Fall Books PreviewThe Bully Pulpit is a riveting tale of two men and a magazine that changed the world. Telling the tale of Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and McClure’s Magazine, The Bully Pulpit transports the reader into a surprisingly pivotal time in American history, the dawn of the 20th century.

At the beginning of the 20th century, a pervasive culture of laissez faire had allowed corporations to run amuck and concentrate incredible wealth at the expense of the common man. Political parties were beholden to powerful corporations. Corporate trusts cornered the market on pivotal goods such as steel and beef and transportation such as railroads. A handful of men, the country’s first millionaires, held absolute sway.

The American economic and political systems were designed to help the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Many wanted reform, but they could not muster the courage to battle the headwinds needed to see the revolution of change begin. Enter Theodore Roosevelt. A hurricane of a man and a person almost unique in American history, Roosevelt took on the role of reformer and by sheer force of will helped America turn a critical corner in her storied journey.

The bulk of this book focuses on the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt and his chosen successor William Howard Taft and their transformation of the American way of life. Along the way the author traces a critical voice that helped crystallize the support of the American public at critical junctures: McClure’s magazine. Called “the golden age of journalism,” the author does a tremendous job recounting an easily forgotten aspect in the battle for modern America. McClure’s magazine galvanized public sentiment and gave Roosevelt and Taft the ammunition they needed to goad an unwilling legislature to pass much needed reform. It’s an amazing tale of the stars aligning for a few short years and meaningful reforms being passed in our country.

At 750 pages, this book is not for the faint of heart, yet it’s a solid read and wonderful reminiscence of the greatness that America can aspire to if she so chooses.

LESSONS LEARNED

1. The power of one person and a vision. I’ve read numerous books about Theodore Roosevelt and continue to be fascinated with him as a man. His drive, his force of will, his determination and buoyancy allowed him to shape the country to his will in a way rarely seen before or since. Can one person make a difference? Absolutely. History has proved this time and time again.

2. All good plans can go astray. Roosevelt had picked William Howard Taft (a close personal friend) as his chosen successor in the 1908 presidential election. Riding Roosevelt’s legacy, Taft easily sailed to victory but strayed from Roosevelt’s vision enough that Roosevelt himself challenged his good friend and successor for the 1912 Republican nomination.

3. Little moments make a big difference. The night of Roosevelt’s presidential victory in 1904, Roosevelt made a declaration that would come to haunt him for years. Fresh off his victory, he publicly vowed to not seek a third term (at that time still allowed). Roosevelt would later say that he would willingly chop off his arm if he could take back that pledge. The secret power behind Taft’s success in his career was his loving, supportive, and incredibly smart and savvy wife, Nellie Taft. She was his rock, his anchor. A few weeks into Taft’s presidency, Nellie Taft suffered a debilitating stroke and never fully recovered. Taft’s presidency was never the same.

4. There can be too much a good thing. This book beautifully captures the arc of Roosevelt’s rise and fall, from eager reformer to overzealous power hog one step away from crazy town. During his final presidential run as a third party candidate, Roosevelt delved deep into demagoguery, proposing to do away with the Supreme Court and putting all national issues up for a vote. In his mind that would work well, because he knew how to galvanize popular opinion like no one else, but it would have been a chaotic step for our country. As much as I admire Roosevelt, I’m glad he was defeated in his final presidential run. Too much power for too long had warped his sense of perspective, with serious possible harm for the country.

5. Roosevelt’s movement was ultimately successful. The progressive movement embodied by Roosevelt led to some incredible leaps forward that we take for granted today, including the 17th and 19th amendment to the Constitution: the direct election of senators and giving women the right to vote. Both more widely distributed power to the people and enabled the general public to have their say in their country’s future.

6. The progressive movement was the golden age of journalism. Never before had journalists been so able to capture and form the conscious of the country than during the years of Roosevelt’s presidency. They were men and women of high moral aptitude with an inner drive to educate the public, not just drive up sales. As others joined the bandwagon this type of journalism denigrated into the muckraking so decried by the President. But for a short span, journalism was a healthy conversation, not driven by deadlines or circulation figures, but driven by a common goal to better the country. Oh even for a hint of that in today’s media wars.

4.8.14In John 5 there’s a verse that puzzled me for years. One of the times Jesus entered Jerusalem, he encountered a man who had been an invalid for 38 years. What he asks this man almost seems insulting at first:  “When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’” (John 5:6). Was this a rhetorical question? Was Jesus mocking him? Why would this man not want to get better? Shouldn’t it be obvious?

But as I got older and I began to interact with more people in ministry, I realized the penetrating nature of this question. Sometimes people who are sick don’t want to get better. Sometimes people who need to make a change are unwilling to do so. You’ve lived through this. You have a family member. You have a close friend. You know they need to change. You’ve had an intervention where you’ve pleaded with them to get help for something. In a moment of clarity they’ve even admitted that they need to change. And yet they haven’t. They’re not ready to get well. They’re comfortable in their brokenness. It’s painful, but it’s what they know. They’re not ready to make a change.

