Changing laws not enough; we need a new mindset

It happened again. Another school shooting with multiple casualties, this time north of Miami.

We’re getting good at knee-jerk reactions to these situations. We aren’t good at figuring out how to prevent them.

Grandma saves lives

A grandmother in Washington state, of all people, has the right idea.

http://www.heraldnet.com/news/grandmother-turns-in-teen-who-allegedly-planned-shooting/

The grandmother of Joshua Alexander O’Connor, 18, found alarming journal entries Tuesday at her home in Everett, Wash., according to reports filed in court. She called police. An officer pulled O’Connor from class at ACES High School, an alternative school he began attending in the fall, to arrest him, reported the Herald newspaper in Everett.

The Herald continued:

O’Connor wrote that he wanted the death count to be as high as possible so that the shooting would be infamous, according to court papers. He went into detail about building pressure-cooker bombs, activating inert grenades and deploying explosives for maximum casualties.

“I need to make this count,” O’Connor reportedly wrote. “I’ve been reviewing many mass shootings/bombings (and attempted bombings). I’m learning from past shooters/bombers mistakes” …

On Tuesday police took a glance inside the teen’s room, saw two grenades and left the area to get to safety. Officers applied for a warrant to search the room. The high school was notified and O’Connor was arrested, reportedly carrying a knife and marijuana. A search of the home led to recovery of the journal, a rifle, the grenades, masks …

On Wednesday in court, deputy prosecutor Andrew Alsdorf told a judge that O’Connor bought a rifle because it was the same style as a gun used by one of the shooters at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in 1999 …
School officials learned of the threat Tuesday.

“Our main thing right now is gratitude, especially to the grandmother,” said Andy Muntz, a spokesman for the Mukilteo School District. “That couldn’t have been easy for her to do. The Everett police also did a wonderful job. That combination may have saved a lot of lives.”

Warning signs in Florida

In Florida, reports say there were warning signs about the Valentine’s Day shooter, Nikolas Cruz, 19, a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

I can’t say I was shocked,” Joshua Charo, a 16-year-old student at the school, told the Miami Herald. “From past experiences, he seemed like the kind of kid who would do something like this.”

School Shooting Florida
A woman places flowers at one of 17 crosses placed for the victims of the Wednesday shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla., Friday, Feb. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

“I think everyone had in their minds if anybody was going to do it, it was going to be him,” Dakota Mutchler, a 17-year-old junior at the school, told The Associated Press.

“A lot of people were saying it was going to be him,” Eddie Bonilla, another student, told CBS Miami. “A lot of kids joked around like that, saying that he was going to be the one to shoot up the school. But it turns out everyone predicted it.”

https://www.yahoo.com/news/plenty-warnings-florida-school-shooting-suspects-past-missed-signs-154926468.html

“Everyone” predicted the Florida massacre, but no one acted on those beliefs.

The shooter remains responsible, of course. He will have his day in court, as the laws of our land dictate.

The teen in Everett, Wash., also faces a day in court, but not with murder charges – thanks to his grandmother and quick follow-up by the local police department.

The blame game

We can debate gun laws all we want. We won’t eliminate them from our country. It just won’t happen. Certain types of weapons can be outlawed and perhaps they should, but the teens in both cases this week obtained their weapons legally.

We can blame politicians, including the president and Congress, but they cannot legislate morality. They can change laws, but they can’t change hearts.

Studying the connection between mental illness and lethal weapons possibly could lead to ways to prevent some mass shootings from happening.

But not all. Not even close.

“I need to make this count,” the Washington teen admitted. How can we change that mindset? Where does that mindset come from in the first place?

A different mindset

My worldview provides an answer to these questions, but it’s not a popular one in today’s America.

The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” … The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”

Genesis 3:12,13

We’ve had that mindset since the beginning of time. It’s not my fault. I screw up, and I blame you. You blame someone else.

And on it goes.

We think the world revolves around us, and we get upset when we don’t get our way, when someone puts restrictions on us – such as, you can eat from any tree in this beautiful, lush garden except this particular one (Genesis 3:2).

