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.

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

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.

faith, Fortitude, Personal Development

We Are All Addicts

Everyone is addicted to something. It’s human nature. That’s right. You are an addict. I am an addict.

Popular cultural defines an addict as someone addicted to illegal drugs or alcohol. But an addict is simply someone who is unable to stop some harmful or negative behavior.

Whoa.

Not only does that cover everything from gambling to porn, but also gossip/ drama, food, shopping, sex, TV/ gaming, risky behavior (aka adrenaline junkie), physical appearance/ vanity, internet & social media, your phone, etc. There is also addiction to comfort, control, safety, power, self-righteousness, self-loathing, the list goes on. You can fill in the blank with any negative behavior. It’s really anything that you “must have/ be/ do” so much that if something gets in the way, you will become upset and frustrated. What is the draw for you to engage in any of these activities or behaviors? What “need” does it seem to fill for you?

Maybe you identify some of the items above as being part of your life, but you don’t believe you are actually addicted to it, or you could stop if you wanted to. So what’s the big deal? Geez Chad, leave me alone already!

The big deal is that if you can muster the self-awareness that your behavior includes some addictions that are not healthy, you are already on the way to overcoming those addictions and being the person you were made to be. Free. Free to love, give, serve. Free to have, be, and do what really satisfies. Free from the slavery your addiction held you in. Free to be your very best self – for yourself and those you care about most. And maybe calling your “thing” an addiction may inspire action to change, because you don’t like to be called an addict, right?

In my personal experience, I realized something about my “things,” my addictions, that help me to see them for what they really are. One is feeling like I have to justify or defend my behavior – even if only to myself. Saying to myself things like, “What’s the big deal?” or “It’s not that bad.” or “Others do much worse than me.” If I need to justify (even to myself) that what I’m doing is fine or “not that bad,” then that’s a red flag to dig a little deeper into my motives. Time to ask some questions: What is the draw to engage in any of these activities or behaviors? What “need” does it seem to fill? Is this “thing” what I really want to be about- is it REALLY that important to me? Why?

The second is the truth that people spend the most time, energy, and money on the things that matter the most to them. In addiction, we find hypocrisy. What we SAY is the most important to us is often not supported by how we spend our time and energy. I don’t want to be a hypocrite, so I take a hard look in the mirror and reevaluate myself. Regularly.

I promise that if you take a sober self-assessment you can identify some negative behavior in your life that you really struggle with. I’m here to tell you that you (and I) have an addiction that keeps us from being our very best and we can beat it. But how?

There is a simple process to follow, outlined below. Simple, but not easy.

1. Decide

“I can’t tolerate it anymore.” Whatever is the “thing,” you’ve finally come to the end of your rope. It’s not serving you anymore, but rather enslaving you. You will never slay your addiction without this deep conviction that enough is enough. Find your personal compelling reason WHY you can’t tolerate it anymore and lean into it when temptation strikes.

2. Describe & Identify

This is about the trigger. The emotions or circumstances that precede the behavior or activity. It’s usually some form of stressor. For example, you realize that you go to the pantry for comfort when something stressful happens and you overeat junk food to cope. Name your trigger.

3. Make Advanced Decision

This is where it gets real. Ultimately you need to choose your next move the next time the trigger hits. It’s not enough to say, “NO, I won’t go to the pantry when I’m stressed.” Try replacing the action of eating with another positive action, such as going for a walk, or munching on some baby carrots. Having decided your course of action BEFORE the trigger strikes makes it way easier to choose well in the heat of the battle. Best option ever: PRAY! Tell God you are triggered and you need his help to choose well. God loves to hear such prayers, and will be happy to help you if you will trust him to do so.

4. New Reward

Recognize the many benefits of your good choice. You become closer to God having trusted him for help. You made another key step towards your healthy habit, which boosts esteem and confidence. You can do it!

Here are some excellent verses to remember about temptation:

Hebrews 2:18 Because he himself (Jesus) suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

I realize this is a heavy topic. Much more can be written for sure. My hope is to have provided a mental exercise for you to consider to help you be your very best. We don’t want to be addicts or hypocrites, so let’s do the hard work to slay our “thing.”

Fortitude, Personal Development

Life Lessons from Rocky

Our family recently watched all 6 Rocky movies. It had been long enough since I’d seen any of them that I forgot much of the story. Of course I remembered Mr. T as Clubber Lang, Apollo Creed, and Ivan Drago, but I totally forgot about Hulk Hogan as Thunderlips along with much of the good story telling about real life. I was surprised at the positive messages in these boxing movies. I don’t care for boxing at all, in fact I think it’s a barbaric sport, but I can’t deny the positive life lessons taught in these movies. Read on for my insights from these movies in hopes that they will encourage you as they do me.