Before you rehash old arguments and get angry at your family all over again, stop for a moment and ask yourself this same question: do you want to get well? What area in your life do you know you need to change? What habit or addiction has your family pleaded with you time and time again to change? In what area have you been unwilling to fully surrender to God and make a change?

Like the man who had lived with a debilitating condition for 38 years, Jesus still asks you, “Do you want to get well?”

Well, do you?

4.7.14As you drag into Monday, I know you’re tired, but is it a good kind of tired? Was your weekend energy spent on partying, video games, too much tv and too much alcohol? That’s not a good kind of tired. That’s a weekend of wasted opportunities mixed in with a dash of regret. Here’s a good kind of tired: spending your weekend doing something beneficial for someone else.

This past weekend we wore our church out, but it was a good kind of tired. We hosted our third annual Joy Prom, where our high school students throw a prom for the special needs community in our area. People drove in from three states to be here this year. It was an all week event getting ready, and many were up late Saturday night putting everything back together after the last dance ended.

There were countless hours and dollars devoted to this one event, to give a night of joy to an often overlooked group in our community. But here’s what’s amazing: our people loved it. They served with a smile on their face. They sacrificed their time and energy willingly. Sure, we were dragging a little Sunday morning. But we were a good kind of tired.

Growing up, a good weekend consisted of hanging out with my friends and finding ways to entertain myself. Looking back on this last weekend, I didn’t get to do much for me. We brought our baby girl home from the hospital on Saturday morning, I took my older two to an airshow in town, came back and got dressed for Joy Prom, and stayed up late Saturday helping clean the church.

Today I’ll be honest. I’m tired. But it’s a good kind of tired. It’s a weekend I’d do again in a heartbeat. Are you a good kind of tired today?

five red buttonBringing back and older post format. Here are links to five good stories I’ve read this week that I’ll pass onto you:

Read Fiction and Become a More Interesting Preacher – Here’s why I read a ton of fiction along with my non-fiction.

Twenty of the Most Influential Evangelicals in America – I’m assuming I’m #21, but numbers aren’t important.

Update From an Overweight Christian – I love Thom Rainer’s honesty as he shares his struggle to overcome obesity.

6 Things I Wish Someone Would Have Told My Church – Come on preacher preach!

Why Is Good Photography Expensive? – Explains why I pay so much of good photographs of my kids!

Project HopeI believe there are four basic questions, four basic needs that people have today. These aren’t the only ones out there, but these are four of the foundational questions we all ask:

Do I belong? Is there a place where I’m wanted, where I’m accepted, where I’m valued? Where I’m known and loved? That used to automatically be the family but that’s not a given anymore. People need to belong.

Can I change? People want to know if they can overcome their current circumstances. We know we’re messing things up. We know we need to get better. We desperately want our situation in life to improve. The first thing we usually think about is money, but it’s more than that. Can I change my broken relationships? Can I change my attitude? Can I overcome my economic situation and have a better quality of life? Many people look around them at their lot in life and say, “This isn’t good. This isn’t what I want. There must be more than this. Can I change?”

Do I matter? This is a deep need, one planted deep inside of us by God himself. We all want to know that our lives matter. That we’re here for a purpose. That we’re not just hurtling through space as a result of some cosmic accident. We all want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, to convince ourselves that our lives actually have purpose.

Can I be right with God? This is a need we all feel and sense throughout our lives. You don’t even need to be religious to have this need. The book of Ecclesiastes states that God has placed eternity in our hearts. We intuitively sense that there is some type of higher power out there, some Grand Designer behind this intricately complex universe. The question is: if we were created, who created us and why? What do we need to do to be right with our Creator? Now obviously we believe we know the answer from Scripture, but this is a need that isn’t just found in the church. People everywhere are trying to answer, “Can I be right with God?” and “How?”

QUESTION: Have you seen these four needs in your own life?

IMG_0324Seven years ago, the narrative of Robin and I’s marriage was that we were the young couple that couldn’t have kids. Then our oldest son Zeke was born (seven years ago today). Two and a half months later we would meet him for the first time and take him home to adopt him. And then we met Shepherd two years later. Another two years went by and then God blew our minds and we had our first natural born son, Lincoln.

Today we’re meeting our little girl Elle who will complete our family. Her full name is Emmanuelle, and she is a living testimony that God continues to be with us. With kid number four, I think we’ll have to give up that narrative as the couple who couldn’t have kids. I think God’s proved his point. He can make the miraculous happen. He has blessed time and time again, and we look forward with breathless anticipation to see what He does over the next seven years.

May you be able to see and appreciate the miracles God has worked in your lives!

Do I Belong?

April 1, 2014 — Leave a comment

Project HopeOne of four fundamental questions all humans ask is: do I belong? (Re)discover the amazing truth that in Jesus we have hope for a home. (Sunday message on March 30 at Mt Vernon Church).