George Washington Turns 186 Today

If he had not died on December 14, 1799, he would be celebrating his 184th birthday today. On February 22, 1732, George Washington was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, the second son from the second marriage of a colonial plantation owner. An initially loyal British subject, Washington eventually led the Continental Army in the American Revolution and became known as the father of the United States. George Washington’s legacy has endured a long process of untangling myth from fact. The famous cherry tree incident never occurred, nor did Washington have wooden teeth. Known for being emotionally reserved and aloof, he was concerned with personal conduct, character, and self-discipline but was known to bend the rules if necessary, especially in war. Although Washington was undoubtedly ambitious, he pursued his goals humbly and with quiet confidence in his abilities as a leader.

During this election cycle, Republicans are asking, “Who’s the next Ronald Reagan?” Democrats are asking, “Who’s the next John Kennedy?” A better question might be, “Who’s the next George Washington?” Let’s consider three traits demonstrated by our first president that we sorely need in national leadership today.

  1. George Washington was an humble man. In his first inaugural address, he said, “I was summoned by my Country, whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love.” He declined “any share in the personal emoluments” or monetary gains for himself. Never intoxicated with power, in his second inaugural address, he subjected himself to “the upbraidings of all who are now witnesses of the present solemn ceremony.” He could have been a king; he chose to be a president. The Bible says, “Be completely humble and gentle” (Ephesians 4:2). Humility was perhaps the most significant character trait of our first president.
  2. George Washington was a man of self-discipline. In her book, Meet George Washington, Joan Heilbroner describes a man of incredible self-discipline. She quotes him as regularly challenging himself, “Undertake not what you cannot perform.” He said, “It’s better to offer no excuse than a bad one.” No one farmed harder or fought harder than George Washington. He outworked his staff and outlived his contemporaries. Every day was filled with purpose. George Washington was the embodiment of self-discipline. Paul said, “God gave us a spirit of self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7), a spirit demonstrated daily by President Washington.
  3. George Washington was a man of high character. In 1788 he wrote to his trusted confidant Alexander Hamilton, “I hope I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain the character of an honest man.” In leading the War for Independence, he extolled his soldiers to “display the character appropriate to Christian soldiers.” Though gifted as a leader, statesman, and military genius, what mattered most to George Washington was not to win the battles of war, but the battles of the heart. Paul told young Timothy to “pursue righteousness” (1 Timothy 6:11). That was a pursuit that filled George Washington’s life.

President’s Day was created to honor the first president of the United States. Was he our greatest president? The answer seems obvious; without him there would have been no others. So as we celebrate the man who would be 184 years old today, let’s do so, not with another statue or monument, but by committing to being the kind of people worthy of the sacrifice of the man who gave all he had to create a better country than the world had ever known.

The Power of a Text

I was on the treadmill yesterday morning. I do it every day for an hour. It’s the best 1-mile walk of the day! Then it happened. I got a text from an old friend. And it made my day.

My friend is someone you have probably heard of. He is one of America’s most popular communicators and keeps an incredibly busy schedule. I won’t use his name because he wouldn’t want the credit for what I’m about to say.

My friend has pastored a megachurch, is a close friend of Billy and Franklin Graham, and has entertained millions, from the rich and famous to people you will never hear of. But yesterday morning, I was on his mind. We hadn’t spoken in a couple of months, and I certainly didn’t expect to hear from him yesterday.

And then my phone lit up. I looked at it and saw my friend had just sent me a picture along with a message. It was 32 words of pure encouragement. And it made my day – because of what he said and because of who said it.

It cost him a couple minutes and blessed me for 24 hours and counting. Encouragement does that. The encouragement guy in the Bible was a fellow named Barnabas. He stood by Mark when no one else would. Mark went on to write the first Gospel, the one on which the others were built. He stood by Paul when no one else would. Paul went on to write a third of the New Testament. Without Barnabas, one could argue there would have been no Gospels or epistles. Barnabas was good at one thing – encouragement.

Studies tell us we need 17 words of encouragement for every negative word we hear. And we need 13 words of encouragement each day just to stay level. Have you met the man who said, “Please stop encouraging me! I’ve had too much encouragement already!” I haven’t met him either.

So go out today and make a difference. Encourage someone. It can change their day, and that can change their life. And it can be done with something as simple as a text.

Van Gogh Paintings Are Shown

On this day in 1901, paintings by the late Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh were shown at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery in Paris. The 71 paintings caused a sensation across the art world. Eleven years before, Van Gogh had committed suicide without any notion that his work was destined to win acclaim beyond his wildest dreams. Born in Zundert in The Netherlands in 1853, Van Gogh worked as a salesman in an art gallery, a language teacher, a bookseller, and an evangelist before settling on his true vocation as an artist. He studied drawing at the Brussels Academy and in 1881 went to The Netherlands to work from nature. In 1886, Van Gogh went to live with his brother, Theo, in Paris. There, he met the foremost French painters of the postimpressionist period, including Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, Camille Pissarro, and Georges Seurat. In 1888, Van Gogh, mentally exhausted, left Paris and took a house at Arles in southeastern France where he was joined by Gauguin. Shortly after, he suffered a bout of mental illness and was diagnosed with dementia.

