Amidst suicidal thoughts, one of Tolkien’s darkest tales delivers hope!

They were so skilled, such stunning characters. We were deeply saddened. What more could be said?

Our collective emotion was rocked last year as amazingly talented creators Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade chose their own exits. And we recently paused in remembrance: Robin Williams has now been gone five years.

What more should be said? My reading and training on grief have coached me to say nothing. Less is more. Remain silent. Do not preach or dispense advice. Simply grieve with the grieving.

And under almost every circumstance, I concur. Indeed, we pray for comfort and divine hope to descend in hearts of family and friends. We live ever-cognizant of the heartache of mental illness and the struggle of addiction. Ours is a pulsing grief, oft best unspoken. Together, our hearts ache.

Albeit for a moment, indulge me. Perhaps we should lean into a shade more reflection. I am compelled to break from the normal silence of our society’s prescribed, safe decorum. When we witness such a sad avalanche of remarkable people, it seems that further commentary might be appropriate. Perhaps, a few next level thoughts might prove helpful to someone. And we join together in confessing, there are still parts both known and unknown.

I shall not engage in diatribe against the supposed emptiness of the splendidly wealthy and the wickedly successful movers and shakers of current culture. Over my years, I have witnessed too much. Suicide regularly claims the upper crust as well as the best of us lower crumbs. She plays no favorites in her deceptive malice. Life’s pressure, pain, and resulting hopelessness are no respecter of persons.

In the wake of Anthony and Kate’s self-determined exits, my mind was moved with sadness. And I was drawn into a Tolkien scene in The Lord of the Rings plus several correlating truths. Beware. This scene happens far from the Shire but not yet Mordor. We find Gandalf and Pippin in one of the dreadful, messy middle places of Middle-earth, the Citadel of Gondor during the apex of the Battle.

He was so skilled, such a stunning character. Denethor, the Steward of Gondor, had served many years as the ruler of the city and surrounding parts, both known and unknown. Overwhelmed by the Shadow and Sauron’s dark influence, this long-time leader chose to do the unthinkable.

With great haste, Pippin desperately explained to Gandalf: ‘Denethor has gone to the Tombs, and he has taken Faramir, and he says we are all to burn, and he will not wait, and they are to make a pyre and burn him on it, and Faramir as well. And he has sent me to fetch wood and oil.’

Denethor’s son, Faramir, had been wounded in battle, a wound the father assumed to be fatal. Gandalf and Pippin raced to the house of the dead in an attempt to rescue both father and son. They rushed in, and we read: “Denethor stepped backward before Gandalf as one amazed.”

Gandalf and Denethor engaged in a volley of heated argument. Denethor declared: ‘Battle is vain. Why should we wish to live longer?’ The old wise guide responded, attempting with all his might to clear the crazed perspective. O if he might talk even an ounce of sense into the frazzled leader.

‘Authority is not given to you, Steward of Gondor, to order the hour of your death…only the heathen kings, under the domination of the Dark Power, did thus, slaying themselves in pride and despair, murdering their kin to ease their own death.’

Here is one powerfully germane, highly potent statement from the Wizard’s lips. Before we quickly shrug, shake our heads, and dub this as insensitive, provincial, or even judgmental, let us ponder the depth of Tolkien’s analysis.

Gandalf was drawing from the recesses of his memory, reaching back to ancient times in earlier ages when rulers chose to exit life of their own accord. His analysis was profound. The root cause was a dark blend of pride and despair. They allowed Dark Power to get the best of them. (Catch the rest of the story in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Chapter 7.)

But notice this standout statement: Authority is not given to you…to order the hour of your death. Tolkien was very deliberately conveying through the wise lips of Gandalf his own world and life view. Humans are ultimately accountable to their Creator. From Tolkien’s perspective, to think otherwise is a misguided, under-the-Shadow, yes even arrogant perspective. When the leading persons of a culture arrive at believing they hold the authority to decide when they shall depart, they are beguiled by “pride and despair.” But Tolkien does not end with diagnosis. In typical Tolkien style, there is hope and wonderful good news.

Gandalf’s next words to Denethor conveyed so much: ‘Come! We are needed. There is much that you can yet do.’ He called the Steward of Gondor to recognize his important stewardship. He called him to humbly recognize his sacred calling and how much he was needed.