We Are All Overcomers

A central theme in the Rocky stories is heart or fortitude. Fortitude is the mindset that you will not be defeated no matter the obstacle, sacrifice, suffering, and pain. The body will only go as far as the mind will allow it. That’s why I like to say, “Healthy living starts between your ears.” Rocky had his mind right even if his body was never like that of his opponents. He won because of his heart. He would never give up. That’s mental fitness and fortitude.

You and I are not striving to overcome the physical beating a boxer takes, but we all have our personal battles. Maybe it’s defeating a doubt that we can’t do/ be something. Maybe it’s fear that we will fail, or never measure up. Maybe there’s a bad habit we wish we could conquer. Maybe it’s a bitterness or resentment that eats at us. We all have something to overcome. Rocky reminds us that we are overcomers and when our driving force to “win” is stronger than the excuses and obstacles, we can do amazing things. https://youtu.be/D_Vg4uyYwEk

No Regrets

In the 6th movie, Rocky is old and long retired living a quiet life as restaurant owner in Philly. Without spoiling the story, he gets this “itch” to fight again and he can’t shake it. Fighting is what he’d always done. Boxing is what brought him the most joy and satisfaction, how he was known, how he identified himself. Despite his age, there was still a fire in his belly to fight again. He called this fire “stuff in the basement.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Et_Bdct1T0U

It seems strange that he would want to fight again because it really is crazy, but are we any different? I’m not. Life is short, health is not guaranteed, and I believe we all have a secret desire to not have regret. We don’t want to regret NOT doing the thing we always wanted to do, but were too afraid to go for it. We wonder, “Could I have really done X?” Rocky asked this question and he went for it, despite all the odds and obstacles. Despite what other people thought of his goal, Rocky went for it. I believe he is challenging us to do the same. https://youtu.be/KFLgYy2VHV0

What is your “stuff in the basement?” The thing in your heart that kind of eats at you to do, but you keep pushing it back down for all the list of excuses you’ve come up with over the years. Maybe it’s time to “let the beast out.” It doesn’t have to be an audacious physical goal either. Maybe it’s to do your part to restore a broken relationship, or confront a loved one, or to change jobs, or move away. I don’t know what it is, but you do.

Love Fiercely

I was not expecting to learn about marriage and family from Rocky, but it’s in there. Watching Adrian love and support Rocky is convicting and heartwarming at the same time. Man, she loved Rocky fiercely. Despite his flaws, which are many, she was always there to love, encourage, and support her husband. I’m convinced that Rocky would never have won any fights without the knowledge that Adrian was in his corner no matter what.

They yelled at each other. https://youtu.be/SDe3qE_aw8Q They argued. Mostly Adrian was right. But they reconciled quickly and let love rule their relationship. It’s beautiful. I love this quote:

“Adrian has gaps, I have gaps, but together…no gaps.”

Rocky Balboa

He knew he needed Adrian and he loved her deeply, cared for her, and always wanted the best for her no matter what. Marriage is meant to help complete the individual through mutual sacrificial loving. It’s how God designed us. Flawed as they are, Rocky and Adrian demonstrate this love well.

Family is important to Rocky and Adrian. He often talked about “home team” particularly with his son in Rocky V. When Rocky lost sight of his “home team,” Adrian was there to draw him back and the family was strengthened for it. Rocky even loved Paulie, Adrian’s drunken loser brother by forgiving him often when Paulie treated him or Adrian poorly https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fp80snqeI3w, and even when he squandered their fortune. Because Paulie was family, Rocky did all he could to love him despite his flaws and failures. A great example for us all.

Work Works

In all the movies, Rocky’s training plan was old school, fundamental, blood, sweat, and tears hard work. He didn’t have the fancy facilities or equipment, latest techniques or technology, or cutting edge gurus on his team. He didn’t take steroids or chemical supplements to improve his strength or stamina. The guy just worked. Hard. The Russian Drago in Rocky IV had all the stuff and he still lost.

I can’t get past this illustration applying to today’s multi-billion dollar health and fitness industry. All the gimmicks and gizmos, machines, pills, and chemical concoctions that promise to make you look like a superhero with minimal time and effort. Baloney. What really works is work. Doing the hard work consistently over time and having a team around you to support, care, encourage you along the way. Dang, sound a lot like Team Quadzilla. Just sayin’.

So there you have it: My take on the Rocky series and some of what we can learn about winning at life. What life lessons from Rocky resonate with you?