Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Goal Setting

It is a cute idea to associate an acronym such as SMART to goal setting. But every iteration I've seen of that idea intrinsically has built-in redundancies. Besides that downfall, in researching the meaning of SMART, I found a number of conflicting suggestions:

S: Specific, Significant, Stretch, Sustainable
M: Measureable, Manageable, Meaningful
A: Achievable, Attainable, Actionable, Ambitious, Adjustable, Aligned (with corp. goals)
R: Relevant, Realistic, Reasonable, Result-based, Resonant
T: Time-bound, Time-Related, Tangible, Trackable

As I continued my research, I found an extension of SMART, called SMAARTER. (Yes, with two A’s.) The latter has some interesting features not mentioned in the former. Especially notable was the last “R,” which stood for “reward.” Still, even this had redundancies and generalizations. Like nature abhors a vacuum, I abhor doing things twice when once is sufficient. If goal-setting is intended to provide a concise and tangible framework, then a system that helps define that should be clear, concise, and complete.

So I began examining this from different perspectives. The questions who, what, where, when, why, how and how much are great for ensuring your capture details, but they are no so great when developing a template like this because you inevitably end up with multiple “what” questions. With those reflections, I created the Zoom Focus Goal Setting form. It uses every element found in the SMART forms but it puts it in a logical, top-down sequence, like zooming into a far-away scene to look at the details of an element in the scene.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Understanding Why Is Not Always Important

Kids are “why” factories. At first, the questions are a healthy form of learning. But as they begin to reason on things, their questions may take on the form of a challenge to parental authority. Especially when the child’s life is in danger (“Get out of the street!”), a child needs to act immediately without question.

Our inborn imperfection takes many forms and chaffing at authority, even in our adult life, is one of those. Sometimes authorities may direct us in ways we don’t appreciate nor understand. While I’m not espousing blind obedience, there may at times be good sense in tolerating a situation instead of getting angry and rebellious. Waiting to see if, even though the authority refuses to explain their action, there may be subtle elements of good sense behind their direction/decision.

As a parent, I began to gain appreciation for some of the things I felt were unfair that my parents said and did to me when I was a child. Parent’s perspective, while not perfect, is usually far broader than a child’s. When my own children balked at decisions I made, I was reminded how I responded to my parents. For the most part, my parents were very kind and generous. One time I remember my father bought me a 12-speed bike when all the other kids my age were getting 5- and 10-speed bikes. There were many other such instances. So when they made decisions I didn't appreciate, what I should have done was reflect on how loving my parents were. Instead, being immature, I did what most children do—complain. There were times that I reflected on those instances as an adult and it bothered me so much, I called my parents just to remind them of the instance, apologized for being so unappreciative, and thanked them for being firm parents.

I am currently reading the Bible book of Job. I remembered (once again) that Jehovah never did explain to Job why he allowed things to happen to him. Chapter two lets the reader in on the reason, but in the discourse where God is reasoning with Job (starting with Chapter 38), he doesn’t feel compelled to defend his decision to allow Job’s suffering.

As adults, our lives can take unexpected course changes that send our heads spinning. Just like the child demanding to understand “why” this is happening, perhaps even charging a parent with being unfair, we also may charge God with being unfair, unloving, and unyielding. To me, that is one of the biggest practical lessons we can individually take from Job’s account—never think that your perspective of the matter is better than God’s. Have implicit trust that his allowance of a bad situation is for your benefit.

I am also compelled to reflect on men who trust other men to the loss of their own lives. There are some subtle (and somewhat honorable) lessons that military life train a man (and now even women) for—that for the greater good of humanity, our personal lives are expendable. To wit, “ours is not to reason why, ours is just to do and die.” (Read the intro and then see the second stanza in this link.) But God is not another human. His perspectives are without fault. His greatest desire for us is to see us live—and live happily.

Even firm parents can make a good name for themselves in their children's eyes as "loving" by their gentle and kind manner, their willingness to listen, their sincere interest in their children's lives. Just so, God constantly reminds us humans how consistently generous, kind, and patient he is. So when he needs to be firm, we should remember the "name" he has made with us.

Some children when they grow up become bitter toward their parents. As a parent, I readily acknowledge that we are imperfect and make many mistakes—including how to be a parent. Many adult children fail to realize that while they themselves we trying to figure out their childhood life, their parents were trying to figure out for the first time their own adult life, including parenting. In contrast, Jehovah is not imperfect so becoming embittered with him because of something that is happening to us demonstrates that we haven’t learned the lessons the book of Job is teaching. It is never God’s fault. Be patient and humblewait to see how things work out. We may never understand certain aspects of what happened or why. That is not important. What is important is 1) remaining loyal to our God and 2) realizing how insignificant our personal satisfaction is in the grand scheme of things.

Somewhat related to this is a blog article I wrote back in June 2012—“Silence Is Golden.”

Monday, May 19, 2014

Keep Testing Yourself

“Keep testing whether you are in the faith; keep proving what you yourselves are.” -2 Corinthians 13:5

In many fields of employment, recertification on a recurring basis is necessary to prove that a person is still capable and qualified to perform a job. Added in these sessions, are whatever new techniques have been developed so that the person can be as efficient and proficient as possible.

We likewise need regular recertification to prove ourselves. Reflect on the kings of ancient Israel—how these got sloppy in their adherence to Jehovah’s direction. One specific example of this is King Solomon (David’s son). When he started out, his honest and earnest prayer and intent was to do right in God’s eyes. However, as time passed, his resolve was not so strong. At the time of his death, his record of disobedience was both sad and surprising, given his background and initial devotion.

