Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Babe in the Manger

"Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.  For there is born to you this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:10-11).

God became flesh. Immanuel, God With Us was born.  There in Bethlehem was born One who would change the world.  On the night of His birth there was great rejoicing.  A multitude of angelic warriors accompanied those shepherds on the rolling hills just outside the city.  Startled by their sudden appearance, the shepherds were terrified and needed comforting.  Soon they too would be rejoicing. 

All of heaven watched and marveled at the miracle of God in the flesh--the great and magnificent Creator now so small and vulnerable and sleeping in a stable manger.  And all of heaven must have wondered in awe at the love that God had for those created in His own image.  How deep, how wide must His love be for us that He should take on the form of mankind and subject Himself to this world and the consequences of sin. 

No wonder heaven rejoiced!  No wonder the shepherds rushed to find the babe in the manger!  No wonder the shepherds, after seeing the newborn Savior, glorified and praised God and told shared the Good News with everyone they encountered!  No wonder wise men traveled great distances to worship Him!  No wonder they brought Him valuable gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh and worshiped Him! 

Gold, the symbol of a King. And indeed, Jesus--Yeshua is the King of Kings.  Frankincense, anointing oil for a Priest. Yeshua is indeed our Great High Priest and Mediator with the Father.  Myrrh, an embalming spice for one who dies.  Yeshua is indeed the Lamb of God, who came to be the once for all perfect Sacrifice through which His followers through faith would experience new birth.

The young babe worshiped that night in Bethlehem was Messiah.  The Christ.  Savior.  Deliverer. Mediator. King. Priest. Prophet.  He was the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep.  He was crucified on a cross taking the punishment for our sin.  He died for us.  he was buried and after three days resurrected and lives again! 

History suggests that the first century Christian calendar revolved much more significantly around the death, burial and glorious resurrection of Yeshua, and not so much around His birth.  But of course, the great unfolding of His earthly life and ministry was set in motion on that night in Bethlehem. 

If the angelic host could not resist celebrating... If t the shepherds who found Him in the manger could not resist celebrating...  If wise men could not resist traveling great distances to worship, share gifts and celebrate...  It's no wonder then that we who trust Him as Savior and Lord cannot resist setting aside a time to worship, honor and remember the miracle of His incarnation.  No wonder we celebrate Messiah's birth and share gifts in His honor!

But let us never forget, that babe whose birth we celebrate this season is none other than Immanuel, God With Us. That baby who we gaze upon in a manger was born for a reason.  He was a King.  He was the Great High Priest.  And He was destined to one day die a cruel death in our place, for our crimes.

Behold the innocent face of that precious child sleeping in the manger. That face would someday sweat great drops of blood, and be bruised and swollen beyond recognition.

Behold the crown of His sweet head.  It would someday be pierced with a crown of thorns and bleed profusely.

Behold those little hands which reach out grasping in the cold night air.  They were meant someday to receive the spikes of a cruel and agonizing crucifixion. 

Behold the precious feet of the babe in the manger.  They would one day carry the gospel over many miles and then be affixed with a spike to a cross.

Behold the peaceful breathing of the child and watch with wonder as His lungs fill with air and his side rises and lowers with each breath.  Know that very side would one day be pierced through with a sword and blood and water would flow in testimony to His death and finished passion.

Behold the babe in the manger.  He is Savior, sent to to suffer and die.  Yet He lives again, raised in glory and power and ruling from His throne in Glory.  And this Mighty Conqueror, God in the flesh, Immanuel, Lord of Lords and King of Kings is coming again for those who through faith, trust in Him! 

Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus!


*Adapted from my sermon, "Levi's Story," a first person monologue of Matthew's account of the birth of Jesus.

A Wholly Committed Man: Gerald Tidwell



Following, is the transcript of my comments for the Memorial of my spiritual mentor and former pastor, Gerald Tidwell, delivered December 22, 2014 at First Baptist Church, Durant, Oklahoma.

Today, we remember the life of Gerald Tidwell, Pastor, Preacher, Church Planter, Husband, Father, Encourager, Teacher, Sports Enthusiast, Loyal Friend, Servant of God and Faithful Follower of Jesus. Thank you, Margaret, Todd and Michelle for the opportunity of speaking today I honor of Gerald. To have been asked by Margaret and Gerald to help celebrate the life of sweet Cindy was a privilege, but the highest privilege I have ever had is to preach today to celebrate the life of your husband and your dad.  I came to faith in Jesus in this church under the preaching of Gerald.  Gerald baptized me.  He baptized my wife. Dana and I were married by Gerald.  I surrendered to bivocational ministry under his preaching and he led in my licensure to preach.  Gerald preached my ordination service.  He was a great mentor and friend.

