A Life-Changing Journey

This summer, I had the opportunity to lead my fourth class of rising ninth graders—the Class of 2018—on an eight-day leadership trip to Gettysburg and Washington, D.C.  This racially diverse group of 24 students represented 7 different schools and 14 different churches here in St. Louis.

The amazing journey for our students was a culmination of what is now called the Imago Dei Leadership Forum (IDLF).  The class began meeting in February with 12 two-hour weekly sessions on what it means to be an image-bearer of God in how we view ourselves, others, and the world around us.

I would love to share with you our time in Gettysburg and D.C. in a diary format. I pray that you will be encouraged as I was by what the LORD did in the lives of these young people.

Day 1 (Saturday)

Bus

We spent 18 hours on the bus ride from St. Louis to Gettysburg, PA. It was a ideal time for the students to bond and get to know one another—as we did trivia with prizes every hour on the hour! As a matter of fact, we watched The Greatest Showman—which interestingly set the tone of what it means to value others different than ourselves—treating them as image-bearers of God.

Day 2 (Sunday)

We started the day with a worship service at Middle Creek Lodge (located 10 minutes from Gettysburg).   We enjoyed a time of singing, individual (private) prayers of confession, and Scripture study. We read from Acts 20:17-38, as we looked at Paul’s leadership and his charge to the elders in the church of Ephesus.  We observed how leadership discussions should always include the importance of character (v.19), courage (v.20), conviction (v.21), crucible (v.22-23), course (v.24), and a charge (v.25-28).  For application, we watched two scenes from the film 42, and had some great discussions on the ways Jackie Robinson, Branch Rickey, and Pee Wee Reese emulated the above traits.  These leadership traits served as a key reference point, as we reflected on them with the various leaders we learned about and met throughout the trip.

Cyclorama

Gettysburg Visitors Center

We began our tour of Gettysburg by spending time at the Visitors Center (http://www.gettysburgfoundation.org/10).  We watched A New Birth of Freedom (a film narrated by Morgan Freeman) before experiencing the Cyclorama, the nation’s largest oil painting. The students were amazed not only by the battlefield stories but by the painting itself. We then heard from a park ranger who spoke on what it was like to be a Civil War soldier and the challenges soldiers faced in this time period.  We finished up at the Civil War Museum—walking through the history of the Civil War—as we prepared for our time on the battlefields tomorrow.

Back at the Lodge

After dinner, we gathered for our first group session on the importance of leading with a biblical worldview.  We then watched Part 1 of the film Gettysburg to prepare for our Monday morning and afternoon tours. We focused on the leadership of four individuals—Generals James Longstreet and Robert E. Lee for the Confederate army and Colonels Joshua Chamberlain and John Buford for the Union Army.

Day 3 (Monday)

 

Shrine

The Battlefields of Gettysburg

We had another full morning and afternoon exploring Gettysburg.  Today was our “outside” day—exploring the battlefields representing Day 1, 2, and 3 (July 1-3, 1863) of the Battle of Gettysburg.  We envisioned what it was like to be a soldier in the exact surroundings, as we examined the strategies that helped the Union defeat the Confederates.  We especially spent time on Little Round Top, exploring the courage and amazing leadership of Col. Joshua Chamberlain, and walking “The Long Mile” of Pickett’s Charge.

Back at the Lodge

Similar to last night, after dinner we had another Group Session where we continued exploring how leadership often calls for courage in the face of adversity.  We studied Joshua’s commission by God (Joshua 1) and the challenges and encouragement the LORD gave him to lead His people into the Promised Land.  We applied this to the courage of Joshua Chamberlain, as well as a scene from The Blind Side showing the courage, character, and faith of Michael Oher and the Tuohy family.  The students were active participants in the discussion — as we compared these challenges to ones they will face in high school and the importance of having a firm foundation in Christ.

We ended our evening by watching Part 2 of the film Gettysburg, and the powerful scene of the Battle of Little Round Top—led by Col. Joshua Chamberlain.  The students were captivated by the fact they walked the same ground where the battle was fought (and filmed!).

Day 4 (Tuesday)

Cemetary

We had a meaningful day, which I hope the students will remember for a long, long time. After a devotional on the Apostle Peter and his courage and leadership, we viewed Part 3 of Gettysburg.  I was so encouraged by the students’ reaction to this film, especially how they were moved by the sacrifice that was made in this final day of battle—particularly the tragic Pickett’s Charge.  As an aside, Director Ron Maxwell did a great job developing the characters of the film so you care when they die.  He did not bombard viewers with blood and gore—which makes it not only more watchable, but moving too.  Furthermore, these movie scenes were filmed on the exact ground we walked yesterday.

Gettysburg National Cemetery

We then visited Gettysburg National Cemetery and read numerous tombstones of those who gave their lives. We were also impacted by the markers that showed other veterans who have died over the years up to the Vietnam War.  Lincoln’s idea of a nation “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” assumed a new meaning to the students as they stood in the Gettysburg Cemetery, surrounded by markers of hundreds of soldiers, and took turns reciting lines from Lincoln’s 272-word speech.   To this point, we had a great reflection time that evening and a number of students shared how they were inspired/impressed by our time here—especially how many soldiers were willing to give their lives so others could be free.

