How To Find Success and Fame in One Step

For years I have been on metaphysical merry-go-round, running after success and fame. I chased after it as a musician in my 20’s, as a minister in my 30’s, as a teacher and coach in my 40’s, and as an author in my 50’s. The endless striving comes out of my own story that left me hopelessly stained with a sense of failure and aloneness during my adolescent years.

As I got older, my mind could grasp how deceptive success could be and how ephemeral fame truly was, yet my heart still compulsively grasped after both, scavenging among the dry husks of the world for anything to ingest. My head and heart, so divided, became a source of enormous anguish for me, always searching and never finding, trying to kill my heart in the process and never succeeding even there (thankfully).

But in the past few years, Jesus has been persistently entering my turmoil and closing that terrible chasm. Just last week, I was thinking through John 15 and was struck again by His words, words that suggest how anyone can find both success and fame in one step.

Jesus declared it simply in vs. 4: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” It’s as if he were saying, “You need to focus on one thing only: stay close to Me, make your heart’s home in Me, seek to stay in My presence. If you persist, I will come and make your heart My home, coaching you and walking with you all the way to the end.

But the really momentous stuff comes after this: “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit” (vs. 5), and then again in vs. 8: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit.” The operative word here is much. If we stay yoked to Jesus, we will produce a bountiful harvest. In other words, we will become a success before Him, famous in His eyes, for we are known and favored by Him, and in the end, only His opinion of us matters. We truly play our lives out before an audience of one, whether we realize it or not.

As I have struggled to remain in Jesus, I have been feeling those eyes upon me, eyes that desire my company, and along with that His voice whispering: I know you, I understand you, I hear you. When I’m listening to HIm, I don’t even think about success or fame anymore. I’m just enjoying Him.

It's then I realize: The aching divide is closing. I’m not running anymore. 

That's the wonder of Jesus.


Why Do We Read??

As the books pile up in our house, we are now forced to get rid of some or resell them. The collection has multiplied over the years as our whole family has become inveterate readers. We are so content (even on vacations) to simply pull out our books and read. So it got me thinking recently: why do we all read?

Of course, we read to be entertained during the day and to calm our minds before bed at night. But there is more. I think most of us are looking for something as we read, searching and hopeful. I know I am always on the hunt with a book, but exactly what?

In my early years, I was after knowledge. I hungered to know about the world, about life, so that I could figure myself out. It was always a flight into high intellectual plains, one that I often charted alone. I remember walking into the Duke library (one of the largest university libraries in America) and feeling that if I could just read the major books here, perhaps I could solve the riddle of life, especially mine.

As I got older, I began to read, especially stories, because it awakened me in unpredictable ways. I was on the hunt to resurrect my heart from years of self-imposed quarantine. Here I found myself identifying with characters, like Alyosha in Brothers Karamazov, or wanting to be like heroic ones, such as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. In the identification, I found that the stories helped clarify my own life story.

But recently, a new reason to read suddenly struck me: I read to connect to the writer himself, crossing barriers of time and culture. It’s to know and feel his pain and sorrow, his joy and wonder, so that I won't feel so isolated in my own world. Perhaps some of this has emerged as I have become an author. I recently read about Van Gogh’s longing to connect to others through his painting. Although he was not an author, I found myself suddenly weeping. Yes, I understood Van Gogh. I too long to connect through my writing, and I imagine other authors experience the same ache.

Perhaps all of this musing is an echo of the Lord himself, the great Author and Creator. He has left his fingerprints everywhere for us (even in books!), hoping that we will reach out and find him, for he is not far from any of us (Acts 17:27). He longs for us to know Him and to feel known by Him.

So go ahead, open a book today and read. Who knows what may happen!

A Brief Sampling from Divided

With the launch of Divided in March, I thought I would do a blog this month and one in February with brief excerpts from the book. Here is one of my favorite stories that shows so clearly the divide between our head and heart: 

Once while teaching a class, I told several stories that outlined how my heart and head got split by silent, compulsive vows. After my time of storytelling, I asked the class to put words to some of their own voiceless beliefs and commitments.