Death is a great enemy and it is understandable that we all experience a sense of loss with the passing of someone we love so much.  Mourning is appropriate, but when a follower of Jesus passes, our grief is tempered by our greater hope and assurance of eternity and a place in the presence of love and celebration with the Savior.  In John 14-1-6 we find Jesus comforting His disciples with these words:  Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.  And you know the way where I am going.  Thomas said to Him, Lord we do not know where You are going; how do we know the way?  Jesus said to him, I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. 

As followers of the way the truth and the life, we believe this.  Gerald staked his very life on this.  So in the midst of our sorrow, we nonetheless are comforted by the words of our Master: Let not our hearts be troubled.  We believe in God.  We believe in Jesus.  And as surely as He is coming to take us to the place He has prepared for us, we are comforted that Gerald knew the Way and is even now in the presence of Jesus, Cindy, family and friends like Dennis Huggins who when preaching Dennis’s funeral, I remember Gerald saying, “I’m a little jealous that Dennis beat me Home.”

In many ways, Gerald reminds me of the beloved disciple, John.  Both stressed grace and mercy. They both were deeply loyal to friends. John, when some rejected Jesus, was ready to call down fire from heaven to consume them.  Gerald too, would fiercely defend his friends and loved ones.  Both John and Gerald held close friendships with Jesus.  Both empathized with hurting people. John constantly encouraged others to give hope and cast out fear.  So did Gerald.  Both were deeply sensitive to loved ones.   Both attracted people who were experiencing mental and emotional distress. 

But there is another biblical character that I keep coming back to when I think of Gerald.  It is Paul the Apostle, the church planter, the teacher and the mentor to young preachers and pastors. Like Paul, when Gerald made his decision to follow Christ, it was a moment of never turning back. It transformed him as it did Paul.  And as Paul had done before him, Gerald spent time in preparation for the mission for which God had destined him.

Gerald, after graduating high school and having surrendered to the Gospel Ministry enrolled at Hardin-Simmons University.  He took with him his newly married wife, Margaret.  They had been high school sweethearts and I happen to know that in his attempt to get her to go on a date he bribed her with a promise to provide refreshments for a women’s meeting at her own church. Somehow he procured a sufficient quantity of watermelon and she finally went out with him.  Theirs is a great love affair and serves as a model for family.  Gerald taught me my first ministry is to my family and he modeled that in his love for Margaret, Cindy, Todd and Michelle.

They married right out of high school and spent their honeymoon in the dormitory for married students at Hardin-Simmons. Even with a few scholarships, they did not have sufficient money, yet both were determined to prepare for a life of ministry.  Gerald had a wealthy aunt who had no children and she adored Gerald.  She wanted to pay his four years of college but he turned her down.  He wanted to do it on his own.  There were few churches in the area and more preacher boys desiring to preach that the likelihood of finding a place to serve was slim.  Yet, providentially, Gerald was called to his first pastorate as a Freshman in college.  He was 18 years old.  Years later he would remark that he hoped those church members would forgive him for some of the things he had preached.

 After graduating, his call to preach was a call to continued preparation, so they moved to Fort Worth for Gerald to attend Southwestern Theological Seminary.  Margaret taught math at Poly High School.  Gerald took a job as a landscaper at the seminary and took great pride in his assigned areas, keeping them weed free and groomed with most beautiful flowers.  That attention to detail and that meticulous attention would continue into his ministry and even his own love of having a manicured lawn. 

His work ethic was duly noted and he was given the opportunity to work in the library and remained in that position throughout the remainder of his time at seminary.  He was a noted scholar and became a grader for one of the seminary professors.  He also began pastoring as soon as they moved to Forth Worth in a nearby small town.  To no one’s surprise here today, he flourished and soon became a fixture in town, not just in the church but throughout the community.
Much like the Apostle Paul, Gerald became a preacher and missionary and church planter.  Read with me a passage from Acts, in which Paul’s missionary journeys in Macedonia and Greece and Ephesus are being recounted by Luke.  In Acts 20 verses 25-38 we read:

25 “And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face. 26 Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. 28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He]purchased with His own blood. 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. 35 In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’36 When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, 38 grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they were accompanying him to the ship.

In his farewell address to the church at Ephesus, we see a man who went about preaching the Kingdom and who didn’t shrink from declaring the whole purpose of God. We see a church planter and preacher dedicated to preparing his flock to stand firm against apostasy and heresy.  We see a man who admonishes with tears and commends others to God and His grace.  We see a man anxious for his flock to be built up and to be continually sanctified, to become givers and not takers, who was a prayer warrior.  We see a man who was deeply appreciated and loved by those he admonished, those he taught, those he encouraged, those he built up, those he prepared for their own futures and ministries. We see a man of great humility.  We see a man who others grieved about when others realized they would not again see him this side of Glory. 

