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Believe in the potential of our fellow man
This Is the Day

Believe in the potential of our fellow man

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There are at least 29 cities in the country named in honor of him, with as many ships, airplanes, submarines, hills, villages and educational institutions as well bearing his name. Yet few people today know much of his contributions to our nation’s birth.

He was one of the unique characters in American history and was blessed with talents and insight to lead one to say he was far ahead of his time. Born into European royalty and wealth that few could ever imagine enjoying, he was nonetheless a believer in the common man and an avid proponent of democracy. Though not an American, he fought in our Revolutionary War for the United States — for free! He not only assisted Thomas Jefferson in writing our Declaration of Independence but also drafted France's the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, one of the most important pieces of international political literature. As a statesman, his royal connections and charisma made him most effective in securing recognition and support from the like of Louis XVI for our emerging little country, but his equally astute ability to observe and evaluate enabled him in avoiding capture and aiding Washington in planning the Battle of Yorktown, where British Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis was forced to surrender his troops, thus ending the war.

His name was Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roche Gilbert du Motier de Lafayette, better known simply as LaFayette, and another rather remarkable tidbit of history concerning this man is that on today’s date, July 31, 1776, at just the age of 19, he was made a major general in the Continental Army.

Reading his biographical information, the rare affirmation of the common man for someone raised in such opulence stands out over and again as a prime feature of his intellect. It was his idea of a political system based upon three branches of government, each gifted with checks and balances over the others. For all the human foibles that we each possess in spades, he saw in humankind the ability to affirm and correct one another.

That is no small insight.

This trait is quite similar to Jesus, who selected from the thousands who came to him to listen, be blessed, to be healed or whatever else, 12 of the most extraordinarily ordinary men. Even after choosing them, he was repeatedly exposed to their faults, misconception and failures. James and John maintained their prejudice against Samaritans, Thomas lacked faith and Peter, for all his bombastic brag, was no where to be seen when most needed.

Sounds a bit like us does it not?

The Bible does not gloss over the failures of the apostles but honestly reveals the whole story, including their defects and petty spats. As J.G. Greenhough wrote: “There was an abundance of chaff with the scanty grains of wheat which needed much winnowing; but he (Christ) was equal to the task. The germs of promise were there and in time yielded perfect fruit.”

Greenhough went on to say that Jesus believed in mankind as well as the power for us to become God’s instruments.

Eventually, all of the 12, except Judas, of course, would come to have an unshakable faith in him. But the overpowering characteristic of this relationship was that Jesus believed in them.

It is all too human for us to search for, discover and promote the airing (gossip) of others’ shortcomings, but the life of Christ teaches us that it is indeed divine to have faith in the potential of our imperfect fellow humans. There is an old adage that says, “Anyone can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the apples in a seed.”

God continues to exhibit that faith in man, women and children — and you and me — today.

Johnny A. Phillips is a retired minister and lives in Burke County. Contact him at

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