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Following Adoniram - Leadership Lessons

November 21, 2016
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PART I:  

Down through the ages Brown University has seen a host of their graduates leave an indelible mark on the people they come into contact with. Posterity will view many of these Brown graduates as men and women of renown, who will take their place in the annals of time as extraordinary visionaries and gifted leaders of the human race. These graduates have demonstrated an uncompromising determination for dramatically changing the world around them with the corresponding idealism, vision, and passion necessary to set them apart from most students and institutions of higher education and learning. Politicians, scholars, clergy, nonprofits, entrepreneurs, executives, and others have dedicated their lives to making a difference for those who follow. The backgrounds from which these graduates come from contain an overwhelming diversity of race, creed, color, thought, and liberty of conscience. It is within this sacred tradition of diversity at Brown that we peer into the world of fundamental Christianity and view the divine encounter and interconnectedness of two Brown graduates who are centuries removed from one another, but with a similar dream. The concern and desire of both of these graduates was to be yielded and willing instruments to help score Christ’s nature on mankind and to leave their Christian marker on everyone they touch. Yes, the hope and prayer of these Brown graduates was/is that everyone they come into contact with will repent and ask Christ to be their personal Lord and Savior. Today we want to focus on a Brown graduate and a man of unparalleled genius with enough ambition and spiritual insight to impact people all around the world for the cause of Christ, named Adoniram Judson. This graduate continues to cast a radiant beam of light (Christ) for others to follow. This is a story of how God has recently used Adoniram Judson in my life, all of these decades and centuries later.       

Leadership Lesson #1 – There is no lasting wisdom outside of the authority of the scriptures. Man’s conjectures, opinions, musings, and theoretical analysis of the “why” of human existence is meaningless outside of the grace of God and His creative blueprint. 

“For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.” (2 Corinthians 1:12)

Adoniram Judson was arguably one of the most gifted American missionaries ever to step foot on foreign lands. He was a child prodigy, who at age three was reading entire chapters of the Bible. His doting father was a well-known and respected clergyman; received his formal theological education and training from Yale; filled several Congregational pulpits around New England during Adoniram’s upbringing; all the while making sure that his son knew the extraordinarily high expectations that were being placed on him in the spiritual realm and someone that God could greatly use in the future. His godly mother contributed faithfully and energetically to the oversight of the quality of his education in his early childhood years. She was a homemaker, school administrator, thoughtful intellect, and disciplinarian who oversaw his rigorous studies to make sure he was living up to all of those high ministry expectations and beyond. Using his mother’s early home school educational training as a springboard, he soon flourished under the tutelage of other institutions of higher education, which included both the Master Dodge School and a school of navigation headed up by Captain Morton. In his early teens, Adoniram begin to study and master multiple languages to the delight of his father (Adoniram Sr.) and his mother (Abigail), while showing an unparalleled aptitude for problem solving and mathematical theory. He had the perfect home environment from which to grow and prosper in his spiritual leadership application.

Leadership Lesson #2 – To whom much is given, much is expected. Those words have never rung more true than in the case of Adoniram Judson. God abundantly blessed this man with numerous spiritual gifts, and expected him to use those gifts for His glory. Each one of us needs to be good stewards of the gifts that we have been endowed with. 

“As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” (1 Peter 4:10)

Both Mr. and Mrs. Judson were not shy about communicating how much they expected of Adoniram, either. They were sure to frequently tell him that God was going to use him in unimaginable ways. He should prepare himself to be used in ways similar to another Massachusetts native who lived in the local vicinity, named John Adams. Adams just happened to become President of the United States during Adoniram’s formative years. What an impact that must have made on his young and impressionable mind. Fortunately, Adoniram relished the intellectual stimulation associated with the demands of higher education and learning. He developed an insatiable appetite to be the best that he could be in his studies. He was also driven for notoriety and success. It was in this context, at the age of sixteen (six days after his sixteenth birthday) that he entered Brown University (name was changed to Brown shortly after his arrival to Providence, Rhode Island) to take both his intellectual pursuits and ambition out for a spin among his peers in what was considered one of the finest institutions of higher education in the country.

Leadership Lesson #3 – We must now further define what being good stewards of the manifold grace of God actually means. I believe that one of the ways that God manifests the Spirit in our lives is through our spiritual gifts. He gives us gifts and abilities that are supernatural and extraordinary in strength and impact that can’t be explained by earthly human reasoning or rationale. God gives us these gifts so that others may benefit and profit.  

“But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.”  (1 Corinthians 12:7)

Well, for those who have any knowledge of his Brown University experience, the case could be made that he experienced both the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” like many college students navigating their way as young adults. The thrill of victory came in the intellectual sphere when he entered Brown University as a sophomore (testing and placing out of his freshman year) and surrounded himself with a core group of friends who had many of the same talents and drive, but who could ultimately challenge him to think above and beyond what was ordinary, simplistic and customary. He ended up being the valedictorian at Brown, to the delight of his parents and himself. However, the agony of defeat came when his ambition outpaced his desire to serve a holy and righteous God. He got so caught up with his success and ambition to be someone larger than life and to make a legacy-leaving difference, that he lost the true magnet-north of his spiritual compass. Adoniram experienced a “season of life” while at Brown that contradicted and flew in the face of his Christian upbringing. He decided to flirt with the intellectual construct, stimulation, and rationalism of a deist worldview, while disavowing every doctrinal truth he had been taught by his parents from the Word of God. He wanted to be his own man, do his own thing, while charting a course in life and in society that would bring him fame, fortune, and notoriety. And of course, because of his high-minded thinking, he must be right! It was a period in his life (graduating from Brown at the ripe old age of 19) where he was trying to figure it all out. He wrote and published a couple of math textbooks, tried his hand at acting down in the New York City theatre scene, started a small school, and took on odd-jobs tutoring and mentoring to see him through. However, deep down inside, none of it was good enough. The things he was involved with were still not fulfilling and satisfying the desires and lusts of his heart. He wanted to be a person of prominence. Adoniram wanted to be a household name. Enter a longsuffering, merciful, and sovereign God.