It’s too bad Van Gogh didn’t recognize his own greatness. What made him great was not that he was a painter for the ages, but that he quit selling books, teaching school, and preaching. He found the one thing he was best at and poured himself into it. The result was one of the finest painters the world will ever produce. The Bible says to find the things God created you to do (I Corinthians 14) and get after it. You will never attain greatness by turning your weaknesses into strengths, but by making your strengths even better. So find your “thing,” and get after it. The world is waiting.

33% Have This Problem

It afflicts 100 million Americans and causes 38,000 deaths each year, including 1,500 on the road. It costs the U.S. a whopping $70 billion worth of productivity. Sixty-four percent of teens suffer from it. It hits hardest between ages 30 and 40. Fifty percent of seniors suffer from it. Treatments range from mouth guards to herbal teas to medication.

I am talking about insomnia. America can’t get to sleep. To fight back, Americans consume 30 tons of sleeping pills, aspirin, and tranquilizers every day! Thomas Edison lived off 15-minute naps. But Albert Einstein averaged 11 hours of sleep each night. In 1910 we slept an average of nine hours; now we are down to seven.

It’s funny. We are the only creatures who struggle with sleep. Dogs doze, bears hibernate, and my cat sleeps 23 hours a day. So what makes us (people) different? We worry. We worry a lot. Psychologists say that 90 percent of what we worry about never even happens. But we worry anyway.

I’m reminded of a Carpenter who lived 2,000 years ago. He said, “Give me your burdens. Do not worry.” The dog, bear, and cat get it. What about you? To each of us St. Peter offers great advice. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

To Tell the Truth

It is an all-time great game show. To Tell the Truth debuted in 1956. Hosts have included Bud Collyer, Garry Moore, Joe Garagiola, Lynn Swann, Alex Trabek, and John O’Hurley. The show features a panel of four celebrities whose task is to correctly identify which contestant is telling the truth about his or her unusual occupation.

The 2016 version just began, hosted by Anthony Anderson. As my wife and I watched the other night, we guessed who was telling the truth in each of the five segments. Both of us got it right one time, missing four. A blind dog would have done better.

In the 1960s I remember being able to identify the liars and the truth-tellers at a much higher rate of success – and I was just a young boy. Here’s my take on it. We, as human beings, have become better liars with time. That’s what we do. We lie.

Dr. Robert Feldman, of the University of Massachusetts, conducted an interesting study. He concluded that on average, people tell two to three lies in a ten-minute conversation. It also showed that only 40 percent are able to go ten minutes without lying, even if prepared for the task. A study in England revealed that men lie twice as often as women. A different study concluded that men and women lie at the same rate, but about different subjects.

Bottom line – we struggle To Tell the Truth. In the world of addiction, it is common to say, “We lie. That’s what addicts do.” And we know that the average person has 1.3 addictions. We lie.

Is there any hope? Yes. Jesus said to stop lying. Honesty is commanded through the Old Testament. So apparently, it is possible to live a life of total honesty. It starts by being honest with God, then ourselves. Until we are completely honest with God and ourselves, we will never be honest with others.

Mark Twain famously said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” As my mind and memory slowly slip away (not so slowly at times), I appreciate that advice.

Try it – just for a day. Be honest. Start by being honest with God, then yourself. And then, when you talk to others today, tell the truth. It may not be easy, but it’s easier than remembering everything you say.

St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

On this day in 1929, four gangsters dressed as police officers gunned down six of George “Bugs” Moran’s North Side Gang, as well as a mechanic, at the Moran headquarters on Chicago’s North Clark Street. The incident, known today as the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, was another in an ongoing war between Al “Scarface” Capone and the North Side Gang, his chief underworld rivals.

In February 1929, Capone was ahead, having killed Moran’s predecessor, Dion O’Banion, five years earlier. On February 14, as Moran’s men waited outside their headquarters to take delivery on a load of bootlegged liquor, they were devastated by the arrival of the four “police officers.” Coming late to the gathering, Moran saw what he assumed to be an impending arrest and retreated to a nearby coffee shop. The disguised assassins gunned down the seven men undisturbed.

“Bugs” Moran learned what some of us never learn – actions have consequences. Unfortunately, he learned it too late.

Bess Truman Is Born – 1885

Elizabeth Virginia “Bess” Wallace was born in Independence, Missouri, on this day in 1885. An unassuming woman who died in 1982, Bess was best known as the wife of Harry S. Truman, the 33rd president of the United States. From the time her husband entered politics in 1922, she was active in her role as his wife and future first lady, while raising Margaret, the couple’s only child.

