God's Word for today

Monday, 25 February 2008

On my honour, I promise to do my best...

Yesterday I had the privilege of being asked by the Southern Districts Scout Association to conduct a service in commemoration of the birthday of Robert Baden-Powell, who founded the Scout Movement some 100 years ago.

Having been both a Cub and a Scout myself for 11 glorious years of my boyhood, preparing my message brought back some poignant memories. It was my promise to "... do my duty to God ..." way back in 1978 that probably sowed the seed for me to accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour some nine years later.

So I'd like to share the text of yesterday's message, which is based on James 2: 17 - 18, with you:

When I first joined this wonderful movement as a Cub some 30 years ago, I wanted to learn how to tie knots, build towers, and go camping.

Over the years I fulfilled these and other dreams. I tied knots so complicated that if my Akela was still alive, she’d still be trying to untie them. I discovered a way to make frapping turns so tight by wetting the ropes under strain that we needed to take a panga to them to get the poles loose.

My backside still bears the scars of the roof nail on CGR’s scout hall that broke my fall when I stepped back to admire the tower we had built – while standing on the top of the tower.

When camping, if there was a single thorn in the entire campsite, I’d stand on it. If there was a cow pat, I’d end up being dragged through it. My mother became an expert in washing every kind of dirt known to humankind out of my uniform, because it had to look pristine for the following week’s meeting.

Our cooking competitions taught us the value of adding spice to our food – green pepper, red pepper, yellow pepper, and when our parents had completed the judging, they were often in need of toilet pepper as well.

Eleven years – nearly 50 badges, so many camps that I’ve lost count, bumps, bruises, scrapes, Leaping Wolf, Springbok Scout, and Chief Scout’s Award. It was the most wonderful way in which to grow up.

But as I look back on those eleven wonderful years, I think of what the Scout Movement gave me. When I go caravanning, the finer points of tent-pitching still come in handy. A clove hitch is still one of the most useful knots around, especially when putting up a volleyball net made out of nylon rope. Knowledge of how to discern the prevailing winds is vital when it comes to positioning your camp in relation to the latrines.

And I still live up to my nickname of “Lightning” when putting in tent pegs. This has nothing to do with speed, mind you, but more to do with the fact that I can never hit the peg twice in the same place.

But Scouting gave me something far more valuable than that. It gave me a sense of honour. Of integrity. Of knowing that your “yes” is your “yes”, and your “no” is your “no”.

As you grow older and get married, forge a career, and make your way in life, you find that the most important thing is not how good you look, how much money you have, and how many degrees you earn. When it comes down to brass tacks, your honour, integrity, and relationship with God are the only things of real value.

And the foundation of this was the promise that I made in front of my fellow Scouts, before I put on a uniform and long before I learnt that “left over right, and right over left” formed a reef knot.

On my honour I promise that I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my Country
To help other people at all times
To obey the Scout Law.

Since the publication of
Scouting for Boys in 1908, all Scouts around the world have taken a Scout promise or oath to live up to ideals of the movement, and subscribed to a Scout Law. Typically, Scouts will make the three-fingered Scout Salute when reciting the promise.

The original 1908 text of the Scout Promise as written by Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, in his book “Scouting for Boys”, read as follows:

“Before he becomes a scout, a boy must take the scout's oath, thus:
On my honour I promise that –
· I will do my duty to God and the Queen.
· I will do my best to help others, whatever it costs me.
· I know the scout law, and will obey it.

Saying the Promise is one thing. Living it is another.

In James 2: 17-18, we read how faith without action is useless, or dead. The writer of this passage of Scripture goes on to say that you can’t have one without the other. For the Scout Promise to be real, it’s not enough to be able to recite the promise – we need to live it as well.

And that means obeying the Scout Law. Now many people may think that the Scout Law, just like the Ten Commandments that we read earlier, are ancient relics of a bygone age. Who honours their parents nowadays?

What about stealing? If the opportunity presents itself, why not take what you believe is rightfully yours?

And adultery? Let’s not even go there…

What about the Scout Law? “A Scout is a friend to animals”. A Scout smiles and whistles under all difficulties”. Oh, please! You are modern Scouts! This is 2008. Do these laws still have relevance?

As we celebrate 100 years of Scouting in South Africa, I believe that these laws are as relevant today as they were way back in 1908 when they first appeared in “Scouting for Boys”.

So let’s look at the original 10 Scout Laws, which except for some minor changes in wording, are still our Scout Law today. Let’s focus on what each of these laws mean.

1. A SCOUT'S HONOUR IS TO BE TRUSTED. If a scout says "On my honour it is so," that means it is so, just as if he had taken a most solemn oath. Similarly, if a scout officer says to a scout, "I trust you on your honour to do this," the scout is bound to carry out the order to the very best of his ability, and to let nothing interfere with his doing so. If a scout were to break his honour by telling a lie, or by not carrying out an order exactly when trusted on his honour to do so, he would cease to be a scout, and must hand over his scout badge and never be allowed to wear it again.

