7 Men and the Secrets of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas

2020, book #17: “Perhaps even more important in the Bonhoeffer family was acting upon what one said one believed. One must not only think clearly but must prove one’s thoughts in action. “ — Eric Metaxas

Finished on March 9, 2020

As with the other book by Eric called 7 Women and the Secrets of Their Greatness, this book was given to me from the National Christian Foundation of South Florida through their LifeWork Leadership class. I took part in this alongside 6 other people in the business and leadership school at Palm Beach Atlantic University. Once a month, we would meet on a Thursday and have the opportunity to network, converse, and learn from business and faith leaders in South Florida.

George Washington was the first person that the book focused on and one that many of us are familiar with. He was a true leader. He pushed and persevered through adversity. The way that the author emphasized the decision George Washington made was particularly interesting to me. The fact that Washington did not strive to consolidate power in any way or expand his reign was particularly fascinating. It’s definitely tough to imagine being in such a position and then deciding that we would not maintain the potential power that we could have.

George Washington

Pg. 17, Many of us are familiar with the oft-quoted lines in Washington’s Farewell Address in 1796: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” But we’re likely less familiar with the rest of the passage, in which Washington warns that “reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” As “national morality” is at the heart of self-government, this is an especially important statement.

Pg. 24, Most of us can hardly fathom just how unusual Wahsington’s decision was. In rejecting power, General Washington became the first famous military leader in the history of the world to win a war and then voluntarily step down instead of seizing and consolidating power. In fact, Washington’s sworn enemy, George III of England, could scarcely believe his ears when he heard what Washington had decided to do. If the leader of the army that had defeated the most powerful military force on earth had indeed stepped down, as was being reported, George III declared that man would be “the greatest man in the world.”

William wasn’t someone I was incredibly familiar with previously. The mission that he was driven by was powerful and special. That’s usually what it takes. The world needs people who are going to be led by something so deep within them — those are the ones who change the world. It’s again, tough to imagine being in a situation where the cultural norms and the beliefs that people around him had were entirely contrary to his own. With the technology of today’s world, it’s increasingly easier to separate ourselves into a group that we are interested in and connected to.

William Wilberforce

Pg. 41, To his credit, Wilberforce was intellectually honest, and he didn’t shrink from robust debate. The back-and-forth between them continued across the Alps. Milner’s intellect and vast learning on the subject were easily able to dispatch most of the objections to the faith that Wilberforce raised and by the time their trip together had come to an end, Wilberforce was in the unpleasant and difficult spot of believing that he had been quite wrong in his previous views and that Milner had been right.

Wilberforce found to his significant distress that he had come to believe with his whole mind that what he had been sure was false was in fact true: the God of the Bible existed, Jesus existed in history and was the promised Messiah, and the Scriptures were not silly old myths but truth itself. For someone of his social standing and prestige, he was in a curious and uncomfortable position.

Pg. 46, For the first time in his life, Wilberforce saw the world through God’s eyes. But he was living in a culture where almost no one saw things this way. So the task that lay ahead of him was impossible.

Pg. 53, Wilberforce understood that he himself had been saved by grace, and he was not about to pretend to have moral superiority because he disapproved of another’s moral or political views. He would show others grace as he had been shown grace, and he would work with them, if possible, toward some common and noble purpose, such as abolishing the slave trade.

God-controlled. Talk about complete submission and ultimate humility. He had the opportunity to win; the opportunity to win something that he, and his country, had dreamt about for years and years. Yet, he remained obedient. Yet, he did as God directed him to and remained obedient. Wow. I admire this oh so much. It’s a life that many of us strive towards but can never bring to fruition.

Eric Liddell

Pg. 63, The strength he felt within himself from the sure knowledge of God’s love and support. Of how he never questioned anything that happened either to himself or to others. He didn’t need explanations from God. He simply believed in Him and accepted whatever came.

Pg. 67, They felt he had betrayed them. To bow out of the 100 meter at this point was taking things too far. What was it but insanity? As for his chances in the 400 meter, Liddell was a world-class sprinter, not a world-class quartermiller. It was all an awful mess, but everyone assumed the young man eventually would come to his senses.

But Eric had made up his mind. More important, he felt that he had God’s mind on the subject, and that was all that mattered. Eric would obey God, and God would sort out the details of who won what medal. Even if he faced a lifetime of calumny and ignominy for his decision, his desire was to glorify God and to obey God, and the results in these Olympics and in his future life were in God’s hands.

Pg. 71, Few people remember that the 100-meter race was not the only race from which Eric dropped out because it would have required his participation on a Sunday. He also gave up running in the 4x100-meter relay and the 4 x 400-meter relay races. When those events were being run on the following Sunday, July 13, Liddell was nowhere near the Olympic stadium. He was in the pulpit at the Scots Kirk in Paris, preaching to a large and admiring audience.

Pg. 82, No matter how busy he was, Eric never neglected his daily time with God. Each morning, Eric and his friend Joe Cotterill woke early and quietly pursued their devotions together by the light of a peanut-oil lamp before beginning a long day of work.

Pg. 85, Eric’s friend A.P. Cullen, who had known Eric most of his life, summed up his friend’s life in a camp memorial service on March 3, 1945:

“He was literally God-controlled, in his thoughts, judgements, actions, words to an extent I have never seen surpassed, and rarely seen equalled. Every morning he rose early to pray and read the Bible in silence: talking and listening to God, pondering the day ahead and often smiling as if at a private joke.

Again, somebody who lived out the purpose that God placed over their life. Before you were formed in the womb, God knew you. As with Dietrich, many times I find that we will need to spend a great deal of time exploring our inner being and what is on our hearts. There are certain things that we will be drawn towards and many others that we will be repelled from. Where does God want us to focus and how do we know that the goals that we have are truly from God?

