This week it’s Part 2 of “Companions on the Journey.” My conversation with Kevin Roose about friendship, accountability, the Enneagram, and what our chapter-a-day journey has practically meant in our life journeys.
Servants cannot be corrected by mere words;
though they understand, they will not respond.
Proverbs 29:19 (NIV)
A while back my company performed a “pilot” assessment of a client’s Customer Service team. We assessed a couple hundred phone calls between the Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) and their customers over a four week period of time. As with most of our initial assessments, data revealed the team to be pretty good. There was certainly inconsistency across the team. Some team members were naturally better than others. There was also a tremendous opportunity for improvement. Even the best CSR on the team had room to grow.
When that assessment was complete, we presented the results to the team, and targeted five key service skills for improvement. We trained them how to demonstrate these skills, provided examples, and gave them tactics of how to begin demonstrating these skills into their conversations with customers.
The plan had been for us to immediately begin an on-going assessment of calls for the team, so we could track the individual CSR’s progress, provide data on their individual development, and coach each one towards improvement. The client, however, implemented a change in their telephone system which meant we could not access recordings of the team’s calls for three months. By the time we finally had access to the team’s calls, four months had passed since our initial assessment.
So, how had the CSR done with the information and training we’d provided four months earlier?
Of the twelve CSRs on the team two of them did a bit better, two of them did a bit worse and eight of them were statistically the same. It was a perfect bell curve. Customers had not experienced any meaningful improvement in service.
In today’s chapter, the ancient Sage says that you can’t correct a person “with mere words.” A person may get what you’re saying, but they’re not motivated to actually change their behavior. That is going to require more than mere words and information.
Once our team was able to begin on-going assessments, CSRs were able to see how their service compared to their team each month. They were held accountable for their performance, and given the opportunities to receive cash bonuses if they performed at a high level. Suddenly, change began to happen. I’m happy to say that the team eventually became top-notch in providing service to their customers.
There’s a tremendous life lesson in this for me. Being complacent is the norm. Living each day simply driven by my appetites, habits, instincts, and emotions is really easy. Being disciplined, transforming old, unhealthy habits into healthy new ones, and learning to respond in wisdom rather than emotion are things that require intention, attention, and accountability. The Sage is right. I can read every self-help manual on Amazon and listen to every motivational podcast on the planet, but it’s another thing to actually make a change.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself in self-evaluation mode. How am I doing with the things I wanted to accomplish? Have I been able to actually change my behavior in order to progress towards the internal goals I’ve set for myself this week, this month, this year, in life? Honestly, it’s a mixed bag. I’ve progressed well in some things and haven’t moved an inch in others.
In this season of stay-at-home quarantine, I have the time and opportunity to review, recalibrate, and renew my efforts. My Enneagram Type Four temperament risks letting Resistance drag me into shame for all the things I haven’t done, then sic pessimism on me to convince me I’ll never actually do it. But, I know from previous experience on this earthly journey that shame and pessimism are wasted emotions. I can’t do anything about the past.
I do, however, have today lying before me…
<— Click on Solomon for an indexed list of previous chapter-a-day posts from this series from Proverbs!
About This Post
These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.
In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.
Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.
You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial.“I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.
1 Corinthians 10:23 (NIV)
About 20 years ago there was a television show called Ed. It was a rom-com series about a young man who moves back to the small town where he was raised after his life falls apart. He reconnects with old friends and tries to get his life back together. It was an endearing show and ran for four seasons.
There’s a running gag in the show in which Ed and his best friend Mike have an on-going series of dares that they compete to win “ten bucks.” These guys do the craziest things to win “ten bucks” from each other. I still can’t hear the term “ten bucks” without thinking of Ed and Mike (kind of like I can’t hear “two dollars” without thinking of the paperboy in Better Off Dead).