Why won’t we outlaw semiautomatic firearms? We don’t want anyone telling us we can’t have something. It’s that simple. The cost doesn’t matter. It’s all about what I want, or think I want.

Freedom. Liberty. My rights trump your rights. Damn the consequences.

We’ve clung to this value since we first walked the Earth.

When do the consequences become too much?

Will they ever?

It’s not about me, or you

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends …

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

The Parkland, Fla., shooting tragedy took place on Valentine’s Day, the day of love. I wonder if that was a coincidence. Was the shooter mocking love by carrying out a supreme act of hate on that day?

Love, when done right, solves everything. Which tells us how far off from “right” we are when it comes to love.

Who hates those words from 1 Corinthians in the Bible? Is that not the definition of love at its best? If all 300 million of us in the United States followed the views of just that paragraph, imagine the problems that would disappear. Instantly.

It’s a mindset. Patient, kind, no envy or arrogance, respecting your views without malice …

Why is that so hard?

Many of us are clamoring for change to prevent further mass shootings from occurring. Yes, absolutely.

We can change laws, but until we change our mindset, serious crimes will continue. As will other situations that hurt people.

It’s not about me. It’s not about you. There’s a bigger picture here, a much bigger picture.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:11-12

It’s time we grew up.

Featured photo caption: Joshua Alexander O’Connor, 18, appears in court Wednesday. He is accused of plotting to bomb and shoot classmates at ACES High School in Everett. (Caleb Hutton / The Herald)

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Perspective with the wild ride

The stock market took a ride this week worthy of Cedar Point’s “Steel Vengeance,” its newest roller coaster opening this year.

For the week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 5.2 percent, marking its largest weekly decline since January 2016, reported Market Watch, a financial information website that is a subsidiary of Dow Jones & Co.

Twice during the week, the stock market dropped more than 1,000 points in a single day.

According to the Washington Post, investors lost $3 trillion – with a “T” – in stock market value in one week.

A little bit of that lost value belongs to me.

It’s happened before

I’m one of the fortunate people who has a 401(k) from 24 years working at one company. It’s still 100 percent vested in stock mutual funds, a very aggressive plan, especially for someone my age (57). My wife and I have other, more conservative, investments as well, so I’m OK with a risk-taking 401(k).

In 2017, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 25 percent for the year, its best showing since 2013, said cnn.com.

Neither this week’s big decline nor last year’s big gains were unique. Both scenarios have happened before, and relatively recently, too.

Investors, who set a monthly record for sinking money into the stock market in January, pulled their money out at a record pace in the week ended Feb. 7, reported EPFR, a Cambridge, Mass., data firm.

Yikes. Too many investors bought high and sold low.

Take a deep breath, everyone. We’ve been here before, and survived.

Investing for the long term

I opened my 401(k) in the mid-1980s when I was in my mid-20s, and contributed to it for more than two decades. A small company match certainly helped. So did a wonderful stock run-up throughout the 1990s. Easy money, I thought.

I can live only in the moment, but if I live only for the moment I will miss so much.

Then the stock market crashed in September 2008, losing more than half its value by March 2009. My 401(k) lost about 40 percent of its value.

It took several years, but my 401(k) did recover, and his since grown much higher.

It’s a retirement account. I’m in it for the long term. In 2008, I knew I wasn’t going to start cashing it in for another 15 years or so, at least. So, the losses were only on paper.

That $3 trillion in value lost this week is on paper also. If you’re living off of that money, you probably should be preserving capital in more conservative investments. The stock market is for long-term growth, in general. (Some stocks are more volatile than others, of course, which is why every financial adviser will say we should diversify our portfolios.)

I haven’t checked my 401(k) balance recently. Neither has my wife (she’s more on top of it than I am). I’m sure it lost value this week.

But I’m not ready to start cashing it in yet. So I’ll just ride the wave.

