The Failure of Success

sad successThere are a countless number of people in the world today who are driven by the quest to obtain success! They dedicate all of their mental, spiritual and physical energy to the task of obtaining material success. Now while the apprehension of success has been touted to be a worthwhile endeavor, most who sincerely engage in the quest usually are disappointed in the end. They are disappointed, not because they fail to achieve a measurable amount of success, but rather because they do indeed become successful! Now you may ask: “Why would anyone who achieves success be disappointed?” Well, they are disappointed because they discover that success is not all that it has been reported to be! The person, who makes the achievement of success the ultimate goal and reaches it, discovers the failure of success!

What is the failure of success? The failure of success is in the fact that success was not designed to be the end or the goal of life! In the New Testament, Jesus put it this way when he asked the question: “What does it profit a man if he should gain the whole world and lose his soul?” Now the traditional interpretation of the question is that Jesus was asking what good is it for a person to gain all of the material success in life and then die and go to Hell. But I think there was more to that question than just the eschatological interpretation we have traditionally given it! Jesus could have also been asking: “What good is it if a person is successful but loses themselves in the process?” Jesus knew that success, as we commonly define it, was a failure! That is why he replied to the man who asked him to settle a property dispute he was having with his brother: “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses!” Jesus already knew what many spend a lifetime to discover: Success does not satisfy!

But why is success a failure and why doesn’t success satisfy? Success is a failure and it doesn’t satisfy because we weren’t made just for success; we were made for significance! The ultimate purpose of our sojourn upon the earth is not to accumulate; but rather to contribute! Not to gain, but to give! The ultimate goal is not how much we can count, but rather in how much we count! Success is a failure because the real goal is not to make a living; but rather to make a life! And how do you make a life? You make a life by making your life count! And you make your life count by making a positive and lasting impact in the lives of those around you and even in the lives of generations to come!

People today are frantically engaged in the pursuit of success, but what they really want is significance! People just want to matter!  People just want to make a difference! Now if you make a positive difference in the lives of others by being successful, then that’s good! But if your success only benefits you and yours, then your success is really a failure! For in the end, the measure of a man’s life will not be in how successful he was, but rather in how much of a difference he made! Not in how much he gained; but rather in how much he gave! Not in his success; but rather in his significance!

Premature Death and Social Suicide

CT-MET-JOJO-FUNERAL-A_CTMAIN 0915 SR

As I am writing this post, I am grieved and saddened over the senseless violence that is strangling too many communities in our nation. Recently, in our own locale, we have been reeling from the tragedy of a young business entrepreneur murdered by a 17 year old for an iPhone in a Craigslist transaction! Another young father was killed trying to purchase an iPad for Christmas from a private seller! Then, there is the case of a young lady killed in a shoot-out over a hair weave sale! It breaks my heart when any one dies seemingly before their time, but it is even more heartbreaking when the death is caused by senseless violence! With all of these senseless killings happening all across our country on a daily basis, our society is, in a sense, committing social suicide! Let me show you what I’m talking about.

I believe that the God who created this world is a God of purpose. Therefore, whatever God did, does, and will do, was, is and will be for a reason and a purpose. Every individual’s birth and life means that they have a purpose ordained by God. All of us are here for a season for a reason. The primary objective for each and every individual’s life is the discovery and fulfillment of the purpose for which they were created and born. I also believe that the lengths of our lives are also tied to our purpose for life and that we are given the gift of time specifically for the fulfillment of that purpose. Therefore, there really is no time to waste or kill!

Therefore, when an individual’s life is cut short by a violent premature death, not only is it tragic that the individual will never fulfill their life’s purpose, it is also tragic because all of us will suffer loss because of that premature death! The reason we all will suffer loss is because whatever that person’s purpose was, it really wasn’t for them; it was for the rest of us! Whatever a person’s purpose; it is primarily for the benefit of others and not for themselves. In other words, my purpose is for you and your purpose is for me!

Premature death is the ultimate tragedy because it forever negates a person’s chance to fulfill their purpose! They will never make the contribution they were born to make! And because they will never make that contribution; we all suffer! But a premature death is not the only culprit that kills purpose. Many times a person’s destiny and purpose remains unfulfilled even in life because of a lack of discipline, a lack of favorable opportunities, a lack of strength and resolve or simply ignorance and selfishness. So, a person does not have to die for their purpose to die! I am convinced that many of the answers to many of societies’ ills are, even now locked up in the minds of some persons who are strung out on drugs or alcohol. The answers may be in the minds of individuals who are convinced that their lives don’t matter and therefore, they have no hope of rising up from their dire situation and making the contribution they were born to make.

But whatever the case, I beg you to make a conscientious effort to make a positive impact upon the lives of the people around you however, whenever and wherever you can! You may not be able to reach everybody; but you can reach somebody! Talk to that kid down the street! Encourage that single Mom who is about to give up on life! Be a mentor for that young man who is searching for meaning! The life you save may not be just theirs; it could very well be your own! You never know, that person’s purpose may be directly tied to your very survival! And even if there is no direct connection, there is an indirect connection because we all were put here for the benefit and well-being of one another!

It Tolls for All of Us!

In 1623 the English poet, John Donne wrote:

“No man is an island,

Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manor of thy friend’s

Or of thine own were:

Any man’s death diminishes me,

Because I am involved in mankind,

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

It tolls for thee.”

me_Johns

The message of this poem is this: No single person is absolutely independent of all other persons! Every person is a part of the whole! Therefore, whatever happens to one has an effect on everyone else! I am a firm believer in this philosophy! The God I read about in the Bible is a God of purpose. Everything God did and everything God does was and is driven by purpose. Purpose pre-dated creation! God did not create and then found purpose; purpose was the reason for the creation! Therefore, the fact that you and I are here at this present time is proof that God has a purpose for our lives! Our births were not accidents, nor were they from unplanned incidents! (Those incidents may have been unplanned by our parents, but they didn’t catch God by surprise!) Our life has purpose!

