I’m Third

This past week, my family took our best-ever family getaway. We went to a quaint lakeside camp nestled in the Laurel Highlands in western Pennsylvania. Run by the staff of Summer’s Best Two Weeks (SB2W), this 3-day 2-night family camp, appropriately named Summer’s Best Two Nights (SB2N), gave us a personalized, intimate, relationship-building experience. SB2W’s motto is “I’m Third,” which is a reference to the Bible verse in Matthew 22:37-29, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Lake Gloria Waterpark @ SB2W

At the root of I’m Third‘s meaning is Psalm 51:17, “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” In other words, to allow yourself to be 3rd in priority, you must sacrifice your wants, needs and desires and subordinate your interests to those of God first and other people second, in that order. The posture of your spirit is akin to a broken heart. But, please don’t feel sorry for me or anyone else with that character trait for it is beautiful. The point here is that God intends for the beauty of brokenheartedness to mingle with the beauty of boldness so that a new reality emerges even more beautiful than the sum of both. It is one of God’s most beautiful works, and it is one of the most needed in our day. I’m Third captures that sentiment succinctly and eloquently.

The experience at SB2N has affirmed my passion to “be third.” The only way that’s possible is by having a passion for knowing God experientially and serving others in His name.

  • By being third, I am able to be a peacemaker at a time when society is dominated by conflict, anger and contention.
  • By being third, I receive an internal peace that overflows in my relationships with others.
  • By being third, when I experience disagreements, I have the peace of mind to respond in a Godly manner that defuses aggression and hostility.

Anyone who is preoccupied with exerting their rights, getting what they want and proving they’re right only breeds contention, anger, bitterness and resentment. None of those negative emotions can coexist with peace because they keep their focus off God and our their own selfish demands.

I am forever grateful for SB2W. They have packaged the solution to heal our society. Cultivate a passion for knowing God, a passion for serving others in His name and a passion for being third.

I’m grateful for my broken spirit. I’m thankful for my contrite heart. I’m Third.

No Credit, No Limit

Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States of America, once said, “There is no limit to the amount of good you can do, if you don’t care who gets the credit.” Just imagine what your family, your company, or your community could accomplish if everyone put ego aside and focused on the important tasks at hand. Such a simple concept, but so hard to accomplish. Why?

Because we’re all naturally selfish and essentially “self-employed”. By that I mean, we’re really working for our glory, our success. The only way to suppress that desire, i.e. to demote self and humbly elevate something above our ego, is to commit to building a relationship with God. That commitment entails daily habits that allocate time and energy to get to know Him. That is, in fact, the key to building any relationship. Devote time and energy, and it will incremental happen. All that’s needed is commitment. What follows is a win-win, for you and for other people in your life.

That begs the question, “Who are you working for?

For me, my boss is really a Jewish Carpenter. Whatever I do, I work at it with all my heart, as though I work for the Lord, not a human master. By doing this, it frees me from seeking praise of other people. It liberates me to serve others, no matter the congratulations or criticism I get from them. My desire to serve is not a function of their response. It is simply to serve and help others in God’s name. That’s where my joy is rooted.

The amazing byproduct of this is the ability to live life and pursue happiness irrespective of circumstances. Good and bad things happen to me, but I’m able to live a consistent, calm, assertive, joy-filled life because it’s rooted in God getting the credit. When that matters most, there’s no limit to the amount of good I can do and that’s such a blessed assurance.

It’s worth repeating … imagine what our families, our companies, or our communities could accomplish if everyone put ego aside and focused on the important tasks at hand. The truth is anyone who desires greatness must first become a servant.

What a wonderful world it would be!

