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Bedford, Texas, United States
Pastor of Woodland Heights Baptist Church in Bedford, Texas and former Professor of Old Testament. But mostly I am a husband of an amazing wife, father of gifted children, and servant of an AWESOME God.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

That Looks Nothing Like Where I Started

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:14-15, ESV)

Each week I place in the worship folder at my church a note highlighting the subject for that week's sermon and giving an overall illustration/application in order to get people thinking about the message before it even begins. Sometimes, however, in making the insert, my own views are challenged or changed. That was the case this week.

I usually introduce the note with a quote at the top of the page that I jump off from (similar to how I use the verse at the top of each blog post). While doing some research for this week's note, I learned some things about the quote I was going to use that spoke to me quite vividly and that took the note in a different direction than I had originally intended.

Here is the note:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing! 

For many people the above quote first came into their consciousness when John F. Kennedy spoke it in 1961, citing Irish statesman Edmund Burke as its originator. The quote is indeed a powerful statement of the ability of evil to infiltrate any part of our reality if we fail to respond when it first makes its appearance. That, in and of itself, illustrates much of what the message today focuses on. But there is another aspect of this quote that I find interesting and relevant to our discussion – that there is no evidence that Edmund Burke wrote it as it appears today.

The only quote of Burke’s that comes close to this statement is from a book he wrote calling for the organization of good men together to battle the presence of organizations who have more nefarious designs on the culture (1777). This quote reads, “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.” Over the years this statement was shortened, restated, and combined with another by John Stuart Mill to become the better known quote found above. By the early twentieth century the quote had taken its present form, attributed solely to Burke. By the middle of the twentieth century, even the respected reference work Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations said the saying originated with Burke.

What I find interesting and relevant about the citation is how different the end result is from the beginning and how the journey it went on to get there was virtually unnoticed because it was so gradual. Too many lives in shambles have taken a very similar path. I have encountered believers and unbelievers who find themselves in a really bad place and when asked how they got there, their response is, “I don’t know. I woke up one day and I was here.” Small poor choices, feelings of invulnerability, and not taking care of their own spiritual health all came together to gradually bring them to their present sorry state.

I find the whole process fascinating...I was writing a note about how ignoring sin can lead to bigger sin. My research revealed that the quote I was using had undergone a shift in appearance and even purpose through various slow changes in its content. This added knowledge then led to a shift in the direction my note was going and it ended up appearing very different than what I had in mind when I started. The pile-up of different examples in this journey of how little decisions and bits of information can lead to a big change caught my attention.  I came to be reminded that few things happen suddenly, most change is a gradual transformation - for good or for bad.

It is my prayer that we guard our hearts to avoid the slow path and little decisions that lead only to real damage taking place. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life...Proverbs 4:23, ESV.

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