"Our verbal expressions are the most vivid exposé of what is in our heart."
~ Mr. Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States, during his teaching on James 1:22-27, 11/3/13
I remember being skeptical the first time I heard Jimmy Carter taught a Sunday school class at Maranatha Baptist Church, his home church in Plains, GA since leaving office in 1981. A former U.S. president serving as a Sunday school teacher in a teensy Southern town after leaving the most powerful elected office in the world? I imagined little more than a few appearances a year, minimal substance and a lot of barriers between congregants and him.
Never have I been more delighted to be wrong.
Forget your politics. Check your perceptions, prejudices and political persuasion at the door. Who you will meet is an articulate, compassionate, intelligent, humble, Godly statesman. Though I'm on constant guard not to be a respecter of people and putter on a pedestaler, I was taken aback by his warmth, candor, self-effacing-yet-strong demeanor, charm, kindness...and countenance. His face radiated from within, and thoughts of Moses after receiving the Ten Commandments and the transfiguration of Christ came to mind.
Seriously. His face shone like the sun.
In today's post I'm going to focus on his remarks and morning lesson; but I'll follow this with a broader view of our visit and what you can expect (with a lot more pictures!) should you decide to attend one of his classes. Please hear me at full volume--
I believe every American should make the pilgrimage to Plains, Georgia to hear Mr. Carter teach.
Never has there been this type of accessibility to our leader of the free world--non-political, not a $1,000 a plate fundraiser, simply an hour with a man who served as president of the United States.
And should you remain for the service following his lesson, you'll have opportunity for a photo with him and his wife, Rosalynn.
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Disclaimer: I scribbled as fast as I could during his lesson; it is my sincere hope I'm accurately relaying Mr. Carter's words, but please read them with a generous spirit, understanding I might've missed or misunderstood some things. NOTE: if I've used quotes, that likely means I'm sure I captured the words or sentence verbatim.)
Remark and information shared prior to teaching.
Mr. Carter is one of The Elders, an "independent group of global leaders who work together for peace and human rights" and founded in 2007 by Nelson Mandela. In a way that in no way diminished their work, he jokingly referred to the group as "political has-beens." Which I guess is technically accurate.
A key function of The Elders is their ability to go to places difficult (or impossible) for current presidents or world leaders to visit (or even talk to) due to political backlash.
One of his concerns expressed upon the advent of the new millennium was the growing disparity between rich and poor people; 98% of the increase in income went to the top 10% of the richest people.
Today, one of the world's greatest issues is the abuse of women and girls. My understanding is that he was referring to multiple issues (my notes aren't 100% clear, so please look at these as conversation points, not an exact representation of his words)
- the plague of abortion (160 million children never permitted to have life). In many countries, they're forced; sometimes due to gender--boys are desired over girls, and this has caused a dearth of brides in the countries that abort based on gender. Which leads to the next abuse...
- Human trafficking. Slavery today is greater than any other time in history; estimates of over 27 million being forced to work without pay. Girls are sold as brides, women and children are brutally prostituted against their will).
- Mr. Carter stated he was "bothered personally" about the abuse of women and girls, and he said he was completing writing a book this week that in some way will address the issue.
Sunday morning's scripture: James 1:22-27
- Some view book of James as incompatible with other new testament books.
- Martin Luther didn't like this book because of works works works.
- James was 1/2 brother to Jesus and patriarch of the early Christian church in Jerusalem.
- James was not an evangelist; he wasn't trying to convert anyone, he was talking to Christians.
- While Paul said love is the greatest thing (1 Corinthians 13), James said the life of faith leads to love, so what are you doing about it?
In consideration of how many wars the U.S. has been in since WWII, Mr. Carter observed, "We are Christians worshipping the Prince of Peace, living in the most warlike country." Something to ponder.
- Pride/self-satisfaction is the worst sin; it says I'm better than others; he shared many "we/they" categories (generalizing how many different ways we tend to categorize and create a hierarchy):
- smart/low IQ
- Jesus Christ tried to erase pride from human beings; the new testament says we are all equal in the eyes of God.
- James is an incisive person; in this passage he advises three things:
- Bridle tongue (see quote at top of page); "WHAT we say indicates WHO we are better than any other way." (Mr. Carter's words, my emphasis.)
- Give/reach out to people in need.
- this is where Mr. Carter pierced my heart and revealed who HE really is; he noted in scripture there's a distinction that marks the "lepers" (physical need), but he suggested also caring for those who don't look like they have need (i.e., those richer than us materially but who might be lonely, etc.).
- He gave several examples, and what struck me was his belief that small gestures to us might be huge gifts to others (i.e., calling a widow just to say, "I'mnot trying to interfere, just making sure you're ok.")
- Don't let the world seduce us, departing from our intimacy with Christ.
Mr. Carter ended his lesson by asking the question, "Why do we need this teaching?" He explained how we spend a lifetime trying to understand ourselves (How have I been shaped by my parents? By environment? Where I was born? By successes/failings? What are my strengths/weaknesses). James tells us to look inside our hearts and minds to ask what can I do as a Christian...? How can we live a superb life in the eyes of God and not to be satisfied with how we are?
I missed some of the next words, but I loved this next question--
How can I live an expansive, adventurous, unpredictable, liberated life?
- liberated of being jealous of others
- liberated as a means of satisfaction
- taking advantage of who God made me, being the best I can be (not as a means to salvation)
He ended with a profound statement, that if I've heard it, I've somehow forgotten:
"Jesus never asked anyone to worship him. He just said 'follow me'."
Please check back for more pictures and for helpful information in planning your trip to Jimmy Carter's Sunday school class at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains.