Tag Archives: Attitude

Willingness

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said.
Matthew 8:3a (NIV)

When my daughter Madison was about four years old I called out to her from my home office in the basement of our home. She came scampering in my office from the next room where she had been playing. I needed something (I can’t remember what it was) retrieved from upstairs. “Will you go upstairs and get it?” I asked.

“Sure Dad!” she said with a big smile and child-like excitement. “I’ll be happy to!” And with that she ran off, immediately did as I asked, and cheerfully returned with the item.

I sat there for a moment thoroughly dumbstruck by her willing attitude. I can vividly remember sitting there and enjoying that little moment. She didn’t do what I asked grudgingly. She didn’t do what I asked dutifully. She didn’t do what I asked because I paid her allowance. She didn’t do what I asked out of obligation or familial obedience. She did what I asked out of a cheerful, willing attitude. I’ve never forgotten that moment.

One of the rarely demonstrated service skills I teach my clients is the simple act of expressing your willingness to do what a customer asks.

“Can you…?”
“I’ll be more than happy to do that for you.”

“Will you…?”
“You bet I will. I’m on it.”

“Is it possible…?”
“It sure is. And I’ll be glad to take care of it.”

In this morning’s chapter, Jesus begins by using this simple service skill when asked by leper if He’d be “willing” to heal him.

“I am willing,” Jesus said, and I imagine the warm smile on his face as he reaches out to touch the contagious, infected, deformed leper.

The rest of the chapter reveals so much about Jesus willingness:

  • Willingness to heal the son of a member of the despised Roman occupational force. (I’m guessing that Jesus’ disciple, Simon the Zealot, would have preferred Jesus kill both the Roman Centurion and his son).
  • Willingness to cast out evil spirits and heal anyone and everyone who came to him.
  • Willingness to heal the mother of his friend, Peter.
  • Willingness to use His power and authority to calm both the sea, and his followers fears.
  • Willingness to show mercy, even to His spiritual enemies, and grant the demons’ request.’

This morning I’m enjoying the memory of Madison’s cheerful attitude. I’m thinking about Jesus willing attitude, and I’m recalling what He said in yesterday’s chapter as He concluded His “Sermon on the Mount”:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

I must confess that I, too often, approach God and Life with the attitude of scarcity. I expect that God wants to punish more than bless, and even if He does bless me He will be miserly doling out those blessings. “After all,” I think to myself, “I’m such a wretch that I should be grateful for anything I receive.” I sometimes attach to God my own warped image of the begrudging parent. Ugh. I see God out of the lens of my own personal shortcomings.

“If you’re willing,” I hear Jesus whispering to my heart this morning in the quiet of my home office, “you can choose to see me differently. To see me as I am: Willing.”

Yes, Lord. I’d be happy to do so. By the way, thank you for your willingness to be patient, and to help open my eyes.

Loving Devotion and Life-less Obligation

I have been on a pseudo-sabbatical from my daily chapter-a-day posts for the past month. I took the opportunity of late summer vacations both to the lake and to Kauai to rest from my normal routines, though when I rest from regular routines I have a penchant for developing new ones.. I’ve felt prompted, of late, to wade into the writings of the prophet Isaiah, which I’ve blogged through only once back in the spring of 2010. It’s rather daunting journey, merely for the length of it (66 chapters!). Like all lengthy journeys it affords both tedious plodding and memorable, breathtaking moments. Here we go.

One of the keys to reading the poetic verse and visions of the ancient prophets (nearly all of the prophetic writings of what we refer to as the Old Testament are penned as Hebrew poetry) are 1) the cultural and historic context of the time in which the author was writing and 2) the person and circumstance of the prophet himself.

Isaiah lived in the capital city of Jerusalem during a period of “the kings.” The twelve tribes of Israel had been united under the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon, but then split in two during the reign of Solomon’s son. The southern kingdom was made up of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin and had its capital in Judah. Judah was loyal to the house and line of David. The northern kingdom (Israel) was made up of the rest of the tribes and claimed Bethel as its capital and religious center. Israel’s monarchy was continually a free-for-all which made for a lot of political intrigue.

