TALENT – THE HAMMER AND THE HANDSAW

Once upon a time… there lived a Hammer named Hero.  Hero lived in the land of Toolville and was a spectacular hammer.  All the townspeople in Toolville marveled at Hero’s abilities.  Hero would hammer away at everyone’s problems.  He could hammer nails of any size, handle any repair, and build enormous structures with ease.  He was the strongest, fastest, and most efficient hammer anyone had ever seen and was the most famous hammer in all of Toolville.  Hero the Hammer could do anything.

Everyone wanted to be like Hero, including a Handsaw named Hopeful.  Hopeful wanted to hammer nails just like Hero and worked long hours and stayed up late at night practicing.  He studied videos of Hero, read books about all that Hero had accomplished, and studied magazine articles on how to be just like Hero.

Hopeful was baffled by how effortlessly Hero performed his work.  Hopeful chopped at the nails with his blade, which really hurt, and no matter how hard he worked, he could never hammer nails with the same ease or efficiency as Hero.  The day finally came when Hopeful realized that he could never be as good of a hammer as Hero.  After all, he was just a handsaw.

In the moment of giving up, something very unusual happened.  Hopeful chopped at the nail in the board one final time when his blade slipped and his teeth sank deep into the piece of wood.  Cutting into the wood suddenly felt more natural to him.  As he began to sink his teeth deeper into the wood he felt more alive, as if he was meant to do it all along.  Faster and faster, he effortlessly cut through one board and then another and another.  Hopeful stopped and looked at his work… astonished.  At that moment he realized he could become the greatest wood cutter in all of Toolville…

I cannot afford to waste time trying to be someone I’m not.  I can only be best at being one person: me.  As Hopeful the handsaw discovered, we must free ourselves from who we are not, often before we can discover who we truly are.  Contrary to the slogan, we were not all created to “be like Mike” (Jordan), nor were we created to fit the mold of our favorite business expert, role model, or superstar; we were created to play the unique role that only each of us can play.

May we discover our true identity.  May we allow ourselves to be used in the manner in which we were intended, and may we place ourselves in the hands of the One who can use us to the fullest measure.

“We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” – Paul of Tarsus (Ephesians 2:10)

MY TIME

If I want to be successful…

To be successful at work…

  • Ernst & Young taught me that I should work just half a day12 hours.
  • I should devote 1 hour a day to staying current on world events and financial markets.
  • I should maintain the speed limit on the road, stretching my average drive time to and from the office, meetings, and gym to 3 hours a day.

To be successful with my health…

  • Health magazines say I need 8 hours of sleep a night.
  • Thomas Jefferson said you should devote 2 hours a day to physically strenuous activities.
  • My back doctors tell me I should spend 1 hour a day stretching.
  • Health books tell me to each day drink a gallon of water, eat 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, eat 6 small well-balanced meals, including 8 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables, and avoid microwaves, processed foods, trans fats, and high fructose corn syrup. (2 hours)

To be successful personally…

  • I should devote 3 hours a day to personal hygiene, getting ready in the morning, running errands after work, doing house chores, and “unwinding” in the evening with a favorite TV show.
  • My high school English teacher told me I should read for 1 hour before bedtime.

To be successful relationally…

  • I should devote an average of 3 hours per day maintaining friend and family relationships and being involved in social groups to grow, serve and influence others
  • I should devote 1 hour in the morning focused on my relationship with God, reading the Bible, praying, and getting mentally and spiritually ready for the day.

How much time does it take in a day to do everything I should do to be successful?  Roughly 37 hours.

I cannot do it all… but I try.  In the fear of missing out on something good, I pack my schedule tight with all good things, but find I’m too busy to enjoy any of it.  In my attempt to squeeze all the “marrow” out of life, I squeeze all the “margin” out of life instead.

24 hours a day is all we get.  And only God knows the number of our days (Job 14:5).  Why not surrender our days to the Creator of time and the only one who knows how much time we have left?  May we remember that all that’s required is only what God has called us to do in the limited time we have.  May we pray for the wisdom to know what is truly most important and not allow the secondary to interfere.    Then will we be truly “successful”.