Arrival in DC

After leaving the Gettysburg Cemetery, it was time to head to D.C. to examine the powerful influences of media and government and the importance of moral leadership and Christian principles in these fields.  Arriving at the National Mall, our students were able to walk around and enjoy views of the Washington Monument, the WWII Memorial, the White House, the Capitol Building, and the Lincoln Memorial.

Woodson

Bob Woodson

Our next stop was the Woodson Center.  Founder and President Bob Woodson—a MacArthur Genius Fellowship and Presidential Citizens Medal recipientmet with our students for over an hour! (http://woodsoncenter.org)  Mr. Woodson is a man of great faith in Christ.  He exudes humility even though he has advised various U.S. Presidents and currently advises Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. The students had a wonderful dialogue with Mr. Woodson and did a great job engaging him and asking thoughtful questions!  He is doing amazing work in some of the most difficult schools and communities across the country that many view as hopeless.

We wrapped up our day at a Food Network’s own Bobby Flay’s Burger Palace, and then debriefed about our time at the Gettysburg National Cemetery and with Bob Woodson.

Day 5 (Wednesday)

C Hill

Capitol Hill

Our day began early on Capitol Hill, as we met with Congressman Robert Aderholt from Alabama.  Robert took us down to the House floor (!) and allowed us to sit in the seats typically occupied by congressmen while voting or listening to the State of the Union Address. It was amazing!  When our students arrived on the floor, they were surprised to see the national motto “In God We Trust” in gold letters above the Speaker’s chair (not something you see during the State of the Union Address). Furthermore, they viewed a marble relief of Moses hanging directly opposite the Speaker’s chair—the only full-face portrait of historical lawgivers found on the walls of the House chamber. Finally, our students learned that the House and Senate have chaplains—both of whom open each session in prayer.

Members of Congressman Aderholt’s staff then led us on a tour of the Rotunda, Statuary Hall and some other parts of the Capitol afterward before it was open to the public.  It was here that our students encountered six magnificent paintings—three of which captured significant religious events—the prayer service following Columbus landing in the West, the baptism of Pocahontas at Jamestown, and the Pilgrims (with an open Bible) praying before their departure from Holland to America.

Blunt

We then moved to the Russell Senate Office Building to participate in “Missouri Mornings” with Senator Roy Blunt. In addition to meeting the senator, we spoke at length with several of his interns.  One of the interns took us on the underground Senate subway to the Capitol Visitor’s Center, where we viewed beautiful statues of famous Americans—from the early 1700s to the present.  One of the highlights of this tour was watching Congress in action—debating current events of the day

Chaplain

After a wonderful lunch at the Capitol, we joined our next speaker—U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black.  He was a highlight for many of the students, for he was engaging, funny, deep, concise, and relevant.  Chaplain Black shared his amazing personal testimony of being born in the poorest neighborhood in Baltimore to rising to his current position today.  He is a man of great wisdom and very motivational.  Attributing his Christian education to changing his life and preparing him for his future roles in the Navy and D.C., he encouraged all of us to grow in wisdom, pray for the Holy Spirit’s power and presence, and be willing to go the extra mile.

Cal Thomas and the Newseum

Our final speaker of the day was Cal Thomas—a syndicated columnist who appears in hundreds of newspapers, Fox News, and other media outlets regularly.  Cal was an engaging, humorous, and insightful, speaker.  When asked what makes a good journalist, he emphasized the importance of reading good writers, knowing history, pursuing wisdom through reading the Scriptures, and getting advice from older people.

After our time with Cal, we toured the Newseum. It is such a fascinating venue!  We spent time at the 9/11 exhibit, the Berlin Wall exhibit, the Broadcast Journalism Arena, the Civil Rights area, and much much more.

In the evening, we processed the day’s conversations with the leaders and how they are seeking to honor God with their gifts and talents.

Day 6 (Thursday)

USC

Our morning began at Starbucks(!) at the historic Union Station.  After filling up on caffeine and pastries, we walked to the U.S. Supreme Court—where we had a wonderful behind the scenes tour with Eric Tung—a clerk for Justice Neil Gorsuch.  Eric—a brilliant lawyer in his own right—gave a fascinating explanation of the clerks’ work and support for the Justices they work with.  We visited his office and met several of his colleagues—one who graduated first in his class from Harvard Law School.  We discussed the philosophical difference between viewing the Constitution from an “originalist” perspective vs. a “living document.”   We also reflected on numerous important decisions that had just been released the week before we arrived—particularly landmark cases on religious liberty.  Speaking of Courts, one of the major highlights of Eric’s tour was getting to play on the basketball gym located directly above the Court chamber—known as the “Highest Court in the Land!”

National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC)

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It was a huge answer to prayer that we were able to get tickets to this incredibly moving museum!  A big thank you goes out to our parents who got up at 5:30am St. Louis time to go online and help us get the 28 tickets we needed!  Words don’t express the powerful story and history that is captured here—a number of students (boys and girls) were in tears.  (As a matter of fact, it was the D.C. place many of them selected as the most meaningful in their trip reflections!)  We had a interesting debriefing that night about our time with evening speaker, Dede Winkfield, who made what they experienced at the NMAAHC very real and personal.

