The Upside of Owning Up

Bum Phillips, former head coach of the Saints and the Oilers, once said, “You’re not a failure until you start blaming someone else.”

This has been the bane of the human race since the beginning: Eve blamed the serpent for her disobedience. In turn, Adam blamed Eve … and he didn’t stop there: He also suggested that God was partly to blame, since bringing Eve on board was his idea in the first place.

Like Solomon said…

A man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the Lord. (Proverbs 19:3)

As long as we’re saying, “Yeah, maybe I did it, but it’s not my fault,” we exclude ourselves from any possibility of a comeback, any possibility of recovery.

We are, in fact, setting ourselves up for it to happen all over again.

Overcoming any kind of failure begins when we’re ready to say, “Today I take ownership of my life: what I think, what I say, what I do. I can’t control everything that happens, but I can control what I do next.”

Placing blame is easy; owning up never is. But it’s the only path to victory.

Lessons Learned the Easier Way

Today’s memo is an adapted version of a fable by Aesop.

he Lion, the Fox, and the Donkey went hunting together one afternoon, catching a large quantity of game. As they prepared to go their separate ways, the Lion asked the Donkey to divide the spoils.

The Donkey sorted everything into three piles, taking extra care to give everyone an equal share.

When the Lion looked at the three evenly distributed stacks, he decided he didn’t like what he saw. So he pounced on the Donkey, killing him in an instant, and tossed him on top of his pile.

Then he turned to Fox and said, “Divide the spoils.”

The Fox quickly put everything in one huge pile. Then he cautiously took for himself the carcass of a single small crow, and slowly backed away.

“Very good,” said the Lion. “But I must ask, where did you learn how to divide things so evenly?”

The Fox said, “It’s something I picked up from the Donkey.”

* * * * *

It’s one thing to learn from experience, from your own mistakes. It’s quite another to be able learn from the mistakes of others. The first is somewhat uncommon; the second is extremely rare.

Many of the stories of the Old Testament serve this purpose: They offer a chance to learn life’s most important lessons, without having to personally endure the inevitable hard knocks that come with experience.

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction…(1 Corinthians 10:11)

May we learn to learn from the example of others.

Our biggest and boldest prayers.

Our Biggest and Boldest Prayers

I remember hearing someone say in a sermon (actually, it might have been a testimony), “If I had realized all along that my prayers would be answered, I would have prayed better prayers.”

He was being facetious, a little. But there is also some truth to what he said.

We have a tendency to pray safe prayers, small prayers, never presuming to ask for too much. And we’re careful to include the qualifier, “If it be thy will,” just in case nothing happens.

Of course, praying within the boundaries of God’s will is a fundamental element of prayer; we know this. [1 John 5:14]

Our problem, however, is that we often pray for less than God’s will, with something less than an attitude of faith.

We pray for a cabin in the corner of Glory Land, while God is offering us a mansion of our very own.

We ask for the ability to accept defeat, so to speak, while God has promised us victory.

We’re asking for the courage to cope when he is ready to give us the power to overcome.

God has promised us great things. We often respond by asking for small things.

What if we were to zero in on one or two requests that we know beyond a shadow of a doubt are surely part of God’s perfect will for our lives — and what if made these areas a target of our biggest and boldest prayers of faith? Things such as: Holiness. Victory. Joy. Courage. Motivation. Patience. Purpose. Power. Self-Control. And so on.

These are the birth-right of every believer. If they’re lacking in any of our lives, there is arguably only one reason:

You do not have because you do not ask. (James 4:2)

So let’s be sure to ask.

This is our challenge: Pray within the boundaries of God’s perfect will — and keep in mind those are huge boundaries.

And then pray big and bold prayers.

And pray like you know your prayers will be answered.

Making First Things First

Dr. Gerald Bell is the co-author of the best-selling The Carolina Way with legendary basketball coach Dean Smith. He’s also the founder of the Bell Leadership Institute.

Several years ago, Dr. Bell surveyed 4000 retired business executives, with an average age of seventy, asking one key question: If you could live your over again, what would you do differently?

The number one answer:

“I should have taken charge of my life and set my goals earlier.”

The other top answers included:

– Taken better care of my health.
– Managed money better.
– Spent more time with family.
– Spent more time on personal development.

Few of us are at the beginning of our career; some of us have already rounded third. But it’s not too late to make your life about the things that matter most.

Anyone who’s willing can take charge of their life today, even if there’s not much as time left on the clock as one would like.

Anyone who’s willing can take charge of their health today, even if it’s more of an uphill climb than it once was.

Anyone who’s willing can begin making themselves available to their closest friends and family today, even if the relationship has faced hurdles in the past.

And so on.

For those still in the early stages of their career, these five values are certainly good guidelines to follow.

