Category Archives: sacrifice

Thermopylae


Thermopylae is a narrow pass (about 50 feet wide) in ancient Greece, between Mount Oeta and the Malian Gulf.  It leads from Thessaly (Thessalia) into Locris.  In ancient times, it was the main route by which an invading army could penetrate from the north into southern Greece.

It is best known for being the site where King Leonidas I died with his 1400 men (of whom 300 were Spartans) during the Persian Wars as they attempted to stop Xerxes and the Persian invasion of Greece in 480 BC. When Xerxes arrived with his enormous contingent of soldiers (Herodotus estimated it at 2.6 million, but it probably wasn’t nearly that high), he expected the small group of Greeks to retreat in light of his superior numbers, but Leonidas and his men refused to move.  In fact, they appeared confident, even calm, in the face of certain death.  Xerxes tried to wait them out for four days, but they wouldn’t leave.

When fighting finally began, it took three days for Xerxes to defeat the Spartans.  The Greeks easily repelled the initial attacks on their position, for what they lacked in numbers, they made up in determination and strategy.  The Spartans believed in a code of courage and discipline.  Retreat and surrender were not options.  They made their stand at Thermopylae, because the narrow pass nullified the threat of Xerxes’ overwhelming numbers.  Further, Leonidas knew that the Persians’ shorter spears made them unable to engage the Greeks at close quarters.

Had it not been for betrayal by a fellow Greek, Leonidas and his men might have held off the Persians indefinitely, but Ephialtes, a Thessalonian, showed the Persians how to use a path over the mountain to attack the Greeks from behind.  Once betrayed, it was all but over for the Greeks.  Leonidas was killed as he helped defend the pass.  Xerxes then dispatched his 10,000 Immortals, an elite fighting group.  The remaining Greeks retreated to a small hillock, where they formed a circle around the body of Leonidas.

Xerxes asked for the body of Leonidas in return for sparing the lives of the remaining Spartans, but the brave warriors refused.  Xerxes didn’t want to command his men to close in on the Spartans, because it was clear that the Persian armies were afraid of the Spartans.  They had never seen such determination and reckless abandon.  The Spartans didn’t care about preserving their lives.  They only wished to die honorably and protect the body of their leader.  Faced with his soldiers’ reluctance to fight, Xerxes ordered his archers to shoot arrows into the dense circle of Spartans until the sky was blackened and every Spartan dead.

Why did Leonidas and the Spartans fight so hard even after the battle was clearly lost?  Leonidas took counsel of an oracle before the battle, who foretold that either Sparta would perish or one of her kings would perish. By his death, Leonidas hoped to sacrifice himself to save his city.  And as it turns out, he did.  While the Persians went on to take Athens, they had been delayed long enough at Thermopylae to allow the Greeks to regroup and reinforce.  Later in 480 BC, the Greek navy defeated the Persians at the Battle of Salamis, halting Xerxes’ advance on Greece and putting an end to his imperial ambitions.  Had the Greeks not be able to repel the Persians, the later contributions of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and other Greeks would never have been possible.

The Spartans had cohesion.  They stuck together no matter what the threat.  They didn’t do it because it was their job as soldiers.  They didn’t do it because of the paycheck.  They didn’t even do it just for their love and respect they had for their leader.  They did it, because they had a common purpose that was larger than all of them.  They had a unifying vision and a common enemy to that vision.

If you want the commitment of your team members, you’ve got to give them something worthy to fight for….a common purpose, a common enemy, something larger than the fading motivation of a paycheck.

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Filed under Challenges, commitment, conflict, determination, discipline, Engagement, failure, focus, leadership, management, motivation, overcoming obstacles, ownership, passion, performance, Persistence, pressure, priorities, purpose, sacrifice, team, teambuilding

Crazy Maisie


Maisie DeVore had a vision.  She wanted to build a community pool for children to enjoy.  She was worried that there weren’t enough positive and healthy activities for kids in her hometown of Eskridge, Kansas, and she felt that the pool was just the thing they needed.

