Tag Archives: Success

The Song and the Story

The Song and the Story (CaD Ps 136) Wayfarer

to him who led his people through the wilderness;
His love endures forever.
Psalm 136:16 (NIV)

Psalm 136 is one of the most fascinating of all the songs in the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics we all the book of Psalms. The ancient Hebrew songwriter crafted it in such a way that the the meaning and metaphor of the lyrics are as much in the structure as they are in the words. First, there’s the organization of the the theme:

  • Six verses about creation
  • Six verses about the Hebrews deliverance from slavery
  • One verse about the Hebrews being led through the wilderness
  • Six verses about the Hebrews conquest of Canaan
  • Four verses that echo/summarize the previous themes
  • A final call to praise God

There is no other psalm in the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics that utilizes the call and response device as this song does. Twenty-six times the refrain “His love endures forever” is used. That number is important because for the ancient Hebrews, the letters of their alphabet also did double-duty as numerals. Every letter was used as a number. When you add up the numerical values of the letters of the Hebrew name for God: YHWH (Note: the Hebrew alphabet doesn’t have vowels) the total is, you guessed it, 26.

As I thought about the structure of the song, I couldn’t help but think that it parallels every life story, my life story.

I have a creation story. There’s the time in which I was born, the family in which I was raised, the community of my childhood, and the events that set me on my path in life.

Like the Hebrew exodus from slavery, I have climactic events that shape and define my life journey. My decision to follow Christ and subsequent call to proclaim His message, my being cast in a film and meeting the mentor who would play an instrumental part in my life, my early marriage, the births of Taylor and Madison, the divorce that would end my first marriage after seventeen years, and the unexpected arrival of Wendy in my life.

Like the Hebrew wilderness experience, I have my own stretch of life’s road in which I wandered in the wilderness of my own choosing. I chose the path of the prodigal. I ran. I squandered. I was unfaithful to those I loved most. I had my own pig-slop “Aha!” moment. I had to find my way back.

Like the Hebrew conquest, I have my own slate of victories in life. I have accomplishments, awards, and successes.

And, through it all, God’s faithful, enduring love is woven through every major success and every tragic failure. His love is woven through my best moments and my worst. In his letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, Paul wrote that at the end of the Great Story that contains all stories, including mine, there are three things that remain: faith, hope, and love. he adds, “The greatest of these is love.”

In the quiet this morning, as I look back at my own story, I am realizing just how much God’s love shows up like the repeated refrain of Psalm 136. I am also reminded that like the 26 love refrains the song writer metaphorically employed to point me to God, Yahweh, I am pointed to a God who is love incarnate, which is the destination and goal of my entire story and life journey through this world. If I’m not growing into love in increasing measure as Jesus defined it, then I am (perhaps even with the best of intentions) headed in the wrong direction.

A Good First Step

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Moreover by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.

Psalm 19:11 (NRSVCE)

When I became a follower of Jesus as a teenager, I dove in and began devouring the Great Story. A mentor encouraged me to do more than just read it and study it, he encouraged me to memorize pieces of it. The first verse he challenged me to memorize was Joshua 1:8:

This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.

It was a great one to memorize first because it set the course for me spiritually. Continuous meditation on the Great Story and applying what I learn to the words, actions, choices, and decisions of my daily life became the path to spiritual prosperity.

Even as a young man I inherently realized that “prosperity” and “success” were not referencing wealth and riches we conjure in our minds when we hear those words. That said, I have found that meditating on and applying the behavioral and financial principles and wisdom found throughout the Great Story have had tangible benefits for me along life’s road.

The lyrics of today’s Psalm could easily be a riff on Joshua 1:8. David centers the song on the benefit of God’s law, precepts, commandments, ordinances, and decrees. David poetically lists out the benefits of God’s Word:

  • It revives the soul
  • It makes the simple wise
  • It brings the heart joy
  • It gives enlightenment
  • It is worth more than gold
  • It sweetens the journey
  • It brings “great reward.”

In the quiet this morning I find turning and looking back forty years of life’s road. My boss encouraging me to memorize Joshua 1:8 was the first step in this ongoing spiritual journey. This chapter-a-day habit is part of it; Spending a few minutes each morning reading, thinking about it, and trying to let it inform my words and actions each day. Yesterday’s chapter had me praising and thanking God as all day long I meditated on how great my life really is. Today’s chapter reminds me that endeavoring to apply the principles of Joshua 1:8 (continuous meditation, consistent application) has played a huge part in prospering my life with goodness in so many ways.

