Archive for the ‘ Snyderian Truisms ’ Category

Snyderian Truism #8

There is no particular order to my truisms. As I think of one, I write it down and it takes its place numerically. We are now up to #8, which is one I’ve had to learn from experience and also one I’ve seen in history; that’s one reason I share it in class. It goes like this:

Bitterness may make you feel good temporarily, but it leads to personal destruction.

Richard NixonOne of the prime examples I use in American history is the case of Richard Nixon. I believe Nixon was treated badly by the press during his time in office, from his first days as a congressman, to his selection as Eisenhower’s vice president, to his supposed loss to JFK in the 1960 election, and then his failure to win the governorship of California in 1962. Over time, this unfair, biased treatment got under his skin and, it seems to me, developed into a bitterness that eventually was his downfall in Watergate.

The point is this: Nixon had reason to be upset with the way in which he had been sullied by the media of his day. Many of them had an agenda to smear his reputation. That was inexcusable. Yet Nixon didn’t handle the personal campaign against him in the proper spirit, at least not after the gubernatorial loss. His words to the press when he delivered his concession speech give a clue to the growing bitterness within: “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”

Richard Nixon & Watergate TapesThe bitterness eventually led to an enemies list, particularly of reporters who were hostile against him. While the perception of their hostility was accurate, his reaction to their hostility only fanned the flames. When Watergate erupted, they got their revenge. Nixon’s unwillingness to acknowledge any wrongdoing on the part of his chief aides and supporters and his attempt to hide evidence were inextricably linked to his personal embitterment toward the press.

In the case of Nixon, not only was bitterness the cause of personal destruction, but it was the catalyst that almost sent the nation reeling over a constitutional crisis. It definitely helped create an atmosphere of unease and uncertainty as we were seeking to work our way out of the Vietnam morass.

The original source for this principle emanates from Scripture. In the book of Hebrews, we’re told,

Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.

When we allow bitterness to take root, it not only hurts us, but the ripples of that bitterness reach out to many others. The warning in that passage of Scripture is quite clear: bitterness separates from God; without sanctification, no one will see the Lord. We need to take the warning seriously.

Snyderian Truism #7

Regular readers will know by now that I periodically present what I call Snyderian truisms. These are statements that I consider to be general principles that apply to all of life. We’re now up to #7:

The Lord is always more interested in developing character than providing a quick fix.

This is not a “fun” truism. Most of us wish it could be modified. We live in a society of quick fixes; we don’t like lingering problems. For those of us who have put our trust in Christ, we are still not immune to the quick-fix mentality. “Lord,” we pray, “please take away this disturbance in my life. Give me a smooth path.” When the trouble doesn’t go away immediately, we are faced with a choice: we can pout, feel sorry for ourselves, and blame God for not caring, or we can be mature. Sorry to be so blunt. But I know whereof I speak; I’m experienced on both sides of that equation. On those occasions when I respond maturely, I can testify this is truly God’s way.

When I was a young Christian, I embarked on a Scripture memorization exercise in which I pulled out passages from each chapter of the gospels and the letters of the New Testament. That discipline has proven valuable to me later in life, as those verses now come more readily to mind. One of my memorized passages was from Romans, chapter 5:

We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Romans 5

A similar passage—another one I memorized—is found in the book of James, where we’re instructed,

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

JoyI admit I don’t automatically rejoice whenever a trouble comes along, but the Lord is continually teaching me to look beyond the outward problem and allow Him to work through that problem to create more of His character within me. Having one’s character shaped by God is not always a pleasant experience, at least at first. But if we endure the current unpleasantness, we eventually see the result, and we recognize God knows what He’s doing.

Nothing is more valuable than growing in the character of Christ. The sooner we submit to His shaping, the greater insight we’ll receive into His ways—and knowing Him is what life is really all about.

Snyderian Truism #6

When I teach history, the emphasis is not on statistics, charts, or graphs, helpful as they all are. Instead, I concentrate on individuals and their impact on events. I believe history is a story, which includes themes, plots, and character development. As we begin to delve into the events of history in class, I reveal to my students another Snyderian Truism that I hope will make them see a significant distinction:

Personality and character are not the same: the first arrives with you at birth; the second is a matter of choice and requires work on your part.