We see a man a lot like Gerald Tidwell.  In the Bible I used when he was my pastor here at FBC, I have comments and notes from hundreds of sermons preached by Gerald written in the margins.  On the pages next to this very passage, I have written: “Feed the flock.  Be on guard against heretical teaching. Preach the Gospel. Give yourself away.”  And Gerald did just that.

Like Paul, he taught and eventually became a missionary and church planter with Frontiers for Baptist Men in the northwest United States and on into Canada.  He raised and helped start nine churches there.  The group would provide a portable church building with baptistery then when the church was able to build their own facility, they would move the portable building to a new place and start a new work.  Margaret recalled that one church was located as far as the wilderness had been cleared in Love, Canada.  The local bartender there had a daughter who started attending the church and so he donated the land for the church.  When Margaret and Gerald went there to dedicate the church they stayed with a member who had no running water because it was too cold and at one point saw bears in the front yard.  These were productive years for Gerald and Margaret and working with Henry Blackaby they engaged in considerable mission work in Canada including assisting with the Canadian Baptist Seminary. The Blackaby family was a tremendous influence on Gerald and the family is honored that Barry Nelson, Vice President of the seminary is here today. 

Eventually Gerald returned to Texas to pastor the large North Fort Worth Baptist Church.  During that time, First Baptist, Durant invited him to preach a revival where this church body first heard him preach and were so impressed with his ability to open the Word clearly, boldly, and with an ease that belied the great amount of time and energy he spent in preparing, writing, editing, and memorizing each word for a flawless delivery.  The church also had its first glimpse of a man who took great care in his appearance. 

Gerald was the consummate professional.  He took his assignments seriously and did things by the book down to his dress.  He wore the most fashionable suits and ties.  In the 1970s leisure suits and polyester were all the rage, so naturally that was his style.  Dr. Henry Gold remembers that he preached that revival in a marvelous bright yellow suit.  I remember that suit as well, because years later here in Durant, our college group roasted him with an episode of “This Is Your Life, Gerald Tidwell,” and Kevin Cunningham wore that same suit in one of our sketches.

Speaking of his meticulous style, Margaret relayed to me the story of how he always wore a suit and tie when he stepped into the pulpit.  He considered the pulpit a sacred place and so he always dressed in his best.  One Sunday, preaching in Seminole, Texas in the 1970s, he stepped up to preach wearing a rose colored polyester suit and announced, "If anyone says anything about my pink suit, I’ll hit you over head with my pink purse!”  The family has put his ties on display in the lobby and for those who want one, they invite each family to take one.  Whether you wear a nice one or pick one for a tacky tie and sweater day, remember Gerald when you wear it and smile.  Todd says that there may be more tacky ones than anything as he’s already gone through and taken all the nice ones. 

Years later, when First Baptist Durant began looking for its next pastor, Gerald was on their list.  Dr. Henry Gold was on the Pulpit Committee and had gone to North Fort Worth to hear Gerald.  He told me that he knew immediately that Gerald Tidwell should be their pastor. As I consider it, I find it remarkable that a man of his giftedness—pastoring one of the largest churches in Texas, where about 100 seminary students came each Sunday to study under Gerald, and where he had an ongoing ministry advising, counseling young seminarians preparing for ministry, and greatly enjoying the ministry he had there—should leave to come to a small city and a much smaller church, where he joked the deacon’s meetings were held across the street at the feed store.

Yet, this too points to a man of God who was not interested in titles or positions or places of great importance, but simply to obedience to God and faithful service wherever God placed him.  I wonder how much better our churches would be if more preachers were as anxious to pastor where God wanted instead of pursuing ministry as if it were a career ladder to move on to bigger and bigger places of service.  Gerald was the best preacher in America who hardly anyone has ever heard of outside those whose lives have been impacted by him. He was a minister content to pastor where God placed him and his humility is a model for us all.

Gerald continued his great influence in the lives of former seminary students from Fort Worth, and then countless young men and women here in Durant.  He made a difference. He was a fixture in Durant.  From Friday Men’s luncheons to establishing the Christian Counseling Center and the Medical Mission, he cared about his community and sought to serve here. 

