Top Ten Blog Posts of All Time (So Far)

Blog HeaderI’ve been blogging since 2006. In those years I’ve published just short of 3,000 posts. My blog has basically followed three main themes:

  1. General Posts about my life, what I’ve been up to, and etc.
  2. Chapter-a-Day devotional posts. I’ve blogged through the entire Bible once and have blogged through the entire New Testament twice.
  3. Theatre posts about my experiences in the art form I love.

Below I’ve listed my top ten posts in each of these themes, ranked by the number of “hits” or “views” for each post. I found it fascinating to see what posts have received the most traffic.

General
Speaking of Changes in Life
Top Five Things Wrong with “The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug”
Tom’s 30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 24
Looney Tunes Boat: Lake of the Ozarks Shootout
Day 5: List Things That Irritate You About the Same/Opposite Sex
Day 2: How Have You Changed in the Past Two Years?
Three Indelible Life Lessons from the Game of Baseball
Striking a Chord: When a Blog Post Goes Viral
Tom Vander Well Meet Tom Vanderwell
Day 3: What Kind of Person Attracts You?

Chapter-a-Day
Getting Away from Crazymakers
Art Heals (Continued)
Chapter-a-Day Proverbs 10
Art and Progression of Sexual Intimacy
Chapter-a-Day Proverbs 11
The Curse of Being Religious
Here I Am: Did You Call Me? (My Story)
Abraham, Typology, and the Tolkien Geek
10 Ways I Tried NOT to Exasperate My Children
An Old Concept We Still Don’t Get

Theatre
10 Ways Being a Theatre Major Prepared Me for Success
Ham Buns and Potato Salad
Preparing for a Role: How Do You Memorize All Those Lines?
Preparing for a Role: The Rehearsal Process
Theatre Majors Unite!
Theatre is Ultimate Fitness for Your Brain
Preparing for a Role: Digging Into Character
Keeping Focus When Siri Joins You on Stage
Preparing for a Role: The First Rehearsal
Preparing for a Role: Digging Into the Past

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Contrasts in Corruption

Jan_Luyken's_Jesus_21._Zacchaeus._Phillip_Medhurst_Collection

A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.

When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” Luke 19:2, 45-46 (NIV)

In Jesus’ day corruption was everywhere. I realized as I read this morning that today’s chapter is bookended with a fascinating parallel. It begins with the story of Zacchaeus.

Zac was a “chief tax collector.” In the days of Roman occupation, the empire broke up territory into tax regions. The tax collectors were locals who knew their neighborhoods, local businessmen, and had first hand knowledge of where the local money was. Tax collectors had a base amount of tax that the Roman Empire demanded they raise and send to Rome. There were, no doubt, others in the regional political machine getting their cut, but beyond that the tax collectors could keep whatever they could extort from their own people. The more money they squeezed out of their neighbors the richer they became, and Zac was a very wealthy man. As a “chief tax collector” Zacchaeus would not only have extorted his own share, but he was likely getting a piece of the action from other collectors in his territory. He was a extortionist and racketeer, the first century equivalent of a local mob boss.

Contrast this with the Pharisees and religious leaders who ran the temple. They judged Zacchaeus as a traitor and a sinner and they would look down their ecclesiastical noses at the extortionist. But, the religious leaders were total hypocrites. They had a thriving racket of their own. Good Jews were required to make regular pilgrimages to the temple to make sacrifices and offerings for their sins. Jews regularly came from all over the known world to make their annual sacrifices. To take advantage of this, the Pharisees in charge of the temple minted their own currency and the priests demanded that people buy the supplies for their offerings from the approved temple merchants. Of course, the temple merchants only took temple currency, so people would have to visit the temple “money changers” to exchange their local currency at exorbitant exchange rates. At least with Zac and the money changers there was no pretense about what they did with their money. The high priest and the religious leaders were corrupt extortionists, but they cloaked their racket in pious religiosity. They used God to launder their public image and both social and religious leverage to line their own pockets.

Jesus visits Zacchaeus’ house (creating all sorts of gossip, whispers and condemnation from all the good religious people). By the end of the visit, Zac’s heart and life had changed. He agrees to give away half of his wealth and make amends with all whom he’d cheated (the list was likely to be very long).

Jesus visits the temple. Unlike the sinner, Zac, the Pharisees and religious leaders refuse to repent of their extortion and racketeering. They choose, instead, to plot to have Jesus killed. His teaching, and his driving of the money changers from the temple were a threat to their power and their income. They would have none of it. Jesus needed to be rubbed out.

God’s Message teaches that sin is common to all. Both the tax collectors and the religious leaders were infected with the same appetite for greed and power. There was no difference in their sin, only in their response to Jesus. The traitorous “sinner” Zacchaeus opens his heart to Jesus’ words and turns away from his racketeering ways. The good religious people close their hearts to Jesus’ words and sink to even lower into corruption in order to safeguard their wealth and power.