“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12

KINGDOM COME – THE ANCIENT EMPIRES

“Life is short” – Nike

Today in Iraq is the excavation of the ancient city of Babylon.  Recently at the excavation site, scientists discovered an ancient carving etched in stone that bares these words: “I am King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, king from sea to far sea.” What happened to this king and his powerful empire?

In 612 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, attacked Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire and most powerful city in the world.  The Babylonian army defeated the Assyrians and quickly became the most powerful empire in the history of the world.  The Babylonian Empire stretched from one side of the known world to the other.  The Babylonians would rule the world forever… it would seem.

Then in 539 B.C. Cyrus, king of Persia, came up from the area of modern day Iran and attacked the Babylonian empire.  The Persians eventually defeated Babylon and the Persian Empire quickly became the most powerful empire in the history of the world, stretching from one side of the known world to the other.  For almost 300 years the Persian Empire sustained itself.  The Persians would rule the world forever… it would seem.

Then in 350 B.C., in a disorganized corner of the world known as Greece, the city-states of Athens, Sparta, and Macedonia joined forces under Alexander the Great and attacked the Persian Empire and defeated the Persians, becoming the most powerful empire in the history of the world.  The Greek Empire quickly stretched from one side of the known world to the other.  The Greeks would rule the world forever… it would seem.

Then in 264 B.C. the Roman army crossed over the line of Italy and attacked and defeated the Greek empire.  The Roman Empire quickly stretched from one side of the known world to the other and became the most powerful empire in the history of the world.  The Romans would rule the world forever… it would seem.

Then in 1783 A.D. America defeated the British armies and eventually became the most powerful empire in the history of the world.  The Americans would dominate the world forever… it would seem…

We are part of the on-going pattern of history.  Babylon perished.  Persia, Greece, and Rome all followed suit.  One day so will we.  I often forget that we are not permanent; we will not last forever.  I am a “mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14).

As Nike says, “Life is short”… but it’s the next one that lasts forever.  May we remember that we are passing through this perishable world and will one day enter a kingdom that will, in fact, last forever.

Nebuchadnezzar was king only for a season.  His kingdom did not last.  Today, etched in stone at an Iraqi excavation site is a reminder that kingdoms rise, kingdoms fall, but there is a kingdom to come that will last forever.

“In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.” – Daniel of Babylon (circa 620 B.C.)

ME – THE TRUMAN SHOW

Truman Burbank (played by Jim Carrey) lives in a world that revolves around one person: Truman.  Unknown to Truman, he has spent his entire life inside a television studio where he is the central figure and only ‘real’ person in his world while all other people are actors in his show – The Truman Show.

I can relate to Truman.  I have the tendency to think I am the main character in a story revolving around one person: Me.  I’ve been in every scene from the very beginning.  I carry on my head two cameras, two boom microphones, and a megaphone and all the people I know and see are just actors in my show.

Other people exist.  It is a truth I so often forget.  Other people exist beyond my tiny pocket of the planet and beyond my self-absorbed American pop-culture mind.  I forget that English is not God’s primary language.

Today Israeli mothers cover their children in closets as rockets rip through their homes, Chinese men and women are martyred for their faith, African children are dying of AIDS and starvation, all while American televangelists tell the rich they deserve a better life.

One American pastor recently published a book titled “Your Best Life Now”. A buddy of mine said: “There are just two things wrong with that book: ‘Your’ and ‘Now’”.  My life is not the central story.  Other people exist.  Other people matter.

