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.

The Greatest Scandal of All

The word “scandal” is increasingly being used to describe a multitude of developments in this Age of Obama. I thought it might be helpful to define the term. After looking up a number of definitions, I think this one summarizes pretty well:

An action or event regarded as morally or legally wrong and causing general public outrage.

In order to properly identify a scandal, there must first be a standard of morality that nearly all adhere to, and there must be a commitment to the rule of law to judge legality. To complete the definition, there must also be a sense of public outrage over the event or action. For me, and others who think like me, a lot of what has been transpiring around us clearly fits the definition. The problem is there are fewer people who think the way we do: the Biblical standard of morality that once infused our society is crumbling; the rule of law, which is closely allied to that morality, is falling with it; and the public outrage, which should be universal, never touches a large segment of the population.

People do get selectively outraged. Some individuals, by their over-the-top actions, create an atmosphere of general revulsion:

Mars Colony

There are times when a systemic problem encourages and abets inexcusable actions, such as the Ft. Hood killings. The general public might still get outraged over this one, provided the media cooperates in revealing the systemic problem:

Unindicted Co-Conspirator

Some things that should be scandals become acceptable over time—they slowly creep up on us and become part of the culture before most people realize it. Of course, those very people who are slow to realize it are the ones who voted for it in the first place:

Diet Plate

The scandals that have most recently gained our attention are only symptoms of the growth of government. What most people don’t understand is that they are undermining our entire system:

We the People

Anyone who votes for a party that seeks to ignore and/or destroy the rule of law is an accomplice in scandal. It’s hard for there to be general outrage over this when half the country votes for it. If we want to locate the basic problem, and the source of all our scandals, we have to look in the mirror.

What has happened to the American character? Rejection of God and His moral law is at the root of our current political, economic, and social distresses. We will never adequately deal with those distresses until we first return to God’s truths and proclaim our fidelity to them. If we continue to dismiss God’s perfectly reasonable morality, we can only expect things to decline further. And what’s worse is we won’t even be outraged anymore by the decline. That’s the greatest scandal of all.

Up from Slavery: The Character of Booker T. Washington

Up from SlaveryI’ve been reading the autobiography of Booker T. Washington, Up from Slavery. The story of his childhood in slavery, the privations he suffered both under slavery and in the years after its abolition, would have made many men bitter. Washington, though, never lost the vision planted in him by God that someday he would be able to rise above it. He learned, along the way, that one’s goal was not to be selfishly motivated but to become the best for the benefit of others.

Although he experienced racism, he also saw models of true Christian devotion and love in white people who came into the South to help after the Civil War. His time at the Hampton Institute, getting a college education, was the most formative time in his life. The man who established Hampton made a lifelong impression on Washington, as he explains,

I have spoken of the impression that was made upon me by the buildings and general appearance of the Hampton Institute, but I have not spoken of that which made the greatest and most lasting impression on me, and that was a great man—the noblest, rarest human being that it has ever been my privilege to meet. I refer to the late General Samuel C. Armstrong.

It has been my fortune to meet personally many of what are called great characters, both in Europe and America, but I do not hesitate to say that I never met any man who, in my estimation, was the equal of General Armstrong. . . . It was my privilege to know the General personally from the time I entered Hampton till he died, and the more I saw of him the greater he grew in my estimation. One might have removed from Hampton all the buildings, class-rooms, teachers, and industries, and given the men and women there the opportunity of coming into daily contact with General Armstrong, and that alone would have been a liberal education.

Washington learned at Hampton that head knowledge, by itself, was not enough. The emphasis was on character-building and hard work rather than looking to others to provide for oneself. He saw a basic flaw in some of the expectations of his newly freed race:

The ambition to secure an education was most praiseworthy and encouraging. The idea, however, was too prevalent that, as soon as one secured a little education, in some unexplainable way he would be free from most of the hardships of the world, and, at any rate, could live without manual labor. There was a further feeling that a knowledge, however little, of the Greek and Latin languages would make one a very superior human being, something bordering almost on the supernatural.

That’s why, when he started the Tuskegee Institute after he left Hampton, he required all students to take part in manual labor. He was just as concerned for the development of their character as their minds. The two had to go together.

98f/42/hgmp/12704/tep038Unfortunately, Washington is not held up today as a role model. Instead, the image of W.E.B. DuBois is the current hero from this era because he stressed the political side. Yet, interestingly, DuBois never had been a slave, had grown up in the northeast where he was largely accepted as part of the community, enjoyed the privilege of a Harvard education and a stint overseas to learn the ways of Europe. He was hardly the typical black man of the period. Despite all these advantages, DuBois became a bitter man, criticizing Washington’s character-centered approach. He instead focused on the top 10% of his race, believing that progress would be made via higher education alone, without the manual labor aspect of Washington’s regimen. DuBois rejected Christian faith, became increasingly bitter over time, and eventually joined the Communist party.

