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The Rev. James Ellis III The Rev. James Ellis, III

The Rev. James Ellis III is Chaplain of Discipleship at Hope College in Holland, MI.

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The Favor of Our Lord

September 26, 2010

Dr. Ben Carson almost had me going to medical school! I have never aspired to become a doctor; a lawyer maybe. But, Dr. Carson is so passionate about God, and individuals' seriously developing their God-given talents in order to elevate others that I began pondering if perhaps even I might be molded into a world-class physician like him. All the same, in short order I reaffirmed that the world of practical theology, as one called to preach the Gospel, is my vocational cup of tea. Even so, though, I was grateful to have received inspiration and counsel by someone so gifted, and anointed with the favor of our Lord.

What a pleasure it was to attend the 143rd Opening Convocation at Howard University in Washington, DC recently where Dr. Carson delivered the address[1], and received an honorary doctorate degree (by the way, he has more than sixty). He is a consummate pediatrician, surgeon, and professor at John Hopkins Hospital/University in Baltimore, MD, as well as a best-selling author, and highly sought-after lecturer.

Following the convocation I chatted online about the experience with my buddy Dr. John Erwin, a brilliant cardiologist. We shared how revitalized, and moved to action that we have been over the years by Dr. Carson's ongoing testimony of deep, accessible faith[2], vibrant humility, and immense expertise. He added still more credence to this reflection during his speech: "And we must remember. No matter how successful you become. No matter how many degrees you have behind your name. Don't start rearranging them to make them spell 'God'." The fact that he is tremendously successful yet remains so humble and fervent regarding his call to Christian servant-leadership is wonderful.

It has been long noted that Galileo Galilei, the legendary astronomer, once referenced the words of Cardinal Cesare Baronio, who said, "The intention of Holy Scripture is to instruct us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go." Dr. Carson echoed this sentiment in an effort to bridge the gap between faith and science, championing the notion that they aren't mutually exclusive pursuits. As a devout believer, however, he also critiqued how oftentimes--due to a faulty understanding of political correctness--any public mention of God today, not to mention Jesus, can incite a firestorm of contempt, which is not only unfortunate but, depending on the context, bordering unconstitutional.

By far, though, the best parts of the lecture were Dr. Carson's stories, especially those recalling his childhood experiences in a single-parent family in inner-city Detroit, MI. Convinced that she had "two mighty smart boys"[3] who weren't giving school their best academic efforts, his mother forced the uninspired fifth grade Benjamin to memorize his times tables, considerably limited her sons' television consumption (no more than three programs per week), and required them to checkout two books from the public library weekly, and turn in a report to her. In his book Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, he recounts his reaction:

That rule sounded impossible. Two books? I had never read a whole book in my life, except those they made us read in school. I couldn't believe I could ever finish one whole book in a short week. But a day or two later found Curtis and me dragging our feet the seven blocks from home to the public library. We grumbled and complained, making the journey seem endless. But mother had spoken, and it didn't occur to either of us to disobey. The reason? We respected her. We knew she meant business and knew we'd better mind. But, most important, we loved her.[4]

As noble as his mother's disciplined policies were, what had my wife and I (and many others) wiping our eyes was that she was illiterate.

His mother couldn't read, nevertheless ensured that her children would, and above-average to boot. Isn't that phenomenal? Dr. Carson explained that it wasn't until he and his brother were much older that they learned of their mother's illiteracy. She tricked them by marking their book reports with squiggly lines, circles, and what they thought were corrective notes in the margins, giving the impression that she had critiqued the submission. They had just assumed that she had poor handwriting!

Dr. Caron's address was awe-inspiring (as are his other books[5]), and principally meaningful with the audience being Howard University, a historically black institution of higher learning that was established in 1867, and has produced (and continues to produce) outstanding students despite insufficient resources, unfair disadvantages. It is precisely because of faithful citizens--of this world and the one to come--like Dr. Carson and his mother that people the world over yearn to "Lift Every Voice and Sing."[6]

May we all learn to use our divinely ordained gifts to help others while kneeling in prayer with the palmist: "May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us--yes, establish the work of our hands."[7]


[1] For audio of Dr. Carson's address; http://www.howard.edu/newsroom/releases/2010/100924convocation-address.htm
[2] For text/audio of Dr. Carson's battle with prostate cancer; http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4633158
[3] Ben Carson, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990), 34.
[4] Ibid, 36-37.
[5] See Ben Carson, The Big Picture: Getting Perspective on What's Really Important in Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), Think Big: Unleashing Your Potential for Excellence (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), Take the Risk: Learning to Identify, Choose, and Live with Acceptable Risk (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007).
[6] Also known as "The Black National Anthem."
[7] Psalm 90:17.


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