3 Requirements from God

Is the world too complex, or did we make it that way? What about our lives? Have we made it harder than it should be? And when it comes to a relationship with God, did we keep it simple, or did we allow all the laws, statutes, and bureaucracy to dictate the nature of our relationship?

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:34-40

All the laws and customs broken down into two: Love God and love your neighbor.

From a scientific standpoint, the tree is a super-complex system. But long before man devised the science, the tree already knew the requirements to survive: earth, air, water, and light. With these simple ingredients the tree could dig deep, grow tall, and give back to nature. It could do its job.

What would God have us do? Would He have us live a faith so complicated that failure was all but imminent, a faith that would turn people away from Him because it was too hard? The prophet Micah would say otherwise. In fact, he wrote that there were only three requirements that God wants from us:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

Act Justly

This is both an internal and external act. It is the path to righteousness. What is righteousness? It is right thoughts and right actions. Without vigilance, we can and will deviate from our true path in life. None of us are perfect, but we can get better. We can improve daily and get a little closer to where we should be.

How do we do it? We can start by following these words from Anne Frank:

How noble and good everyone could be if at the end of the day they were to review their own behavior and weigh up the rights and wrongs. They would automatically try to do better at the start of each new day, and…certainly accomplish a great deal.

Keeping a journal. It is a practice that many of the greatest thinkers in history implemented. If at the end of each day, we put our actions up for review, how much better could we become? And then in subsequent days maybe we would find ourselves a little more mindful of our actions. In time, patterns would emerge identifying areas of improvement.

  • Wow, I am really quick tempered! How can prevent making rash and ill-advised decisions?
  • Here, this behavior was fun in the moment, but the repercussions far outweigh the benefits.
  • I let this bad thought linger in my mind for too long. What could I have done to switch gears towards more productive and fruitful thinking?

Journal Item #1: Did I act with justice in my thoughts and in my actions?

Love Mercy

I’ve learned that people will forgive what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Maya Angelou

I love this quote from one of America’s most beloved poets. And when I think of my actions from the past, “how I made others feel” far outweighs any other achievements.

Recently, I was asked to officiate an upcoming marriage. Sadly, my first thought was, “Why would they pick me?” Being my biggest critic, I know my flaws and imperfections and can’t imagine why this young couple would honor me with this duty. But then, “how I made others feel” came to mind. For almost twenty years I have been a good-standing member of this family, I have helped where I could, and I have tried my best to encourage and improve the lives of those around me. I may not think I have done enough in this world, but maybe I have left an impression in how they felt.

Can I say everyone I have crossed paths with would feel the same way? Not a chance. I was once a foolish young adult and have hurt plenty of people along the way. And those crimes lacking in mercy and kindness still haunt me to this day. I try not to spend my life worrying what others think about me, but if I am not liked, I don’t want it to be due to a lack of kindness.

The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.

Oscar Wilde

Acts of kindness. Loving mercy. This is the second of God’s requirement for us. Doing so costs us very little but could change the lives of those we meet. By letting go of our pride, by not allowing perceived slights against our persons to be vindicated, and by being mindful that we are all fighting a hard battle, we can ease, or at least not add to, the burdens of others. We can have peace in our own lives as well as give peace to those in need.

Journal Item #2: How did I love mercy on this day? What small acts of kindness did I give? How did I make others feel?

Walk Humbly with God

A student could someday overtake the master, for they are both human.

I have had the honor of walking with those I considered a master. Powerful leaders, mentors, and respected family members. Though someday I would hope to be like them, maybe even surpass them in some way in the future, I would never in their presence try to overtake them. I would let them lead and humbly walk a step behind. This is my place, and I know it. It is a matter of respect and one of humility.

But who could walk with God and have hopes of surpassing Him? Who could think they could do it better, to be greater? To walk humbly with God is to know one’s place. He is the ultimate teacher, mentor, and leader, and we as students and servants can only hope to stay in step and remain in His presence. It is a walk. It is a journey. It is a relationship.

  • We can petition but not command.
  • We can praise but not curse
  • We can be the good stewards but not the master.

Journal Item #3: Did I walk humbly with the Lord on this day? Micah’s words are profound yet simple.

Why should we complicate these words to the point where we lose our ability to follow them? “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.”


Feature photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

One Big Thing

A look at Greg McKeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.