Dede

Dede Winkfield

Dede, a teacher at the National Presbyterian School in D.C. worked with me for 6 years at Fourth Presbyterian School in Potomac, MD.  Dede’s family was very close to Dr. Martin Luther King’s family, for her mom was Dr. King’s assistant and oversaw his press relations for a number of years.  (As an aside, her uncle was a Tuskegee Airman!)  Dede spoke for over an hour about growing up during the Civil Rights Movement–being the first African American to integrate her private Catholic school in Albany, GA–and reflected on her personal memories of Uncle Martin and Aunt Coretta.  Our time with her was invaluable, and we were so grateful for her honesty and vulnerability.

Day 7 (Friday)

MLK

After breakfast at the Starbucks near American University, we headed to the MLK, Jr. Memorial to kick-off our last day in D.C.  Sadly, when the students visited the site honoring the great civil rights leader, they discovered no mention of his faith.  In fact, none of the 14 quotations of Dr. King referenced God (see my August 14, 2013 USA Today article entitled, “Where’s God in Celebration of MLK?” for more details).  Nevertheless, we focused on the importance of Dr. King’s work and the milestone that he is the only non-President to have a national monument built for him in D.C.

We then traveled to the Heritage Foundation, a D.C. think tank that works to promote traditional values.  Focus on the Family’s Tim Goeglein (another student favorite!) spoke with our students.   Tim, the chief lobbyist for Focus on the Family, wonderfully engaged them on how to live as a Christian in today’s tough political climate and the importance of godly character—which we demonstrated from stories of Abraham Lincoln’s Presidency.

Steps

The Lincoln Memorial

Speaking of Lincoln, we transitioned to the Lincoln Memorial after our time at Heritage–standing in the footsteps where Dr. King gave his “I Have a Dream Speech.” To me, this was the most meaningful and moving part of the trip, as we brought racially diverse students and chaperones together to read Dr. King’s speech.  Our vision for Imago Dei Leadership Forum is to train up a generation that treats one another as image-bearers of God—fulfilling Dr. King’s dream and God’s command to love others as we love ourselves.  My favorite reader was Carla Bailey.  She passionately read the conclusion of Dr. King’s speech—bringing many of us to tears and drawing applause from many of the tourists who listened to our presentation.

Clay

Congressman Lacy Clay

Afterwards, we made our way to Congressman Lacy Clay’s office who represents several areas of the St. Louis region. He was warm and candid, and we were grateful for his hospitality.  He was very open and passionate about his beliefs, presenting a very different perspective from many of us in the room.  He discussed the toxic political environment in D.C. and the importance of being able to treat others respectfully and trying to find common ground with those who share different political views.  As an aside, he let one of our students sit in his desk chair and was excited to learn he knew several of our students’ parents!

Gallery

The National Gallery

The next stop of the day was the National Gallery, the art museum which is part of the Smithsonian network.  My friend Susan Scola (a former docent at the Gallery and superb history teacher at Christ Episcopal School) gave us a thought-provoking Race & History Tour—concluding with the Shaw Memorial, which memorializes the 54th Massachusetts (the all-black regiment featured in the movie Glory!)  We were all encouraged at how engaged and interested the students were!

Fox News

Fox News

Our last stop of the trip was Fox News Studios.  Our students were able to get a private tour, as well as read from the teleprompter and see themselves on TV.  More importantly, they were able to hear from anchor Shannon Bream, who discussed the powerful influence of media.  She helped explain the difference between shows that do hard news vs. those who center around the opinion of the host.  As a hard news anchor, Shannon shared the importance of her show’s role to try and present a balanced view of the news and provide voices for both sides of an issue when applicable.  She is a very godly, talented woman—using her gifts and talents to be a great witness to Christ to hundreds of thousands of nightly viewers.

Day 8 (Saturday)

We boarded the bus and made the long journey home to St. Louis a fully bonded group.  What a blessing to see our students come together so well! I pray that the Class of 2018 will long remember the deep faith, courage, and leadership they witnessed—both past and present—on this journey.  My prayer is that God will continue to use the moments and revelations from this trip—reinforcing St. Paul’s challenge to the church of Galatia, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” For as they apply this truth as image-bearers of God, they will be equipped to engage their generation for Jesus Christ.

Memorial

Longing for a Savior

This Advent season, I have greatly enjoyed reading Pastor Timothy Keller’s book Hidden Christmas, which is based upon his Christmas sermons at the various churches he has led during his ministry.

While I have taught on the subject of how fantasy stories and heroes/heroines point to the one true Savior over the years in Sunday school, Central Leadership Forum, and most recently our December Christmas chapel at Central Christian School, I love how Keller portrays the Christmas story and our longing and need for Jesus.

I decided to expand on my chapel talk and Keller’s thoughts for an op-ed that ran in today’s USA Today:

https://usat.ly/2C1bBdn

I hope it will be a blessing to you.  Merry Christmas!

 

A Tribute to My Daddy

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My Daddy went home to be with the LORD on Sunday, November 26 at age 90.  We celebrated his life today at Southwood Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, AL.  I have included my Eulogy below.

