Remember the Presidents’ Summit for America’s Future? A week and a half ago the eyes of the nation were fixed on Philadelphia. Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George Bush, Bill Clinton and Colin Powell gathered in the City of Brotherly Love to help volunteers save America’s youth.

A number of good things were accomplished by the Presidents’ Summit. One was the cleanup of an eight mile stretch of Germantown Avenue. I drove down Germantown Ave. a few weeks ago, took one look at all the graffiti on Marcus Hook Stadium and said, “That place could sure use a coat of paint!” The next thing I knew, George Bush was on TV holding a long-handled brush and rolling paint on the outside of the stadium. One wag observed that this was the first time in American history that both parties took part in the same cover-up. It was a much-needed cover-up. Anytime people show up in Philly to clean an eight mile stretch of anything, I’m all for it.

Another good thing to come out of the Presidents’ Summit was a lot of free publicity, and not just for the politicians. Tourism is one of our most important industries, and all those shots of Independence Hall ought to boost our summer season. Plus, it is always good to encourage people to give away their time to help others.

The good things to come out of the Presidents’ Summit are part of God’s common grace. There are two kinds of grace: saving grace and common grace. Common grace includes all the ordinary blessings God gives to all people everywhere. Jesus said God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteousand the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). Common grace is different from the saving grace God has shown his people through Jesus Christ. But it is still grace. Whenever any good thing happens in the world, God is to be praised for his common grace.

Yet the Presidents’ Summit was not without its flaws. For one thing, almost nothing was said about the family. The Summit had five goals for improving the lives of America’s children.

1. An Ongoing Relationship with a Caring Adult: Mentor, Tutor, Coach.

2. Safe Places and Structured Activity During Nonschool Hours to Learn and Grow.

3. A Healthy Start.

4. Marketable Skills through Effective Education.

5. An Opportunity to Give Back.

Notice anything missing? Those worthy goals cannot possibly be met outside the family. The best kind of “caring adults for ongoing relationships” are known as mothers and fathers. And the safest place “during nonschool hours to learn and grow” is called the home. Somehow, the Presidents’ Summit managed to avoid discussing the one thing that most needed to be discussed: the restoration of the family.

But the main problem with the Summit was that it was without spiritual foundation. Speaker after speaker told us to volunteer our time for the future of our youth because… because… well, because we’re Americans! That is nice as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go all that far, especially when one is trying to recruit volunteers. There are three kinds of jobs it is hard to get volunteers for: big jobs, costly jobs and dirty jobs. Unfortunately, most of the jobs that need to be done in our cities happen to be big, costly and dirty.

A week and a half ago the Presidents’ Summit was a major happening. There was all kinds of commotion on Independence Mall and people were talking about it down at the barber shop. Well, what about this week? How much did you hear about the Summit? How much volunteering did you do? The Presidents’ Summit was splashy enough to hold our attention for a day or two, but it is soon forgotten. It is easier to get people to volunteer for a day than it is to get them to serve for a lifetime, which is where the spiritual foundation comes in.

Actually, the Summit did sponsor one religious event. Last Sunday George Bush, Colin Powell and I attended a service at Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. (To tell the truth, those guys were sitting in the front row and I was sitting in the back row.) The service was called “Festival of Faith: Hope for Tomorrow” and it was sponsored by the National Council of Churches. It featured the very latest in post-modern worship. There was a Jewish Call to Worship, a Muslim Call to Prayer, a Unitarian testimony and a Dance Prayer for ancestors. You worship god your way, I’ll worship him mine. Of course, by trying to include everything the service ended up standing for nothing. It reminded me of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kgs. 18). Plenty of shouting and dancing; very little Spirit or truth (John 4: 24).

Even the “New Testament Texts Performed as Rap” turned out to be more rap than testament, which was sad, because true hope for our children can only rest on a solid spiritual foundation.

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work (1 Cor. 3:10-13).

Most work can’t stand up to that kind of scrutiny, even the work of well-meaning volunteers.

As a general rule, God does not refer to his own people as “volunteers.” Instead, he calls them “servants,” which means that working for God is not optional. If we had chosen God we could call ourselves volunteers. But God has chosen us to do good works in Christ. He has plenty of work to do right here in the city. If you are his servant you must be ready to volunteer.

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