I never enter pools. It doesn’t matter if it’s March Madness or when the ice will melt off the local pond and dump the old clunker to a watery grave. I don’t have anything against pools and lottery type games. I think I’m just a pessimist at heart and assume I’m going to lose my money. I just never do it. It is, therefore, somewhat strange that before the holidays began I entered a simple pool at my local CrossFit box. You put in $10 and weigh in. After New Year’s there is another weigh in and those who maintained or lost weight during the holidays get their $10 back and split the money of all those who gained weight.
It’s been interesting as we’ve journeyed through the holidays that I can’t get that “ten bucks” out of my head. At every meal, at every Christmas gathering, and when I’m reaching for that second piece of Wendy’s peanut butter chocolate chunk cheesecake I keep thinking about my “ten bucks” hanging out there in the balance.
Along my journey I’ve come to realize that a lot of individual life problems I see in myself and those all around me boil down to some type of appetite indulgence. We indulge our appetites for all sorts of things like power, control, greed, rest, food, sex, adrenaline, vanity, accomplishment, applause, “Likes,” and pleasure. We indulge these normal appetites for all sorts of insidious reasons and the results of our out-of-control indulgence are generally not healthy.
The holidays are a great excuse for most everyone to indulge our appetites. Enjoying good food, good drink, rest, and relaxation with family and friends is a good thing. At the same time, too much of a good thing easily becomes an unhealthy thing. There’s a reason why New Year’s resolutions come annually after five weeks of holiday indulgence.
In Paul’s letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, Paul continues to address a simmering conflict between two factions. Some on the legalistic killjoy end of the spectrum were against eating any meat that had been sacrificed at a pagan temple. Those on the open-minded, permissive end of the spectrum saw no issue with the practice. The latter were quick to say “I am free to eat whatever I want!”
Paul’s response is a great example of choosing the “both, and” rather than the “either, or.” He makes the point that while everything may “permissible” (i.e. a little holiday indulgence), not all things are “beneficial” (i.e. I gained so much weight I need to make a New Year’s resolution). In the case of the bickering factions in Corinth, Paul reminds them that the beneficial thing for the good of the community is to consider your friend’s conscience a higher priority than either my personal freedom or my personal convictions.
In the quiet this morning I’m thinking about my own appetites. I’m thinking about the holidays (still at least four gatherings to go), and I’m thinking about how a silly “ten bucks” has changed my thinking and behavior this holiday season. The question I’m asking myself this morning is: Is a friend’s conscience worth more to me than ten bucks?
“As for you….”
2 Chronicles 7:17 (NIV)
Many years ago my friend, a marriage and family therapist, introduced me to three simple questions to ask whenever I am seeking definition of personal responsibility and boundaries in a relationship:
- What’s mine?
- What’s yours?
- What’s ours?
It’s amazing how some of the most profound things in life can be so simple. Time and time again I’ve returned to these questions. I’ve asked these questions in my marriage. I’ve asked them with regard to parenting my children. I’ve asked them with regard to my company and team members. I’ve asked them with regard to clients. I’ve asked them about personal relationships with friends, with organizations, and with acquaintances expecting something of me.
At the heart of these questions is the understanding that individuals and groups of individuals have responsibilities within any human system. When individuals have well-defined responsibilities and an understanding of those responsibilities the system functions in a healthy way. When relationships and human systems break down, it is often because of lack of definition, misunderstanding, and/or the boundaries have been breached.
- I think this is your responsibility but you seem to expect it of me.
- I want this to be ours together, but you appear to want to control it as yours.
- This is an area where I have gifts and abilities and would like to handle it, but you keep trying to insert yourself in the process.
In today’s chapter, Solomon finishes his dedication of the Temple and God shows up in an amazing display of spiritual pyrotechnics. King Solomon, the priests, the worship band, and the congregation are all blown away. Everyone is on a spiritual high. A subtle repetition of phrasing used by the Chronicler is “the king and all the people” (vss 4 and 5) and “all Israel” or “all the Israelites” (vss 3, 6, and 8).
