The Pursuit of Happiness: A Businessman’s Walk Through Ecclesiastes

The Pursuit of Happiness: A Businessman’s Walk Through Ecclesiastes

Week 4: Ecclesiastes 2: 4-9

4 I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards.

5 I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.

6 I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees.

7 I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and
flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me.

8 I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers,
and a harem as well—the delights of the heart of man.

9 I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.

Let’s be honest, reading about all the stuff the Teacher had is without a doubt impressive; however, the words that jump beyond the page for me are “In all this my wisdom stayed with me.” My immediate response upon reading this was, what does wisdom mean in this context? Furthermore, does wisdom actually have a context or have I misinterpreted it’s meaning all together? Before I traveled down that rabbit hole something occurred to me; the Teacher knew the difference between the road signs and his destination.

How many times have you driven somewhere you’ve never been and got excited when you saw a road sign that told you how many miles you had left until you reach your destination? If you’re anything like me, you get a little smile on your face knowing that you’re heading in the right direction. My smile usually serves dual purposes because it also means I get to tell my lovely wife “I told you I knew where I was going”. Both responses are fairly common and also reasonable. The foolish thing to do would be to park on the side of the road, take all of our luggage out of the trunk, and set up for vacation under the road sign. The sign is exactly what the name implies; it is simply a sign. To say my point in plain language, the Teachers life style was simply a sign of success. He knew his calling was much bigger than his accomplishments, so no matter how great of a ruler he had become or wealth he had amassed, he kept in mind that an attachment to his worldly possessions (which ironically can only move in one direction….into the ground) would only hinder his upward journey into the holiness of God.

If you’ve entered into the mission of entrepreneurship with an eye full of riches and a heart hungry for fame, you’ve sadly mistaken the road sign as your destination, and your wisdom has not stayed with you. If you’ve purchased new homes, new cars, new clothes, new retirement accounts, new friends, new husbands, new wives, etcetera, but have not remained humble, charitable, and righteous, you have also sadly mistaken the road signs for your true destination because your wisdom has not stayed with you (Proverbs 10: 1-7, Matthew 5: 1-20).

The creation story (Genesis 1: 1-31) is a perfect example of what it means to move beyond the road signs. Prior to creation nothing existed. Most Christians are enamored by God’s ability to simply speak things into existence. While this is all well and good, it’s not what he said that proved his wisdom and power, it was the words that were never written that is truly impressive. Take for instance the flower (generally speaking). When God spoke plants into existence he didn’t create just one, he created many; however, he didn’t stop there. He also the complex cell structure of every species of flower and the ability for those cell structures to feed on sunlight through photosynthesis. For photosynthesis to work correctly he also had to create the processes it needed, which fundamentally works by converting sunlight into energy. When he created light he also had to create the atoms, protons, and electrons necessary to bring it into tangible existence. He also had to create heat to excite the protons so that they would bounce off electrons to kick start the “light-making” process. As the light fed the plants, the plants fed the humans. In order for mankind to identify the plants, God had to create individual markings and designs to differentiate the types of plants that were available to eat. I could continue down this path to show you the depths of God’s wisdom, but I’ll assume you get the point. God doesn’t stop at the road signs, he continues until he has reached his destination (Philippians 1:6)

The secular world is trying to wrap it’s brain around the idea of destination versus road sign with a fairly new and fashionable business term, Conscious Capitalism. This is the an excerpt from consciouscapitalism.com:

“For several decades, companies emerging out of the culture of the 60s have been cultivating a new genre of Capitalism. This is a Capitalism that recognizes the power of purpose and the principle of interdependence. It is a Capitalism the sees leaders as stewards and facilitators. And it is a Capitalism that embraces the cocreative, generative nature of business, and is directed towards fulfilling the potential of business and the marketplace to be a powerful force for positive change. This is a Conscious Capitalism, embodied by Conscious Capitalists.”

This is the worlds attempt to keep their wisdom with them, and it’s “working”. John Mackey, CEO of industry giant, Whole Foods, and many other powerful voices are making Conscious Capitalism a household name. Why aren’t we, the keepers of the Truth and representatives of the Creator of our universe, speaking up (Colossians 2: 8-23)? While we dance and shout all over our churches for the brand new house we WANT to buy, these people are changing the world. While we try to impress sister so-and-so or brother so-and-so with how busy we want them to THINK we are, these people are shaping the minds of our children. While we play “look at me on my blackberry and laptop” games in the local coffeehouse , these people are recruiting the leaders of today and tomorrow at our colleges. Stop celebrating the road signs! We still have many, many miles ahead of us.

