Summarizing the Exemplars

For the past eight posts, I have focused attention on six men whom I have called exemplars. I offered summary biographies of J.C. Penney, John Wanamaker, Webb C. Ball, George Washington Carver, James J. Hill, and W. Clement Stone. In each brief biographical sketch, I emphasized certain personal characteristics that enabled them to achieve great things. Each of those people excelled in a different field or calling, from retail sales to railroad building and improvement to scientific experimentation to insurance sales and motivational speaking and writing. Yet, they all shared certain qualities that made their respective achievements possible.




Each of these men overcame seemingly insurmountable difficulties and adversities, things that would have prevented lesser men. Sometimes it was the loss or absence of parents at a young age. In other instances, it was poverty or lack of a formal education. Many of these men faced nay-sayers, skeptics, people who believed they could not succeed, people who sought government favors that would give them an advantage over their competitors.

Each of these men, however, also had a dream, or a vision, and a determination to do what was required to make their dreams reality. But they each determined that in the pursuit of his dream he would not violate his fellowman. Rather, he would serve his fellows, achieving his goals by helping others achieve what they needed or wanted. He would treat others as he wanted others to treat him.

Each of these men exhibited a strong work ethic. He was not afraid to sweat, to get his hands dirty, to work hard and put in long hours to further his plan to achieve his dream. He did not expect easy or quick success but was patient and persistent in pursuing his goals.

Each of these men also recognized that he needed the help of others–employees and partners–to bring his dream to fruition; therefore, he treated his associates well and sought to help them improve themselves. Whether those associates were retail sales clerks, line crewmen, newsboys, insurance agents, or students, each of these men sought to make others’ success and growth one of his major objectives, knowing that if that happened he, too, would succeed.

But perhaps most importantly, each of these men was a man of faith in God, some to a greater degree than others, but men of faith nonetheless. Each man realized that true wealth and success are not to be found in this life but in that which is to come. Although many of these men did achieve great wealth, they knew that there was more to life than material things. And they became philanthropists, giving to great causes that helped others. One–Carver–never gained wealth. Yet, he was truly a wealthy man and gave what he had–himself, his time, his knowledge.

Just as Jesus Christ taught His disciples when they argued about which of them would be considered the greatest in His kingdom, each of these exemplars knew that his ultimate success depended on his being a servant to others, not a lord over them, even though he was the boss. Christ said, “He that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve” (Luke 22:26). As Matthew recorded the incident, Christ said, “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matt. 23:11-12).

These characteristics are what made these men great exemplars. They are the qualities that made America great as a nation. They are the qualities that must be predominant in American society if America is to remain great. And they are the qualities that will always produce greatness of personal character.

An exemplar is someone whose life is worthy of being followed and imitated. Each of the men we surveyed over the past several weeks exhibited qualities worth developing and practicing: honesty, integrity, hard work, vision, faith, perseverance, determination, etc. May each of our lives reflect those same qualities. And may we become exemplars in our own right–whatever be our calling or field of endeavor–for someone else.

But wait! There’s more!

Jesus Christ was more than a mere exemplar or great teacher whom we should strive to emulate. He is God, the Savior who gave Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. And He offers Himself as such to every individual. And each individual must make a decision to accept or reject Him as Savior and Lord. No matter how many fine qualities of character one possesses, no matter how hard he works or how lofty his ideals and goals, if he has not faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord, he is not worthy of being followed. To follow such an one is to be deceived and disappointed in the most important part of life–the soul. Christ stated it so clearly and succinctly: “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:25-26)

The great question that everyone throughout history has had to answer–and the question that each of us today must answer–is the ages-old question, “What shall I do with Jesus?”

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson


One Man’s Death

Many people will write about a great man’s death today. They will tout the man’s greatness, what he allegedly accomplished, and further perpetuate the legend that has more or less been declare irrefutable. Some will emphasize the future plans that the man anticipated implementing and lament the undoing of those noble ends by his less principled, more radical supporters.

