Right or Wrong?

April 6, 2021

Most people would say that choosing between right and wrong is simple, straight-forward, and binary (it is either right or wrong, no in-between). While this concept works for many situations, life is actually a bit more complex than this and some decisions don’t fall neatly into one or the other.

This is not to say that I advocate ‘gray decisions’, or compromises of character or deceit. I only point out that our simplistic view of deciding right and wrong is many times more complex than we give it credit for. Maybe an example will help serve to illustrate my point…

Imagine that you are traveling down the road and come across a squirrel (or any other animal), that has been hit by a car and mortally wounded. The squirrel, however, is not dead but still alive. You stop your car and ponder what should you do? You have a few basic choices:

  1. Get back in your car and hope things turn out for the squirrel. After all, it is not your responsibility and it will either survive or die.
  2. Try to care for the squirrel in the hope that you can nurse it back to health, somehow.
  3. Kill it, and put it out of its misery, as there is little hope of recovery.

As you can tell right away, there is no real right or wrong decision here. There is a judgment that must be made based on your best experience and conscience. Killing the squirrel may be the right thing to do, but you may have reservations about killing a living thing. Trying to nurse the squirrel back to health may also seem the way to go, but if it is mortally wounded it will probably suffer and die anyway. Driving away is always an option, as you might be able to forget about it, and move on with your life. After all, there was really nothing you could have done, was there?

Why do I bring this up? I bring this up because we are faced with many decisions in life that fail to fall in the neat categories of “right” and “wrong”. They are typically hard decisions, ones with no clear answers or precedence. Do I put my ailing mother into a nursing facility? Do I take my father off life support? Do I pay down my debts now, or do I save my money for a rainy day? Do I invest my money in a new business, or do I put it away for my child’s college? Do I keep driving my car, and pay repair bills, or is it time to go into debt and buy a newer one? Do I chance that my roof will last another year, or should I go ahead and spend the money now?

While some questions might be answered through knowledge or experience, there are clearly some that defy any kind of clear “right” or “wrong” categorization. Life is full of these kinds of questions, but amazingly we mostly refuse to acknowledge they exist.

Interestingly, these types of decisions were not new to Jesus, who had to make many choices where the answers were not clear-cut. Of course, Jesus did not do anything wrong, but in many cases it was not clear to those around Him if His decisions were the right ones. When Jesus was 12 years old he wandered off from the caravan, and spent several days in the temple talking to the doctors of the law, while his parents were in despair looking for Him. Was this right?

When Jesus heard that his friend Lazarus was sick, he stayed where He was for two more days before making the journey. During that time His friend died, and there was grieving and lamentation over his death. We know that Jesus later brought Lazarus back from the dead, but what about the grieving sisters and relatives? Was this right?

These examples show us clearly that sometimes the right decisions are not always the pleasant ones. In fact, at the time they sometimes seem like the wrong ones.

So, what do we gain from this? At least a few things:

  1. Not all decisions are clear-cut and fall into nice “right” and “wrong” categories
  2. Sometimes the “right” decision is not always the pleasant one
  3. We need God’s help in making the right decisions, as it is not always clear which choice is the right one

Little Things

September 24, 2020

Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve made a posting. It is now Sep 2020 and what a year we have had. The only other time I can remember that has been even closely as chaotic as this year was back in 1968.

But, I don’t want to use this post to talk about ‘big things’. I want to look at ‘little things’. You know, the things that make up everyday life. The things that don’t seem to be important. The ‘trivial’ things.

The real mystery is that these ‘trivial things’ may be the most important things we do in this lifetime.

By way of example I use the following true story.

Back in the early 1990’s I was going to Taylor’s Bookstore to buy a technical book. As I got to the store I could tell buying a book was going to be a problem as there was a line a city block long, waiting to get in. I went over and asked someone what was going on. He said, “Margaret Thatcher is signing her book.” I said, “THE Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of the UK??” “Yes”… so, I promptly got in line and waited my turn along with the rest.