But she had a problem.  Money.  Maisie decided the best way to earn the money was by collecting aluminum cans and turning them in for recycling.  She began searching for them all around town – in trash cans, behind bushes, along roadsides.  When that didn’t net enough cash, she began collecting scrap metal, then making and raffling quilts, then picking wild berries to sell as homemade jellies.

Her neighbors thought she was crazy.  “Hide the toaster!  Maisie’s looking for scrap metal again.”

Her family thought she was crazy.  Said one, “I never came right out and told her I thought she was nuts, but I said, ‘You know Maisie, are you gonna be okay with this if it doesn’t happen?’”

In truth, no one but Maisie thought she would ever see ground broken on the pool.  But that was all the belief she needed.  She collected cans, scrap metal and berries until she had earned $100,000 ($83,000 from the 90 tons of aluminum cans she found).  When the state of Kansas got wind of what she had done, they kicked in a grant of $73,000 to make up the difference.  It wasn’t long before the pool was going in right across the street from Maisie’s home.

As you may have guessed, Maisie didn’t raise that much money overnight.  It took her 30 years!  During that time, Maisie kept her focus on her ultimate goal.  She withstood the teasing and the gossip and put in the incredibly hard work required to see it through.  Now, her neighbors don’t call her “Crazy Maisie” anymore.  As dozens of kids enjoy playing in “Maisie’s Community Pool” each day, all the neighbors call her “Amazing Maisie!”

(S – “Making a Splash,” CBSNews.com, 7/14/02)

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Filed under Abundance, Attitude, belief, Challenges, commitment, creativity, dedication, delayed gratification, determination, overcoming obstacles, Persistence, Problem Solving, sacrifice, Serving Others, success

Restoration


A man walked into a pawnshop and went straight to a worn down piece of furniture hidden in the back of the store.  He moved several other items that had been stacked against it and stepped back to take a look.

The piece of furniture was once a beautiful writing desk made with fine craftsmanship, but the former beauty had been worn away through years of use as it served first one family and then another.  These years were followed by even more years of disuse after it had been left out on the curb and salvaged by the pawnshop owner.

It was no longer beautiful.  Its drawers were broken, its roll-top in splinters, its feet uneven and wobbly, its stain faded and surface scratched and dented.  Looking at it, it was hard to imagine what the piece had looked originally.  You certainly wouldn’t want it in your home.  It was a real eyesore.

Even so, the man pulled out the desk and told the shop owner that he wanted to buy it.  The shop owner named a price – a surprisingly high price considering the condition of the desk – but the man was willing to pay it, and the transaction was made.

The man loaded the desk in his truck and took it home, where he placed it in his garage.  He turned on the overhead light and gave the desk a thorough inspection.  He took note of the broken drawers, the splintered roll-top, the wobbly feet and the scarred surface.  Nothing escaped his trained eye.

Having completed his assessment, he mentally planned what repairs and improvements would need to be done.  Then, he turned off the light and headed to bed.  Tomorrow would be soon enough to begin the work.

The next day, the man arrived late in the afternoon with new lumber and a collection of well-worn tools.  He was a carpenter, and these were the tools of his trade.  He had begun and finished many projects before this one, and he would begin and finish many more.  The work thrilled him.  It was a labor of love, and he thoroughly enjoyed taking something discarded and bringing out its true value.

With a smile of anticipation and a clear vision of the finished product, the man turned the desk on its side and sawed a heart-shaped piece from the bottom panel.  He then replaced it with a custom-made heart piece – golden in color with intricate etchings and made from a fine wood.  It was on the bottom panel, where it was unlikely that anyone would see it but him, but it was his trademark and showed the love and care he put into refurbishing the piece.  Those familiar with his work knew where to look for his signature.

He turned the desk back up and began with structural repairs.  He replaced one of the feet, repaired the broken drawers and built a new roll-top.   Before long, evening arrived.  The man put away his tools and retired for the night.

