faith, Fortitude, Personal Development

The Danger of Ambition | Letter To My Son

I’m sharing a series of “letters” originally written by Vince Miller. I regard Vince as a trusted resource for wisdom and insight on faith and family especially as it pertains to men and fathers. His bio is at the bottom of the post. Look him up. What follows is his work entirely. Vince communicates the messages I want my son to hear in a far more clear and concise way than I could ever say. Consider using these as conversation starters. I encourage you to share these letters with the important men in your life.

Son, most men learn about the dangers of ambition the hard way. 

We never intend to slowly distance ourselves from God, family, or meaningful relationships. We never aim to become evil, manipulative, or narcissistic. We never plan to commit adultery, get divorced, be prosecuted, get fired, or be canceled on social media. But ambition has led to all these results and more.

And for those who have been down these roads and experienced these results, we know the hidden dangers. For some, it begins with seeking a competitive edge. Or for others, begins with a desire to please others who are never satisfied. And others get caught in its trappings by the promise of achievements, notoriety, and prosperity.

So, son, in guarding and forewarning yourself of these dangers, here are some things you must know.

One | Ambition Feeds on Selfishness

“as to zeal, a persecutor of the church…”—Paul commenting on his past as the man formerly known as Saul, in Philippians 3:6

These short words are how Paul identified his former behavior. His zeal was second to none. He was known for his ambition. This was so widely known that his conversion to faith was unbelievable for many Christians.

And when [Saul] had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.—Acts 9:26

What’s interesting about a man’s ambition is not that it’s all bad. Ambition, zeal, and industry are good, as long the object of ambition is not the self. When the ambition focuses on the self, a man will ultimately use others around him to accomplish his own end. They become his means to elevate himself, which has now become his central focus. This is tough to see when at first, but as selfish ambition grows, the effects are far-reaching. And as we discover in Saul’s life, he began using people for his personal advancement. And this process can become so self-serving and devious that deviation from this path can seem unbelievable and impossible to observers.

The dilemma is that there is no end to this progression until the pain of necessary change confronts a man. And depending on how callous and impervious to the pain we’ve become, it might require tremendous pain. Or, like in Saul’s case, we finally have a confrontation with Jesus Christ that knocks us off our feet and onto our knees.

Two | Ambition is Aimless Enticement

I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.

King Solomon- Ecclesiastes 1:14

Solomon, the wisest and wealthiest man to ever live, has something significant to teach us about the path of ambition. Money. Fame. Success. They are all attractive. Many a man will pursue them. The reason why men seek them is positive short-term gains. But the problem is that the short term gains always fall short. Moreover, the short-lived gains lead to aimless running. Therefore men from one temporary gain to the next. Before long, we look up and see we have been running after purposelessness and aimlessness.

No man wants this. We want the exact opposite—purpose and meaning. And as Solomon discovered, there was only one to find it. And in the final sentences of the book of Ecclesiastes, he tells us how to find purpose and meaning. The path to discovering it is not through human ambition but holy fear. Fear of the One who provides purpose to a man. And this is not aimlessness—this is our aim!

Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.

Ecclesiastes 12:13

Three | Ambition Compromises Character

And he told her all his heart, and said to her, “A razor has never come upon my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If my head is shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak and be like any other man.”—Samson’s confession to Deliah in Judges 16:17

This confession led to Samson’s fall. But he did not arrive at this moment suddenly. He got there one small decision at a time. His selfish ambition eventually caused him to get closer and closer to the edge of compromise. Until finally, he thought he was impervious to failing. Thus, his ambition clouded his wisdom and exposed his character and, therefore, his life’s mission and purpose.

All human ambition will lead a man to do something that seems stupid. What’s interesting is that at the moment they do it, they don’t think it’s stupid. It’s just another choice in a series of choices that lead to a final and foolish decision. But what this decision reveals is their character. Therefore most men look back at this, realizing how stupid one decision was and the series of smaller decisions that led up to it—that can never be undone but can only be done differently from that point forward.

So what can we do?

