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So headlines a New York Times column that has gone viral. Amy Krouse Rosenthal is dying of ovarian cancer. She has been married to “the most extraordinary man for 26 years” and planned on at least another twenty-six with him. Instead, she wrote a deeply moving essay about her husband in hopes that “the right person reads this, finds Jason, and another love story begins.”
Reading her tribute, I wanted to be as caring as Jason. If I were a wife, I would want to be as courageous as Amy.
We need more models of courageous caring today. What does it say about us that Logan, the bloody final installment in the “Wolverine” series, topped the weekend box office? Or that nudity at a Paris fashion show is making headlines? Or that Facebook is testing artificial intelligence tools as it tries to help curb the suicide epidemic?
In days like these, our culture can use the best models we can find. But the answer to our challenges isn’t so simple.
Stanford professor Albert Bandura is widely considered America’s greatest living psychologist. The recipient of sixteen honorary degrees, he is best known for pioneering “social cognitive theory.” In essence, Bandura believes that students learn by observing models and replicating their behavior. If imitation enables students to accomplish their goals, such success encourages them to perform similar behaviors. Over time, the successful student becomes a model for others and the process multiplies.
Prof. Bandura would agree that Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s article has been popular in large part because it inspires us to follow the example she and her husband have set. Imitating success is a popular self-improvement method in our secular culture. But I’m convinced that it’s not enough to take us where we need to go, for three reasons.
First, if we merely imitate our models without truly understanding their behavior, we will struggle to apply their example to different circumstances. What works in starting a church may not work in leading an established congregation. Unique challenges sometimes call for unique approaches.
Second, modeling assumes that we can do what our models do. What if their gifts are greater or at least different from ours? As a young pastor, I sometimes tried to preach like the great preachers I admired and was far more frustrated than fulfilled.
Third, modeling does not seem to include or encourage unique initiative. How would it explain Moses at the burning bush? John the Baptist in the wilderness? Peter at Pentecost?
I’ve taken you down this rather abstract road today to make a simple point: we need the unique power of the Spirit to become the unique individuals God intends us to be. Instead of trying to become someone else, ask God to make you all you can be today. Paradoxically, the more you become God’s best for you, the more you become like your Lord.
And the cry of the human heart will be met in you: “We wish to see Jesus” (John 12:21).
A note to preaching pastors: I will soon begin “Cultural Preaching,” an email resource that is only for preachers. My periodic emails will contain current news, facts, and cultural illustrations you can use in your sermons and teaching. No one else in your congregation will receive this content from us. If you would like to be on my distribution list, submit your request here identifying yourself as a preaching pastor.
Also, I will soon be announcing my online resource library containing sermons, Bible studies, articles, and essays. It will be available to pastors as well as the public, but Cultural Preaching will be available exclusively to preachers. Once your request has been received and verified, I will send you a confirmation. There is no cost, of course, and you can request to be removed from the distribution list at any time. Thank you for your ministry—know that it will be a privilege to partner with you in sharing God’s word with our world.