Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Richest Man in History, Against All Odds

In recent years I have become a fan of biographies, and this past week I’ve been listening to an audiobook about the life of John D. Rockefeller, who became the richest person in history in the early 1900’s (and adjusting for inflation, I understand that still today no one has yet surpassed the wealth he accumulated).  Rockefeller was very religious (a devoted Baptist), and he was extremely generous, founding universities, helping church ministries, funding medical research, and basically creating the type of intentional philanthropy we see today in people like Bill and Melinda Gates.  

One thing that has amazed me so far about Rockefeller is that his father was – how to say it? – an absolutely horrible person.  He was a fraud, literally, claiming to be a medical doctor (often under a false name), traveling around the countryside and using his charm to convince people to pay ridiculous prices for fake medicines that pretended to cure cancer, among other things.  He was a fraud of a family man, also, disappearing for months at a time, cheating on his wife repeatedly, and eventually even marrying another woman in Canada without bothering to tell either wife about the other.  After being hurt by his father’s actions over and over, eventually John came to realize that he was ashamed of his father – a realization that must have been painful.

Despite such an embarrassing and disastrous father, John Rockefeller not only did well in life, but his work in the oil industry revolutionized business and brought him to unparalleled levels of both worldly success and generosity. 

And that realization hits you while listening to his biography: John D. Rockefeller had every reason to just pout his way through life and never become respectable, much less successful.  He could’ve wallowed around, blaming his dad, blaming the world, cursing chance for giving him such unfair circumstances. 

Instead, Rockefeller got to work.  He committed himself to doing well, to doing what he felt was right in life, and he never stopped.  No one else’s failures were going to hold him back.  That attitude became a habit, and his life was changed forever.

Looking For a Way Out

 You can’t help but admire Rockefeller’s inner drive.  It’s motivating to see someone who wouldn’t allow himself to make excuses.

And that attitude makes me ask myself, from a faith perspective: what are my excuses?  What are yours? 

Too often, we are content to look for excuses why we aren’t as faithful to God as we should be.  I’m too stressed over all the demands at work.  People, maybe even church people, have mistreated me, scarring me.  I’ve just got to get some things settled in my life for myself, and then once that’s done I’ll really serve God. 

Excuses, excuses, excuses. 

I wonder how often God feels as if you and I are just like Moses standing before the burning bush.  God appears and tells Moses to go back to Egypt, to talk with Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of bondage.  You remember Moses’ reaction?  Excuses.  I’m not a good speaker.  What if they don’t believe me?  Please just send someone else. 

And let’s be honest, we can understand where Moses was coming from.  He had been gone 40 years.  He had settled down now.  God should’ve asked him when he was young in Egypt and ready to lead.  We might have patted Moses on the back and said, “Moses, we understand you’ve faced some tough life challenges, and if you don’t think this is your talent, don’t worry about it, we’ll get someone else to go talk to Pharaoh.”

But God would have none of the excuses: Moses, I will be with you.  Go, talk to Pharaoh.

And when Moses dropped the excuses, God did great things through him.  He became the leader he didn’t think he could be. 

Against Our Own Odds

Perhaps you and I are still standing in front of that burning bush, making excuses.  Muttering something to God about why a truly committed life for Him is just too much to ask of us. 

And at some point, maybe today, we need to stop looking for reasons ‘why not,’ and begin allowing God’s way to be our way.  Not just sort of, but in everything. 

Sound like too high a standard?  I don’t pretend it will happen overnight, or perhaps even over many nights, but the path of being more Christ-like isn’t paved with excuses.  That path is traveled by those who decide they will not let themselves settle, and they begin taking one ‘no-excuses’ step at a time.  Eventually, it becomes a habit, and our life changes forever. 

God gives us incredible riches in Christ, much more valuable than any bank account or business venture can offer.  His strength and His plan are waiting.

What are your excuses right now? 

I bet God can help us get past them…      

“…let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” –Hebrews 12:1

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