Imagine if we did not see ourselves as the primary characters in our lives.  What would happen if we truly saw others the way God sees them?  May we find the courage to be caught up in something bigger than ourselves, to live knowing that we are part of a team, a family, a community, and planet that is all part of God’s story, God’s script.  I’m not the central figure; I’m in the grand stands.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” – Paul of Tarsus (Philippians 2:3)

DELAYED GRATIFICATION – THE MARSHMALLOW CHALLENGE

“The best things come to those who wait.” – Heinz Ketchup Slogan

In the 1960’s, psychologist Walter Mischel conducted an experiment on a preschool classroom.  He handed each of the 4-year-olds a marshmallow and gave them a choice: “You can eat the marshmallow now, but if you wait 30 minutes I will give you a second marshmallow when I return.”  Part of the class couldn’t bear the wait and immediately ate their marshmallow.  The other part painfully waited the 30 minutes; they closed their eyes, tried to focus on something else, or tried to go to sleep to pass the time, and were rewarded with the second marshmallow when the experimenter returned.

Researchers tracked these children over a 20-year period and measured them for psychological differences between those who had eaten the single marshmallow immediately and those who had waited for the second.  They discovered that the children who waited as 4-year-olds grew up to be more assertive, dependable, adventurous, and socially competent than their peers.  They also had higher SAT scores.  The preschoolers who had eaten the marshmallow immediately were more likely to be lonely, indecisive, easily frustrated and stubborn.

This study was repeated many times with similar results.  It suggests that the ability to delay gratification carries long-term reward.

The waiters know the discipline of resisting convenience now for a greater reward later: they have learned to resist buying on credit, bending the rules, or giving up on unanswered prayers, knowing that one day their waiting will be rewarded.

I pray for the same patience to wait for the fullness of God’s blessings.  May we refuse to cut-short his blessings by short-cutting the wait.  May we have the patience to wait for the second marshmallow to come.

“The LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!” – Isaiah

(Isaiah 30:18)

THE DA VINCI CODE

Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code” has become an international phenomenon, having sold over 30 million copies in 44 languages.  In the novel, Brown’s characters discover that the Holy Grail is actually Mary Magdalene, the secret wife of Jesus and the mother of Jesus’ child.  They discover that Jesus was only a “great moral teacher”; not God.

What amazes me is that a fictional novel, not intended to be historically accurate, can be considered such a credible source.  The Barna Institute reports that 2 million people have changed their beliefs about Jesus from the novel/film.  It seems people are quick to accept anything supporting their own predispositions toward God and call it “Truth”.  We want a less powerful, more manageable Jesus that can fit neatly in a box – A Jesus who stays out of my way, but helps me when I pray.

Paul of Tarsus says, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”  (II Timothy 4:3-4)

What we know from ancient manuscripts, most of them dating back to the late 1st Century A.D. by even liberal scholars, is what Jesus claimed of himself:

Jesus claimed to be God.

Anyone who makes such claims can no longer be called a “great moral teacher.”  He would be either a liar (knew he wasn’t God), a lunatic (did not know he wasn’t God), or was who he claimed to be.

C.S. Lewis: “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of thing Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic… or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”

To believe that Jesus is anything other than a “great moral teacher” is scary because it forces me to choose: Either I pass him off for a crazy liar or submit to him as God. It’s much more comfortable to say he was a good man, a really nice guy, a “Mr. Rogers with a beard”.  Unfortunately Jesus does not leave that option open to us.

God exists apart from our own belief systems and predispositions.  Jesus is not confined to the blonde haired, blue eyed, Aryan Jesus from the Sunday School flannel graphs.  He stands alone, welcoming Dan Brown and the rest of the world to examine the evidence. (Matthew 7:7)  I pray that as we discover the “real” Jesus, we will discover more fully who we truly are as well.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – Jesus of Nazareth

(John 8:32)

ENRON – HUMAN NATURE

In 2006, a federal jury convicted Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling of lying to investors five years before about the financial health of Enron, the company they led as Chairman and CEO. It took Enron 16 years to grow to $65 billion in assets; it took only 24 days to go bankrupt in 2001.  America discovered that the nation’s 7th largest corporation, charting futures of energy and power, was nothing more than a ‘house of cards’ as it became the largest corporate bankruptcy case in U.S. history.  20,000 employees lost their jobs.  $2 billion of pension and retirement funds disappeared.

