Being Good could be a Bad Idea

How many times have you been told to “be good”?  Especially as a kid.  We grow up thinking that conforming to this often vague concept is the pinnacle of human development.  At the very least, conformity usually avoids negative consequences.  But let’s face it, something inside us hates being good.  We hate conforming.  Yes, human (sin) nature plays a part, but I don’t think that’s always the strongest factor at play.

What if our drift away from “good” also represents a healthy desire to distinguish ourselves?

A desire to break free from the enormous bubble of mediocrity.  Misguided, desire can lead to the break down of morality.  But what if we harness it?  Certainly the desire to be unique can drive us toward something other than “bad”.

So much energy can be spent on trying to be good that we never stop to consider becoming great!

I’m guilty of using “be good” language on my kids, and on myself for that matter.  I’m trying to change that.  Plenty of modern evidence points toward the benefit of pursuing greatness as opposed to just the avoidance of wrong doing.  A more efficient use of energy?  A better strategy for success?  It’s a slight play on words, but an interesting shift in how we might think about the good, the bad, and the great.

Agree? Disagree? How have you seen this play out in your life? I’d love to hear your story!

Gut-check

20130527-162236.jpg

Somebody once said “The greatest enemy of future success is past success”. Boy, isn’t that true. We can round the final corner, dig deep into that last stretch, and before we know it we’re still taking victory laps long after the crowd’s gone home. I suppose it’s risk management. We work so hard for victory that the thought of having to turn around and start again paralyzes us. Even though success is often a long cycle between concept, action, evaluation, adjustment, and finally victory – we tend to feel the most good about ourselves at the end. So we milk it.

You don’t have to look far for examples. Hollywood C-listers still riding that blockbuster from a decade ago. People in their 40’s still living their high school glory days (Uncle Rico, anyone). As a parent, I’ve tried a few things on my teenage kids that worked great when they were 6…not so much now. They’re all a product of relying too heavily on the power of past success.

Whether or not you’re a fan of the Bible, it offers some solid advice on the subject. Philippians 3:14 says “I press on toward the goal…” Not a shove or a slam – press. A steady advancement in the direction of the ultimate goal. God knows some days it’s slow. Other days it practically moves itself. Speed isn’t the point. Consistency is. So unless you’ve reached your ultimate end goal, and I know I haven’t, this isn’t the time to let up.

With whatever resources you’ve been given…press on

No matter how afraid you are of failing…press on

Whether you’re riding success or failure…press on

And whether you feel like it or not…press on, press on, press on

10 bucks & my conscience

My conscience is a curious thing.  Looking back, it has served me both nobly and regrettably.  By no fault of its own, I’ve many times held it in great contempt.  After all, what fun is making a morally corrupt decision if ones conscience keeps popping in like an unwelcome neighbor.

So I’ve noticed this.  When I honor my conscience, it honors me.  When I betray my conscience, I’m left to my own natural sense of morality – scary indeed.

Story.  This afternoon, while driving out of Home Depot, I passed a ragged looking fellow holding a cardboard sign that read “homeless, veteran, help”.  And regardless of being both a pastor and former Marine, my first thought was “just ignore him”.  Feeling just a little guilty over my first thought, I quickly began to rationalize – “he’s probably not even a veteran”, “probably not even homeless”, “he’ll just go buy more booze if I give him money”.

By that time I had passed him and pulled onto the highway.  That’s when it hit me.  Although knowing the right thing to do, I justified around it in order to appease my own selfishness.  I was betraying my conscience.  I knew I should have given that guy my cash – I knew it!

I’ve made enough morally void decisions in the past to know that living with a dead conscience leads to a very dark place.  Someplace I never want to return.  So little by little I try to honor my conscience.  Today I turned around, drove back, and gave him 10 bucks – a small price to pay for a functional conscience.  Tomorrow it will likely be something entirely different.

“Honor Competition”

What do these events all have in common?  1) The final game in the movie “Hosiers”,  2) The American hockey team against the Soviets at the 1980 Olympics,  3) American Idol,  and 4) Family football on Thanksgiving Day.