For those of us who ended up with preaching assignments, he continued to the end as a source of help and encouragement.  When at my first church, I needed to do my first baptism, I called him and he had me over to walk me through the steps and offer inside tips.  Like, if the baptistery doesn’t have a toe-hold, then have them bend their knees when you lower them into the water.  "Otherwise their feet will pop up and they’ll float right in front of you and it’s hard fella, to get ‘em standing up right again."  He told me a true story—whether it happened or not—about a large woman he was baptizing who lost her footing and starting floating and he bounced her around for several minutes in the baptistery before getting her righted.  He told me it wouldn’t have been so bad had his organist not started playing the Tennessee Waltz. 

He also had advice on funerals. Another true story, whether it happened or not.  Preaching a funeral near Christmas time, he understood the widow’s request that at the conclusion of the service to have everyone sing her late husband’s favorite song, “Jingle Bells.”  They did and the widow told him afterwards, “Oh preacher, I’m so sorry. I was just so rattled, but I meant for us to sing, “When They Ring those Golden Bells.”

The greatest admonition he ever gave me after becoming a bivocational preacher was to always stick to the Scripture, let the Scripture drive the message—not the other way around—and always, always hide behind the Cross. Other practical advice we just learned by observing.

When we started the television ministry here at First Baptist, many saw for the first time what went on in an evangelical church, and it was the first glimpse for many into the ecclesiological practices of those Baptists downtown.  One of my favorite questions sent in by a viewer asked what was the sacramental practice our minister did after completing his sermon.  They said at the end of the sermon, he would step down to receive new converts or others to pray and as he did, he would touch his mouth, usually twice, with something he retrieved from his pocket.  I think they were disappointed to learn that it was simply liquid Binaca breath freshener.

So many of us could tell so many stories.  He was a man of great insight, great intellect, and great humor.  He took his responsibilities and his ministry seriously.  But he never took himself too seriously.  He loved to laugh.  He could tell a joke.  He was a marvelous person.

This, and I’m through. In the margin of my Bible I wrote these words from a sermon Gerald preached on Acts 19.  In Ephesus the Gospel of Jesus spread mightily and powerfully.  Gerald’s first point of his three points in explaining why the Gospel was so productive in Ephesus was this referring to Paul:  "Because of the presence of a wholly committed man." 

Like Paul, Gerald preached the whole counsel of God.  Like Paul, he preached and wanted everyone he met to know the Way the Truth the Life.  He preached the Cross.  He preached Jesus, the Son of God, sent to live a perfect life, crucified on the cross in our place as the sacrifice for our sin.  He preached Jesus the Savior who died, was buried, and rose again three days later. He preached repentance from sin, turning to God for mercy through Jesus. He preached Jesus the Victor over death, and the One who ascended into heaven with a promise to return, so that where He is now, and where Gerald is now, so we will be with Jesus one day.  Gerald invested in other peoples’ lives. Gerald gave himself away.

Gerald, the high school track star, ran his race, kept the faith, and a few days ago won the greatest victory of his life.  His life was well lived indeed, having walked worthy of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ.  The Gospel was made manifest and powerful in our lives, in this church, and in this city itself, and our lives are richer and fuller and blessed because of the presence of a wholly committed man named Gerald Tidwell.  To God be the glory.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Of Sound and Temperature

As I get older,  my hearing is diminished and my driving is slower, especially in rush hour traffic. I find public radio and classical music stations calming in stressful driving situations. Such was today as I navigated driving from OKC. During a particularly soft movement of the music, I adjusted the volume on the wheel keeping my eyes on I40 and the other drivers. Again and again I adjusted it with increasing difficulty in hearing the music. And I grew warmer and warmer until finally I discovered I had confused the volume and temperature settings on the steering wheel. 

The quiet man is often hot tempered but the the loud man is apt to be cold blooded. But woe to the aged man who knows not his volume or temperature (Hesitations 40:22).

Friday, October 31, 2014

Recommended: Miracles by Eric Metaxas

A definite must read. Refreshing in the fact that it is well balanced and theologically sound, Miracles provides fascinating first-hand accounts of those whose lives have been profoundly impacted by divine intervention. Unlike sensational accounts that have dubious details and theological inconsistencies that too often glorify the storyteller, Metaxas recounts marvelous stories with a consistent purpose--pointing others to God. His book begins with a biblical apologetic and moves to evidence through the beauty of true narratives. You'll enjoy Miracles.   

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Toil, Sweat, Thorns

Paradise was squandered by the first Adam resulting in sweat, toil, and thorns. Paradise is ultimately restored through painful toil, the bloody sweat of the brow, and a crown of thorns worn by the second Adam. 
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food”  (Genesis 3:17-19). 
"Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, 'Hail, King of the Jews' and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again and said to them, 'See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.' So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, 'Behold the man!' When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, 'Crucify him, crucify him!'" (John 19:1-6a).

