On May 4, 2023, our Board of Trustees met for our quarterly meeting. For months, God kept reminding me of Jeremiah. I finally sat down and penned the following that I felt I needed to share with the board and our staff. We are ready to run with the horses…
Run with the Horses…
Lean in and listen closely. I have something I want to tell you…
Truth be known…
Excellence is uncommon.
I believe it’s because excellence demands change.
Change….that dreaded and often disruptive word that interrupts our deeply embedded patterns and routines. It takes us out of our comfort zone. Immediately after the temptation in the desert, Jesus goes out to Galilee, and there he begins to preach. His initial preaching is summed up in one verse, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2)
For my purpose of exploring excellence this morning, I want to think more deeply about this theologically packed statement. What does repent mean? “Repent” (or metanoia in Greek) means to turn around, to change. Jesus talked about change from the very beginning of His ministry.
The truth is, change is hard, and Jesus knew that. It’s easy to see that people who are not willing to change are not willing to turn away from themselves. If I continue here on the line of truth-telling, what we’re in love with usually is not God. We’re in love with our way of thinking, our way of explaining, our way of doing. Jesus knew that the greatest way for human beings to protect themselves from God and the truth was to simply buy into some kind of cheap conventionalism and call it a tradition.
But the great traditions always call people on a journey of faith to keep changing. There is no way we can open up to all that God is asking of us. There is no way we can open to all we have to learn, all we have to experience unless we are willing to let go of the idols of yesterday and the idols of today.
If I have learned anything as a leader, it’s that change is not popular. Change stirs insecurities that lie just below the surface and calls those that are comfortable to step out towards something new, something unfamiliar. Interestingly enough, this is not a brand-new concept. It is an age-old challenge. You can trace it back to the Old Testament and prophets.
Recently, I studied the prophets and was inspired by the deep resolve, courage, and enduring conviction found in their hearts and lives, especially Jeremiah. It caused me to ponder time and time again on the intimate conversation between God and Jeremiah. It seems right at the moment when Jeremiah was ready to abandon his unique calling, he heard God strongly say,
“If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses?” (Jeremiah 12:5)
God is asking, What do you want, Jeremiah? What do you want to achieve? Greater riches? A Happier life? A longer life? Is it power over your neighbor that you are after? What do you want, Jeremiah!!
While continuing to think deeply about this passage, I stumbled across Eugene Peterson’s translation of God addressing Jeremiah and his ultimate response to God’s questions,
“Life is difficult, Jeremiah. Are you going to quit at the first wave of opposition? Are you going to live cautiously or courageously? I called you to live at your best, to pursue righteousness, and to sustain a drive toward excellence. It is easy to be neurotic. It is easier to relax in the embracing arms of the average.
Easier, but not better.
Easier but not more significant.
Easier but not more fulfilling.
I called you to a life of purpose far beyond what you think yourself capable of living and promised you adequate strength to fulfill your destiny.
Now at the first sign of difficulty, you are ready to quit.
If you are fatigued by this run-of-the-mill crowd of apathetic mediocrities, what will you do when the real race starts, the race with the swift and determined horses of excellence?
What is it that you really want, Jeremiah? Do you want to shuffle along with this crowd or run with the horses?
It is unlikely. I think that Jeremiah was spontaneous or quick in his reply to God’s question. The ecstatic ideals for a new life had been splattered with the world’s cynicism. The euphoric impetus of youthful enthusiasm no longer carried him. He weighed the options. He counted the cost. He tossed and tuned in hesitation. The response when it came was not verbal but biographical. His life became his answer,
“I’ll run with the Horses.”
At the same time I was studying Jeremiah, I ran across a letter written by A.T. Jamison in 1942 upon the occasion of Connie Maxwell’s 50th anniversary. As you may remember, our “Decade of Dreams’ plan begins with a review of history spotlighting a quote that underlines the fire and passion that burned in Dr. Jamison’s soul for doing everything possible to meet the needs of our children. This quote came four days before he passed away. He strongly instructed his colleagues, Smith and Murdoch, as they left his house the final time,
“Boys, don’t get in a rut!! If our children need something we don’t have, then go learn where to find it.”
So, it did not surprise me to find this passage from a letter written to Sybil Foster, Director Foster Home Department of New York Children’s Aid Society, that lays out even further Jamison’s deep, abiding desire for excellence. I quote him from that letter in 1942,
“The orphanage will shortly celebrate the close of its fiftieth year of activity. Having been opened in 1892, we should celebrate our jubilee in 1942. Is it not fitting time to raise the question as to whether we are doing all that we can do or merely what we care to do for dependent children?”
For about three years, there has been no substantial increase in receipts, nor has there been enlargement in any other respect. Are we willing for the Orphanage to remain static?
Is it, not a fitting time to raise the question as to whether we are entirely satisfied that Connie Maxwell Orphanage is fulfilling its just function?
Are we patting ourselves on the back in thinking we have an up-to-date institution when few of us actually know much about it?
Are we satisfied with the figures which show that it now requires 688 Baptists to support one child at Connie Maxwell Orphanage?
Are we satisfied that every dollar given to the Orphanage is wisely spent and used in such a way that it shall result in the most far-reaching good?
Are we satisfied to let some of our long-used and seriously deteriorating, outworn buildings stand in disrepair year after year?
Are we willing to follow the line of least resistance and take it for granted that it is a good institution, wisely managed, or should we not ask some of the most thoughtful and able exponents of child welfare in this country to point out our weaknesses?
Are we willing to accept criticism, advice, and suggestions from competent individuals who are divorced from and completely independent of the institution?
Should we enlarge our extramural activity and add more social workers to our field staff in order to find places for many destitute children who apply to us and receive no favorable attention?
Are we pursuing the wise course to receive normal children mainly, or should we make provision to give special attention to handicapped or exceptional classes?
Has the time come when we should consider changing the name to the Connie Maxwell Home, The Connie Maxwell Home for Children, or some other suitable name?
Are we taking for granted that Connie Maxwell Orphanage is doing first-class work because it happens to be a popular cause and stands high in the favor and esteem of the people?
Many children, formerly pupils at the orphanage, have not come to high success as all admit, but are we willing to study our failures in an honest way, guided by scientific helpers in order that we may make corrections for better future services?
Are we willing to take a leaf out of the book of the industrial, chemical, and mechanical organizations of the present day and plan for new techniques?
Many modern enterprises have skillful and highly salaried persons on their payroll, studying every detail of the business of the organization in order that high efficiency may be reached as failures are discovered.
These questions flow from the passionate heart and fiery spirit of a man who was committed to excellence! You can feel his intensity in challenging the status quo and calling himself and all those who surround him to a higher level of accountability in ministry.
A higher level of excellence….
Finally, I guess these thoughts are begging us to answer the question for today.
As we step forward to complete our third year of “A Decade of Dreams” and move towards the execution of many of our dreams for children in Jesus’ name…
What will our response be?
We should weigh the options. We should count the cost.
Will we shuffle along with the crowd, or will we run with the horses?
My reply, Connie Maxwell will…
“Run with the Horses!”