The next day, he returned to his work.  Using a sanding block, he began working on the inner parts of the desk that no one typically saw.  This might have seemed like a waste to most, but again, this was his trademark.  He always began from the inside and worked his way out.

After a week, an observer might not have seen much difference, but the man knew how smooth the inner boards had become, how silently the drawers slid in and out, how strong the joints and the frame had become.  It was a work of quality he was engaged in – not a work of speed.  He was not concerned about turning a quick profit; he wanted the finished product to be a blessing to some family who needed it.  He wanted it to bring them joy for years and years to come.  He thought about the children and the grandchildren who would live life around this desk, and he wanted the changes he made to bless generations.

And so, he worked, slowly but deliberately – never leaving off a task until it was done to his exacting standards.  Then, he moved on to the next area that needed repair, and then the next…

When he was done with the inner parts, he began work on the outer, and the piece began to really transform.  Each board was smoothed to take away the abuses of the past.  But he didn’t remove every dent or every scar.  Some, he knew, added value to the piece and gave it character.  Still, even these blemishes received his painstaking attention.  In fact, he spent more time on them than he did on the smoother parts, and when he was done, they became the most interesting parts of the whole piece.  What was ugly became beautiful and interesting, and those who saw them would want to know more.

When everything was prepared and the dust and grit and stains of past years had been removed, the man applied a covering.  It was a deep, reddish stain that soaked into the wood and provided a protective finish.  It was such a unique color that those who knew recognized it as the work of the man whenever they saw it.

The man then sealed the piece with a clear, protective coat, installed new hardware to the drawers and roll-top and finally stood back to admire his work.  The piece was impressive and made you want to come closer to look.  Its wood was so smooth that the man could literally see his reflection in it.  He smiled and said a quick, “well done!” to himself.  It was good.

In fact, it looked even better now than the day he originally created it.  You see, the pawnshop owner thought he was taking advantage of the man when he sold the desk at such a high price, but the man always knew the quality of the workmanship, because he had made it himself many years before.  Years of abuse and neglect had all but ruined the desk, but the man trusted in his own unique ability to restore the piece – even to make it better than before.  So he paid the high price, and he had no regrets.

Looking at the restored work, he knew exactly who he was going to give it to – a gift for a family that he dearly loved.

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Filed under Christ, christianity, Covering, grace, Jesus, mercy, Protection, sacrifice, Salvation, sanctification, Savior, self-image, self-worth, unconditional love

Career Tacking


Whenever you move up to a new level of leadership, you will need to make adjustments.  The change you go through is similar to a skill used in sailing.  It’s typically not possible to sail directly to your goal in a straight line.  You have to sail in the direction the wind pushes you and change directions at strategic moments to move closer and closer to your final destination.  In effect, you surrender the wind that was carrying you in one direction and exchange it for a new wind that will carry you in a different one.  You end up making a zig-zag pattern across the body of water.  The skill is called “tacking,” and it requires a keen eye and knowledge of wind and water patterns.

Likewise in your career, it won’t be possible for you to reach your ultimate goal without making some strategic tacks.  But instead of exchanging one wind for another, you’ll be exchanging skills.  Old skills that made you effective in your previous role have to be surrendered for new, more effective skills.  Even though your old skills might carry you for awhile and help you to experience success, they will eventually carry you away from your ultimate goal.

The skills that you learned as an individual producer won’t get you very far when you start to manage others.  Those are the skills of the expert.  You need new skills – skills for leading people.  The old skills will only serve to make you a “micro-manager” and a “control freak” as you attempt to stay personally invested in everything your people do.

Then, as you move from leading individual producers to leading leaders, the winds change again.  Now you need a skill set that includes the ability to grow your leaders, to help them move away from being the expert.  You need the strategic focus to give your leaders a common vision behind which they can rally their teams.