Overcoming Ambition

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:26

Instead of surrendering to ambition, great men surrender ambition itself. In the act of surrender, we loosen our grip on what has a hold on us. And we offer it to God. We submit everything our ambitions have been focused on, which is the self, and we give our ambitions and the self to a holy and willing God. Then God, who we now worship—not the self—guides us down a new path focused only on him. 

And the best part is that God does something in this exchange that reignites the male ambition with a twist—it becomes holy ambition. Ambition focused solely on him and his purposes. And in this, we discover that God has a purpose for us and that he wants us to live in out in his character and in his way.

Son, be ambitious. But do not fall for the trappings of human ambition. They are, but folly, and many a man has fallen to its trapping. I love you—Dad.

Vince Miller is an author and speaker to men around the world on topics that include manhood, masculinity, fatherhood, mentorship, and leadership. He has authored 18 different books for men and is hosted on major video platforms like RightNow Media and Faithlife TV. He hosts a weekly podcast, writes weekly articles, and provides daily thoughts from God’s Word all just for men. He is a 27-year ministry veteran and the founder of Resolute a Men’s Ministry Platform that provides bible studies aimed at building better men found at www.beresolute.org. See his latest book and small group study Called to Act: 5 Uncomplicated Disciplines for Men.

Family, Fortitude

ConQuer Your Past Pains

If you’ve been ALIVE for any length of time, then you have pains. I’m talking about emotional pain. We all carry some “baggage” from our past – things we’ve said and done, or the things that others have said or done to us. It hurts bad. Or maybe we’ve become numb to the pain and we just kind of exist with it, like a prisoner on a life sentence with no chance for parole. Such pains are impossible to forget and seemingly impossible to get past. There is a desire to “get over it,” move on, and no longer allow the past pain to affect our attitude, outlook, and behavior today, but it’s hard. Are you nodding your head with me?

So how do you get over the past? The million dollar question has a pretty simple answer. Simple, but not easy. The first step is to realize what you’re REALLY trying to accomplish. What does it REALLY mean to get over the past?

You can’t change what happened. There’s no time machine that can send you back to relive the past. What’s done is done.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that your situation is hopeless. What I’m saying is that you first have to be clear about what you can and cannot change. You CAN get over your past (as I’ll explain). But you can NOT change events that already occurred.

The good news is that you don’t have to change the past in order to get over it. What you have to change is the MEANING of the past.

Think for a moment. Was there ever a time in your life when something horrible happened and you thought, “Why is this happening to me?” But then a few years later you looked back and you could answer that question. In retrospect, you understood why it happened. At first, it seemed like the world was caving in. Later, it all made sense.

In fact, very often, we eventually realize that bad times are part of a process that leads to something good!

It’s the events that FOLLOW bad times that determine the ultimate meaning of those times. In other words, it’s your future that determines your past; not the other way around. And since YOU are in charge of your future, then YOU determine the meaning of your past.

It’s interesting to think about this in the context of an age-old question: Do we have free choice or is everything predetermined? The answer is YES. Everything is predetermined AND we have free choice.

It’s like when you play a card game. You get dealt a hand. And you have no control over the cards you get dealt. It’s predetermined.

But you also get to play that hand. You also have free choice.

Ultimately, it’s the COMBINATION of the hand you’re dealt and the way you play it that determines the outcome. And it’s the outcome that shapes your view of the original hand you were dealt.

God deals you a hand. There’s nothing you can do to change that. But you get to play that hand. You get to respond to the events of your life. And it’s your response, your actions in the future, which determine the meaning of the events in your past.

So how do you get over the past? You don’t have to get over the past. The past is over! What’s important is the MEANING the past has for you NOW. And the MEANING of your past is determined by your actions in the future.

The people who have the best lives/ marriages/ relationships are people who went through hell in some way. They “got over” their past because they used it as a catalyst to IMPROVE their situation. In other words, the painful events inspired them to change themselves.

If you make the right moves, you will come to view certain events as birth pains that led to a new AND IMPROVED life/ marriage/ relationship. THAT’S how you “get over” the past.

It’s strange how life works sometimes, but if you play your hand right, your hurts become part of your healing. And, in fact, when it comes to relationships, it’s usually bad times that awaken people to search for new ways.