Investigators discovered that Lay and Skilling were booking current profits based on what they called the “hypothetical future value” of an idea, while hiding liabilities in off balance sheet accounts.  In the several months prior to bankruptcy, while the retirement accounts of the rank and file employees were frozen, Lay and Skilling were cashing in $100’s of millions of Enron stock.  Most agree these criminals deserve the fullest wrath our judicial system affords. But I wonder how far the rest of us are from the same fate.  How easy is it to rationalize our actions bit by bit?

The Milgram Experiment: In the early 1960’s psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted a famous scientific experiment to test whether evil people possessed common characteristics making them do evil things or if normal people were capable of doing evil.  Participants were told it was an experiment to test whether electric shocks would help people memorize lists.

In the experiment, Milgram persuades the participant to give what the participant believes are painful electric shocks to another subject, who is actually an actor, every time the actor gives a wrong response.  The actor in the other room would scream and beat on the walls in pain; however, most participants continued to give shocks despite pleas for mercy from the actor.  If the participant wanted to halt the experiment, Milgram told them he would take full responsibility and that the experiment must continue.  Shockingly, 50% of Milgram’s participants were willing to “shock to the death” so long as the command came from a seemingly legitimate source.

We must admit that human nature has the potential to rationalize anything. It is God’s general grace that directs our steps and keeps us from our own self-destruction.  Very little separates us from Lay and Skilling.  Without God’s direction, we are capable of the same fate.  God be with us!

“The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” – King Solomon (Proverbs 16:9)

DONALD TRUMP – RELAX

“Money, Money, Money, Money… Money” – (Apprentice theme song)

This is also Donald Trump’s personal theme song – a man you want to emulate only if your greatest love is money.  These were among his main points at a recent real estate conference:

  • “Be paranoid”
  • “Hire the best people and don’t trust them”
  • “Get even with people- eye for eye…”
  • “Always have a prenuptial agreement”
  • “I love losers because they make me feel better about myself”

The crowd laughed nervously as he made his points.  His speech was probably over-dramatized for shock value, but he was still serious.  In as much of his character I don’t want to copy, he made one profound statement when he told his story:

In the late 1980’s Trump was worth about $9.2 Billion.  Periodicals around the world named him “Mr. New York” and touted that “Everything he touches turns to gold.”  He was invincible in his own eyes.  He had all the money, property, fame, and friends he had ever wanted.  Then, all within one year, his ‘empire’ came crashing down.

In 1990, the tax laws changed, inflation grew, the airline industry tanked, and banks collapsed – everything that could go wrong did.  By 1991, Trump was $900 Million in debt and was facing bankruptcy.  Most of his friends abandoned him.  Trump said, “The good thing about trouble is you learn who is loyal.”  He would eventually climb back out of his hole over the next 10 years, but this was what surprised me:

He said, in the early 90’s, with attorneys, CPAs and businessmen out to destroy his name, with creditors chasing him, facing bankruptcy and possible eviction from Trump Tower, “I was still able to sleep at night.” He said he could push everything out of his mind when his head hit the pillow.

If Donald Trump can learn not to worry with bankruptcy, abandoned friendships, and businessmen out to destroy him, how much more should I know not to worry – when we have eternity secured and friends who don’t care if we can’t rub two nickels together or own half of New York?

I cannot afford to worry.  We only have a limited number of minutes in a day and all we can control is our choices, not the outcome.  I can only be a good steward of my time here in the office; the results are out of my hands.  So I must do my work for the Lord (Colossians 3), using the strengths he has given me, and then I’m going home to sleep.  The rest is up to God.

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” – Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 6:26-27)

MOMENTUM

Momentum is hard to generate.

Back when I was playing golf I couldn’t understand why my game wasn’t improving playing once a month.  The more times I play, the better I get, right?  No.  I was probably just repeating the same mistakes over and over.  There wasn’t enough consistency in my golf game to build any momentum toward improvement.

How do you create momentum?  Occasionally at work I can feel a positive momentum, like I’m riding a wave.  I can see actual progress.  Most days, though, it’s a struggle just to tread water.  Progress seems to die.  It feels like the ‘forces of nature’ are working against me.  Actually, that may not be entirely wrong.  Several laws come to mind that seem to be always working against us.