Your Career is a Ministry When …

Your career is a ministry when …

  • You view what you do as serving others in God’s name.
  • You help others without the expectation of getting anything in return.
  • You are not driven by the need to receive credit, applause or attention. You are driven by love for God.
  • Your motives are pure because you have your love priorities straight.
    1. Love God first. You’ve built a relationship with Him.
    2. Love others second. You exist to serve people. People don’t exist to serve you.
  • You do not think less of yourself, but rather think of yourself less. You die to self in order to love and serve others. Your influence is derived from that servant-authority.
  • Your power is derived from your relationship with God and His purpose for you. You power is not derived from your status, role or title.
  • You are humble. True humility is the final repudiation of self-righteousness, i.e. the rejection of the very idea that your way is better, that somehow you’d be more, accomplish more, or reach more of your potential if you rejected God’s will for your own.
  • You realize when you’re under attack, you must be doing God’s will, as the One in the World hates when that happens. He will hurl lies and accusations at you to throw you off.
  • You realize the One in You is greater than the One in the World, and you live your life in a calm, assertive, compassionate, peaceful, loving manner.
  • You are grateful for the group of people God has aligned you with for help and support. Without these people in your life, you truly know you would not be where you are right now.
  • You are secure with the fundamental truth … that in all circumstances God is working for your good because you love Him and are called according to His purpose. You trust that in all things, He is the Ideal Team Player and has your back.
  • If someone gets testy with you or puts you down, you consider how you can encourage them.
  • You haven’t fallen in love with your own name, i.e. your own reputation and influence. You understand that self-love is the main ingredient for your undoing.
  • You value people more than you value the rules of tradition. That doesn’t mean you rebelliously flout the rules, but it does mean you respect the possibility a custom could overstay its welcome. You always choose the welfare of people over the shouts of, “This is the way we have always done it!” or “These are the rules!”

Is your career a ministry?

Our Racist Lens

Racism is not binary. It’s not something you wholly are or aren’t. It’s more like a sliding scale. Every human is racist to some degree, and we view the world through our racist lens. The clearer the lens, the less racist we are. The more distorted the lens, the more we show prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism against another person on the basis of their skin color or nationality. “How racist am I?” is the first question everybody needs to honestly answer. The second question is, “How judgemental am I of another person who is racist?

Well, we really are profoundly, deeply biased toward our own self-righteousness. This is why it takes continuous renewing of the heart and mind, or we slip into making ourselves the standard. We have to actively humble ourselves to resist the temptation to judge others. In fact, the most judgemental people are often the most racist. The Bible says, “Let any one who is without sin, be the first to throw a stone.” (John 8:7)

It’s not a matter of merely being humble because humility is not our default. It’s a mindset we have to cultivate. I’m a slow learner, but I think I finally understand it, thanks to becoming a student of God’s word. When Jesus tells me to love my neighbor and even to love my enemies, and to “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you” (Luke 6:27–28), He’s doing me a favor. He knows if I assume the posture of a servant and humble myself, I will see reality more clearly. I will invest in others with value when I pour myself into them.

That’s literally what it means to bless someone, i.e. to add value to someone. I will regard them as more and more valuable as I actively serve them. Consequently, I will become less and less judgemental when I do because God will help me polish my distorted lens to become clearer and clearer.

I urge you to take action to cultivate humility in your heart and mind. It’s the only genuine way to battle racism to advance freedom, safety and opportunity for every single human being, with a focus on those in marginalized, underserved and underrepresented populations. That simply leads to a healthier, more innovative and more dynamic society that is servant-minded.

Love God Love People

My maternal grandfather, Michael Essey Hanna, immigrated from Damascus, Syria. I was the last grandchild he kissed, but I don’t remember him. He died of a heart attack at age 71 when I was just two months old. What I wouldn’t give to have a conversation with him. Among others, I have these questions:

  • What was it like being Christian in a mostly Muslim country?
  • Why did you leave Damascus?
  • How did you settle in Donora, PA? Was it your target destination?
  • Being a dark-skin arabic immigrant living among predominantly white eastern Europeans, did you experience racism?

What I know about him is that he overcame obstacles to provide the quality of life he wanted for his family. I also know he taught my mom to suspend judgement of others as to their motives, especially if she was unsure of their motives. To assume, and then to accuse, that another person acted out a racist attitude is itself an injustice. He taught it was wrong to believe he could peer into someone else’s heart and assume he knew why they did what they did. He taught covert racism is often difficult to prove and those who claim to have experienced it often cannot validate their assumptions without an act of overt racism.

And to be clear, I am not addressing overt racism here, which should be hated by all good men, women and children. Overt racism is a sin and heinous crimes have been committed from it, crimes that should be protested, opposed and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. We take it seriously because God takes it seriously. When a black man is murdered, it is an injustice, racially motivated or not. Murder is still murder. Malice is still malice, no matter the race of the victim or perpetrator.

With covert racism, even when truly felt, our assumptions can be wholly untrue and unjust. False accusation is a serious sin that God calls slander, which is the action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person’s reputation. We are commanded to “not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

My intention here is to show how seriously God takes the carelessness and maliciousness of accusations hurled daily in the media and on social media. We are called to a higher standard. We commanded to not spew the venom. We are empowered to practice neighborly love whereby we prioritize likeness over differences and place otherness over selfishness.

However, neighborly love is only possible when get the order of love right. Our commitment to express neighborly love is only possible AFTER we love God first with all our heart and mind. It’s conditional and in that order. Love God first. Love your neighbor as yourself second. The latter will happen when the former is done. It’s that simple. Racism, and all forms of social injustice, would become extinct.

Do you want to eradicate bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, and every form of malice?

Do you want everyone to be kind and compassionate to one another? Do you want everyone to master forgiveness?

Then we each have to vow to love God first. We each need extreme ownership of loving God above all else and prioritizing our relationship with Him. Only then can our earthly relationships heal and improve. Only then can we love our neighbors as ourselves.

You can scoff at that. You can tune out. You can abandon this story immediately. That’s ok. It’s your choice. However, don’t do that and also complain about racism, prejudice, discrimination, or any other social disease that plagues our culture. You’ll still be loved, however you won’t be part of the solution.

God’s love is foundationally different than the love of people. The world operates within the framework of works and rewards, cause and effect, but God wants to build your foundation on His unconditional compassion. God longs to establish your relationship on the building blocks of His love and grace. It was God’s compassion for you that led Him to search you out when sin had wedged a great chasm between you and Him. It’s God’s compassion that drives him even now to pour out his unfathomable love and affection over you. Yes, even now, flaws and all. One of the beautiful things about having an unconditionally loving Father is that you don’t need to clean yourself up prior to vulnerably submitting to him. You only need to humble yourself and submit.

Imagine if we all did that. That’s the solution the United States, and the world, needs. Make a vow to love God first. Do not delay. Fulfill your vow today with your head and watch your heart be transformed with neighborly love for all people.

Truth Trumps Power

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Excerpt from The United States Declaration of Independence

What makes that statement beautiful and purposeful is the humility it took for the Founding Fathers of the United States of America (USA) to write it. They did not claim to be perfect, however they did acknowledge all mankind was under the authority of “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” They understood that truth trumped any power any human selfishly claimed for themself for the purpose of ruling other humans. They knew it was time to declare these self-evident truths:

  1. There is a God and our human wills are called to be subordinate to His will.
  2. We are given, by Him, certain rights that can’t be taken away from us by other humans, namely:
    • The right to life;
    • The right to live free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views;
    • The right to seek to attain happiness in life.

They knew that by fighting for a new, albeit imperfect, country was the only chance to be free from the tyranny of the King of England. They knew that if the colonies were successful in winning that fight, then the foundation for a country of hope would be formed. They also understood winning independence would not be the end but the beginning of “fighting the good fight” for those “certain unalienable rights.”

Whether we realize it or not, these truths are the “secret thread” that holds the USA together. They are the commonality that is more powerful than any human-derived power. They are what ultimately what holds our disparate group of people together, despite our imperfections and flaws. They are our country’s calling.

How do they do that? I believe there are two parts to the answer.