Thanks to Mort Fertel for doing the heavy lifting on this article. I’m grateful for his insight on the illustration about the cards we are dealt.

Fortitude, Personal Development, Uncategorized

Quit To Win – Part 2

What follows is Part 2 in the I Quit series. If you missed Part 1, you can read it HERE.

Instead of striving so hard to never quit, never give up, and knock myself out to get what I believe I want, maybe I should just quit. Yeah, that’s right. Sometimes you need to quit to win at life. I’ll explain.

Striving to be a better human and quitting are two sides of the same coin. Certainly there are things we can and must do to live to our full potential, so don’t get me wrong. Self-control, self-discipline, loving well, doing what is right even when it’s hard, are all very necessary beliefs/ behaviors/ habits we need to work on. But there are also many things we must quit if we are to be the person God has made us to be and to live with the inner peace, joy, and fulfillment we all seek.

Following is another example of something to quit that has the power to make the world a better place. This is me preaching to myself. I hope this helps you as well.

I quit the attitude of entitlement

In our culture of the “easy button” with everything made to be fast, easy, convenient, and cheap, it seems we must battle like never before to avoid an attitude of entitlement. No one wants to admit they are entitled, but we behave as though we are. We are getting soft. We expect things to go our way, for others to be agreeable to us, and that somehow life owes us – someone owes us anyway. I deserve, I need, gimme, gimme, gimme.

Well, guess what? Life is hard. The longer I travel this journey of life, the more I realize that believing I deserve anything, or that life should be easier, or that others should think and behave the way I want them to, is counterproductive and foolish. The truth is I’m responsible for my life, which means I’m also to blame for the frustrations I live with. Even when things go “bad” – and they surely will – I still have control over how I choose to respond.

Brief rabbit trail here. Have you ever thought about the root of most of your frustrations? If you are honest with yourself, it is very likely because in that moment, in that situation, you are not getting what you want. Let’s practice exercising self-control and emotional intelligence to realize that we are not entitled to our desires and preferences all the time. I digress.

Entitlement is a disease and it’s highly contagious. I know people sick with this attitude of entitlement and they are not fun to be around. They are highly selfish, often complaining, rarely happy, and unaware of their sickness. Further, such people want to spread their sickness with anyone close enough to hear them.  Entitlement can also be caught without personal contact by way of social media, TV, movies, books, news, etc. I’m telling you, the sickness of entitlement is dangerous.

What is the remedy? Personal responsibility, plain and simple. When I fully own my choices (and the consequences of my choices), I have greatly increased control over what I get in life than the person ill with entitlement. When I own my mistakes, learn from them, and forgive myself for them, I grow and become a better human. Blaming others destroys the growth opportunity that mistakes and failures provide. The benefits of personal responsibility make living with the sickness of entitlement seem especially lame, so I quit my attitude of entitlement by pursuing increased personal responsibility in every area of my life.

Fortitude, Personal Development

My 2020 Book List

I’ll not waste precious ink to tell you how important it is to read. You already know that feeding your mind positive inputs is key to your healthy living journey. If you read a book that knocked your socks off this year, I’d like to hear about it.

Made For His Pleasure – Alistair Begg

To be honest, this was not my favorite book, but maybe that’s because I wasn’t ready for the central message. I firmly believe we can only receive instruction or be convicted to the point of making change in our life when we are ready for it. God is good like that. This book challenges our human nature to live for self and look for pleasure in all the wrong places when it is living fully for God and his purposes that answers our deepest needs. Thought provoking, convicting, and entertaining when you read it in Alistair’s Irish accent.

Leadership & Self-deception- Arbinger Institute

I first read this book about 10 years ago as an assignment for work. It blows your mind to realize that the reason for most of our problems in life are our own fault. We are all deceived, seeing the world and other people from a narrow and skewed perspective that sabotages our relationships and personal productivity. Written in a story format, it’s engaging and thought provoking. I often put the book down mid-paragraph to think about what just happened and how spot on it is to my own experience. Read this.

The Self-Propelled Island – Jules Verne

A diversion into classic fiction, which I don’t do very often. Verne has many famous stories like Journey to the Center of the Earth and Around the World in 80 Days, so I took a chance on a lesser known story he wrote 100 years ago. His vision of technology is fascinating and the way he describes the adventures in the middle of the ocean makes you believe you were actually there. It’s pretty fun.

