The Habit of Courage

Fall Books PreviewI’m currently reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s most recent book, The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism and it’s fantastic so far. I read her Team of Rivals a few years back and I still contend that it’s one of the best books on leadership I’ve ever read. I’m only a few chapters in, but Goodwin has already intrigued me with her perspective on the importance of the relationship between Roosevelt and Taft. I’m really looking forward to this read.

Goodwin recounts the early years of both men: Taft’s upbringing as the son of a prominent attorney in Cincinnati and Roosevelt’s sickly childhood in Manhattan. Asthma and stomach problems forced Roosevelt (or “Teedie” as he was called) to frequent periods of bed rest as a child. Fearing that his son was becoming too frail and timid, Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., according to legend, pulled his young son aside and said, “Theodore, you have the mind but you have not the body, and without the help of the body the mind cannot go as far as it should. You must make your body. It is hard drudgery to make one’s body, but I know you will do it.” Young Teedie is purported to have responded with typically steely Roosevelt determination: “I’ll make my body.

Cue the Rocky Balboa workout montage.

Goodwin reports another anecdote along these same lines. As a young man, Roosevelt embarked on a stagecoach ride to Maine and was beleaguered by two older boys for the duration of the trip. When he made an attempt to fight back, Roosevelt came to the hapless conclusion that he was powerless to fend off even one of his attackers, much less both of them. Never again, Teddy vowed, prompting a workout regimen that forged the vibrant, lively, fearless version of Roosevelt that abides in our collective consciousness to this day.

Goodwin records Roosevelt’s own words on his character formation: “There were all kinds of things of which I was afraid at first, but by acting as if I was not afraid I gradually ceased to be afraid.” In modern parlance, fake it till you make it. Goodwin continues:

As a childhood friend observed, “by constantly forcing himself to do the difficult or even dangerous thing,” he was able to cultivate courage as “a matter of habit, in the sense of repeated effort and repeated exercise of will-power.”

I find that remark fascinating. For most of my life, I’ve considered courage to be a character trait — something you possess. Moreover, I’ve always considered courage to be something that only some people possess. Courageous people to courageous things because of their innate courage. Right?

But these comments from and about Roosevelt challenge that view. For Roosevelt, courage was a choice, something he regularly put into practice even when he didn’t feel it viscerally. The picture of Roosevelt in our mind’s eye — the Colonel, the Rough Rider, the picture of masculinity and fearlessness — was product of countless choices, choosing to be courageous, choosing to do the difficult thing, even in the face of great odds. If courage truly is a choice, then it dispels our notion of innate heroism possessed by only a select few. If courage is a choice, then it stands as a viable option for you and me.

Or to put it another way, per the comments about Roosevelt, courage is a habit, something to be cultivated through repeated effort. I like this way of thinking about courage, too, for there is much here for our consumption. If courage is a choice, then it can also become a habit, a default posture for us when facing adversity. If habits are developed practices, then in order to develop courage I need to repeatedly force myself outside of my comfort zone. This means we’ve had it backward all along. You don’t take risks because you’re courageous; you’re courageous because you take risks.

This illuminates the biblical mandate for God’s people to be strong and courageous, free from fear and alive by the promise of God’s presence (Joshua 1). Joshua repeatedly hears this command from the LORD throughout his career as he leads Israel to inhabit the Promised Land. But I think I understand more clearly the intention of these words: as a summons for God’s people to choose faithful courage over the temptation of fearful rationalization; and as a deepening cultivation of valor as formative habit in the life of faith.

Make courage a habit.

Take risks.

Choose courage over fear.

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The Ruin of Joseph

Tonight, the 87th annual Academy Awards will be held in Hollywood.

Expected viewership in this country will be in the tens of millions.

Meanwhile, half a world away, ISIL / ISIS continues to slaughter Christians at an alarming rate.

The older I get, the more I’m trying to see things from a spiritual perspective, to follow the words of Colossians 3 and to set my mind and heart on “things above” rather than things here on earth. I don’t want to come across as someone who has all of this mastered; far from it. I’m still struggling to be faithful to this command.

And I don’t have a particular axe to grind with regard to Hollywood. I could just as easily have written this post on Super Bowl Sunday and made the same point.

But I’ve come to believe that much of American culture — our politics, media, music, sports, etc. — is Satan’s tool to distract me from the spiritual reality of the kingdom of God. The world is in the throes of a great and cosmic spiritual struggle…and I’m being lulled to sleep by the siren song of frivolity. Just think about the percentage of conversations we have that are concerned with things that have absolutely no eternal significance. I have to wonder if the church in the United States isn’t getting dangerously close to the situation that Amos spoke out against in the 8th century BC. Amos, a down south shepherd from Tekoa, was called by God to preach a message of repentance in the northern kingdom of Israel.

Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory and stretch themselves out on their couches, and eat lambs from the midst of the stall, who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music, who drink wine in bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! Therefore they shall now be the first of those who go into exile, and the revelry of those who stretch themselves out shall pass away. (Amos 6:4-7)

Consider this post my attempt at working all of this out in my mind. Consider this my repentance for not being more grieved over the ruin of Joseph. According to NT scholar Clarence Jordan, the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:4 (Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,) carry a sense of grieving over the state of affairs in the world. Christ followers should be grieved over the many daily injustices that are committed against fellow believers. Moreover, we should mourn every injustice carried out by the forces of darkness and this grief should prompt us to respond in ways that bring comfort.

Today my prayers are with followers of Jesus around the world, particularly in places where they are being called to risk much for the sake of the Kingdom. May our Lord give you strength in your inner being and power through His Spirit out of the wellspring of his glorious riches (Eph. 3:16).

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Winter Wonderland

When you live in Alabama, this is about as “wintry” as it gets. Better than ice, I guess. Stay safe!

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Boundaries

So a certain polarizing film was released this weekend. Plenty of articles have been circulating on social media telling you why you shouldn’t see Fifty Shades of Grey. I agree with what I’ve read; based on what I know, I don’t think you should see it. But I also don’t think the cyber-sphere needs one more article addressing all of that, so that’s not where I’m going with this post.

But the whole craze surrounding Fifty Shades of Grey has prompted a line of questions I’d like to pose to my fellow Christians:

  • As a follower of Jesus, are there certain films or shows you won’t watch?
  • As a follower of Jesus, are there certain books you won’t read?
  • As a follower of Jesus, are there certain songs you won’t listen to?
  • As a follower of Jesus, are there certain video games you won’t play?

You get the idea.

We all have a relationship with certain types of media. This is undeniable and not necessarily a bad thing. After all, I like to think those leather-bound study Bibles are good forms of media. But the overarching media-related question for those of us who follow Jesus should be, “Where are the boundaries?” Does following Jesus have any direct bearing on my media consumption? If we find ourselves engaging certain forms of media each day, how can we reconcile this with Christ’s call that we take up our crosses daily as we seek to follow Him (Luke 9:23)? Does Jesus have anything to say about where the boundaries should be in my life?

I think many Christians suffer from perceived invincibility here. Deep down, we know that engagement with certain forms of media isn’t necessarily good for us, but we also falsely believe we can handle it. Perhaps this line of reasoning is common to you: “Yeah, I know so-and-so is violent or crass or worldly, but it’s just entertainment. I can handle it.” I see this kind of mindset particularly among Christians my age or younger. And I have to concede that it’s at least possible that some of us are able to “handle it.” But I’m afraid that when we do this, we turn a blind eye to the very real danger that many times we simply can’t handle it.

Which prompts another question for my fellow Christians: If you weren’t able to handle it, how would you know? What metric would you use? I think this is a question we need to be able to answer. Discernment here might help us more properly appropriate Christ-focused and Christ-centered boundaries in our lives.

Predictably, Fifty Shades of Grey is a box-office smash ($90 million and counting). It’s up to you to decide whether or not to see the film. But as followers of Jesus, I simply ask that we exercise discernment in establishing the kind of boundaries that help us to live as salt and light — as a contrast community in the world.

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A Good Day for a Bike Ride

Today was a good day for a bike ride with my constant adventure companion.

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An Afterschool Snack

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Outpouring of Love

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind for me. I first spent a week in Honduras visiting with the mission team of Mission UpReach, a church planting organization located in Santa Rosa in western Honduras. Mission UpReach has a God-sized goal: to plant one church in each of the 2,000+ villages surrounding Santa Rosa…in THIS generation. Some of our best friends have been serving to accomplish this mission and it was great to visit with them for a few days. (For more information, visit the Mission UpReach website.)

I spent last weekend speaking at a youth rally hosted by the Cheyenne Church of Christ and I had a blast! It’s been a few years since I’ve spoken exclusively to teens, but it’s like riding a bike; it all came back to me pretty quickly! Cheyenne has hosted this particular youth rally for at least the last 25 years. It’s probably been longer than that, but 25 years is as far back as anybody could remember. I was so blessed by the attitude and spirit of these teens who were passionate about living for Christ. I had a great time visiting with some new friends from Wyoming, Kansas, and Colorado.

In between these trips, I officiated my grandmother’s funeral. In fact, I received a phone call on my way to the airport at the end of my time in Honduras. It was Sunny; my grandmother passed away around midnight. I was really fortunate to share this news while I was in the presence of our good friends. They let me share my memories of my grandmother for most of the remainder of our ride.

These past few weeks, I’ve been blown away by the outpouring of love our family has received. We miss my Grandmother — she was a very special lady — but we have been so encouraged by the knowledge that we aren’t walking through this season of grief alone. A few years ago, after the death of Sunny’s father, our mail carrier actually stopped her route to ask us if we were okay. We weren’t exactly sure what she meant until she said, “Y’all have received so many cards over the past week; I just knew it had to be bad news.” The same has been true now as we’ve entered into grief once more. We’ve been overwhelmed with expressions of love and concern by our friends in Christ.

We’re so thankful for the relationships we enjoy in the body of Christ. God is so good and His faithful love endures forever. Tonight I’m praising Him for the way that love is expressed to us through so many godly people in our lives.

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