At some point after the successful dedication, God appears to Solomon at night for a heart-to-heart. In his conversation, God defines separate responsibilities for “my people” (vss 13-16) and for Solomon as King (vss 16-22). In other words, “Solomon, you can consider these certain responsibilities ‘ours’ to own as a nation and a people. These other things are ‘yours’ to own and be responsible for as King and leader of the people. And, these other things are ‘mine’ to own conditional to everyone owning the things for which each is responsible. If everyone owns their part then the system will work really well. If not, well the results will not be so good.”
Having just journeyed through the prophetic works of Jeremiah, I know that the kings eventually failed to own the responsibility that was theirs. The people failed to own their responsibilities. The system broke down, and what God warned would happen is exactly what happened.
This morning I’m thinking about my marriage, my family relationships, friend relationships, my work, and the organizations in which I’m involved. I’m doing a little inventory. Where are things working well? Where are things strained and struggling? Where have things broken down?
Am I doing those things that are mine to own?
Am I allowing others to be responsible for what is theirs, and maintaining a balance of support, encouragement and accountability?
Am I working well with others and being a good team member in accomplishing those things for which we, together, are responsible?
Not a bad personal inventory to repeat regularly.
Her leaders judge for a bribe,
her priests teach for a price,
and her prophets tell fortunes for money.
Yet they look for the Lord’s support and say,
“Is not the Lord among us?
No disaster will come upon us.”
Micah 3:11 (NIV)
As I write this the next Presidential election here in the States is 16 months off, but already the candidates are queueing up and the political machinations have begun. We had a family gathering at Wendy’s folks yesterday afternoon and casual conversation has already turned to be all about elections. It’s going to be a long one, I’m afraid. It’s times like this that I wish life had a fast forward button.
I am glad I live in a land with free elections and representative republic. As a lover of history, however, I’m constantly reminded that political power is a corrupting force. As Lord Acton observed, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Even in a system with checks and balances, I’ve observed that political offices (both elected and appointed) become places from which individuals and parties make rules to entrench their position and take advantage for themselves and their friends.
In the days of the prophet Micah, the situation was no different, as Micah observes in today’s chapter. God’s Message teaches that we live in a fallen world. Our sin leads us, despite our best altruistic efforts to the contrary, to make self-centric decisions for ourselves and our own. The more powerful and influential position we yield the more difficult it becomes to succumb.
Today, I’m feeling a bit cynical, but I’ve got plenty of evidence from events past and present to justify my cynicism. Perhaps that is why God’s Message exhorts us so directly to pray for our leaders and those in power. At the same time that I’m pointing the finger at politicians, I’m also mindful that power’s corrupting force is present in any human system from families to churches to companies to neighborhoods and service organizations. In my admittedly meager positions of influence I am aware of the negative affects power can have on me if I am not aggressively mindful, humble and accountable.
But you, Belshazzar, his son, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this.
Daniel 5:22 (NIV)
As a parent, there is a big difference between a child who acts (or omits) out of ignorance and the child who acts (or omits) with the full knowledge that they are doing what they should not do, or not doing what they should do. Ignorance can be understood and the offense can be chalked up to a lesson that needed to be learned. When a child acts with the full knowledge that what they are doing is improper it is a very different situation. The action, or refusal to act, becomes a willing act of disobedience.
Today’s chapter fast forwards in Daniel’s story. Nebuchadnezzar is dead and Belshazzar has taken the throne. Belshazzar had witnessed all that his predecessor had gone through with the statute, his dreams, and his madness. He had heard Nebuchadnezzar acknowledge God and humble himself. Now that he is on the throne, Belshazzar throws an drunken feast and brings in the stolen gold cups from Solomon’s temple to drink from. If dishonoring the temple vessels wasn’t enough, B-Shaz and his homeys begin to honor the idols of gold, silver and wood. The lesson is clear, B-Shaz had witnessed all that Nebuchadnezzar had experienced and learned, but he didn’t learn the lesson himself.
This morning, to be honest, my heart is sober. As a parent it is easy for me to see and apply these simple lines of behavioral delineation, but then I think of myself as a child of God. I think of lessons I have learned along the journey that still have not translated into life change. There are things I know I shouldn’t do that I do, and things I should do that I don’t. Like a child caught red-handed, I am in continuous need of my Father’s grace and mercy.