For those who are in the later stages of the journey, they’re still good to go by.

It’s never too late to make first things first.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!

Not the Final Chapter

In February 2013 NFL wide receiver Cris Carter was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame — an honor well deserved. He had a great career.

However, it didn’t look like he was headed in that direction after his first few seasons in Philadelphia.

Carter was a gifted athlete, but his early career suffered because of off-the-field issues, mainly related to drug abuse.

After being cut by the Eagles, he was picked up by the Vikings. It was around this time that Cris got serious about following Christ.

In Minnesota, he made the most of his second chance. He began the process of turning things around personally and professionally.

And what a turn-around it was: He went on to play in eight consecutive Pro-Bowls, and broke several receiving records, becoming one of only a handful of receivers with more than one thousand career receptions.

In an interview a few days before his Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Cris had this to say:

“I wish I had done everything right. I have regrets. And when you’ve got a dark chapter in your life, people will try to make that the final chapter in your life. But it doesn’t have to be.

“For me, when it got the darkest, I said ‘this is not going to be the end of my book.’ I was able to start making decisions and start doing the right things, and one thing happened after another…”

YOUR SECOND CHANCE

Some days it may appear that you’re at the end of your book, as if the way things are today is the way things will always be.

Don’t believe it. There are chapters in your life yet to be written.

Even today you can begin making decisions to change the outcome of your story.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)


Taken from Steve’s book It’s All in the Dailies.
Cris Carter HOF photograph by Eric Daniel Drost.

The Never Again List

Every one I know has had to celebrate Christmas this year in a modified manner. People didn’t travel. Families didn’t get together. Fewer presents were passed around. (One young man told me, “This year my family decided we could only afford to draw each other pictures and write each other poems.”)

That’s how it was in 2020.

I’m sure we’ve all taken a ‘count your blessings‘ approach to the season, making the best of it, being thankful for what we have, rather than focusing on what’s been left out.

This is a good idea, of course, but I would also suggest that we resolve in the coming year to adopt a new attitude: Never Again.

As in:

Never Again will I take for granted the things that were missed or the things that were lost this year.

This year I know people who are unemployed. Others have lost their business. They will never again take a job for granted, and will likely never again complain about having to work for a paycheck, even when the conditions are less than perfect.

This year I know some who are without a home. Never again will they take for granted having four walls to call their own.

This year I know some who are spending this Christmas by themselves, without their kids and grandkids, for the first time in decades. They will never again take for granted a family get together.

We have all survived — maybe even taken in stride — the many required adjustments this season. That’s what most people do, especially those whose lives are built on a foundation of faith.

But it’s OK to feel the absence of that which has been lost this year.

And now is a good time to decide: Never again will I overlook even the smallest of God’s many blessings in my life. When God restores what was lacking this year, as he most certainly will, I will take notice, I will give him thanks, and I will treasure the gift of his goodness.

Cry out, “Save us, God our Savior; gather us and deliver us from the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, and glory in your praise.” (1 Chronicles 16:35)

Merry Christmas!

The Picture Perfect Promise of Christmas

I love Christmas cards. Especially the traditional kind.

Like a snow covered landscape, with a cozy cottage nestled in the woods. In the window you see the decorated tree. The smoke rising from the chimney tells you there’s a fire inside. You can almost feel the warmth; you can almost smell the gingerbread and pumpkin pie.

Or the scene with the rosy-cheeked carolers gathered on the front steps of a neighbor’s home. You can imagine how their angelic voices would fill the crisp winter air as they sing…

Silent night, holy night.
All is calm, all is bright…

When I see pictures such as these, I think: What a beautiful world to live in.

But that’s not the world where many find themselves today. Instead of peace and tranquility, they’re surrounded by heartache and pain, even darkness and despair. For many, the dream drawn on canvas seems forever out of reach.

While we hope for a world that we cannot create, we continue to live in a world we cannot escape.

This is why we need Jesus.

He came to change that which we cannot change for ourselves. He came to turn something ugly into something beautiful. He came to…

…comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:2-3)

Oh, how I love to read these words.

Maybe today you see only ashes — but there is a crown of beauty waiting for you. The oil of gladness. A garment of praise.

The most idyllic scene you can imagine, he came to make real. Not just for a moment, captured in time, but for all eternity.

Merry Christmas!

Friends & Health & Happiness

In The Pursuit of Happiness, David Myers cites research demonstrating that once creature comforts are in place, there is a very weak link between income and happiness.

Neither do citizens of the wealthiest nations experience more happiness than those in developing countries.

In fact, rates of depression and alcoholism have increased in the United States since World War II, in spite of our having experienced unprecedented economic growth.

Money just can’t guarantee happiness.

However, a good circle of friends pretty much does guarantee happiness.

