My Dream Job

I have often thought about what kind of work I would be doing if I were not called to work in ministry.  After much thought I honestly would say with all seriousness that I would like to work in landscaping.  I would love to mow lawns, weed-eat, plant, trim, dig, or otherwise shape the land for people or businesses.  Often when I am sitting around working at my computer I think that I would prefer to be doing some manual labor and working up a sweat.

To be clear, I love my current position in collegiate ministry and I am not looking to change it any time too soon, but there is a part of me that desires something more physical and something more simple.  One summer when I was in college I worked at a church camp where I spent roughly 80% of my work week doing these things.  I didn’t realize that I was living my dream job at the time, but I certainly didn’t squander that time either.  I quickly became aware of how rewarding it was to finish a days worth of work that could be visibly observed.  I also realized how easily I could spend several hours talking to God and meditating on His works while mowing the lawn.  Working at Highland Lakes was fantastic and I often reminisce on those days with my wife (who I met that summer at the camp).  As enjoyable as keeping the grounds was at camp, I think the thing I miss about it most is how I knew exactly what was expected of me each day. Every morning I would wake up and eat breakfast with the rest of my coworkers and discuss what work needed to be accomplished by what time.  With an adequate breakfast in my stomach I would begin the day’s work.

Actual image from my mowing days!

Actual image from my mowing days!

As a collegiate minister who is completely funded by independent partners (as opposed to my church or denomination), I have no one telling me what exactly is expected of me on a daily basis.  In fact, there are very few fixed responsibilities that I have in a given week.  The amount of freedom I have in my position is incredible and I really am grateful that my pastor has allowed me that freedom.  As a result of the structure of my ministry, I have learned much about self discipline and what it means to be accountable to God’s desire for my day to day life.  Most of the time I view my work as that of an entrepreneur.  With the counsel of the Holy Spirit I am free to try to make disciples as I see fit.  As I said before though, there is a part of me that still desires simplicity of having a task list and quantifiable results at the end of the day.

Many times at the end of the day I am left wondering if I made an impact in anyone’s life that day. This is because I work with people, not grass.  Grass will show you immediately whether or not you achieved your goal, people do not.   Before a person shows outward signs of growing closer to God they are changed inwardly (without visible indication).  When a heart is changed, the result might not be outwardly visible for a while.  So and the reality of working in ministry is that it is possible to go longer periods of time without being able to notice that change has taken place.  It is in this waiting that most of the work of ministry takes place, meaning that most of the work of ministry is done without seeing the results.  This idea is not surprising considering the life work of many from the Bible.  Abraham did not see many descendants, Moses did not get to live in the Promised Land, Nehemiah did not get to live in Jerusalem, Paul did not get to see the survival and growth of the churches he started.

It is this reality of working in ministry that gives us meaning and hope in Paul’s words in his second letter to the Corinthians: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal”   (2 Corinthians 4:18).  Lives being changed and conformed to the image of Jesus often go unseen, but the good news is that this has eternal significance (even if we don’t see it).

And so to be honest I still desire to see physical results of my labor.  Although I have hope that is more than sustaining for when I do not.

If I am completely honest though, I know I would probably complain about not having enough freedom if I was working in landscaping.

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The Tortoise Always Wins

Two years ago as Britt and I were preparing to get married we were looking at our finances and making plans for how to pay off her school debt.  We thought we might be able to pay it off within a year or two because of Britt’s diligence to keep her debt to a minimum and God’s blessing for me to make it through school without incurring any debt.  The plan was going well until we had an unexpected C-Section when Jonah was born.  The hospital bills backed up our plans significantly, or so we thought.  As I am writing this, Britt and I are completely debt free!

This is our filled debt thermometer.

This is our filled debt thermometer.

How did this happen?  If you are a listener or reader of Dave Ramsey (as we are), you have probably heard Dave say that the tortoise always wins.  This is a reference to the story of the Tortoise and the Hare.  In the story the Tortoise and the Hare are competing in a foot race.  The Hare has the obvious advantage in speed and flaunts it in the beginning of the race.  However, the twist is that the Hare gets distracted and stops racing for a little while allowing the Tortoise to catch up and eventually win the race. What Dave Ramsey means by “the Tortoise always wins,” is that if you are patient, persistent, and diligent with your plan to get out of debt then you will always succeed, just as the tortoise succeeds in beating the hare every time you read the story.