Indeed just as professionals can get sloppy in their work, just as the kings of Israel got sloppy in their leading the people, just so can we get sloppy in our loyalty to God, making excuses for our lack of devotion and obedience. But how do we “keep testing” ourselves? (This testing is not like the tests I've written about before.) The obvious primary way is to reflect on our current life-path and examine it against the admonition given in scripture. Two major ways to do that is through our daily Bible reading and through preparing and participating in congregation meetings. In both of those cases, self-examination of where we really stand and what improvements can be made will help us ensure we are not getting sloppy. We then "prove" who we are by our sharpened/renewed spiritual vigor (zeal) and integrity.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Baptism-Are You Hesitant?

In revival gatherings and even some established religions, baptism is a spontaneous response to an emotional event. In the past, I have even heard of some being baptized multiple times--each time a revival show comes to town. I don’t know that those revival shows are still popular, but I’ve seen TV evangelists using the same tactics.

In contrast to this, to Jehovah’s Witnesses, baptism is an intelligent and contemplated decision, reached over a period of time and after an extensive study of scripture. After coming to realize what a weighty decision this is, some begin to doubt their own worthiness and wonder if they can live up to the Bible’s requirements. It is truly a humbling realization that God and Christ actually want us to be their friend. They want us to know, love, and serve them. Due to this, some reason in their hearts, “How could I ever live up to the expectations that scriptural principles extol? What if I sin so badly that I damage my relationship with God and Jesus?”

Those are truly sobering concerns. But the comfort from God’s Word, the Bible, actually addresses this concern. At 2 Chronicles 6, verses 36-39, there is assurance that as long as we humbly ask for forgiveness, confess our sin to God, and turn around from our wrong course, God will not throw us away. In fact, greater than the sin that got us in trouble, is the sin of arrogantly refusing to admit our wrong and turn away from it. So the point isn't IF we sin, but rather how we react afterwards. Embarrassment over being exposed for the wrongdoing, depression over punishment, resentment over harsh treatment are all normal imperfect responses to punishment. The challenge is to rise above those negative feelings and be comforted knowing that God didn't throw us out like trash. Instead he has thrown us in the dirty clothes hamper to be cleansed. Only if we resist the cleaning do we, like an unwearable garment, get discarded.

Consider the apostle Peter. Surely he must have felt worthless after denying he even knew Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times. Perhaps he kept in mind the thought at Ecclesiastes 7:20, which states: “For there is no righteous man on earth who always does good and never sins.” After Jesus’ resurrection, he reassured Peter of his love for him by commissioning him to a job. How encouraging that must have been to Peter!

A Skilled Copyist (Psalm 45:1)

Psalm 45:1' "My heart is stirred by something good. I say: 'My song is about a king.' May my tongue be the stylus of a skilled copyist."

The imagery the Psalmist is drawing in our minds is that of a “skilled copyist.” What made copyists skilled back in those times? After all, the only way to reproduce a document back then was to handwrite another exact copy. In response to that question, at least one skill was the accuracy of the copy. How did copyists check their accuracy? They employed simple mathematical checks and balances to ensure that nothing was missed. One such check was to count not only the words in a line but even the characters--each and every letter--both in the original and the copied documents. The count should be exactly the same. The fewer mistakes made by a copyist, the more “skilled” he was considered. Perhaps the best were judged not only by their accuracy, but also the speed and legibility of their output.

Back when the official language of the peoples of Israel was Hebrew, there was no need for “translations” of the writings nor updated versions. It was all word for word. However, when the people were conquered by various nations and they subsequently came out speaking other languages (one example being the Aramaic books of the Bible), translation did become an issue. In that case, conveying the intent of the Word of God became critical. Copyists at that time could not rely merely on counting letters and words. 

By the time Christianity came on the scene, the Israelites were scattered to many different lands. Especially the ones recorded at Acts 2:5-11 would have had to possess scrolls written in their own tongue.  So a skilled copyist would need to know both Hebrew and the language it was being translated into. In that situation, the main skill needed by a skilled copyist would be accuracy of thought (again, coupled with speed and legibility). To that, they would need to add integrity and uncompromising devotion. 

Today, we can demonstrate these qualities with our tongue when we accurately relate the message of the Bible to others. Like the copyists that would have had to both know and study not only Hebrew but the language it was being translated into, we realize that attentive study of the Bible is necessary to sharpen our skills in our zealous efforts to spread the Word of God. So our tongue first becomes taught through study, then it becomes skilled through constant refinement, knowledge growth, and skill in reaching all sorts of people
  • Accuracy: We become adept at explain the truth correctly to others.
  • Legibility: This is required for others to understand what was written. Likewise, we need to reason with people in ways that help them understand the value of what we are saying. We use simple illustrations and avoid long, rambling, convoluted reasoning points and illustrations.
  • Speed: We keep what we have to say concise, in small mentally-digestible bites. 
Employing all the above, our tongue can truly become like a skilled copyist.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Psalm 34 verse 8, "Tasting" God

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Psalm 34:8 reads (in the New World Translation), “Taste and see that Jehovah is good.” (Other versions here.)

How do we “taste” God (and by extension, his “Word”)? Is it occasionally praying to God or reading the Bible? No. Is it memorization of scriptures or resorting to severe austerity or torturing our bodies? No. Is it being a believer? Well, that is important, but believing in something doesn't always mean we are acting in accord with that belief.

So how is it that we "taste" Jehovah? Jesus, being our exemplar, said that his food was doing the work that his Father gave him and seeing it to completion. (John 4:34) So Jesus did not merely “taste” God and his Word, but he ate it by being thoroughly involved in loyally fulfilling his assignment. Yes, service to God goes beyond merely believing in him. It also goes beyond merely believing in and adhering to the moral and ethical principles taught in the Bible. It includes loving (in all sincerity) our fellow man as ourselves AND fulfilling our obligation as Christians.

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