Tuesday, August 30

Katrina Relief

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.” (Matthew 25:40) Thankfully, American Christians are taking that admonition to heart.

It seems that when things in the world are at their worst, things in the church are at their best. The disaster wrecked by Hurricane Katrina has provoked a beautiful Gospel response as relief efforts are being organized all over the nation. Here in Middle Tennessee the Nashville Presbytery Disaster Response Team has, in coordination with the PCA Disaster Response Coordinators, developed a preliminary plan for our local congregations to quickly respond to the devastation along the Gulf coast. It is still too early to determine exactly where we will focus the bulk of our efforts and resources, but whatever we do it will be done in support of the ministries of local churches in the areas of greatest devastation. The Disaster Response Coordinators are currently doing assessments and are in contact with a large number of pastors and congregations in and around New Orleans, Biloxi, Gulfport, and Mobile

Our Presbytery Team has begun to put together a basic plan so that all of our churches will be able to organize themselves for a very rapid, gracious, and practical response. Pastors, local church leaders, and staffs are already embracing and promoting this plan in their churches. Together we are preparing to do much more with greater effectiveness than we could ever have done alone.

Thus, this Sunday and next-- September 4 and September 11--several of our churches will be receiving a Disaster Relief Offering. We will also begin soliciting volunteers for work teams to go to the hardest hit areas on four consecutive weekends during the month of September. The plan is for volunteers to depart Nashville at 4:00 PM on Thursday and return late on Sunday afternoon. This will allow almost three full days for work, Friday through Sunday (excluding time for worship). The first team will go out September 8-11; the second team on September 15-17; the third on September 22-25; and the fourth on September 29-October 2. We'll then look at the possibility of a longer-term commitment.

One of the members of our local Disaster Response Team, Cammy Bethea--who also serves in the missions office of Christ Community Church in Franklin--will be the contact person for those interested in volunteering for one of these trips. You can contact Cammy at cammy.bethea@christcommunity.org.

Besides the offering and the solicitation of volunteers, the Disaster Response Team is also developing a plan to collect essential personal and household items for those who have lost so much. The volunteers on the Team will insure that all the collected items are quickly transported to the places of greatest need and that they are distributed to those who have suffered the most. A list of needed items is currently being prepared--I'll post the list as soon as it becomes available.

If efforts like this in your hometown or local church are flagging—or perhaps lacking altogether--maybe you’re just the person to get them up and going. Or maybe you just need to contact Cammy to see how you can connect with or contribute to our efforts here. Or we could forward your gifts to the Team through King's Meadow, if that is easier for you. One way or another, let us together show forth the beauty of the Gospel in this time of grave need (see the essay below).

“He has shown you, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you: but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

The Good Samaritan Faith

For centuries, Christians have been the primary agents of charity and compassion in Western culture. From the first century forward to the founding of the American colonies, Christians took the lead in caring for the hungry, the dispossessed, the needy, and the afflicted. This was, in fact, the hallmark of authentic Christianity.

Even the enemies of the church begrudgingly admitted that there was something about the Gospel of Jesus Christ that compelled Christians to perform extraordinary feats of selfless compassion. For instance, during his short reign as emperor in the fourth century, Julian the Apostate tried to restore the paganism of Rome’s earlier days and undermine Christianity. But he just could not get around the Christians’ works of love. Indeed, in urging his government officials to charitable works, he said, “We ought to be ashamed. Not a beggar is to be found among the Jews, and those godless Galileans feed not only their own people, but ours as well, whereas our people receive no assistance whatever from us.”

Christ modeled a life and ministry of compassion to the poor and needy. He was forever mingling with them (Luke 5:1-11), eating with them (Luke 5:27-32), comforting them (Luke 12:22-34), feeding them (Luke 9:10-17), restoring them to health (Luke 5:12-16), and ministering to them (Luke 7:18-23). He even went so far as to use the dramatic words of Isaiah to summarize and epitomize His life’s purpose: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor (Luke 4:18-19).

It is not surprising, then, that His disciples, those called to “conform themselves to His image” (Romans 8:29), would similarly place a high priority on the care of the poor. Even a cursory glance through the New Testament “hall of fame” reveals a startling level of commitment to ministries of compassion.

Tabitha, for example, was a godly woman whose chief occupation was “helping the poor” (Acts 9:36-41).

Barnabas was a man of some means who made an indelible mark on the early Christian communities, first by supplying the needs of the needy out of his own coffers (Acts 4:36-37), and later by spearheading relief efforts and taking up collections for famine-stricken Judeans (Acts 11:27-30).

Titus was the young emissary of the Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 8:23) who organized a collection for the needy Christians in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8:3-6). Later he superintended further relief efforts in Corinth, and delivered Paul's second letter to the church there, all on his own initiative (2 Corinthians 8:16-17). When last we see Titus, he has taken over the monumental task of mobilizing the Cretan church for similar “good works (Titus 2:3,7,12; 3:8).

The Apostle Paul himself was a man deeply committed to “remembering the poor” (Galatians 2:7-10). His widespread ministry began with a poverty outreach (Acts 11:27-30) and ultimately centered on coordinating the resources of Churches in Greece and Macedonia for relief purposes (2 Corinthians 8-9). In the end, he willingly risked his life for this mission of compassion (Acts 20:17-35).

The Good Samaritan is the unnamed lead character in one of Christ’s best-loved parables (Luke 10:25-37). When all others, including supposed men of righteousness, had skirted the responsibility of charity, the Samaritan took up its mantle. Christ concluded the narrative, saying, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).

These early Christian heroes fully comprehended that “the religion our God and Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). They knew that true repentance evidenced itself in sharing food and sustenance with the poor (Luke 3:7-11). And they understood that selfless giving would be honored and blessed (Luke 6:38; 2 Corinthians 9:6-8) as a sign of genuine faith (James 2:14-17).

Biblical teaching concerning the believer’s obligation to the needy permeated the thinking of the early Christians. They knew that if they were kind and generous to the poor they would themselves be happy (Proverbs 14:21). God would preserve them (Psalm 41:1-2). They would never suffer need (Proverbs 28:27). They would prosper (Proverbs 11:25). They would even be raised and restored from beds of sickness (Psalm 41:3).

On the other hand, to refuse to exercise charity to the poor would have meant hurling contempt upon the name of the Lord (Proverbs 14:31). And for such an offense, they knew that their worship would have been rendered useless (Isaiah 1:10-17) and their prayers would have gone unanswered (Proverbs 21:13). They knew that they would in no wise escape punishment (Proverbs 17:5).

The result was that every aspect of their lives was shaped to some degree by this high call to compassion. From the ordering of their homes (Romans 12:13) to the conducting of their businesses (Ephesians 4:28), from the training of their disciples (Titus 3:14) to the character of their worship (James 2:2-7), they were compelled by the Author and Finisher of their faith to live lives of charity.