Jesus said, “The one who asks receives. The one who seeks finds. The one who knocks will find that doors will open.” Which is why I keep pressing on each day asking, seeking, and knocking. I always discover more just a little further up and a little further in.

Note: Part 2 of the Wayfarer Weekend podcast and my conversation with Kevin Roose about being Companions on the Journey will drop tomorrow.

My Eternal Mystery, My Forever Friend

Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord.” He gave it to Shaphan, who read it.
2 Kings 22:8 (NIV)

Occasionally I have had people ask me how my “chapter-a-day” journey began. It goes much further back than blogging. The roots of it go all the way back to early 1980s. I was in high school and had only recently struck out on my path following Jesus. I had an after school job, and my boss was also a follower. He invited me to join him in studying God’s Message together, and the first thing he asked of me was to memorize Joshua 1:8:

This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.

I did memorize the verse,  and I took it to heart. As I meditated on the verse during the memorization process, I came to mull over the word “meditate.” It struck me in those early stages of my journey that God’s Message was to be more than something I give a nod to on Sunday morning when the pastor refers to it. It was supposed to be more than a routine duty that I check off my daily task list of religious self-righteousness. God’s Message was the guide. It was the constant companion and the mystery to be endlessly understood. It was something to ingest and digest on a continual basis. It was something to dive into, excavate, mull over, and apply to my every day circumstances. Success in the spiritual journey came through the conduit of meditating on the Message.

Thus, what became this chapter-a-day blog began in a young man wearing Forenza parachute pants and sporting a righteous mullet. I’ll let that imagery sink in while I transition back to today. 🙂

The setting of this morning’s chapter is Solomon’s Temple. It is the Temple of the Lord built to the exact specifications prescribed in God’s Message through Moses and by plans developed by David. It was built to be the worship center of YHWH whose first command was “don’t have any other gods before me.”

But, over time the temple had become a multi-cultural interfaith religious center filled with the worship of all sorts of local dieties, some of whom practiced all sorts of nasty things we can scarcely imagine today. The scroll of God’s Message had been so long forgotten that the High Priest didn’t even know where it was nor remember what it said. When the scroll is discovered during some Temple renovations, it is a major find. When King Josiah tells the priest to “Inquire of the Lord for me concerning this book,” the priest has to scour the city to find a lone prophetess named Hulda who was “keeper of the wardrobe.” [Note: I’ve learned in theatre to always trust the costumers. They make a lifetime of keeping track of things long forgotten by others!]

The Message had been packed away, put aside, and forgotten. The words that were to be the guide for the journey weren’t even known and barely remembered. Without the guidebook, the people naturally wandered until they found themselves spiritually lost.

This morning I’m reminded of the simple principle that came out of meditating on a verse that I was asked to memorize as a kid:

If I’m going to be successful in this journey of following after God then I have to do my best to do what God’s Message says. If I’m going to do what God’s Message says then I have to constantly discover what that is and what it means. The Message has to become my source material, my constant companion, my eternal mystery, my forever friend.

Swagger, Success & the Soul Effect

They conspired against [King Amaziah] in Jerusalem, and he fled to Lachish, but they sent men after him to Lachish and killed him there.
2 Kings 14:19 (NIV)

Football season has begun. Wendy and I listened to the wild Iowa State vs. Iowa game on our way home from the lake on Sunday. Last night we donned our Vikings regalia for the first time this year and enjoyed watching the purple people eaters win one over Saints before falling asleep to the Broncos and Chargers game.

As casual fans who don’t follow football closely during the off-season, Wendy and I spend the first couple of weeks of the fall trying to keep track of who went where to play with whom and which coach went where to coach for whom. It seems like every year is a large game of musical chairs. It was so odd last night for Wendy and me to see our long-time star, Adrian Peterson, wearing a Saints uniform.

One of the harsh realities of sports in our culture is that you’d better win or else. Coaches have very little tolerance for players who don’t perform, and teams have very little patience for coaches who don’t consistently bring home victories. If you read social media you’ll find that fans have zero patience for either coaches or players as soon as the losses begin to mount.