Kingdom Man – Tony Evans

As chaplain for the Dallas Cowboys, Tony Evans has endorsements from NFL stars like Tony Romo, Tony Dungy, Jon Kitna, and Joe Gibbs for this amazing playbook for life. He tells it like it is, and sometimes it hits you like a linebacker. This is a valuable resource worth reading on the regular to give men the encouragement and inspiration to live, lead, and love in ways that will change our corner of the world.

7 Habits of Highly Effective People- Stephen R. Covey

Everyone needs to read this book. Period. It’s a little wordy in spots, but the principles discussed here are timeless. I’ve written about it before, and even had my article on the 7 Habits published in a magazine. This is another book that needs to be in regular rotation for anyone who strives to be their best – no matter your role.

The Purpose Driven Life – Rick Warren

This is the most impactful book I read this year. Like some of my other books, this one should be in regular rotation. It is so rich with insight taken directly from the best instruction manual for life – the Bible. There are over 1,000 Bible verses referenced in this book which is broken down into 40 short chapters. While it could be read in a “40 Days of Purpose Challenge,” I took much longer as the concepts to absorb were more than I can manage in one day. Warren doesn’t mince words, but rather it seems as if every word has importance. I’ve nearly highlighted the whole thing! Do yourself and your loved ones a favor and read this book.

Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell

My 11th grader was assigned this book for summer reading in prep for his AP English class. I thought I’d read it with him to give us something else to talk about. Glad I did. It’s a good one. Entertaining and thought provoking about what successful people look like. It’s not at all what you think. His observations and scientific research turn what we thought we knew about what makes a person successful on its head. Just when you thought all you had to do was try harder and maybe you’ll get lucky…

Believe Become Be – Robert Noland

What we believe about ourselves is important. If you are like me, or at all human, it’s likely you believe some lies about yourself. These lies are holding us back from being all we were made to be. Noland helps us unravel some of these lies and shows us the truth about who we are and who we are meant to be.

Daring Greatly – Brene Brown

Daring greatly is to be vulnerable. To let your guard down and not be so afraid of what we think other people believe about us. To be your authentic self, to be brave, take a chance, and see what is on the other side of going for it. It’s a call for those of us who are hiding behind walls of fear and doubt to say, “I am enough, and I am tired of being imprisoned by the lies I tell myself.” Brown compels us to believe that the safety we perceive behind our walls is no safety at all, but rather a prison keeping us from being all we were meant to be. How liberating it would be if we lived with even just a wee bit of raw vulnerability. We might find some incredible blessing. I recommend this book for teens and up.

The Road Less Traveled – M. Scott Peck, MD

An old friend recommended this book to me many years ago. This is my 3rd time through it. It’s as deep and heavy as you are ready to receive the message Dr. Peck has about how to live and love well. Like other books in my list this year, there is strong emphasis on personal responsibility and the power of our choices. Choosing well and owning our life is hard. So hard at times that it’s easy to see why most people won’t travel this road. But since we want to live life to the full and be our very best, we will choose the road less traveled. This book shows you how.

Compound Effect – Darren Hardy

The message in this little book is simple. Doing the simple and mundane things (healthy habits, personal/ professional productivity habits, etc.) consistently over time will compound results no matter the venture. The trouble is that we give up too early, or we see no point in doing the mundane. Hardy shares stories and illustrations that are easily relatable to help inspire us to be patient and stick with it. I have begun to see some fruit to some simple and mundane newer habits I’ve adopted – things I’ve tried before but given up too early. The compound effect is real.

Jesus is___. – Judah Smith

This is among the most impactful books I’ve ever read. My 3rd time around, and I still find new things to knock my socks off. The writing style is very conversational as it seems like Pastor Judah is in the room talking directly to me. He brings Jesus to life in unconventional ways, using familiar Bible stories and looking at them from a unique perspective. Who is Jesus? You fill in the blank for yourself, but not until you read this book.

