Perils of Politics: A Quint of Quotes

Fellow travelers,

Here is another “Quint of Quotes” from my collection.  Five quotes somewhat related to each other, but not exactly in agreement.  I just began reading a book I got for Christmas, Faithful Presence by Bill Haslam, which opens by describing how polarized and angry America has become. In this environment, he asks the question: “do [Christians] just give up on the public square as a place to solve problems?”  These quotes aren’t an answer to that question, but I hope you find them interesting and thought-provoking.  Enjoy!

“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” – Pericles, Greek statesman

“Only those will permit their patriotism to falsify history whose patriotism depends on history…A man who loves France for being military will palliate the army of 1870. But a man who loves France for being France will improve the army of 1870…The more transcendental is your patriotism, the more practical are your politics.” – G.K. Chesterton

“The less prudence with which others conduct their affairs, the greater the prudence with which we should conduct our own affairs” – Warren Buffett

The opening of the U.S. Constitution. Public Domain.

“I once carried on a brief correspondence with a man who objected to my interpretation of Romans 13. He said that all government was of the Devil and that Christians must not bow to the authority of ‘the powers that be.’ I pointed out to him that even his use of the United States mail service was an acceptance of governmental authority. The money he spent buying the paper and stamps also came from the ‘powers that be.’ For that matter, the very freedom he had to express himself was a right guaranteed by—the government!” – Warren Wiersbe

“When we are wrong, make us willing to change. And when we are right, make us easy to live with.” – Peter Marshal

Let Justice Roll: History for January 15

On January 15, 1929, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia.  A leader in the U.S. civil rights movement in the 1950’s and 60’s, he is the only non-president to have a national holiday in his name, celebrated on the 3rd Monday of every January. During this holiday, many will cite positives and negatives from King’s life and legacy, and here I will focus on one, specific positive.

His father and maternal grandfather had both been pastors of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, and he carried this religious heritage into his own studies and activism.  In pastor Tim Keller’s book “Making Sense of God” he writes that the strength of King’s arguments comes from his knowledge “that human rights have no power if they are simply created by a majority or imposed by judicial fiat. They have power only if they are really ‘there,’ existing on their own, dependent only on the fact that the wronged person before you making the claim against you is a human being.”[1]

King applied the teaching that “God created man in His own image” from Genesis 1:26-27 to argue that this image gives every person: “a uniqueness, it gives him worth, it gives him a dignity. And we must never forget this as a nation: there are no gradations in the image of God. Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God.”[2]

A mighty stream. Photo by Daniel J. Schwarz on Unsplash

In one of my favorite quotes from King, he cites the American institutions of democracy and its founding documents, but knows that even these must be rooted in religious truth to be effective: “One day the South will know that when these dis­in­her­ited chil­dren of God sat down at lunch coun­ters, they were in re­al­ity stand­ing up for what is best in the Amer­i­can dream and for the most sa­cred val­ues in our Ju­deo-Chris­t­ian her­itage, thereby bring­ing our na­tion back to those great wells of democ­racy which were dug deep by the found­ing fa­thers in their for­mu­la­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion and the De­c­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence.”[3]

Keller continues in his chapter titled “A Justice That Does Not Create Oppressors” that “Martin Luther King Jr. did not ask white America to make African Americans free to pursue rational self-interest, their own individual definitions of a fulfilling life. Rather, quoting Amos 5:24, he called them to not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’[4]  God provides, and demands, more than “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

While His justice and righteousness will only be made fully manifest in eternity, when we bring a bit of it into this world, we provide something available no other way to our neighbors, communities and beyond.  We should not be satisfied with anything less.

[1] Keller, Timothy.  Making Sense of God (2016).  P. 199.
[2] From a sermon King preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia on July 4, 1965.  Cited in Making Sense of God, P. 199.
[3] From “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, dated April 16, 1963.
[4] From King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC on August 28, 1963.  Cited in Making Sense of God, P. 199.

To Gain What We Cannot Lose: History for January 8

On January 6, 1956, a group of American missionaries made first contact with a local tribe in Ecuador, trying to reach them with the gospel.  Two days later, on this date, January 8, 1956, five of those missionaries – Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, Nate Saint and Roger Youderian – were speared to death by the very Auca tribe they spent years preparing to minister to. But their story was not over.

Jim Elliot and others had been ministering to the Quichua people in Ecuador since 1952, with many coming to faith in Jesus.  However, the nearby Aucas (now called Waodoni) were known to kill any outsiders that entered their area, including Quichua and also oil workers at a site nearby.  Jim “knew the only way to stop the Aucas from killing was to tell them about Jesus”[1] and came up with a plan to reach them.  Working with Nate Saint, a missionary supply pilot, they spent months trying to safely build goodwill with the Waodoni by lowering supplies to them from a plane and speaking friendly Waodoni phrases from a loudspeaker.

On January 6th, they talked to a Waodoni called George, thinking they had gained some trust and they set up a later meeting.  George, however, lied to them about his intentions, and ten members of the tribe were ready in ambush with spears on January 8th.  The unarmed missionaries had no chance.

Jim Elliot

Seeking vengeance or giving up might have been a reasonable response for the other missionaries, but in a miraculous example of forgiveness, persistent faith, and a heart for the lost, Elisabeth and Valerie Elliot (Jim’s wife and young daughter), and Rachel Saint (Nate’s sister) learned the local language and moved into the jungle to live with the Waodoni in 1958.  Elisabeth wrote about serving those who killed her husband: “The deepest things that I have learned in my own life have come from the deepest suffering. And out of the deepest waters and the hottest fires have come the deepest things I know about God.”  Today, the Waodoni are a friendly tribe and many are professing Christians.  Missionaries, including members of the Saint family, still live among them today.  Elisabeth died in 2015 at the age of 88, after a long career as missionary, author, speaker, and radio host.