I find that people often confuse the two. There is no moral aspect to one’s personality. It’s simply the type of person you are, as created by God. Some are more take-charge types, while others are laid back. We have introverts and extroverts. The distinctions could go on for quite some time. Yet all types are necessary; that’s the kind of diversity God seeks. They each have their unique strengths.

Noah WebsterCharacter is the moral side. We are all free moral agents made in the image of God, and we must take on His character in order for the world to operate the way He intended. Noah Webster, in his original dictionary, defines the generic “character,” apart from the human element, in this way:

A mark made by cutting, engraving, stamping, or pressing.

I say that’s the generic definition because it applies to the word in general. One makes a character on a sheet of paper, for instance, by pressing down with a pen. Anyone remember typewriters? When you press the key, the designated letter jumps up and stamps or engraves the mark on the paper. It makes an impression.

We can make the application to human character as well. How is our character formed? All the cutting, engraving, stamping, and pressing that occur in daily life—also known as trials, tribulations, challenges—shape our character. We emerge from these pressures as different people. God uses them to help conform us more to the image of Christ. Our hearts are changed along the way, and we take on a greater measure of the character God intended for us. It’s our hearts that are affected; we are transformed within, and then the transformation shows up on the outside so others can see it.

I find this exemplified in a statement the apostle Paul made to the Corinthian church. In 2 Corinthians 3:2-3, he remarks,

Your yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You know that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

When we see exemplary character exhibited in history, it serves to inspire us to emulate that character. The prophet Samuel, upon his retirement, asked the elders of Israel to tell him if he had done anything to harm them while he served in his high office. They responded,

“You have not cheated or oppressed us. . . . You have not taken anything from anyone’s hand.” Samuel said to them, “The Lord is witness against you, and also His anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand.” “He is witness,” they said.

Think about that. What a testimony. How many politicians can we say that about today? They exist, but we see the opposite so often that it invites cynicism. Another great example from the Old Testament is Daniel, who served in the government for most of his life. At one point, the other government officials were so jealous of his success that they sought to find a reason to get him kicked out. Here’s what happened:

Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators . . . by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. . . . The administrators . . . tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.

Again, what a solid testimony of God’s character through an individual.

George Washington1When George Washington stepped down as general of the army at the end of America’s war for independence, he sent out a letter to the states in which he prayed,

That He [God] would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind, which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation.

That prayer is still urgently needed. The truth of Washington’s statement remains. Unless we take on the character of Christ, we will be most miserable as a people. It’s the Christians who have to take responsibility to show the way. We must fulfill our obligation to reveal the character of God, and it’s through our own character that He is to be revealed.

Snyderian Truisms #4 & #5

Virginia FarmSome of my truisms are generated in the classroom. They aren’t always things I’ve sat down and considered beforehand; at times, they pop out unexpectedly. For instance, a number of years ago, I was teaching about the founding of Jamestown and was relating the fact that the first ships that arrived had no women in them. The investors in the company who sent over the ships were primarily interested in trade, so they concentrated on setting up a trading post in the New World.

I then talked about the disadvantages of that type of settlement. All men, and no women, is not ideal. In my attempt to inject humor into my teaching, I made a couple of comments that resonated well with the students. They not only laughed about them, but they kind of took on a life of their own, with students continually referring back to them. I meant them as tongue-in-cheek, but they really were statements of reality. Thus were born Snyderian truisms #4 and #5:

You need women to have families.

Men, without women, would be uncivilized.

The Virginia Company ultimately realized they needed to send women to the colony to make it more settled. The nuclear family was the cornerstone of society, so women were needed to bring stability. Men also seem to have this tendency to let things deteriorate without the domestic touch of women. As I tell students, compare a young man’s dorm room with a young woman’s. Which one, on the whole, is neater? This points to the fact that there are distinct differences between men and women. God made those differences on purpose. Marriage is how those distinctives come together to form a compatible and complementary whole.