A number of years ago, when we were living in Raleigh, my wife Barbara saw the movie Sweet Home Alabama with three of her closest friends. She knew it was a pretty authentic representation of Alabama, when Reese Witherspoon’s character referred to her Father as “my Daddy” (pronounced “Deddy”).

I would like to take a few moments to share a snapshot of “my Deddy’s” life and the godly legacy he left for our family, as well as some family remembrances along the way.

Daddy was born in Springville, AL, in 1927. He grew up dirt poor during the Great Depression years. Nevertheless, his parents were good people and always looked out for others. Their little home was located near the railroad tracks, and they never turned a hobo or homeless person away who asked for food. Like the film Kitt Kittredge, there must have been a hobo marking near their home—alerting people that they were generous, kind folk—because many came to their door for help.

He had one pair of jeans that his Momma washed every night before the next day of school. And like most in this era, he truly walked a number of miles to and from school and to and from church (years before Governor Big Jim Folsom paved the roads of rural Alabama!). Reminiscent of a Flannery O’Connor short story, my Daddy was baptized in a lake in Springville, AL, at age 14 and joined Springville Baptist Church. He had a strong, private faith in Jesus all his life, which I will discuss later. Another fun fact during these years was that many considered him to be the best dancer in Springville—not your typical Baptist!

Daddy attended Howard College (now Samford University). But after his freshman year, he was drafted into the Army for a one year commitment and stationed in New York City. One of his favorite off-duty past times was attending the major league baseball games in the City. The military received free passes back then, and he took full advantage of watching some of the all-time great players from the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, and New York Yankees—men such as Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, and Jackie Robinson. I one time asked him if he ever wanted to go to a major league game with me when we lived in Atlanta, and he said he wasn’t interested—that he had already seen all the greatest baseball players. It wasn’t until we moved to St. Louis that I learned that the Cardinals were Daddy’s favorite team growing up, as he was able to listen to them on the national radio station KMOX—winning World Series in 1934, 1942, 1944, and 1946 w/ the likes of Dizzy Dean & Stan “the man” Musial.

In the 1950s, Daddy joined the Alabama National Guard—retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserves in 1980. While he never served in combat, he was called up for a number of duties stateside throughout his career. He had a great love for our country and the men and women who fought to sustain our freedom. Some of his proudest moments were to watch my brother Tommy advance through the military ranks in the National Guard and Army Reserves—from boot camp, to graduation from the Army War College, to tours in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, to achieving the rank of Brigadier General today and his current service in S. Korea.

Regarding his civilian work, in 1951, Daddy entered a four-year machinist training school at the Anniston Army Ordnance Depot (AAOD). For those not familiar with the AAOD, in 1952, “the Army assigned the depot the mission of overhauling and rebuilding its fleet of combat vehicles and tanks, as well as artillery and anti-aircraft artillery. In addition, the depot was tasked to modify equipment and weapon systems to further extend their usefulness to the Army.”

While living in Springville, Daddy commuted daily in a carpool to the Anniston Army Ordnance Depot. Also in the carpool was the beautiful Maid of Cotton of Springville. She was well aware of his dancing reputation and asked him to be her escort for the big event that would crown the Maid of Cotton for all of St. Clair County. This date was with his future wife Bettie Jane Allgood, whom he married in 1952. They celebrated their 66th anniversary in May of this year. As an aside, I grew up watching the way he loved my momma and the faithful husband he was to her.

He transferred to Huntsville in 1955 as a machinist for the Army Ballistic Command. Over time, he switched to administrative work–ending his career as a contract specialist in the Hawk Project Office of the U.S. Army Missile Command, where he retired at age 63 (my freshman year at Vanderbilt). Being a lover of Tom Clancy films, I was always asking Daddy about the top secret work he did for the government and the many times he was taken to undisclosed places to serve his country. He would never tell me though—always reminding me it was classified.

When I think about the passions he passed on to Robin, Tommy, and me, I think of clean cars, his love for the military, and his love for sports—particularly Alabama football (Roll Tide!).

In regard to cars, Daddy built his first car in high school with a friend using scraps from a junkyard his friend’s family owned. That is probably why my Momma sweetly let him use his National Guard money to buy his sports cars when he got older—my favorite being a Corvette stingray. He loved to work on cars with Robin and Tommy—helping Robin rebuild a classic 55 Chevy and giving my brother his white Camaro. Somehow, I got the short end of the stick, as he sold his Corvette and bought a VW bug when I was old enough to drive. Not wanting to be seen in a Bug, I used to make him drop me off a block before getting to school (my girls have continued to carry on this tradition today!). I remember when my brother Robin graduated from North American Van Lines Truck Driving School in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and came home with his brand new 18-wheeler. He was so proud of Robin, and always loved to hear about his adventures around the country. He would call each of us most Sunday nights, and he loved to hear about the places Robin had been and the companies he was working with—always sharing with me when I asked how Robin was doing.