What a shame that DuBois gets more attention nowadays than Booker T. Washington. We need an army of Washingtons in our time, dedicated to humility, gratitude, integrity, and hard work. The victimization mentality must disappear from all races if we are to make genuine progress.

The Case Against Barack Obama: The Summary & a Challenge

All week I’ve detailed the reasons why Barack Obama should not remain as president. Today, let me summarize and talk about the electoral challenge before us. As I said in the first post, one must begin at the beginning—a person’s worldview. His supporters usually try to skip over this, but it is the essence of the man. It consists of one part false Christianity, one part Marxism, and one part anti-Western civilization. The combination is lethal for the country because all of his policy initiatives flow from this worldview.

Another toxic ingredient is the character he has developed over time, which is dominated by a spirit of privilege, self-righteousness, and outright arrogance. He is always right; opponents have no valid points to make. Add to that a kind of disinterest in the daily details of his responsibilities and a penchant for spending time with the trendy/celebrity culture, and you have someone who can’t be trusted with the highest office in the land.

On the economic front, nearly four years of his policies have left us weak as a nation, with unemployment over 8% during his entire term. This hasn’t occurred since the Great Depression. The question Ronald Reagan posed after four years of Jimmy Carter is being raised once again: are you better off than you were four years ago? Incredibly, yet somehow unsurprisingly, the Obama campaign is claiming we are better off. Well, perhaps some segments of the population can say that:

Small businesses, in particular, have been hard hit. The uncertainty and proposed taxes on them depress hiring. Obama doesn’t understand the free market; what’s worse, he doesn’t even like it. Obamacare has already begun to drag us down further. So what’s his prescription to those who are looking for relief?

Obamacare also has become the front line of attack on religious liberty. In the guise of helping people, religious organizations are forced to provide abortifacients. As I noted in the post two days ago, lawsuits over this are springing up, and they should be. This is a fundamental abrogation of the First Amendment. It’s also part of his overall disdain for basic Biblical morality, showcased by his abortion-on-demand belief and his promotion of homosexuality. The only “sin” he seems to want to recognize is the “sin” of bigotry, defined as holding to traditional moral standards.

There’s so much more on the domestic side that I didn’t cover, but everything else he has supported, from green energy to Fast and Furious, also emanates from his aberrant worldview.

The War on Terror, from Obama’s anti-colonial, anti-Western lens, is over. He as much as declared it to be when he took office. The term itself was replaced by “overseas contingency operations.” He sympathizes with what he believes are the oppressed of the earth, not the least of whom are Muslims, while simultaneously undermining the security of Israel. Only yesterday did the first crack appear in the administration’s blatant lie about the attack on the Libyan consulate that resulted in the murder of our ambassador. Before yesterday, the cause, supposedly, was the trailer for an anti-Muslim film that could be seen on YouTube. Now, according to Jay Carney, it is “self-evident” that it was a planned, coordinated terrorist action. Why the change? Simply put, the lie couldn’t be sustained; too much evidence to the contrary was making it ridiculous. It was an attempt to shield Obama from political damage. It didn’t work. Now, will the media call it the lie that it was?

Here’s the challenge: can the electorate awaken from its stupor and see clearly enough to reverse the direction in which America is headed? My biggest concern is illustrated perfectly in this political cartoon:

Will voters allow their emotions to control their rational thinking? It’s very easy to become cynical about the intelligence of the American electorate:

Frankly, our future as a nation might be more secure if fewer people vote. I know that sounds like a heretical statement if you believe in representative government, but if the majority of the electorate are unprincipled and reject a Biblical worldview, that majority will lead us into deeper spiritual darkness by their votes. I want to believe we aren’t that far gone yet, but I wish I could be more certain. This election will probably provide the answer. If we keep Barack Obama in office, we may have sealed our fate.

May God have mercy on us and preserve us as a people. May He give us another chance for national redemption.

Restoring Humility to the Oval Office

Policies, as essential as they are, aren’t the only consideration when choosing leaders. Character is of equal significance. One of the key traits I seek in a candidate is humility. Pride is the cause of untold miseries. An arrogant leader is prone to mistakes based on his unrealistic evaluation of his own personal importance. What really gets to me are the polls that show a majority of Americans think Obama is likeable. Since when?

This is the man who wrote his autobiography in his early thirties. Who does that? This is the man who served only two years in the Senate, but who spent most of that time running for president. He has no legislative credentials during that tenure. This is also the man who declared that his election would signal the healing of the planet and the lowering of the oceans. Is there any greater indication of arrogance?

Then last week we were treated to the spectacle of the biographies of presidents on the White House website having been altered. Did you miss that one? Most of the twentieth-century presidents had a comment or two added about Obama. Huh? What did Obama have to do with FDR, Truman, JFK, LBJ, or Reagan? It was a bald attempt to insert his “accomplishments” into the stories of earlier administrations. Fortunately, it has met with the ridicule it deserves:

A narcissist is someone who is overly self-involved, and often vain and selfish. For the narcissist, the world revolves around him, his thoughts, and his deeds. I would say the cartoonist captures the essence of our current president.

