How are Good Works and Salvation Connected?

People love the idea of earning stuff. There are trophies awarded in sports for winning a competition. Money earned by doing some sort of work. Students get a good grade for doing well on a test. The list goes on and on. Most of the time earning what you get is not wrong at all. In fact, much of the time it is good, right, and biblically-based. However, the mindset of needing to earn rewards explains why it is so hard to accept how salvation really works.

 

What All Christians Need to Accept

As indicated, we didn’t and don’t earn Salvation. That’s a very good thing because it would be impossible for any human to actually do so. It is equally true, however, that now that we have been saved, we should be compelled to do good works for the person and cause of Jesus. Scripture tells us that a faith that does not result in good works is dead (James 2:14-26).

 

Accepting What You’ve Already Accepted

Sometimes this is a truth that is hard to really accept even for those of us who have already supposedly accepted it. Sometimes, if we are not careful, we who have known this truth for years can drift into backward ways of unbiblical thinking. Biblical Christian thought goes against the natural way most of society thinks today in so many ones. This idea that we don’t have to and can’t earn this really good thing, this salvation, is just one of those things. Like so many other Christian counter-cultural thoughts, we will likely be struggling with this issue for the rest of our Christian lives.

Accepting the counter-cultural teaching of Scripture is something I have had trouble with in the past. Not just this particular truth, but many other biblical truths as well. If we are not careful and alert, unbiblical “spiritual” practices and ideas can become a lazy habit. For myself, sometimes along the road of the Christian life, while I thought I had fully accepted a truth, the Holy Spirit will lead me to take a long look at myself and show me that, no I hadn’t actually and fully accepted it yet, just some of it and that that some of it needed to be revitalized and more fully rounded. This kind of spiritual growth is what happens on the lifelong climb of sanctification.

 

The Short Story of Salvation

The whole need for human salvation in the first place started in the Garden of Eden. There was one particular tree there known as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This tree was exactly what its name implies. It embodied our free will to choose good or evil, to either willfully obey God or to willfully disobey Him. Adam and Eve, the first couple, chose evil, sin, disobedience of God’s one rule. Therefore, through them all humanity from that day forward was sentenced to death, eternal death.

The entirety of the rest of the Old Testament is God’s path toward the redemption of mankind through Jesus in the New Testament. We’re talking His own beloved Son here – His only Son. God the Father sent His only Son to die for a people who spat in His face and deserved exactly what they got. He did this so that we could be reunified with Him and have access to everlasting life (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:4-5, 8-9). Doing what God did would be an unthinkable, mind-boggling sacrifice for any parent–and this was our Creator!

After he arose from the dead, Jesus went to heaven to intercede on our behalf before the Father. For our benefit, he left the Holy Spirit to guide His believers to the end. We did not deserve access to the Holy Spirit; He was freely given (Titus 3:4-5).

Yes, acceptance of this sacrifice of God’s Son Jesus was and still is the only way for us to begin on that Holy Spirit-led path. As Romans 3:23 points out, all of us have sinned and therefore fall short of the glory of God. Because of this, we are completely unworthy to stand in the presence of God. Accepting the sacrifice of Jesus cleanses our sin and makes us able to stand in His presence. It is then that the Holy Spirit leads us up the road of salvation. It will prove to be an up and down road for us, with lots of hills and valleys, but thankfully His work on our behalf does not depend on our constant spiritual highs. His infinite love and grace have got our back.

 

The Final Answer

Going back to that first question about the connection between good works and salvation, While the two are definitely connected, it’s not like one might first assume. Salvation is nothing any human will ever earn by doing good. It was given to us. We were freely given the gift of salvation through the death of Jesus (Romans 6:23). With an authentic salvation experience, we are now bound for heaven, on the road of sanctification with the guidance of the Holy Spirit to the end of final glorification in the eternal presence of God. And how does that authentic salvation experience work? It is by fully confessing complete and lifelong acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior in you’re heart and through your mouth (Romans 10:8-9). That is how salvation comes about. Now we do our good works not to earn salvation, more salvation, or continued salvation, but because Christ saved us, because He commanded us to do so, because we love, honor, and praise Him for everything He has done for us and for humanity. Now we do so for the rewards awaiting us after this life with Jesus in eternity.

Now we obey His words and do our good works because He is truly our Lord today and forever (Luke 6:46).




Being Generous By Spending Money On Yourself

The Bible speaks abundantly about money and is pretty straightforward: Work hard. Be generous. Save money. Don’t be materialistic. Be content. Do not spend money selfishly.

Let me be clear that I get that. Let me be equally clear that part of the reason ramblingeveron.com exists is to use writing as a way to encourage people to dig deeper beyond the obvious. To push back against thinking boxes. To eviscerate platitudes and cliches. Jesus often blows my mind about how to live and I want to share that with others.

With that in mind, I want to rethink the exact applications of the biblical principles mentioned above. Working hard is non-negotiable, though that can look very different for different people. But on the issues of saving money, being generous and being selfish, it is my contention that we can (and perhaps sometimes should) live these things out in ways that are counterintuitive and countercultural.

What I mean is this: What if there are times it is really the more selfless thing to spend money instead of saving it? When generosity is spending money on ourselves? What if the more noble thing is to spend more on an item instead of finding it cheaper? What if concepts like minimalism, while entirely appropriate for some, isn’t necessarily the best approach for all?

The biggest application I think of when it comes to this are simple and are often mentioned as a way to be a good neighbor: buy local and support small businesses. I hear this advice frequently, but I do not think we discuss enough in the framework of Christianity.

Click here for a deeper dive into giving and generosity.

Anyone who knows me well knows I am frugal. I saved up as much money as I could before I got married so that I could have a huge safety net to provide for my wife. This causes my wife to be concerned when she wants to buy something one of her friends is selling via their personal small business on Facebook. She thinks I will get mad about it. Yet very quickly into our marriage, I began realizing how selfless it can be to support our friends who really are working hard and using their gifts to provide a quality product or service. Therefore, quite often when my wife asks my opinion (Note: NOT my permission) on buying something from a friend on Facebook, I enthusiastically tell her I hope she does.

Same for where we shop and eat in Bel-Cragin, Chicago where we live. We can (and do) shop at huge nationally known stores that allow us to save money. But we could also spend a little more shopping at a place that someone in the neighborhood owns. If I can buy a book from Amazon for $5 or buy it for $7 from a local bookshop, my initial reaction always is, “Go for the bargain. It’s the wise move financially.” But who probably needs it more? Same for eating. If it comes down to buying a meal for $6 at McDonald’s or a similar quality meal for $8 from Endi’s at Diversey and Central, whose owner I see all the time, is it always worth it to save the $2?