In regard to sports, Daddy was also quite the athlete–playing basketball for Springville High School (they were too small to have a football or baseball team). He pitched for a semi-pro baseball team in his 20s and could throw a mean knuckleball! When I asked him about his team, he told me of a pitcher who eventually played in the majors who was ambidextrous (or as they say at Auburn—amphibious!). They would use him for doubleheaders—pitching the first game with his right arm and the second with his left! Anyway…Daddy would later serve as a baseball coach for my brothers (Robin andTommy) and me—spanning 20 years at the International Little League at Mayfair Park, including a 14-0 season with my brother Tommy (who hit the longest home run he saw in 20 years!) that was featured in The Huntsville Times. If you looked at his desk today, you would see his love of sports and support for his sons—from the aforementioned picture, to a picture of my brother Robin in The Huntsville Times winning the city basketball tournament in junior high, to my brother Tommy playing football for Huntsville High, to my senior picture as the Huntsville High Quarterback.

One the amazing things about our Daddy was that he never missed a game or a practice. At one point in high school, Tommy told him not to come to practice, but he still found a way to sneak on the field and hide under the bleachers to watch him. He was not a helicopter parent—he just enjoyed watching his sons use their God-given gifts and talents. My senior year, he would bring my sweet Momma an hour and a half early to our games to watch me warm up. As a matter of fact, when I was a graduate assistant coach at Dartmouth, he told my wife Barbara that they needed to get to the stadium an hour and half before the game. She tried to explain to him this was Ivy League football and that no one would be there…he still got there an hour and half before the game!

Whether it was YMCA football, my freshmen team, JV or Varsity football, I always knew where to look in the stands when I made a big play or scored a touchdown! It was a lot of pressure playing “Friday Night Lights” football in Alabama—with every game written up on the front page of the sports section the next morning. When we played rival city teams like Grissom, our games averaged 8,000 people—especially the night we got the ball with a 1:50 left to play and mounted a 60-yard drive and a last second field goal to win. When we played small towns like Albertville, it was like a scene from Remember the Titans, riding the bus to the stadium and seeing all the store windows painted with “Go Albertville!” or “Beat Huntsville!” My senior year, 1985, my Daddy, Auburn Head coach Pat Dye, and thousands of Albertville fans watched us crush their home team and star quarterback recruit on their Homecoming Night that was broadcast live on Huntsville’s WAAY Radio! Go Panthers!

Back then, we only got trophies when we won! Daddy was not afraid to tell us what we did wrong and what we could do better, but more importantly, he encouraged us all when we did well. It was Daddy’s love and encouragement, along with the LORD’s strength, that gave me the ability and courage to go out each week and enjoy Friday nights. As an aside, when he met my father-in-law Frank, Daddy sat him down and showed him the videos of my top two games from my senior year. Frank told him he was thankful we didn’t make the playoffs, otherwise they might be there all week! When I think about his love for Alabama football (Roll Tide!), it was one of the few times I had a hard time being in the room with him—especially if Alabama was losing. My son Andrew learned the hard way not to change the channel when Daddy Charles was watching Alabama play. If I’m honest, I always worried that he would have a heart attack watching a close Alabama game. But if it was his time to go, I am thankful that the LORD was gracious and allowed Daddy to pass away with the Auburn-Alabama game tied 7-7.

After retirement, Daddy took up tennis and became a competitive doubles player in the USTA Super Senior division. He developed many life-long friends during this time. One of his greatest joys during our visits in the summers was to take me over to Huntsville Athletic Club to play tennis, meet his friends, and have coffee or lemonade while we watched his friends play. As a matter of fact, he played the game of tennis until he had to stop due to health reasons at the age of 88. And he was a competitor to the end. Whenever we would have our Sunday calls on the phone, he was always quick to tell me of a win over his friends—especially if they were younger!

Last but not least, regarding his relationship with Jesus, he was ordained as a Deacon at Springville Baptist Church. After he moved to Huntsville, he was a longtime member of Hillsboro Heights Baptist Church and for the last decade, Southwood Presbyterian Church. He served the church in many ways—but most notably as a greeter. This fit his personality of service and encouragement—using the firm handshake and smile he taught me at a young age. As I shared earlier, Daddy was private about his faith, but he read his Bible daily and modeled godly living and how a man of God should live and treat others. As I reflect on his life and legacy, I see many amazing godly qualities that are much needed in our generation today—humility, hard work, joy without materialism, faithful marriage, godly treatment of his wife, devotion to his children, their spouses, and grandchildren, and a sincere faith in Jesus.

As I drove the seven hours from St. Louis to Huntsville on Sunday, I listened to a leadership series from my brother-in-law Tucker’s ministry in Atlanta. It was on the character and godly leadership of Nehemiah, who oversaw the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. In the last talk on Nehemiah, the speaker asked the audience “How do you want to be remembered when you die?” The better question, he pointed out was Nehemiah’s: “Who do you want to remember you?” In the last book of Nehemiah, he asked the LORD to remember him four different times—“Remember me…my God, and show mercy to me according to your great love.” (Nehemiah 13:22)

That is the truth my Daddy based his life on—the mercy of God. The good news is that none of us can earn our way to heaven. It is a gift through believing in Jesus—who died in our place to take away our sins and make us right with God—so we can be with him forever.

Let me close with this passage of Daddy’s eternal hope from the Book of Revelation: “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’  He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’  He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.’” (Rev. 21:1-7)

Like Daddy’s, may each of our lives count for God for an eternity.   Amen

Veterans Day

How do you define peace?

That was the question I asked our 3K -6th grade students in our Veterans Day Chapel this Friday.