We must all remember, even in our darkest moments:

The choice is not our own. Yes, this runs contra popular, pervasive perspective, the groundswell of societal opinion. Misguided, we think we should rule our own entrance and exit. Sadly, we are now slogging through the Shadows of such dark thinking.

We are needed. There are still friends, coworkers, clients, precious children and spouses who do indeed need you to stay in the battle. Choose to stay. Please choose to stay!

There is much we can still do. There are new parts and places to go—both known and unknown. There are fresh meals to create and taste. New people to meet and bless. There are fashions to still make, meetings to lead, and products to create. There is Good News to share, bad news to battle through, and love to spread profusely.

We all battle with our own blend of pride and despair. We all have demons, addictions, and old enemies. Amidst the voices of dark despair, may we listen instead to the voice of Gandalf and ultimately our Creator. Hear him say: You are not your own. You are loved.  You are not alone. COME! You are needed.  There is much that you can yet do. There is hope!

 

 

My Big Dilemma in Voting Christian

One of my neighbors recently vocalized his desire to place two political signs in his yard. However, he expressed his deep dilemma. One of his chosen candidates is a thoughtful Democrat. The other is a creative Republican.

“Each of them reflects my deep-held values,” my neighbor expressed with genuine passion. “But the yard signs will just get my house egged, and probably from both sides.”

We laughed, but he was serious.

Tis the season for yard sign battles. I cannot recall a time in recent history when a midterm election carried such high-pitched press and stress. Certainly, the stakes are sky high. Amidst divisive upheaval over super-charged issues like racial violence, immigration reform, and Supreme Court appointments, we find ourselves readily wrestling. And here’s my big dilemma:

Which side is right, good, upstanding, and worthy of my vote? How do I vote as a Christian?

Central to our work in this world is this important business. We must take seriously our responsibility to engage in the social—yes, political—arena. (Keep in mind that “politics” comes from the ancient Greek term polis, meaning the city and that city’s people.) What a joy to realize that people and the work of their gathering places matter immensely to a loving God.

But precisely how should a Christ-follower vote? Debate rages beyond the yard signs and our knee-jerk, raucous taking of sides. I offer three foundational ideas.

First, choose to courageously engage.

No doubt about it. Politics can feel scary and overwhelming. Don’t simply shrug or bury your head in the sand. A person’s active faith in Christ will work for greater good in every arena, not just church on Sundays or soup kitchens on Saturdays. Our faith must be included in the work of society and politics. As our resurrected and ascended King, Jesus is Lord of all life arenas (Colossians 1:9-20). A developing faith will recognize the importance of societal engagement as intrinsic to growing in Christ. Our active involvement is essential to both living good lives for Christ and proclaiming His Good News in the public arena.[1]

Second, think and pray. Pray and think.

I am personally in a season of life where I confuse the heck out of people. I very rarely post anything that has even a whiff of something political. (It’s rarely productive for pastors to do so. Even this piece will generate some fan mail.) But on the rare occasion that I do become so moved that I feel I have to say something, it’s intriguing to watch people’s reactions.

There are plenty of Christians who assume that as a Bible-believing Christian leader I must be a “right wing, conservative” Republican. There are other Christians who just know that I certainly must be a “liberal, hug-everybody” Democrat.

I can confidently tell you, such categories no longer serve God’s good purposes for my soul. (And I am growing more confident those categories do not serve God’s good purposes for our collective societal soul either.)

I am working to vote as a praying Christian. Very practically and profoundly, this works itself out in a bold prayer like this: “Lord, grant me your wisdom to discern the issues and to vote for the person who will truly serve well in addressing healthy, necessary changes, the kinds of changes that reflect your heart, Lord, in this realm.” Perhaps it sounds overly simplistic, but I am confident he will answer that sincere prayer for wisdom every time (James 1:2-8).

I am also aiming to work at voting as a thinking Christian. Very practically, this means I choose to set aside a previously assumptive, one-side-is-right, partisan approach. A truly Christian vote requires knowing the issues, knowing the candidates, and possessing a solidly grounded, biblical worldview to inform your deeply held values.

Where might a Christian start to gain biblical grounding? Immerse your mind in foundational places like Genesis, chapters 1-4, Matthew’s Gospel, chapters 1-7, and Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians. These passages teach core themes of God’s call and divine purposes for humans and for creation at large. They also emphasize the faith implications for social responsibility and for heart-and-soul, whole-person implications of the Gospel.

