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Breaking Down the Walls Within


Governor George Deukmejian - by Permission

(This talk was given on April 21, 2000 at a Good Friday Prayer Breakfast in Long Beach, CA.  The material is included with the permission of former Governor Deukmejian, of California)

YMCA Good Friday Prayer Breakfast-Gov. Deukmejian

It is a genuine pleasure to be here with so many good friends to share this very special morning.  If this is a little too early for some of you, just remember the words of Robert Frost when he said, "The brain is a remarkable instrument.  It starts working the moment you get up in the morning – and it doesn’t quit until you get to the office!"

It is a genuine honor for me to participate in this Annual YMCA Good Friday tradition.   They have a similar tradition in Sacramento, only it is known as the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast.  It is the third of three noteworthy events that take place at the start of each New Year.  First, the Legislature returns to Sacramento.  Then the Governor submits his new budget – and after that, everyone starts praying for him!

In fact, they gave me my first prayer breakfast just 17 days after I took office.   Someone apparently thought I needed a lot of help right away!

As community leaders, I think we would do well to recall the time that the great abolitionist leader of the 19th century, Senator Charles Sumner, was asked to come to the aid of a certain constituent. But as he explained to his friend Julia Ward Howe, "Julia, I’ve become so busy that I can no longer concern myself with individuals."  And she replied, "That’s quite remarkable, Charles.   Even God hasn’t reach that stage yet."

Unfortunately, history tells us that many rulers and governments have neglected the rights and aspirations of the individual.  Even in America, we sometimes forget why our country was founded in the first place – to be the world’s garden of opportunity where individuals can grow and prosper.  A land where dreams, both humble and grand, can come true.  Yet, despite all the blessings of our modern society – the advances in health, science, communications and quality of life – sometimes in this ceaseless spiral of progress and change, those individual dreams get lost.

Every person has value.  Every individual is unique. Every child has dreams. God recognizes that. America was founded on that belief.  And we should never forget it.

What, after all, explains why America has become a beacon of hope, freedom and prosperity for all of mankind?  Some say it is our treasure chest of natural resources.  Others point to our productive economic system that rewards initiative, hard work and creativity.  Still others say it is that skillful blend of freedom and opportunity immortalized so eloquently in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

All these are precious blessings.  But I believe the real secret of our success is something else.  America has always had faith in the individual and American individuals have always had faith in God.

President Eisenhower may have put it best when he said, "Without God there could be no American way of life.  Recognition of the Supreme Being is first – the most basic expression in Americanism."

Indeed throughout our history – not only in churches, synagogues and meeting halls – but also in the waiting lines at Ellis Island, on wagon trains heading west, in prisoner of war camps, Americans have called upon God and asked for His blessings.   We have sought His strong, sure hand on our shoulders.

Today, we have gathered to recall that "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

We have no lengthy petition to present – although sometimes it is tempting to pray to win the lottery.  We have come together to give our thanks.  To ask His blessings.  To seek His strength.  To do His will.

We ask only that God grant us those gifts that are so important in our lives – the courage to make difficult decisions; the conviction to do what we believe is right; the confidence that we can create a better future for every single one of God’s unique children.

They tell the story about one of those children, a little girl who was given the assignment to memorize and recite the 23rd Psalm.  She didn’t do a very good job with her task, but in her own way, she spoke from the heart.  She said, "The Lord is my shepherd – and that’s all I want".

Well, I’m sure God answered her prayer, just has He answers the prayers of both the mightiest and weakest among us.

There is a verse in the Book of Acts that has universal application:  "In truth I have come to understand that God has no favorites, but in every nation he who loves God and acts with God-likeness is acceptable to God" (transliteration of Acts 17:26-27).

America’s leaders have always called on God and we thank God for that.  But so have the most humble.  Those new arrivals who for four hundred years have come to this continent with nothing but faith, virtue, integrity, perseverance, patience and godliness.

And here they discovered a simple truth that shines as brightly whether you are a president or a pauper, man or woman, black or white, Asian or Hispanic, or whether your family has been in America ten days or ten generations.  If you have faith in God and the freedom that is America, there’s just no limit to what you can accomplish for your family and your fellow man.

America is still perfecting that promise here in our own land.  We still have a ways to go before we can truly say that we are living up to our ideals.  But we are the freest, most tolerant, most open and most prosperous society on earth – and we have a profound responsibility to share our positive message with all peoples.   America’s beacon of hope must shine brightly enough for all to see, even in the darkest dungeons of the world.

Faith in God, and the freedom of the American dream – what a powerful combination.   The first, an ancient enduring covenant with our Maker.  The second, a bold, brash celebration of the human spirit, one that’s growing, changing and climbing new peaks every day.

As we begin this challenging new millennium in America, let us make God’s respect for the individual our own.  Let’s make equal opportunity more than just a slogan or a dream but a bold American reality.  And as community leaders, let us always remember that in order to be good public servants, we must be God’s servants as well.  If we adhere to His laws.  If we give thanks daily for His blessings.   If we seek to know and to do God’s will, then we can’t go wrong – because His strength will be our strength, and His love for us will be reflected in our love and respect for each other.

Thank you and God bless you.

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Ron Beckham, Pastor
Friday Study Ministries

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