As Dietrich did, we must understand what God’s Word says. If we don’t know what God’s Word is, how can we know if we are aligned with what God has created us for in this life?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Pg. 92, Perhaps even more important in the Bonhoeffer family was acting upon what one said one believed. One must not only think clearly but must prove one’s thoughts in action. If one was unprepared to live out what one claimed to believe, perhaps one didn’t believe what one claimed after all! So it was from an early age that Dietrich understood that ideas were never mere ideas but the foundations upon which one built one’s actions and ultimately one’s life. Ideas and beliefs must be tried and tested because one’s life might depend on them. This would hold true in the worlds of science and theology alike.

Pg. 96, Bonhoeffer earned his PhD at the startlingly young age of twenty-one. In his postgraduate work, the question he was asking and answering on a high theological and academic level was the same one that had entered his head on that Palm Sunday in Rome: What is the church?

P.g 97, For perhaps the first time in his life, Bonhoeffer seemed to link the idea of having deep faith in Jesus with taking political and social action. He always knew that real faith in Jesus must lead to action, not just to philosophical and theological thinking; it had to manifest itself in one’s life. But the profound faith of the African Americans in New York, and their struggle for equality, helped him see this in a new way.

Pg. 106, When Bonhoeffer arrived in New York (in 1939), the uneasiness did not lift. Indeed, it intensified. He felt terribly lonely and out of place. … In the end he really believed that God wanted him to go back, to stand with his people, come what may. He knew that danger and possibly death lay ahead, but he went nonetheless. Bonhoeffer left New York in early July, only twenty-six days after his arrival.

To understand what he would do, we need to understand that Bonhoeffer’s family had been involved in the conspiracy against Hitler for years. They were already having secret conversations about what to do about Hitler in early 1933, just after Hitler had become chancellor. These conversations had continued throughout the decade as Hitler consolidated his power. The Bonhoeffers were exceedingly well connected in elite Berlin circles, and they were also close to a number of the key players in what would emerge as a wide-spread conspiracy against Hitler. During these years, Dietrich was involved in these conversations, often providing moral support to the conspirators and giving them solid theological reasons to fuel their involvement in their dangerous conspiracy against the German head of state.

Pg. 110, Most people, on hearing of Bonhoeffer’s death, regard it as a sad and tragic ending. But if we stop there, we miss the larger and more important reality. We miss precisely what Bonhoeffer lived his whole life to illustrate and what he most desperately wanted each of us to realize: that anyone who pays a price or who suffers for obeying God’s will is worthy of our celebration, not our pity. And if someone goes to his death as a result of obeying God’s will, this is even more true.

Actions speak, words whisper. Jackie wasn’t known for being a huge talker but rather someone who was passionate and honest. He worked and let the results be his noise. He spent time not only silencing the naysayers but also turning them into fans. It’s crazy what is possible if we stay consistent and focused on our craft.

Jackie Robinson

Pg. 124, Perhaps even more important, Rickey saw that Robinson had plenty of experience playing with white players and that — like Rickey — he was a serious Bible-believing Christian with a strong moral character. In the struggle that lay ahead, these characteristics would be crucial.

Pg. 130, Throughout that summer, Jackie showed himself to be a man of truly rare character. Anyone with eyes to see could see that Jackie’s not fighting back against such filth and injustice was as heroic an accomplishment as anything the sports would had ever witnessed. And if that wasn’t enough, his performance on the field continued to stagger the naysayers. That first season, he was among the very best players — if not the best player — in the now-integrated minor league. His batting average was .349, a team record, and he won the league’s batting crown, the first Montreal player ever to do so. With Jackie’s help, the Royals that season won one hundred games, the most in team history, and they won the pennant by a stunning eighteen and a half games. In every way, Jackie Robinson had magnificently vindicated Branch Rickey’s historic decision.

When everything crumbles, where do you turn? For John Paul, it was always God. Circumstances are never too big for us — when we are with God. The idea of taking a traumatic or incredibly challenging experience and turning it for good is something that most of us struggle with. The most successful people generally can do this very very well.

Pope John Paul II

Pg. 143, His brother’s death forced him to grow up quickly, and without question, it drove him closer to God. The quiet, devout boy now became even more devout, spending more of his time in church and in prayer.

Pg. 157, His friend Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz recalls, “He thanked God not only for saving his life but also for allowing him to join the community of the sick who were suffering in the hospital.” It was a strange thing to be thankful for, unless one took seriously the words of the Bible about giving thanks in all circumstances, and took seriously the idea of identifying with the weak as Christ had. But of course he did.

“I can work for him in prison as well as out,” is one of the most humbling statements I have ever read. We need to be reminded that no matter where we are or what we are doing, we can glorify God and bring honor to Him. This life on earth is not about us nor is it for our glory.

Charles W. Colson

Pg. 176, But as a new Christian, Chuck felt deeply uncomfortable with the thought of lying, even to save his own skin. He was no longer a man of mere pragmatism. He believed he had to honor God with everything he said and did, to the best of his abilities. Stating that he had done something he had not actually done seemed wrong.

Pg. 178, After the sentencing, Chuck had to face the media on the courthouse steps. What he said there was not what the assembled members of the Fourth Estate were expecting. It was not what anyone was expecting to hear. In fact, what he said was as staggering as the harsh sentence. “What happened in court today,” Chuck said, “was the court’s will and the Lord’s will. I have committed my life to Jesus Christ and I can work for him in prison as well as out.” What Chuck said was quite true, but he didn’t know at the time that this extraordinary statement would prove to be prophetic.

I gave this book a 4/5

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