Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Three Important Things

Have you ever noticed that there are no player's names on the back of the football uniforms at Notre Dame? Ever wonder why? That is because when Lou Holtz arrived at South Bend, Indiana to coach the Fighting Irish, he perceived that the squad who had gone 5-6 the previous year was more of a collection of personalities than a team. Always a strict disciplinarian, Holtz ordered the names removed from the jerseys to enforce the team concept that he wanted to stress. The move was typical of Holtz' coaching style, and it must have been effective. His record during his years at Notre Dame was 100-30-2! To this day, with the exception of one game (the 1988 Cotton Bowl), players names have not appeared on the Notre Dame football jerseys since his arrival there.

Lou Holtz is quite a guy. My grandson simply knows him as "Dr. Lou" the college football analyst on ESPN, but folks from my generation know him as one of the great collegiate football coaches of all time. A native of Follansbee, WV, Holtz grew up in East Liverpool, OH where he played high school football. His college ball was played in the Mid American Conference at Kent State, where he graduated in 1959. Holtz was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame - not because of his prowess as a player - but due to his tremendous success as a coach.

Having served as head coach of six college teams (William and Mary, North Carolina State, Arkansas, Minnesota, Notre Dame, and South Carolina) Coach Holtz' lifetime record stands at 249 wins, 132 losses, and 7 tie games. He holds the distinction of being the only NCAA coach who has taken six different programs to appearances in Bowl Games. He is also the only NCAA coach to lead four different programs to final Top 20 ratings. He owns several conference championship rings and one National Championship title, when his Fighting Irish defeated West Virginia's Mountianeers in the 1988 Cotton Bowl.

For all his success on the gridiron and as a game analyst, Lou Holtz stands out in my mind for a very different reason. Holtz is also a great motivational speaker. For 24 years I was an agent representing Nationwide Insurance Companies. The late Jim Ciccarrelli, was our Regional Sales Manager for several years in the early 80's. Jim was a football fan in general and a great admirer of Lou Holtz. He knew that a positive mental attitude was a necessary component in the lives of successful salespeople. There were several occasions in Regional Sales Meetings when Jim would show his sales force some type of motivational film. One such film was a speech given by Lou Holtz to some sort of sales convention. The name of the particular group to which he was speaking escapes me, but the message has been ingrained in my memory for over 25 years.

"Dr. Lou" said that no matter who you are, and what position you hold, there are three things that, if practiced regularly, will make you successful in your field of endeavor. Well naturally my ears perked up. Several thoughts raced through my mind. A simple formula? Only three things? What could these great truths be? It turns out that the three things were very simple truths. What were they?

1. Always do what's right.

2. Always do your best.

3. Always treat others the way you would like to be treated.

Wow! How simple - yet profound. Truths so valuable that I have attempted to teach my sons, and that I now hope to ingrain in my grandsons before I pass from the scene.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, I immediately realized that these three truths were consistent with the truth of His teachings. While each concept is found in the Word of God, they can only be fully put into practice through a personal relationship with Jesus.

No matter how hard one may try, in our flesh it is nearly impossible to always do what's right. Check out the Apostle Paul's frustration in Romans 7. "When I would do good, evil is always present" he cries. Yet in the next chapter He explains how victory over this sinful flesh is available through the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Later, in his letter to the Philippian Christians, he victoriously states, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!"

The question arises today, "How do we know what's right?" There are choices to make every day. In our culture, the line of demarcation between right and wrong is often blurred. Pagan philosophies and situation ethics send out mixed messages. Yet a verse in the 119 division of the ancient Book of Psalms reminds us "How a young man can cleanse his ways... by taking heed to the Word of God". The Bible is the road map to right thinking and right living. It is, indeed, "a lamp unto our feet and a light to our path." Furthermore the passage tells us that if we "hide His Word in our hearts", we will not sin against God!

"Always do your best" is also a powerful command. Former President Jimmy Carter wrote in his autobiography of an encounter he had as a young Naval officer with Admiral Elmo Zumwalt. Carter had just graduated from the Naval Academy and was applying for duty as an officer in Zumwalt's Nuclear Submarine Command. During the interview process, Carter says he encountered all of the questions that he had anticipated, except for the final query. The old Admiral had gone over Carter's academic records and his service records and then he looked Carter in the eye and asked, "Have you always done your best?" Carter hesitated for a moment and then sheepishly replied, "No sir, I don't suppose I have ALWAYS done my best". Zumwalt's withering response was, "Why not?"

How do you answer a question like that? What will we, as Christians, say, when we stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ, should the Master ask us a similar question? Doesn't His Word tell us , "And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality." (Colossians 3: 23-25). For the Christ Follower, doing the right thing is not an option. We represent Him in this world. Our actions should always glorify God. Paul reminds us of the importance of our actions to our Christian testimony, "Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God". (1 Corinthians 10: 31)

Then, finally, think of the third imperative. "Always treat others the way you would like to be treated". Ever heard that one before? As a child, I remember Mom once asking me, "What does the Golden Rule say?" "Do unto others as they do unto you" was my errant reply. She corrected me immediately. Some folks today have that same erroneous philosophy I had exhibited. Others will tell you, "Do unto others BEFORE they do unto you". But here is what Jesus said, "Treat others the way you would like to be treated". That goes in any situation of life. In business, at play, in the family, on the highway, and in the church. Treat others with the respect you would like to be afforded in the same situation.

Coach Holtz' "Three Important Things" are truly helpful for success in life in general. For Christians, they are MANDATORY!

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