Risk tolerance

Part of this equation is risk tolerance. Did I lose sleep this week when the stock market got volatile? No. I have a fairly high risk tolerance.

If you’re an investor and you did lose sleep – or you pulled a lot of money out of the market this week – then you probably are investing too aggressively. There’s nothing wrong with being a conservative investor. You won’t make the big gains in a boom market, but you won’t lose big during a correction or recession, either.

Each of us needs to determine our own risk tolerance. And also determine what the money we’re investing is for. Retirement? A nice vacation? Christmas gifts? Something else? It’s all good.

With the stock market, we need to take the long-term view.

Bigger rewards later

That goes against today’s instant gratification mindset.

We’d rather spend the money we make, all of it, rather than save some for a rainy day. We buy the latest technology – does every child, much less adult, need the latest smartphone every time a new one comes out? And I know people who buy lunch at a fast-food restaurant every day. A brown bag lunch is much more nutritious and costs a lot less. Eating out every so often is great – we do need to treat ourselves – but every day is an extravagance many of us can’t really afford.

Of course, if everyone acted like this, the economy would slow down because we wouldn’t be spending so much money. But we’d have more savings to spend on more meaningful, and possibly bigger, things. Saving money for a nice vacation or a new vehicle takes time and effort, but the rewards are so worth it.

Not going into debt for those things is one of the biggest benefits.

The future will come

Life in general is a lot like the stock market. It has its ups and downs, successes and failures. I’ve had great jobs and been fired. I’ve had emotional highs and lows (although I don’t often show them publicly). I’ve had great health, but I know I won’t live forever.

How do we handle the “life is not fair” moments, as well as the good times?

My retirement is much closer now than it was 30 years ago when I began investing. Starting to plan for my retirement when I was in my 20s will have a huge payoff very soon.

A big-picture outlook on life is so worth it. I can live only in the moment, but if I live only for the moment I will miss so much.

Take a deep breath. Plan ahead. Think long-term.

On average, Americans can expect to live 78.6 years, according to 2016 data published by the National Center for Health Statistics. Women can expect to live five years longer than men: 81.1 years vs. 76.1 years.

People who die young make the news, but chances are good that you and I both will reach retirement age. We should plan for it.

If we do that well, the roller-coaster ride of the stock market won’t cause us to lose sleep.

Not too much, anyway.

 

Going after the easiest target

I’ve been ambivalent on the Chief Wahoo logo of the Cleveland Indians. Some native Americans find it offensive, but protests are infrequent and not strong. Many fans of the baseball team support the logo.
The Indians announced the other day that they will drop the Chief Wahoo logo from the team’s uniforms starting next year.

The team will continue selling merchandise featuring Chief Wahoo after that time to protect its trademark. Otherwise, anyone could use the logo for any purpose they desire.

I have an Indians T-shirt with Chief Wahoo on it. I’ll continue to wear it.

I’m not making a political statement. I’m supporting a baseball team.

Perhaps one reason I’m ambivalent is that Indians owner Paul Dolan also hasn’t taken a strong stand on the logo. He agreed to drop it from uniforms next year only after persuasive talks – over several years – with Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred.

The fact that Cleveland will host the 2019 All-Star Game forced Dolan’s hand, I’m sure. Baseball doesn’t want to offend anyone. Manfred doesn’t want to see protests outside Progressive Field during baseball’s marquee event (outside of the World Series), so he convinced Dolan to avoid that possibility.

Manfred, like the rest of us, has seen what divisive issues have done to the National Football League in the past couple of years. A simple kneeling during the National Anthem has taken on a life of its own, and cost the league viewers and untold goodwill.

Whether the kneeling was correct, politically correct or wrong doesn’t matter, at least to baseball. The issue became divisive, and the NFL is the lightning rod.

Baseball wants to avoid that scenario at all costs.

But not all team logos, including native American logos, are treated equally. Not by a long shot. We’ll stick to professional sports here.

The Redskins

Exhibit A, and you knew this was coming: the Washington Redskins and their Indian head.