As the line slowly inched forward we eventually made our way into the bookstore, but the line was still long and was people were stacked to and fro. But, it gave me a chance to see what the procedure was. You purchased a book, you handed it to Ms Thatcher, she signed it, you said, “Thank you”, and moved on. Simple enough, I thought. Too simple. I was not going to let this opportunity to meet a dignitary pass with only a “Thank you.”

As I handed my book to Ms Thatcher I casually commented, “Oh, I thought this line was for Ronald Reagan!” (For those who do not know, they were great friends as well as chief of states). She looked up, and for a moment I thought security was going to force me to the ground and put the cuffs on me. But, she brightened her outlook and began a conversation with me. “Yes, I just talked to him the other day. He is doing very well.” Just as if me and Ronny were the best of friends and simply updating another old friend. She chatted with me for several minutes, and I smiled and acted as if we had known each other for years. Security was annoyed, and the people behind me were not amused, but I had a great time, and so did she.

Afterwards I thought about this encounter. Why would someone so important take the time to talk to a ‘peasant’? After all, it was a ‘little thing’ wasn’t it? Was there really any benefit I could give to her? And then it dawned on me – signing books, one after the other, has to be one of the most boring jobs ever. I offered a moment where she could take a break from the monotony. Even though I was a ‘common’ person, it didn’t matter. She treated me as if I were royalty, and I immediately could tell why she was so popular and successful as a PM. Her discussion with me was not a ‘put-on’ but was real and engaging.

A little thing, right? But, then why would the memory remain after almost 30 years? It really wasn’t so little, after all.

What influence do we have on others? A word, a piece of advice, an encouragement, a thank you. Trivial things, or are they?

Who is God Looking For?

March 27, 2020

How audacious and arrogant I am to think I can answer such a question.  This is a question for the ages, and has been asked for thousands of years by millions, if not billions, of people.

But, I’ve never shied away from difficult questions, so why start now?  Only God can be the judge if I have stated things correctly or incorrectly, but He will bear witness that my intent has been clean and pure.  I just want to help people if I can.

Who is God looking for?  Well, first of all, it’s not always who we think.  God is not impressed with the things we count as important in this life, such as status, fame, wealth, charm, or physical beauty.  He is not swayed by our intelligence, wisdom, or ability to mesmerize the crowds with our humor or wit.  He is not impressed with even our Bible knowledge, or our ability to understand Greek or Hebrew.

I think the thing that confused a lot of people, including Christians, is that God can accept anyone, from any background, whether they seem worthy or not.  His ability to ‘bend’ the rules and accept people we deem unfit is what confounded the Pharisees, Sadducees and religious leaders during Christ’s ministry here on this earth.  Jesus accepted the poor, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the lepers, those who did not have social status.  He also accepted the rich, the prosperous, the dignified.  He accepted those with physical handicaps as well as those with mental handicaps.  He accepted thieves who were condemned to death for their crimes.

Now, all this does not mean God is not strict, or has changed his rules of acceptable behavior.  It does mean that our view of what is ‘acceptable’ and ‘not acceptable’ is often different from God’s view.

If we were to examine closely who Jesus dealt with during His 3 1/2 year ministry we would find clues to what got and held His attention.  He was not impressed with the crowds, or those who wanted to ‘touch’ Him.  But, He was impressed with the woman with the issue of blood who wanted to just touch the hem of his garment.  He was impressed with Zaccheaus who was despised by the Jews, but climbed into a sycamore tree to see Jesus as He passed by.  He was impressed with blind Bartimaeus who yelled out for Jesus even though others told him to shutup.

When we take careful study of who Jesus paid attention to, we do find some common threads:

  1. People who were hungry for God
  2. People who had an open honesty, no pretense
  3. People who often had no hope, no respect in their community
  4. People who others despised, or found unworthy
  5. People who were persistent
  6. People who acknowledged their own failings and dependence on God’s mercy

As I’ve mentioned many times before, I will never forget the events I watched unfold on 9/11, and the horror of seeing desperate people leap to their death from open windows.  One individual forever sticks in my mind.  He stood in the window, smoke billowing out from behind him.  He crossed himself, in the manner of a Catholic and some other denominations.  He then jumped into eternity.  Some might argue that just crossing oneself is insufficient for entrance into the arms of God, but I disagree.  You see, people come to God in many different ways, and some of those ways are not ways we agree with, or align with.  But, it doesn’t make any difference.  If God accepts a person, that’s all that really matters.  It doesn’t matter what kind of life that man lived, it only matters that when faced with death, he turned his life over to God.