Honestly, I agree with Dave, it took Britt and I almost two years of focused budgeting and saving to pay off all of our debt, but I think that there is more to the story than that.  The story of the tortoise and hare is static and never changes and it only focuses on the power of will and determination.  There is much to be said about persistence and determination, but the story also speaks a lot about the danger of getting distracted from your goal.  Like I said though, I agree with Dave.  There was however a greater power at work in our story I believe.  It was because of God’s provision and plan that we were able to pay off around $11,000 worth of hospital and school loan bills in under two years, not just my and Britt’s persistence and determination.

This book was very helpful in getting out of debt.

This book was very helpful in getting out of debt.

In His perfect timing God provided the money that was being held in an account from the previous year.   Last year I was only getting paid a portion of my full support that was available.  All of that remainder was dispensed to me at the first paycheck of the year.  This “bonus” (if you want to call it that) was actually deposited into our bank account on my birthday.  What is more incredible than the coincidence of the day it was deposited was that it was deposited when we needed it the most.

Only a couple of days beforehand, I sitting at our church staff meeting and looking at my bank account online.  The posted balance was just over $13. As you can imagine, this caused me to get a little nervous about our financial situation.  With $200 dollars in cash leftover from Christmas gifts and $13 in the bank I began to see the beautiful picture that was about to be painted. At our staff meeting, the other pastors and I began discussing my salary and how much money was left in my account from the year before.  Acting as advisers, both Mat and Jason recommended that I take as much as possible from the left over while still leaving a couple months worth of paychecks for the period of time that I was going to be securing my funding for the next year.  This way Britt and I would be able to pay off our most expensive monthly bill and keep that much more money in our wallet each month.  At this point I thought that all we had to do was make it to the next Wednesday and then the money would be in our account and give us comfort again while we continued to pay off our smaller debts.

As I left our staff meeting I was comforted by the fact that we were going to be able to survive without over drafting into our savings.  Then I began to think about the phrase “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”  I thought it seemed appropriate for our situation, going from $13 to paying off our hospital bill was quite an encouraging thought.  Thinking about this I was reminded of Jesus and his crucifixion and resurrection.  To his disciples, the crucifixion must have seemed like the darkest and worst imaginable scenario.  In their eyes the person that they had been following for three years that had sufficiently proven his divinity as God in the flesh, had just been executed as a criminal.  Jesus was supposed to be the savior of the world.  All of mankind had been waiting for him to come and reunite them to God and then he came.  However, he was killed before he got a chance to establish God’s kingdom and reunite people to Him.  Jesus was dead and his enemies had won.  Or so it seemed.  Three days later the sun rose and brought the dawn after the darkest hour.  When Jesus came back to life, he validated and proved everything that he had ever told the disciples.  The disciples joy must have been immeasurably more powerful than their previous sorrow had been.  So the crucifixion made the world the darkest just before the resurrection had caused the dawn to come.

This is the greatest story ever told.  Jesus overcame even death itself to bring joy, love, grace, and truth to all of mankind.  I’m not comparing my paying off debt to Jesus’s resurrection, but I am saying that I was reminded of it when I thought of our situation.

There was however a miscalculation on my part.  I thought that we would be able to pay off our hospital bills and have a little left over to pay off some of Britt’s school loans.  I was wrong, but in a good way.  We actually had enough to pay off all of Britt’s school loans after the hospital bill was paid.  I think this miscalculation was even a way that God was trying to reveal Himself to me though.  You see, I was anticipating paying off the hospital bills and having a measure of comfort and a plan to finish paying off the school loans.  However, Jesus’s resurrection wasn’t intended to give us a measure of comfort from the pain of sin and provide a plan to work out our salvation.  The resurrection was for complete freedom from sin.  In the same way, God didn’t want my “bonus” to give us comfort and a plan, He wanted to give Britt and I complete financial freedom.

Because of the faithful giving from our ministry partners Britt and I are freer than we have ever been to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and broken world.  We are extremely excited to be able to share with others the story of how God provided for us all along so that we could enjoy his blessing of abundant giving at one time.  This all happened after we returned from Mississippi to find that our pastor had installed a new (used) refrigerator and stove in our home while we were gone.

It took patience and diligence for me and Britt to see financial freedom, but we are focused on something much bigger than financial freedom.  We want to see students find spiritual freedom.  If you have been following my newsletters or blog for a while you might remember that I have been meeting with multiple students that claim no religious belief.  I just wanted to share with you all that some of them are now reading the Bible.  None of them have committed their lives to following Jesus yet, but God is working in their lives, even if they can’t see it.  With your prayer I hope to see “the tortoise” that is God’s unfailing plan, win these ones too.