  1. Americans are ultimately held to a 200% accountability standard. As Joseph Grenny eloquent states is his op-ed, Accountability is a Key to Changing Policy Culture, 200% accountability means I am not only 100% accountable for my own behavior, but I am also 100% accountable for everyone else’s behavior. Sure, some Americans try to avoid accountability, and some are even successful, but because the USA is ultimately under Nature’s God’s authority, in all things He is working for our collective good because we love Him and are called according to His purpose.
  2. Americans are also held to a joyful accountability standard, which is how Alan Mulally turned around Ford Motor Company. Joyful accountability sets the behaviors for which everyone is expected to have. If someone can’t do it, then it’s ok, they will still be loved. However, there will be consequences.

200% joyful accountability does not mean the USA is perfect. God knows we’re far from it. However, because of the wisdom, bravery, grit and humility of the Founding Fathers and the “secret thread” woven into our fabric, the USA is still the “shining city on a hill” and light to the world. This is why 244 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, these self-evident truths are still true.

The People We Pass By

Our days are filled with passing by other people. Whether it’s on foot or by car, I can’t help but to wonder more and more about the story of those that enter and exit my field of vision. You see, I’m intentionally trying to master my situational awareness, especially as it pertains to other human beings. What are they thinking, feeling and doing. What’s their story? What’s my intuition telling me?

I believe intuition is a skill that can be developed. Intuitional awareness is having the ability to understand or know something without any direct evidence. It requires sensing, feeling and correlating what you know to be true. For example, I know that negative people are usually insecure about or afraid of something. When I encounter a negative person, I’m training myself to try to uncover the root cause using tactical empathy techniques. If you want to know more about tactical empathy, then The Black Swan Group is the ideal source. Chris Voss has pioneered the techniques.

Another thing that strikes me as I pass by others is that I never know who I’m passing. Everyone is equally important, yet culture skews our views and behavior, unfortunately. A universal truth is that no human being can claim importance over the next human being. However, we know all too well that because humans are flawed creatures, we are continually deceived into thinking and acting like we are better and superior than other humans.

Therefore, as I pass by people, I am continually optimizing my intuitional awareness using the following frame of reference:

  • Curiosity about their story.
  • Sensing what signals they are sending.
  • Belief they are no more or less important than me.
  • Offering “neighborly love” whereby love is not a feeling, but an action. I am committed to demonstrating neighborly love not because of how lovely they look to me, but to make them feel loved.

The world is in desperate need of more neighborly love. As you pass by people this week, challenge yourself to adopt this frame of reference. Commit to tuning your intuitional awareness and mastering tactical empathy so that you can show neighborly love, even when you don’t feel like it and everyone else is just selfishly passing by.

Peri “wrinkle”

2011 – Dallas (7 yrs) and Peri (3 weeks)

Periwrinkle Rudy’s Blue Angel is his AKC full name. “Peri” for short. He came into our family 9 years ago this week. He was named after his older brother, a fawn Shar-Pei named Rudy. Peri and Rudy never met because Rudy died 7 years prior. Nonetheless in 2011, it was time to get another Shar-Pei, our family’s third over a 25 year span. Peri is considered a blue on the AKC color pallette, however he’s more like a periwinkle. Combine that with his wrinkles and you get Periwrinkle.

The Shar-Pei is an ancient breed originating in China and bred for guarding and farm work. Peri’s temperament is loyal, independent and calm. He is steadfastly loyal to our family, but standoffish with strangers, which makes him a great guardian. Peri is always on patrol and ready to protect.

As we celebrated Peri’s 9th birthday and reflected on his dutifully firm and unwavering character, I was struck by the parallel to my role as a father and husband and the need to protect myself and my family in the daily spiritual battle. The minute I become complacent, we become vulnerable.

Every morning, we wake up to a war, the war over our mind and hearts. The war over our thoughts and actions. The danger is neither ahead or behind, but within. It’s a force that fights against the Holy Spirit, which is at work for our good. At work and home, in public and private, this enemy is always with us. It has a position of leverage over our spirit.

The enemy has also proven it has considerable strength. It’s taken down the mightiest of humans over the course of history. It seems to always be able to recharge its batteries and live to fight another day. It continually looks for those moments of pride and complacency when we let our guard down, which is why we too must rest and recharge to stay strong on the battlefield.

