The Difference Between Being a Winner or a Loser…

Billionaire Warren Buffet was asked by a group of college students about being a success and what separates winners from losers in the game of life. The question itself shows a worldview based upon wealth equals success, but let’s run with it. I don’t know much about Buffet’s story, but he has demonstrated some aspects of wisdom that earn him a hearing.

The first point he made to these students was that the successful person is one who builds up knowledge one day at a time. The key to success is to go to bed smarter each day. “That’s how knowledge builds up—like compound interest.” Buffet builds his knowledge by reading. In fact 80% of his daily routine is spent reading. I think this is sound advice. Many people no longer read, they just listen to what others say and adopt it as their view. As Christians, we need learn the discipline of reading—especially the Bible, but also other books about history and culture. A couple of weeks ago, I was with my college roommates for the weekend in Florida. We were flown there by our very wealthy roommate to stay at his ponderosa. Besides his and his wife’s generous hospitality, he gave us a gift. Can you guess what it was? It was a book and a recommended reading list of 100 books that he has read on a wide range of topics; from theology to political science and from history to economics. My very wealthy and successful (in the eyes of the world) brother in Christ has a knowledge base that I believe at least rivals Warren Buffet’s. My counsel: start reading through the Bible every day; 2 chapters in the Old Testament and 1 chapter in the New Testament. Also, pick an area you are interested in (history, classics, culture) and pick a recommended book and read some of it every day. When you finish reading through the Bible, do it again. And when you finish with the book, read another… Go to bed every night more informed about God and this world than you were the day before.

The second point Buffet made was don’t compromise your integrity. I believe this is crucial and biblical. I like to think of integrity as not only being honest and sincere, but of being whole and undivided—the same on the outside as you are on the inside. Psalm 24 gives a description of the God-worshipper: “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not life up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.”

Wes Stafford, past president and CEO of Compassion Int’l, wrote of his experience growing up as a Third Culture Kid on the Ivory Coast. His folks were missionaries among the Senufo tribe; a people of hunters, fishermen, and farmers. Every Wednesday he and his friends would walk into a nearby village for Market Day where the different tribes would buy each others’ goods. A tribe of craftsmen would always arrive early and set up their kiosks under the shade of a grove of mango trees. This shade was a luxury as the temperature in the sun would often reach 120 degrees F. Unfortunately these craftsmen were also “crafty” and would try and sell cracked and split wood carvings which had been filled in with wax and covered over with shoe polish; the defects hardly noticeable to the unsuspecting eye. However, Stafford and his friends had watched the adults shop and had learned from them. They would always ask in French, “Est-ce sans cire?” Literally, “Is this without wax?” “Is it sincere?” Of course the shop keeper would always fake being insulted but then the discerning customer would threaten to take the carving out in the sunlight for a closer look. The craftsman would suddenly become very gracious and offer a special deal on something else lest the sunlight melt the wax revealing his insincerity.  What a great example of what it means to be an honest and sincere person of integrity. My counsel: In all of your business dealings, relational decisions, and spiritual practices, ask yourself the question “am I being a person without wax”? And then say, “I will choose to do the right thing no matter what the consequences.”

The third way to measure your success, according to Buffet, is by applying an ultimate test to your life. What is Buffet’s ultimate test? “When you get to my age, you’ll really measure your success in life by how many of the people you want to love, you actually do love…The more you give love away, the more you’ll get.” I appreciate that desire because if you have trampled over your loved ones on the way to becoming a “success,” then you are nothing but a loser. We have a so many examples of these “successful losers” in the business world, in Hollywood, in politics, in sports, even in religion that it is chilling.

However, in my mind, there must be something more to the ultimate test—something that recognizes that we are spiritual beings created for eternity. The words spoken to Belshazzar in Daniel 5:27 come to mind here. “You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting (lacking).” This is the clearest biblical example of an ultimate test conducted by God himself, finding a person unacceptable. And as scripture unfolds, it becomes clear what it means to be acceptable to God. It means to be “in Christ”—trusting in Jesus as the only way by which one can be put “in the right” with God. It also involves receiving a new heart by the Holy Spirit (some call it being born again) from whence springs a new life that more and more takes on the character of Christ. An acceptable life can be measured by the twin commands “to love the Lord your God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself.” My counsel: Cast yourself completely upon the mercy of God and trust Jesus Christ alone to be accepted by God. Then live out the love of Jesus for all those around you. The legacy of love and not your money, fame, and accomplishments will be your greatest success!