Right off the bat, I love the writing style with which the author presents this information. And regarding that information, adhering to the materials will have a profound impact on my life.

Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.

Greg McKeown, Essentialism

How many days have I woken up with a general idea of what I would like to accomplish? How many times did I go into a weekday or weekend with an exhaustive to-do list? Since I build in planning time into my schedule for these two endeavors, daily and weekend, I say nearly all the time. But, and this is a really big but, how often do those items get crossed off the list? Unfortunately, not as often as I would like.

Too often things come up. I have a bad night’s sleep, I get lost in social media or unproductive reading, or I fail to say no to something that is not on the list. Tasks get pushed down the list, pushed off until tomorrow, or rescheduled into the next weekend. In essence, I procrastinate. I lose my sense of urgency and fail to accomplish the mission.

Because I am a fox and not a hedgehog, I never accomplish the one big thing. Sadly, I am a non-essentialist. I overachieve in the unimportant and grossly underachieve in the things that matter most.

Since reading Good to Great by Jim Collins and now The Essentialist, I have started asking myself these two questions every morning:

  • What activity is essential?
  • What is the one thing that I must work on that will get me closer to what matters most to me?

For any activity that falls outside of that activity, I must ask myself whether it is a part of my plan. I must weigh the activity according to its cost versus the benefits.

  • What will it cost compared to other activities on my list?
  • Will this detract from the things that matter most to me (family, personal growth, business)?

If the activity generates a greater cost than the benefits, why would I consider doing it? For example, I am a sucker for gathering knowledge for the sake of having knowledge. I used to tell myself this was for the purpose of being as well-rounded as possible. This was great in the past because I did not have a clear direction of where I wanted to go in life. But now that I have a very clear direction, how does non-pertinent knowledge bring me closer to my intended destination? It doesn’t. Therefore, my time would be better allocated to the pursuit of knowledge in my field. I would rather be a master of my craft (hedgehog) than a mediocre jack-of-all-trades (fox).

How do I do this? in a nutshell, I must determine what is essential. From there, I must learn to eliminate all the nonessentials. On paper, this is an easy formula for success, yet the reality is not so easy. It is a skill requiring vigilance and practice. If this is something I can master, which I believe I can, then my to-do list will have many less items on it and will be far more achievable. This will get me down the road and closer to my intended destination with less deviations along the way.

We can all purge our lives of the nonessential and embrace the way of the Essentialist—in our own ways, and in our own time, and on our own scale. We can all live a life not just of simplicity but of high contribution and meaning.

Greg McKeown, Essentialism

Fox or Hedgehog

I.

“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” -Archilocus

The fox is crafty and intelligent. He can create elaborate strategies to gain a hunting advantage over the hedgehog.

The hedgehog on the other hand is simple. He knows how to do one thing. When danger is on the horizon, he will roll into a prickly ball.

II.

Ask me a few months ago which I would rather be, a hedgehog or a fox, I would have said a fox. Why not? A fox can do so much. Not being a one-trick pony, he can use the full array of his skills to plan, strategize, and execute. Why be simple when you can be complex? Complex is alluring, even sexy, whereas simple is just that, it is simple, maybe even a bit boring.

I have lived my life as a fox. And now I wonder, where has it gotten me? I can perform a multitude of odds and ends but not well enough to make it a profession. I can spout off a ton of random knowledge, yet who would be willing to hire me as a consultant? Even worse, I can dabble here and there on a plethora of projects. How many of these get finished? Not enough! As much as I try to be a fox, I have never successfully hunted a hedgehog.

III.

Oh, that I was a hedgehog! What would it be like to know one thing perfectly? How excellent would it be to execute, without flaw, one single task? The foxes may scoff, but they will never be able to compete with a hedgehog. A handyman may be able to perform a wide array of activities, but will they be able to compete with a master carpenter?

As I look to a new business, the allure is to do a little of everything. But touching upon a little of a lot will prevent the mastery of one. Do I want to be an amateur dabbler, or do I want to find mastery in the one big thing that will take my little upstart from mediocrity to excellence?

IV.

Hedgehogs see what is essential, and ignore the rest.

Jim Collins

In the book Good to Great, author Jim Collins writes about businesses that employ the Hedgehog Concept. These companies made a transition from being average to leading their respective industries. To do so, they found the intersection of three circles based on the following three questions:

What can you be the best in the world at?