I’m referring, of course, to Abraham Lincoln and his assassination by John Wilkes Booth on this date in 1865. That act of murder was lamentable because Lincoln was human, because he was president of the United States, because Booth’s cowardly act was a morally and politically reprehensible act that did nothing to help the cause or recovery of the South, and because it actually was the spark that kindled into flame the smoldering wrath of Radical Republicanism against the South. That oppression remained until Federal troops were finally removed in 1876. (Many people do not realize that Union troops occupied much of the South for eleven years after the War Between the States was over.)

But this date in history is also noted for a death so significant that it makes Lincoln’s assassination pale in comparison. Today is called “Good Friday,” the date on which the Christian world notes the death of Jesus Christ.

As a child, I often wondered why it was called “Good Friday.” What was good about a man’s execution, especially that of a good man? As I have aged and matured in my thinking about and understanding of my faith, however, it has become more clear to me.

Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, lived approximately 30 years, working with Joseph, His human father, in his carpenter shop in Nazareth. He was baptized by John, His cousin (aka, the Baptist), whereupon He immediately began a period of ministry lasting approximately three and a half years. During that brief ministry, He preached and taught first the Twelve, His closest disciples, and then the multitudes. Of the Twelve, only one, Judas, failed to get His message.

Many people today rightly emphasize Christ’s teachings on love, compassion, selflessness, and forgiveness. But they choose to ignore the other things He taught, such as holy living and walking the talk and condemnation of wickedness in all its multitudinous forms.

They like to talk about His healing of the sick, His blessing of little children, and His patience with those who struggled with problems or lacked depth of understanding. But they dislike and therefore downplay or ignore His chasing of the moneychangers from the temple, His condemnation of hypocrisy, and His setting of an even higher moral standard. They love to discuss His interactions with people of beliefs different from His Own and God’s Word. But they reject His clear declaration of exclusivity, that He is the only way to eternal salvation: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).

Unlike the teachings of other mere humans, from whose statements we may pick and choose what we want to believe, we must accept or reject the teaching of Jesus Christ lock, stock, and barrel; it’s either all or none.

Why? Because Jesus Christ was not merely a good man or a great teacher. Rather, He is God. As Jesus, He is God come in the flesh. As Christ, He is Messiah, the Savior. We can’t accept just the earthly, physical manifestation; we must accept the totality of Who He is–God the Son. And we must respond to the fact that He, the sinless Son of God, died for mankind, the just for the unjust. We must either accept or reject that fact.

Good Friday is good because it marked the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the beginning of His heavenly ministry for all who believe on Him, accepting Him as their Savior from sin. Good Friday is good because He did not remain in the tomb, as the leaders of all other human religions have done. Rather, three days later, He arose, alive, from the dead. And shortly after that, He ascended into heaven. There, He ever lives to “prepare a place for [us]” (John 14:2) and to intercede with God the Father on our behalf (Heb. 7:25). And although He, as Jesus, is not on earth today, He sent a Comforter (John 14:16), an Intercessor (Rom. 8:26), and an Advocate (1 John 2:1), the Holy Spirit, to help those who believe in Him.

Without Good Friday, none of the rest of those events would have transpired. But Jesus Christ did die, for you and for me. And He offers us His gift of eternal life if only we’ll believe and accept it.

Jim Bishop wrote several good books, including The Day Lincoln Was Shot and The Day Kennedy Was Shot. He also wrote The Day Christ Died. Those three books are often portrayed side by side as though each of the deaths were of equal importance. They decidedly are not. No death was more important than that of Jesus Christ. His death holds eternal consequences for every individual who ever lived.

Yes, Good Friday is a good day of commemoration. But it is also a day of decision. It forces each of us to answer the question that Pilate asked just before the Crucifixion: “What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” The Jews yelled, “Crucify Him!” What is your response?

A.B. Simpson stated well the choice and its consequences in the refrain of a hymn that he wrote and published in 1905:

What will you do with Jesus?

Neutral you cannot be;

Someday your heart will be asking,

“What will He do with me?”