First of all, I would like to greet my readers a Merry Christmas! I hope that Christmas is a joyful and meaningful season for you as you celebrate Christ.
I have two more posts for 2018, which has been a year of low writing output. I’ve just been really really really busy with my current startup life, which includes being a startup husband (2 years), a startup dad (1 year), and a startup CEO (3 years). Much of my last post, the 2018 Finale post, will be a synthesis of these experiences. The title of that post is The Light from a Soul Burning and the Brightness of a Thousand Different Sparks.
The other post is this one, at least the one that follows this introduction. It’s is my Christmas post for the year.
I wrote it in on our trip to Taiwan last week, after listening to my father speak on the following verse:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Isaiah 9:6 ESV
As I listened to my dad’s preaching about The Promise of Christmas; as he read the verse in Isaiah 9 describing Jesus as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace; I remembered a recent article I wrote about what makes someone spiritual. I realized that the descriptions of Jesus in the verse, words describing the coming baby Jesus, speak of not just any baby, but a spiritual one. A Wonderful Counselor who would have transcendent wisdom, an Everlasting Father for an enteral horizon, and a Prince of Peace that values shalom, an amazing concept of spiritual harmony that comes from our restoration with God (sacred values).
But I missed one, like I miss a thousand things. I missed Mighty God, and that’s an important thing to add. A truly spiritual person, has evidence of Supernatural Power, a power that comes from being deeply connected to God. It’s not enough to have wisdom, to have eternal love, nor to pursue Shalom. We also need the power to put that wisdom into practice, to turn the love we get from God into love for others, and to achieve harmony in life. That’s why I wanted to update my list of spiritual traits and add Supernatural Power.
Let me summarize it here:
Wonderful Counselor – Transcendent Wisdom
Mighty God – Supernatural Power
Everlasting Father – Eternal Love
Prince of Peace – Bringer of Shalom
It’s no accident that Christmas has a spiritual feel to it. While the busy-ness of the season many times distract us, there’s enough power in the tradition to bring families together, to cause some gratefulness and reflection that we sometimes simply think of as nostalgia. But it’s more than just warm feelings for a time past. It’s a yearly call to embrace the spiritual, to go beyond just the material here and now, to seek transcendent wisdom, to live for an eternal horizon, to pursue the sacred value of Shalom, and to be animated by the supernatural power of a Mighty God.
Here are some reflection questions to ask during this season:
Am I thinking and acting with eternity in mind? Or am I simply reacting to the here and now, and chasing temporary things?
Am I making decisions based on Transcendent Wisdom? Or am I simply relying on common sense, human knowledge, and my own feelings?
What is my source of strength? Is it a good night’s sleep? A good meal? The compliments of others? My money? My body? My mind? Or am I finding strength by worshipping a Mighty God?
I asked myself these questions, and my honest assessment is that I haven’t done a great job living a truly spiritual life, as defined by the criteria I listed. The most damning point being that I am many times more preoccupied with temporal things instead of sacred and eternal matters. Many times the day to day responsibilities suck up the spirituality from my life.
This is why personal reflections are important. It’s beneficial to take yourself out of the busyness and recalibrate spiritually.
Christmas is a perfect time to do this.
Christmas is also a perfect time to worship. When my reflections reveal a man lacking in every way, I turn to God. I may not be the best model of spirituality, but I trust in someone who is more than a model. I follow the one the verses were talking about, my Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.
I was in the middle of writing another article (What Makes a Great HR Manager?) when I decided to write this one instead. As I was writing down my thoughts on the need for Human Resource Managers to go back to its core purpose of acquiring, developing, deploying, and protecting necessary people, I realized just how far forgetting our core purpose can take us. Most managers I know want to do a great job. They want to feel proud of their work. They want to be promoted. They want to succeed. But I would also say that most managers I know are nowhere as effective as they would like to be, not so much because they don’t have the potential nor desire, but because they’ve forgotten the core purpose of the role in the busyness of the role. It’s ironic, but it happens a lot, that a person busily working on a role ends up forgetting the reason of the role. I am guilty of this. When we forget the core purpose, we start evaluating things wrongly, and when we have dishonest scales (which the Lord abhors), we start putting more weight on the wrong things and not enough emphasis on the things that need attention.
It’s like a father too busy at work trying to fulfill his role as provider that he forgets he isn’t just a bills payer, he is a father, and the only one his kids will have. So this father starts evaluating himself based on how much money he brings in and is satisfied or dissatisfied depending on how well he is able to do this. The person will end up being a bad father, and it’s not because he wants to be a bad father, on the contrary, it’s because he wants to be a good father. It is his mistaken emphasis on providing, and not the core purpose of providing love, identity, protection, along with the provision which makes a father.