Harry Truman, who was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s fourth vice president, became president in 1945, following FDR’s death, and then was elected to another term in 1948. It was the said around the White House that the Trumans were the most tight-knit family ever to live there – although for three of their presidential years, they lived in the Blair House while the interior of the White House was gutted and repaired. Bess had insisted that the historic residence be carefully renovated, instead of being replaced.

The Bible promises a new home for us in heaven. And unlike the White House, it is in no need of renovation.

Congress Enacts Slave Law – This Day in 1793

On February 12, 1793, Congress passed the first fugitive slave law, requiring all states, including those that did not allow for slavery, to forcibly return slaves who had escaped from other states to their original owners. The law stated that “no person held to service of labor in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.”

Several Northern states enacted measures prohibiting state officials from aiding in the capture of runaway slaves or from jailing the fugitives. This disregard of the first fugitive slave law enraged Southern states and led to the passage of a second fugitive slave law as part of the Compromise of 1850 between the North and South. The second fugitive slave law called for the return of slaves “on pain of heavy penalty” but permitted a jury trial under the condition that fugitives be prohibited from testifying in their own defense. Notable fugitive slave trials, such as the Dred Scott case of 1857, stirred up public opinion on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line.

The Bible says we are slaves to sin (Romans 6:20). But someone came to set us free. His name was Jesus. And Scripture proclaims that those who are free from sin are “free indeed” (John 8:36). But an odd thing happened in the old slave days. Some of them returned to their former owners and acted as if they had never been set free.

One day a man captured a monkey. To make sure he never left him, he tied a rope around his neck and attached it to a tree, allowing the monkey the freedom to roam about 100 feet in any direction from the tree. After a few months, he noticed the monkey was no longer even trying to break free, so the man removed the rope. For the rest of the monkey’s life, he stayed within 100 feet of the tree.

The monkey was free, but lived like a slave. If you have trusted Christ as your Savior, you have been released from your sin and your past. You are no longer a slave. You are free – free to enjoy life, live for God, and be victorious in every way. You are no longer a slave. It’s time to act like it!

It Will Never Happen

Man has a history of saying, “It will never happen,” and then it does. Consider this, from The Quarterly Review, in 1925. “What can be more palpably absurd than the prospect held out of locomotives traveling twice as fast as stagecoaches?”

Then there was Lee Deforest, scientist and inventor. In 1926 he said this: “While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially, I consider it an impossibility, a development of which we need not waste our time dreaming.”

And in 1901, William Baxter, Jr. wrote in Popular Science, “As a means of rapid transit, aerial navigation (airplanes) could not begin to compete with the railroad.”

I save the best for last. The Literary Digest made this ironclad prediction in 1889. “The ordinary ‘horseless carriage’ is at present a luxury for the wealthy; and although its price will probably fall in the near future, it will never, of course, come into as common use as the bicycle.”

Yes, we have a history of being often wrong, but never in doubt. And here’s a line I hear a lot today. “Jesus can’t possibly return during my lifetime!” The angel said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

I Can’t Believe What I Just Saw

I can’t believe what I just saw. Saturday, I was in Texas to conduct a wedding ceremony. After the wedding, Beth and I stopped at a Raceway Station. When I started to pump gas, I saw the lady at the next pump – smoking a cigarette while pumping gas. I walked toward her and warned her of the danger of smoking while pumping gas. She said some rather unpleasant things to me. It was clear she was not going to put her cigarette out. So I got in my car and drove off out of fear of what might happen next.

And then it did happen next. As we began to drive off, Beth saw it in our car’s side mirror – a spark – and then a flame. I turned the car around and saw the lady waving her arm violently. She was on fire.

Within seconds, several customers had run to her with some sort of blanket, throwing it around her arm as fast as they could, to put the fire out. But before they could get to her, the sound of her screams and the sight of her waving arm, completely aflame, were etched in my mind. It was a horrible sight and sound.

We got out of our car. Just then, a police car pulled up. It must have already been close by. The officer got out of his car and walked over to the lady. After making sure the fire was out, he proceeded to do the unexpected. He put her into the backseat of his car.

When the manager of the store left the scene, walking back toward the store, many of us gathered around him. “Why did the officer put her in the car?” I asked him. He said, “The police put her under arrest.”

“Why did they arrest her?” I asked him.

The man replied, “For illegally waving a firearm.”

Okay – so that’s a horrible (but funny) story. But there’s a point. You bought it, didn’t you? I know I did, when I heard that story last week!

Here’s the lesson. Don’t believe everything you hear. Sounding true and being true are two different things. We live in a world in which the media is screaming messages at us every day. I won’t get into the politics of that. But I will say this – again. Be careful what you believe. The Bible says to “test the spirits.” That means to make sure what you buy into is really true.

And avoid illegally waving a firearm.