Washington Redskins v Oakland Raiders

Most people are not ambivalent about the Redskins name and logo, calling them racist. Why do activists not push harder to change them?

It’s simple: politics.

Redskins owner Dan Snyder adamantly supports the Redskins name and logo. Opponents would face a loud and protracted fight against him.

The Indians became a much easier target.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, in response this week to the Indians’ announcement, said he won’t pressure Snyder to change anything about the Redskins.

Goodell repeatedly cited a Washington Post poll in which the majority of native Americans surveyed said they do not find Washington’s team name or logo offensive. He added that the league doesn’t “hear this very much from our fans” on the issue and said Snyder is unlikely to change the name.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/redskins/2018/01/30/roger-goodell-sidesteps-redskins-issue-shifts-focus-owner-dan-snyder/1078238001/

Seriously?

The league must not be listening very hard. Or, more likely, with Snyder’s strong position, opponents are looking for more winnable battles.

So, they turned to the Cleveland Indians, where the opposition (team owner Dolan) was lukewarm and the league is less combative.

Are Chief Wahoo and the “Indians” name truly more racist than the logo and “Redskins” name of Washington, D.C.’s football team?

I’m not buying that.

The Blackhawks

Here’s another one: the Chicago Blackhawks. Its Indian head, like Chief Wahoo, is decades old.

Chief Wahoo’s origin is murky; the Blackhawks logo is not.

Some say the Indians were named after native American Louis Sockalexis, who played for the team in the 1890s. Others say that’s not the whole story.

Joe Posnanski, executive columnist for MLB Advanced Media, offered this commentary on Oct. 13, 2016:

 

Best I can tell from all the research, there were two major factors in choosing Indians.

  1. Native American names were all the rage in 1914 because that was the year of Boston’s Miracle Braves, who were in last place on July 4 and then somehow won 70 of their last 89 games to win the National League by 10.5 games. Boston then swept the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series. The nation was whooping for the Braves, and so a Native American nickname made a lot of sense.
  2. Cleveland did have that Sockalexis connection from the 19th century when the team was often called the Indians. This from the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

“Many years ago there was an Indian named Sockalexis who was the star player of the Cleveland baseball club. As a batter, fielder and base runner he was a marvel. Sockalexis so outshone his teammates that he naturally came to be regarded as the whole team. The fans throughout the country began to call the Clevelanders “the Indians.” It was an honorable name, and while it stuck the team made an excellent record. It has now been decided to revive this name.”

People will argue forever about whether the Indians name was created in a cynical ploy to both mock and cash in on Native American culture or if it was a way to honor a pioneering Native American baseball player who, for a short time, thrilled people with his play. People will forever argue if the Chief Wahoo logo, which apparently was inspired by the “Little Indian” cartoon that would run in the newspaper, is a harmless caricature or a racist one. The split is fierce and passionate.

 

The Blackhawks’ logo has a much simpler history.

blackhawks

According to the New York Times, the Blackhawks’ founder was Maj. Frederic McLaughlin, whose family owned Manor House Coffee, a popular brand in the first half of the 20th century. McLaughlin named the team after the Blackhawk division, a unit he helped lead as an officer in the Army. It was formed during World War I, but the war ended before the unit, or McLaughlin, saw action. The unit was named for a Sauk and Fox American Indian leader who fought against the United States government in the War of 1812 and in 1832.

The team’s immensely popular Blackhawks Indian head logo was created by Irene Castle, wife of McLaughlin, in 1926 at the team’s inception into the NHL.

https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/culture/sports/why-is-the-chicago-blackhawks-logo-okay-but-washington-redskins-racist/

The national stage

Does that history play into today’s controversy, or lack thereof in the case of the Blackhawks’ logo?

If native Americans truly find these professional sports logos offensive, why not protest all three with vigor?

The Chief Wahoo argument gained steam in 2016 when the Indians reached the World Series, giving the issue national prominence.

The Blackhawks won the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015, so they’ve had a high profile for the past decade. Why has their logo not been a topic of national conversation?

