Archive for February, 2021

Everyone is looking for excellence, or at least a lot of people are.  A quick search of books on excellence will demonstrate the ubiquitous desire for this elusive quality.  The books that pop up span the spectrum of milieus.  Personal excellence, business excellence, academic excellence, excellence in sports, excellence in parenting are all represented in even a cursory review.  I have been pondering this topic since I opened a file on it in August of 2019.  I just could never envision the direction that I wanted it to go.  I had an experience that changed that today.

I went to Chic Fil A for lunch.  I have always been professionally impressed with the overall service model that Chic Fil A has developed and even more so that they have maintained (hupomone has a business application too).  Here is what I saw today.  Chic Fil A has been faced with a pandemic just as every other business, organization, school etc. in the world.  Many businesses and organizations have made adaptations in order to continue to operate.  They have also made concessions in quality and service.  They have cut little holes in their paradigm boxes in order to comply or avoid liability.  Others have just given up, not being able to see a way to make their paradigms remotely work.  I am not going to go into the details but what I saw today was an organization that looked at the operational exigencies of a world in pandemic and instead of cutting little holes in their operational paradigm to adapt and comply, accepting the cultural compromises that accompany such efforts, they just blew it up.  They restarted at their core values and said “How can we best express our core values operationally during the pandemic.”  Now I cannot vouch for every Chic Fil A, I have only visited this one recently (unfortunately Chic Fil A does not fit in my current nutritional regimen) but this location’s brand new paradigm is a wonderful expression of excellence in the face of adversity.

The Bible has a lot to say about excellence and being excellent.  The two Greek words that we translate as excellence and excellent (Kalos and Arete) among other things, are used well over 100 times in the New Testament.  Arete carries with it a sense of moral goodness or virtuous thought, feeling or action.  Paul uses this word once in Phillipians,

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Phillipians 4:8

Paul calls us to “dwell on” or meditate on/think about things that have this quality of moral goodness.  However he doesn’t just leave this quality in the thought realm.  In the very next verse he says,

“The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Phillipians 4:9

So we need to dwell on some things, but what things?  Things learned, Things received, things heard and things seen, then these things must become things practiced but it starts with the idea of excellence. Peter uses arete in direct reference to the attributes of God.

“But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” 1 Peter 2:9

How awesome is that as people set apart by God for His Glory we have the opportunity to proclaim His excellencies! The same qualities that we are called to dwell on and then put into practice. This is why our walk of maturing in Christ never ends. We should always be learning, receiving, hearing and seeing! This is how God works in us.

Peter then echoes Paul’s call for diligence and equates God’s excellence with our own as he summarizes the spiritual process of maturity.

3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. 5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:3-8

Here, Arete meets Hupomone as we are transformed into his likeness and become “neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” How amazing is it that when we apply ourselves to the process diligently, the Holy Spirit honors our commitment and we begin to evince the fruit of the Spirit and and take on the excellence of our Father in Heaven!

So how does all this relate to Chic Fil A? Chic Fil A has anchored the excellence of their brand not in a series of procedures and practices. If this had been the case, as they attempted to adapt to the pandemic they would have clung to their old way of doing things, believing (as many do) that excellence resides in those practices. What I saw in my visit was an organization that understands what is excellent in their industry. They put the customer experience before their operational manual and understood that in this case they didn’t need to make as minimal adaptations to their practices as they could to operate under these conditions. Instead they blew up the manual and took all they had learned, received, heard and seen and molded it into a new thing that pursued true excellence. If you are doing things because it has always been done that way, maybe it is time to stop.

“8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. 9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8,9

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I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.
JOHN 10:9

I think that right about now, we could all use some good pasture.

Humanity has a tendency to spend much of its time looking for good pasture. We do that in many different ways and with just as many different expectations. The unfortunate reality is that I think that few find what they think they are looking for. I would suggest that the core of this problem lies more in our definition of what a good pasture really is. The Gospel of John chapter 10 contains Jesus’ beautiful parable of the Good Shepherd. Jesus contrasts the voice of the Good Shepherd with that of the thief who comes to coax the sheep not to pasture but to destruction. He then makes a second comparison, the hired hand. The hired hand is not a bad person. He does not carry the stigma of the thief. His intent is not destruction but he is not the shepherd. He does his best to lead to good pasture and he does “his job” the best that he can but when the wolves arrive on the scene, he flees. The sheep are snatched up and scattered.

If you have followed me long you have read about Hupomone. This concept is beautifully applicable here. Our humanity wants to focus on the pasture, the circumstances of our lives. In fact we come to rely on the pasture and when the pasture doesn’t live up to our expectations we are devastated. We think that we have done something wrong or that God has somehow turned his back on us. The reality is that the pasture of circumstance, as beautiful as it can be is a changeable and potentially dangerous place. Bad things happen in pastures. Storms crash, wolves hunt, lions prowl and thieves lurk, all in pastures. They are attracted by the presence of the sheep. Sheep that are focused on the pasture miss the mark in two ways. Peter remarks on the first in 1 Peter 5:8, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” Sheep that are focused on the pasture are not alert. They do not see the danger coming. The second way that sheep who are focused on the pasture miss the mark is found in Hebrews 12, “And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” Sheep that are focused on the pasture have taken their eyes off of the shepherd who is the true source of their health and peace.

The value of the Hupomone pasture is not in the circumstances but in the Shepherd. When we are focused on the pasture we can make very bad decisions. In the old testament the kingdom of Judah relied on Egypt during their rebellion against Assyria. Lot looked at the pastures around Sodom and Gomorrah and decided they were where he should be. A phrase that comes to my mind when I think of this type of pasture focus is…it seemed like a good idea at the time.

The flip side of the coin is demonstrated when the nation of Israel had just left Egypt. Things got a little tight and uncomfortable. Suddenly the pastures back in Egypt did not look so bad. It was only Moses’ Hupomone focus on God that kept them moving forward in the care of their loving shepherd. Then as they approached the promised land they sent out a dozen spies. 10 of the spies returned with the report that this pasture was too difficult. They took their eyes off of the God of the miraculous who had delivered them from Egypt. This resulted in 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.

One of the greatest pasture stories in Scripture is found in Daniel 3. Three young men of Israel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to compromise their faith in their shepherd. Along with Daniel they had come to a pasture that made every effort to distract them from their focus on God. This culminated in their refusal to bow down to a golden idol of King Nebuchadnezzar. As they stand before the King in this pasture at this time facing death in a furnace they say this, “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if he does not, let it be known to you O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” God did indeed physically rescue them from the furnace but even if he hadn’t, these boys were (and are) safe in the hands of the Great Shepherd.

The best way to enjoy the pastures that God has for you is to enter through the door provided by Jesus Christ and focus on and follow closely the Great Shepherd. It is not about the circumstances of the pasture around you, it is about the Shepherd that you are with.

“Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom”

Isaiah 40:11

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