Calm…Patience…Loving…Kindness…were just some of the many answers I received. While these words may not accurately define peace, I noted how treating others calmly, patiently, lovingly, and kindly as God’s image-bearers would definitely lead to peace.

Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines peace as, “freedom from war…from fear, terror, anger, anxiety.”  The context sentence Webster used for the definition was straight from Scripture (a common practice in his original dictionary)—“Great peace have they that love thy law.”—Psalm 119:165

Reflecting on Veterans Day and the desire for peace in our world reminded me of attending my older brother’s graduation from the Army War College in Carlisle, PA.  The college was founded in 1901 and has produced distinguished alums such as Generals John J. Pershing (1905), Dwight D. Eisenhower (1927), and Omar Bradley (1934).

What I found most intriguing was that the college was conceived, “Not to promote war but to preserve peace by intelligent and adequate preparation to repel aggression.”

After asking for a show of hands from students, faculty, and parents whose family members had served or are currently serving in the military, I affirmed how our troops need our prayers—not only to keep the peace in the many volatile areas they are stationed—but for peace in their souls as well.

A Barna Poll on the U.S. military recently reported the number one reason why our troops turn to Scripture: “Service men and women who read the Bible…say they might read the Bible for many reasons, but the most common is for comfort (37%), and understandably so, given the peace or security its pages may bring to those taking great risks for their fellow Americans.”

I shared with my students how I had never before associated peace with training at a war college.  But the Army War College’s mission statement gave me a renewed outlook on the important role our military has played over the years in seeking to keep peace around the world in places like Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia.

Along these lines, my brother—now a Brigadier General in the Army Reserves—serves as the Director of Operations for all “U.S. Forces Korea during wartime actions to support the Commander by analyzing complex situations, assisting in making and implementing decisions, controlling operational direction for ground, naval, air, and special operations forces assigned to, or under the operational control of Commander.”

His Commander—General Vincent Brooks–is the Commander of the United Nations Command, the Combined Forces Command, and the U.S. Forces Korea. A graduate of West Point, General Brooks was the “First Captain of the U.S. Corps of Cadets–the top military leadership position a cadet at West Point can hold.  He is the first African American to be selected for this position in West Point’s history.”

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Having led a brilliant and distinguished career over his 36 years as a commissioned officer, General Brooks is now commanding one of the hottest spots in the world—the border between North and South Korea.

The preparation of men such as General Brooks and my brother was a good segue to challenge our students on how they can be prepared for the spiritual battles they face each day from not only the evil one–the devil–but our own brokenness and sin as well.

The Apostle Paul used the imagery of a Roman soldier when he challenged the Church of Ephesus on how to stand up to sin and the devil by equipping ourselves with the armor of God.

Put on the full armor of God…so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”

Having God’s Word, we can know truth from falsehood, be right with God, and experience the peace that the Gospel of Christ brings.  And with our faith in Christ, we can block the devil’s temptations and snares, resting assured in our salvation—praying at all times and being on the alert.

For when we clothe ourselves in the spiritual armor of God, we can resist the anxiety and fear that can so easily overwhelm us and claim “His peace that passes all understanding.” (Philippians 4:6-8)

That is my prayer for all of us—but particularly our soldiers on this Veterans Day.

Tips for Talking to Students About Tragedy and Loss

While our country continues to pray and mourn for the grieving families and their unspeakable loss in the Las Vegas shooting, I encourage you to consider how best to share this tragedy with your children (if age appropriate). Numerous resources are available online that discuss ways to help your child cope with tragedy—from the National Association of School Psychologists to the American Psychological Association:

Your child may also have questions about why God would allow something like this to happen. I highly recommend the blog post below which contains excerpts from Pastors Tim Keller and John Piper’s responses to the 9/11 tragedy.

While we face evil in this world, we can take comfort that absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. I pray our Central students — and students around the country — will take this promise to heart as we prepare them to be lights in their world—pointing to the One True Light:

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”  Isaiah 9:2

 

Perseverance Despite Adversity

I want to take this opportunity to share with you excerpts from my May 2017 graduation charge to our sixth graders at Central Christian School.

Class of 2017… As I reflected on our three 2017 graduate speakers’ essays (A Passion for God, A Love of Truth, and A Zeal to Serve), I couldn’t help but notice how they all had a familiar theme—perseverance, despite adversity—one of the overarching themes of your 5th grade year.

As I was praying about this topic and the importance of faith in Jesus during difficult times, I remembered a story that I learned during my time in Washington, D.C.

This May marked the anniversary of one of the greatest communication breakthroughs in world history—a feat achieved through perseverance despite adversity by putting trust in Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. I hope the story of this individual blesses and inspires you as much as it did me.

Take Sam.

As a young Christian, Sam entered Yale University at the age of 15.  Although he studied electricity and chemistry under two of the top scientists of the day, Sam surprised his parents after graduation by choosing his true passion—painting.

His father, a well-known pastor and “Father of American Geography,” supported his son’s vision to study in London.  While learning from a renowned painter, Sam nevertheless epitomized a starving artist—bringing in little income and barely making ends meet.

Sam returned to America eager to apply his maturing talent.  During this time, he met and married his wife, with whom he would father three children.  But his search for commissioned work up and down the East Coast greatly reduced the time he would spend with his family.