This is nowhere more evident than in the way their churches were structured. Besides the elders, who were charged with the weighty task of caring for the flock (Acts 20:28) and ruling the affairs of the congregation (Hebrews 13:17), those early fellowships were also served by deacons--or more literally, servants. According to Acts 6:1-6, the deacons were charged with the responsibility of coordinating, administering, and conducting the charitable function of the church.

It seems that because of the spectacular growth of the Jerusalem church, the distribution of food to the needy had gradually become uneven and inefficient. A number of the Grecian widows had been overlooked.

Since this situation was entirely unacceptable, the Twelve gathered all the Disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the Word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the Words (Acts 6:2-3). Thus, these seven men, or deacons as they would later be called (1 Timothy 3:8-10), had as their primary duty the oversight of the poverty ministry of the Church. This was the essence of the diaconal function.

All throughout church history, the diaconal function has been more or less faithfully carried out by men of passion, conviction, and concern--men like William Olney and Joseph Passmore.

Olney and Passmore were deacons for many years at London's Metropolitan Tabernacle during the pastorate of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Their busy ministry in service to the needy involved the administration of almshouses, orphanages, relief missions, training schools, retirement homes, tract societies, and colporterages. In a lecture to young Bible college students in 1862, Olney stated, “Deacons are called of God to a magnificent field of service, white unto harvest…Ours is the holy duty of stopping by the way, when all others have passed by, to ministrate Christ's healing. Thus, we take the Good Samaritan as our model, lest the pilgrim perish.” To that same audience, Passmore said, “It is ironic indeed that our type of diaconal faithfulness comes not from the life of a disciple of our blessed Lord. Nay, not even is our type from the ancient fathers of faith, the Jews. Instead, our type is from the life of a Samaritan. Mongrel, as touching doctrine, this Good Samaritan is all of pedigree as touching righteousness. Oh, that the Church of our day had such men. Oh, that the church of our day bred such men, men of unswerving devotion to the care of the poor and broken-hearted. Oh, that the church of our day was filled with such men, men driven by the Good Samaritan faith . . . offering both word and deed, the fullness of the Gospel.”

Sadly, in our churches today we have virtually lost all sight of the diaconal function. Instead of meting out the succor of compassion to the needy, our deacons spend most of their time sitting on committees and launching building drives. Instead of spending and being spent on behalf of the needy, instead of modeling the Word and deed Good Samaritan faith, our deacons are waxing the floors of the fellowship hall or dusting the dampers, pew by pew, “and goodness knows what other trifles.”

The condemnation written by John Calvin in 1559 is just as applicable in our own day as it was in his: “Today the poor get nothing more of alms than if they were cast into the sea. Therefore, the church is mocked with a false diaconate…there is nothing of the care of the poor nothing of that whole function which the deacons once performed.”

The Good Samaritan faith and the mandate to care for the poor and afflicted is by no means the sole domain of the diaconate. God desires us all to display the Good Samaritan faith by offering the needy a Gospel of Word and deed. The testimony of Scripture is clear: all of us who are called by His name must walk in love (Ephesians 5:2). We must exercise compassion (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). We must live lives of service (Luke 22:24-30). We must struggle for justice and secure mercy, comfort, and liberty for men, women, and children everywhere (Zechariah 7:8-10).

When Jesus was asked to summarize briefly the law of God, the standard against which all spirituality is to be measured, He responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. And the second is like it; you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22: 37-40).

Jesus reduced the whole of the law, and thus, the whole of faith, to love. Love toward God, and then, love toward man. But, at the same time, Jesus defined love in terms of law. In one bold, deft stroke, He freed the Christian faith from subjectivity. By so linking love and law, Christ has unclouded our purblind vision of both. Love suddenly takes on responsible objectivity while law takes on passionate applicability.

This sheds a whole new light on what it means for us to “walk in love.” If our love is real, then it must be expressed; it will be expressed. If our love is real, then action will result because love is something you do, not merely something you feel. Love is the “Royal Law” (James 2:8). It is a law that weds Word and deed (James 2:14-26).

Authentic Christian faith, according to Jesus, is verifiable, testable, and objective because it is manifested in a verifiable, testable, and objective love. Thus, Jesus could confidently assert that love is the final apologetic (John 13:34-35). And Paul could argue that all effort for the Kingdom is in vain if not marked by love (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). And James could disavow as genuine any and all loveless, lawless, workless faith (James 2:14-26).

True faith gets its hands dirty in the work of compassion because that is the way of love. Faith cannot be personalized, privatized, and esoteric because love cannot be personalized, privatized, and esoteric. True faith moves out into the push and shove of daily living and shows forth its authenticity via love.

It is not surprising then to find that Scripture repeatedly mentions love evidenced in faith in contexts that focus on service to the poor' the hungry, the dispossessed, and the lonely. “He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker but he who is gracious to the needy honors Him” (Proverbs 14:31). “He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives of his food to the poor” (Proverbs 22:9). “The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor, the wicked does not understand such concerns (Proverbs 29:7). “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world's goods and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with work or with tongue, but in deed and truths (1 John 3:16-18).

This is the faith, the love-evidenced faith, the Good Samaritan faith, the Word and deed faith, the authentic Christian faith to which God has called us.

Saturday, August 27


As I approach the "sacred desk" to teach the people of God each Lord's Day, I often read and reread this exhortation from Robert Murray McCheyne: "Speak for eternity. Above all things, cultivate your own spirit. A word spoken by you when your conscience is clear and your heart full of God's Spirit is worth ten thousand words spoken in unbelief and sin. Remember that God, and not man, must have the glory. If the veil of the world's machinery were lifted off, how much we would find is done in answer to the prayers of God's children."

McCheyne is describing, I think, that rare gift called "unction." It is what his mentor, Thomas Chalmers, called "that indefinable, indescribable grace that is sometimes somewhat in preaching; that outpouring which cannot be ascribed either to matter or expression, and cannot be described as to what it is, or from whence it cometh, but with a sweet violence it pierceth into the heart and affections and comes immediately from the Word; but if there be any way to obtain such a thing, it is by the heavenly disposition of the speaker unto grace by the power of the Spirit."

Oh, may the Lord pour out that which I cannot conjur by will or study or perseverence or discipline or cunning or eloquence! May He pour out His gracious unction!

Friday, August 26

King’s Mountain

On the afternoon of September 26, 1780, dozens of men from the Over-Mountain Scotch-Irish communities of North Carolina (now part of East Tennessee) gathered at the fledgling Sycamore Shoals settlement to prepare for battle against approaching British forces. That night, the Rev. Samuel Doak, a pioneering Presbyterian minister who founded the first church west of the Allegheny Mountains, preached a sermon to the ragtag army of Patriot farmers and frontiersmen. He wanted to encourage them, to embolden them, and to remind them of what it was they would soon be fighting for:

My countrymen, you are about to set out on an expedition which is full of hardships and dangers, but one in which the Almighty will attend you. The Mother Country has her hands upon you, these American colonies, and takes that for which our fathers planted their homes in the wilderness--OUR LIBERTY.