My wife and I have a child coming in February. You better believe we are thinking about money and how to provide for the child. But thanks to the grace of God, we are not in a position where we have to count pennies or truly worry about whether we will be able to make it. I have a ton to learn about parenting, yet right now I have learned from the wisdom of others (including my parents) that I want to teach my children from birth that they do not really need everything our culture says they do. I hope they learn that we will be generous by giving money to church, missionaries and social justice causes, but also to people who have earned it through selling goods and services.

REO’s look at managing your money wisely.

Additionally, I have learned in my marriage that spending money on things like vacations and date nights isn’t about living a certain lifestyle or materialism as much as it is about creating memories and a bond in my marriage that is invaluable. So when I look up tickets to Wicked and see prices that would cause pre-marriage Gowdy to shriek in horror, I remember that it is an investment in my wife and my marriage. While I obviously love going to the beach and enjoy every second of it, spending the money to do it doesn’t have to be selfish. My wife loves it as well and the time away matters to us.

Jesus helps me to crystallize this is the parable of the shrewd manager in Luke 16. That is one odd passage if you read it on its face. The manager is in trouble and cuts deals with people who are in debt. And the rich man commends him. Trying to figure out how to apply that today is a challenge. Yet something Jesus draws out of this, “Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourself.” The reason, I think, is because we need to understand how desperately we need other people. We need community. The manager was in a desperate situation and the only way out was to be shrewd with his money. In the same way, I can use my money on others to communicate to them that I need them. I take a guy from my church out to lunch and I pay. He gets blessed with a lunch but we both get blessed with the friendship. We think we are helping others when we spend money on them, but they are actually doing us a relational favor by being helped. Only the Bible could be that counterintuitive and countercultural.

A couple of disclaimers I feel are important. First, I realize some people do not have excess or for other good reasons need to be saving money, even the $2 for the burger. My intention in writing this is to challenge traditional thinking, not to present my thinking as absolute truth for everyone. If a person or couple is going in debt from their spending, then a change sounds prudent. In those cases, people may need to be creative in finding inexpensive ways to support local business or their marriage. (Being creative is something we all can stand more of anyway.)

Also, I want to be clear that I am not writing this from a place of success. These are things I need to practice much, much better. I am an Amazon addict. And even though you can buy from individuals on Amazon, I find myself wanting the new things with free shipping. This kind of thinking isn’t easy for me. And it is my hope that by writing about it, I will bring myself accountability.

To me, the worst thing you can do biblically with money is to hoard it. I don’t think, however, we were created to just pay bills and give it away either. We also should spend money on ourselves in a way that benefits others, so that we are completely aware of how badly we need relationships and community. That’s just one of many ways Jesus has blown my mind about how to live.

 

 

 

 




Heaven is Home

I’ve lived a fairly long life – 68 years now. To most people I’m “old,” and I’m fond of saying when asked how I’m doing “pretty good for an old man.” However, that falls flat when I’m with our seniors at church, or at a luncheon with other pastors and retired pastors, and there are many who are 5, 10, 15, or 20 years older than me.

But the longer I live, the more I remember: “I’m not home yet.” Especially in these days of so much turmoil, socially, politically, morally, and even religiously, life is hard to bear some days. The shooting last year at the Texas church brought that home once again. I have cried looking at pictures of the children shot down deliberately in cold blood by a man filled with evil.

The political division, the “me first” mentality, self-identifying, sexual exploitation of children, world hunger, rampant racism, abortion – not only accepted but glorified by so many – cause a heaviness and a sorrow that will never be gone here on earth. We’re reminded that:

1. Perfect healing will not take place in this life, but in the world to come.

2. Perfect justice will not take place in this life, but in the world to come.

This means, of course, that we will suffer angst, pain, anxiety, and grief all throughout our lives. Though Jesus is King, though His peace is real, His grace is sufficient, and His power available, things will never be perfect down here.

Some people are recognized for their greatness in this life, while God honors others in the life to come. Henry C. Morrison was a faithful missionary who served the Lord in Africa for over 40 years. He recalls that emotional day when he and his wife boarded a ship on their way back to the United States. His mind flooded with memories of the wonderful experiences they had enjoyed on the mission field. He began wondering what it would be like to return to his Midwestern hometown — will anyone there still remember us? Aboard that same ship, that day with Henry and his wife was the former President of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt. He was returning from a big game hunting trip in Africa. When the ship pulled into the New York harbor, there were thousands of people there to greet him. The crowds cheered and the bands played. There were signs, banners, and billboards everywhere saying, “Welcome Home!”

As the dear missionary and his wife left the ship, they saw that no one had come to welcome them back home. With a heavy heart, Henry Morrison went to his hotel room and told his wife, “Honey, for 40 years we poured our lives into ministry and service. And yet we come back to America and not a single soul comes to welcome us home!”

His wife came and sat down next to her husband. She put her hand on his shoulder, and said to him, “Henry, you have forgotten something. You’re not home yet!”

Do you ever feel like the things you do for Christ are overlooked? Maybe you spend long hours working with children each day, or you work a mundane office job. Never forget that this world is not your home.  Serve your Savior faithfully each day, and He will reward you for your labors — just keep in mind, you’re not home yet.

Earthly crowns are dross to him who looks for a Heavenly one. — Jane Porter[1. Excerpt from a devotional by Dr. James A. Scudder.]


Here’s just a little of what awaits us!

The Absence of all that’s bad (Revelation 21)

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” There isn’t a more comforting verse in all of Scripture!

The  Presence of all that’s good

There’s a joke about two guys who speculate whether there will be baseball played in Heaven. One says “I’ll pray and ask God tonight since you want to know so badly.” The next day, he tells his friend. “Well, I prayed about whether there would be baseball in Heaven, and God answered me.  I’ve got good news and bad news.” “Tell me,” says his friend. “The good news is that, yes, there will be baseball in Heaven. The bad news is that you’re the starting pitcher tomorrow!”

The Glory of God in Jesus (Revelation 22:3b-5)

His servants will serve Him. We will see His face, shine in His glory, and sit with Him as Kings.

Eternal

“And they will reign forever and ever” with Him.

Home

“In my Father’s house are many dwelling places (mansions)…I am going away to prepare a place for you.” John 14:2 CBS


Building 429 sang  “This Is Not Where I Belong”

…all I know is I’m not home yet
This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus
This is not where I belong

So when the walls come falling down on me
And when I’m lost in the current
Of a raging sea
I have this blessed assurance, holding me

All I know is I’m not home yet
This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus
This is not where I belong

 

B.J. Thomas wrote the song “Home Where I Belong”

They say that heaven’s pretty,
And living here is too.
But if they said that I would have to choose between the two.