I really don’t want to end this on a negative note, so I won’t (or at least I hope I won’t). Trying to figure out where to go in this last paragraph, I’m reminded of a rapper that had a song that said “I’m stuntin’ (showing off) like my daddy”. I want to be clear that I’m not trying to say that creating a comfortable life for yourself and your family is wrong because it’s not. God created an empire by his own power, for his own glory and being created in his image and likeness explains our need to amass things in order to build an empire of our own. However, sin has polluted our desire to honor him with obedience (i.e. rule over all things on the Earth. We are conversely ruled by things). We now, like the Israelites, seek to build our own tower of babel to draw all men unto us (Genesis 11: 1-9). In our case, the unified language we speak is the dollar bill. If the unfortunate collapse of our economy is viewed through the omniscient eyes of our Father, one can not help but to see his gracious hand saving us from utter destruction yet again. This isn’t the way most people see things, so they are fighting, clawing and defending every ounce of worldly success they can find. Very little thought is given to the fact that God is working ALL things out for the good of them that love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

Do me a favor, the next time your driving and you see a road sign that says you have x-amount of miles left, take a look around you then hit the accelerator just a little bit. When you do that, thank God that he’s still taking you where you need to go. After you’ve done that, thank him for where you’ve been. Finally, thank him that your not traveling alone. We’re all headed somewhere, but without the wisdom of God we’re unpacking our cars hundreds of miles away from the glory and comfort of God’s purpose.

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The Pursuit of Happiness: A Businessman’s Walk Through Ecclesiastes

The Pursuit of Happiness: A Businessman’s Walk Through Ecclesiastes

Week 3: Ecclesiastes 1: 18

18 For in much [human] wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.

The Truth Hurts!

Over Come Fear

When I first started my business I thought the whole world would eventually see me as the fraud I really was. I had never done even an inkling of the things I truly believed in my heart I was capable of. In hind sight, I’ll admit that it wasn’t healthy to have those doubts, but at the time I don’t think the world had enough books or the internet websites to placate my fears of not knowing enough. My quest for knowledge was insatiable. Now, almost a year later, I’ve found a way to overcome those fears, but the habit of reading about everything my brain can form into words is firmly rooted into my psyche. I guess the common terminology of my “condition” would be defense mechanism or maybe an instinctual survival tactic. My wife of 9 months would unfortunately refer to it as a detriment to our young marriage. To be completely candid, I simply don’t agree; not because I think she’s wrong, but because I “need” to be smarter than my consumer to remain the expert that I am. Consumers will only buy from me if they don’t know as much as I do; especially in my field……of dreams. I’ve tricked my mind into believing that people want to buy what I know, not what they need. That truth has almost brought me to tears during times our financial drought. That truth has literally made me feel so bottled up with knowledge I could feel my bones begin to shake from the pressure.

My story is in no way germane; it’s the story of every entrepreneur. We’re all chasing tomorrow because the limitations of today have also exposed the limitations of our humanity. Knowledge & ingenuity become our remedy for the brokenness that has eaten a God shaped hole through the depths of our hearts. “…he who increases knowledge increases sorrow”

Our human knowledge is a depreciating commodity

I’ve seen the pious become the destitute. I’ve seen the poor become rich. I’ve seen the hated become heroes. I’ve seen the glow of life in a child’s smile become a gnarled grin of deceit. I’ve seen knowledge become sorrow. You’ve most likely seen it too. Remember the people carrying boxes outside of Lehman Brothers? Do you remember seeing the cars empty out of the GM and Chrysler plant parking lots? Do you remember the look on the face of Bernie Madoff as he was walked through the sea of cameras entering the court house? I sat in on a support group about two weeks for people that have recently lost their jobs. The meeting was full of accomplished executives from the top companies in our area who were now using each others shoulders to cry on. The magic carpet ride was truly over for these people, but like a dog returning to its vomit (Proverbs 26:11) they are reading self-help book after self-help book, learning twitter, taking classes, even cutting their hair and buying younger looking clothing to appeal to employers. Our human knowledge is a depreciating commodity that will never be worth the price we put on it.