According to a survey from the National Opinion Research Center, the more friends you have, the happier you are.

Other studies show that close relationships promote health.

Author Robert Putnam says, “Social isolation is as big a risk factor for death as smoking. Your chances of dying in the next 12 months are halved by joining a group. By far, the biggest component of happiness is how connected you are.”

It’s been said, “Money is like a glove. Friendship is like your hand. One is useful, the other essential.”

The lesson here is: Make Friends. As the cliché goes, it will add years to your life and life to your years.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
(Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

The Top of the Fence Post

Alex Haley, author of Roots, had a picture on his office wall of a turtle sitting on a fence post.

He said the picture was there to remind him of an important lesson: If you see a turtle on a fence post, you know he had some help getting there.

Haley said, “Every time I’m tempted to think, ‘Aren’t I marvelous? Look at all I’ve accomplished!’ I look at that picture and remember how this turtle — me — got up on that post.”

(By the way, the turtle-on-the-post illustration has been spun countless ways; I like Haley’s the best.)

This is a good time of the year to take the time to say thank you to the ones — and, specifically, the One — who helped you make it to the top of the post.

Obviously, we begin by giving thanks to the Father for all that he has done.

But let’s not forget also to say thanks to those who play a part in bringing his goodness our way.

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now… (Philippians 1:3-5)

Is there someone to whom you can say ‘thank you’ today?

The Science of Happiness

Good morning, friends. In the past few weeks I have posted a few memos about happiness, for a good reason: There are many who think that their happiness in life — especially now — is determined by elements beyond their control.

This isn’t the case. An individual’s level of happiness is almost entirely up to them.

True, some factors can make happiness a bit of a challenge at times, but it’s never beyond our reach.

According to a recent CNET article, the idea that happiness is built in and can’t be changed is a misconception. It really is up to you, and your willingness to tend to five key areas:

• Build meaningful relationships with friends and family.
• Demonstrate kindness toward others.
• Show compassion for yourself and others.
• Express gratitude.
• Focus on the present moment, rather than obsessing about the past or fretting over the future.

Emiliana Simon-Thomas, who teaches a course called The Science of Happiness at UC Berkeley, says that happiness doesn’t mean you feel pure joy and cheerfulness every hour of every day.

She says, “People who pursue happiness in that sort of belief system end up being less happy than people who define happiness in a more overarching, quality-of-life way.”

Happiness means accepting negative experiences and having the skills to deal with them as you continue moving forward.

What some might call happiness, the Bible calls joy. It’s more than a good feeling caused by a good moment. It’s deep enough to endure difficult days.

It’s a choice that we make, again and again.

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)

The Secret to Happiness

What is the secret to happiness? 

The list of nominees is the same for almost everyone: income, health, family, success.

Results of a Harvard study, however, indicate that the answer is none of the above.

What is it, then?

Volunteering to help others. Another way to say it: Serving.

Research conducted by Dr. Eric Kim concludes that people over the age of 50 who volunteer to help others for at least 2 hours a week have a higher sense of well-being than those who don’t.

And it goes beyond a sense of well-being. Helping others is a catalyst toward other lifestyle benefits, such as lower risk of death, a lesser chance of health-related complications, and increased physical activity.

Dr. Kim says that serving others doesn’t just strengthen communities, it also “enriches our own lives by strengthening our bonds to others, helping us feel a sense of purpose and well-being, and protecting us from feelings of loneliness, depression, and hopelessness.”

Maybe this is one reason why Jesus said that it is more blessed to give than receive: Your gift of service to others come back your way, in full measure, even running over. [Acts 20:35, Luke 6:38]

In the words of King Solomon…

Those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed. (Proverbs 11:25)

Ideas Waiting to be Recognized

In last week’s memo I talked about the “gratitude ball” that Duke University used for motivation during their NCAA championship run in 2015.

The idea was implemented by head coach, Mike Krzyzewski.

It’s important to note, however, that the idea didn’t start with him. It came from the associate head coach, Jeff Capel.

Krzyzewski realized right away it would be an effective motivational strategy, so he grabbed hold of the suggestion and made the most of it.

I like everything about the way Krzyzewski handled this.

First, he fostered a leadership environment where assistants and associates felt free to share their ideas.

Second, he recognized a good idea when he heard it, and he was willing to put it to work — even though it wasn’t his idea.

Third, he made it a point to give Capel the credit he deserved.

This is how effective leaders do it.

The simple truth is, if every workable idea has to come from you and you alone, your leadership efforts will always want for workable ideas.

But if you’re willing to listen, and willing to take a risk on someone else’s suggestion, and wiling to give credit when it credit is due, the team you lead will reap the rewards.

There are brilliant ideas all around you, ready to be recognized, waiting to be acted upon. Could there be one nearby that you have overlooked?