I’d go home,
Going home,
Where I belong.
While I’m here I’ll serve him gladly,
And sing him all my songs.

I’m here,
But not for long.
And when I’m feeling lonely,
And when I’m feeling blue.
It’s such a joy to know that I am only passing through.

I’m headed home,
Going home,
Where I belong.
And one day I’ll be sleeping,
When death knocks on my door.
And I’ll awake and find that I’m not homesick anymore.

I’ll be home,
Going home,
Where I belong.


To conclude, I’ve asked my son Phillip to write a little something about C.S. Lewis’ description of Narnia’s version of Heaven in “The Last Battle.”

 

I am hard pressed to find a better depiction of Heaven in any work of fiction than what C.S. Lewis wrote in the final book of “The Chronicles of Narnia.” The last few chapters of “The Last Battle” are full-to-bursting with the beauty, grandeur, and awesomeness that awaits those who believe. Food tastes better. The world is familiar yet deeper, richer, and better in every way imaginable. There are sweet moments of reunion with those who have gone before, as seen when King Tirian is reunited with his father. Yet nothing captures that pull we feel when we think of our heavenly home, that sense of longing – better than these words by one of the characters in those final pages: “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.” Heaven is the place we “have been looking for” all our lives. Heaven is home, our “real country.” Heaven is where we belong. What an amazing hope we have as believers!

 

 

 

 

This life is just the preface.  The real story starts when we’re home!

 

 




Five Facts About Arminius the Man, and Not the Theology Debate

Jacobus Arminius was born either in 1559 or 1560 in Oudewater, Holland and died about 50 years later. During that half a century he lived a fascinating life in a lot of ways, yet it seems the only thing many people associate him with centuries after his death is a systematic theology argument. The 16th and 17th centuries were a time of significant theological and denominational divisions in Christianity and Arminius’s teachings were so impactful that he gathered a fierce, loyal following in his day. And people continue to adhere to and teach them in our day.

I have written about Arminianism many times for this site and you can see those articles below. Today, though, I want to remind everyone who reads REO that Arminius was a human soul, not a mere set of beliefs. I’m sure he experienced pain and disappointment. I’m sure he experienced joy. I’m sure he felt compassion for people. His sermons on Romans 7 and Romans 9 have been well known from his time until ours. But by comparison very little is known about his character and personality.

So today I submit five things about Arminius the man, that have little to nothing to do with his teachings on Christian salvation:


1. After the bubonic plague invaded Amsterdam in 1601 and claimed 20,000 victims, Arminius took water into homes of the sick that no one else would enter[1. Robert Picirilli, Grace, Faith, Free Will, 8].

I believe the willingness of a Christian to get their hands dirty serving people who are in desperate need is a significant mark of a disciple of Christ. Arminius, at least at this time in his life, was this kind of disciple. I find this convicting.


2. His father died when he was an infant. When he was about 15 and a newly registered student at Marburg University in Germany, his mother and brothers were all killed when Spaniards burned his hometown[2. Gerald McCulloh, Man’s Faith and Freedom; the Theological Influence of Jacobus Arminius, 12].

Growing up fatherless (in a strict sense, note that he did have male mentors as Theodorus Aemilius and Rudolph Snellius) and losing all of his immediate family when he was a teenager had to be a tough blow. But he did not let it derail his education and got a degree from the University of Leiden.


3. He strongly complimented and encouraged people to read John Calvin’s commentaries[3. Mark A. Ellis, Introduction to The Arminian Confession of 1621, vii.].

Arminius was a mere five years old when Calvin died, so the two men were not true contemporaries. In fact, Arminius’s chief theological rival was Fransiscus Gomarus, a Calvinist and fellow faculty member when Arminius went back to teach at Leiden. It was Gomarus who opposed Arminius’s teachings and not the other way around. My understanding, especially noted in the bolded statement above, is that Arminius was not a vicious debater and respected those whose interpretations differed from his. But anyone who teaches the Bible stands to receive opposition. Arminius often did throughout his life.

It was Arminius’s followers after his death who facilitated a bigger divide between the teachings of Calvin and Arminius, notably in their publications the year after he died and later in 1621. It is a divide that exists to this day. I do not necessarily fault them for staking claim to key theological ground; my point is that Arminius was not a fire-breathing, Calvin-bashing preacher. He wrote in 1607:

“I encourage the reading of the commentaries of Calvin, which I extol with the greatest praise…For I say that he is incomparable in the interpretation of Scripture, and his comments are better than anything which the Fathers give us.”[4. Jacobus Arminius to Sebastian Egbert, 3 May, 1607, Christiaan Hartsocker and Philippus van Limborch, eds., 236-37; cited by Ellis, vii.]


4. He had a wife and nine children, though very little is written about them[5. Kasper Brant, The Life of James Arminius, 38, 299.].

His wife’s name was Lijsbet Reael, who was from an affluent Amsterdam family, and they were married in 1590. He lost two children in infancy but eventually were blessed with seven sons and two daughters by the early 1600s. Beyond this, very little is mentioned about his family in the works I have read. I find it humanizing, however, that this man who taught things so significant that people bear his name on their theological system over 400 years after his death, dealt with the trivial, menial, daily aspects of marriage and parenting. And with the horrifying tragedy of losing children to death.


5. He drew big crowds whenever he preached[6. Donald M. Lake, Jacobus Arminius’ Contribution to a Theology of Grace, Grace Unlimited, ed. Charles H. Pinnock, 226; cited by Picirilli, 6]. 

Arminius was a pastor, preacher and a professor. My experience tells me it is hard to be exceptional at all three. Yet by all accounts, it appears he was. The time and culture he lived in were different than mine, but I wonder if it wasn’t as prevalent back then that educated young pastors often preached from ivory towers where common parishioners either could not understand or were turned off by it. Either way, it is encouraging to me that Arminius knew how to preach well enough to reach a lot of people. Preaching should neither be boring or prudish.


Perhaps one day I will do a similar list for John Calvin. In the meantime, I encourage us all to see people as people and not merely as a set of beliefs or opinions, though those can matter. Our humanity demands treating other people like humans. Just as Arminius did.

 

 

 




The Biblical Truth of Rejection in Evangelism and Failure in Discipleship

I would guess that most Orthodox Christians that I know can tell you that there is at least something wrong with how preachers like Joel Osteen present the Bible.

There may be a range of opinions on how heretical he is or isn’t but most would have the wisdom to realize that there isn’t much if any content on God’s judgment or suffering. And not that I think just anyone can avoid these topics and still build a huge church, I have no doubt that people often have ears that want to hear only good news. And in spite of the success of what can accurately be labeled a “health, wealth and prosperity Gospel,” most true Christians I know see through the facade.