We need to be careful how we judge individuals.  It is God who is the great judge of the hearts of men and women.  If they have asked for forgiveness and mercy who are we to say they are unacceptable?

On that topic, what about the dope addict who asks for forgiveness every day of his life?  Are we so bold to declare that he is unfit for the kingdom?  Be careful.  But, for the grace of God, go I.  We need to understand that everyone falls short of the glory of God.  We stand by His grace and forgiveness alone, and not by any great works we have done.  There is no room for boasting, or for judging and condemning others, based on our own standards.

I have to admit this is a bit different than my normal posts, but I don’t apologize.  I ask you to think about these things, and judge within your own heart what is right, and if I have spoken the truth, or am I just a rambling fool?

 

You Don’t Have to Like Worms to Use Them as Bait

January 23, 2020

Now there is a title, if ever there was one.  This is a short note to the ‘church’ body, including leaders, ministers, and laity.

There’s a lot going on in the church world today.  We have sound systems, lights, cameras, production assistants, and specialists handling all different aspects of the service.  And, of course, there is a lot of resistance that goes along with all these changes:

  1. “We’ve never done it this way before!”
  2. “Why, it is disgraceful what they are doing!”
  3. “I don’t think the church needs to stand for this!”

Granted – the sanctuary needs to be treated with respect and not become a Hollywood production platform.  We don’t need to make ‘stars’ out of our music leaders or ministers.  But, on the other hand – and thinking about this differently – we also don’t need to like the ‘bait’ we use to catch fish.

Hence the title of this posting.  If a good music system and lighting is what it takes to attract people to the House of God, then we need to make some adjustments in our thinking.  You don’t have to like these things to understand that it takes bait to attract some people.

So, try a little tolerance, and be mindful of the fact that people are not attracted to a church if it is grimy, old fashioned, stodgy, discriminating, and filled with ‘exclusive members only – all others need not apply’.

Progressive music, and judicious use of new things – cameras, lighting, and sound need to be kept modern if we are to attract the lost.  This doesn’t mean we turn the church into a night-club or stage with performers, but it means we need to be mindful that if you are going to catch fish you need to use bait, and you don’t have to like the bait.

3000, 2999, and 1

December 27, 2019

Now that’s a strange title if I ever saw one.  Let’s see if we can make sense of it.

I wanted a number of days to represent roughly 10 years of time.  But, that would be somewhere around 3650, which is not a nice round number, so decided to simply use 3,000.  3,000 days – that’s a lot of days.

But, like most everyone, there are some ‘bad days’ that we cannot avoid.  These bad days take on many shapes.  They can be the loss of a loved one.  It could represent losing a job.  It could represent an accident.  No one really needs to be educated on those bad days, as we all know what they are.

For sake of argument let’s say I have one bad day in my 3,000.  That still leaves 2,999 good, or not bad (some days are neither good or bad), days.  We often think of those bad days.  We wonder if they might come again.  And we wonder when they might reappear.  That gives us 2,999 days to think about the past and worry about the ‘next’ bad day that might be coming in the future.

As I thought about these things, and how they affected me personally, I wondered if others also might have the same problem.  I thought about what a waste of time it was to worry about the 1, and how that worry might affect the 2,999.  How could one enjoy the 2,999 if there was constant worry about the 1?

Now, you can’t just not think about it.  That doesn’t work.  The more you try to forget, the more you remember.  The only thing that seems to work is to think on other things.  After all, the human mind can only really focus on a few things at a time.  If you are thinking about other things, the less you are focused on the 1.  Maybe that is what Paul had in mind when he penned Philippians 4:8:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

 

The Same – Yet Different

December 11, 2019

There is a commonness to humanity.  We eat.  We sleep.  We communicate.  We have joys, and we have griefs.  We have those we love, and those who love us.