Like all great books, the beginning introduces the overarching themes. In today’s opening chapter Isaiah sets the scene in Jerusalem where Solomon’s temple was the center of Israel’s sacrificial system. Over the last few months I blogged through the book of Leviticus, in which set the sacrificial system into being as established through Moses. The dutiful, religious people of Judah continue to carry out their rituals, festivals and sacrifices. But, there’s a problem.

Isaiah gets right to the crux of the matter. The people were carrying out their religious duties, but had forsaken the heart of their relationship with God. They were like a spouse who manages the daily household routines of marital and family obligation while their heart wanders in desire for others. God wanted their obedient actions to be motivated out of love and desire, not rote obligation void of love and devotion.

I have confessed to being a person of routines, and this morning I am thinking about the religious routines in my own life. My daily quiet time and blog post are a routine. Attending church services on Sunday is a routine. Giving financially to my local church and other ministries is a routine. But, are these coming from a heart-felt love and devotion to God, or are they merely Life-less robotic religious behaviors? Do my actions point God toward a living love and desire within my heart or, like the people of Isaiah’s day, have my religious behaviors become absorbed by the rotting stench of my hypocrisy?

Dealing with that stain and stench is another major theme of Isaiah’s poetic visions, which he establishes in today’s chapter:

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your doings
    from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
    learn to do good;
seek justice,
    rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
    plead for the widow.

Come now, let us argue it out,
    says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.

 

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“Iowa Nice”

They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him.
Titus 1:16a

There is this thing we call “Iowa Nice.” It’s an attitude, really. There are no classes that teach it, and no strict definition. It’s a generalization that comes through the generations. It comes up out of the soil and permeates our being, though it’s not universal. While there are always a few bad corn kernels in every bushel, the people of Iowa are pretty hospitable folk. We’re happy to help if you need it. We are kind and accommodating, even to strangers. We’re just…well…nice.

I thought about Iowa nice this morning as I read Paul’s letter to Titus. Paul had left Titus on the island of Crete to organize the various groups of Jesus followers into some semblance of organization. Titus’ job was to appoint “Overseers” (think Pastor) who would “manage the household” of believers and “Elders” who were spiritually mature leaders. Paul provides qualifications, but then acknowledges Titus’ challenge to find such individuals among the Cretans.

The people of Crete did not have a great reputation. In contrast to “Iowa Nice,” Paul quotes a Cretan prophet who claims: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” Yikes. Titus is to find, among this group, those who are hospitable, self-controlled, and upright. You can almost hear Paul’s subtext: “Good luck with that.” Among Paul’s disparaging descriptive remarks about many of the Cretans is the fact that they “claim to know God, but by their actions deny them.”

What a great reminder this morning as I head into the week of our local Tulip Time festival here in Pella. I am not perfect, to be sure, but I would hope that I my actions will always bear witness to the faith that I claim – not deny it. I and my fellow residents will spend three entire days this week playing host to thousands of visitors and treating them to a generous dose of “Iowa Nice.” My desire is that my hospitality will always be a reflection of Jesus, who exemplified hospitality when He welcomed this stranger into His family.

chapter a day banner 2015Featured Image (and necklace) via Anatomical Element

Shift Focus

 If you say to yourself, “These nations are more numerous than I; how can I dispossess them?” do not be afraid of them. Just remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt….
Deuteronomy 7:17-18 (NRSV)

There is a technical term used in movie making called “shift focus.” It’s when the camera is focused on one object while another object in the shot is blurry, then then camera shifts the focus so that the other object is in focus and the first object blurs out.  Filmmakers use this technique to transition the audience’s attention and to move the story along.

When things in life go wrong and times are tough, it’s easy to get myopically focused on our present circumstances. Our brains zero in on what’s happening in the moment and, as a result, our hearts can drive all sorts of negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, doubt and depression. These emotions can be spiritually crippling and paralyzing.

In today’s chapter, Moses anticipates that his people may find themselves in such circumstances. He instructs them to do a mental and spiritual shift focus as an antidote to their fears: remember.

  • Remember when you were slaves in Egypt and God delivered you.
  • Remember when the plagues hit and you remained safe.
  • Remember when the Egyptian army was chasing you and God miraculously saved you and gave you victory.