“He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.”

“Wherever you are, be all there.”

“Let not the longing slay the appetite of our living.”

“When it comes time to die, make sure all you’ve got to do is die.”

“Lord, make my way prosperous not that I might achieve a high station, but that my life may be an exhibit to the value of knowing God.”

– quotes by 28 yr old missionary martyr, Jim Elliot

How Have You Shaped God?

News from the art world: An Italian Artist Auctioned Off an ‘Invisible Sculpture’ for $18,300. It’s Made Literally of Nothing.

Seriously!? Yep. Last month, 67-yr old Salvatore Gaurau auctioned off an “immaterial sculpture”—in other words, it didn’t exist! The artist named it Sono, which means “I am.” He claims that the sculpture finds its form in its own nothingness. “The vacuum is nothing more than a space full of energy, and even if we empty it and there is nothing left, according to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, that nothing has weight…it has energy that is condensed and transformed into particles, that is, into us.”

Francis Schaeffer (Christian pastor and apologist in the late 1960’s-80’s) would have had a heyday with this one. Schaeffer believed that when man (humanity) becomes the center of his own thinking, he will lose touch with himself and will actually view life irrationally and to his own detriment and the detriment of culture. Secular Humanism birthed post-modernism with it moral relativism, lack of objective reality, and ultimate meaninglessness. And quite honestly, such a perspective adds very little to life and culture and it is my feeling that is why very little of interest is taking place in the art world right now, except for the artist giving expression to whatever s/he wants and calling it something when it is nothing. It reminds me of a line from Alice in Wonderland where the queen asks Alice to look at something and to tell what she saw. Alice said, “I see nothing.” The queen responded, “What wonderful eyesight; to be able to see nothing and at a distance too!”

I could go on and on about such solipsism (your own self/reality is what only matters) that allows people to choose any lifestyle they want and even determine their own gender on the basis of how they feel rather than on any objective truth. But I want to come back around to my main point of application and that is to us as Christians. When the artist, Gaurau, was questioned on the legitimacy of “immaterial” artwork, he responded “after all, don’t we shape a God we’ve never seen?”

Good question. Haven’t we all done that? “God would never allow this to happen”; “God will always protect his own from bad things”; “God will always answer prayer for healing”; “God would never have mercy on someone like that”; and so on…. We may never have articulated these thoughts, but they arise from how we have shaped an unseen God in our minds. This is why many people have given up the faith, because God didn’t act according to how they have shaped him. As I struggle with pancreatic cancer, there is such temptation to do this and to live with disappointment and anger when God doesn’t respond “appropriately.”

The only solution that I have learned is to let the God I have never seen shape me. And the only way that happens is to continue to read the Scripture, which is the only way to come to know the being and character of God and not be left to my own imagination. Day after day, as I read the bible I run across things I do not like about God and would like to change. But as I keep reading over an over again, God’s character is more fully revealed and I see how gracious, merciful, and patient he is with a rebellious people. And this is just in the Old Testament. When I come to the Gospels I see how he undresses himself in Jesus and stops at nothing to redeem the sinner. I can honestly say that my heart breaks and my eyes fill with tears to see God’s love and mercy for me. And though I suffer from a terminal illness, he will never forsake me. And though every day I wonder what will happen next, I can trust him. I have not been able to respond like this because of some super-spirituality on my part, but because God has broken down my false images of him through his Word and is changing me into his own image. I am learning not to be a God-shaper, but a God-shaped man.

One final observation: it is interesting that the Italian artist, Gaurau, only accepted real money for his “sculpture” and not “immaterial” dollars. I guess you just can’t survive on nothing.

Forgive the typos you may find. It’s a little more difficult for me to write as my disease progresses. Sounds like an excuse, but I’ll keep trying.