2. A SCOUT IS LOYAL to the King, and to his officers, and to his country, and to his employers. He must stick to them through thick and thin against anyone who is their enemy, or who even talks badly of them.

3. A SCOUT'S DUTY IS TO BE USEFUL AND TO HELP OTHERS. And he is to do his duty before anything else, even though he gives up his own pleasure, or comfort, or safety to do it. When in difficulty to know which of two things to do, he must ask himself, "Which is my duty?" that is, "Which is best for other people?" – and do that one. He must Be Prepared at any time to save life, or to help injured persons. And he must do a good turn to somebody every day.

4. A SCOUT IS A FRIEND TO ALL, AND A BROTHER TO EVERY OTHER SCOUT, NO MATTER TO WHAT SOCIAL CLASS THE OTHER BELONGS. If a scout meets another scout, even though a stranger to him, he must speak to him, and help him in any way that he can, either to carry out the duty he is then doing, or by giving him food, or, as far as possible, anything that he may be in want of. A scout must never be a SNOB. A snob is one who looks down upon another because he is poorer, or who is poor and resents another because he is rich. A scout accepts the other man as he finds him, and makes the best of him - "Kim," the boy scout, was called by the Indians "Little friend of all the world," and that is the name which every scout should earn for himself.

5. A SCOUT IS COURTEOUS: That is, he is polite to all – but especially to women and children and old people and invalids, cripples, etc. And he must not take any reward for being helpful or courteous.

6. A SCOUT IS A FRIEND TO ANIMALS. He should save them as far as possible from pain, and should not kill any animal unnecessarily, even if it is only a fly – for it is one of God's creatures.

7. A SCOUT OBEYS ORDERS of his patrol-leader, or scout master without question. Even if he gets an order he does not like, he must do as soldiers and sailors do, he must carry it out all the same because it is his duty; and after he has done it he can come and state any reasons against it: but he must carry out the order at once. That is discipline.

8. A SCOUT SMILES AND WHISTLES under all circumstances. When he gets an order he should obey it cheerily and readily, not in a slow, hang-dog sort of way. Scouts never grouse at hardships, nor whine at each other, nor swear when put out. When you just miss a train, or some one treads on your favourite corn – not that a scout ought to have such things as corns – or under any annoying circumstances, you should force yourself to smile at once, and then whistle a tune, and you will be all right. A scout goes about with a smile on and whistling. It cheers him and cheers other people, especially in time of danger, for he keeps it up then all the same. The punishment for swearing or bad language is for each offence a mug of cold water to be poured down the offender's sleeve by the other scouts.

9. A SCOUT IS THRIFTY, that is, he saves every penny he can, and puts it in the bank, so that he may have money to keep himself when out of work, and thus not make himself a burden to others; or that he may have money to give away to others when they need it.

These were written for the Scouts in the whole world, yet of course firstly focused on Scouting in the United Kingdom. As other groups started up Scouting organizations (often in other countries), each modified the laws, for instance 'loyal to the King' would be replaced by the equivalent text appropriate for each country.

I’m glad that apart from this minor change, South Africa has largely stuck to the original Scout laws that have stood the test of time.

During the years, Baden-Powell himself edited the text numerous times, notably in 1911 adding:

10. A SCOUT IS CLEAN IN THOUGHT, WORD AND DEED. Decent Scouts look down upon silly youths who talk dirt, and they do not let themselves give way to temptation, either to talk it or to do anything dirty. A Scout is pure, and clean-minded, and manly.

In our modern Movement which is open to both boys and girls, we get uncomfortable with this idea of “Scouts builds men”. You must however remember that when Scouts started back in 1908, it was a movement for boys.

But it’s important to know what “being a man” or “being a woman” means. It’s not a matter of age or stature – it’s about your character.

I’d like to summarise what Scouting can do for you by reading that famous poem, “If”, by Rudyard Kipling. It unfortunately also ends with the reference to “being a man”, but if one dwells on the character of the person, it can be applied equally to the ladies as well.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

In his final letter to the Scouts, Baden-Powell wrote:

“...I have had a most happy life and I want each one of you to have a happy life too. I believe that God put us in this jolly world to be happy and enjoy life.

Happiness does not come from being rich, nor merely being successful in your career, nor by self-indulgence. One step towards happiness is to make yourself healthy and strong while you are a boy, so that you can be useful and so you can enjoy life when you are a man.

Nature study will show you how full of beautiful and wonderful things God has made the world for you to enjoy. Be contented with what you have got and make the best of it. Look on the bright side of things instead of the gloomy one.

But the real way to get happiness is by giving out happiness to other people. Try and leave this world a little better than you found it and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate you have not wasted your time but have done your best.

'Be Prepared' in this way, to live happy and to die happy - stick to your Scout Promise always - even after you have ceased to be a boy - and God help you to do it”

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