And as you move from leading leaders to leading organizations, the winds change once more.  Your will need to focus less on getting things done through others as your leaders become more and more competent.  Instead, you will need to develop a global view of your organization that has a clear perspective on its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

As you progress through your career, you will find that the wind changes direction many times.  Each time, you will be challenged to do less of what you are good at and do more of what is out of your comfort zone.  Along the way, you are likely to pass many who aren’t going anywhere in their careers due to their inability to recognize when to tack.  They mistakenly thought that their old skills would work in their new roles.  They tried to continue toward their goal without being willing to change.  Don’t follow their example, or you might find your career dead in the water.

 

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Full of Riches But No Life In It


In Israel, there are two major bodies of water: the Sea of Galilee (a.k.a. the Kinneret) and the Dead Sea (though both are really lakes).  Although they are in the same country and connected by a common river (the Jordan), the two couldn’t be more different.  The Sea of Galilee is fed by the Jordan River and teaming with life.  It contains 27 species of fish, some found nowhere else in the world.  Its sweet waters serve as the heart of the water supply system for Israel.  It’s shores are lush with vegetation.

The Dead Sea, on the other hand, didn’t get its name for nothing.  There are no fish, no fishermen, no vegetation on its shores…  It’s twice as wide and almost four times as long as the Sea of Galilee, but the Dead Sea is toxic and bitter.  So much so that there is no life in it or around it.

Why?  The Sea of Galilee receives nutrients and water from the Jordan River.  It then empties into the Jordan River, which begins again at the lake’s south end.  The Jordan then takes the nutrients throughout the Jordan River Basin, snaking 200 miles before it reaches the Dead Sea.  But that’s where it all ends.  Nutrients from the Dead Sea stay in the Dead Sea.  It doesn’t share any of its wealth with the valley below it.  Seven million gallons of water evaporate from the lake daily in the hot desert environment, and the water that’s left is so mineral-rich that it can’t support life.  Scientists estimate that it has a mineral concentration between 26% and 35%.

The two bodies of water serve as a good metaphor for a spiritual principle.  When you share your gifts and resources freely, you receive much more in return.  Whatever you jealously clutch and keep for yourself stagnates and eventually chokes the life out of you.

“Sea of Galilee people” have an abundance mentality.  They know that if they give freely, there will always be more coming their way.  They never worry that the supply of blessings will dry up.  “Dead Sea people” have a scarcity mentality.  They fear that sharing their riches will make them poorer.  What they don’t understand is that the only reason they were given the gifts and resources in the first place was so that they would pass them along.

If you want to keep it, share it.

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Filed under Abundance, delegation, generosity, growth, helping, ownership, sacrifice, Scarcity, Service, Serving Others, Sowing and reaping, Spiritual Growth

Prime Your Pump


There’s an old story about a thirsty traveler who came across a pump in the desert. An attached note explained that there was a jar of water buried nearby to prime the pump.

“You’ve got to give before you get,” the note said.

The traveler was faced with a dilemma.  If he poured the water into the pump, he couldn’t get it back.  Worse, he was going to have to work hard to pump out the water from the well with no guarantee of success.  However, if he drank the stale water in the jar, he would never get to taste the sweet, cool water from the well.  He would also ruin any chance for other travelers to get any water from the well, since there would be no way to prime it.

So, with a sigh, the traveler poured the water into the pump to prime it.  Then he began pumping the lever as fast as he could.  He pumped, and he pumped, but no water came out.  There wasn’t even the sound of water coming up the pipes.  But he pumped and pumped some more….and then some more….and then some more.  Even though he was becoming increasingly frustrated, he knew he couldn’t stop.  As soon as he stopped pumping, the water would go back down into the well.

Just when he didn’t think he could pump even one more time, he heard a gurgle of water….then another….and then, to his joy and amazement, out poured a flood of cool, clear water!!  Everything changed at that point. He no longer had to pump and pump to get the water out.  The slightest pressure sent water gushing from the spout. Slow, easy strokes were all he needed to keep the water flowing.