Friday, September 26, 2014

Mr. Fisher

When I was in junior high, I tried my hand at hatching out chicks and raising them for meat. The time came for slaughter, but I couldn't do it. So I asked a local farmer and family friend, Mr. Fisher to help. He did and I was free of the burden. Sometime later, Bobby Blackwell and I started raising rabbits. When the time came for butcher of the kits we raised from birth, we started with Bobby's. Killed one, a story in its own right that ended with Bobby and I in tears. So I gave as many of mine away as I could and called Mr. Fisher to help me out again, which he did. Several rabbits were dispatched.

Oddly enough, I always called him Mr. Fisher--never by his first name. I've thought of him numerous times in life. There have been times through the years when I had a problem with someone and I wondered: Is it appropriate to call Mr. Fisher....

Thursday, September 25, 2014

My Chicago Adventure

My budget hotel in Chicago was a trip. It was an out of way, off the beaten path, seen better days kind of place. 

My Iraqi cab driver and I got to know each other well in our search for it as he didn't know where it was and couldn't find it. At one point, we were laughing so much, he pulled over and turned off the meter while we made calls to get directions. Great guy. 

When I arrived finally, I was greeted by a guest in the lobby walking around with no pants but a knee length overcoat. I tried not to stare. He seemed to be a very happy fellow. 

Folks there were very friendly helping me navigate the huge wheelbarrows of plaster and rolled up carpets in the lobby and hallway. There appeared to have been some kind of major damage or incident. No one talked about it. 

Another guest seemed so excited to meet someone from Oklahoma.  She was from Wisconsin and wore a jean vest pinned with hundreds of commemorative pins from all over America, though she was most anxious to tell me about her trip to Italy. 

Attempting to be frugal, I walked the two miles from my conference to my hotel last night. Late. Dark. Interesting collection of others enjoying an evening walk. Lots of dogs. I saw a donut shop, ducked in and walked the remaining distance with my hand on a day-old donut ready to negotiate with any beast I encountered. Exciting night.  
Today, I had donuts for breakfast and hired a cab.

The hotel provided a shuttle to the airport today and their driver was excited to tell me about dialects and prided himself in recognizing accents. After a few minutes he announced he'd pegged my accent. "Your accent is native Chicago!" 


Actually, I'm born and bred native Oklahoman. And in spite of enjoying my adventure, I look forward to being home, y'all. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Afraid to visit Israel?

Interestingly, the most asked question I get after returning from Israel is some version of, "Did you feel safe?"

In a word: Yes. 

When I travel to New York City, Washington, DC, Detroit or Chicago, there are some areas I don't visit. But I don't avoid the entire city because some spots are known to be dangerous. I use common sense, act wisely, trust God, and enjoy the trip. 

So it is in Israel. 


Thinking of a trip to the Holy Land?  Find a reputable guide, use common sense, act wisely, trust God, and enjoy the trip of a lifetime. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

9/11/2014

An American Christian, Palestinian Muslim, and Israeli Jew walk into a restaurant...  They share a meal, laugh and tell stories.  When the evening is through, they embrace and wish one another peace.  ...No joke. 

Thirteen years ago on September 11, I grieved.  Bewildered. Gut punched.  I could not have imagined then that I would have spent this day, September 11, 2014, traveling from the Middle East to the United States, much less spending the evening prior having a meal with an Arab and a Jew in Tel Aviv, Israel.  Yet that's how I spent last night, and today I was in the air between Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv and Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City. 

But last night... Last night I shared the evening with Arabs, Jews, and Christians in the Holy Land.  We ate.  We laughed.  We joked.  We visited about the Jewish Exodus from Egypt. We shared gifts. We enjoyed each other's company immensely. We ate some more. We embraced.  And we pledged to pray for peace.

After a week together traveling through through Israeli-controlled and Arab-controlled territories, we grew to know each other and in the course we came to appreciate and care for each other.  Of course I and the rest of our American entourage were new to this relationship. You see, our Arab driver and our Jewish tour guide were long-time friends who work together, live side by side, and love each other.

Such is life in Israel. I wish the fringe and the power brokers, the ruling class, and the radicals would learn a lesson from Ahmed and Erez.

I believe peace is possible.  Why shouldn't I?  I follow the Prince of Peace.