The Anti-Momentum Laws:

Law #1: (Science) Second Law of Thermodynamics (Law of Entropy)

  • The universe is winding down; the earth and everything in it is moving toward chaos.

Law #2: (Theology) Law of Human Nature

  • We live in a ‘fallen’, imperfect world.  People make mistakes; things happen outside of our control.

Law #3: (Social) Murphy’s Law

  • Anything that can go wrong, usually will.

Along with this is the 50/50/90 Rule: If there is a 50/50 chance to get it right, there is a 90% chance that you will get it wrong.

These laws seem to be constantly working against progress.  Everything takes longer than you think, twice as long as it should, and 3 times as long if the thing seems really easy.  The other line will always move faster.  The printer will always break when you’re rushing to meet a deadline.  And round and round in this broken world we go.

Life often feels like trying to run up an escalator the wrong way.  You must be running fast to make any progress.  To beat these laws of nature, there must be urgent steps taken over a compact period of time.  There must be consistent activity.

“Activity Breeds Activity” – Cole Forsyth

And more activity builds momentum.  This seems to be the thinking of every successful businessman I know.  It can be called the “Rule of Numbers”

Rule of Numbers: With enough of the right activity, the numbers will eventually work in your favor.  One of the keys is a dedication to urgency.  “If it can be done today, let’s do it.”  These businessmen say there is a huge difference between making 10 prospect calls and making 12 prospect calls in a day’s time, between finalizing 5 reports and 6 reports in a week’s time.  That marginal difference is what usually leads to a tipping point, a breakthrough point where momentum begins to build.

“Working with all my heart” (Colossians 3:23) means taking a specific number of steps over a specific period of time.   And as activity breeds more activity, eventually momentum moves in our favor.  We begin to feel we’re running with the escalator, we’re riding the wave.

“All hard work brings profit.” – King Solomon

(Proverbs 14:23)

GOLD DIGGER

I saw him on my last trip to the beach.  In an old pair of worn out loafers, mid-calf socks, a v-neck t-shirt, clip on shades, and a bucket hat, this modern-day gold digger shuffles through the sand searching for his buried treasure.  Armed with his metal detector, hoping to hear the high-pitched sound of the nearing metal treasure over his fading eardrums, he takes one step, another step, another step… and he listens.

I never see him standing still; moving is part of the game.  He has to take steps to know if he’s moving in the right direction toward his treasure.  I wonder how many steps he has made in the wrong direction.  How many times has he had to turn around and try a new path?  How much easier would it be if he had a map where X marks the spot?

I probably spend more time waiting for a map than actually taking steps.  I want to be sure of each step before I take it.  I hate wasting time.  Before I start a new project at work, before a new relationship, I want to know it will work out well.  But I am never given the map, only traces of clarity as I take each step.

I have rarely made decisions with 100% assurance.  I can pray for direction, but I have gained most clarity not as I wait, but as I walk- as I take steps forward, listening.  My tendency is to play it safe, but ‘safe’ is not how God called us to live.  He called us to live an adventure, paved with risk, marked by steps of faith.

“God has rigged the world so that it only works when we embrace risk as the theme of our lives, when we live by faith.  All attempts to find a safer life, to live by the expectations of others, just kill the soul in the end.” – John Eldredge

I’ve learned there’s really no such thing as a ‘safe life’.  There are no guarantees.  What seems to be a safe life is only a slow death.

One day when my hearing is faded and I’m wearing old loafers and bucket hats, I want to know I have reached the bounds of all I am meant to experience in this life.  I want to look back on this path and see how divinely lit it was.  It is a call to dream only God-sized dreams, to carry with us the faith that our risks will one day meet reward.  God is honored in our steps of faith.  He waits to show up in our steps.  So we pray for the day when our steps of faith will intersect with his faithfulness… and there the treasure will be.

“By faith the people of Israel passed through the Red Sea as on dry land.” – Author of Hebrews (Hebrews 11:29)