He could have gone on:

  • Remember when you thirsty and God provided water from a rock.
  • Remember when you were hungry and God sent bread from heaven.
  • Remember when you wandered and God sent both cloud and fire to lead you.

The shift focus from our present circumstances to past situations reminds us that God has been faithful in the past (So why shouldn’t I believe He will be faithful in my current situation?), that we survived in the past (So why shouldn’t I believe I’ll get through this), and that things eventually worked out (So why shouldn’t I trust that my current situation will work out, too?). The result is that our faith begins to counter our fear and our paralysis gives way to us moving forward.

Today, I’m reminded of the many times God has provided and protected me through the years. Why then, should I fear present troubles?

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All Shook Up

The Dominie and Maria in the Historical Village GardenWhen they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
Acts 1:14 (NIV)

Wendy and I enjoyed our first full day of Tulip Time festivities in our little town, dressed up as the town’s founders, H.P. Scholte and his wife Maria. I was fascinated as we worked the crowd in our 1850s costumes (and had our picture taken 5,872,359 times) the different reactions we received. Residents of the town who know the history would stop us and talk to us about the Scholtes. Some commented what great people the Dominie and Maria were and how much our town owes to them. Some spoke of them as arrogant jerks who imprinted their self-righteousness on our community which continues to plagues us 160 years later.

I pondered these things as I walked through the historical village and thought how quickly and radically life changed for the families who left their relatively comfortable, established lives in the Netherlands and journeyed to the barren Iowa prairie to carve out a living from the midwestern soil.

There are seasons in life when things change quickly and radically. The tectonic plates of life shift beneath our feet. Life is shaken up, and when things finally settle we discover that our lives will never be the same again. I’ve observed that some embrace the change, follow the flow, and prosper. Some become critical, eschew the changes, and struggle hopelessly against the current. The same events take on competing and opposed perspectives.

The followers of Jesus found themselves in similar situation as they huddled in a room behind locked doors in today’s chapter. A week earlier they were riding a wave of popularity as Jesus rode triumphantly into town. Then Jesus was suddenly betrayed, arrested, tried, and executed. Then a few days later He was alive again. But, popular opinion had turned against them. Jesus’ resurrection and the empty tomb sent giant shock waves through the community. The authorities wanted to find them and snuff them out. Jesus had told them to stick together and get ready for even more big changes. Things would never be the same.

Even among the crowds of Jesus’ followers who, just a week earlier, were singing His praises, there were those who would shake their heads, eschew the changes, and critically walk away. For the huddled handful who faithfully stuck it out, stuck together, and embraced the sudden changes – they would soon find themselves on the cusp of events that would change them and our world forever.

Today, I’m grateful for those who embraced change before us and prepared a way for us beyond what we can really fathom. I pray that as the tectonic plates of life may shift in our own life journeys we can embrace the change, stick it out, stick together and make the way a little easier and more blessed for those who follow in our footsteps.

Hope

The_Vision_of_The_Valley_of_The_Dry_BonesThey say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them….”
Ezekiel 37:11b-12a (NIV)

Over the past year, the news on the Vander Well home front has been less than encouraging. Late last summer my mother was diagnosed in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. In February of this year my dad was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a treatable but incurable form of cancer in his bone marrow. This past Sunday dad told us that, based on the available data and the doctors’ formulas, they guesstimate that he has around 3.5 years left in this life journey.

As I read this morning’s chapter, I found myself identifying with the groans of the Hebrew exiles. There are times in life when we feel dried up, cut off, and without hope. But, the point of today’s chapter was God’s response which was to provide a word of hope. To an exiled people who had seen more than their fair share of death, God delivered through Ezekiel a message of homecoming, resurrection, and life.

I have known many who have battled terminal illnesses over the years. I have observed that one of the key differences in outcomes is determined by simple differences in attitudes. I am reminded this morning of God saying, “I have set before you life and death. Now, choose life, so that you and your children may live.” I recognize that there are stretches in each of our life journeys when we are free to choose to focus on despair and hopelessness, or to choose to focus on life and hope.

I pray that I always choose the latter.

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.”