Yet I submit that even within genuine Christianity, where pastors and preachers deal with divine judgment, suffering and a whole host of other unpleasant topics in the counsel of God, there are topics we too often avoid.

One of them (or in reality two that are closely linked) is the rejection the church should often face when preaching Jesus, either immediately or eventually.

This is not a rare theology in our Bible. Jesus himself said the way to Heaven is narrow and the way to Hell is broad. Isaiah defined Christ as “despised and rejected by men”. And there is even a story in John 6 where Jesus preached a hard truth about how dedicated his followers had to be to him and John records that, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”

Reality bears this out. As recently as 2015, Pew had 31% of the world claiming Christianity[1.www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/05/christians-remain-worlds-largest-religious-group-but-they-are-declining-in-europe]. And seeing as how undoubtedly that number includes cults, those who believe in works salvation and those who merely attend church without any real life transformation from the Gospel, we can be assured that far less than 31% of the world is following Jesus. Jesus testified this by saying that many who claim him are not his followers (Matthew 7:21-23), It is for this reason that I use qualifiers like “true,” “genuine” and “orthodox” when describing actual disciples of Jesus Christ.

Another thing that makes the number of true Christians hard to know is that one of Jesus’s parables states that there are four responses to the Gospel. One is flat out rejection. The last is acceptance and a fruitful life. But the middle two present more nuance and more difficulties in the topic of evangelism and discipleship. Without getting too sidetracked by the interpretation of the middle two types of seed, I think it is fair to say that there are many people who accept the message of Christ for a short time but do not finish. The fact that neither of the middle two groups is fruitful leads me to believe they are not genuinely saved.

This coincides with several verses that teach, or least strongly imply, that a person is not saved until they have lived faithfully until the end of their life. Consider:

You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved (Matthew 10:22).

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved (Matthew 24:13).

Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life (Revelation 2:10).

For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end (Hebrews 3:14).

If we endure, we will also reign with him (1 Timothy 2:12).

 

It also not my intention to turn this article into an Arminianism vs. Calvinism debate but it is hard for me to miss the truth of what Jesus, Paul, the author of Hebrews and John all seem to agree on. This also supports the translation of present continuous in some verbs of belief, as Picirilli explains about John 3:16 and 3:36, etc. The whoever “is believing” is saved. Because the person can cease to believe at some point. The parable of the sower seems to confirm this.

But more than an area of theology this troubles me in practice. I suppose it is easy for me to say this as a pastor of a non-mega church, but I experience rejection in evangelism and failure in discipleship all the time. I’ve talked, witnessed and preached to countless people who never made a decision for Christ. And beyond this, there are two facts keeping me up at night from my 16-year ministry in Chicago: probably 90% of the teenagers that were being discipled when I was the youth pastor of my church are not actively being discipled today and the majority of people I’ve baptized (adults and teenagers alike) are not actively being discipled in a church today.

I have zero doubt that some of this is on me. I have faults and I have ignorance in the areas of witnessing and making disciples. But the Bible verses mentioned above make me realize that some of it is just the reality of how people respond to God, and not to me. Part of my goal in writing this is to get it out there for people who may feel similar. I would imagine just about every Christian who values evangelism and discipleship (which should be every Christian) gets this to some level. Even the megachurch workers and those who share the Gospel with hundreds of people each year. It just seems to me the books and blog posts and sermons and resources on these topics, even in conservative Christianity, focus primarily on success. Here is what to do to be successful. Failure or rejection may be acknowledged, but often only in passing. I feel that the New Testament gives it a thorough treatment.

Quite often in my life, because I’m sure God directs it this way so that he gets the glory, I feel like my experience and knowledge are so flimsy. I mean that sincerely, even as someone who writes for a website. So when I feel like I don’t know enough from my experiences to write to help people, all I know to do is interpret the Bible. That is how it should be regardless, but often it isn’t. So today, after years of frustration and failure in the two pillars of how the message of Jesus Christ impacts the world—evangelism and discipleship—I only offer a theology that is far more important than my experience.

If you feel the same or if you feel completely different, we welcome feedback below.

 




“To Know God Aright”: Puritans and the Gift of Education III

Part 3: Puritan Education in New England

Historian Richard Greaves called the Puritan dream of “a universally enlightened society” a “heritage” left to future generations.[i] This idea of universal literacy was slow to develop in England and Europe, but had its most immediate fruits in the Puritan colonies of New England. It was in the New England colonies in the 17th century that Puritan ideas were given the freedom to shape a society like never before. While Puritan ideals certainly impacted societal moral standards and church life, it could be argued that they had their greatest impact on education and literacy in the colonies.

Puritan New England had remarkably high literacy.

Perhaps calling Puritan New England a “universally enlightened society” is an overstatement. However, when one compares the literacy rates of colonial New England to old England and Virginia, the differences are striking. Historians that have quantitatively researched literacy rates in England, New England, and Virginia have shown this difference. By the time of the American Revolution, New England boasted a male literacy rate of about 85 percent and of nearly 100 percent in the city of Boston.[ii] While female literacy was considerably lower (about 60 percent), these numbers are still remarkable when compared to England and Virginia.[iii] In England and Virginia male literacy was still at 60 percent by 1790 and female literacy much lower.[iv] With nearly every man and the majority of women being able to read, Puritan New England achieved something no other society had ever found possible.

How did the New England Puritans achieve a literate society? A partial answer to this question is that they did it through legislation. As early as 1642, Massachusetts passed a law calling for parents to educate their children. More famously, in 1647, the colony famously passed what became knows as the “Old Deluder Satan Act.” This law called for all towns and communities of at least 50 people to establish schools and provide teachers for those schools so that Satan would not be able to “keep men from knowledge of the Scriptures.”[v] Again, one sees the theological purpose behind Puritan education. In the Puritan view, literacy and knowledge of the Bible and theology were foundational to Christian living. Unlike in England where this knowledge was limited to a literate faction, New England established it for all.

Puritans prioritized education for all levels.