It’s like a husband and wife too busy trying to fulfill their own and shared dreams that they forget to love each other in a way that reflects Christ’s love, and in the process end up burdening each other instead with expectation after expectation. People like this won’t make good spouses, not because they don’t want a good marriage, but exactly because they want a good marriage, but a wrongly defined marriage, a marriage built around each other’s happiness, not the reflection of true love.
It’s like a company too busy with its policies, its operations, it’s growth, its sales, and its efficiency that it forgets its customer, only to wake up one day to find that the business is crashing because someone else is meeting the needs of the customer in a much better way. It will fail not because it doesn’t want to succeed but because it has forgotten that companies do not exist to pursue policies but to serve customers. They will become victims of their own vigilance.
It’s like a leader allowing himself to be drawn into petty arguments or defensive exchanges on twitter, on text, or in person, forgetting that a leader should hold himself or herself above feelings and dispassionately focus on principles. This leader, because of his care, ends up hurting the organization he cares about most, simply because he has forgotten that the primary role of a leader is to influence others by the example he makes, and not realizing that the example he is multiplying is bad for the organization.
It’s like a church so caught up in its dogma, in its programs, in its leaders, and in its traditions that it starts becoming more and more about the security and satisfaction of its members and leaders, such as what is happening in our current materialistic version of Christianity. We end up hurting our lives, not because we don’t want a good life, but because we want “our best life now”, but forget that our lives have a core purpose of glorifying God.
It’s like a parent burdening their kids with pressure to get high grades, bombarding them with studies and bribes, but forgetting the purpose of education is to prepare a person for liberty, to teach them how to make free wise decisions, NOT simply hit grades. Then we wonder why our young people are weak, why, despite their good grades, they’re ineffective. We educated them for grades not for the core purpose of learning.
I can go on and on of things we do and situations wherein the core purpose has been forgotten, and the very thing we think we are promoting, the very thing we think we are protecting, is the very thing we destroy, not because we are not hard working nor committed, but because we have forgotten the core purpose.
A good example of this, and one I use often with my team, is the story of Jesus and the High Priests:
One Sabbath, Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
– Matthew 12:1-8
The Pharisees, forgot that the core purpose of the Sabbath was for man to rest, not for man to be subservient to the Sabbath.
Jesus would again have to set His own disciples straight and point them back to the core purpose of His ministry:
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
– Matthew 20:23-28
His disciples were trying to get positions of influence, and Jesus says, “Hey. Ministry isn’t about positining for power or favors. This is about serving others, about laying your life down.” It’s very different from the politics and petty ego massaging common among religious and civil leaders. Why? It’s not because someone criticized them or was offensive, though we like to blame incidents. It’s because we have stopped emphasizing the core purpose. A good sign that we have lost our core purpose is when we are petty, when we are easily offended, easily angered, and easily frustrated.
Who cares if things are difficult if the core purpose is fulfilled?
Who cares if people are eating during the Sabbath if they are resting and recreating?
Who cares if your spouse can’t afford a grander lifestyle if he’s loving you faithfully?
Who cares if your sex life isn’t like the movies if your faithfully serving each other?
Who cares if your kids’ grades are low if they’re learning how to handle adversity and learning how to learn?
Who cares if the policies are changing if it means serving customers better?
Who cares if they way someone said something is offensive if the point is true?
Who cares if I am regularly corrected if it means growing more each day?
Who cares about the petty distractions when my core purpose is being fulfilled?
All of this to make one point: Go back to the core purpose.
We don’t start businesses for ourselves. We start them to serve customers, to bring them value.
We don’t lead people to order them around. We lead them to bring them to a better place, to bring all of us together to a better place.
We don’t get married to fulfill each other’s hopes and dreams, but to love each other faithfully.
We don’t preach to burden people with our morality but share the Gospel: The Good News!
We don’t make policies to police people, but to be efficient towards serving our customers.
Sad ironies happen when we forget what our core purpose is. We end up failing at that we have so intensely tried to work on. It’s ironic because the failure doesn’t come to those who didn’t work hard, but to those who worked hard on the wrong things, spending too much time, money, and energy on other things, and not enough on the core purpose.