One man finally spoke up, and it was the last thing I expected to hear: “If I speak up, I’ll look like an idiot.” Ironically, he was admitting the fear and hesitation that everyone was wrestling with. His bold move opened the way for others to follow. A woman then raised her hand and admitted, “If I’m good, nothing bad will happen.” Another one offered this: “No one really cares what I say anyway.” Another woman submitted this response: “If I stay disconnected, then I won’t have to deal with people who hurt me.” A man then recounted a recent attempt to repair something that his wife needed fixing in the house. As he admitted his shame over the failure to get the job done, he spoke this one: “I’m not man enough to figure this out.” One woman, who seemed so thoughtful with her children, caught me off guard when she stated, “I’m responsible for all the pain and failure in my children.” Many others then began to pour out their own hidden convictions: “If God really loved me, this wouldn’t be happening to me.” “If I were successful, this wouldn’t be happening to me.” “Why try? Nothing will change anyway.” “Whatever happens, it’s always my fault.”

As each statement came, I wrote out the growing list for everyone to see. Then, when the hands had all been called on, I stepped back, and we all looked at the list. It was a moment of quiet wonder, approaching something almost holy, as we saw our secret convictions out on public display. Something important was happening, something groundbreaking. I could sense it.

I then put up a second list, this one consisting of basic truths from the New Testament. I formatted them like the previous list, using the first-person pronoun I: “I can never be separated from God’s love. I will never be forsaken or abandoned by God. I cannot be condemned in Christ. I have the righteousness of Jesus. I have every spiritual blessing in Christ. I am a delight to my Father in heaven. I am forgiven and washed clean.” Then I simply asked the class, “What do these two lists have to do with each other?”

I will never forget the first answer given. It was one word: “Nothing.”

It’s important to note that my class that day consisted of believers well tutored in the Bible. Most of them had attended church for years, having heard hundreds of sermons and countless Bible lessons. Some were even church leaders and could give good answers to theological questions. After some initial discussion, one brave man finally admitted his growing disgust: “This is pathetic. Is this the best we can do after all the teaching and preaching we’ve received?”

I had hit something raw and jarring. I had hit a divide inside of everyone else.

That's all for this week! I'll return to my regular blog next week.




Top 10 Things I Learned With the Flu


My family got slammed with the flu last week, as my daughter Rachel slid into the abyss first, followed by me (Heidi thankfully was spared). After 24 hours with the virus, I became a shivering mass of flesh, pitifully prone in fetal position with layers of blankets on top of me. Somehow I knew then that I was being summoned to stop all of my seemingly urgent tasks and just listen. So besides sleeping, I read and journaled through much of my convalescence. Here are 10 top things I learned during that time:

10.  I realize again why Pilgrim’s Progress is the most printed book in history after the Bible. Reading about the Slough of Despond, the Valley of Humiliation, and the battle with Apollyon reminded me so much of my own life story. Bunyan’s experience 250 years ago is so universal: we are all on a journey, one that can take us to our true home.

9. Wearing a mask prevents spreading the flu, but seeing is impaired (foggy glasses) and eating is...well, impossible.

8.  Madeleine L’Engle’s book on writing, Walking on Water, is beautifully rendered and filled with gems. But little did I expect my response when she portrayed the ache of the artist to communicate, citing the sadness of Van Gogh’s life—I paused and wept. Yes, I also ache to communicate and have readers understand, though I rarely admit it.

7. Ginger Ale and chicken broth are not my normal menu items, but when sick, both taste like a sumptuous feast.

6. I realized that my thirst for knowledge, a constant prod for all my life, is both God-given and yet corrupted. I have often used knowing ideas as a way to stay disconnected from others, trying to figure things out on my own, so that I wouldn't have to be known. The Father revealed this to me as I journaled: seek to know so that I can love. Yes, that's it. Only in love, especially love for God, is all knowledge redeemed. 

5. Tamiflu is worth the price tag. Instead of five or more days of misery, mine was only two.

4. The characters in Oliver Twist are haunting and unforgettable, especially Oliver. He is both despised and adored, almost a Christ figure, and I could not help but grow to love the boy through all his trials.

3. I am floored by how much Kleenex you can run through with the flu.

2. Pascal, in his Pensees, continues to be a trustworthy guide on the wretchedness of man and the beauty of Jesus. Here is an example of his incisiveness: “All men seek happiness…This is the motive of every act of every man, including those who go and hang themselves.”

1. There is light after the darkness. I awoke around 9 AM yesterday with the fever gone and my strength returning. I am thankful for all I learned, but more thankful for my good health today.

Father, use whatever you need to get our attention. Capture our hearts so that we may rest in Your capture of us. 

Next week: an excerpt from the new book, Divided.