Taxation without representation and the quartering of soldiers in the homes of our people without their consent are evidence that the Crown of England would take from its American subjects the last vestige of freedom. Your brethren across the mountains are crying like Macedonia unto your help. God forbid that you shall refuse to hear and answer their call--but the call of your brethren is not all. The enemy is marching hither to destroy your homes.

Brave men, you are not unacquainted with battle. Your hands have already been taught to war and your fingers to fight. You have wrested these beautiful valleys of the Holston and Watauga from the savage hand. Will you tarry now until the other enemy carries fire and sword to your very doors? NO, it shall not be. Go forth then in the strength of your manhood to the aid of your brethren, the defence of your liberty and the protection of your homes. And may the God of justice be with you and give you victory.

Let us pray: Almighty and gracious God! Thou hast been the refuge and strength of Thy people in all ages. In time of sorest need we have learned to come to Thee--our Rock and our Fortress. Thou knowest the dangers and snares that surround us on march and in battle. Thou knowest the dangers that constantly threaten the humble, but well beloved homes, which Thy servants have left behind them.

O, in Thine infinite mercy, save us from the cruel hand of the savage, and of tyrant. Save the unprotected homes while fathers and husbands and sons are far away fighting for freedom and helping the oppressed. Thou, who promised to protect the sparrow in its flight, keep ceaseless watch, by day and by night, over our loved ones. The helpless woman and little children, we commit to Thy care. Thou wilt not leave them or forsake them in times of loneliness and anxiety and terror.

O, God of Battle, arise in Thy might. Avenge the slaughter of Thy people. Confound those who plot for our destruction. Crown this mighty effort with victory, and smite those who exalt themselves against liberty and justice and truth. Help us as good soldiers to wield the SWORD OF THE LORD AND GIDEON. Amen.

Thus stirred, the men mustered themselves to win a stunning victory--against all odds. The Battle of King's Mountain ultimately proved be one of the most significant engagements in the Southern theater of the American War for Independence--virtually assuring General Washington’s eventual triumph at Yorktown.

Tuesday, August 23


At the beginning of every academic year I like to remind myself and my students that true education is a form of repentance. It is a humble admission that we've not read all that we need to read, we don't know all that we need to know, and we've not yet become all that we are called to become. Education is that unique form of discipleship that brings us to the place of admitting our inadequacies. It is that remarkable rebuke of autonomy and independence so powerful and so evident that we actually shut up and pay heed for a change.

C.S. Lewis said it well: "The surest sign of true intellectual acumen is a student's comprehension of what it is he does not know; not what he does know. It is a spirit of humility that affords us with the best opportunity to grow, mature, and achieve in the life of the mind. It is knowing how much we do not know that enables us to fully embark on a lifetime of learning; to recover to any degree the beauty goodness and truth of Christendom."

Likewise, G.K. Chesterton asserted: "I am always suspicious of the expert who knows he is an expert. Far better to seek the wisdom of the common, the ordinary, and the humble--for God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble."

So I tell my students again and again that we have been given much--and that since we have been given much we ought to be able to move to that place of profound gratitude and humility. We have received an amazing inheritance of Art, Music, Literature, Ideas of Philosophy, of Science and Mathematics. We have received a tradition of excellence. We have been taught what it means to have both passion and purity. We have learned of the essence of chivalry, valor, and godly servant-leadership. All this and more have we received in the remarkable bequest of Christendom's great flowering.

We have also been the beneficiaries of an extraordinary web of relationships. We have begun to understand that true education is more about a culture than it is about a curriculum. It’s more about a way of life than it is a way of doing. A vision of what God’s called you to than it is about a mechanical set of prescriptives that are to be implemented in your life. It is about relationships, about community, about the rich covenant into which you have been grafted by God’s good providence.

Arthur Quiller-Couch, the mentor of a host of literary luminaries including C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, Maurice Baring, and Dorothy Sayers once described what we have received in this fashion, “You are indeed the heirs of a remarkable legacy--a legacy that has passed into your hands after no little tumult and travail; a legacy that is the happy result of sacrificial human relations, no less than of stupendous human achievements; a legacy that demands of you a lifetime of vigilance and diligence so that you may in turn pass the fruits of Christian civilization on to succeeding generations. This is the essence of the biblical view, the covenantal view, and the classical view of education. This is the great legacy of truth which you are now the chief beneficiaries.”

All this ought to be more than a little humbling. Of course, humility is not exactly a popular concept these days. We are taught to take pride in ourselves, in our accomplishments, in our stature in this poor fallen world. Humility seems to be little more than glorified insecurity—or worse, a lack of ambition. Fernanda Eberstadt, in her brilliant coming-of-age novel Isaac and His Devils, captured this sentiment, "Humility has a dank and shameful smell to the worldly, the scent of failure, lowliness, and obscurity."

But how different is the Biblical perspective. A nation whose leaders are humbled in fear before God will suffer no want (Psalm 34:9). It will ever be blest (Psalm 115:13). It will be set high above all the nations of the earth (Deuteronomy 28:1). Similarly, families--and even individuals--that walk in humility will be exalted and lifted up in due time (Proverbs 3:34, James 4:6).

Thus, the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession properly begins by asserting that, "The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." The English reformers that composed that venerable tome, recognized that the beginning of any serious endeavor must necessarily be rooted in a humble and holy fear of our Gracious and Almighty God--that worship of Him, fellowship with Him, service to Him, and communion in Him, must be the vortex of any and all other activities. The Biblical faith is a circumspect fear of the Living God. That is its essence.

“But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God has from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or letter. Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, who has loved us, and has given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts, and establish you in every good word and work. Standfast and walk humbly in what you know” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17).

Herein is the heart and soul of education. Herein is the beginning of repentance.

Monday, August 15

The Cult of Self

Selfishness is epidemic in our day. We are systematically taught from our earliest days to “look out for number one,” to “pamper ourselves,” and to “encourage self-actualization, self-awareness, and self-esteem.” As a result we have become self-absorbed, self-concerned, and self-consumed. Oddly, we have also become supremely unhappy and unfulfilled. As psychologist Paul Kellerman has pointed out, this is precisely because “The only path to genuine happiness and fulfillment is through service to others. It is only as we give ourselves away that we can truly discover ourselves.”