In this season of my life, I want to vote for candidates who most closely align with truly good foundations for the advancement of life, peace, hope, and flourishing. Certainly, debates rage over precise interpretation of the most critical issues and their nuances. However, as a base minimum, I want to be thinking, evaluating, and sorting my votes through such a biblical lens.

Third, speak and act with Christ-like kindness.

Our mothers did not raise us to be nasty, mean, and ugly. As people who claim to be changed by the Gospel, Christians need to be very, very kind. We should be big boys and girls. Let’s be mature enough to agree to disagree and be joyful as we debate. We can do that! People have done so at other pivotal points throughout history. Let’s be generously kind.

This approach to the work of voting is certainly not for everyone. Perhaps you are in a place of life where you prefer to still simply “select all” and punch one box for one party or the other. Perhaps you just really need to yell your point with vitriol ugliness all over your face. God bless you. I mean that sincerely. Our family has simply arrived at a place where we believe it’s very important to do the work of voting Christian.

Now where are those two yard signs? I better get ready to clean up eggshells.

 

[1]For an insightful treatment of this topic, see ch. 5 in Richard Foster’s classic Streams of Living Water.

Could WORK really be worship?

At the ripe old age of eight, circa 1977, I earned this mighty sum for taking out the trash, washing Sunday dishes, feeding the dog, and tackling anything else that Mom or Dad dubbed a pay-worthy chore. Fifty cents a week was my starting salary. (Okay, so Dad called it an allowance.) Eventually, my responsibilities increased, as did my wage—to one full dollar. Then by the age of eleven, I was pulling down two dollars a week for doing all of those original chores plus feeding our brood of chickens, goats, and hogs. Eventually, this included chopping wood, shoveling very deep snow, and mowing two acres of grass—often by push mower, uphill both ways.

I learned to love payday and hate my work. (Repeated studies reveal this is a pervasive attitude, not isolated to those in the eight-to-eleven age category. Shocking, I know.)

Big blessing for me, ours was a home where the Bible and Jesus were talked about frequently. We integrated spiritual correlations about all sorts of life issues and current events. My mother and father were exemplary. And yet this one thing we lacked. (Alright, perhaps a few others, but this one stands out.) God’s robust perspective on work was not aptly addressed. At best, work was understood as a necessary evil, something to endure—grit those teeth—so as to make a living. I learned that work was harsh because of the fall and the curse of sin, and I pretty much learned that it was just going to have to be that way for all of my existence.

Sweat, toil, and tears. We’re all doomed. “Doomed!” they said. “Get used to it. You won’t get over the blasted agony this side of heaven. So work hard, suck it up, Son, and someday you’ll go to heaven and be done with work.” Now, I’m pretty certain this was never blatantly declared as gospel indoctrination from my father, but that is a pretty accurate summation of what I most definitely surmised.

What if instead, work is actually a primary avenue through which we worship the Lord? What if God’s original creative intention for us (Genesis 1:26-28 and 2:15) included “working the garden” in His image? And what if that word work is also translated as serve—and even worship—across the rest of God’s Grand Story in the sacred Scriptures?

What if our daily work is actually an amazing way to serve the Lord Christ (Colossians 3:23-24)?

Well, that might just change a thing or two! Right? That could deliver a serious sense of fresh calling, even awe and wonder in our daily tasks, especially on those days we feel less than motivated and far less than our best. We know we need regular attitude adjustments, even a perspective tune-up from time to time. But where do we encounter such recalibration?

If you find yourself too often agreeing with my dismal view of work as an eight-year-old, how about joining others for the Work As Worship Retreat on Friday, February 23, 8:30am to 3:30pm at Manor Church (530 Central Manor Rd, Lancaster PA, 17603)?

Eleven influential business leaders and pastors will discuss what it looks like to connect faith and work. This live event in Dallas is being live-streamed to Manor Church along with other satellite sites across the country. The day will be filled with real-life stories, biblical teaching, and practical wisdom that will equip you to see your daily tasks in a brilliantly different light.

Learn more and register here: http://www.manorchurch.org/workasworship

Registration is just $25 and includes lunch! I hope you’ll join us and discover more about this revolutionary concept of Work As Worship!

