone likes to be recognized for who or what they are.  We all like to feel at least somewhat significant in the grand scheme of things.

Yes, if it had been left up to man to write the Bible, I believe this story would read somewhat differently.  The facts would be the same, but I think the rich man would have been named and the beggar would have been left anonymous.  Thankfully, the writing was not left to man.  Sure, God used human instruments, but He told them what to say.  He specified for Luke to name Lazarus and not the rich man.  Why?  Could it be that He wants to remind us that no one is insignificant in His eyes?  Could this passage serve as a reminder that we are all special to Him?  Could it point out that it isn't wealth or fame that makes someone "stand out" but those who have accepted Christ?

To this day, the rich man remains anonymous.  Until we reach Heaven, we'll never know the man's name.  But we will always know Lazarus, the name of the lowly beggar.

Perhaps you're going through a time where you're wondering if anything you say or do really matters.  It matters to God.  You may be going through a spell where you feel lost, alone and insignificant.  Never fear; the eyes of Heaven are watching.  No deed goes unnoticed.  No tear is missed.  No cry is unheard.  God loves you, and He knows your name.  Never forget that!