The cult of self-service and self-satisfaction is contradicted by the whole of history. The great lessons of the past are invariably told through the lives and work of men and women who put the interests of other before their own, who put the safety of others before their own, and who put the happiness of others before their own. Compare the life stories of men like George Washington, Patrick Henry, John Quincy Adams, and Teddy Roosevelt with our modern day obsession with self. The contrast is immediate and enormous. The heroes of the past were always those who resisted the siren’s song of self. They fought for justice, the cared for the needy, they worked for mercy, they fed the hungry, and they rescued the perishing. Their greatest accomplishments were always the result of their comprehension that servanthood was ultimately the key to significance and success.

The modern cult of self beckons us to “find ourselves” by turning inward. It entices to “satisfy ourselves” by “being true to ourselves.” But one of the most basic principles of sociology is that satisfaction, purposefulness, contentment, and success are all directly connected to selfless service. In other words, authority ultimately resolves itself upon the servant not upon the tyrant.

This basic concept of social development is understood all too well by the administrators of many of our contemporary social service institutions. They recognize that whatever agency serves the needs of the people will ultimately gain the allegiance of the people. So, they serve. And, as a result of the entitlements they bestow upon others, they gain more and more authority.

This is what Jesus taught His disciples as long ago as the first century: “And He said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called benefactors. But not so among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves. But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials. And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’” (Luke 22:25-30)

Sadly, all too many of us have not fully comprehended this link between charity and authority, between mercy and influence, between kindness and leadership. We have not fully understood that power comes through service not through ambition. When people are needy, or fearful, or desperate, they will seek out protection. They will seek out benefactors. They will seek out leaders with whom they can exchange allegiance for security.

Early in our nation's history it was largely the church which operated the hospitals, orphanages, alms houses, rescue missions, hostels, soup kitchens, welfare agencies, schools, and universities. The church was a home to the homeless and a refuge to the rejected. The church willingly took up the mantle of servanthood. As a result, the church had cultural authority. It was able to demonstrate its cultural significance. It tasted genuine success. It earned its place of leadership by loving the unloved and the unlovely.

Canvassing neighborhoods is fine. Registering voters is good. Evaluating candidates is important. Mobilizing phone banks, and direct mail centers, and media campaigns are all necessary. But, if we really want to make a difference in our nation and our culture, we must not simply organize ourselves socially, economically, and politically. Instead we must begin to authentically care for those around us. We must offer sanctuary to the poor, the aged, the handicapped, the unborn, the abused, the marginalized, the lonely, the sick, the stigmatized, and the needy.

The way to cultural reformation is through a practical, Biblical rebuke of the cult of self--in both word and deed.

The Old Testament prophet said it well: “If you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your souls in drought, and strengthen your bones; you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. Those from among you shall build the old waste places; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; and you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach, the Restorer of Streets to Dwell In.” (Isaiah 58:10-12)

Friday, August 12


The heroine of My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle, captured the sentiment of most of us when she complained: “Words, words, words; I am so sick of words. I get words all day through, first from him, now from you. Is that all you blighters can do?” She was tired of empty rhetoric, as high sounding as it was. Instead, she wanted to see something real.

Talk is cheap. Promises are a dime a dozen. Most of us have just about had all of the spin-controlled sound-bites it can stand. We’ve heard just about all the hollow rhetoric we can stand. We all know that actions speak louder than words.

That is a universal truth--no less valid in love or politics or religion as in friendship or business or technology. Good intentions are not sufficient in any area of life. There has to be follow through. There has to be substance.

Love is something you do, not just something you feel. Mercy is something that you extend not just something that you intend. Hope is something you must act on not just something you harbor. That is why a posture of servanthood is one of the most powerful inducements to both success and significance in life.

After all, it really is “more blessed to give than to receive.” The sooner we realize that the better off we will be.

It is not surprising then to discover that the idea of servanthood is showing up just about everywhere--even in places you might least expect it. Many business and management consultants for instance, are beginning to see the importance of a life of selfless service as the key to prosperity and progress. Servanthood is a much ballyhooed concept in the burgeoning literature of business success and personal management. We are told for instance, that our dominant industrial economy has been almost completely transformed into a service economy by the advent of the information age. The service factor is the new by-word for success in the crowded global marketplace. Good service guarantees customer loyalty, management efficiency, and employee morale. It provides a competitive edge for companies in an increasingly cut-throat business environment. It is the means toward empowerment, flexibility, and innovation at a time when those qualities are essential for business survival. It prepares ordinary men and women to out-sell, out-manage, out-motivate, and out-negotiate their competition. It enables them to "swim with the sharks without being eaten alive."

According to Jack Eckerd and Chuck Colson, service on the job and in the workplace can mean many things, “Valuing workers. Managing from the trenches. Communicating. Inspiring excellence. Training. Using profits to motivate.”

Virtually all the corporate prognosticators, strategic forecasters, motivational pundits, and management consultants agree--from Tom Peters, John Naisbitt, and Stephen Covey to Richard Foster, Michael Gerber, and Zig Ziglar. They all say that servanthood is an indispensable key to success in business or success in life.

These analysts have begun to grasp the fact that selfless service is essentially a complex combination of common courtesy, customer satisfaction, and the spirit of enterprise. It is simply realizing that the customer is always right and then going the extra mile. It is a principle-centered approach to human relationships and community responsibilities. It is putting first things first. It is the recovery of that positively medieval concept of chivalry.

This resurgent emphasis on servanthood is not just confined to the corporate world these days. It has also reappeared as a stock-in-trade public virtue in the discourse of politics. Candidates now offer themselves for public service rather than to merely run for office. They invoke patriotic images of community service, military service, and civic service as evidence of their suitability to govern the affairs of state. Once in office they initiate various programs for national service. They charge the government bureaucracy with the task of domestic service. And they offer special recognition for citizens who have performed exemplary volunteer service.

Servanthood is the leading edge of a new approach to sports--with the recovery of the concept of team over individual achievement. Likewise, it is the latest trend in academic counseling--where campus spirit is emphasized over and against the old dog-eat-dog world of scholastic competition. Indeed, the notion of selfless service is making its way into a myriad of cultural applications--and none too soon in light of the culture of selfishness our consumerism and materialism have helped to create over the past three or four decades.

This sort of servanthood is defined rather broadly in a series of happy public and private virtues--as an expansive sense of civic-spiritedness, good neighborliness, community-mindedness, big-hearted cooperativeness, open-minded receptiveness, and unbridled patriotism.

Of course the genuine spirit of service inherent in servanthood isn't simply a tactic designed to boost profit margins, to protect market shares, to keep customers happy, or to improve employee relations. It isn't just a strategy designed to inculcate patriotism, strengthen community relations, or attract more investments. It is not merely a technique to pad resumes, garner votes, or patronize constituents. It isn't a style of leadership, a personality bent, or a habit of highly effective people.

Instead, servanthood is a function of mercy. It is a genuine desire to seek the best for others, to put their interests before our own, and to exercise authentic love. Thus, the difference between the ministry of service and the business of service is like the difference between faith in God and faith in faith.