What drives your economic engine?

What are you deeply passionate about?

Understanding and finding the intersection between these three questions, one can determine where to put the focus. This is the essential business of the hedgehog. Everything else should be ignored.

Day by Day

Each day is another link in the chain. Chains are no good if the links are weak. We can’t go back and fix our chain, but we can strengthen the newest links as we go along. We can build our links to handle a greater load, to be more resilient against outside forces, and to bolster us in times of need. We can create our chains of destiny to serve us and others when the need is the greatest. Everyday we forge a new link which means everyday counts. Throwing in a bad link every once in a while will do us no good. How can we build this chain?

Choice

What are our options? They are too numerous to count. But every choice matters; every decision counts.

The choices you make today will be your biography tomorrow.

James Altucher

One day, David decided to stay home. This was a choice. His country was at war. As the king, he should have been the one leading his men out to battle. In those days, that was his job. Instead, he made a self-serving choice that cascaded into a chain of subsequent bad choices. Laziness led to adultery which then led to murder. What started with one choice ended with a decree from God that the sword would never leave his house (2 Samuel 11-12).

Hopefully, the choices we make will not be as catastrophic as David’s. Yet,  they can quickly spiral downward if we do not remain vigilant.

Thought

Maybe, it is too simple to believe it is true. But here it is: We become what we think about (Emerson). If our minds are focused on violence all day, then in time we will become desensitized to it. We will begin to justify it in the behaviors of others. Eventually, we will even be able to justify it in our own behaviors. The same could be said for all the vices–slothfulness, drunkenness, gluttony, lust. Thankfully, this also holds true for the virtues—wisdom, discipline, justice, courage, love.

So, when we think about adding quality to our lives or subtracting undesirable traits, it begins with our thoughts.

Persist in visualizing the ideal man you are determined to be, and always think of yourself as you are ambitious to become. This mental attitude will help you to match your dream with its reality.

Orison Swett Marden

Action

Thoughts will set into our minds the types of people we wish to become. But at the end of the day, they must harmonize with our actions. Action is the testimony by which the world will view us. The houses we build in heaven are constructed by the works we do on earth. This is the Karma we set into motion while dwelling in our bodies. Every action has a reaction. Jung said, “You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.” Not our words and thoughts, but what we actually do. This is the mark by which we will be known.

Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.

Thomas Jefferson

We cannot control the outside forces that fate imposes upon us. Weather, fortune, and the deeds of others are often fickle and inconsiderate. Despite this, we can determine to be champions in this life, not victims.

Day by day, what you choose, what you think and what you do is who you become.

Heraclitus

Don’t Fool Yourself

I look in the mirror. Whether good or bad, I only see what I want to see. My eyes only see what they have been trained to see. Everything else mysteriously gets dismissed. I find it amazing that a still image rarely matches what I saw in the mirror.

I take another bite. Today, the food looks good. It is pleasant to the senses and delights the palate. Sadly, it is not the best choice of food from a nutritional standpoint. Therefore, I will tell myself to only eat a little. Tomorrow, I am going to have a different opinion. Tomorrow, I am going to look back and wonder what I was thinking. Why did I pick that and why did I eat so much of it?

It is Sunday afternoon. I am feeling a little tired and decide to take a short nap (probably from all the food I ate). I set the timer for twenty minutes and get up two hours later. What happened?

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.

Richard Feynman

It is easy for me to look around and mentally note everybody else’s flaws. Why is that person so self-delusional? Don’t they know how foolish they look? Why do they eat such garbage and so much of it? Why aren’t they more active? Instead, they are just wasting away the time God has given them.

How is it that I am not so quick to notice my own flaws? In the moment, I acquiesce and give in to my base desires. These are the same desires that I am quick to notice and question in others. Yet, I have fooled myself to such an extent that I can no longer see these same behaviors in myself. The first principle is to not fool myself. Unfortunately, I have broken this principle too many times to count.

How do I improve knowing that I am so easily fooled?

  1. Have a plan. Without one, I am lost.
  2. Have a partner. I need someone to hold me accountable. Even more important, I must listen when someone calls me out.
  3. Check my ego. My ego says I can get away without consequences. It wants me to compare myself to others in a way that only points to my perceived goodness and to their inherent flaws.