[Side note: I love when I realize, discover, or rediscover the source of a common phrase. We forget how many every day sayings come from Shakespeare and from the Bible. “Weighed on the scales and found wanting” is a phrase I’ve heard referenced in books, plays, movies and conversation my entire life. Its source is today’s chapter!]
Then Joab went into the house to the king and said, “Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters and the lives of your wives and concubines. You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you. I see that you would be pleased if Absalom were alive today and all of us were dead. Now go out and encourage your men. I swear by the Lord that if you don’t go out, not a man will be left with you by nightfall. This will be worse for you than all the calamities that have come on you from your youth till now.” 2 Samuel 19:5-7 (NIV)
One of the most fascinating aspects of my day job is the opportunity I have to work with many different companies and to interact with people at diverse levels of the organization from the front-line to the executive suite. Long ago I realized that the culture of a company is a trickle-down affair that begins with the man or woman at the very top. I remember one client whose CEO ran the company by fear and intimidation. No one would stand up to him, even when he is clearly mistaken or making a wrong move, for fear of losing their proverbial heads in a board meeting (and, perhaps, their jobs). The result was a highly dysfunctional organization which mirrored the CEO. The entire corporate culture was one of intimidation, fear, and c.y.a. which permeated virtually every level of the operation.
One of the things I’ve observed about David as we’ve been reading his story the past few months is the fact that David had a select group of men in his life who could get in his face and call him to account even if they had to be careful about how they did it. In today’s chapter, David’s general and right-hand man Joab confronts David about the grave danger he’s putting himself in by allowing his grief for Absalom overshadow his duty as king. The kingdom was in a precarious political situation and David was close to losing it all. Joab lost no time in getting in David’s face and speaking the truth to him. To his credit, David listened to his long-time trusted general and advisor.
I have a handful of people in my life, people with whom I have intentionally surrounded myself, who have carte blanche to get in my face whenever necessary. These are people with whom I talk about and share life with on a regular basis. We talk about business, church, family, friendships, finances, and relationships. If they think I’m screwing something up, then they have permission to question me or call me out, and they would expect the same from me.
This journey through life can be a long hike. The first rule any child learns about hiking in the wilderness is “buddy up.” To go it alone is to put yourself in danger. Ironically, our greatest danger often resides within ourselves. Without faithful companions who can catch it and call us out, we may not realize it until it’s too late.
Today, I’m thankful for my faithful companions on this life journey.
Chapter-a-Day Genesis 29
But when Jacob woke up in the morning—it was Leah! “What have you done to me?” Jacob raged at Laban. “I worked seven years for Rachel! Why have you tricked me?” Genesis 29:25 (NLT)
Wendy and I have recently been enjoying the Great Performances series on PBS called Shakespeare Uncovered. In each episode a famous actor delves deep into the story line of one of Shakespeare’s plays. It’s a wonderful primer for those who have an interest in learning more about Shakespeare’s stories and the literary genius he was.
Perhaps that is why I couldn’t help noticing that there is a Shakespearian quality to the story of Jacob and his uncle Laban. Jacob the deceiver, born from Abraham and Isaac who were also deceivers, receives a does of his own medicine when he is deceived by his Uncle. Add to that plot line the tale of two sisters, one homely and the other one hot. The hot one is seemingly barren while the homely one appears to be a baby making factory. Jacob is in love with the latter but is tricked into marrying the former. The sibling rivalry and Leah’s desperate desire to win the love and affection of her husband leads to a fertile fury of son making. Truth is sometimes as compelling as a Bard’s tale.
One of Shakespeare’s greatest qualities as a playwright was his development of characters whose tragic flaws led to tragic consequences. In this, he really is just developing what is true of human nature. We all have tragic flaws. We all have blind spots and weaknesses. We will all look back and realize that along the journey our own shortcomings led to negative consequences. The question is: What will we do about them?