Monday, August 8

End of Summer Reading

Winston Churchill once quipped that “In order to lead, one must read.” The best preparation for times of difficulty--and believe me, leaders will face times of difficulty--is a well-rounded, well-trained mind. Sloppy thinking is a terrible handicap in the day of testing—whether that day of testing is the loss of a job, the birth of a child, an unexpected medical diagnosis, the beginning of a new semester, or the resolution of an intractable conflict. I have always found that when the pressure is on my best course of action is feed my mind with provocative books. Of course, I need to maintain my spiritual disciplines, eat right, get plenty of rest, make sure I get out and exercise, and stay connected with those God has placed around me. But, if I am not reading, most of those other aspects of a healthy life seem to fall by the wayside.

The last couple of weeks have been very intense for me. There have been the typical difficulties of preparing for a new fall semester and new academic year. There have been the typical messes of a life lived in covenant community. And there have been the typical criticisms of my leadership, character, projects, ministries, writings, sermons, and lectures--all of which long experience has taught me just goes with the territory of being in leadership, but none of which ever gets any easier to handle emotionally.

So, rather than fretting, obsessing, or emoting, I have taken to a fresh round of wide-ranging reading:

Just in the last couple of weeks I have read four remarkable books by Umberto Eco—always one of my favorite thinkers and writers despite his coarsely determined skepticism. His comprehensive History of Beauty is simply amazing. It is going to take me years to process everything in this work. Part anthology, part historical survey, and part encyclopedia, it is a stunning achievement. Likewise, his new novel, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana is brilliant. I actually enjoyed it in places—but, long ago I discovered that with Eco I tend to have more reading awe than reading enjoyment. His On Literature is a collection of essays that should not be missed by anyone who teaches literature or who is serious about reading the classics. You’ll never read the same way again. But, the best Eco book I have read this summer is perhaps the shortest and most ephemeral. It is not likely to go down as one of his classic, memorable works. Serendipities is a book about language, lunacy, and translation and it demonstrates the wide range of Eco’s interests. But, I love the book for the insights it reveals into his thinking and writing. Now, I want to go back and reread The Name of the Rose and Foucalt’s Pendulum all over again.

During the last couple of weeks I have also discovered a new favorite: Margaret Visser. Her exploration of church architectureThe Geometry of Love is one of the best books combining history, aesthetics, and cultural commentary that I have ever read. It is marvelous, illuminating, informed, and entertaining. I was so wowed by Visser’s worldview virtuosity that I immediately went out to buy her better known books, Much Depends on Dinner and The Rituals of Dinner. Both explore the extraordinary history and mythology, allure and obsessions, perils and taboos of ordinary meals and ordinary table manners. In truth, both works provide delightfully intimate histories of Western Civilization, of chivalry, of Christian influences on art, music, and literature as well as on pot roasts, potatoes, and green beans. This is all heady stuff. I am going to read everything I can find by Margaret Visser—she serves up a fine feast for the heart as well as the head.

Sunday, August 7

In It for the Long Haul

However long it takes, whatever the costs involved, however hard the task, and whatever the risks, principled leaders finish what they start. They fulfill their responsibilities. They are in it for the long haul. This is one of the hallmarks of maturity.

Examples of this kind of determination to work faithfully with the end in mind abound throughout history. But perhaps no man in all of history modeled this virtue any better than William Wilberforce.

A member of the British Parliament, he introduced anti-slavery measures year after year for almost 50 years. In 1833, as he lay dying, he received word that his bill to outlaw slavery everywhere in the British Empire had finally been passed. The dream for which he had struggled day in and day out, year after year, decade after decade for nearly half a century had finally been realized.

As a youth Wilberforce was a witty, somewhat dissipated man about town who had misspent his time at Cambridge and squandered his considerable talents on silly amusements. He was a member of the high society elite and he reveled in it. Though he was brilliant, energetic, and ambitious, he appeared to be little more than another in a long line of lordly dilettantes.

Despite this, he seemed assured of a bright political future simply because of his social connections. He was close to William Pitt—who later became Prime Minister. He was a confidante of many of the most influential people in Parliament, the Foreign Service, industry, commerce, the military, and the landed gentry. He even had close ties to the royal family.

In 1784, after winning his election in Yorkshire, he decided to accompany his mother and sister for an extended holiday at the French the Riviera. As an afterthought, Wilberforce invited Isaac Milner, a university tutor from Cambridge and an old friend, to join them.

To pass the time on the long journey south, Wilberforce and his friend read and discussed Phillip Doddridge’s classic devotional work The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul as well as large portions of the New Testament.

Milner had become a deeply pious evangelical Christian while at the old Puritan bastion of Queen's College Cambridge. As they read and discussed, he began to share his testimony with the vacationers—particularly urging Wilberforce to commit his life wholeheartedly to Christ and to the work of the Gospel in the world. Like most aristocratic Englishmen of the day, Wilberforce had always thought of himself as a good Christian. But he encountered in Milner a faith far deeper than anything he had ever known before. He struggled under the weight of conviction and anguish for several months. Finally, he relented. And his life was forever after changed.

After he returned to his home in Westminster, he began to struggle mightily with his calling and vocation. “What was God’s purpose for him?” he wondered. “Was it possible to be both an effective politician and a devout Christian? Was it possible to maintain worldly power and humble piety simultaneously?” He confided his dilemma in Pitt. The ever-ambitious politician, wanting Wilberforce as an ally, urged him to remain in the political arena. But still unsettled in his conscience, Wilberforce spoke to his pastor, John Newton. Best remembered as the author of the hymn Amazing Grace, Newton had been converted while he was a blasphemous sea captain and a notorious slave trader. He counseled Wilberforce to remain in politics as the champion of good causes—and in particular the cause of abolishing the vile trade in human flesh. Wilberforce resolved to heed the counsel and take up the cause.

Sometime afterward, he recorded in his diary the conviction that God had called him to remain in politics for the purpose of “two great objects.” They were “the suppression of the slave trade” and “the reformation of manners.”

With all the zeal of a reformer, Wilberforce took up the slavery issue. He even had the encouragement of his old friend Pitt. So he entered into the fray full of confidence in the self-evident righteousness of his cause. He expected a quick victory. He was sorely mistaken, however. “The path to abolition was fraught with difficulty,” wrote biographer David Vaughan. “Vested interest, parliamentary filibustering, entrenched bigotry, international politics, slave unrest, personal sickness, and political fear—all combined to frustrate the movement.”

In 1787, Wilberforce first proposed emancipation legislation. He fell ill shortly afterward and had to postpone his efforts for more than a year. In 1789, he made his maiden anti-slavery speech in Parliament. He gained support from political stalwarts in each of the major parties: Edmund Burke from the Whigs and William Pitt from the Tories. But the bloody Revolution in France was claiming most of the attention of Parliament so the resolution was referred to committee. Despite effective lobbying, the issue was defeated on the floor of the House of Commons the next year.

