2003 National Prayer Breakfast
Lesson #6, Sunday, 3/23/03 -- Larry Stroup
Semi-Final Highlights


Last week I started reporting the high points of the messages that we heard at the various NPB events.

Both of these were presented at the Wednesday night Congressional dinner.

Then I spent some time with some quotes from President Bush and some background about his testimony and about his giving up Jack Daniel's in exchange for Jesus.

We wrapped up by seeing how this effects his leadership style and the current decisions before him.

Today's Report:

This morning, I will pick up with this reporting from the presentations with the exceptional message after that of the President, by National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice.

When Condoleezza came to the podium, she seemed a little humbled, and said so -- understandably since she was following the President.  Her first comment was that she was not a clergyman, so to address this audience was a little daunting.  She explained that her father and grandfather were ministers, so she would have to depend on those genes that morning.  In his remarks, the President had remarked how proud her father, Reverend John Rice, must be of her.

Just to give you some background -- her name, Condoleezza comes from the Italian music notation con dolcezza, which means to play "with sweetness."  Given her current position and her credentials, it may fit, but her name today conjures up things more like poise, strength and conviction.  She is sweet, but by all accounts, she is no pushover.

She was born in 1954 in a segregated Birmingham Alabama to parents who taught music and science at an all-black high school.  Her father, John, pastored Birmingham's Westminster Presbyterian Church and was also Dean of Stillman College in Birmingham.  He later was vice chancellor of the University of Denver.  I assume that her mother teaching music had something to do with the choice of her name.   When she was three years old, she started lessons in classical piano, figure skating, ballet and French.   At one point in college, she had to choose between being a concert pianist, a professional skater or making a living.   She chose to focus on political science.  Today she is a concert quality pianist.  She recently accompanied cellist Yo Yo Mah on stage.  Precocious is a term that applied to her early.  By age eleven she was in the eighth grade; entered Denver University at age fifteen and by age 26 was an assistant professor at Stanford, where she went on to be provost at age 38.  While at Stanford, she also served under President Bush the First, as Soviet affairs advisor to the National Security Council staff.  She is considered to be the most influential National Security Advisor since Henry Kissinger back in the 1970s.  She left Stanford to join the current Bush team in 1999.

She claims that being deeply religious has helped her rise to the challenge since 9/11, and that means turning to prayer often.  When she needs guidance, she says she often turns to Romans 5, which simplified, says "Glory also in tribulation, because tribulation breeds perseverance and perseverance patience, and with patience comes hope.  And hope is never disappointed, because of faith in the glory of God."   She is quoted as saying, "When I am concerned about something, I figure out a plan of action, and then I give it to God.   I just ask to be carried through it.   God has never failed me yet."

Her testimony at the NPB was really about her spiritual journey from a Presbyterian minister's child, to a rapidly rising college professor.  As she entered college and stayed in academia, she strayed from her religious roots, as many people do.  Then one Sunday morning, when she should have been in church but was instead shopping for groceries in Lucky's there in Palo Alto, and as she walked down the aisle, a young black man approached her and asked, completely out of the blue, "Do you play the piano?"  She said she was startled by the question, how could he know that, but admitted that she did.  He told her that his church needed a pianist and asked her if she would come and play for them.   She agreed to do it.

Her comment was, "Doesn't God have a long arm that he could reach out to that spice aisle in Lucky's and pull me back to him?"

She told us that the church was a black Baptist Church, and the kind of music they played and sang there was nothing like what they played and sang back in the Presbyterian Churches she had grown up in. She found it difficult.  She had never played black gospel, she played Brahms.  She said that the pastor in the Baptist Church would be preaching and suddenly break into a song in some totally unknown key.  She was expected to jump in and catch up with him.  Frustrated, she called her mother for advice.  When she explained her challenge to her mother, who had played piano in black Baptist Churches before, her mother gave her this advice.  "Honey, when he starts singing, just start playing in the key of C and sooner or later everyone will come to you."

Condoleezza's statement to the audience that morning is "I think God is in the key of C.  He just sings in the key of C and sooner or later we all gradually come back to him."  She's right.  God is in the key of C and sooner or later, whether in the aisle at Lucky's or where ever we stray to, we as believers will sooner or later return to him.

The Bible says that rulers and authorities are placed there by God.

I understand that, but sometimes he does a better job than at other times.  Right now and right here, I am convinced that God has placed followers of Jesus in the right place at the right time.  I think he knows what he is doing.

I wonder why, when things are not going our way, when it seems that our world is falling around our ears, we then suddenly think that God is not in control.  If he knows what he is doing when we agree with him and we understand what he is doing, he also knows what he is doing when we do not understand.  It is our weakness, not his failure.

Her other theme was that, like the old slave hymn, "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen, Glory Halleluiah" --that as followers of Jesus, trouble and trials are a blessing.  But how we handle the trials determines if we are blessed or cursed.  If we manage through them and decide we did it, we have failed to learn.  If we get through them and find that God managed them, we grow, just like the Romans 5 passage says.  The result is patience and hope that does not fail.

When Condoleezza finished to a rousing standing ovation, I turned to Pat and to a fiend of mine and without hesitation made the statement, when she runs for president. I will be voting for her.  My friend Jim laughed and said, "I was about to interrupt you to say the same thing!"  She could be the first woman president and the first black president, and a great one.

At Our Table...

Before I leave the report from the National Prayer Breakfast itself, I want to describe who was at our table.   To my left were two members of the Parliament of Macedonia, a relatively new country created after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.   It is located north of current-day Greece.