At the time, I considered those truisms to be unassailable. They were part of the panoply of self-evident truths that didn’t require defense. Unfortunately, since then they are no longer accepted by everyone. I didn’t count on the wholesale redefinition of marriage and family. While I always had a concern for the spiritual demise of our civilization, I had held to the hope that it wouldn’t deteriorate so quickly. Yet we now see the wreckage all around us.

Salt & LightThere are times when the most basic facts of life need to be reemphasized. We are now at that stage with respect to the nature of men and women and the Biblical definition of family. As the culture slips away from its moorings, those who stand firm on God’s truths will stand out more starkly. We need to be that light in the moral darkness that now predominates. We are the ones who can help preserve what is worth preserving. Never has the need for salt and light been greater. Are we up to the task?

Snyderian Truism #3

Some of my “truisms” come from personal experience in the classroom. As I embark upon my twenty-fifth year of teaching at the college level, I can attest to the accuracy of Snyderian Truism #3, which states,

Ignorance can be corrected, but apathy makes learning impossible.

IgnoranceThe word “ignorance” sometimes gets an undeserved image. To be ignorant is not to be immoral or foolish or stupid or anything necessarily negative with respect to character. It simply means to be uninformed. I have no problem with the task of helping the uninformed come up to speed with the knowledge they need. Isn’t that the basic goal of teaching?

With respect to the average college student’s grasp of American history, ignorance is nearly epidemic. Most of the students I have in my survey courses have little or no real knowledge of what has occurred in the past. Their understanding of American history is spotty at best, non-existent at times. What they think they know has been filtered through a public education system that has its own agenda, concentrating on the latest trendy topics. The history they’ve received is stuffed with the grievances of minorities, the unfairness of American capitalism, and/or some variant of radical environmentalism.

They know little of the sacrifices made for the current generation, the Biblical principles upon which the culture was based, the concept of the rule of law, or the strides made to correct abuses of the past. They lack context: they don’t know to compare America with other nations throughout history and see some of the stark differences. Consequently, they develop virtually no appreciation for what has preceded their limited time on this earth. For most, history doesn’t go back much further than what they remember personally.

I’ve had more than one student, after taking one of my survey courses, tell me they had no knowledge of almost everything I taught them. A few have even said that I presented the history in a way that contradicted what they learned previously. I distinctly recall one student saying, “Everything you said was good, I was taught was bad, and everything you said was bad, I was taught was good.” Yet all I did was present my interpretation of history based on the most reliable primary sources. I seek accuracy above all.

ApathySo ignorance is not the real problem. It’s apathy that diminishes learning. Ignorance is not a character issue, but apathy is all about character. Although I do my best to make learning enjoyable and interesting, with some students, no matter what I do, there is no desire to learn. One phenomenon I’ve witnessed is that if you have too many apathetic students in a course, their attitude spreads to others and a heavy, oppressive spirit seems to dominate in the classroom.

That’s why I make this truism known to them very early in the course. I want them to ponder the implications of their lack of initiative. I hope it will at least challenge them to make an honest effort. There’s nothing better, perhaps, than to hear students tell me later that, for the first time, they actually wanted to learn history—that my challenge to them and my approach to teaching converted their apathy into an active interest in the subject.

God never promised that ministry would be easy. Neither did He promise that everyone would appreciate what we do. Yet it’s all worthwhile when He uses us to reach into the hearts and minds of others. I thank the Lord for this opportunity He has given me.

Snyderian Truism #2

Last week I introduced “Snyderian Truisms.” These are comments I’ve been making in class for quite some time, so I decided to turn them into official truths that I believe are undeniable. The first one was “Since God gave you a brain, He undoubtedly expects you to use it.” I give that one to my students in my American history survey courses on the very first day of class. Hopefully, it gets their attention and lets them know my expectations for the semester.

On the first day of class, I also present truism #2:

If you fill your mind with rot, don’t be surprised if you turn out rotten.

ThinkerProverbs 23:7 tells us, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” In other words, you will become whatever you put into yourself. It’s both a warning and a promise, depending on what you allow to come into your mind.