Wilberforce was persistent. He was determined to finish what he had started. He introduced his bill again in 1792. Again, he was defeated. In 1793, he reintroduced the bill. And yet again, he was defeated. Later that year, war broke out with the Jacobin government of Revolutionary France. The abolition of slavery suddenly seemed to be a very minor issue to most politicians.

He was not to be deterred however. He rewrote the bill in 1794 and was defeated by a mere two votes. Still, he remained undaunted. Every year for the next fourteen years he reintroduced some version of his emancipation legislation. Again and again and again he came up short. In 1804, he actually won the vote in the House of Commons only to have his bill overturned by the House of Lords.

Still, Wilberforce refused to give up. He remained confident that his cause would one day prevail. And so he soldiered on. Through the difficult years of the Napoleonic Wars, the reigns of four monarchs, and the great parliamentary reforms. During all that time he not only fought against slavery but also against every other sort of modern vice and for all manner of social reform. He worked on everything from education for the poor masses, support of Bible societies, and private relief organizations to protection of day laborers, creation of Sunday Schools, and establishment of domestic and overseas orphanages.

Even so, it was the abolition of slavery that remained at the forefront of his concerns at all times and in all circumstances. He wrote, “In the case of every question of political expediency there appears to me room for consideration of times and seasons. But in the present instance where the actual commission of guilt is in question, a man who fears God is not at liberty. If I thought that the immediate Abolition of the Slave Trade would cause an insurrection in our islands, I should not for an instant remit my most serious endeavors. Be persuaded then, I shall still even less make this grand cause the sport of caprice, or sacrifice it to the motives of political or personal feeling.”

After yet another defeat in 1805, the Clerk of the House of Commons suggested that he just give up. His was a lost cause. He had little hope of every prevailing. Yet Wilberforce would have none of it. He rebuked the man, “I expect to carry it. And what is more, I feel assured that I shall carry it speedily

The following year, he was able to persuade Parliament to pass a restrictive measure, banning the slave traders from importing new slaves into British colonial possessions. The next year, the entire apparatus of the trade was banned from British dominions, domestic and colonial. When the final vote was taken, every man in the House of Commons rose to his feet to laud the great man’s perseverance and longsuffering. Wilberforce was overcome with emotion and collapsed with his head in his hands. He wept for joy.

But he was still not entirely satisfied. While slave trading—man-stealing, flesh-trading, buying and selling—was now illegal, slavery itself was not. There were still men in chains. The chattel property system still existed. So, Wilberforce carried on his fight for the total abolition of every last vestige of slavery.

He would have to persevere for another twenty-six years. He would suffer threats on his life, slander, attacks on his character, the prejudice of his colleagues, and the abandonment of his friends, peers, and party leaders. Yet, he remained resolute. He would finish what he had started. He would complete the task. He would fulfill his destiny. He would uphold his calling. He would bring it in for a landing.

And so he did, though ultimately had to retire from his parliamentary seat, He continued to fight the good fight into old age and infirmity. Finally, on July 26, 1833, word came to his sick bed that Parliament had passed the Emancipation Bill. His life’s work was done. He could finally rest from his labors. The great task was finally complete. He died less than sixty hours later.

Finishing Well

Edmund Burke said of the persistence of Wilberforce, “The greater the goal, the greater the labor required.” James Q. Wilson, a professor of management and public policy, makes the same point—not about Wilberforce or English political history, but about life in the here and now. He says, “The best things in life invariably cost us something. We must sacrifice to attain them, to achieve them, to keep them, even to enjoy them.”

That is one of the most important lessons we can learn in life. It is the message that we know we ought to instill in our children: patience, commitment, diligence, constancy, and discipline will ultimately pay off if we are willing to defer gratification long enough for the seeds we have sown to sprout and bear.

A flippant, shallow, and imprecise approach to anything—be it sports or academics, business or pleasure, friendship or marriage—is ultimately self-defeating. It is not likely to satisfy any appetite—at least, not for long.

The world is indeed full of seemingly harmless little distractions; humorous and silly things; banal and trivial things; things which take the path of least resistance; things which come cheaply and easily; things which may be abandoned at our earliest convenience. According to the poet Edward Lear, we ought to “beware of all such things.”

Now, that is not to say that we cannot have fun; that we cannot ever let down our guard; that we are compelled to be continually intellectually vigilant; that we have to hang on to every cause with bulldog tenacity. But as Lear explains, “It is all a matter of proportion. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with temporal things, fleeting things, transitory things, or silly things. It is when the shallow completely supersedes and supplants the serious that we get into trouble. When what people want now replaces what people need always, then the truth is obscured.”

Sadly, that is a lesson very nearly lost on us in this odd to-whom-it-may-concern, instant-everything day of microwavable meals, prefab buildings, bottom-rung bureaucracy, fit-for-the-market education, knee-jerk public misinformation, and predigested formula entertainment. Thus temporary expediencies supersede permanent exigencies.

As a result our pragmatism is no longer particularly pragmatic. Our practicality is no longer very practical. We can’t wait for anything. We lack the kid of stick-to-itiveness that enabled Wilberforce to endure for all those years—and ultimately to prevail in his great cause.

The race really does go to the tortoise and not the hare. It is perseverance that ultimately will win the prize, not knowledge, not talent, and not connections. It is that undying tenacity that sets itself on the end, that finishes the race, that completes the task, and that fulfils the responsibility.

As Calvin Coolidge sagely observed, “Nothing can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not. Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not. The world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are overwhelmingly powerful.”

So, how do we train ourselves to finish what we start? How do we cut across the grain of our instant-everything culture? How do we subdue our got-to-have-it-now appetites so that we can undertake our tasks with forbearance and resolve?

First, we must come to the realization that such a virtue is hardly easy: Thus, o see things through to the end demands courage. Though we tend to admire courage, we often have to admit that there is in it an unexplainable admixture of boldness and madness in it. Concerned with our own health and welfare, we find it more than a little extraordinary when anyone is willing to risk life and limb for the sake of others—much less for the sake of some principle. Indeed, we have become an age with a dearth of heroes. Bravery has practically become a forgotten virtue—a lost cause. Nevertheless, its allure retains as strong a grip on us today as it has each of the many generations that have preceded us.

According to C.S. Lewis, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty or mercy, which yields to danger, will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful until it became risky.”

We will have to come to the place where we realize that to see things through, to finish what we start, and to fulfill all our responsibilities is going to require genuine valor. We will have to face down tremendous obstacles, fierce opposition, jeering criticism, and perhaps even physical danger.

To finish well will cost us something. It may cost us everything. Just ask anyone who has ever run a marathon or competed in a triathlon. Starting is easy. It is finishing that is hard. It is finishing that requires blood, sweat, and tears. It is finishing that requires courage.