95% of High Ranking Executives lost their Jobs

95% of the people that attended the support group were high ranking executives at one time. All I could think as I looked around that room was how far the mighty had fallen. The speaker that day was a life coach. She opened her lesson up with the statement “I’m just thanking Father, Mother God for this opportunity.” It was at that moment I realized how dangerous knowledge was apart from God. Our words are poisonous arrows thrust deep into the flesh apart from the grace, mercy and understanding of God. The people in the meeting were distraught because all the knowledge they had accumulated became nothing in a matter of seconds, and here I was to plug my new project. They didn’t need a new project! They needed a Savior to fill the God shaped hole the loss of their job left in the middle of their heart. Although they were there to find a job to put the remnants of their tattered lives back together, what I actually heard was “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” (Psalm 13:2). How many of you know what David meant when he penned those words? I know I do!

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The Pursuit of Happiness: A Businessman’s Walk Through Ecclesiastes

The Pursuit of Happiness: A Businessman’s Walk Through Ecclesiastes

Week 2: Ecclesiastes 1:3-4 & 9-11

3 What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?

4 Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.

9 What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

10 Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.

11 There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow.

The words of the Preacher yet again confront us with a very challenging and inconvenient truth. We Are Nothing! The “freedom” of entrepreneurship is often seen as the way out of our brokenness, but please do not be mistaken my friends. Your work; your ambitions; your wealth; your poverty; your testimony; they are little more then a recondite ripple in the tapestry of our Holy God. The obvious translation of this weeks scripture would simply confirm that it’s not about you, it’s about Jesus. However, we’ve all heard that message a million times and still unabashedly adhere to the carnality that pervades our hearts. I’ve written a story to illustrate this point:

There once was a small flower patch, next to a playground, in a large park near the middle of a city, where a bee flew from flower to flower, day after day, gathering nectar. The bee, though it desperately longed for a life beyond the confines of its flowers, worked very diligently to perform it’s duties well. In that same time and place there was a child. Everyday, the child and its mother would visit the playground in the park near the flowers where the bee gathered its nectar. One day, while the bee flew from flower to flower and the child played, the two shared the misfortune of meeting.

On the day of the meeting, the child, recently learning to say and recognize flower, laughed and clapped and walked near the edge of the flower patch as the bee worked. The bee, like any other day of its life, flew from flower to flower gathering nectar for its colony. However, underneath the quite facade of the bee’s diligent work, existed a desire to be more; in fact, the bee dreamt of not being a bee at all. The bee, no matter how preposterous it sounded, wanted to be the greatest painter that ever lived. The bee understood how outlandish his aspirations were, especially as a successful honey manufacturer, so it kept its dreams to itself for many years.

On this particular day, while the child played near the edge of the flower patch, the bee became full of bitterness and animosity. The bee was tired of denying itself the pleasure of more fulfilling life so it decided to fly far, far away from the flower patch it had spent it’s life working in. At that moment, the bee, mentally charged with fear and anticipation and the child who was playing frivolously among the flowers collided. The bee, petrified by the frightful screeches of the child, did the only thing it knew to do; it stung the child. The child instantly erupted in a wild display of painful horror. No one in the park knew what happened but from the sound and sight of the child leaping and rolling and stomping through the flower patch they knew it must have been very, very painful.

During the child’s outburst, the bee was struck and now laid helplessly upon the dew of the grass. Barely able to raise it’s head, the bee saw what seemed to be a never ending sea of trampled and disfigured flowers. It’s head hung low, the bee began to think how quickly it’s life’s work had been so irreparably ruined. Meanwhile, the mother sat with the child cradled in her arms. When she found the source of her child’s pain, the bee watch as she and the child left the playground. Now realizing the gravity of it’s actions, the bee began to sob with heart wrenching sadness. No human at the park or bee in it’s colony could hear it’s anguish. Hours later, all alone, the bee took it’s final breath. This happened as the child slept. When the child awoke, a new bee began to fly from flower to flower, unaffected and unaware by the events of the day, and life went on.

Can you see yourself in this story? Did you decide to fly far, far away from the flower patch? If so, to who’s faith did you cling? If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably leaned upon your own understanding and decided to pray, rather then prayed to decide. It may seem like I’m playing a juvenile game of semantics but this fundamental change in perception is always the difference between success and complete failure. If you look at the phrases closely you’ll see what I mean.

When a person has decided to pray, they have resolved in their minds that the way that seems right to them will not, as scripture tells us, lead to death and destruction (Proverbs 14:12). However, our fallen nature, as was discussed in the previous post, seeks exoneration. We can’t wait for something new to happen. That urge for new is a desperate desire to fix what is broken within us. However, it can not be conceived before God’s revelation, which is above the sun. It’s the irony of not being able to focus on the Son, even in its physical form as sun, that has created the world we see around us.