THE secret sauce for your best Thanksgiving (not available in stores or on Pinterest)

Every family has that one deliciously aggravating relative who comes to the big feast. “Aunt Eleanor” brings along her oh-so-scrumptious side dish of tantalizing green beans or extra-creamy, zesty-cheesy potato bake. Family members start to rave after their first forkfuls. “Wow, this is SO good! Yum!” But when she’s asked, “Can we please have this recipe?” her response is simply a quirky smirk and a shrug. You might hear, “Oh, I just whipped this up.” Or, “Hmm, this has been in the family for years. I think it’s in our cookbook from 1957.” (It’s then you recall that your own last mimeographed copy of the family cookbook was doused in thick, dark gravy back in 1987.) And in that moment you conclude: “Yea, fat chance we’re getting this recipe! It’s super secret.” And everyone knows that Aunt Eleanor likes it that way. (All eyes roll ‘round the table.)

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.”

~William Arthur Ward

Similarly, a heart of genuine gratitude—the very core of thanksgiving—can seem like a “secret sauce.” We know we’re supposed to be thankful for both our blessings and life’s rascally challenges. We acknowledge that this season of thanks presents a poignant motivation to ramp up our intentional declarations. We truly long to be more grateful people. Nevertheless, the motivation, that spark and fresh taste of thankfulness still remain oh so elusive.

Fact is there’s a wonderful ingredient you can add to your life’s mix this year. It’s a secret sauce that will significantly spice up your ability to both feel and be more grateful. Tucked into the classic Thanksgiving psalm for God’s people, we read:

Know that the LORD, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.  ~Psalm 100:3-4 (NKJV)

This text scoops scrumptious thanksgiving ingredients into the gratitude bowls of our souls. In context, the ingredients include noisy joy, echoes of mission, passionate service, giddy gladness, anticipatory presence, songs of praise, and all-out recognition of both God’s immense goodness and His forever faithfulness.

But there’s one dominant ingredient I’ve often overlooked. It’s tucked deep in the center, yes something of a secret sauce. A symphony of sensory images (sheep, gates, courts) blend with the insistent possessives. “His” is repeated again and again, emphasizing the LORD as our Kingly Creator. And the secret sauce smacks of this:

. . . not we ourselves; we are his . . . (vs. 3)

If we pause and contemplate, this ingredient is a powerful perspective changer! He created us. Not we ourselves. He placed us in our precious families. Not we ourselves. He supplied us with daily work. Not we ourselves. He gave us intellect, energy, ambition, and each strategic asset. Not we ourselves. The Lord’s gracious work—His teaching, miracles, the cross, the empty grave, the ascension, and His Spirit—all are stunning gifts. Such glorious salvation and character-transforming work. I cannot take an ounce of credit. Neither can you. We are His!

Can we say it together? Not we ourselves.

No wonder the Apostle Paul said: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. ~Ephesians 2:8-10 (NIV)

Thanksgiving’s secret sauce involves this raw recognition: “It’s not about me, who I can be or what I’ve accomplished. It’s all about God’s great grace.” Such realization realigns my perspective and provokes greater levels of gratitude and ever-growing trust.

Of course, this is something we all wish Aunt Eleanor would recognize. Perhaps then, she’d be open to share that secret recipe. (Okay, I realize that’s highly unlikely. And we certainly shouldn’t count on her pinning it on Pinterest!)

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

 

 

The Messy Middle—When You’re NOT Flourishing

Flourishing or not

My three sons are now enjoying the zenith of their youth. With thick hair on their heads, they readily revel in highlighting their dad’s graying, thinning, Friar Tuck up top and his less-than bulging biceps. I remind them that I can still take them any day in a wrestling match. They grin and sport a “We wouldn’t want to hurt you; we still need your paycheck” look.

This summer, my two oldest adventured for work and mission in Los Angeles, Port-Au-Prince, Moscow, and D.C. If he’s lucky these days, their father might trip off to New Jersey some evening if there’s a little gas remaining in a vehicle. Sure signs of my own middle age on Middle-earth.

That’s all tongue-in-cheek. Really. I’m seriously thrilled my boys are flourishing. And there’s our beloved buzzword. It’s everywhere these days, zooming about in the titles, texts, subtitles, and subtexts of the latest, greatest, brightest, and mightiest of current thinking on the good work and Good News for our desperate world.

“God wants humans to flourish.”

That’s true. I concur that from the earliest pages of the Gospel story to the final shout of Revelation’s victory, God is working for his humans and all creation to experience redeemed flourishing—all for his glory.