Today, I’m thinking about the contrast in these two stories. I’m aware some people think of me as a good, religious person like the Pharisees, but I don’t ever want to be like the temple leaders who played a religious game to hide their lust for wealth and power. I’m also aware that some religious people think that I am not being religious enough and I don’t tow the line on their religious standards. I am divorced, I have tats, I don’t hide my love for a pint of good beer and an occasional cigar. And, I hang out with those sketchy artists and theatre types.

I am admittedly not perfect, but I hope that, like Zacchaeus, my heart and soul will always be open to Jesus’ teachings and that my life will always be enthusiastically responsive to Spirit and Truth.

jesus_money

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Persistence Reveals the Heart’s Desire

Source: Joe Corvera via Flickr

Source: Joe Corvera via Flickr

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
Luke 18:1-5 (NIV)

Persistence reveals a persons true desires.

When our girls were small they would often come up with all sorts of crazy requests. They wanted this or that toy. They wanted these lessons or those lessons. They wanted this or that clothing to follow the latest fad fashion. I get it. I was a kid once. I remember trying to convince my parents to send me to a fancy boarding school.

What I’ve observed over time is that the human heart is fickle. We are so easily tossed about like a dinghy on the high seas. The internet and social media has made it even worse. What was trending yesterday is old news today. It’s so easy for our hearts to chase after the mania of the moment.

When a person persistently pursues one thing over a long period of time, I believe that it reveals something about that person’s heart. It may not be the right thing. It may not be the appropriate thing. It does, however, say something about the true nature of that person truly desires.

I learned as a parent that if I simply acknowledged then ignored my children’s crazy requests the vast majority of them simply went away with the changing of the wind. It was when I began hearing the same request repeated over a long period of time that I realized it was something I might want to really consider.

The lesson of Jesus’ parable (above) is pretty clear. A persistent prayer gets acknowledged. This morning I’m thinking about my own requests to God. I am the first to acknowledge that I am not always persistent in my prayers. Perhaps God is waiting for my persistence to find out what I truly desire.

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A Lesson in Gratitude

TenLepers

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:15-19 (NIV)

On the refrigerator at our lake house you’ll find some sweet “thank you” notes left by guests. Taylor and her friends used the place for a weekend last month, and when we arrived we found that all them had signed a hand-made and artistic thank you note (and included a bottle of wine with it). My favorites are always the thank you notes left by children. You know that the child’s note was prompted by a mom or dad who was teaching the kid about manners and gratitude, but they are always so endearing.

I have learned so many spiritual lessons by having our little place at the lake. Wendy and I have always had a sense that our job was to steward the place well, and to be generous with it. God has blessed us and we’re paying it forward. What I didn’t expect was the inherent lesson it has been in generosity and gratitude. It’s been fascinating to see how people treat that which is generously given. Some show their respect and gratitude simply by the visible care with which they treat that which is not theirs. Others not only treat things with respect, but also express their gratitude in creative and tangible ways that warm our hearts. Occasionally, a guest will be neither respectful or grateful. What are you gonna do? People are people.

My joy at receiving simple expressions of thanks has really prompted a lot of personal soul searching in recent years. I look back on my journey and realize that, more often than not, I have been like the nine lepers who accepted Jesus’ generous healing but never thought to go back and simply say, “Thank you.” God’s blessing has been so abundant and I have to admit that I’ve been guilty of being neither respectful nor grateful. I now have a greater sense of what Jesus felt when He asked the thankful cleansed leper, “Where are the other nine?” I get it. I don’t ever want to counted among the nine again.

Today, I’m expressing my gratitude for all the ways God has abundantly blessed me and my family.

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Off They Go, Into the Wild Blue Yonder

Happy 24th Taylor!

From Taylor’s birthday dinner July, 2014 (Photo credit: Tom Vander Well)

Last night Wendy and I took Taylor out for dinner. It our bon-voyage celebration as Taylor prepares to move “across the pond” to Edinburg, Scotland to study for her master’s degree in Arts Management at the University of Edinburg.

It’s been a whirlwind of late with helping Taylor move her worldly possessions into storage and having her jetting around the country to visit friends and family before she heads off for a year. Last night’s dinner was a blessed moment of quiet together. We caught up. We pondered some big life things and laughed about trivial things. We ate more than we should and shared two desserts between the three of us because we won’t have the opportunity to break bread together for a long time.

We dropped Taylor off, got out of the car, and group hugged for a good, long time that I wished had been even longer. I prayed for her and for us. As Wendy and I drove away the tears were streaking down both of our cheeks. We have said bon-voyage to both Taylor and Madison so many times in their young lives, yet I find it gets emotionally harder as time goes on.

C’est la vie.

Madison has her wings!

Madison has her wings!

I’m so proud of our girls, their courage and confidence, their sense of possibility and adventure.

Speaking of adventure: Yesterday as we spent time saying good-bye to Taylor, Madison was somewhere in the skies above us doing her in-flight training as a Flight Attendant for Sky West. She moved to Chicago last week and is based out of O’Hare for now. She’s hoping for a transfer back to Colorado before too long.