So it is with success in just about any worthwhile endeavor you undertake.  You’ve got to give before you get.   You’ve got to work hard, and you’ll have no guarantee of success.  If you stop working hard, your success will slip away from you, but if you persist even beyond what you think you can do, your reward will often come.

Don’t drink the stale waters of instant gratification; put in the work to prime your pump!

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Filed under Challenges, Change, Convenience, delayed gratification, determination, discipline, faith, growth, habits, Inconvenience, Instant Gratification, Preparation, sacrifice, Sowing and reaping, Spiritual Growth, stewardship, temptation, waiting on the Lord

Arrive Alive


Three men led expeditions to be the first to reach the South Pole in the early 1900’s: Robert Falcon Scott (1902-1903 and 1911-1912), Ernest Shackleton (1908-1909) and Roald Amundsen (1911-1912).  Shackleton was actually part of Scott’s three-man party in the first failed attempt, and during the long, exhausting and disappointing march back, the two grew into rivals. Shackleton returned five years later with his own team and bested Scott’s first attempt by leading his men 366 miles closer to the South Pole.  Although Scott was the one who ultimately achieved the Pole, Shackleton proved to be the better leader precisely because he did not.

Shackleton’s journey toward the Pole was costly.  All four in his party were slowly starving to death.   Each time severe weather conditions (temperatures reaching lows of -57 degrees Fahrenheit with blizzard winds over 90 mph) and dangerous terrain slowed their progress, Shackleton had to reduce their rations to ensure that they had enough food to last.  The party originally had four horses to pull the heavy sledges full of supplies, but three horses succumbed to the elements and one fell into a deep chasm that almost claimed one of Shackleton’s men, as well.  The men were forced to man-haul the sledges, and the few handfuls of food a day were just not enough.

Shackleton got within just 97 miles of the Pole before he turned his team back.  It was a huge disappointment for all the men, but it was the right decision.  While they were only a few days’ journey away from being the first explorers to reach either of the planet’s poles, they would certainly have lost their lives in the attempt.  Courageously leading his men back to the shore, Shackleton kept them all alive through expert leadership, tenacity and skillful rationing of their remaining food supplies.

Shackleton never made it to the Pole, but Scott would not accept a second failure when he returned a few years later.  He was determined to do what his rival could not.  Like Shackleton’s party, Scott lost all his horses along the way.  Dog sled teams and their leaders were forced to turn back in December, and only five men were left to make a final assault on the pole.  He and his men marched a total of 1,842 miles before they finally reached the Pole on January 17, 1912.  But to their utter disappointment, they found that Amundsen’s team had already been there five weeks earlier.

Dejected and exhausted, Scott’s men began the long trek back to the shore, but they would never make it.  In February, one of the men died after a fall caused him to have a swift physical and mental breakdown.  In mid-March, the weakest member of the team realized he was slowing the others down (he had lost the use of a foot to frostbite and gangrene) and sacrificed his life for them by leaving the tent and marching out into the snow, never to be seen again.  A severe blizzard trapped the three remaining men in their tent a few weeks later, and there they all starved to death.  Conquest of the Pole had cost them their lives.  Ironically, they were within eleven miles of the next food and supply depot.  Their bodies were discovered eight months later by a search party.

When Scott’s diary made it back to England, he was celebrated as a hero and even knighted posthumously.  In the eyes of his countrymen, his failure was a success in terms of its boldness and daring.  Shackleton’s accomplishments just two years before were all but forgotten.  But Shackleton was not surprised.  He had counted the cost when the Pole was in reach, and he chose the health and safety of his men over the glory of accomplishment.

Leaders who are only interested in their own achievements see their team members as a means to an end.  They are willing to sacrifice their followers if their loss will bring them closer to their goals.  But the best leaders are not in it for themselves.  They can’t conceive of success at the expense of their teams, and the goals aren’t worth achieving if the team can’t celebrate the accomplishment.

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