In the meantime, I'll be praying for my new friends and praying for the peace of Israel.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Careless People


OBU Convocation 2014

My summer reading list this year included the book, Duel with the Devil, the account of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton working together as the original legal dream team for a young carpenter named Levi Weeks who was accused of the 1800 murder of a young woman named Elma Sands.  She had been found in one of the wells dug as part of Manhattan Company’s new municipal water system, a company ironically founded and controlled by Burr himself. The dream team of Burr and Hamilton successfully saw their client proven innocent, and though history shows another scoundrel who had pointed the finger at Levi Weeks was in all likelihood the actual murderer, the case is officially unsolved.  The story is one of intrigue, ulterior motives and suspense—criminally, historically, and politically.

Two other books on my reading list were The Great Gatsby, and a biography of sorts—that is to say it was a biography of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, as well as a biography of his novel, The Great Gatsby, combined with the contemporary account of an unsolved murder in New York City that in all likelihood contributed to the backdrop of the events of his famous novel. The title of this book is appropriately, Careless People, and it provides a glimpse into the great revelry, parties, jazz clubs, and speakeasies of 1922 New York City. In it we read of a society in which all morals were discarded in favor of sexual liberation, personal decadence and debauchery, and blurred lines between organized crime, entertainment and the wealth that characterized cosmopolitan life of that time.  Perhaps no two people better personified the excesses of the Jazz Age than F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda.
 
But for newer technologies and scientific discoveries and advancements in investigative forensics for that matter, our own age and culture are not so different than the days of Hamilton’s and Burr’s 1800s United States, or the Jazz Age of the Fitzgeralds and their elitist comrades.  Our knowledge has increased immensely. But alas, we seem no wiser.  We can communicate with greater and greater speeds, yet we seem no better at listening or understanding. 

In so many ways, we find ourselves ensconced in a society of ease and unprecedented advantages, yet we have not moved beyond the political shenanigans and intrigues of Burr and Hamilton and their great battle for control of the nation’s political and economic future.  We seem no wiser than the Fitzgeralds and their cohorts—not blind to their excesses and debauchery and yet glorying in them.  Could there be a better epitaph for our own time than “careless people?”

Ours is indeed a careless society consisting of careless individuals. Careless in lifestyles, careless in families and relationships, careless in thinking, careless in commerce, in the arts and sciences, education, literature, careless in journalism, in humanities, careless in politics and governing, and careless in theology.  Make no mistake, carelessness has consequences.  Carelessness results in decay, defeat, and brokenness. 

Yet, into this careless world of great confusion and moral relativity exists the noble enterprise of distinctively Christian higher education. Ours is a Christian liberal arts university that transforms lives by equipping students to pursue academic excellence, integrate faith with all areas of knowledge, engage a diverse world, and live worthy of the high calling of God in Christ. 

Our duty is to counter the carelessness of our world, to make sense of it, and to revalue that which has decayed, been defeated, been broken.  Our calling is to care, to be full of care. What a marvelous time to engage in this uniquely counter-cultural calling we have as Christ-followers in the academy.  What a splendid day in which to be a rebel in the world of the intelligentsia.  What an opportunity we have to take on the careless thinking so prevalent in society today. 

I’m reminded of the laments of the Englishman, Harry Blamires, who C. S. Lewis inspired and urged begin writing.  In his classic, The Christian Mind: How Should a Christian Think, Blamires wrote of his nation in 1963, “There is no longer a Christian mind…. Christianity is emasculated of its intellectual relevance.  It remains a vehicle of spirituality and moral guidance at the individual level perhaps; at the communal level it is little more than an expression of sentimentalized togetherness.  The mental secularization of Christians means that nowadays we meet only as worshipping beings and as moral beings, not as thinking beings.”  He wrote those words fifty years ago and I wonder what he would think of the condition today in Britain, in the United States, around the world. 

Blamires’ concerns still are a clarion call for the follower of Jesus to think Christianly, that is to think of all things as directly or indirectly related to our eternal destiny as the redeemed.  Blamires lamented the very issues for which distinctively Christian higher education exists: to reclaim the Christian intellectual tradition, to see the world through a biblical worldview, meaning that we approach education from an Augustinian perspective: credo ut intelligam, faith precedes knowledge.  Distinctively Christian higher education begins with a worldview that begins with a divine and good Creator who allowing free will and even rebellion in His creation, has as a grand theme, love and the redemption of mankind through Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and promised return to set ultimately all things right. 

We exist as a Christian community of thinkers and scholars and students precisely because of the dearth of Christian thinking lamented by Blamires, precisely because of the overwhelming carelessness of society and the world around us.  Clear thinking, precise thinking, deep thinking, critical thinking is sorely needed and it is our job as Christian scholars to reclaim the mind, not just for the academy but for the Church.