It follows, therefore, that education began young and in the home. While schools were established according to the law, good Puritan families did not wait for the school to educate their children. Children needed to learn to read the Scripture, to know God’s word. In Puritan New England, families sought to teach their children to read and write and to memorize their catechism as early as possible (usually five or six). There was a sense of urgency embraced by the Puritan community in New England. Early death was a regular occurrence. Children, because of original sin, were sinners by nature. They must learn to read and learn of God as young as possible. As Cotton Mather said when asked when children should learn to read, “BETIMES! BETIMES! Let the Children have the Early Knowledge of the Holy Scripture.”[vi]

Sometimes historical dates seem like arbitrary numbers malevolent teachers force their victims students to memorize. In this case, dates tell the story. In 1620, the first group of Puritans arrived in New England aboard the famous Mayflower. In 1630, Puritan immigrants from England founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1636, the theocratic government of Massachusetts founded Harvard College to train its ministers, doctors, and lawyers. Within 16 years of any settlement and with 6 years of founding Massachusetts, the Puritans had erected an institution of higher learning. While they were still taming the wilderness and erecting their modest homes, education—specifically religious education—was a priority. This is perhaps even more remarkable when compared to the foundation of the College of William and Mary in Virginia. Founded in 1693, William and Mary was established 86 years after the first settlers arrived in Jamestown colony.

The New England Primer gives us insight into the Puritan classroom.

As they established community grammar schools and Harvard College, New England Puritans began to publish educational curricula that better fit their perspective. The most popular of these materials was the New England Primer. First published around 1687, the Primer was the chief tool used in the American colonies for students to learn the alphabet.

The Primer used pictures and poetic couplets to teach both the alphabet and biblical lessons. It begins, “In Adam’s fall, We sinned all” and continues to teach about biblical figures such as Job, Peter, Esther, and David, as well as lessons about cats, dogs, eagles, lions, and the King.[vii] This section is followed by a series of statements that every child was to commit to memory. After twelve sentences on the child’s duty, the Primer adds another “Alphabet Lesson for Youth,” this time using Scripture verses to illustrate every letter of the alphabet.[viii] Some editions of the Primer conclude with the Story of John Roger, a Marian martyr and example of Christian virtue.

The New England Primer may show the overwhelming importance of theological instruction in the education of youth, but Puritan education in New England was by no means limited to the study of Scripture. Rather than limiting themselves, New England Puritans, much like Milton and other English Puritans, saw biblical instruction as the foundation of a good education. Education in New England, especially the higher education offered by Harvard College, was very receptive to experimental science.[ix]

Puritan Education was broad in content but strict in discipline.

New England Puritans were also known to be students of ancient languages, pagan literature, and philosophy. They placed a high importance on reason and on logical thought. While this emphasis is a product of Renaissance humanism, it was also theologically guided. One scholar notes, “New England humanism had a moral and a theological purpose: men studied the ancient classics in order to become familiar with the ancient tongues, and men needed a knowledge of the ancient tongues in order to interpret the ancient text of the Scriptures.”[x] While they held the classics in high esteem, they saw that the purpose of education was not just to gain knowledge, but mostly to gain knowledge of God. It is clear that English Puritan educational theorists, like Milton, had a profound impact on Puritan society in New England.

It is certainly well established that discipline in Puritan education was strict and corporal. The New England Primer even says: “An idol fool, is whipped at school.”[xi] Cotton Mather’s famous dictum to parents “Better whipt than dam’d” is often seen as the essence of Puritan education.[xii] As we have seen, this is clearly not the whole story. In his extensive study of Puritan families and their education, Historian Edmond Morgan concluded: “Puritan education was intelligently planned, and the relationship between parent and child that it envisaged was not one of harshness and severity but of tenderness and sympathy.”[xiii]

The Puritans desired a society of lay intellectualism, a society where everyday people could read and think not necessarily for themselves, but the way God intended them to think. In New England, they built that society. They read more than any society that preceded them. More of them read than in the majority of countries to this day. They read the Bible, but not only the Bible. They read Homer and Plato, and their own authors like Milton and Bunyan. They studied both the supernatural deity that they believed gave them salvation, as well as the natural world He had made. Their philosophy of education was broad, not rigid and narrow like many believe. While it was broad, it was also focused. It had a unifying theme, a core value, and a purpose behind it—the knowledge of God.


Read Part One and Two by clicking the links.

 

 

[i] Richard L. Greaves, The Puritan Revolution and Educational Thought: Background for Reform (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1969), 146.

[ii] David D. Hall, “Education and the Social Order in Colonial America.” Reviews in American History 3 (1975): 179; Gloria Main, “An Inquiry into When and Why Women Learned to Write in Colonial New England” in Journal of Social History 24 (1991): 585.

[iii] Main, 581.

[iv] Hall, 179.

[v] Joel Spring, The American School, 1642-1985 (New York: Longman, 1986), 3.

[vi] Quoted in Edmund Morgan, The Puritan Family: Religion and Domestic Relations in Seventeenth Century New England, 2nd edition (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1966), 96.

[vii] The New England Primer in Susan Castillo and Ivy Schweitzer, eds. The Literatures of Colonial America: An Anthology (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2001), 294.

[viii] Ibid., 295.

[ix] Raymond Stearns, “Assessing the New England Mind,” Church History 10 (1941): 257.

[x] Ibid., 258.

[xi] New England Primer, 294.

[xii] Quoted in Morgan, The Puritan Family, 103.

[xiii] Ibid., 108.




“My Times are in Thy Hands”

When did this phrase from Psalm 31:15 from the King James Version first cross my mind and eventually stick there? Was it as a child in Sunday School or Vacation Bible School? Or as a teen in Sunday School or youth group, or hearing a message from my pastor? Or later when I started making it a practice to read through the Bible yearly? I honestly can’t recall when this phrase stuck, but somewhere along the way, it did.

The Psalm itself is powerful, from its opening stanza “In thee, O LORD, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed: deliver me in thy righteousness,” as the writer launches his appeal to the Lord for salvation, deliverance, and rescue. I learned early on that verse 5 was taken on the lips and echoed from the heart of our Lord Jesus as He yielded His spirit to His Father while dying on the cross (Luke 23:46) – the last of the seven final words of our Lord on the cross.

The Psalm is most instructive; trusting in the Lord in the midst of trials, of opposition, of sorrow, and affirming over and over that He will help and deliver. The Beacon Bible Commentary says Psalm 31 is “a striking alternation of lament and praise.”[1. Beacon Bible Commentary] We would all benefit by learning this Psalm, making it our very own, internalizing its principles and, indeed, its very words, climaxing with the powerful exhortation of verse 24 “Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord.”

Right in the middle is verse 15 “my times are in your hands.” Some versions render this “my future.” Other versions translate “fate,” “life-stages,” “destiny.” I sense that the idea is that all of our life is in his hands, his care, concern, and keeping. Wow! He was with me in the past. He is with me today (and moment by moment). He will be with me always. The CSB translates “The course of my life is in your power; rescue me from the power of my enemies and from my persecutors.”[2. Holman Christian Standard Bible] The “course of my life,” my whole life, from beginning to end, is under His control. What assurance that gives! His power is greater than any other power!