Sadly, the death of Sam’s young wife occurred while he labored miles away on a portrait in Washington, D.C.  In what would later be a sad ironic twist, he would not arrive until after her burial because of the time it took to communicate the news.

“Oh, is it possible? Is it possible? Shall I never see my dear wife again?” Sam wrote, “But I cannot trust myself to write on the subject. I need your prayers, and those of Christian friends, to God for support. I fear I shall sink under it.”

Although painting a number of respected pieces, the next 12 years saw Sam struggle with finances and discouragement.  He attained an art professorship at New York University and soon sought the commissioning of one of the planned historic paintings in the U.S. Capitol’s Rotunda.

Experiencing rejection yet again, Sam collapsed into despair. “The blow I received from Congress … has almost destroyed my enthusiasm for my art…. I have not painted a picture since that decision…. When so unexpectedly I was repelled, I staggered under the blow…and [it] would goad me to death were it not for its aspect in the light of God’s overruling providence. Then all is right.”

Sam decided to return to his science skills and gave his full attention to the development of a device that could communicate over long distances.  Petitioning Congress to test the invention, his funding request was ignored—causing him to seek a patent and financial support in Europe.

To his surprise five years later, both Houses of Congress approved his large grant request.  And on May 24, 1844, Sam tested his invention before some of the most powerful leaders of the day.

The invention?  The telegraph.

Using a verse from the Bible–Numbers 23:23—suggested by a friend’s daughter, Sam, or I should say, Samuel Morse delivered the message “What hath God wrought!” using what became known as Morse Code over the first electric telegraph line from the U.S. Supreme Court Chamber in Washington, D.C. to Baltimore.

To Morse, these words were an exact expression of how the telegraph had come into being.

As he would later write to his brother Sidney: “You will see by the [news]papers how great success has attended the first efforts of the Telegraph… ‘What hath God wrought!’  It is His work, and He alone could have carried me thus far through all my trials and enabled me to triumph over the obstacles, physical and moral, which opposed me.”

Reviewing the impact of Morse’s creation in recent years, The Economist Digital Editor Tom Standage dubbed it The Victorian Internet: “It allowed people to communicate almost instantly across great distances, in effect shrinking the world faster and further than ever before.  A worldwide network whose cables spanned continents and oceans, it revolutionized business practice…and inundated its users with a deluge of information…Does all this sound familiar?”

With Morse’s invention came the growth and transformation of the Associated Press, the New York Stock Exchange, and many other communication breakthroughs in the United States and around the globe too great to list here.

Thus, after decades of trial, Morse became a worldwide celebrity—receiving honor after honor over the next 25 years—culminating in 1871, when a bronze statue of Morse was dedicated in Central Park.  That evening at the Academy of Music, many luminaries witnessed the following message sent to Washington, D.C., using Morse’s original telegraph: “Greeting and thanks to the telegraphic fraternity throughout the land. Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good-will to men.”

As The New York Times reported, “Morse, with trembling fingers, touched his key and signed his name to the above dispatch—the entire audience rose…with cheer after cheer.”

He would die a year later, embodying the words of St. Peter, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

A charge worth considering again today.

Remembering Dr. King

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Several years ago when my family was living in the Washington, D.C. area, my son Andrew was assigned a freshman history project that required him to write about several famous quotes on key monuments in the city. One of the monuments Andrew and I visited was the newly built MLK Jr. Memorial. What came as a great shock to us was not the discovery of what was included in Dr. King’s quotes over his career, but what was missing.

Click here to read this USA Today article of mine (that was published during the 50th Anniversary celebration of Dr. King’s March on Washington and his “I Have A Dream” speech) to find out what we discovered.

Wise Men and Wise Women: Epiphany and Hidden Figures

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Across the Christian church today, a number of faithful believers will celebrate Epiphany.  But how many will consider the cultural similarities of this holy day to the stories featured in the national film release of Hidden Figures this weekend?

To believers in Jesus, one of the most powerful messages of Epiphany is the mercy and love demonstrated to all humanity through the revealing of the Son of God to the star-following, foreign-born wise men, who fell down and worshiped the Christ child upon finding Him.

Regardless of race, social status, or gender, God’s grace is given to all who come to him in faith in Jesus–what Manhattan pastor Tim Keller refers to as “the only hope that matters.”

To continue reading the article originally on January 6, 2017, visit FoxNews.com

My “New” Title

St. Louis native and Nobel Prize winning author T.S. Eliot once stated, “It is self-evident that St. Louis affected me more deeply than any other environment has ever done.” I, too, can say that the LORD is using St. Louis and its people to affect and change me more than any community I have ever experienced.

When I accepted this position over two years ago, I was thrilled to lead this amazing school. Even before visiting, Central’s reputation as an academically strong and culturally diverse school made it an exciting opportunity for my family and me. Having lived all over the country, I could confidently say that I enjoyed and appreciated diversity.

I arrived in the city one month before the Ferguson conflict erupted in 2014 to lead this community. It was then that I began to realize how much I still had to learn about the impact that racial differences have had, and continue to have on our culture. The unrest in our city opened the opportunity for conversations that I’d never had before, and realizations that I’d never experienced. I was so grateful to God for opening my eyes through these encounters.