While we are in and of ourselves not a church, we are a part of her—the intellectual stewards of the church—and as such it is our responsibility to renew minds. Our need has never been more than today.  The church needs us. Our communities and cities need us.  Our government and indeed the world need us.  We are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  “…Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). 

Ours is a noble calling to reclaim the spheres of influence in our world today: business, education, government and politics, media, arts and entertainment, science and medicine, the family and social and public services.  Students, your calling is to prepare to be catalysts for change in our world, to be forces of good in each of these spheres.  Faculty, your calling is to equip our students to go forth and carry out their God-given missions.  Staff, our calling is to support and enable this worthy enterprise. Each of us has our responsibilities and duties.  Each of us has a calling.

“You are the salt of the earth.  But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again.  It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men” (Matt. 5:13).  Our calling—each of us—is to be salt and light.  Our calling and our life work was cast by the Lord who knew us from before the foundation of the earth and has equipped us for such a time as this.  I am reminded of Acts 13:36: “For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid among his fathers...” As followers of Christ, each of us has a unique purpose and calling in our own generation.

Francis Schaeffer in his classic, How Should We Then Live? argued for a return to Christian thinking and wrote, “Christian values, however cannot be accepted as a superior utilitarianism, just as a means to an end.  The biblical message is truth and it demands a commitment to truth.  It means that everything is not the result of the impersonal plus time plus chance, but there is an infinite-personal God who is the Creator of the universe, the space time continuum… This is neither utilitarianism, nor a leap away from reason; it is the truth that gives a unity to all of knowledge and all of life.”  Schaeffer also pointed out that “…Christians do not need to be a majority in order for this influence on society to occur” (p.252). 

To wit, no one can underestimate the influence a solitary man named Paul and the difference he made on the world around him. Into the great philosophical debates of Athens, he engaged the worldviews of the philosophers on Mars Hill. His letters have continued to inspire and make a difference in the lives of millions over the last two millennia.  And the world is a different place because of the obedience of a Christian man named Paul.

I’m reminded too of another nation and another time of moral decay that ought to serve as a great encouragement for believers today to engage and bring a culture of care to a careless world.  In the 1800s England was a world of complete debauchery.  Bull-baiting and animal cruelty were common forms of entertainment.  Child labor and homelessness were rampant. Prostitution was sanctioned and alcohol abuse was taking a heavy toll on society.  The debasement of English society was evident in its awful practice slavery.  Slaves were considered subhuman and subject to all kinds of abuse.

But from that awful mess emerged a group that became known as the Clapham Sect.  Its name was taken from the London suburb of Clapham, where many of the group members lived.  As Richard Gathro wrote in his article, William Wilberforce and His Circle of Friends, “The group had no exclusive membership requirements but gathered together by virtue of their faith in Jesus Christ, love for one another, and out of concern for a variety of moral, social and religious causes.  This Christ-centered community was the vision of Henry Thornton, a banker, philanthropist and Member of Parliament.”

“To this fellowship,” wrote Gathro, “not only came Parliamentarians William Wilberforce and Henry Thornton, …[but] Charles Grant and Edward Elliot …[a]bolitionist Granville Sharp…James Stephen, Master-in-Chancery and Member of Parliament…and former slave-owner Zachary Macaulay and his wife, Selina, retired Governor-General of India, John Shore, the rector of Clapham church, John Venn, and a stream of visitors, including Prime Minister William Pitt, Parliamentarian Thomas Babington, Reverend Thomas Gisborne, Dean Isaac Milner of Queens College, poet and playwright Hanna More, and Reverend Charles Simeon of Cambridge”  (Richard Gathro, William Wilberforce and His Circle of Friends ://www.cslewisinstitute.org/webfm_send/471).  

These were the people who were among the societal elites of their day themselves yet they determined to battle apathy with action, to counter carelessness with care.  They dared to make a difference.  So are we.  So should we.  How?  The Clapham Circle can inform us.

“Perhaps this circle of friends,” wrote Gathro, “can best be remembered by these characteristics:

         "They shared a common commitment to Jesus Christ and a clear sense of calling.
         They were committed to lifelong friendship and mutual submission was the norm.
         Their advocacy was marked by careful research, planning and strategy.
         They worshiped both privately and publicly, gathering twice weekly at the Clapham Church.
         Their friendships were inclusive and focused on the essentials. For example, Wilberforce was a Wesleyan and his closest friend, Henry Thornton, was a Calvinist.
         They made family life a clear priority and delighted in each other’s marriages and children.
         They kept the ‘long view’ on completing projects. Abolition of the slave trade took 20 years!
         They made no dichotomy between evangelism and social action. Their magazine, The Christian Observer, exemplifie[d] this.
         Their faith was integral to all of life...family, career, friendship and more… They talked together of a faith that impacted every part of their lives. There were no “compartments.”
         They enabled one another vs. trying to “have it all.” They recognized each other’s passions and supported one another in addressing them. The love of God was the very center of the group’s reason for being together and what became their legacy.