One of my friends told me years ago that his mother instilled into him, “You are not better than anyone else, but you are not beneath anyone else, either.”  This was the motto he lived by, but somehow I knew there was something wrong with that saying.

It is true, we have many things in common, and in so many ways what my friend expressed showed a certain humility, and awareness that we are no better or worse than anyone else.  You may be smarter, but someone else is wiser.  You may be prettier, but someone else is more caring.

But, while we are in many ways the same, there is also a uniqueness that accompanies every individual who has ever been born.  There are no two human beings who are exactly alike, nor has ever been.  There are now billions of humans living on this shared planet, but each is unique and different from all the rest.  Each person is irreplaceable, and yet we are mortal.

Who can unravel this puzzle, this mystery?

Well, of course, it is in the hands of God.  Although my view is not always shared by many, I take the stand that God has a purpose for each life.  This purpose is unique, and not shared by anyone else, although others may participate in the purpose, or be affected by that purpose.  Sometimes the purpose is clear to everyone, but often it is only known and understood by God, Himself.

Your very existence is the result of an extraordinary event, even a miracle.  You would not be here today and reading this if certain events had occurred at a different time or place.  If a different ‘seed’ (this is a family post) had met with a different egg, you would be an entirely different person than you are today, or you might not exist at all.  The very fact that these events came together at precisely the right time and place, makes you unique.

Add to that the experiences you’ve had in your life, whether good or bad.  These have also shaped and molded you into what you are today.  Add to that the choices we’ve made along the way, some good, some not so good.

While unraveling the mystery of life is beyond this post (or any other), there are some things we can say with some certainty:

  1. God created you to be the unique person you are
  2. God has a purpose for your life
  3. Life has meaning, although we may not always understand what that meaning is
  4. Our life has meaning beyond this mortal existence
  5. While some choices can be debated, it’s never a bad thing to help someone else in need, or who is less fortunate than ourselves
  6. What you do for God will be rewarded, if not in this life, in the life to come

So. yes, in many ways we are the same, but we are also different, unique, special, and one-of-a-kind.

Q-tips

December 10, 2019

Time to buy another box.  Ok, so I use two a day.  Enough about personal hygiene, though.  Let me get to the point.

I get a brand new box, and it seems there is an endless supply.  In fact, it diminishes so slowly I hardly even notice a change from day-to-day.  But, over time I’ve made a dent in the box, but still nothing to be concerned about.  As time passes I’ve used half the box that when new seemed endless.  Still nothing to be concerned about, certainly not planning on going back to the store anytime soon.

When there is only 1/4 box left, I begin shifting q-tips around a bit in the box, just to make them easier to get to.  And then it happens – there are only 10-20 left.  I’m a bit amazed, although I shouldn’t be, that the ‘endless’ box is almost at its end.  After all, it’s not something very important in my life that I pay much attention to.

So are the days of our life.  Just like q-tips it first appears there is an endless supply.  And even when half are gone, nothing to worry about.  And then we get down to 1/4 and began shuffling things around some.  By the time we get down to 10-20 we are suddenly surprised, even though we shouldn’t be.

I know – this sounds like a real ‘downer’ of a posting, but it is not intended to be.  It is just a reminder that life is precious.  Days are not endless.  So, with God’s help we need to try to make every day count.  There’s no need to wait until we get to 10-20 before thinking about our relationship with God, either.  Today is the day….

A Reboot – Not a Band Aid

December 7, 2019

As human beings we often feel all we really need from God is a little help.  Help with our health.  Help with our job.  Help with our finances.  Help will our family.  In other words, just a band aid will do.  We will take care of the rest.  After all, who really wants to ‘change’ their life?  No, just a band aid would work fine.