To see things through to the end also demands wisdom. We admire knowledge. We covet understanding. But, we tend to be more than a little suspicious of wisdom. It is a notion that seems to carry with it the taint of dusty ideals and musty aspirations. It has the appearance of advanced age—and all the out of fashion traits of reticence, hesitation, caution, recalcitrance, and anachronism that goes with decrepitude. Even so, throughout ages past, men and nations have cherished wisdom as more that mere wishful thinking or hopeful yearning. They have acknowledged its vital role in stable societies and healthy cultures. And they have comprehended its essential role in enabling us to finish what we start.

The great English etymologist, novelist, and essayist Samuel Johnson said, “There are, indeed, many truths which time necessarily and certainly teaches, and which might, by those who have learned them from experience, be communicated to their successors at a cheaper rate: but dictates, though liberally enough bestowed, are generally without effect, the teacher gains few proselytes by instruction which his own behavior contradicts; and young men miss the benefit of counsel, because they are not very ready to believe that those who fall below them in practice, can much excel them in theory. Thus the progress of knowledge is retarded, the world is kept long in the same state, and every new race is to gain the prudence of their predecessors by committing and redressing the same miscarriages.”

Likewise, Shakespeare wrote, “This is a practice as full of labor as a wise man’s art, for folly that he wisely shows is fit, but wise men, folly-fall’n, quite taint their wit.” If we are going to finish the race set before us, then we will not only need to run with endurance, we will need to run with discernment. This is precisely why William Butler Yeats argued that, “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire. Of such is wisdom.”

To see things through to the end also demands work. According to Richard Weaver, “Exertion, self-denial, endurance, these make the hero, but to the spoiled child they connote the evil of nature and the malice of man.” Alas, most of us do not have the stuff of heroism—such virtues have been bled out of us by our modern devil-may-care culture.

Indeed, most of us do not much care for work. We complain about it. We chaff against it. We will do just about anything to get out of it. Nevertheless, we probably would all reluctantly admit that nearly everything in life worth anything at all demands of us a certain measure of labor and intensity. And though this might appear at first glance to be a plight of woe and hardship—perhaps a deleterious effect of the Fall—it is in fact a part of the glory of the human experience. The good news is that work is good. Work is the means by which we achieve, at long last, our destiny. It is the means by wich we attain to our calling.

And the even better news is that the lost cause of diligent labor, strenuous industry, and purposeful calling may be reclaimed, restored, and reinstituted—as the example of so many wise men and women who have gone before so ably and aptly demonstrate.

The remarkable Helen Keller once said, “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along not by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.” Every time we simply put our nose to the grindstone and do our work, every time we put our shoulder to the plow and undertake our labor, every time we push through our exhaustion to the end of the day, we move the world along with our tiny pushes.

It was for precisely this reason that Teddy Roosevelt asserted, “I wish to preach not the doctrine of ignoble ease but the doctrine of the strenuous life; the life of toil and effort; of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes not to the man who desires mere easy peace but to the man who does not shrink from danger, hardship, or from the bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.”

OK. So, How?

Since courage, wisdom, and hard work are such rare virtues, how do we begin to build them into our lives so that we will be able to stand during the storms of conflict and controversy that inevitably and invariably rage around us?

First, we really need to focus on the solutions not the problems. Often we get so caught up in the problems that we neglect the most important responsibility a principled leader has in a crisis: solving the problems and ending the crisis. We focus on the fact that we have been unfairly treated, that we have been blind-sided, that our words have been misquoted, that our ideas have been misrepresented, and that our goals have been subverted. All those things may be true. But proving that all those things are true really doesn’t get us anywhere. What we really need to do is to address the root of the problems. What we really need to do is to train our attentions on solutions. What we really need to do is provide answers. General George Patton had a basic rule for all his commanders, “Never bring me problems without at least three possible solutions.” It would behoove us all if we too would adhere to that notion.

Second, we need to keep your eye on the rim not on the scoreboard. Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden constantly exhorted his players to focus on their game, their skills, their fundamentals, and their strategy. If they did that, the score would take care of itself. All too often though—and this is particularly true when the storms of life hit us—we tend to obsess over the scoreboard rather than taking heed to our shot. We’re looking over our shoulder paying more attention to the next guy than we are to ourselves. We will inevitably loose track of what actually matters, why we are there, and what we are trying to do. And then we will have a very hard time finishing well—if we are able to finish at all.

And third, we need to balance patience and urgency. In a crisis, things are rather urgent. Something has to be done. And it has to be done now. A principled leader never hesitates when action is called for, when decisions must be made, or when duty calls. But the leader will also always look before he or she leaps. While a sense of urgency is a virtue when lives are on the line, when justice is threatened, or when truth is jeopardized, that urgency needs to be placed in its appropriate context. That urgency must be balanced by patience. All action must be considered action. All decisions must be weighed decisions. The consequences of our ideas and actions must be kept in view. Before we pull the trigger, it is always a good think to take a deep breath. It is always appropriate to season urgency with patience and discretion. In a crisis there is nothing worse that someone who has suddenly become a wild card. In the midst of a storm of controversy there is nothing worse than someone who has suddenly become a loose cannon.

I keep telling myself these things in these days. I know they are true. Now, I simply must practice them.

Saturday, August 6


Often we put too high a premium on flexibility. In times of difficulty, it is tenacity that enables us to prevail. Old-fashioned stick-to-it-iveness is normally in short supply but strong demand and thus is the first attribute of true leadership. Principles matter. And sticking to those principles demonstrates that they matter.

At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, James Madison was one of the most active speakers—and many wise provisions in the final document owe their origin to his foresight and learning. Deeply versed in theories of governance and profoundly affected by his Christian faith, he realized only too well that his gravest flaw was a tendency to become rather over-zealous during debate.

Along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, Madison wrote the brilliant Federalist Papers and was the trusted advisor and confidante of both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Later, he would make a mark on history as the fourth President of the fledgling nation during particularly difficult days. But it was at the Convention that his gifts were most evident and star shone brightest.

Knowing that he was apt to get carried away when addressing the Convention, he asked a fellow Virginian to sit by his side and tweak his coattails if he seemed to be getting too obviously excited. After a particularly impassioned speech he sat down, almost exhausted, and reproached his friend for not pulling at his coat.

“Sir,” said the now obviously awestruck man, “I would just as soon have laid a finger upon lightening.”

Similar stories are told of many of the other founding fathers. When Patrick Henry spoke his hearers were always utterly mesmerized. When the firebrand Samuel Adams addressed his fellow patriots, it was said that he spoke with the voice of the divine. And when the stately Peyton Randolph rose, an admiring silence always seemed to envelope the hall.