In this morning’s chapter King Amaziah of Judah, who seems to have been as full of himself as many prima donna athletes today, pressed for a military campaign against King Jehoash and his nation’s heated rivals to the north in Israel. King Jehoash returned Amaziah’s challenge with a message that sports culture today would call “talking smack.” Jehoash gives Amaziah the chance to back down, but Amaziah would have none of it. Game on. King Amaziah and Judah are humiliated in defeat. The wall of Jerusalem is breached and the treasures of Solomon’s Temple are stolen as plunder.

The very next thing we learn about Amaziah is that his own people conspired against him. When Amaziah skipped town (hoping to be a free agent, perhaps?) they went after him and “permanently terminated his contract.” We don’t like losers.

This morning I’m thinking about our culture’s obsession with success and with winning. I could have used business as a similar parallel. There are certainly institutional churches who have similar expectations of success from their pastors. Yet the path that Jesus prescribes for me, His follower, has a distinctly different trajectory to it:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.”

I understand that having a job in sports, business, or elsewhere in our success-obsessed culture means delivering wins and exceeding expectations. I wonder, however, what effect this corporately has on our souls over time. In the ceaseless pursuit of worldly success, it’s easy to forfeit, or simply lose, our spiritual center. Amaziah had didn’t have to taunt Israel. He didn’t have to pursue expanding his kingdom. He could have focused on contentedly serving his own people to become a king they would honor and respect.

On a Roll

 So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses; and Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war.
Joshua 11:23 (NRSV)

Joshua was on a roll. After the unexpected defeat against Ai a few chapters back, Josh and the Israelites were racking up the victories left and right. Five kings of the Amorites: defeated. Libnah and Lachis: defeated. Horam king of Gezer: defeated. Elon: defeated. It goes on an on: Hebron, Debir, Negev, Kadesh Barnea, Gaza, Goshen, Gibeon. Seemingly everything is going Joshua’s way.

Along life’s journey I’ve been blessed to experience particular stretches in which I was on a roll. Things fell into place. Good things just seemed to happen. What I attempted I succeeded. I have felt what it’s like to be on a roll. It’s a good feeling if and when it happens.  But, there are a few important lessons I’ve learned through these periods of time:

It never lasts. Solomon reminds us that there’s a time for everything under the sun. There is a time for victory and a time for defeat. Here on this terrestrial ball in the land east of Eden, there is no one who stays on a roll all the time. We are fallen people living in a fallen world. Shit happens. Enjoy the moment, Villanova fans. It’s sweet when your team rolls through March Madness and wins on a buzzer beater. No feeling quite like it, I imagine (Iowans have not experienced this). Trust me. Enjoy this moment.

It leads to distorted thinking. When you’re on a roll and everything seems to be going your way, there are all sorts of silly notions that begin to creep into your soul. “I deserve this,” for example. You may have planned well and worked hard, but life is full of examples of those who planned well and worked hard and things still didn’t work out. “I can’t lose,” is another tempting lie. Yes, you can. You will. Read the previous paragraph again. Being on a roll does not typically teach or produce humility in us.

It’s neither the purpose,  nor the goal. As tempting as it is to place all our eggs in that basket, perpetual victory was never God’s prescription for those of us on this life journey. Read through God’s Message and you will not find God telling us “win at all costs,” “make your aim to succeed at everything,” “reach for the American dream,” or “be rich and successful in the eyes of the world.” You will, however, find: “Consider it joy when you encounter various trials,” “Rejoice in your suffering,” and “godliness with contentment is the means of great gain.”

Today, I’m thinking about the times in life when things seemed to be on a roll. It was a good feeling. But, I can’t say that it made me a better human being. In fact, the opposite might be more apt. It is the times of struggle that are the most fruitful from a character perspective.

Last night before retiring for the night Wendy and I stood in our garage with the door open and watched the lightning and the thunderous spring storm. We discussed the storms of life in which we find ourselves in this moment. Things are definitely NOT on a roll right now, but that’s par for the course. I’ve found being on a roll is an elusive experience in this journey. This morning I am, once again, “Considering it joy” amidst life’s little tempests.