In our modern times we deal with lots of electronics.  TV’s, computers, tablets, phones, gadgets, the list gets long.  Many of these devices run continuously, and do a decent job.  But, once in awhile, they require a reboot.  A complete shutdown and restart.  We generally do this as a last resort, as it can be a hassle.  But, nothing else will work.  We’ve tried all the band aids, looked on Google, looked on YouTube, and, no, nothing helps.  A reboot clears memory and starts fresh, and we can continue moving forward with, perhaps, a little less clutter.

In our own lives maybe this applies, too.  We think we only need a band aid, but God thinks a reboot would be the only thing to fix our problems.  Not a reboot to continue in the same direction, but a reboot with a new perspective, a new outlook, maybe with a new direction and motivation.

Of course, this is not something we can ‘think’, ‘wish’, or use will-power to accomplish.  It simply doesn’t work that way.  This is not a self-help or self-improvement program.  This is a ‘reboot’ that comes from God, Himself.

In Luke 7 we are told of the story of Jesus raising to life again a young man, the only son of a widow woman.  We are not told what caused the young man to die, however.  Could have been an accident.  Or, could have been a disease.  Maybe a weak heart.  But, then again, it could have been related to his own behavior and actions.  Maybe he was part of a gang.  Maybe he was killed stealing something.  Maybe he drank himself to death.  Maybe he fell into the wrong crowd and was killed in a vendetta.  I’ve been thinking about this.  Is it possible that when Jesus raised him back to life, it was his chance for a ‘reboot’?  To do things differently.  To think and act differently.  To start life new, with new chances, new opportunities, new direction?  Not a band aid, but a complete reboot.  A chance to do things better.

Now let’s be clear.  A life reboot doesn’t mean all your situations and problems disappear.  It has more to do with your attitude, outlook, and approach to these things than it does about those things changing or disappearing.  You change.

How does this come about?  Well, as I said, it is not something you can do on your own.  This is definitely in God’s realm.  Through prayer, and reading His Word, He can help you with the ‘reboot’ you need.  But, you have to be willing.  It’s not a patch, not a band aid, not a ‘I just need a little help, God’ type of thing.  You have to be willing to think and do things differently.  You have to be willing to let God take control.

Years ago there was a book (if I remember correctly), titled “God is My Co-Pilot”.  Well, sorry, it may have been a good book, but that is not how it is supposed to work.  God IS the pilot, and if you are lucky you get to be the co-pilot, or trainee.

Well, where are you?  Do you need another band aid, or is it time for a reboot?

The Three Levels

November 17, 2019

When looking at the New Testament, we see a lot of examples of the word “love”.  In the original Greek there are two forms that are most commonly used to describe the English word “love” – Agape and Phileo.  Briefly stated, Agape love is the highest form, and most associated with God’s love which surpasses our human understanding, while Phileo is akin to friendship or family love, possibly the highest humans can express except through the Holy Spirit of God.

But, in this post I want to talk about three levels of love.  I don’t have labels for these three levels, but they are progressive, meaning that as we go from one level to the next it encompasses all of the characteristics of the lower levels, plus some new ones.  So, we start with Level 1 love.

Level 1 – this type of love is involved in attraction, and bonding with individuals on some common interests, charm, wit, even physical attributes.  It is powerful, and not to be ignored, as it might be stated that most marriages start with this level.  Level 1 level is generally dependent on reciprocation, simply meaning that we expect something in return for giving our love to an individual.

Level 2 – encompasses all of the elements of Level 1, but adds to it the concept of accepting one’s differences.  Differences in opinion, likes and dislikes, and other things too.  It is more than simply tolerating those differences, but includes an understanding and sensitivity that we are not all the same, and in order for love to progress beyond Level 1 we must be willing to embrace differences in those we love, as well as those things we have in common.  In some cases, these differences can pull people in separate directions, but in the best of cases it can result in achieving a higher level of love.

