October 29, 2020
The Stockdale Paradox

by Dale Carter
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for,
the evidence of things not seen.
Hebrews 11:1 (KJV)
In Chapter 4 of his business management book, Good to Great, Jim Collins recounts his interview with Admiral Jim Stockdale, the highest-ranking US military officer in the “Hanoi Hilton” POW camp from 1965–1973. Tortured over 20 times, “living without any prisoner’s rights, no set release date, and no certainty as to whether he would even survive to see his family again,” Admiral Stockdale “shouldered the burden of command, doing everything he could to create conditions that would increase the number of prisoners who would survive unbroken, while fighting an internal war against his captors and their attempts to use the prisoners for propaganda.” When asked in the interview about his survival, he responded, “I never lost faith in the end of the story, 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.” When asked about who did not make it out, Admiral Stockdale replied, “The optimists. Oh, 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.” He then added, “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

We are starting the giving season, the stewardship campaign, coats for winter, food for Thanksgiving and presents for Christmas. It is the time we gratefully reflect on our blessing and use these blessings to bless others. With the start of Advent on the last Sunday in November we prepare to celebrate God’s greatest gift, Jesus, and the joy Christ brings to the world. This is the season where we traditionally run around like crazy to prepare meals, send cards, get gifts and plan gatherings to meet for a pause to reflect on thanksgiving and the birth of Christ. This year is different for everyone. Some have had too much time to reflect while others suddenly lost all free time trying to set up school at home and work at home while becoming an expert on getting the WiFi extended to every room. Shopping and gatherings are going to be different. We will have to make decisions and change our Oct–Dec traditions.

Thankfully, God is the same. Christmas still has Christ as the reason for the season. We give out of our gratitude for the grace God has shared. We love others from the love God gives us. “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NIV) We have seen the changes in our selves and others over the past 6 months. We became aware of all the people behind the shelves, the people supporting our infrastructure, those who care and clean and those with no extended support, all those who were previously invisible in our comfortable lifestyles. The record attendance at our 2020 APC Summer series based on Matthew 25, the deep content of the shared discussions on zoom calls, and the generous sharing of support when needs are revealed show that God is working within each of us and through our collective congregation to bring the love of Christ to all, peace on earth and good will toward all.

We must face the threats, challenges and changes that are our current reality, but we do so knowing that we are children of the living God. We have Christ as our intercessory at the right hand of God praying for us. With this faith we face the stark realities of our current world and we go forward in faith that God will provide today what we need for today. We look to the future knowing we are blessed citizens in God’s kingdom and we are called to share. As Paul says “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39) In faith we carry on everyday living out our baptism following the way of Christ and becoming the spiritual person God created us to be. 
Prayer (Breathe on Me, Breath of God - Edwin Hatch, 1878)

Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou wouldst do.
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Until my heart is pure,
Until with Thee I will one will,
To do and to endure.
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Till I am wholly Thine,
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine.
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
So shall I never die,
But live with Thee the perfect life
Of Thine eternity.

Good To Great, by Jim Collins The Stockdale Paradox Chapter 4, pages 83–85
Alpharetta Presbyterian Church
180 Academy Street, Alpharetta, GA 30009
770-751-0033 www.alpharettapres.com