One of my biggest concerns for this new crop of students is their fascination with certain commentators on society who mask their anti-Christian worldview through comedy. I’m more than a little dismayed by how those who call themselves Christians get their information from such sources. One professorial colleague told me he asked his class how they know what’s going on in the news. The response? They watch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, among other questionable sources of authority.

Consequently, I put my students on alert from day one. I show them a slide with the pictures of Stewart, Colbert, and Bill Maher, and I say on the slide, “If you rely on Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, or Bill Maher for your worldview and your beliefs about American history, government, or politics, please let me know—I will pray for you.”

As you can see, I don’t just mount a blistering attack on those celebrities, but I do try to place doubt in the students’ minds as to the wisdom they might receive from them. Then, for good measure, I add this on a subsequent slide: “If you rely on Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, AND Bill Maher for your worldview and your beliefs about American history, government, or politics, please let me know—I will help set up counseling sessions with one of our psychology professors.”

Injecting a little humor into my warning helps get the point across that I’m not too keen on tapping into those sources for real knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. So I point them to the following Scriptures:

Colossians 2:8—See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:5—We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

The Colossians verse is not an argument against philosophy, but only against the hollow and deceptive varieties. Philosophy, as originally defined by Noah Webster, is an explanation of the reason of things. I tell the students that Christians should have the upper hand for explaining the reasons for all things because we have a connection with the true Source who created all things.

The verse in 2 Corinthians allows me to remind them they have a ministry—as all Christians do—of tearing down false ideas and philosophies. They also have an obligation to submit their minds to the Lord and His truths. So don’t fill your minds with the rot the world offers, I tell them; instead, fill your minds with the thoughts that come from God Himself. By doing so, they will not only be blessed themselves, but they will be a blessing to others.

Snyderian Truism #1

When I teach, I try to impress upon students certain truths. I know that sounds impertinent to the ears of some. “What is truth?” they may say. I seem to recall a historical figure named Pontius Pilate who asked the same thing. Jesus, standing before him, had already made it clear He was the truth.

So, yes, I believe truth exists. There are certain things I’ve gotten in the habit of telling students over the years, so last summer, before the new fall semester began, I attempted to catalog as many of them as I could recall. I even put them on slides to incorporate, at appropriate moments, in my PowerPoint presentations in class. I needed to give them a title. Rush Limbaugh, I remembered, came up with his Undeniable Truths of Life, so that was taken. Eventually, I settled on “Snyderian Truisms.” I thought the title was at least unique, if a little strange. But it does make it clear these are statements that I personally believe to be true, and students have seemed to enjoy seeing them light up the screen from time to time.

They are in no particular order of importance; the numbers assigned to them are in the order that I recalled them. What I call Snyderian Truism #1 is the first one I use in my American history survey courses as I attempt to show students that they should be interested in what we will be studying. So what is #1?

Since God gave you a brain, He undoubtedly expects you to use it.

I’ll let you decide how profound it is, but I do believe it’s important to communicate it to students, some of whom would rather shut down in class and coast. My survey courses are part of our General Education requirements, so when some students take them, they are expecting an easy course, something where they can receive a high grade with little or no effort. I try to disabuse them of that mistaken proposition.

On that first day, I give them a quote from nineteenth-century evangelist Charles Finney, which instructs thusly:

It has been no part of my aim to spare my pupils or anyone else the trouble of intense thought. . . . You were made to think. It will do you good to think; to develop your powers by study. God designed that religion should require thought, intense thought, and should thoroughly develop our powers of thought.

Biblical WorldviewAll too often, Christians want to shelve intense thought and depend primarily on feelings. God does give us those feelings, and we should rejoice that we’re made with them. However, He never intended for our emotions to guide our actions. He wants us to think seriously about what we believe and why. He wants us to learn as much as we can about this world—its history, cultures, etc.—and then use that knowledge to accomplish His purposes in this world.

Thinking Christians need to be leaders. They need to be the best at analyzing their culture and pointing to Biblical solutions. By doing so, we fulfill Jesus’ desire that we be light and salt in our society. I hope my emphasis in this Snyderian Truism will stay with my students. And I hope it will stay with you as well.

More truisms to come in future posts.