We do not have to remain blind and ignorant. Through introspection, conversation, transparent relationship, and accountability we can become aware of our blind spots. We can actually learn from our shortcomings and choose to modify our patterns of behavior before they wreak too much havoc on our lives and the lives of those in our circles of influence.
Today, I’m thinking about my own weaknesses. I am aware of areas of my life that have been blind spots for me. I do not want to live passively. I’m actively working on modifying my thought patterns and behaviors. I don’t know that I will ever eliminate the negative consequences of my flaws, but I can certainly diminish them and that’s something.
Chapter-a-Day Psalm 62
So many enemies against one man—
all of them trying to kill me.
To them I’m just a broken-down wall
or a tottering fence.
They plan to topple me from my high position.
They delight in telling lies about me.
They praise me to my face
but curse me in their hearts.
Psalm 62:3-4 (NLT)
Since being elected captain of the Woodlawn Elementary School Safety Patrol in 6th grade, I’ve spent most of my life journey in one form of leadership or another. Student Councils, Chaplain, Youth Pastor, Pastor, Elder, Committee Chairman, Director, Producer, Board of Directors, Employer, etc., and etc. Over the past few years I’ve been investing a good bit of soul searching, reading, quiet time and mental effort ruminating on my leadership.
The truth is, I feel less comfortable as a leader today than I ever have in my entire life. Perhaps it’s the old saying “the more you know the more you realize you don’t know.” I know I can do the job, but the further I get down life’s road the more I want to do the job well and it’s the doing it well part which I find myself pondering incessantly. My personal assessment shows more room for improvement than I care to admit.
As I read King David’s lyrics today, I instantly identified the groans and frustrations of a man who has experienced the burden of leadership in ways I never will. Still, I feel an odd sense of familiarity with the emotions he expresses in his song. Leadership at all levels can leave you feeling alone at the top with a target on your back. You see smiles and hear one thing said to your face while hearing nasty things whispered behind your back.
I appreciate David’s response. It is easy to react to criticism, negativity, and open hostility with anger, vengeance, and aggression either passive or active. I’ve learned, however, that our natural reactions tend to weaken a leader’s position. Leadership requires thoughtful response. When David chooses to respond to his critics and enemies by waiting quietly for God, he is making the choice of a wise leader. He is avoiding the trap of emotional reaction, he is making space for his own thoughts and meditations on the situation, and as a leader he is recognizing an even higher authority to whom he is accountable.
Anyone can be elected or appointed to a position of leadership. Sometimes we just find ourselves in the position and wonder how we got there. I believe every parent knows this feeling. One minute you’re having fun in bed and the next thing you know you have these big, innocent eyes looking to you for provision, protection, and all of life’s answers. Welcome to leadership. Yet, for the sake of our children, our neighbors, our communities, our businesses, our nation and our world we need leaders who do their jobs well.
Dear brothers and sisters, we can’t help but thank God for you, because your faith is flourishing and your love for one another is growing. 2 Thessalonians 1:3 (NLT)
“How am I doing?”
As a child growing up, I wanted to know the answer to that question. School gave me regular feedback in the form of grades to help gauge where I was doing well and where I needed to put in extra work. When I entered the work force I soon learned that employers often built in regular feedback loops to help employees know how they were doing in their jobs. Much of the work I do today is part of my clients process of giving employees regular feedback regarding the quality of the service they are delivering to customers.
When it comes to our spiritual lives, there are precious few feedback loops. If I want feedback on how I’m doing in my spiritual journey I need to actively seek it out. It is usually going to come out of some kind of friendship that grows deep enough to bear the fruit of loving transparency, honesty, and accountability.
I thought about that as I read the verse above from today’s chapter. Paul’s gratitude for the Jesus followers in Thessalonica was spurred by two visible traits. First, their faith was flourishing. Second, their love for one another was growing. What a good litmus test for spiritual growth.
Is my faith flourishing? How so? In what ways? What’s the evidence?
Is my love for others growing? How so? In what ways? What’s the evidence?
Today, I’m asking God to help me determine where I’m at, how I’m doing, and where I need to grow.