What a contrast can be provided by looking at Ronald Reagan. He brought the nation out of the depths of economic despair and followed policies that led ultimately to the dismantling of the “evil empire,” the Soviet Union. Yet one seeks in vain for any comment from Reagan boasting about his accomplishments. On the economy, whenever anyone tried to give him credit, he would say he simply got the government out of the way; it was the genius of individual entrepreneurs that created the turnaround. When the USSR collapsed, you didn’t see him taking a victory lap. Most of what he did to help bring about that collapse was behind the scenes.

He also did little things that revealed his humility. Reagan had a pen pal in a Washington, DC, school. He visited the boy’s home a few times, but reporters never knew about it. It was something that came from his heart, not from cynical political advantage.

Then when Reagan realized he had Alzheimer’s, he wrote a letter to the American people—his final public utterance. I can imagine some would use this opportunity to focus on self, but again, Reagan had a different spirit. Here’s how that letter ended:

In closing, let me thank you, the American people, for giving me the great honor of allowing me to serve as your president. When the Lord calls me home, whenever that may be, I will face it with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future. I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.

How many of us, facing a future filled with lost memories and steadily decreasing mental capabilities, would concentrate instead on how grateful we are to have been allowed to serve? How many of us would be thinking more about our fellow citizens than ourselves? The humility that Reagan brought to the office of the presidency should be an inspiration to us all. It should also create within us a desire to see that kind of humility restored to that office.

George Washington, the Presidency, & Character

On this day in 1789, George Washington took the very first presidential oath of office. His inauguration on the balcony of Federal Hall in New York City was the beginning of a grand experiment. Although the fledgling nation had been in existence since 1776, it had only an ad hoc government throughout most of the American Revolution, then switched to a very weak Articles of Confederation in the 1780s. At Washington’s inauguration, the new Constitution also was inaugurated. The question in everyone’s mind was whether it would or could work.

Ten thousand citizens were present to witness the first inaugural. Washington, at six-foot, three inches, looked every bit the part of a president. Of course, he already had won the confidence of Americans by his leadership during the war. They now looked to him to transfer his leadership from military matters to those of civil government. Everything he did would be seen as a precedent.

After he repeated the oath of office, Washington then kissed the Bible and went inside to deliver his inaugural address in the newly improvised Senate chamber. The address was short, but focused on the need for a strong Constitution, the addition of a Bill of Rights [which came along two years later], and how government was to be for the public good. As was his practice as general of the army in the war, he took no pay other than reimbursement for actual expenses.

At the end of his address, he and a number of the legislators and local politicians then walked to St. Paul’s Chapel to pray. He knew this new nation would need all the prayer it could get. It really was a grand experiment. Many thought it would fail. One of the reasons it did not can be traced directly to the wisdom George Washington brought to the presidency and to the precedents he set, not the least of which was to step down after serving two terms, thus laying to rest the fear that the presidency would evolve into just another kingship.

Excellent character in high office is a requisite for success in government. Washington set the bar high. We can’t say the same for all of his presidential successors, but we can, on this day, honor the good start he gave us. May we work now to preserve that heritage.

Book Review: Illusion

Frank Peretti is back. Nearly twenty years ago, I picked up my first Peretti book, This Present Darkness, and marveled at his storytelling prowess. After that, I grabbed every Peretti book that came out. Some were more graphic than others in their depiction of sin, death, and the misery men bring upon themselves, but they all were faithful to the message that sin kills, both physically and spiritually. But Peretti didn’t stop there—he always contrasted the consequences of sin with the redemption available through Christ.

Peretti has been notably absent for some time now. I went into the bookstore last week to pick up a certain novel I had heard about, only to discover it wasn’t there. As I perused the shelves, I found, to my delight, that a new Frank Peretti book is now available.

As I read the description of Illusion on the front flap, it drew me in immediately. It’s a fine mixture of science fiction, action, and romance, all within a Christian context. It doesn’t preach, but it does deliver a sobering message about those who try to play God, the potential of a marriage based on Christian commitment, and how to deal with the loss of a loved one. I refuse to give away the plot, but suffice to say that the plot, along with the character development of the protagonists, held sway in my mind over the four days it took to finish it.

Perhaps one of the reasons I found it so fascinating is that the main characters were both born in 1951—an auspicious year, to be sure, since I also was born then—and what they knew, I knew also. All the cultural connections were real to me, as was the poignant fact of the characters reaching that landmark age of sixty—not quite decrepit yet, but identifying with the man who was wondering why it no longer was as easy as it used to be to run, climb the stairs, or perform all the other daily duties in life.

Yet it’s not just a book for “old” people like me. It speaks to every generation.

If you’ve never read Frank Peretti, this is your opportunity. Try him, you may like him. If you’re like me, a Peretti fan from previous years, you should welcome this new addition to his collected works. It will also be a welcome addition to your library.