Robert Browning’s beautiful poem “Rabbi Ben Ezra” includes the key line from verse 15:
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life for which the first was made.
Our times are in his hand
Who saith, “A whole I planned.
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”[3. Robert Browning – “Rabbi Ben Ezra”]

Because of our trust in a Sovereign God, we can have hope even when we fail (and we so often do!). He forgives, He renews, He gives fresh grace, and new beginnings – things we all need.

 

I will go on, my past I leave behind me
I gladly take his mercy and his love.
He is joy and he is peace, He is strength and sweet release;
I know He is, and I am His, I will go on. [4. William J. and Gloria Gaither “I Will Go On”]

 




“To Know God Aright”: Puritans and the Gift of Education II

Part 2: The Puritan Philosophy of Education

In 1646, in the midst of the English Civil War, leaders of the Scottish Presbyterian Church and the English Congregationalist Churches produced what could be considered the most profound philosophical statement ever written by mere mortals. It was the opening statement of a catechism, or a question and answer tool used to educate young people in religion. These men were Puritans and they famously asked: “What is the chief end of man?” Their Answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”[i] While the Westminster Assembly of Divines said and wrote much more than these words, this concise statement describing the purpose of human existence is the summit of Puritan thought. In many ways, it was the great gift of the Puritan movement to future generations. In many ways, it describes not only their theology but also their philosophy of life, including their view of education.

The printing presses of 17th century England proliferated new Primers, catechisms, or books on educational philosophy. Education was a hot topic in the bustling streets of early modern England. This was especially true among the Puritans who, as we saw in Part One, were already a more educated lot. Like all things the Puritans did, their education reforms were guided by their desire to better know God, glorify him more, and enjoy him forever.

 

Milton advocated a God-centered educational curriculum.

While many Puritan tract writers sought to reform education, John Milton’s On Education serves as a representative work of Puritan education reforms.[ii] Although he is more famous for his epic poem Paradise Lost, Milton began his career writing Puritan tractates and running a small school. In this book, Milton challenges many medieval assumptions about education and advocates a Christian Renaissance style curriculum.

The first thing one notices about On Education is that his reforms in education are theologically guided. Milton establishes the purpose of education stating, “The end then of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents [Adam and Eve] by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him, as we may the nearest by possessing our souls of true virtue, which united to the heavenly grace of faith, makes up the highest perfection.”[iii] In Milton’s view, education is to help humans out of their depravity by giving them tools by which they can know God.

At this point, one wonders if Milton believed that education was something humans could do to bring one closer to salvation. Could educating one’s self be seen as a work toward salvation? This certainly seems to conflict with the Calvinism so dominant in Puritan thought. Although Milton was not as Calvinistic (or even orthodox) as many of his contemporaries, this dichotomy between human responsibility to gain an education to further one’s knowledge of God and human inability to know God without divine grace is not unique to him. Historian Edmond Morgan notes that in the society of Puritan New England, “The ultimate purpose of education, then, was salvation.”[iv] Yet, this society never could fully reconcile their nearly sacramental view of education with their Calvinist theology.[v] It appears that Milton, like most Puritans, lived with this tension.

While this tension remained the theological foundation for education was still clearly communicated and implemented by the Puritan faithful. To know God, one must know his word. This is, of course, a call for biblical literacy and theological training through catechesis, but it is also a mandate for moral instruction. Milton called for a “true virtue” which was a product of knowing God’s Word.[vi] At its core, therefore, the purpose of education was theological and moral.

 

Milton proposed a liberal arts education curriculum.

A second key aspect of Milton’s program of educational reform is that it is to be broad or liberal. In this way, his program is a variation of Renaissance humanism. Students are first to learn grammar (English, Greek, and Latin), then to read and learn to love the Greek and Latin classics.[vii] Undoubtedly influenced by Renaissance Humanists like Erasmus and Castiglione, as well as the Protestant Reformers, Milton called for “a complete and generous education, that which fits a man to perform justly, skillfully and magnanimously all the offices, both private and public, of peace and war.”[viii] An educated man was to be a Renaissance man, not a mere specialist. This was because a man with a liberal education was a liberated man.

Aside from the theological and moral foundation and humanist curriculum, On Education called for education to be practical. While Milton was no utilitarian in his philosophy, he believed that students should put in practice what they learn as soon as they are able to.[ix] He also argued that students should study practical subjects such as geometry, sailing, and warfare.[x] Milton’s approach was both a traditional humanist approach and a modern one. Like other Puritans, he believed in the importance of ancient languages, classical literature, and biblical training. Also like other Puritans, he made room for practical subjects and experimental science.[xi]

Many often fail to realize how practical Puritan education really was. After a solid foundation, an adolescent Puritan in England or New England would typically be apprenticed in a trade. He would often live with another family and learn from the master of the house his trade. This was most certainly part of the educational process for most Puritan families. While apprenticeships were common in all of Europe, Puritan families strove to ensure that their young men did not study a trade before they could read and understand the Scripture.[xii]

 

The Puritan philosophy of education was not puritanical.

Even a cursory reading of Milton’s tract shows that his Puritan philosophy of education is in direct contradiction to the stereotype of Puritans as rigid, overly-pious, authoritarian men who studied the Bible and Calvinist theology to the exclusion of all other subjects. In his work The Puritan Revolution and Education Though, historian Richard Greaves argues against such an understanding of the Puritans. He states, “For the Puritans theology was superior though not contradictory to the other and subordinate areas of knowledge.”[xiii] He goes on to argue that the Puritans maintained the “supremacy of theology without altogether neglecting the remaining arts and sciences which, with theology, comprised the all-encompassing body of knowledge, divine and human.”[xiv] The Puritan philosophy of education was, therefore, theologically founded and theologically guided, but was also liberal in its scope and was to be practical in its execution.

Greaves also makes important observations when it comes to the Puritan’s goal of education in society. Focusing specifically on the sectaries or Separatists in Puritan England, he discusses their hatred of religious professionalism or dependence on clerical instruction for knowledge of the Bible. Greaves states: “What the sectaries [Puritans and Separatists] wanted was not professionalism but lay intellectualism. They rejected the idea of a society where a select group of monopolistic specialists victimized men through theology, law, and medicine.”[xv] While this view may me more anti-clerical than that of most Puritans, it has much the same ethos. The Puritans were driven by the idea that Scripture was to be read, studied, and followed by each individual. A large part of their solution to social problems and spiritual decay was a to produce a more educated population.