At the beginning of the summer Madison called and told me she’d applied on-line to become a flight attendant. It seemed like a random thing in the moment, but within a couple of weeks she was hired and whisked off to Salt Lake City for a month of intense training. Now she’s in Chicago. Wow, what a difference a few months make.

At least the travel perks mean we should see Madison more often in the weeks and months to come! She has already begun to take advantage of the free flights to surprise her grandparents with an impromptu visit. Wendy and I are looking forward to more impromptu visits! And, Madison and I have already begun to contemplate the opportunity to run into one another when I’m traveling on business. I hope the day comes when she’s a flight attendant on one of my flights! ;-)

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A Tale of Two Agents

source: johnjoh via flickr

source: johnjoh via flickr

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. Luke 16:10 (NIV)

I was recently with a client providing call coaching for a team of agents. In these coaching sessions the client’s front-line agents join me in a small conference room with their supervisor. We review the agents service quality data and listen to recorded calls between the agent and their customers that my team had analyzed. On this particular day, I was coaching several young agents I had never coached before, and it was as if one of Jesus’ parables was coming to life before my very eyes.

There were two agents…

The first agent came into the room confident and smiling. She was bright and confident. When I asked how it was going for her with her calls, she immediately recounted what the data had revealed about the strengths and weaknesses of her service delivery. She had obviously been paying attention, had taken responsibility to go out and review the information available to her, and had digested the data and recommendations. When I played her recorded calls and then asked what she thought, she quickly picked out exactly how she could have improved and explained what she would have done differently if she had the chance to do it over again. When the agent left the room I expressed to the supervisor that I was impressed. “She won’t be on my team long,” the supervisor said. “With her attitude and work ethic, she is going to go places quickly in this company, and she should.”

Before the second agent came into the room the supervisor explained that this particular agent always demanded the last session so that she could put it off as long as possible. When the agent came into the room I could tell from her physicality that she was defensive and did not want to be there. I tried to break the tension. I pulled up the service quality data that had shown a recent trend toward improvement and complimented the improvements. “I don’t know why I improved,” the agent mumbled, “I haven’t done anything differently.” We listened to calls together and when given the opportunity to self-critique the agent simply responded with “it sounded pretty good to me.” In one call, the agent responded to a customer’s question with “I don’t know anything about that” despite the fact that the agent clearly knew the answer. When asked why she didn’t answer the question the agent shrugged and said, “Yeah, I probably should have. I don’t know. I just didn’t.” After the session was over, the supervisor looked at his watch to see how much time was left in the agent’s shift, explaining “She won’t get anything else done today. She watches the clock for the last hour of the day so she can be out the door as soon as the second hand hits twelve.”

I thought of these two agents when I read Jesus’ words this morning. I have observed countless times over the years that the difference between successful people and those stagnate in their careers is usually a small handful of things done faithfully and done well.

Here are seven qualities I’ve consistently observed in those who succeed:

  • Showing up early (or at least being at your post and working on time)
  • Doing the job faithfully
  • Dealing with people honestly
  • Approaching things positively
  • Handling yourself professionally
  • Keeping productive and busy in slow times
  • Going the extra mile without being asked/required

 “If you are faithful with a few things,” Jesus said, “You will be put in charge of many things.”

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The Prodigal’s Lesson for Parents

Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 166...

Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1662–1669 (Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So [the prodigal son] got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
Luke 15:20 (NIV)

The struggle of parental control and rebellious children is as old as humanity itself and common to even the best of families. The particulars vary as well as the severity, but the path of fierce (and often foolish) independence is well trod by masses of young people escaping the tight grip of smothering (and often foolish) control.

It was while I was a young man working with youth that I first observed the fact that the prodigal’s Father did not go after his son. He didn’t spend a fortune chasing after the boy. He didn’t hire private detectives in the distant country to apprise him of his wasteful son’s dealings and whereabouts. He didn’t go chasing after the kid, confronting him, recounting the boy’s many poor choices and providing him with an itemized statement of all the pains and worry he’d caused. He didn’t seek out his son and demand that the boy return.

The father stayed home and let his son fail. He let his son squander the money and learn first hand what it is to be in need. He let the boy make terrible, self-seeking friends and learn just how trustworthy those types of friends are. He let his son go hungry and stand in pig slop until even the livestock feed began to appeal to him.

Sometimes children need to runaway. It’s part of their journeys and their stories. It teaches them priceless lessons that parents can never provide and their children will never hear. But that does not mean the father was uncaring or unconcerned. In Jesus story, the father sees his son coming from a distance. The father had been watching. The father had been waiting. The father’s eyes had, countless times, turned up the road from the homestead – each glance hoping to catch sight of his lost son coming home.

Jesus story was intended to illustrate Father God’s attitude towards foolish sinners who make tragic life mistakes. Foolish sinners like me. God has been so patient, gracious and forgiving with me in my foolhardy trips (more than one) to distant countries to squander what I’d been given. It would be hypocritical of me not to afford my own children the grace that Father God has showered me, one of His many prodigal.

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