Then, in an unexpected conversation this summer, a good friend of mine revealed to me how the title “Headmaster” might be a stumbling block to our African American families. The word “master” could bring a flood of negative connotations with the cruelties of slavery.

 

That was humbling to learn.

I have used the title “Headmaster” for fifteen years, and this had never crossed my mind. As a matter of fact, when I was introduced to the Central Christian School community two years ago, I discussed how the title came from the British school system with the idea of a “master teacher” serving over a group of highly qualified teachers. Thus, Headmaster.

No title is worth being unnecessarily hurtful or divisive. So this year, I shared with our faculty, staff, families, and Board why I would no longer be using this title, but instead “Head of School.”

The most important concept I shared with our school community, however, was not the changing of my title. The important message of my story was that if I were not in a loving, diverse community where friends with different perspectives could gently challenge me, I would still be using a title that could impede unity in our school.

Given the headlines over the past two years—from Ferguson to Baltimore to Charleston to Dallas to the events this week, I have experienced and observed emotions ranging from hopelessness and despair, anger and frustration, sadness and grief, confusion and defensiveness, apathy and avoidance. And while this is not my first encounter with pain or controversy, something about my proximity to Jesus-followers with different perspectives and experiences than my own has made this time different. The clarity of Scripture as the foundation of a diverse, just community has never been clearer to me.

I am convinced, more than ever before, that the grace of Jesus Christ should compel the Body of Believers to pursue justice for and unity with our neighbors.

Speaking of unity, our chapel theme this year is based on the Book of Ephesians, Chapter 4. Why unity?

First of all, we believe this theme aligns well with our previous two years’ themes on Courageous Conversations in 2014-15 and what it means to be true Peacemakers in 2015-16.

Secondly, with the most recent turbulent events in our nation, we believe the body of Christian believers needs to be unified now more than ever to present the only hope that matters—Jesus Christ.

Thirdly, this election year has found the U.S. greatly divided. Consider these statistics and analysis released this summer by the Associated Press entitled “Unity Not Seen As Likely”: “Some 85% of people regard the nation as more politically divided than in the past; 80% view Americans as being greatly divided on the most important values…The time is so unstable, its impossible to see the future.”

Given the current state of our country, we chose Ephesians 4:15-16 to be our annual school verses: “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”  

My prayer is that the LORD will use our school to impact the hearts and minds of our students, faculty, staff, and families in unanticipated and palpable ways as we seek unity in the name of Jesus.  Please join us.

Student Guidelines for Texting and Social Media

Several years ago, when my oldest son Andrew turned 13, I made the decision to purchase him a cell phone.  Wanting to provide some guidelines for navigating this new world, I came across a wonderful article by Toronto Pastor Tim Challies entitled, “Solomon on Social Media.”  Building upon Tim’s (and King Solomon’s!) wisdom and insight, I put together a list that has become a guide not only for my son, but my three daughters too, as they each received their phone in 7th grade (my most recent daughter being this summer!).

As I have shared with my four children over the years, when we rely on God’s wisdom, not our own, our choices will be much more responsible. But if and when those difficult lessons come and we fail to heed Scripture’s guidelines, we must learn to accept the consequences and allow them to be equally instructive.

For that is when God’s wisdom and grace are most needed.

I hope that you will find the below list helpful, as you discuss these issues with your children as well!

Top 10 Rules to Guide your Texts, Emails and Social Media Posts

1.  Always think through what you write before you send a text/email and make a social media post.  Realize that anyone and everyone may view/read what you write!

“Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 29:20).

Corollaries to #1 (a.k.a. “The Murray Rule”):  

  • Do not email/text/post embarrassing pictures or videos of yourself or our family to other people without our permission. Once it is out there, you can never retrieve it. It may even make it to YouTube!
  • Do not forward email/text conversations with Mom or Dad without our     permission. Realize that anyone and everyone may view/read what we write!  “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise”            (Ephesians 6:2).                        

 

2.  Build others up—do not cut them down. Not only is that biblical, but you must realize that anyone and everyone may view/read what you write!

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29)

 

3.  Avoid gossipers and gossiping about others. Realize that anyone and everyone may view/read what you write!

“The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body” (Proverbs 29:22).

 

4.  Avoid spreading rumors. Don’t always believe what you read!

“Like one who binds the stone in the sling is one who gives honor to a fool” (Proverbs 26:8).

 

5. If someone writes something you disagree with, sometimes it is best not to respond. Don’t be afraid to seek our advice!

“Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself” (Proverbs 26:4).

 

6.  However, if someone is spreading lies/rumors and hurting others, sometimes we need to prayerfully respond. Don’t be afraid to seek our advice!

“Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes (Proverbs 26:5)

 

7.  Avoid creating problems.

Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling” (Proverbs 26:27).

 “As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife” (Proverbs 26:21).

 

8.  Avoid other people’s problems.

“Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears” (Proverbs 26:17).

 

9.  Don’t brag about yourself! People like humility 🙂

“Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger and not your own lips” (Proverbs 27:2).

 “One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor” (Proverbs 29:23).

 

10.  Protect yourself.   Don’t give your number/information to people you don’t know!

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 5:17).

 “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)