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The Authenticity of Disciple Making

Month: February 2017

The Stockdale Paradox by Niall Doherty

The Stockdale Paradox
by Niall Doherty

Some of the best lessons I’ve learned about personal development come from a book that isn’t aimed at the personal development market at all. It’s a book about business and leadership, called Good to Great.

Author Jim Collins and his research team spent five years trying to identify the common factors that separated good (or briefly great) companies, from companies which were able to achieve and then sustain excellence for fifteen consecutive years or more.

While reading, I realized that almost all the findings in the book could be applied on a personal level as well. (I’ve even written about The Hedgehog Concept here before.)

While I would highly recommend that you get your hands on this book and read it in its entirety, today I’d like to share a part of it that has stuck with me most.

The Stockdale Paradox
The Stockdale Paradox is named after admiral Jim Stockdale, who was a United States military officer held captive for eight years during the Vietnam War. Stockdale was tortured more than twenty times by his captors, and never had much reason to believe he would survive the prison camp and someday get to see his wife again. And yet, as Stockdale told Collins, he never lost faith during his ordeal:

“I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

Then comes the paradox.

While Stockdale had remarkable faith in the unknowable, he noted that it was always the most optimistic of his prisonmates who failed to make it out of there alive.
“They were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

What the optimists failed to do was confront the reality of their situation. They preferred the ostrich approach, sticking their heads in the sand and hoping for the difficulties to go away. That self-delusion might have made it easier on them in the short-term, but when they were eventually forced to face reality, it had become too much and they couldn’t handle it.

Stockdale approached adversity with a very different mindset. He accepted the reality of his situation. He knew he was in hell, but, rather than bury his head in the sand, he stepped up and did everything he could to lift the morale and prolong the lives of his fellow prisoners. He created a tapping code so they could communicate with each other. He developed a milestone system that helped them deal with torture. And he sent intelligence information to his wife, hidden in the seemingly innocent letters he wrote.
Collins and his team observed a similar mindset in the good-to-great companies. They labeled it the Stockdale Paradox and described it like so:
You must retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties.

AND at the same time…

You must confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.
For me, the Stockdale Paradox carries an important lesson in personal development, a lesson in faith and honesty: Never doubt that you can achieve your goals, no matter how lofty they may be and no matter how many critics and naysayers you may have. But at the same time, always take honest stock of your current situation. Don’t lie to yourself for fear of short-term embarrassment or discomfort, because such deception will only come back to defeat you in the end.

Living the first half of this paradox is relatively easy, since optimism really isn’t that hard. You just choose to believe that it will all turn out for the best, and everything that happens to you is a means to that end. Simple as.

But optimism on its own can be a dangerous thing:

There’s no difference between a pessimist who says, “Oh, it’s hopeless, so don’t bother doing anything,” and an optimist who says, “Don’t bother doing anything, it’s going to turn out fine anyway.” Either way, nothing happens. – Yvon Chouinard

So you need to embrace the second half of the Stockdale Paradox to really make strides. You must combine that optimism with brutal honesty and a willingness to take action.
Now of course, nobody likes admitting that they’re fat, that they’re broke, that they’ve chosen the wrong career or that their marriage is falling apart. But admitting such truths is an absolute necessity if you want to grow and improve.

It might feel like you’re taking a few steps backward by doing so, but you can view that retreat as the pull-back on a sling shot: you’re just setting yourself up to make significant progress down the road.


blog by Jared C. Wilson


In the midst of my umpteenth re-reading of C. S. Lewis’s classic Mere Christianity, I came across this passage and found it holding new resonance. Apply what Lewis is explicating below to any of the following:

Church conflict
Relational jealousy
Sharing of news stories that confirms our suspicions about people on the other end of the political or cultural spectrum
The language that is used in clickbait links, soundbite videos, mocking memes, and exposé blog posts. We don’t say someone is “critiqued” or their ideas “debunked;” we say they were “destroyed,” “owned,” and so on. We use the language of humiliation or violence.
Here’s how you know if you hate something someone has done or if you actually hate that person.

The real test is this. Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, “Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,” or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything—God and our friends and ourselves included—as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.

How about you? Is your hatred fed by confirmation bias? Do you dismiss correction of your critique because the corrections don’t fit your narrative?

Do you love to hate somebody? Do you hope for their failure and inwardly delight when it comes? Do you have the slightest inkling that your desire for justice has bled into desire for vengeance?

And if so: do you find any of that commensurate with loving your neighbor?

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
— 1 Corinthians 13:7

5 Biblical Principles For Becoming A Better Friend

Paul Tripp blog:

5 Biblical Principles For Becoming A Better Friend

How many friends do you have?

I guess your answer to that question will vary depending on how you define a friend. We have best friends, good friends, old friends, family friends, Facebook friends, and everything in between!

