When Success Turns Sour

Fifteen years ago, a client of mine became president of his company. It all came about through a fluke (he was a mid-level manager), good luck, and a couple coincidences. He was very humble about his promotion, “It was just God’s grace. I hadn’t wanted it, I didn’t deserve it, and I never tried for it. God just dropped it on my lap.”

When Success Turns Sour

Within a couple years he began to attribute his advancement to his own hard work and brilliant insights. He said that his promotion had been delayed too long by people who didn’t appreciate him. He fired people who disagreed with his opinions.

He felt his genius was needed everywhere, and he was glad to offer it:

  • He convinced the high school athletic committee to change coaches because he knew a better way—though he had never played an organized sport in his life.
  • He became head elder at his church and bullied them into adopting a “better” Bible translation—though he had never studied Greek or Hebrew (not even Pig-Latin).

He once scowled in anger when a friend told him his zipper was unzipped (true story), and he sent his dental hygienist home in tears when she suggested he begin flossing (another true story). The slightest correction was met by him with red-faced fury.

Success turned a wonderful human being into an uncorrectable, insufferable know-it-all.

When Obedience Doesn’t Make Sense

When my family moved to Detroit, the summer between my first and second grade, Tommy was the first friend I made. He too was the son of a pastor—so we had that in common—but his mother hated the idea of punishment.

Cigarette butts

Tommy’s mother caught us smoking cigarette butts behind their church which was right next door to their house. (How could we have been so stupid?) She explained that the butts have other people’s germs. When that insight failed to motivate him, she offered a pack of gum for every day he didn’t smoke.

Instead of obedience, Tommy’s mom favored explanation, “Do you really want someone’s butt in your mouth?”, and bribery. (My own mother’s response was more pointed and painful.)

Reasoning and bribery didn’t stick. The pleasure of sex and drugs made more sense (and paid better) than his mother’s urgings and graft. By the time he was twenty, Tommy had been arrested for drugs that he sold to support his pregnant girlfriend.

[This article is about obedience not about parenting—though there are implications for parenting as well.]

Tommy’s father favored stricter discipline but his mom’s philosophy was, “I don’t want to crush his spirit.” She let him crush his own.

As Long as We Both Shall Live

Last weekend my wife and I attended two weddings. Both couples used traditional vows:

To have and to hold, from this day forward,
For better and for worse, for richer and for poorer,
In sickness and in health, to love and to cherish,
Forsaking all others, as long as we both shall live.

Beauty-and-the-Beast

My wife and I got married thirty-three years ago, but our church met in the YMCA, so we asked another local church to rent their building. They required, however, that we receive premarital counseling from one of their staff.

The pastor they provided encouraged us to write our own vows, but he disliked our traditional ending. He suggested we change the last clause to read,

“As long as we both shall love.”

Wait For It

Eight years ago, my niece Amy married Nathan, a great guy. They moved into a starter home in the country. Over time, and with the addition of a son and daughter, the small house felt smaller. With a third child on the way, they decided to sell their house and find a larger home, a place closer to town with neighbors for the kids and a garage for the cars.

Wait for it

They put their house on the market late last October, and within four days they had signed agreement. Which meant they’d better start looking for their replacement home.

Two weeks later they fell in love with a house in their preferred neighborhood, at the right price in the perfect size, and with an attached garage. (It usually takes only one Michigan winter to make the most frugal-minded puritan lust for a garage. They endured seven winters.)

Their bid was accepted. But the inspection uncovered rotted roofing, siding, and windows, and substandard plumbing. All of which was going to cost them more than $40,000. The owners wouldn’t budge on the pricing, so Amy and Nathan reluctantly released the house. They moved in with Nathan’s family a few weeks before Christmas.

Imagine an extended time of suitcase-life with two kids, living in someone else’s home, and pregnancy. (I can imagine all but the pregnancy myself.) Their family-host was gracious, but weeks of this lifestyle took its toll, as though they were imposing on friends. They searched, and searched desperately, for their next home.

They soon found another house that thrilled neither of them (except for the hope of living on their own again); they made a bid that was accepted; the inspection turned up arsenic in the water; the owners refused to re-negotiate; and Amy and Nathan decided again to wait.

And they waited and waited, and weeks turned into months.

Deathbed Advice

My father died twenty years ago last Friday, April Fool’s Day, 1996. (I often wonder if he planned that day.) A week before his death, knowing his death was imminent, my father made a suggestion. Deathbed advice has power other suggestions can’t match.

Deathbed Advice

My dad told me that many of the people he counseled lived their adult lives being controlled by their parents. Most parental-control situations are easily recognized: parents who bully and browbeat or those who provide unceasing, unsolicited advice.

He told me there is another insidious control which most people fail to recognize. It’s the unconscious control our parents exert when we try our hardest not to be like them.

My father summarized his advice like this:

If you spend your life trying not to be like somebody you will spend your life not being somebody.

Why Do Our Kids Reject Christianity?

Why do so many people—people with incredible conversion stories—parent children who abandon Christianity?

Leaving Church r1

History overflows with great saints whose offspring lose faith:

  • Samuel was a mighty prophet of God. His sons were a mess.
  • David was a man after God’s own heart. His children were a disaster.
  • Harvard, Yale, and Princeton were founded on the gospel. Now they lead the opposition.

I’ve witnessed dozens of couples, churches, ministries, and prayer groups who began with a furious fire of love for God whose next generation couldn’t blow a smoke ring.

Our children lose that fire because of the simplest and silliest of reasons: we assume the gospel. The following downhill slide reveals the stealthy creep of the lost gospel:

  1. The gospel is Accepted —>
  2. The gospel is Assumed —>
  3. The gospel is Confused —>
  4. The gospel is Lost                         (Mack Stiles, Marks of the Messenger)

The author continues, “For any generation to lose the gospel is tragic. But the generation that assumes the gospel … is most responsible for the loss of the gospel.” That generation is us. We are most responsible.

What happened to us?     

Who is Your Hero?

Sometime God speaks through a careful choreography of life events: conversations, readings, observations, and even the occasional media clip. Suddenly, all the pieces snap together, and we sigh (internally so no one hears us), “Aha!”

Who is your hero

This morning, I had one of those moments of clarity. Over the past couple weeks:

  • I pondered with friends why some people and ministries are wildly successful while other people and ministries—equally gifted—struggle for survival;
  • I heard a quote by Oswald Chambers: “Is He going to help Himself to your life, or are you taken up with your own conception of what you are doing?
  • I read a passage using the Scripture Meditation Plan: “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18)

These three events were preceded by a video I watched that smelled … funny. And the odor lingered. The creator of the video is a famous Christian writer who has morphed his verbal skills into marketing skills, and he wanted to help churches sell themselves.

In his video, a pastor shared the key to his own wildly successful church. I forget the exact words but he essentially said:

“I realized that too many churches make the pastor the hero. I decided to make the congregation the hero, and my church’s attendance exploded.” (Name withheld)

It reminded me of a conversation early in The Lost World movie. Repentant Jurassic Park creator John Hammond cries: “Don’t worry. I’m not making the same mistakes again.”

To which Ian Malcom retorts: “No, you’re making all new ones.”