The Puritan emphasis on the salvation of the individual through knowledge of the Word of God is a logical corollary to the desire for lay intellectualism. Greaves reiterates this argument: “[The] ultimate goal was not a society dependent on professionals for knowledge of particular subjects, but a society of enlightened, knowledgeable laymen. Their dream of a universally enlightened society is our heritage.”[xvi] It is this dream that the Puritans brought to the New World. As we will see in Part 3, it was in this New World context that this dream was made a reality.

The Puritans sought education for their children primarily so that they could know their Creator through reading the Scripture. They hoped this method would produce both salvation and moral excellence, or at least help them along in the process. They would not stop there, however. They wanted vocationally educated and economically competent heirs. They sought the most liberal education for their children that their society could afford. They desired to produce holy renaissance men who were not utterly dependent on elites for knowledge. They wanted much more out of education than any society had ever offered. For the most part, they achieved it.


Read Part One and Three by clicking the links.

 

 

[i] Westminster Shorter Catechism, https://reformed.org/documents/wsc/index.html?_top=https://reformed.org/documents/WSC.html

[ii] Identifying Milton as a Puritan is a subject of much debate. As I have defined Puritans broadly, Milton, especially in his early years, is certainly in this vein. Moreover, On Education is considered by many to be representatively Puritan on this subject. Richard L. Greaves, The Puritan Revolution and Educational Thought: Background for Reform (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1969), 41.

[iii] John Milton, On Education in Richard M. Gamble, ed. The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What it Means to be an Educated Human Being (Wilmington, Delaware: ISI Books, 2007), 469.

[iv] Edmund Morgan, The Puritan Family: Religion and Domestic Relations in Seventeenth Century New England, 2nd edition (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1966), 92.

[v] Ibid, 94.

[vi] Milton, 469.

[vii] Ibid., 471.

[viii] Ibid., 470.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid., 475.

[xi] Greaves, 41.

[xii] See Edmund Morgan, The Puritan Family.

[xiii] Ibid., 38.

[xiv] Ibid., 39.

[xv] Ibid., 137.

[xvi] Ibid., 146.




Gestures and The Gospel 

“And what a relief to see your friendly smile. It is like seeing the face of God!

[Jacob, to Esau]

 

It’s happened twice in the last month. First, a man from my church was doing work on my home and met my next door neighbor. To my shame, I’ve never met him. But my church friend got to talking to him and my neighbor mentioned that he has wanted to ask me something about my house for months but “it always looks like he’s angry so I’ve never bothered.” Then a youth group visited my church and I led them in passing out flyers in my neighborhood for ESL classes and other community events. And one of the youth mentioned to a lady in my church, “Gowdy always looks like he’s mad about something.”

I have to laugh at this because while I’m not mad that often, what I call my “resting introvert face” clearly causes people to think I am. Part of me wants to react “That’s just how I am and if people are confused that is their problem.”

Yet I think the nature of Christianity pushes against this. When I was in grad school, my favorite professor, Dr. Wong Loi Sing (whom I’ve referenced several times in theology articles) taught us something that was way out of the norm for grad school level classes on things like Hermeneutics and Greek. He taught us that gestures—the subtle, easy-to-take-for-granted, mostly non-verbal ways we communicate—can reflect the Gospel.

In light of that, I have been thinking recently about how I really should smile more. Not all the time, and not in a disingenuous way, but just in a way that demonstrates, “It’s not my nature to smile because I’m deep inside my own head, but you are important so I’ll focus more on you than me.”  Generally speaking, people appreciate a smiling person. Twice this summer I’ve read, once in a Christian blog and once in a secular book on grit, that smiling is one of the easiest things we can do serve other people and make our environment better for everyone.

Several months ago I wrote about how we can use greeting others to preach the gospel. And I firmly believe that greetings are just one (albeit a crucial one) of many gestures that fit this idea. Since I’m a pastor and preacher I feel the need to clarify that the gospel in its most potent form must involve words (Romans 10:14). But I also believe when Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men so that they may see your good works and glorify God in Heaven,” that there are thousands of small, seemingly meaningless gestures that could apply. If the gospel doesn’t touch every single aspect our lives, including our facial expressions, body language and the whole of non-verbal communication, then I do not think we understand it.

When I am walking down the street in Chicago, 99% of the time I have headphones on, listening to an audiobook or something in Polish. And when I see someone on the street that I know, my temptation as an introvert is to give a wave and keep going[1. And if I’m being super honest, sometimes the temptation is to pretend I didn’t see them.]. Yet I know that quite often the right thing to do is pause what I’m listening to and take the headphones out and speak to them. Sometimes this means a brief conversation happens. Other times it means just a simple greeting exchange takes place. Yet I think taking the headphones out communicates to the other person that they are worth deferring to. It’s not a big sacrifice like helping someone move or visiting them in the hospital. It’s a mere gesture. But I think it matters. I’m sad it’s taken me a long time to learn this.

Other examples that I think matter to my personal context come to my mind. Some cultures appreciate a slight bow to older people when greeting them. When someone is trying to turn right in their car and I am in the crosswalk as a pedestrian and they are waiting on me, running to the corner instead of walking says “I see you. Your time is worth something to my convenience.” And saying “Excuse me” or “Con permiso” to people of certain cultures if I come even close to them when I pass by them is something I think I should practice[2. Full disclosure: when a close friend of mine, whose parents are from Mexico, told me I should consider doing this even if I come within a couple of feet of someone as I pass, I bristled at it. I told him there is no need to say “Excuse me” unless I bump into them or I need for them to move so I can pass. Which of course is true in my culture. He handled my defensiveness with tremendous grace and that caused me to reconsider his advice and put it into practice. Sort of a “soft answer turns away wrath” type moment.].

Your circumstances are likely different than mine. If you are an extrovert, stopping to talk on the street probably brings joy and requires little effort. Maybe for that type of person, the gesture could be to avoid doing something so as not to draw attention. I only give examples for practicality’s sake. But all people can consider how to use gestures to in some way “consider others more important than yourselves”. The gospel is absolutely proclaiming Christ with our words. And it’s huge sacrificial actions. Yet it’s also small gestures that we can practice dozens of times daily.

 

 




The Benefit of Doubt – The Importance of Knowing the Rest of the Story

I cannot speak for anyone else but I find it very easy to rush to judgment. I do it all the time. (There are times when our first reaction is correct. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a whole book[1. Blink. Read it. It is great.] on just that topic. What I’m writing about here is something different.) I tend to make quick assessments of people, their motivations, their morality, and their character, and I do so with very little information. I am finding it harder and harder to justify this. The more I learn, the more obvious it becomes that I need to grow in patience and wisdom. I need to be quick to listen and slow to anger – slow to judge. It is rare that I will encounter someone who treats me poorly where I can truly know that person’s heart and background in our brief interaction. This is something I am in the process of learning. Here are a few examples, including personal experiences, pop culture observations, and news’ stories, that are helping me on my way.