Now, the reason I am so concerned about your life and your purpose is because your life and your purpose have a direct bearing upon my life! You see, your purpose is not just about you and my purpose is not just about me! Our purpose is about each other and others! Therefore, it is important to me that you become the you that God created you to be and it is important to you that I become the me God created me to be! I’ve been saying this to my church family for years and now I want to share it with you: I am convinced that the answers to many of the world’s ills are, even now, locked up in the mind of some young man or woman who have no idea of their purpose! And since they have no idea of their purpose; they are not fulfilling their purpose and we all are suffering as a consequence!

In Christian circles, we place a tremendous amount of effort in getting people “saved” so they might go to Heaven when they die. But salvation is about more than just a ticket to the Heavenly Banquet or a Free Pass from Hell! Salvation is also about being “saved from” a life of uselessness and being “saved to” the God-purposed life! Just as any creation cannot know the “why” of its existence without insight from the one who created it; we cannot know our purpose apart from the revelation that comes from a relationship with the One who created us with purpose in mind.

Consider this simplified illustration: Let’s supposed that it was God’s purpose for a certain young man to ultimately be a pharmaceutical chemist who would develop a drug to cure a debilitating illness that God knew you and several other people would have in the prime of your life. However, this young man never made it to college or med-school because he got involved in illegal activities and was sent to prison or killed. So, as time goes on, you develop disease that he was born to develop the drug to cure. But because he missed his purpose; you will suffer and perhaps even die pre-maturely! Now this may sound a little too simple and far-fetched to you, but have you thought about how much life would be different if Abraham Lincoln had never won the presidency? What if Adolf Hitler or Mussolini had been converted to Christianity? What if Martin Luther King, Jr., had decided that just being a local pastor was all he was supposed to do? Just as the decisions and lives of these men affect us even years after they are no longer alive, so do our decisions and lives impact the lives of people around us today and for years to come!

That is the real tragedy of the young gang-banger or the innocent victim getting killed in the streets! It was never God’s intention or God’s purpose for him to be a gang-banger or for the innocent victim to die an early death! Their deaths are not just tragic for their families and the people who knew and loved them; their deaths are tragic for all of us! We will never know “who or what they were meant to be!” We will never benefit from the gift (purpose) they were born to give! They may have been born to be the doctor to perfect a life-saving medical procedure. But because they didn’t fulfill their purpose and died much too early; others will also die pre-mature and unnecessary deaths!

Yes! It’s true what the poet said; “Any (in fact, every) man’s death diminishes me because I am involved with mankind!” Therefore when I hear of young people killing one another and killing innocent victims, I cry! I cry, not only for their families and friends, I cry for you and me! I cry because we all suffer because of their deaths! We all suffer because of their incarceration in the prison system! We all suffer because of the destruction of their potential! Their purpose, which was given to benefit the rest of us, has been aborted! Therefore, when we hear of any person’s death; we should never send to know for whom the bell tolls, because it tolls for all of us!

Why Are You Here?

I can remember, as a child, I asked my mother: “Mom, if you hadn’t had me, who would have had me?” In response, my mother just gave me a long look and then she said: “Boy! Go somewhere and play!” She never answered my question and believe it or not, after all this time, I am still curious to know the answer!

My question to my Mom might be one that cannot be answered, but there is a question that everyone should have an answer for! That question is the question of the purpose for your sojourn here on this earth. Now, I am not talking about general purpose, I’m talking about specific purpose. The Westminster Catechism says that man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. So, the general purpose of man is to glorify God, but how do we do that? Everybody doesn’t glorify God exactly the same way! Jesus gave us a hint in John 17. As he prayed, he said to his Father in verse 4: “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” (ESV) So, we can deduct from the prayer of Jesus that a person glorifies God, thereby fulfilling God’s purpose, by accomplishing the work that God has given him or her to do. Therefore, you can answer the original question by finding out what “the work” is that God has given you to do.

The work of Moses was to lead the Children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage. The work of Joshua was to lead the Children of Israel to inherit and possess the Promised Land. The work of Jesus was to die on the cross and be raised from the dead for the redemption of mankind. The work of the Apostle Paul was to establish the church among the non-Jewish peoples. The work of Martin Luther was to spark the Reformation. The work of Abraham Lincoln was to save the Union and free the slaves. The work of Martin Luther King, Jr., was to lead the non-violent civil rights moment. Now, we know about all these individuals, but they were not so unique in the sense that they were the only ones in their generation given a specific work to do. Every person has a calling (a work) and has been equipped to do a specific work.

The main goal or purpose of any individual’s life is not to make money or to be successful, but rather to find their specific work (purpose for being) and engage in that work with all of their strength. You are here in this particular season for a specific reason! Your main pursuit in life should not be success or fame, but rather purpose! Sometimes success and/or fame will come with purpose, sometimes it will not. And if your calling is one that does not bring you notoriety, don’t think little of it. The work that God has called you to do is just as important as the work of Abraham, Moses, the Apostle Paul, or Martin Luther!

However, the one of the greatest tragedies of life is to go through life and even die without ever knowing and/or fulfilling your purpose! It is a tragedy to die without ever knowing why you were born! And as I look around today, the tragedy of people leaving without ever knowing why they came is all too common!