Saturday, January 25, 2014

"I Will Come Back"

Hiroo Onoda didn’t want to give up.  The Japanese Imperial Army training he received taught him a code of honor which proclaimed that death was better than surrender.  A soldier is trained to receive and to follow orders, and Mr. Onoda was a soldier.  He was, you might say, a “soldier’s soldier.”  So, when Mr. Onoda was assigned to Lubang Island in the Philippines in 1944 he was promised by his superiors that “Whatever happens, we will come back to get you.” (Wikipedia, “Hiroo Onoda”)

Lubang Island was conquered in 1945 by the forces of the United States and the Philippine Commonwealth..  The troops with whom Mr. Onoda served either died in the final battle or they surrendered when the end was inevitable.    However, Mr. Onoda and three other soldiers refused to surrender.  “Whatever happens, we will come back to get you.”  So even though the war was over, Mr. Onoda carried on, not believing the end had come.  No one had come to relieve him of his duty.  One by one his companions left or died during the “battle” which they continued to wage.  Oh, the Japanese tried to get Mr. Onoda to understand that the end had come: they sent leaflets telling him to come out of the mountains; they sent him family photos inviting him home.  There were attempts by family members making appeals over loudspeakers for him to come out of his hiding place. (WSJ 1.17.14)  But, when the commander says he is coming back, a true soldier keeps fighting until the commander comes back.

So it was in 1974 that someone prevailed upon Mr. Onoda’s commanding officer to go to Lubang Island for the sole purpose of relieving Mr. Onoda of his duties. Mr. Onoda then could finally surrender his weapons as commanded and he went home.  He was a hero on his return home, but he did not enjoy all the attention. After all, he was only doing his duty. Upon his return home he married; became a rancher; and then headed up a school in Japan.  He died in 2014.

The King says, “…I will come back and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am.” (John 14:3) Our call now, is to be the “soldiers” of the Cross. If you will accept this assignment, wherever you have been sent to serve, remember your orders:  Do not give up; no matter what anyone tells you, you are not alone, so keep up the battle; and never, ever, surrender to the enemy. “I will come back and take you with me.”  It’s hard to believe, some days more than others. But if it were not so, Jesus wouldn’t have said it.  Believe that, and live.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

"Your Best Year Ever" Pt. 3

“Are you willing to sacrifice whatever is needed to achieve your goal? If not, don’t try. But if you willing, well then: Go! Start making your year the best!”

When Michigan State Football’s Head Coach, Mark Dantonio, traveled to California in May of 2013 he carried with him a goal. He wanted to take his team to the January 2014 Rose Bowl in Pasadena California.  So, being a  Big Ten football coach he found a way to get onto the Rose Bowl field where he stood, alone, forming a picture in his mind. He imagined what it would be like to be standing in that very place on January 1 as the victorious head coach surrounded by his green and white clad team.  As history would have it, that is exactly what happened. For the first time since 1987 the Michigan State football team achieved its annual goal…appear in and win the Rose Bowl.

Now, could the visualization of the coach, who, let’s face it, doesn’t even play in any of the games, make the vision come true?  I think so.  I think that what the leader of any organization, whether it is a football program, a fast food restaurant or a family unit, what that that leader dreams about makes a difference for the entire organization.  The leader’s job is to impart to the “team” the leader’s vision for the “team.”  The second step is to help them adopt that vision as their own, and to then help them take the steps needed to make the vision, the dream, a reality.  Without that last step, of course, the vision is without meaning. It is a mere fairy tale without the commitment to do what is needed to make the dream come true.  If the Michigan State football players adopted the vision and then spent the football season playing only video football then the only Rose Bowl they would be playing is the one on a video game.  Making dreams come true, whatever they are, requires a vision that for you is rational; a dream that you will write down and keep before you until achieved; and it is one that you will work at with intensity and commitment until achieved.  That’s how you make 2014 your best year.