 

chapter a day banner 2015

featured image: marleahjoy via flickr

A Tale of Two Agents

source: johnjoh via flickr
source: johnjoh via flickr

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. Luke 16:10 (NIV)

I was recently with a client providing call coaching for a team of agents. In these coaching sessions the client’s front-line agents join me in a small conference room with their supervisor. We review the agents service quality data and listen to recorded calls between the agent and their customers that my team had analyzed. On this particular day, I was coaching several young agents I had never coached before, and it was as if one of Jesus’ parables was coming to life before my very eyes.

There were two agents…

The first agent came into the room confident and smiling. She was bright and confident. When I asked how it was going for her with her calls, she immediately recounted what the data had revealed about the strengths and weaknesses of her service delivery. She had obviously been paying attention, had taken responsibility to go out and review the information available to her, and had digested the data and recommendations. When I played her recorded calls and then asked what she thought, she quickly picked out exactly how she could have improved and explained what she would have done differently if she had the chance to do it over again. When the agent left the room I expressed to the supervisor that I was impressed. “She won’t be on my team long,” the supervisor said. “With her attitude and work ethic, she is going to go places quickly in this company, and she should.”

Before the second agent came into the room the supervisor explained that this particular agent always demanded the last session so that she could put it off as long as possible. When the agent came into the room I could tell from her physicality that she was defensive and did not want to be there. I tried to break the tension. I pulled up the service quality data that had shown a recent trend toward improvement and complimented the improvements. “I don’t know why I improved,” the agent mumbled, “I haven’t done anything differently.” We listened to calls together and when given the opportunity to self-critique the agent simply responded with “it sounded pretty good to me.” In one call, the agent responded to a customer’s question with “I don’t know anything about that” despite the fact that the agent clearly knew the answer. When asked why she didn’t answer the question the agent shrugged and said, “Yeah, I probably should have. I don’t know. I just didn’t.” After the session was over, the supervisor looked at his watch to see how much time was left in the agent’s shift, explaining “She won’t get anything else done today. She watches the clock for the last hour of the day so she can be out the door as soon as the second hand hits twelve.”

I thought of these two agents when I read Jesus’ words this morning. I have observed countless times over the years that the difference between successful people and those stagnate in their careers is usually a small handful of things done faithfully and done well.

Here are seven qualities I’ve consistently observed in those who succeed:

  • Showing up early (or at least being at your post and working on time)
  • Doing the job faithfully
  • Dealing with people honestly
  • Approaching things positively
  • Handling yourself professionally
  • Keeping productive and busy in slow times
  • Going the extra mile without being asked/required

 “If you are faithful with a few things,” Jesus said, “You will be put in charge of many things.”

A Man of Routines

 

Source: Lauren Finkel Photography via Flickr
Source: Lauren Finkel Photography via Flickr

Death is the reward of an undisciplined life;
    your foolish decisions trap you in a dead end.
Proverbs 5:23 (MSG)

My friend, you are a man of routines!” a friend said to me a while back. He laughed as he said it. I found it interesting because he hadn’t known me long and we hadn’t spent that much time together. It struck me like an unexpected slap in the face. The comment was like getting  a fresh, outside perspective and an objective view of how I am perceived by another.

I guess that it’s true. I have built certain routines and disciplines into my life. These chapter-a-day posts are perhaps the most public example, but there are others. Some routines and disciplines have come naturally (being a morning person). Others I’ve had to work at over time and have generated some success (time management, blogging). Many disciplines have been a long string of spurts and starts which meet with temporary success but fail to maintain over the long haul (e.g. simplicity, diet, exercise, focused prayer, saving). As I ponder this morning that I tend to see the cup half-empty. I see my failures more than my successes.

Perhaps that is why I was struck by the cup half-empty notion that “death is the reward of an undisciplined life” this morning. I totally get it. There are precious few successes in life (e.g. relationships, marriage, family, business, spiritual growth, education, writing, athletics, the arts, hobbies, and etc.) that do not require discipline. If we refuse to develop certain disciplines, we will utterly fail. The degree to which we succeed at developing particular disciplines will determine the degree of success we will ultimately realize in our lives. Not only is this true in things that really don’t matter all that much in the eternal sense (i.e. How good of a guitar player I become) but it is also true in matters of eternal significance (i.e. How good of a husband, father, and follower of Jesus I become).