“There’s no crying in baseball!”

Recently, a video of what appeared to be a grown man refusing to give a foul ball to a young baseball fan went viral. Twitter responded as only Twitter can – with total, over-the-top hysterics. This man became famous for being the worst person in the world. Of all time. How could a grown man be so selfish and mean? How could he deny this child a baseball? Why did he hate everything that we value in life? Maybe I am misrepresenting some of the reactions to this video just a little, in honor of the Twitter-hyperbolic spirit. The truth of the matter is, he was vilified. He was enemy number one according to Twitter – supplanting President Donald Trump for a few inglorious hours.

Not surprisingly, all that outrage and all that fury were based on incomplete information. The real story was significantly different than the original short video implied. The true story is that the man had caught multiple foul balls that game and given them to numerous children, including the child in the video that he seemed to reject. He had gone out of his way to be nice and generous to those kids, yet one out-of-context moment shows up on Twitter, and the rest of the story is irrelevant to our outrage prone society.


“Even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

One of my favorite sitcoms of the past 20 years is Malcolm in the Middle. The show is centered on a dysfunctional but loving family where the father is a bit of a lunatic and the mother is seemingly all-knowing most of the time. One specific episode stands out when dealing with the various personality dynamics.

Lois (the mother) is involved in a car accident. The cop that witnessed the accident and writes her a ticket previously had a negative interaction with her in the convenience store where she works. She believes he is corrupt and out to get her because she is positive that she did nothing wrong. She swears she did not violate any laws of the road and the accident was caused by another careless driver. That is, until security footage of the accident turns up. Her family is stunned. Lois is NEVER wrong. Even after seeing the footage, she refuses to accept it. She says, “The tape is wrong.” Her family, with her husband Hal doing most of the pleading, finally convince her that it is okay to admit that she messed up. Eventually, she gives in and decides to throw in the towel. The boys, being the hard to handle sorts, love this because they finally have something they can hold over her.

The episode could have ended there and it would have been great. It had plenty of laughs and a great resolution. There was just one problem. A coworker had access to another security camera which showed a different angle of the accident, and it proves that the other driver was at fault. The family, unbeknownst to Lois, decides to destroy the tape and never speak of it again because they cannot imagine what this news will do to Lois or how that knowledge of her innocence will affect them. She will become more powerful than ever and that is too much for any of them to contemplate.

Life is complex. Things are not always what they appear. Though humorous, this example shows that we rarely have all the facts. We don’t see all the angles.


“Listen to the storyline, chapter written in another time…”

A short while back, I was discussing my idea for this article with my wife, and she told me a story that fit perfectly with my theme. My wife is a 7th grade English teacher. A few years back, she had a student who was a class clown. He would be disruptive, drawing attention to himself during instructional time. He would talk, chatter, and engage with other students with no problems. One day, he had to have a conversation with my wife, and he stammered and stuttered. Her initial reaction was that it was being done as a joke to elicit a laugh from others. Wisely, she did not discipline or even address the stuttering. A short time later, while discussing this student with a coworker, she was informed that he always struggled when speaking to teachers. It was an anxiety issue. My wife, by showing patience with this child, saved herself and the student embarrassment. She also did not add another layer of anxiety to this student who clearly struggled when speaking to people in authority.

Our patience with others is more important than we sometimes realize. Rushing to judgment can have massive negative ramifications on others. Before reaching any conclusions about the people around us, we need to listen and learn to find out what is truly going on in their lives. Everybody has a storyline. We need to do our best to understand it.


“Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?”

This will likely be the most controversial example. For what it’s worth, this is neither an endorsement nor a condemnation of Donald Trump. But I think it is an example that shows how valuable it is for us to know the facts before we judge.

Last year, President Trump met with Japan’s Prime Minister. At a certain point during their visit, they fed fish at the Koi pond. Video of the fish feeding appeared online and it seemed to show that Trump got impatient with feeding the fish with the small spoon and decided to just dump the entire box of fish food into the pond. Of course, the media ran wild with this story. Clearly, this video was just one more example that Donald Trump is a rude, impatient, boorish human being. All those things very well could be true, but this incident did not prove it one way or another.

In reality, the first video released and widely distributed by the media, obscured the Prime Minister. Another video surfaced a short time later that did not crop out the PM and it showed that Trump was only following the lead of his host. PM Abe dumped his fish food in first and Trump followed his example.[2. Snopes has the story.]

Again, this doesn’t say anything about who Trump is or isn’t, but it does say something about how preconceptions affect the way we judge events. For those that are anti-Trump, the first video was proof of all they believed about him. For those that are anti-media, the fact that the first video had been altered and then widely touted only served to confirm their worst fears about fake news. For those of us that are doing our best to know the truth, this entire event was further confirmation that it is becoming increasingly difficult to really know anything. And that makes caution, patience, and taking a wait-and-see approach the wisest course of action.


“I will never understand people. They’re the worst.”

I was recently in a weight loss competition at work. There were 13 competitors with each of us paying a $25 entrance fee. The winner would take home the entire amount. $325. The man running the competition had won the previous round. He was also competing this time as well. From the beginning, something felt off to me. I was skeptical about having the person in charge be a competitor as well. I was not happy with the level of communication and openness. It seemed that things were not as transparent as they needed to be.

Then, I received a few emails from the man in charge and it appeared that he was trying to figure out a way to either disqualify me or to at least keep me from winning. He never accused me of breaking a rule but he did seem to imply it. Which rule, I have no idea because the rules were never explained in detail. I talked to my wife and some friends about it. From my point of view, I thought it all smelled rotten and I was bracing myself for a confrontation at the end of the competition.

The confrontation never happened. Before the competition ended, I reached out to him to get some clarification on a few key points and he responded quickly and openly. It also became clear that his communications with me were more about encouraging me to finish strong than anything else. It all came down to miscommunication. He could have been more clear in how he worded things and I could have been less distrustful of his motives. I could have made a big fuss about the whole thing, based on inaccurate perception, and it would have caused a rift between us. In the end, the competition ran smoothly and I lost a lot of weight. I also learned (again) that I need to look for the best in people instead of assuming the worst.


As with most things I write, much of it is directed internally. I struggle in this area. I am quick to judge. I tend to think the worst of people until they prove me wrong. I can no longer support that view of the world. It is unhealthy and uncharitable. I am slowly learning to look for the storyline in others’ lives, to be more patient and loving when dealing with difficult people and situations, and to see the best in everyone I encounter.