Level 3 – ah, here we go.  Of course, Level 3 includes all the elements of Levels 1 and 2, but adds something new – the concept of forgiveness of faults.  Not just recognition and acceptance of faults, but true ‘living’ forgiveness of our faults and failures.  I say ‘living’ because it is not a one-time thing, but a living and growing thing.  Forgiveness goes beyond toleration of faults, but moves into the realm of God, Himself.  We are not happy about the failures of others, but we are not happy about our own faults, either.  Level 3 recognizes that without forgiveness we are living on slippery ground in our relationships.  The only to really understand Level 3 is to examine what the Bible says about God’s love towards us.  God loves us, not only when we are good, but when we are bad, also.  He doesn’t want us to do bad, but He loves us anyways.  We fail, we stumble, we have faults and weaknesses, but God loves us through all these.  The power of this love makes us get up and try again, and strive to do better.  This loves does not give up or fail.  Level 3 goes one step further – it loves even when that love brings pain and heartache to our lives because of the failures or mistakes of others.  Level 3 is not achieved through automatic means, but must be constantly maintained and kept active through effort, commitment, and a genuine understanding of the frailty and humanness of others.  Level 3 love takes time and doesn’t happen overnight.  Level 3 cannot survive without some, or all, the elements in Levels 1 and 2.  Level 3 does not depend on reciprocation or reward, but is instead a choice.  Level 3 is not an emotion that fluctuates up and down with how we feel at the moment.

It has been said that we can never achieve Agape love, because it is so much higher than human love.  I’m not so sure.  If we want to love as God loves, then we must strive for Level 3.

Final note – it is important to distinguish between love at Level 3 and a destructive or abusive love, which is a distortion of the true thing.  Destructive or abusive love is where one individual constantly takes advantage and inflicts damage or hurt on another, but the receiver contains to love the abuser.  This is not Godly, or even in the same ballpark as what we have been talking about.  There are times when a relationship should end, because God does not expect us to endure constant pain and suffering inflicted without concern from a partner or friend.  Your love may continue, but the relationship may have to be brought to a closure, in order for you to achieve your God-given purpose and life.

God’s Choices

November 14, 2019

It’s a bit hard to understand why God does what He does.  There is no shortage of ‘experts’, however, who are willing to write books, give lectures, and teach classes that apparently know exactly why and how God does what He does.  They are mostly wrong, or at least misled.  The truth is that how and why God does what He does is largely a mystery, but is not completely unknown.

To pull this into perspective let’s take a solid example.  In Acts 16 we see Paul and Silas in Philippi, where they are tied and beaten.  The scripture actually says ‘many stripes’, so it was not a light beating.

“And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely:”

Later that night as Paul and Silas are praying and singing, they are delivered from the prison.  Now, here is where it gets interesting.  Although they are delivered from prison, and help get the jailor and his family saved, Paul and Silas’ wounds are not healed.  How do we know this?  Because in this scripture:

“And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.”

If Paul and Silas were healed of their wounds then why would the jailor ‘wash their stripes’?

But, the mystery does grow deeper.  Later in the book of Acts we read,

And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul:

So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.”

So, Paul had the gift of healing, but could not heal himself.

While there are many explanations, I think the best might be something like this:

“When God performs healings or miracles there are specific purposes that only He completely understands.  In some cases we might see the reasons, but in others, the reasons are hidden from our view.”

What God does, and what He does not do, are not completely understood by anyone on this side of heaven.  But, rest assured – there is a reason and purpose behind everything God does, and doesn’t do.

If we cannot know how God will act then why should we waste our time praying?  Why pray for something that might never happen?

Good question, and I’m probably not qualified to answer that one.  All I can tell you is about myself.

Every night I pray a special prayer for believers who are suffering.  The suffering may be physical, mental, financial, relationship, the need for food, clothing, clean water.  The suffering may be at the hands of tyrants or oppressors.  The suffering may be from their own mistakes and choices.  Regardless – I pray for them.  Some might say this is a useless prayer, as it is too general, and tries to cover to many cases.  I would argue, “How do you know it is useless?  Only God can judge if my prayer is useless or fruitless.”  I believe there are results to my prayers, not because I’m anyone special or gifted, but because I have faith in someone who is greater than me, and know His compassion and mercy.

What is my point?  My point is simply this – don’t try and understand how and why God does what He does.  It is only important to have faith in his ability and to know that your prayers and labors are not in vain.