One was a gentleman by the name of Marjan Gorcev, who spoke little English, but spoke Macedonian and Russian.   The other was a young woman who had been educated in the US, lived in Tempe as a high school exchange student, spoke fluent English and in addition to being a member of the Parliament there, was a Law Professor in Macedonia and taught in Russia as well.   We could converse with her, she could translate to her Macedonian associate and then he could translate to another gentleman at our table who spoke only Russian and was a member of Congress in Kyrgyzstan,

...which is another new country spun out of the old Soviet Union.  Kyrgyzstan is located north of Afghanistan and Pakistan.  It was formed in 1991.  So while this translated conversation was making its rounds, the visitor from Guatemala, who spoke no English, Russian or Macedonian, just sat there.  Periodically one of the other table members who spoke some Spanish could converse with her.  I do not know if she was a Congress member there or not.

We did have another member of the National Assembly of South Korea.  She spoke some English.   We also had a couple, one American and her husband, an Oriental.   We never determined who they were or from where.   At each table there was a stack of wireless headsets which could be set to any of ten different languages to hear a translation of what was being said from the head table.   So each of the people could hear a translation of the speakers as they made their presentations.

The Leadership Luncheon:

The speaker for this meeting of 3500 people in the International Ballroom, was Francis Collins.  He is the Director of the Human Genome Project for the National Institute of Health.  If the name Human Genome Project does not ring a bell to you, that is the fifteen-year long project to map the human DNA.  It is a multimillion, or billion dollar project funded by Congress to map the double helix string of DNA codes that exist in every human cell.  This project forms the platform on which scientists can start to (already have) identify genes related to certain diseases, or propensity to develop certain diseases.  These genes determine every aspect of our physical make up.  Our height, skin, size (partially, we are still what we eat) eye color, susceptibility to illnesses etc.  There are about three billion code sets in the human genome.  Dr. Collins announced to us that within three weeks of his presentation, the mapping would be complete, so as of now, it is probably complete.  If the list of the codes in a single DNA string were printed out on normal weight paper and in normal font and with normal page margins, the stack of paper would be taller than the Washington Monument.   This was a big project.

The level of science in the Human Genome Project is so high and complex, that I am sure I have probably confused some of the terms and four-letter codes involved, the code sets, the double helix formation and how all that ties with DNA and human genes.  It is well beyond my understanding or interest for that matter.  All I know it that it is the greatest breakthrough in human health ever made.   The potential of beyond comprehension in the identification of current health issues, and probably of future health issues, the treatment of these issues and in the potential prevention of them.

But the topic here is not the Human Genome Project, it is Francis Collins.  He is a celebrated international scientist with several Ph.D's.  After spending several years in science, he chose to go back to school and get his M.D..   While practicing medicine, after getting his M.D., he was struck by the difference between how some of his patients and their families dealt with illness and death, and how other patients did.   Some fell apart, emotionally and physically, when faced with serious illness or pending death while others dealt with it with sorrow and grieving, but managed it much better with less collateral damage.

From the bedside, he began to study this phenomenon.  He came to the conclusion that patients and families with strong faith could manage the stresses much better than those without a strong faith foundation.  But as a highly educated scientist and physician, he was too intelligent to believe in spiritual concepts.  Those were for the weaker minds to use as a crutch.  He shared the widely held belief in the intelligentsia, that religion is for the weak who need a mental and emotional crutch.  He was too intelligent and too educated to need that stuff.

And yet, it made a difference in his patients.  Why?

He approached it as a scientist.   He started researching and studying and reading.   In the research he came across the book by C.S. Lewis entitled "Mere Christianity."   C.S. Lewis was an intellectual who set out to prove scientifically that there was no God, that spiritual concepts were a crutch for weak minds.  But something happened during his proof.   He tripped over Jesus and came to the conclusion of his effort to prove that there is no God, with the conclusion that not only is there a God, but that God sent Jesus to us as a human to pay for our sins and to be our Savior.

As Francis Collins followed the C.S. Lewis research results, he too stumbled into Jesus.   Here is a man with great intellect, a man with high international scientific credentials, a man trained to depend on man, not God, who came to the conclusion that there is a God, and he came to earth in the man, Jesus of Nazareth.

However, he admitted that at that point, he believed in God and Jesus intellectually, but that it took that last step of faith before he realized that Jesus was his personal Savior and he accepted the fact that Francis Collins, Ph.D and M.D., depended on Jesus of Nazareth for his personal salvation.

The power of this testimony was overwhelming to the audience.  Most of the 3500 people there were government leaders, business leaders, professionals and other highly educated self-sufficient people, from a human perspective.  But few had the intellectual credentials that Francis Collins had.  Many there, and many of us here, in various ways, feel that we have to take care of things ourselves, that we are self sufficient.  But here was a man who has even more cause to think that he is smart enough to manage his life on his own, who came to understand that he needed Jesus to manage his life.

When I was talking about President Bush's spiritual journey, I made the comment that the best "come to Jesus" testimonials are from "professional" sinners -- people like Chuck Colson who was about as bad as you can get, a real pro sinner.   Remember that one writer had classified President Bush as only a semi-pro sinner, a hearty partier.  Another source of great "come to Jesus" testimonials is from a professional level intellectual.  The change from intellectual self-sufficiency to dependence on Jesus is dramatic and inspirational.

If a man like Francis Collins can come to Jesus, the rest of us mere morals can be reinforced in our belief.  If Jesus can find Francis Collins in spite of all that intellectual self-sufficiency, just like he found C.S. Lewis and others throughout history, then it is evident that God is in control.   Jesus said in John 6:37,   All that the Father gives Me will come to Me...

Many people has been led to Jesus through "Mere Christianity".   The Francis Collins testimonial was very strong to the audience that day.

Next week:

I will complete the testimonials from the Leadership Seminar and the Family dinner.   We will then jump back into Ephesians starting with chapter 5 verse 15.