“From this love sprang a group that changed history.” (Richard Gathro, William Wilberforce and His Circle of Friends, www.cslewisinstitute.org/webfm_send/471).

 Change history they did, and in so doing helped not only to achieve the great life callings of Wilberforce and Thornton to abolish slavery in their nation, but influenced our own nation with Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas claiming Wilberforce as personal heroes. Eric Metaxas has suggested that “cultural elites are the next unreached people group, providing further evidence of the need for reformers and counter cultural influences in our own society. 

Metaxes wrote of the Clapham Circles, “[F]ar beyond abolition, Wilberforce and his friends had a monumental impact on the wider British culture, and on the world beyond Britain, because they succeeded not only in ending the slave trade and slavery, but in changing the entire mindset of the culture.  What had been an effectively pagan worldview, where slavery and the abuse of human beings was accepted as inevitable and normative, became an effectively biblical worldview, in which human beings were seen as created in the image of God.  The idea that one should love one’s neighbor was brought into the cultural mainstream for the first time in history, and the world has never been the same” (Eric Metaxes, Cultural Elites: The Next Unreached People Group, www.fermiproject.com, p. 4).

Furthermore Metaxes wrote, “What began as a war against the slave trade became a war against every other social ill: from the treatment of prisoners, to child labor, to caring for orphans, to epidemic alcoholism, to prostitution, to illiteracy among the poor, to public spectacles of animal cruelty… When [he] began his career in Parliament, the idea of helping the poor was virtually unheard of, but a few decades later, he and his friends had effectively launched…a time when helping the poor and fighting social injustice were the cultural norm… By the time he died in 1833, [his] goal ‘to make goodness fashionable’ had succeeded beyond anything he could have dreamt.  The fashion leapt across the Atlantic too, and just as in Britain, societies to do good bloomed across America and have flourished ever since” (Eric Metaxes, Cultural Elites: The Next Unreached People Group, www.fermiproject.com, p. 4).  Wilberforce and his compatriots indeed changed the world.

The ills of society are legion. Carelessness is rampant. Carelessness has consequences: broken families, dying churches, and a culture of degradation and entropy.  Scott Fitzgerald died young of alcoholism and drug abuse, never seeing his novel, The Great Gatsby—itself a commentary on the ills of modernity divorced from truth and absolutes—achieve the literary success it eventually earned.  His wife Zelda was institutionalized, a victim of her own careless lifestyle and poor choices. They were careless people, committing careless actions and suffering the consequences.

Two of our nation’s greatest founders, Burr and Hamilton, as brilliant as they were, stand as testimonies to the tragedy and consequences of carelessness. After having teamed up to successfully defend a client falsely accused, they soon resumed their political battles against each other.  Burr’s great enterprise, the Manhattan Company was just a ploy to establish a bank (now known as Chase Manhattan) in order to compete with Hamilton’s own each of which was used to finance and influence the upcoming national elections. The two men hurled very public and vicious accusations at each other and a duel with pistols ensued.  The great Hamilton lost his life in the duel.  Burr lost his reputation.  Careless people. Careless actions.  Tragic consequences. 

Might it be overwhelming to engage?  Might it be tempting to feel hopeless?  May it never be with those who trust the Lord!  We exist as a Christian institution of higher learning that we might make a difference.  We exist because we trust a Sovereign God has called us to be salt and light in a world desperate for moral leadership. We exist to meet as worshipping beings, as moral beings, and as thinking beings.  We exist to be catalysts for change.  We are here to learn, to think, to act.

Ours is a society and world full of cultural and intellectual elites as well as the suffering and social outcasts.  To this world we are sent.  In this generation we are divinely placed to make a difference. We are to be faithful followers of history’s most loving revolutionary and counter-cultural figure, Jesus. This is our time and what we do matters.

I don’t suppose it’s too far-fetched to suggest or even dare believe that here on Bison Hill we are preparing a new generation to rise up and serve as change agents—modern day equivalents of Britain’s Clapham Circles—that we are equipping a generation of young leaders who in their own generation will make goodness fashionable, who will be full of care in an otherwise careless world, who will love their neighbors, who will see past a false dichotomy and bifurcation of justice and the gospel, who will cultivate civility, and who will winsomely engage with and yes, even change the world. 

So be it, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.