Yep, intense competition!

Most of us, on some level, enjoy intense competition; it’s part of the human spirit.  But, like you’re probably thinking, we all gravitate toward the arena from different angles.  For example, Karrie and I are both competitive, but in very different ways.  Karrie will fly under the radar until she sees an opportunity to capitalize on her opponents weakness.  My strategy, on the other hand, is to be very selective about only entering those competitions that suit my skills and I feel I can win.  (This is why I rarely play card games with my wife.  I’m a poor card player, and she will tear me up should I be overcome by her siren song and venture into her territory.)

However, there is a competition that I’m convinced will galvanize, rather than polarize.  It’s found in a few short words contained in Romans 12, verse 10.  Here it is: “Outdo one another in showing honor”  Whoa!  Now I have to admit, while it sounds noble, it also sounds quite difficult.  I mean, it may be easy at first because our culture has practically lost the art of honor.  But what happens when I encounter someone who is really good at it?  Well, then I hope to learn from the honor they’ve shown, and in turn, pass that along…so I can totally SMOKE the next guy…with honor.

“Forgiving Dr. Mengele”

Last night I started watching a documentary about 77 year old Eva Mozes Kor, an Auschwitz survivor.  Born in Romania and living now in Terre Haute, Indiana, she tells the unbelievable story of her and her twin sisters time in the Nazi concentration camp.

As twins, they were of special interest to the infamous Nazi geneticist, Dr. Josef Mengele.  I cannot begin to justly describe the horrific and morally depraved environment endured by the many sufferers of Nazi experimentation.  Allowing my mind to consider that time and place, even for a moment, results in great hatred for the cruelty our species is capable of.  It is indeed difficult to find any redeeming connection to evil of that magnitude.

Yet, as horrendous as I find that story, it brings a huge amount of personal introspection.  As the movie title suggests, Eva’s is a story of healing and forgiveness.  She even went so far as to publicly forgive the Nazi’s for all the cruelties she endured at their hand claiming forgiveness as her path to healing.  Now I’ll admit, it’s difficult for me to even find context for her experiences; I’m so far removed from the extremes of her story.  The extreme abuse – and the extreme forgiveness.  It’s almost like trying to mentally absorb the magnitude of the galaxy.

Shamefully, I’ve held drastically less significant offenses over the heads of people I love.  I’ve refused to forgive people for things that, comparatively speaking, had almost zero negative effect on me. Not exactly Christ-like.

I’m reminded that as difficult as forgiveness may be, it is always possible and never easy.

I just have to choose it.

Wrong Expectations

In Acts 6, the apostles are faced with a growing church that had become increasingly more difficult to manage.  In fact, a couple groups within the church made it a point to loudly complain about the lack of attention their constituents were receiving (ooh, people complaining in church…how odd).  So recognizing they cannot do everything, the apostles decided to appoint new leaders to help tighten the slack (enter deacons, stage left).  They created a system that addressed the problem, and they worked the system.

So what happened next?  SUCCESS.  GROWTH.  ENERGY.  Verse 7 says, “SO (emphasis mine), the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”  They leveraged their collective efforts, worked the system, and as a result realized a huge impact on the kingdom!

Rather then sit around and pray God would solve their dilemma, they chose to leverage the powers God had already given them.  Intelligence.  Preparation.  Organization.  The answer wasn’t a miracle, it was effort!

I hate to admit it, but I’ve prayed more than a few frantic “God, bring a miracle to counteract the natural outcome of my lack of preparation” prayers.  Honestly, it’s stupid and presumes way to much upon God.  Here God has given us wonderful faculties, and gifts, and talents to accomplish great things for the kingdom; and we dare neglect them for the immediacy of a requested miracle!  Of course, outcomes are always reliant upon the work of God, but outcomes COME OUT of something – effort!

The next time we dare begin to expect God to swoop in and rescue us from our own lack of preparation and effort – somebody slap us!