Leadership Lesson #4 – God will often use periods in our youth as opportunities for spiritual growth. We stumble, fall, and then ask forgiveness for the error and sin of our way. God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We serve a forgiving and merciful God.

“Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness’ sake, O Lord.” (Psalm 25:7)

It was during this time period in Adoniram’s life when a couple of key significant events providentially occurred and set the course for his future. First, he experienced a “chance” meeting with his best friend from Brown (Jacob Eames of Belfast, Maine) while on his way back from his New York City acting tour. This meeting convicted and challenged him to the core about his spiritual beliefs and doctrine. While riding back through a small town in western Massachusetts from New York City, he decided to make a brief stay at an inn for some much needed rest. However, the inn was full with the exception of one half of a room with a very sick man. The inn keeper indicated that he could section off part of the room for him if Adoniram agreed that it was an acceptable accommodation. He took the room. When checking out of the room the next morning, he found out that the young man with whom he shared the room had passed away during the night. He also learned the young man’s identity: his best friend (Jacob Eames) while attending Brown. It was a devastating shock and a wakeup call. It was quite impossible for Adoniram to see this circumstance as a “chance” meeting. What was God trying to tell and show him through this event? This providential encounter sent his mind reeling about the eternal destiny of his deist friend. What if they had been wrong back at Brown about the principles and doctrine of deism? What if Jesus Christ alone was the only way to heaven? Second, Adoniram was introduced to a couple of Bible believing “fundamentalists” that were teaching at the Andover Theological Seminary. They could match wits with Adoniram on an equal basis, argument for argument, debate for debate. They encouraged him to come to Andover and work out his beliefs with no preconceived worldview. They also encouraged him to search the Scriptures and allow the Spirit of God to lead him in the paths that the Lord would have for him. He enrolled at Andover Theological Seminary at the age of twenty. He eventually made the decision to forsake his “deist” leanings and embrace his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It was during his time at Andover that he made this life-changing decision.

Leadership Lesson #5 – For those who are unsure about their spiritual and eternal destinies, they must come to a point where they call upon the name of the Savior.

“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13)

With the turmoil and confusion of his eternal and doctrinal paths now put to rest, he continued to struggle with all of the pride that drove both his ambition and heightened sense of self-worth. The thought that he (not Christ) could impact the world continued to drive him forward. It was also during his time at Andover that Adoniram found the perfect solution that would solve all of his earthly desires. He would enter the mission field as the first missionary from North America and go to the country of Burma where there was a desperate need to translate the Bible into the Burmese language, while solving all of the family obligations of serving the Lord and making a difference!  While it would not be the notoriety and fame that his family had in mind for him, it was such a noble and worthy spiritual cause that it would be impossible for them to present any justifiable argument against the heavenly pursuit.

Leadership Lesson #6 – God will put us through various circumstances of life to refine and mold us into His image. There will be a combination of trials, tribulations, sorrows, joys, love, and happiness as we live out our Christian faith in God’s creation.  We are to simply trust and obey.

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

The rest of Adoniram’s story is filled with inconceivable life events of both joy and heartbreak. The joyous occasions took place when new converts were slowly made, when concentrated periods of Bible translation into the Burmese language occurred, periods of excellent health existed, children were being born, along with being able to experience the joy of ministry with the Godly spouses that were given him. However, he also suffered much heartache, pain, and suffering while on the mission field in Burma and occasionally in the country of India. He lost two wives and several children to disease and sickness, was thrown into prison and tortured, suffered agonizing periods of poor health and depression, while making very little headway in establishing a missionary beachhead that would be sustainable in the country of Burma in the long-term. The spreading of the gospel message was a slow and arduous process as a result of the government’s unwillingness to let foreign missionaries gain any real inroads.

We can now look back in history and see how God was orchestrating the events in Burma in His timing, while exercising some of the important lessons of life that Adoniram needed for spiritual growth: mainly, his total reliance on the Lord for doing the work of missions and translating the language, while losing all notions of high-minded thinking and overvalued self-worth. Over time, the individual circumstances and life events were teaching him that God’s thoughts and ways were much higher than man’s thoughts and ways. In the end, God used Adoniram in unimaginable ways. He completed both the Burmese Bible translation along with a dictionary for the language. He also saw God make significant inroads in Burma that would have lasting spiritual impact for decades and centuries to come. God accomplished many wonderful and glorious things in Burma, however, it was all done on His timetable.  

Leadership Lesson #7 – The God of this universe has our best interests at heart. The way He thinks and the actions that He takes are sometimes beyond human understanding. We must always remember who He is and who we are. He is the Alpha and Omega. We are simply the dust of the earth. We are sinners saved by the grace of God. 

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:9

Note: All of the facts of these two articles about Adoniram Judson were taken from, "To the Golden Shore" by Courtney Anderson.


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