To not fool myself is no easy task. Yet, it can be done. It requires vigilance and an honest appraisal of my actions.

A Straight Pathway to Achievement

A Tuesday night soccer game. Before the game, I was a little worried how our team would play. We were missing three players and would take the field with one less player than our opponent. At game time, I realized neither team would have any substitutes. It would be eight versus nine with the winner standing at the top of the league standings.

After 5 minutes of play, we went down 1-0. The star player on the other team scored the first goal. Oh no! This could get ugly fast. Yet, our team didn’t surrender. They never gave up and continued to run and play hard. Our defense collected themselves and became relentless in their pursuit of the ball. And in the proudest of dad moments…

My son, Alec, began to shine. He coached his teammates on what to do and where to go. He took over on offense with multiple break-a-ways. He  employed a few tricks that left the defenders watching him as he passed them by. After the dust settled, Alec had four goals on the tally sheet. We won 4-1.

Sometimes, a player gets lucky. Other times, a player just has a little more natural talent. But this performance wasn’t luck. It wasn’t natural talent. So, what was it? What separated him from the rest of the pack?

Having conceived of his purpose, a man should mentally mark out a straight pathway to its achievement, looking neither to the right or the left.

James Allen

Last season, Alec was good. He was one of the four best players on the best team in the league. He finished the season with one or maybe even two goals. He was happy to win and happy to provide key passes to the goal scorers. But he wanted more. He wanted to capitalize on the “oh so many close” shots. Last season was when he started to really get hungry.

During the offseason when he wasn’t in school or wrestling, Alec was outside kicking the ball until the sun went down. He would bring his iPad outside with him, watch a video, and then practice what he saw over and over until he learned the skill. If the weather kept him indoors, he was watching more videos, watching games, or playing soccer on his Nintendo Switch. Soccer was his focus, and it was laser sharp.

Of course, I love to see his work bear fruit. But what impresses me the most is seeing his work ethic. He found something he is passionate about. And to become the best version of himself, he never looked to the right or the left. He marked out his pathway and began the journey only the most dedicated are willing to take.

I spend so much of my time teaching and working with him. But watching him practice, I realized he was really teaching me. At his age, I never worked as hard as he did. And as an adult, I tend to waver from one pursuit to the next. I am a middling Jack-of-a-bunch-of-stuff, but a master of nothing. Alec, on the other hand, is on a path to mastery that I can only hope to be on one day. He is becoming my inspiration to be better, to try harder. Maybe, there will come a time that I can be like him.

One Link at a Time

I dream of the future. If unchecked, my dreams can take many twists and turns. The dreams are part of who I am. The ones that I find suitable, I chase like a hunter in pursuit of its prey. Unfortunately, I am not a master of hunting. I tend to get distracted. Rather than pursue the one big target, I find myself chasing multiple targets. All this chasing and nothing to show for it. Tired and hungry.

It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link in the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.

Winston Churchill

One link in the chain at a time. One target that is a link on my chain and not a link on a different chain. What are the requirements? Focus and Presence. Too many irons in the fire wastes too much material and leaves too many unfinished works. And whatever work does get done will most likely not be of the highest quality. In my chain of destiny, this is not what I want. I want a link that is solid and will stand the test of time. One link at a time. Oh yes, one link at a time.

The Game Board

The Creator sat down at the game board. He surveyed the pieces in play and then reached into the draw pile. He grabbed my piece and placed it on the board. Next, he took the hourglass and turned it over. I am now in play and the clock is running.

There is a reason why I am in play right now in the world we live in. There is a reason why my name was called. I don’t need to know why I was chosen. All I need to know is that I was chosen. Everything I do matters. Every choice is made based on previous choices. Every action is a culmination of past action. Momentum is built, or it is lost. My words and my deeds are the drivers of that momentum.

Will I outwork and outperform the other players on the board? My environment and circumstances had everything to do with my starting position, but it has nothing to do with where I will finish. The sands of time are running. I either play the game, or I risk going back into the draw pile.

Will I:

  • Forget that I am playing by drinking away my evenings. This is surely a “Lose a Turn” situation as it effects my performance the next day.
  • Go to jail because I keep repeating the same mistakes over and over. Creating my own prison is the result of bad habits never addressed.
  • Be a victim of chance. Fortune comes and Fortune goes. What will I do with the good? Even more important, how will I respond to the bad?