But my heart is aching these days for the messy middle where most of us spend so much of life. What about the hard-working entrepreneur whose best-made strategies seem to produce zilch in profits five years in a row? What about the uber-creative, aspiring artist who can’t land an agent or garner more than fifty followers on Twitter? What about my beautiful friend from high school who’s passionately checking off her bucket list as she battles cancer? And there’s my friend serving in that stifling hot, undisclosed location on the other side of the globe, laboring to learn a new language, to make new friends with Muslims and somehow make ends meet—all for the good of Jesus’ kingdom work.

I’ve been reminded lately that this messy middle—the graying, not-so-flourishing places where most of us live most of life—can actually be a very good place. Dusty words from the old prophet Habakkuk supply some beautiful ugly perspective:

“Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.” —Habakkuk 3:17-19 (KJV)

Such vivid description of NOT flourishing! But right there, Habakkuk made the choice to rejoice and find his strength in the LORD God.

How do we become such joy curators & joy carriers, especially when it feels like we are not flourishing? Here are 7 ideas you might find empowering in the messy middle:

Create more holidays! Recall that holidays were originally HOLY days, like Sabbath and festivals. Why such intentional plans? God himself celebrates, delights, and gushes joy, even at the end of each day of Creation (see Genesis 1-2)!

Celebrate thanksgiving daily, not just in November. Deliberately make lists of situations, people, and provisions for which you are grateful. It’s tough to stay stuck in doom and gloom, pessimism and skepticism, when you are reflecting thanks.

Laugh on wholesome humor. If you need a kick-starter, go watch a couple clips from Michael Jr. or Tim Hawkins on YouTube. Get ready to laugh.

Hang out with joyful people. They are contagious!

Break from your devices. Sometimes, we think we’re not flourishing because we’re stuck playing comparison games with everyone else’s stunningly beautiful lives as portrayed on Fakebook and Instacram. Admit it; you might need a break.

Bless and serve others! There is something SO uplifting, therapeutic, Jesus-like, and joy-producing about deliberately focusing on other people’s needs, interests, and opportunities.

Start now. Choose joy in the present! Psalm 118:24-25 motivates us: “The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad. Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success!” (NIV)

Even in such messy middle, those seasons when it seems like our work and overall life is not flourishing, we can make our bigger discovery—this choice to rejoice. We can find fresh strength in Christ. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll discover there’s actually something new beginning to flourish in our souls!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marvin’s Market’s Marvelous Thanksgiving

thanksgiving turkey

You can feel it. There’s an extra-early push of retailers’ holiday marketing this year. Everyone is working for higher numbers. And why not—it’s smart business! ‘Seems stores everywhere are scrambling to declare an extension of Black Friday, stretching your can’t-miss deals to include the entire month. One of my favorite radio stations just launched their Christmas music, and it’s only mid-November. Now, I love Jingle Bells with the best of ‘em, but I find myself rolling my eyes and uttering a sarcastic pleeeez under my breath, as I change the station. Could we at least get to Thanksgiving week?

As the pulse of purchasing, the trappings of tinsel, and the wanna-be sensational sales season all crank up, it could be tempting for all of us to go crazy over the almighty push of the product. In fact, during this year—when everyone is longing for a further surge in economic recovery—it would be easier than ever to believe the only bottom line is the number of units sold and how deep the stacks of greenbacks grow.

I find myself asking, as we push into the season of big sales and the hopes that Santa’s sleigh will be overflowing: Does service-oriented, responsive business still matter? And if so, what difference might it really make?

Mom and I sat at Panera together one evening in October, indulging in scrumptious salads and delectable sandwiches. Amid the warm chatter, our conversation morphed into reminiscing about Thanksgivings of yesteryear. One tale she shared from her childhood serves as a poignant reminder of the power—yea, even the all-out necessity—of responsive, service-oriented business.

In step with many classic homes of the 1950s, Mom’s family typically procured their turkey for the big feast from the local grocer. Marvin’s Market was known throughout the region of Lebanon, Ohio for supplying fresh, quality meats at fair prices—and with exceptional service. So naturally, the Thanksgiving of 1956 would be no exception. There was simply no question where Everett Hall’s family would purchase the bird for their Thanksgiving Day spread.