The Redskins, as a team, haven’t played in the Super Bowl since they won it in 1992. Should they become relevant again on the field, would the name and logo debate gain more intensity?

I just see these three team logos treated very differently.

Perhaps all of them should be retired. In the meantime, I wish activists would pursue the worst offender, and not the easiest, first.

Pledge a way to revive civility

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

 

Remember that? Many of us “old-timers” recited the Pledge of Allegiance to start our school day.

Students at the Lorain County Joint Vocational School in Oberlin, Ohio, recently began reciting the pledge after not doing so for generations.

The effort is student-led and voluntary. It was a student’s idea to recite the pledge, and that student leads his peers in the recitation each morning.

“Students have been very respectful,” Principal Jill Petitti said in an interview with The Chronicle-Telegram of Elyria, Ohio. “For the most part they’ve been participating. I’ve heard multiple people say that they love to start their day this way.”

The student, John Owen, offered this explanation:

“With so much going on in the nation, in news, and even in the NFL, I think the pledge will instill in students that it’s OK to be a patriotic person.”

http://www.chroniclet.com/Local-News/2018/01/25/Pledge-of-Allegiance-starts-morning-at-Lorain-County-JVS.html

What a refreshing story.

Our young people offer a wonderful hope for America’s future.

We adults often focus on the negative:

  • Reciting the pledge must be voluntary so no one gets offended.
  • The words “under God,” added in 1954, violate separation of church and state in the eyes of many.

Students, however, focus on patriotism.

The themes of the pledge are worth pursuing.

Are we indivisible? Do we offer liberty and justice for all?

Indivisible

The ongoing debate in Congress to even pass a budget questions our ability to be indivisible at the moment. Our president is divisive in his tweets – even his own party gets blindsided by his words on occasion.

But it’s not only our political leaders who can’t get along. Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of AARP, explains it this way in the current issue of the AARP Bulletin:

 

… the divisions in this country are exacerbated by the fact that so many people get their news from only one source – and sources that have differing viewpoints often don’t even share a common set of facts – which makes it difficult to have a meaningful discussion and debate.

 

In that light, are we still one nation? Are we indivisible?

Indivisible means not divisible; not separable into parts; incapable of being divided:

one nation indivisible.

http://www.dictionary.com/browse/indivisible

Are we incapable of being divided?

That’s a strong word.

Democrats and Republicans still vote in the same room. Men and women still live and work together. People of differing races and ethnicities work, play and socialize together, to varying degrees.

Despite our differences.

Yes, we are indivisible. We survived a Civil War. We will survive the current divisiveness. And we will be a better country for it.

Liberty

“Liberty,” according to my hard-cover Webster’s dictionary, offers this definition:

  1. The quality or state of being free; (a) the power to do as one pleases (b) freedom from physical restraint (c) freedom from arbitrary or despotic control (d) the positive enjoyment of various social, political or economic rights and privileges (e) the power of choice

“The power to do as one pleases” is not unlimited. Taken to the extreme, that might mean I’ll show up for work whenever I want to. The boss wouldn’t appreciate that because my job wouldn’t get done.

Having said that, we are free to choose our relationships, careers, where we live, how we worship, what we do in our spare time, etc. Much of this we take for granted, even though people in many other countries don’t have these liberties.

We also are free from physical restraints and from arbitrary or despotic control – which is why we are shocked when these liberties are taken away. The couple who tortured their 13 children in California come to mind. Larry Nassar also does. Sickening. These adults violated everything our nation stands for.

And we have the freedom to get involved in whatever social, political or economic causes we choose, or not.

Justice

My dictionary defines “justice” this way:

  1. (a) the maintenance or administration of what is just esp. by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or judgments (b) judge (c) the administration of law esp. the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity
  2. (a) the quality of being just, impartial or fair

Google offers this definition:

Just behavior or treatment. A concern for justice, peace and genuine respect for people.

Dictionary.com talks about moral rightness and lawfulness as well.

