He chose the fifth chapter of Matthew.
When a U.S. president is sworn into office, typically he places his hand on the Bible. Many have done so with the book closed, but according to the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, George H. W. Bush wanted his inaugural Bible open. He rested his hand on the fifth chapter of Matthew — the Sermon on the Mount.
Why that passage?
Remember that the elder Bush defined his presidency with one beautiful phrase: A thousand points of light. Many mocked him at the time, confused by what it meant.
But Christians knew.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus famously says, “You are the light of the world ... let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father.” Matthew 5:14-16
Unfortunately, many of this country’s leaders have no foundation in the word of God. It hurts us.
Not so with our 41st president. Gary Smith in Morning Call wrote that Bush’s family worshiped together every morning. Bush’s parents read the Bible to their children daily, trying to make it relevant. And Time said as a boy Bush was known for his forgiveness and empathy. Classmates named him “Have Half” Bush for his determination to share everything.
Bush was barely 20 years old when his plane was shot down over the Pacific during World War II. When he saw a massive sub emerge from the ocean and come toward him, the combat pilot said, “Geez, I hope it’s one of ours.”
Bush believed God rescued him, saving him for a reason. After his rescue, Bush continued flying missions becoming a decorated war hero, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and two Gold stars.
But Bush’s greatest testing was yet to come. He and Barbara married in 1945. When their 3-year-old daughter died with leukemia in 1953, Bush said, “Our faith truly sustained us.”
Like Jesus, Bush hated discrimination. He started a United Negro College Fund on the Yale Campus, coached inner-city baseball, and invited a Jewish friend to play tennis on restricted courts.
As president, he began cabinet meetings with prayer and referred to the Bible 220 times in his remarks to the nation. In fact, according to Smith, no other U.S. president stated that America was “one nation under God” more than our 41st president.
“Without God’s help,” Bush said, “we can do nothing.”
Universally recognized as a humble man, Time said that hurt him. "Being a good president is not enough … the presidency is a performance art … (which) he never embraced.”
Last Friday night, Bush was at home when he spoke by phone to his namesake. The younger Bush said, “You have been a wonderful father.”
The senior Bush responded, “I love you, too.”
Those were George H. W. Bush’s last words.
Christmas is the season of light.
“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor …” Isaiah 9:6
“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light ...” Isaiah 9:2
If George H. W. Bush could have selected a time to die, he would have chosen now. Christmas. The season of light. In 2001, he wrote to journalist Carl Cannon saying that part of his happiness "still comes from trying to be … a true point of light.” This is his legacy.
Consider yours. How do you want to be remembered?
If you’ve fallen into anything shady, turn back now. The 42nd president would give anything for that chance. Don’t let that happen to you.
Take your family to church. Worship at home with them. Build traditions.
There’s a child in my church who touches my heart. Every Sunday I see him, his parents, and his grandfather all in one pew. Half-way thru the service, he’s super special, going down front and sitting on his daddy’s lap for the children’s sermon.
Carter will never know anything else. As far as he’s concerned, this is every three-year-old’s life.
Decide today. Right now. Like George H. W. Bush, choose Christ. Make Him central to your home, your family, your life.
Choose to be a true point of light.
The Rev. R. A. Mathews is a freelance faith columnist and the author of “Reaching to God: Great Truths from the Bible.” Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.