Friends are a wonderful thing. They make us laugh and lift our spirit with their presence. Our most memorable moments happen in their company. During difficult days, they surround us with love and support.

But no matter how many friends you have and how many moments you’ve shared, everyone reading this post shares one thing in common: we have never had, and have never been, a perfect friend.

By that, I simply mean that our friendships are never absent of disappointment. In some way, whether significant or insignificant, our friends have failed us, and we have failed our friends.

Think about it. While some of your deepest joys are the result of friends, so are your most painful hurts. There are nights with them that you never want to end, and then there are days when you wish you could live in isolation.

Friendship is an integral part of the human existence, and we all have been shaped significantly by relationships that are full of both bliss and sorrow.


It’s important to know why God designed friendship and what he has to say about it. Through his Word, he has given us an accurate lens that will keep us from being naïve but also prevent us from becoming cynical.

Here are a few guiding principles about friends that should help keep your relationships healthy:

Friendships are intended

In Genesis 2:18, God says that it is not good for man to be alone. This statement is broader than just marriage and applies to God’s design for all humanity. The word “helper” used to describe Eve isn’t defined her as a co-worker, but a companion. God created us live with companions because he is a social God, living in community within the Trinity as Father, Son, and Spirit.

There are benefits that come naturally from these friendships. Having a companion for everyday life is a beautiful one. Having someone to comfort you during tough times is another (Job 2:11). Honest friends who will call you to repent is a third of many more (Proverbs 27:6).

Christians, we need to seek out and immerse ourselves in community. While the “lone wolf” mentality is often applauded in our society, it is very dangerous and lonely to live in isolation. Don’t cut yourself off from people, because you’re cutting yourself off from your original intended design.

Friendships can become idols

While human companions are beautiful, the primary relationship Adam and Eve were designed to enjoy was their relationship with God. Vertical communion with their Creator would provide the foundation for their horizontal community. But since we tend to worship and serve creation more than the Creator (Romans 1:25), our friendships can become idols.

God has already given us everything we need in Christ alone for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). That means we don’t need to seek perfect relational satisfaction in imperfect people. The irony is that when we reverse the order and elevate people above God, we end up ruining those earthly relationships with the pressure we put on them to fulfill us!

Friendships will be difficult

The early history of friendship goes from perfect to bad to worse. The harmony of companionship disappears when Adam throws Eve under the bus to avoid blame (Genesis 3:12). Then, in the next chapter, Cain kills his brother Abel!

Many of us can’t relate with murdering a brother or a friend, but the same sin that ruled Adam and Eve and Cain exists in our heart, and in the hearts of our friends. We bring selfish motives, envy, greed, and more to our relationships, often without even knowing it. No wonder they’re so messy! Don’t be shocked when your friends let you down, or worse.

Friendships are redemptive

If God really loved us, wouldn’t he make our relationships conflict-free? I wish! But the fact of the matter is that the Lord’s primary purpose in our life is redemption – the ongoing removal of sin from our heart (Philippians 1:6). Nowhere is that sin more exposed than in relationship, where a flawed person lives with a flawed person in a fallen world.

When our sin, or our friend’s sin, is exposed, we have two options: run away or lean in. Do you hide in shame, defend yourself, shift the blame, criticize needlessly or harbor bitterness? Or do you confess your sin, seek forgiveness, speak truth, grant mercy, and encourage one another?

God’s design is that the trials of redeeming friendships will test and strengthen your faith, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4). Don’t run away from these trials. Lean in and rejoice, even though you don’t feel like rejoicing!

Friendships have hope

We all look for tips and tricks that will improve our friendships – more effective communication, conflict resolution strategies, gender studies, personality typing, etc. Just go to the self-help section of any bookstore. But the reality is that there are no secrets that guarantee problem-free relationships.

Rather, our friendships have but one hope – Christ Jesus. The shattered relationship he experienced with his father at the Cross provides the basis for our two-fold reconciliation. Jesus reconciled us first to God, which then becomes the foundation for the way he reconciles us to one another.


I want to end with a powerful quote from C.S. Lewis. I know I just said there are no screts that guarantee problem-free relationships, but C.S. Lewis comes as close as it gets. He wrote:

“When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now. In so far as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall be moving towards the state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest at all. When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.”

You see, when God reigns in our hearts, peace reigns in our friendships. Ultimate friendship will only be complete in heaven, but there is much we can enjoy now. The New Testament offers hope that our relationships can be characterized by things like humility, gentleness, patience, edifying honesty, peace, forgiveness, compassion, and love.

Isn’t it wonderful that God’s grace can make this possible, even for flawed people in a fallen world? This hope challenges whatever complacency and discouragement we might have about our friendships because there is always more growth, peace, and blessing that God’s grace can bring, right here and right now.

The hope of the gospel invites us to a holy dissatisfaction with all of our relationships and encourages us to tackle the rewarding but difficult work of redemptive friendships.

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