There is a peculiar power in unswerving conviction that inevitably arrests the attentions of both men and nations. There is an almost indescribable appeal that attaches itself to uncompromising vision and principled passion. This fact is illustrated again and again all throughout history.

Standing Fast

“Knowledge is knowing; understanding is knowing what to do; wisdom is knowing what to do next; virtue is actually doing it.” Tristan Gylberd

“He that is warm for truth, and fearless in its defense, performs one of the duties of a good man; he strengthens his own conviction, and guards others from delusion; but steadiness of belief, and boldness of profession, are yet only part of the form of godly vision.” Samuel Johnson

“A coward dies a thousand deaths, the valiant dies but once.” William Shakespeare

“The courage we desire and prize is not the courage to die decently but to live manfully.” Thomas Carlyle

“A pound of pluck is worth a ton of luck.” James A Garfield

“Courage is not having the strength to go on; it is going on when you don’t have the strength. Industry and determination can do anything that genius and advantage can do and many things that they cannot.” Theodore Roosevelt

“Brethren, standfast.” Paul of Tarsus

“Without belittling the courage with which men have died, we should not forget those acts of courage with which men have lived. The courage of life is often a less dramatic spectacle than the courage of a final moment; but it is no less a magnificent mixture of triumph and tragedy. A man does what he must—in spite of personal consequences and dangers and pressures—and that is the basis of all human morality. In whatever arena of life one may meet the challenge of courage, whatever may be the sacrifices he faces if he follows his conscience—the loss of his friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow men—each man must decide for himself the course he will follow. The stories of past courage can define that ingredient—they can teach, they can offer hope, they can provide inspiration. But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul.” John F. Kennedy

“The wise does at once what the fool does at last.” Baltasar Gracian

Thursday, August 4

Worldview Basics

We are what we think. In our very practical modern world, we tend to think that what a man or woman does or does not believe is really not all that important. We like to think that we can separate private from public concerns, character from performance, worldview from responsibility. But such a notion carries a fearful implication. It really means that it does not matter what anyone of us believes so long as we do not take our beliefs seriously. But throughout history, wise men and women have understood that far from being an irrelevant, superfluous, and private affair, our inmost faith is the utmost aspect of our outmost lives.

What we do is not just affected by what we think, it is determined by it. What we think—even when we are not fully aware of what it is that we’ve been thinking—shapes our perceptions, our preferences, our prejudices, and our priorities. As Anton Chekhov quipped, “Man is what he believes.” What we think will determine not only how we interpret what we see, hear, and feel, but how we react to those sensations. Even if we never actually think about what we think, it is at work in us in a dramatic way. We are what we think.

Mind Matters

Worldviews matter. More than two decades ago, Francis Schaeffer wrote his landmark historical survey, How Should We Then Live? In it, the seminal thinker, writer, and social reformer traced the extraordinary rise and distressing decline of Western Civilization. He argued that more troubling than any of the problems that are now undermining the remarkable freedom and prosperity of our culture is the fact that we no long quite know how to think about those problems. Indeed the most basic problem, which lay behind all other problems, was the fact that most concerned parents and community leaders are only able to see things “in bits and pieces instead of totals.” The result has been a kind of hesitant hit-or-miss approach to dealing with the dire dilemmas of our society. Thus, he says, we have “very gradually become disturbed over permissiveness, pornography, the public schools, the breakdown of the family, and finally abortion.” But we have not seen these issues “as a totality—each thing being a part, a symptom, of a much larger problem.”

Part of the reason for this is that, as he argued, we have failed to see “that all of this has come about due to a shift in worldview—that is, through a fundamental change in the overall way people think a view the world and life as a whole.” In other words, according to Schaeffer, part of the reason it has been so difficult to solve the grave cultural crises of the day is that we have largely ignored the fact that changes in our society have occurred first and foremost because of changes in our thinking. We’ve not only failed to recognize the fact that ideas have consequences; we’ve failed to recognize the existence of the ideas themselves. We’ve failed to see the central importance of worldview to all that we are and all that we do.


What we believe will ultimately determine how we act. Every belief system will have palpable, demonstrable, and visible results. It is not possible to divorce root from fruit. There is therefore is nothing more practical than clearly comprehending the character and content of our own worldview. The word worldview is actually a rather awkward English attempt at translating the German word weltanshauung. It literally means “a life perspective” or “a way of seeing.” It is simply used to describe the way we look at the world. All of us have a worldview. It is our perspective. It is our frame of reference. It is the means by which we interpret the situations and circumstances around us. It forms our presuppositions—our basic outlook on all the different aspects of our faith, and life, and experience. It is what enables us to process the information that comes to us through our senses.

According to social theorist, Alvin Toffler, in his seminal work Future Shock, “Every person carries in his head a mental model of the world, a subjective representation of external reality.” This mental model is, he says, like a giant filing cabinet. It contains a slot for every item of information coming to us. It organizes our knowledge and gives us a grid from which to think. “When we think,” economic philosopher E.F. Schumacher asserted, “we can only do so because our mind is already filled with all sorts of ideas with which to think.” These more or less fixed ideas make up our mental model of the world, our frame of reference, our presuppositions—in other words, they make up our worldview.

The differences between the art of Rembrandt and the art of Picasso were not just matters of style; they were determined by the differences in their worldviews. Likewise, the differences between the music of Bach and the music of the Beatles, the differences between the architecture of Wren and the architecture of Wright, and the differences between the politics of Washington and the politics of Mao are all attributable to differences in worldview. When a writer writes, he does so by the light of and in accord with his worldview. When a painter paints, she does so by the light of and in accord with her worldview. When a singer sings, he does so by the light of and in accord with his worldview. When a legislator legislates, she does so by the light of and in accord with her worldview. When a teacher teaches, he does so by the light of and in accord with his worldview. It is not possible to separate what it is we do from how it is we think.

Unintended Worldview Consequences

Unexamined ideas can have unintended consequences. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” That may be overstating the case, but one thing is certain, the unexamined life will invariably produced unintended results. The fact is that our ideas and principles produce results. If we have never thought through the implications of those ideas and principles, they are going to surprise us with unintended consequences, undesired consequences, or second and third order consequences. If our ideas and principles are never articulated or scrutinized we will continually be caught off guard by the natural effects of our worldview. Follow a particular line of thought by adhering to a particular form of behavior for any length of time and there will be a whole string of effects. There will be a kind of worldview domino effect. One effect will lead to another and another and another and another.

This is worldview thinking at its most practical level. Let your mind dwell on forbidden and destructive fantasies and before you know it your thought life will be marked by unfaithfulness. Unfaithfulness will inevitably creates restlessness and discontent. That may lead directly to adultery. That may in turn result in separation or even divorce. The ripple effect of consequences may not end there: children are affected. Neighbors and friends are affected. On and on and on it goes. Worldviews matter. Ideas have consequences. Often, they have unintended consequences.