This life is a only a game but one of the highest stakes. I can either play the game, or I can let the game play me. What would the Creator who put my piece on the board want me to do? Okay then. I will play the game because that was what I was meant to do. Game on!

The Work

I’ve always believed that if you put in the work, the results will come.

Michael Jordan

When I was younger, I didn’t always do the work. Consequently, the outcomes I was hoping for rarely came. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized I needed to do more work. This became my faith:

Do the work. The results will come.

How often is my faith tested? Am I only entitled to the work but not to the fruits? I try not to compare myself to others. But when I pick my head up from the work, I only seem to see the results others are getting. Where are my results? Where is the payoff from these years of struggle?

Do the work. The results will come.

I know I made mistakes. The track I am on is not the fast track. Heck, it is not even the medium track. However, this is the bed I made. I must sleep in it until I can produce a better bed. This is my race no matter how slow I go.

Do the work. The results will come.

I want to believe the results will come. Doing the work is all I have. I know for a fact that I won’t get the results I desire if I don’t do the work. Therefore, all I have is the work. if the amount of work I am doing is not getting the results, then I must do more work. The work must be smarter. It must be relentless.

Do the work. The results will come.

I pray for the strength to be able to do it. I pray that I may continue to fight this good fight. My mind and my hands were built to work. I have no other choice but to do that which I was called to do: the work.

A Revelation in Defeat

The Merchant.

Somewhere in the late 4th Century B.C., the ship casted off with all the merchant’s wealth invested in the purple dye contained within in the holds. This was the big score. Once traded, he would be at the top of the game. His family and business would be secure well into his retirement. There was only one problem. The ship never made it to its destination. His fortunes, hopes, and dreams lay at the bottom of the sea.

The Baller.

After 2 NBA championships, the sky was the limit for this 11x all-star. He was at the top of his game with many years still left to play. The preparation he put into his craft both on and off the court was paying off in spades. In February 2016, He was gearing up for another championship run with his team when things turned bad. A blood clot put him on the sidelines. At first, it was a setback. Then, it became a career-ender.

The Boxer.

He was a petty thief sent to a reform school at the age of ten. At fourteen, he learned to box and won a gold medal in the Olympics three years later. At twenty-one, he was the Heavyweight Champion of the World. But like most fighters, he eventually lost the belt.

It is easy to do anything in victory. It is in defeat that a man reveals himself.

Floyd Patterson

Life was good for the merchant Zeno. But what happened to his life after he lost it all? Zeno turned inward. Not in a depressing, moping kind of way. He didn’t turn to drugs and alcohol, binge watch the local circus, or engage in idle amusements to while away the time before his death. Nope! Instead, he got to work. He realized the tragedy he faced was not the end of the world. He started a school and created a philosophy that still is practiced by many today. Now, he is known as the father of Stoicism.

Players give their lives to their sports. At an early age, they trade their childhood and teenage years for the game. When the other kids are sleeping in, playing around (or goofing off), they are in the weight room, on the track, or at the practice facility going through their drills. The fraction of the percent of the players who become professionals had to rely on more than talent and the gifts their Creator endowed them with. It was their discipline, persistence, and tenacity that pushed them onto the big stage.

And what happens when it is all over? What’s next when their bodies can no longer handle the rigors of playing at an elite level? Many ride off into the sunset and into obscurity. Others become regular people working regular jobs. And then there are some, like Chris Bosh, who after being forced into retirement from a blood clot, became an author, community leader, and inspiration for the next generation. It is people like him that see meaning beyond the game. They see that winning is more than numbers on a stat sheet. It is the tally at the end of one’s life of bringing value to the world.

It is a fact that fighters get hit. They will get knocked down, and they will lose. The mark of a champion, however, is that they get back up. They don’t stay down. When Floyd Patterson lost his championship belt, he could have said he had enough. Instead, he became the first two-time heavyweight champion of the world. And though he never recaptured the belt a third time, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. It wasn’t in the easy times that he became a champion. It was in the struggle where his true self was revealed.

We have all suffered setbacks and losses in our lives. We have all been knocked down. This is nothing new. Losing doesn’t make us special. Not everybody will get back up. But the ones that do, they are the true champions of life. The true strength of a person is revealed in the struggle. It is in getting back up.