Jim’s Apparent Failure is God’s Victory
In life, Jim Elliot was sometimes frustrated by his effort, once writing: “No fruit yet. Why is it that I’m so unproductive? I cannot recall leading more than one or two into the kingdom. Surely this is not the manifestation of the power of the Resurrection. I feel as Rachel, ‘Give me children, or else I die.’”[2]  While attending Wheaton College in Illinois in the 1940’s, Jim developed a desire to preach the gospel, including taking the train to Chicago and talking about Jesus with people at the train station, but with little response.

“He is no fool who gives what
he cannot keep to gain
that which he cannot lose.”

– Jim Elliot

But in death, Jim was used by God to inspire many other missionaries, including his own family, through whom God’s love for the lost went out and bore more eternal fruit than Jim may have ever imagined.  His story is a reminder that faithfulness is the Christian’s objective, and God provides the fruit.

Jim wrote what has become a familiar quote to many: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”  In Paradise, Jim, those affected by his ministry, and all other believers, will forever praise God for His steadfast love through the centuries.  Nothing we do for God now can look foolish from that perspective.  We have so much to gain that we cannot lose.

Soli Deo Gloria

Learn More:
This story was dramatized in the 2005 film End of the Spear and in the 2002 documentary Beyond the Gates of Splendor.  A website dedicated to Elisabeth Elliot’s life ( has more on this amazing history of God’s work.


General Washington Crosses the Delaware – History for December 25-26

General George Washington leading the Continental Army on small boats across the Delaware River in the middle of the freezing night, surrounded by chunks of ice, is a popular story and image from early American history.  Depicted famously by German-American artist Emanuel Leutze in the painting nearby, this desperate effort was a significant turning point in the war.  The daring crossing was an act of desperation and made necessary (and possible) by a long string of events in 1776.

It had not been a good year for Washington’s army, suffering a string of defeats at Brooklyn, Kips Bay, and White Plains.  With little hope or troops left, Washington retreated with much of his army across the Delaware around November 7th, expecting the British to soon cross and strike Philadelphia, taking full advantage of their momentum and Washington’s weakness.  On November 16, 2,837 Americans surrendered at Fort Washington, after General Washington trusted Nathaniel Greene’s report that the fort could be defended.[1]  Another defeat at Fort Lee left Washington with perhaps 3,500 troops after losses and desertions.[2]  On top of this, many troops’ commitments were due to expire in early December, reminiscent of when the army had massive turnover during the siege of Boston in 1775.

Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze. Public Domain.

Desperate to defend Philadelphia (where Congress had been held since the First Continental Congress in 1774), Washington expected General Lee to reinforce him soon with more troops.  However, Lee – effectively Washington’s second-in-command – had inexplicably spent the night of December 12th apart from his troops at a tavern.  Lee was ratted out and captured in a raid that took less than 15 minutes on the 13th.  Things looked bleak, but on the same day, Washington learned that Congress had relocated from Philadelphia to Baltimore for safety.

More importantly, continuing a string of possibly Providential, but certainly weather-assisted, events like a storm that allowed Washington to end the British siege of Boston with minimal bloodshed (see this post), and surprise fog that covered Washington’s overnight escape from Brooklyn (see this one), on December 13th, British General William Howe decided to cease military operations for the winter.[3]  Absent this decision, the war may have been over soon, with a British victory, but with this decision, we have the backdrop for the famous crossing of the Delaware.

Seeking opportunity for a decisive move, Washington kept his army as intact as he could manage until the time arrived.  With Christmas approaching and the British ceding the initiative, Washington now had about 6,000 troops and intelligence that about 2,000 Hessian mercenaries (the actual number was probably lower, around 1,500) were defending Trenton.  After the “Long Retreat,” as the string of defeats above came to be known, the Continental Army needed a victory, and got one.  Three separate groups were planned to cross the Delaware, but only Washington’s main force made it.  Regardless, Washington caught Hessian commander Johann Rall unprepared, in spite of warnings Rall received and disregarded.  After all, the sturdy British had closed down for the winter – why wouldn’t everyone do the same?

Just after 8am on December 26th, Washington’s force attacked, killing 21 Hessians, wounding 90, and capturing 900.  500 escaped over a bridge that was supposed to be defended by one of the two forces unable to make the crossing.[4]  Washington went on to another victory at Princeton on January 3, as the British were again caught by surprise, thinking the army was still in Trenton.[5]  The momentum had turned, with the central event being the daring crossing of the Delaware on Christmas night, in freezing weather surrounded by ice.

[1] McCullough, David.  1776  (2005).  P. 234.
[2] McCullough, David.  1776  (2005).  P. 249.
[3] McCullough, David.  1776  (2005).  P. 264-267.
[4] McCullough, David.  1776  (2005).  P. 270-281.
[5] McCullough, David.  1776  (2005).  P. 288.

How December 25 Became Christmas – Sunday Share from Andrew McGowan

Why is Christmas celebrated when it is?  Today’s Sunday Share is an article tracing the history of that decision, and also some background behind Christmas traditions.  Author Andrew McGowan notes that in contrast to some who believe Christmas just hijacked existing pagan holidays, “It’s not until the 12th century that we find the first suggestion that Jesus’ birth celebration was deliberately set at the time of pagan feasts.”  McGowan cites writings from the 2nd and 3rd centuries debating whether December 25th was actually the date of Christ’s birth.  However, McGowan also notes that Christmas was a later development than Easter, and that “most scholars would urge caution about extracting such a precise but incidental detail from a narrative whose focus is theological rather than calendrical.”  I’ve yet to find precise guidance from the Bible describing when, how, or even whether, to celebrate Christmas, but this article is a solid start in getting some facts straight and worth a read!