In Revelations 2:2-5, a letter to the church in Ephesus is written:
“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
In the letter, the church is reminded that all the virtue and righteousness in the world is worthless if we forget “the love you had at first”, which is the original love for God and love for others, which is the core purpose of the Christian walk.
The Bible is so full of good advice for leaders in any field. This reminding letter can be applied to pretty much all our different life roles:
“I know your works, your efforts, your achievements, but you’ve forgotten to love your spouse, your first love.”
“I know your efficiencies, your growth, your dedication, but you’ve forgotten your customers, the people you’re supposed to be serving.”
“I know your service to your kids, how you provide, and how you care, but you’ve forgotten that this is about preparing them. This isn’t about you as a father or mother, but them learning to be faithful, loving, and wise.”
Again, I can go on. When we abandon the love we first had, the core purpose that attracted us, that made us fall in love, we end up destroying that which we are working on. It’s extra hard to correct this because no one can fault us for not trying or working hard. This requires a lot of personal humility to say, “My efforts, for all their good intentions, for all the energy I’m investing, is not leading to fulfilling the core purpose. I am sorry. I need to change.” The person who can admit that is rare. This is why I believe most organizations, especially those that have tasted success will ultimately fail.
I worry about this in my own life a lot. I know how prone I am to making this mistake.
Like I said, it’s a sad irony. It’s sad when that which we worked on most is destroyed by our very own hands, simply because we have forgotten our first love, the core purpose we found beautiful at the start, especially the core people we were supposed to be serving.
“But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
– James 4:6
I carried my coughing 5-month old earlier at 3am. I was sleepy and tired, having gone to bed around 1am finishing a talk I was to give later on in the morning. I looked at the face of my Elijah, his also tired, snotty, crying face, and I couldn’t help but think how cute my son is. He really is the cutest baby in the whole world. “I love you so much.” I told him. “You have a cold, but you’re too strong to let a cold stop you. Look at you. You are standing.” He managed a weak smile. He loves it when people talk to him, especially when it is his mother. His smile erased whatever weariness I felt. The appreciation of someone you love is the greatest source of energy. Now I know why they say, “The Joy of the Lord is your strength.” When you know that who you love most, God, finds joy in you, you are filled with a different kind of power. You are filled with grace.
Later on, at the closing of the day, after some very exciting partnership meetings for Bridge, I thought about one of the questions a student asked me after my talk. He asked, “Not everyone has grown up like you with strong faith. How do we grow in faith?” As I thought about the question on stage, the first picture that came to my mind was the face of my son this morning, crying in my arms, wiping his snot and drool on my shirt, at 3am in the morning. Let me share with you my answer:
“There’s this myth that it is because we have great faith that we run to God. In truth, it is the opposite. It is those who admit their great need that run to God. Like my 5-month old who looks for his mom or father, who cries out to us for everything, those who need most cry out most. And I need most. I know myself too well to think I can handle life on my own. I know how evil I can be. I know how insecure I am. I know how weak I am, how limited I am. And I know how large the gap between who I am and who I must be is. And that’s why I call out to my Father. I, through prayer, wipe my snot and tears on the robe off His shoulder. I don’t pray and seek God because I have great faith or am a holy man. Contrary to that, I pray and seek God because I have great need.”
The crowd was quiet during my sharing, much like they usually are during other talks. I sometimes wonder if I’m boring them, but I hope that encouraged at least one person to run to God daily.
Life is unpredictable. Life is challenging. It can be complex and can seem difficult and unfair. I many times find myself limited in my abilities and knowledge, and I worry about how to meet all that life requires of me. But then I pause and remember that God is my Father, my perfect Father. I am His son. The beautiful worst case is Heaven with Him for eternity. I find that reassuring. My worst case is to be like Elijah, my baby, falling peacefully asleep in his father’s arms. My worst case is resting in God. And if I, an incredibly imperfect person would do all that I can to care for my son, how much more is a perfect Father caring for me.
And the best case? It’s infinite. That’s exciting. It could be anything. I could be anywhere. It could be something yet to be invented, something yet to be discovered. It could be with people I’ve never met. Just like when I make loving promises to my son, who doesn’t even know what the word “promise” means yet finds peace in my voice, I have faith that there are things I do not understand but are coming in my favor, simply because they come from my Father’s words in the Bible.
When your worst case is love you and your best case is infinite, you work extremely hard. The fear of failure, rejection, and death gives way to a Father’s reassurance, and the infinite possibilities of my Creator open up to me. If I can’t fail, should not I try more? If nothing is impossible, why should I not attempt greater?
I should and I shall. #DB