On his way home from work on Thanksgiving Eve, Everett, Mom’s dad (and my granddad), would pick up the immense turkey, weighing in at nearly twenty pounds. It was fresh—never frozen—and carefully wrapped in crisp, white butcher paper. By this point in the day, my grandmother, Mom’s mom, would be working feverishly with Aunt Grace and other relatives, baking pies, chopping bread, and mixing the seasonings for stuffing.

It was my mother’s dubious task (at the ripe old age of seven) to meticulously pull any tiny, black pinfeathers that might still be remaining in the turkey’s body. On this particular Thanksgiving Eve, immediately after dinner and dishwashing, Grandma landed Tom Turkey in the middle of their big oval, oak kitchen table. Gram began to pull back the white paper as Mom huddled close to begin her pinfeather-pulling task.

To their horror and disgust, as the paper was pulled back, they were quickly greeted by a repulsive odor emanating from the great bird. Grandma and Mom grabbed for their noses and called for Grandpa. Everett came quickly, and with one whiff of the carcass, he declared their bird to be spoiled and not fit for consumption—not even for the canines of the house. It was a tremendously foul smell, indeed!

By now it was nearly 8 p.m. Grandpa promptly picked up the phone and dialed Marvin. He placed the call to his home phone. Within three rings, Marvin answered. Grandpa kindly explained. “So sorry to bother you, Marvin, but we’ve got a glitch in our feast. It seems that somehow, a bad bird landed on our table. You won’t believe the horrific smell.”

‘Just fifteen minutes, and Marvin himself was rapping on their front door and delivering a fresh, twenty-five pound gobbler. It would be the biggest feast the Hall house had ever experienced. Marvin apologized profusely for the mishap, and just as quickly as he came, he whisked away the stinking tom. In the moments that followed Marvin’s departure, Grandma and Mom made a stunning discovery. They quickly concluded that Marvin had brought them his own family’s turkey. Removing the classic paper, they discovered this bird was already meticulously cleaned. Not a single black pinfeather could be found.

Even in 1956, while such behavior was more expected and deemed noble, this was still astonishingly impressive business—especially after-hours on the eve of a holiday. Indeed, it spoke a passionate focus for serving people.

While we like to say we value a personalized people-focus, we must collectively confess, such attitudes and actions are rare in our day. So, I’m wondering: Are our teams primed and ready, in this holiday season 2013, not only to deliver a stack of product, sell a bunch, and make a bunch, but to also deliver exceptional service, to truly serve others in ways that bless and add real value?

Author Ken Eldred, in his insightful book The Integrated Life, draws from Jesus’ greatest command, loving God and loving neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39). Eldred concludes that the real goal of business is to serve others to the glory of God, and he cites J.C. Penney, founder of the successful retail chain, who espoused this overarching objective in business. In an early store ad, Penney critiqued the dichotomized thinking so prevalent in business, with this clarification:

The assumption was that business is secular, and service is religious. I have never been able to accept that line of arbitrary demarcation . . . . Is not service part and parcel of business? It seems to me so; business is therefore as much religious as it is secular. If we follow the admonition to love God, and our neighbors as ourselves, it will lead us to understand that, first of all, success is a matter of the spirit.[1]

Thus, Penney’s foundational goal in business was serving others to the glory of God. I wonder what could happen, in our collective spirit and the bigger bottom line, if we would dare to broaden our thinking.

Consider a quick handful of ideas as we roll full-steam into the season:

First, check your own attitude as a leader. “Is my heart focusing on truly serving others? Am I daily cultivating a people-focused mindset?”

Second, take the time to gather your team(s) and talk about the importance of going above and beyond this season. Perhaps reading them this dusty old tale from my mom’s childhood would help orient them to a renewed service mindset. Let them discuss what they believe was Marvin’s motivation as well as what the outcomes would have been had he not demonstrated such service for the Hall family.

Third, raise the bar. Challenge your teams, at every level, to intentionally plan for slowing down, talking and sharing with customers, and finding ways to actually care and serve their clients and contacts each day and each week. Such intentionality will be an important cure for the all-too-often crushing, rushing push of the frantic season!

Mom and I chuckled as she wrapped up her recounting of Marvin’s most marvelous moment for the Hall family’s Thanksgiving. We shook our heads together with big smiles. Mom reflected, “Do you realize that Marvin’s one act of service, such personalized customer-concern was so powerful, we are still talking about it over five decades later?”

Who will be reminiscing about your team’s exceptional care and service in 2063?


[1]Eldred, The Integrated Life, 43-44.