The Preacher tactfully reminds us of our inherited brokenness as he agitates the futility of our humanity with questions such as, “What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?” The weight of our uselessness often leads us to make decisions apart from the wisdom of God (deciding to pray). Fortunately he does not leave our total destruction up to our own doing. Those that love him are not left to fend for themselves. In the midst of our broken circumstances his grace engulfs us as he causes all things to work out for our good (Romans 8:28) In the story of the bee, it’s search for happiness was misguided because what it actually needed was the peace the surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). How many of you are seeking peace from the brokenness you feel inside? Have you ever stopped to consider that you’re not the only one? People buy your goods because they are searching for peace too….a service to placate the empty busyness of deed; a shirt to cover the internal yearning for validation; adding friends to your social network as a way to eradicate the sorrow of being forgotten by the world. The beauty of the story of the bee is that life goes on. No matter what you’re running from or running toward, life will go on no matter what. The deepest of your pains will go away and the hole that it leaves will be quickly filled by a God that is working everything out for the good of those that love him.

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The Pursuit of Happiness: A Businessman’s Walk Through Ecclesiastes

The Pursuit of Happiness: A Businessman’s Walk Through Ecclesiastes

Week 1: Ecclesiastes 1: 1-2

1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem:

2 “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!”

Live a Double Life, Please your Flesh& your Soul

You started a company. Good for you! Now you can rightfully gloat, accumulate depreciating possessions, economically discriminate and wrongfully attribute your selfish prayer life for your individualistic success. Harsh words I know but this is real. Many Christians enter the world of entrepreneurship for seemingly noble reasons that turn out to be anything but that. We are to be in the world but not of it, new creatures, a peculiar people. Unfortunately we live a double life. One which edifies our Savior and another that edifies our flesh.

How many of you engage every deed as though it were as immutable as the wind? I would imagine not many. The constant thought of ones own mortality is hardly a source of motivation, yet the Preacher confronts us with that very notion in the opening verses of Ecclesiastes 1. Although the words of the Preacher are hard to face they must be astutely heeded; especially as entrepreneurs.

Our Flesh Begs to be Innocent

“Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!”, the Preacher shouts. These words are used to convey ideas of brevity, unreliability, frailty and futility, lack of discernible purpose; yet they also convey the need to be proven wrong. The Preacher seems to be screaming and pleading with God for an answer which we will find later is “beyond the sun” (throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, the Preacher makes statements which allude to his observations being of the earthly realm not heaven.) Examining the paradigm of this scripture through the lenses of a Christian entrepreneur, one should immediately reconcile that total depravity upon God and his everlasting and exorbitantly sufficient grace is at the root of our faith; however, just as the Preacher, we should also concede to that fact that our flesh beckons to be exonerated. Even in perfection, Adam and Eve sought to be placed in higher esteem in the sight of God. That “innocent” desire lead to the first sin and a continuous fall from grace for all of man kind. As entrepreneurs, doesn’t our pursuit of higher esteem mirror the Preacher’s desperate cry for exoneration? We pursue every dollar as though it were the glory of God himself. We hasten to label our every “good” thing as a blessing. We seem to never stop to consider the frailty of filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).

Invest Value into Others

Christian entrepreneurs must be of the greater good. The proverbial higher calling if you will. Our endeavors must always reflect an inward gratitude for the salvation we’ve been unrightfully awarded, lest we should boast (Ephesians 2:8-10). If our eyes are not constantly fixated on this truth, our works will be as forgotten as a single petal in a field of flowers. Whether you are new to entrepreneurship or working on your twentieth company, sojourn with a heart of empathy (mental or emotional understanding of the life experiences of others without personal infraction). Empathy will require that you invest value into others and their circumstances. If we leave for just a moment our own desire for monetary consumption, we’ll find that a whole world is drowning under the weight of vanity. They don’t need another person to sell them something, they need someone to show them the hope of a life centered on the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Pursue the One that Endures Forever

The pursuit of happiness is a constitutional right of every living man; however when that pursuit is defined by the vanity of sin, it will most assuredly be forgotten. We all want our lives to count. As entrepreneurs, we can only hope our businesses will make a lasting impact on humanity. In light of all of this my friends, I urge you to pursue the one that endures forever. Do everything as unto his Glory with an empathetic heart and you will have the reward you seek.

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