Person of History: George Washington

In George Washington, character intersects action and morality motivates reform. A man of honor and adventure, Washington’s place in American history is prime and divine.

Things you learn about George Washington in grade school and still remember years later:

1. He was the first president of the United States

2. He was tall (6’2″)

3. He had a powerful drive to succeed, and did, despite having a minimum education

4. He was a natural soldier and became a General in the War of Independence (during which he crossed the Delaware, standing up, in the front of a boat at night in the cold, right?). He said of his first battle experience, “I heard bullets whistle and, believe me, there is something charming in the sound.”

5. His wife’s name was Martha and they lived together at Mount Vernon.

Things you may have learned in grade school and don’t remember, or perhaps, things you never learned at all:

1. He grew up in the gentry class, not having more than an elementary education (which later would be criticized by his Vice President, John Adams). His father died when he was 11, and although we have close to 17,000 preserved letters from Washington, only two mention his father. On the other hand, he adored his strong mother and mentioned her frequently in his writings.

2. An adventurer at heart, he spent his early years surveying the Virginian frontier. His neat penmanship and ability to draw maps made him a natural at surveying land, which he described as the next best thing to owning land.

3. He inadvertently detonated a world war, the French-Indian war (referred to as the Seven Years War in Europe), when Irowuois Indians under his command killed ten Frenchmen near Fort Duquesne. The French retaliation led to skirmishes in British territories around the world.

4. He was elected leader of the American army unanimously, and was so touched by this that he was unable to write his letter of acceptance, and had it dictated instead. He was the natural choice because of his fighting experience and abilities and his strong leadership traits. Three days after his appointment, Congress issued the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity for Taking Up Arms. At this point, formal independence had not been declared, and the hope was to avoid war through negotiations with Britain.

5. Washington would have claimed Christianity as his belief system, although his writings hardly mention”God”, instead referring to “Providence” or “the Great Ruler of Events”. He did not regularly attend church. He believed religion was a useful tool for civilized society, but not necessary. Paul Johnson, conservative historian, labels Washington as a deist. Washington was involved in the Masons.

6. Although he owned slaves, he understood that to build our country on slave-labor would be detrimental. He was the only founding father to free his slaves upon his death.

7. His passion was farming. Just visit Mount Vernon, outside Washington D.C., and you’ll see the evidence. At the time of his death, he was farming 8000 acres. His farming adventures included crop rotation and livestock breeding.

8. Martha Washington spent the winter months of the war years with her husband, tending the sick and doing needlework.

9. He never wore a wig, although he cared about his appearance and powdered his hair and tied it with a ribbon. He replaced some broken teeth with ones made from hippopotamus ivory. When he was a young explorer and mapper his traveling ensemble included nine shirts, six linen waistcoats, seven caps, six collars, and four .

For a good, quick but thorough read (pictured right): George Washington, by Paul Johnson.

Calling, What is It?

We talk frequently of being “called”. Called to Jesus. Called to write. Called to move across the world. Called to teach. Calling on the large-scale and calling on the personal level.

What is calling? Here’s what I don’t think it is:

1. A Passport. Like a seminary degree, calling can be used like a badge, an automatic entrance to whatever it is we feel is our place of service.

2. A Right. In America we talk of the right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. In the Church we add the right to do what I feel called to do. And if you question me? I’ll just say the Lord called me. How can you argue with the Lord?

What is calling, if not a free pass or an entitlement?

Biblically, I think we can affirm that calling is multi-leveled:

1. Identity. This is the most fundamental part of calling. Calling, in this sense, is belonging to the Lord. It’s a state in which we exist, as opposed to a fluxing job or assignment, or a direction our life takes. It’s a calling to the inheritance of salvation: life everlasting, the presence of Jesus, a changed heart.  I wrote about this in my post You’re Called Whether You Know It or Not. It’s the hope of this calling that sustains us when the other aspects of calling are blurry or broken.

2. A career, service, gift. “Paul…called to be an apostle” (Romans 1:1). Sondra, called to be a writer. This is perhaps the most commonly recognized aspect of calling. When people tell their life stories they often include how they felt called into a career or service.

This sense of calling includes the recognition of a community. In a formal arena, this recognition may take the form of a commissioning, licensing, contracting, or ordaining. For example, if you are called to be a doctor, your skills are tested, and if others approve your gifting, you are licensed and allowed to practice. In a less formal setting, this communal recognition may simply be a verbal affirmation. For example, you may be called to teach junior high Sunday school, and you know it not just because you love it, but because your church leadership has continually asked you and told you your good and it. That’s communal affirmation.

This aspect of calling usually carries a mantle of authority. Your position requires certain things which you are held accountable to fulfill.