I pray that I can continue to cultivate the discipines which, I come to understand, matter most in this life. In recent years I’ve developed a love for the prayer of St. Francis, which seems to capture the disciplines I increasingly crave to develop in my minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day  journey through this world:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Amen.

Wisdom’s Whisper

Gold medal spouse
(Photo credit: The U.S. Army)

[Proverbs] purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives,
    to help them do what is right, just, and fair. Proverbs 1:3 (NLT)

I heard a call back to the book of Proverbs. Along life’s journey I’ve gone through times when God pushes me to pick up the pace, take a narrow path, and step out of my comfort zone. I’m in one of those times right now. We’re not talking about major life decisions or changes noticeable to the masses. These are small changes in daily trajectory that, over time, take you to a different destination.

So much of “success” in life is about discipline. We see an olympic gold medalist on television for a minute singing a national anthem with their hand over their gold adorned chest. What we don’t see is the years of daily and hourly discipline in time, energy, priorities, diet, exercise, and practice.

I want to finish well and be successful in the things that truly matter. To win that prize I need discipline in the minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day thoughts, words, and actions of this life journey. I need wisdom to make the tweaks in life which will spur me in the right direction.

And so, I’ve heard a whisper in my heart. I’m called back to the book of Proverbs.

Joseph’s Talents

Joseph_sold_to_Potiphar
Joseph_sold_to_Potiphar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before long, the warden put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners and over everything that happened in the prison. Genesis 39:22 (NLT)

The other week a client told me about a capable young person in their employ. The young man, though rough around the edges, had shown promise of being management material. The employer arranged to fast track the young man into managerial training and told him so. I had no doubt that, with a little time and effort, the young man would have found himself managing a department and moving up the corporate ladder quickly.

The young man, however, was not content with the fast track. Assuming that his employer’s interest in his career gave him instant leverage, he quickly demanded a huge increase in salary. When the employer refused and explained that he still had to prove himself, the young man walked off the job.

In reading about Joseph’s rapid and successful rise in both the employment of Potiphar and even in his imprisonment, I’m reminded of Jesus’ parable of the talents. Yes, God’s favor was certainly on Joseph, but Joseph didn’t sit around and have rewards thrown at him. He obviously worked hard, managed wisely, and served his master faithfully no matter who that master was. I can almost hear Potiphar and the prison warden echoing Jesus’ words from his parable: “You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things.”

In the business world I see fewer and fewer young people who take this very simple life lesson to heart: Patiently prove yourself faithful and capable with a few things and you’ll find yourself being given greater responsibilities and earning better compensation. Could it be that we as a culture have so filled our childrens’ minds with positive messages of self-esteem and freely showered them with everything they both need and desire that they have walked away with the expectation that the world will reward them with their heart’s desire just for showing up?

Chapter-a-Day Esther 2

source: corcarpemei via Flickr

Esther was the daughter of Abihail, who was Mordecai’s uncle. (Mordecai had adopted his younger cousin Esther.) When it was Esther’s turn to go to the king, she accepted the advice of Hegai, the eunuch in charge of the harem. She asked for nothing except what he suggested, and she was admired by everyone who saw her. Esther 2:15 (NLT)

About a year ago I found myself on a committee. I had been asked to assist a team as they prepared a series of creative presentations. I was initially excited to be a part of the team. After a couple of meetings, however, it became clear that the chairman of this committee was not looking for wise counsel as much as he was looking for a group of rubber stamp lemmings to do what he wanted, when he wanted it, the way he wanted it done. After making one suggestion for how something could have been better communicated, I was called behind closed doors and asked to leave the team.

Sadly, I watched as the team fell apart. The series of presentations failed to deliver as promised, but the committee chairman continued to live in the delusion that they were a rousing success under his leadership.

The willingness to receive and follow wise counsel is not something we talk much about. Yet, I’ve come to realize what a key part it plays in successful people. It is likely that Esther would never have been queen if she had not willingly followed Hegai’s advice. Her ability to accept her own ignorance and accept Hegai’s wisdom led to her ultimate success.

We all have individual strengths and we all have individual weaknesses. When we listen to and follow the advice of those whose strengths are our weaknesses we shore up where we are lacking and set the stage for our ultimate success.