Fortitude

Quit To Win

The common messages we hear all the time when it comes to winning at life include, “Never quit,” and “Don’t give up.” It’s the American way, right? Work hard. Do more. Be stronger, smarter, more wealthy, more fit. The pressure to measure up is intense, and the busyness such winning demands is exhausting. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I wonder if it’s really worth it. 

So what should I do?

One idea has occurred to me recently that I’ll share with you here. Instead of striving so hard to never quit, never give up, and knock myself out to get what I believe I want, maybe I should just quit. Yeah, that’s right. Sometimes you need to quit to win at life. I’ll explain.

Striving to be a better human and quitting are two sides of the same coin. Certainly there are things we can and must do to live to our full potential, so don’t get me wrong. Self-control, self-discipline, loving well, doing what is right even when it’s hard, are all very necessary beliefs/ behaviors/ habits we need to work on. But there are also many things we must quit if we are to be the person God has made us to be and to live with the inner peace, joy, and fulfillment we all seek.

Following are some examples of things to quit with some personal examples. This is me preaching to myself. I hope this helps you as well. I have a list of things to quit, so I’ll share them a few at a time over several articles in what I’ll call the “I Quit” Series.

I quit believing the lies I tell myself

You know the little voice in your head that tells you all sorts of negative things about yourself. This voice tells me that I’m not good enough, I’m unlovable, I’m a failure, I’m stupid, I’m ugly, etc. Everyone has this voice and it knows what buttons to push to make us feel inadequate, afraid, lost, depressed, worried, sad, etc. The truth is that it’s easy to let the world knock us down and believe these lies. We live in a world of brutal comparison, and we are very often our own worst critic. At least I am mine. So while I realize this is a battle to be fought daily, I must still choose to quit believing these lies.

How? Well, for the Christian, it starts with knowing and believing who God says I am. The Bible is filled with encouragement and affirmation about how God sees me, how he loves me, and how he has great plans for me that are in stark contrast with the messages I get from the media, popular culture, or toxic people I interact with. My solution is to replace the negative voice in my head with positive inputs I read in the Bible and other trusted resources. I choose to listen to music with positive and encouraging messages and sing along when I feel attacked. I will reach out to a friend to lift me up when I’m down. I will take care of myself with healthy food, exercise, and rest because body and mind are intimately connected. I’m in control of my response when the voice condemns me. I’m choosing to quit believing the lies I tell myself.

I quit worrying about what others think of me

News Flash: People don’t think of me as much as I think they do. That’s right. People are not judging me as harshly as I judge myself. They simply don’t care. They don’t have capacity to care what I am doing because they have their own worries. I know this because I do it myself.

Honestly, do you really care what someone is doing or what they look like in public? In most cases, when you screw up, dress funny, behave oddly, etc., especially in public, most everyone else is just thinking, “Meh.”

But what about the people I am closest to? To a greater degree, I care what they think of me, and they probably have more opinions about me. (Hello, awkward family gatherings.) But even with loved ones, I’m likely to have a harsher perception of what they think of me than they actually do. And even if a loved one doesn’t think much of me, it doesn’t mean that is who I am. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I still get to choose if I agree with it. So I’m going to take back the power I gave to others to shape my value and identity and quit worrying about what others think of me. I’m going to just be me in the very best way possible. Do my best and forget the rest.

I quit doing what I’ve always done that hasn’t worked

A person needs to be a bit introspective to deal with this one. It’s not easy. We all have our blind spots, where we don’t even recognize that we are believing and behaving in self destructive ways. With a little sober self-assessment, I’m certain everyone can identify something in their life that looks a lot like insanity. Really Chad? Yep. Of course we know the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. In a way, this is another way to define a bad habit. The bad habit can be a behavior, attitude, or even a mindset about something. We all have bad habits, right? Something we need to quit in order to be our best? Something bad we keep doing but expect a good result? Of course we do. That’s a driving force behind me writing this series. I’ve identified several bad habits, things I need to quit, and I’m confessing them here. What about you?

I want different results. I know the only one holding me back is me. I know that growth requires resistance and that is uncomfortable. I know that if nothing changes, nothing changes. So I’m going to stop being insane and pick off these bad habits slowly and surely, one at a time.