The prophet Joel’s most famous words are “your young men will see visions and your old men dream dreams.” (Joel 2:28)  You see, God gives us visions and dreams.  God even helps to make those visions and dreams a reality.  But, we have a role in the reality-making process. This is what makes life worth living. It is what makes life fun.  Whatever your goal is for 2014, visualize it right now.  Ask God to confirm that this vision is “of God” and then ask God to stand in that dream with you and to make it real.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

"Your Best Year Ever!" Part 2

“What would need to happen for 2014 to be the best year ever for you personally?  For your family, your work, your relationship with God?  Do you want it to happen?”
These are the questions I urge you to think about in more than a passing way today and this week.  If you are able, write down your answers. I know some of my readers have physical restrictions which prevent them from writing, so ask your dearest friend to write them down for you.  And then post the results somewhere special for you, someplace where the answers will pop up as a surprising reminder of your goal.  Choose SMART, rational goals you deeply desire, which you and God together can achieve.

Some examples: a friend of mine is concerned about her business. There are some unique challenges which will make it hard to keep her successful business in operation this year. She asked me to pray about this with her, and I am going to do so.  But, it is not enough to pray just that the business is a success; it is important to pray about why we want it to succeed. How will God be glorified in its success?  My friend dedicates her business success to doing God’s work in her community.  If you have a financial or business challenge this year, will you pray for God to bless it, and will you offer God the glory when that happens, offering back to God a gift of thanksgiving?

Another friend of mine was in his mid-80’s had lived a good life, offering much back to God. Yet he had one unresolved relationship which troubled him. He had heard all of the sermons about righting wrongs but he could not bring himself to conquer this one last hurtful problem.  But, he was about to go on a trip, so he came to see me and I was authorized to invite this other person to our meeting. There, together, he said the things which needed to be said to make the relationship right.  After a decade or more the two of them were able to be at peace with each other.  My friend went on his trip and on the day of his arrival natural causes brought an end to his life.  I think that conversation made it his best year ever, for he was at peace on earth, and then he was at peace in heaven.  Making this year your  best year ever might be as simple, and as hard as this: reconcile with someone on this earth; reconcile with your God in heaven.  You have fifty weeks left to get this done, I hope.

One last question: are you willing to sacrifice whatever is needed to achieve your goal? If not, don’t try. But if you willing, well then: Go! Start making your year the best!


Saturday, January 4, 2014

"Your Best Year Ever?" Part 1

I will start with a confession.  I missed my goal. I ended 2013 eight-tenths of a pound short of my weight goal.  For 365 days I worked toward a specific goal which I had set on January 1, 2013.  On December 31, 2013, I got on the scale and saw the bad news. I failed.  So, I began to rationalize. “Well, Bill, you lost a lot of weight that you otherwise would not have lost.” “Yes, but I failed, and why? Because in the final days of December I decided it was worth more to me to share in the holiday food and beverages with friends and family.”  “So, what was the problem, Bill? A lack of will-power?” “No, stop accusing me of that! It was a value judgment and I can accept having missed the goal for a good reason.”  “Well, William,” (that’s always what I call myself when I am upset with me) “in 2014 why don’t you have your annual goal end on Dec. 15, before the friends and family parties start?” “Great idea, Bill, I will do it!”

And that, my friends is an example of rational “goal-factoring” which is taught by the Center for Applied Rationality. (WSJ, 12.31.13)  Angela Chen writes a great article about the way scientists and software programmers are taught to develop achievable goals.  An irrational goal: saying you are getting up at 5:30 a.m. every day to exercise when you are not a “morning person.” You won’t do it and you know you won’t do it.  In setting your goal, imagine it is six months hence. How surprised are you if you did not reach your goal. If you are not surprised at imagining that you stopped getting up at 5:30 a.m. after two weeks, then it is a dumb goal to begin with.  Goal-factoring is, really, a take-off, I think, of the SMART goal-setting approach (setting goals which are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.) (Wikipedia, “SMART Criteria”).

And what got me thinking about all of this, besides my bad encounter with the mal-functioning scale on Dec. 31, was a comment made to me by “coach” who I turn to for help in learning to lead our congregation of the faithful. He challenged me to ask, “What would it take to make 2014 your church’s best year ever?”  I am thinking through that question. I am going to ask lots of people that question this month, and by February 1 I am going to have an answer.

What would need to happen for 2014 to be the best year ever for you personally?  For your family, your work, your relationship with God?  Do you want it to happen?