This aspect of calling also relates to vision. We often have an idea of how the Lord wants us to live our lives, even if we are unclear about details or even if the Lord surprises us by changing our course. We are made with certain personalities and giftings that, as we understand ourselves better, create pathways for our lives and breathe vision into our everyday routines.

3. A sense of direction. It’s the man from Macedonia saying, “Come.” We often refer to this aspect of calling as open and closed doors. The Holy Spirit speaks and we answer. This might be the most subjective part of calling. It’s fluid. It outlines spiritual seasons. We are called, for a season, to live and work in a certain city or to attend a certain church or to mentor youth in our neighborhood. We are called in the grocery store to offer prayer to someone. We are called to send a note of encouragement to a struggling friend.

Sometimes this sense of calling is accompanied by a high dose of doubt. Did the Lord really say…? And this is where the subjectivity of calling is evident. How can we be sure that what we, or another person, experience is from the Lord?

Let me offer several tests.

First, the Lord will never call us to do something that goes against what we find in the Bible. That would be contradicting himself, for he has spoken in the Word and will not change his mind about what he has already revealed. Second, if everyone in your spiritual community is disagreeing with what you believe the Lord is calling you to do, you may have misheard the Lord. Maybe. The humble listen to those around them. Third, if you step out in a direction you believe is from the Lord, you should see fruit of your obedience. Do not confuse fruit with success. Sometimes our efforts are unsuccessful in the world’s eyes, but we feel peace in our lives and are affirmed by others – that’s fruit.

In closing, let me encourage you. Recognizing that some aspects of calling shift frequently, and others remain steady in spite of circumstantial or emotional ups and downs, be bold in your following of the Lord. Do not assume that you are called only to things that are easy for you, or things which you have always been drawn to. Do assume that you will be equipped and empowered for the work to which the Lord calls you. And be assured that his presence is not fleeting or temperamental. It is unwavering and always firm.

If You Want Supernatural…

“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.” Colossians 2:9-10

Our culture is fascinated with the supernatural. Proof? I recently saw a commercial for a new show: Long Island Medium. The medium, grasping hands with a crying wife, is speaking things about a dead husband which she couldn’t possibly have known without her powers (or off-camera research?). I can already tell this show will be a hit. The media is spotlighting the “positive work” of this woman and the compassionate “help” she offers others. It’s advertised as a “feel-good” show. Most people who will appear on the Long Island Medium will be hurting. They will be driven by some sort of pain – a broken relationship, a lost loved one, a past failure, an out-of-reach goal.

Years ago, another hurting woman encountered a man of power. Through supernatural power, He revealed her secrets. He spoke into her failures and offered hope. He gave her a mission and restored her reputation. He connected her to God. She came thirsty; she left quenched.

You would think a story such as this one would please our culture’s appetite for supernatural encounters, but this story is found in the Bible, John chapter four, and our culture has a strong aversion to scriptural authority.

However, if you are truly seeking the supernatural, and if you dare to open its pages, you’ll find more supernatural events in the Bible: the creation of the world out of nothing and by the spoken word, people raised from the dead, a few hundred people defeating thousands, a burning bush unconsumed by its flame, and direct conversation between Almighty God and a man with a glowing face. Perhaps most supernatural of all is the resurrection of a Messiah who took upon his sinless self your sins and your woundedness.

The difference between these supernatural events and the Long Island Medium? The source of the power. The Bible sets up only two powers: God and Satan. Supernatural that is not from the Godhead (Father, Son, and Spirit) is from Satan. No human has a supernatural gifting apart from either of these sources, hence the term “supernatural” – beyond human ability.

The supernatural of Father, Son, and Spirit will not be manipulated. It comes with moral parameters. It comes with an agenda – God’s kingdom agenda. These are two things our culture does not appreciate – restriction of morals and restriction of freedom. We don’t want to be told we can’t live a certain way; we don’t want to follow someone else’s agenda. Thus, the Lond Island Medium  appeals to our culture – supernatural without restrictions.

Another strike against Biblical supernatural is the way it is aquired – through submission to Jesus Christ and the infilling of His Spirit. Our culture isn’t attracted to submission. It’s attracted to selfish gain. You don’t get selfish gain from God. You get gain, in the form of blessing, it’s just not for your own sake. Scripture is clear that following Jesus is taking up a cross and denying yourself. Can you live a life of power through submission to Christ? Absolutely. Will you receive glory for it? No. Will your spiritual thirst be satisfied? Yes.

The woman from John 4 came to the well and experienced living water. I’m not sure we will be able to say the same about the participants on Long Island Medium who will come thirsty to the well of worldly power.

photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.com