The enemy’s stamina is world-class, both literally and figuratively. It’s energy is sustained in, of and by the world. Without a secular worldview culture, it has no power.

Therefore, as I reflect on the men and women stronger than me whom this enemy has successfully defeated, humility is the only sane response. Better to face my foe trembling and dismayed than to face him proud. Better to not think of myself as above reproach and perpetually stand guard, than to fancy myself strong in my own strength. For in this spiritual battle, as in everything else, pride comes before a fall.

Therefore, I will walk humbly for my sake and the sake of my family, who, like Peri, I must protect. I will pray to God every morning to “lead me not into temptation” and “be on my guard.” I realize the safest soldiers on the battlefield are the humbest ones: those who feel deep down that without God they can win no war, yet with him, every war will be won.

Peri, I am so grateful for you, your loyalty to our family and the model you set. You are steadfastly purposeful with the time that is given you. There are a lot of things in your life you have no control over, however while you can’t control those circumstances, you choose how to you’ll respond and that makes all the difference.

What a wonderful Father’s Day gift. Thank you, Peri.

To all the dads reading this, Happy Father’s Day!

Who Will I Thank and Serve Today?

I’m about to say something counter-cultural. Humans are not inherently good. We enter this world with a natural tendency to be selfish and self-centered. We don’t want to be subordinate to anyone else, and we don’t like the feeling of submission. We don’t want to serve others and ultimately desire final authority over ourselves. We want to have it our way. We set out on a course of self-exaltation and self-determination.

Therefore, being good is something that is learned. Being good requires changing the state of the human heart. I’m not talking about the organ that pumps blood to every part of the body, but rather the place in the body where will, sadness, happiness, gladness, kindness and joy begin. It’s the place where true and meaningful things are rooted. There place where dreams and foundations are planted. The place where the things we say, the things we do and the decisions we make come from.

Changing the state of the human heart starts with one simple question: Who will I thank and serve today? By asking, answering and acting on it daily, it will become habit. It will transform what’s desired in the head and make it operational in the heart, provided that’s what is desired. Remember, it goes against our natural tendencies, so it must be intentional.

Imagine if everyone in the world started every day asking this question and acted on it. There would be billions of people going out of their way to tell someone else how grateful they are for them. There would not be random acts of kindness, but rather intentional acts of kindness. Billions of intentional acts of kindness habitually repeated daily would solve all the world’s problems.

Hey, a guy can dream, cant’ he? This is one dream that can come true, and it all starts with one simple question.

Who will I thank and serve today?

Underestimated

How many people set a goal to be underestimated? In today’s culture, evidently not too many. To be underestimated means to be smaller or less important than you actually are. On the contrary, it seems like the “unsilent majority” are consumed by being bigger, louder and more important than they are.

  • Being underestimated is not thinking less of yourself, but rather thinking of yourself less and others more.
  • Being underestimated is exhibiting inner strength, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.
  • Being underestimated is understanding your value is intrinsically linked to who you are in God’s eyes, not what you do, not what status role you achieve in life. Sadly, many of us succumb to the temptation of allowing ourselves to be influenced by a culture that places greater value on the latter.

The best leaders are those who are underestimated. They live a common life in an uncommon way. Such an easy thing to say, but so hard to do. It’s like the difference between “book smart” and “street smart.” What good is knowing something in your head without putting it into practice? If you desire to be underestimated, then you need to start living your life that way. You have to swim against the cultural current. You have to be a cultural contrarian.

The difference between your success and failure is 18 inches. That’s about the distance between your mind and your heart. The consequences are meaningful. It’s the difference between feeling empty and being fulfilled. It requires that you live convinced of the overwhelming ability of God to move and work in your life.

I’ve developed a system to help. It’s called The Fordriven System®. It will teach you to become underestimated.

  • You will learn to love yourself and your “neighbor.”
  • You will learn to forgive and move on.
  • You will learn to be strong by bearing the failings of the weak and not being consumed with pleasing yourself.
  • You will learn to please your neighbor for their good, to build them up.
  • You will learn to bear the brunt of the insults from others that insult them.

You will learn to lead by being underestimated.

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