We debate morals all the time and we can add or delete laws, but “genuine respect for people” should be the guiding principle for how we decide them. We can’t be just, impartial or fair if we do not respect all people.

In public arenas, I don’t see much “genuine respect for people.”

Civility

Jenkins, the AARP CEO, sums it up:

 

Restoring civility to public discourse begins with each of us individually: how we talk to and relate to one another, taking the extra step to understand why a person believes differently than we do, and being able to disagree with one another while still respecting the other person.

 

Are we indivisible, offering liberty and justice to all?

Perhaps we should revive the Pledge of Allegiance, not just in schools, but post it on a wall in workplaces and public spots as well.

It offers a message worth adhering to.

The reason to live

President Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong-un recently traded barbs about who had the largest “nuclear button.”

Soon after, an emergency missile alert accidentally went out to everyone in Hawaii, sparking panic as thousands of people, assuming they had only minutes to live, scrambled to seek shelter and say their final goodbyes to loved ones.

Mudslides in southern California killed at least 20 people.

And there was a fatal school shooting in Kentucky.

Lots of fear. Life at times flashes before us, unexpectedly.

Which leads me to this question: Are we ready to die?

What if one such emergency visited your neighborhood?

No guarantees …

We aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. None of us is.

We know this.

We eat nutritious foods, exercise and live a healthy lifestyle to try to prolong a happy, healthy time on Earth. Often it works.

I’ve been blessed with a healthy body, which I don’t take for granted. I enjoy ice cream or a chocolate chip cookie as much as anyone, but I don’t overindulge in them. I try to get some exercise once or twice a week.

All things in moderation.

It’s worth the effort. I rarely call in sick to work. I don’t sit on the sidelines because my body won’t let me do what I enjoy doing. I know many of you can’t say this. Each of us does our best with what we’ve been given.

… except death

But even in the best of situations, it won’t last forever. Our bodies eventually will wear out. It’s inevitable.

I am ready to die today. I’m not hoping to die or expecting to die; I’m not fatalistic about it.

But I’m ready.

It might not happen for another 40 years. That’s great, too. I’ll serve God on this Earth for as long as I’m here.

We all think about what might happen in the next life. We’re wired that way. We know we’re mortal. Some of us try to suppress those thoughts, but we all have them.

Especially as death nears, so I’ve heard.

Preparing for forever

Why wait until then to address the issue? There are things we can do now to prepare for forever.

I will be with Jesus Christ in heaven when I die. This I know. Whether it’s today or 40 years from now, it will happen.

The God of the Bible is not the same as the gods of any other religion or belief system. We do not have our own truth. Sorry, Oprah. There’s a bigger picture here, one that men and women must adhere to. (Men who abuse women will not be excused in the next life, that is certain. Even if justice isn’t served on Earth, it will be in heaven.)

The God of the Bible is the only god who cares about our welfare – on Earth as well as in the next life. That’s why we should look at this issue now, before we reach our deathbed.

 

God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8

 

We don’t have to follow a list of rules before God will accept us. He takes us just as we are. Christians aren’t perfect people – far from it. We don’t have our act together, necessarily.

What makes us different?

We are forgiven. That’s all.

 

If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Romans 10:9

 

That’s it. There’s no magic formula or ritual that must be followed.

Living forever

Of course, living that out isn’t easy. That’s why we attend church every week, and why we should participate in Sunday school or a small group for support and encouragement. It’s why we should read the Bible often – every day, if possible – to learn what’s in there.

Even Bible scholars, which I am not, have plenty of things to learn about God.

Does that turn you off?

It should excite you.

God is bigger than we can possibly imagine. At the same time, He is smaller than the tiniest detail of our lives.

He cares. To the point of death. His death. Our deaths.

His life. And our lives.

Am I weak or ignorant if I say that there are things I know about God, but there’s plenty I don’t know?

“Salvation” is knowable. That’s one thing we can be certain about.

Why does God save some and not others? That we will never know on this Earth.

All of us are sinners. No one deserves “salvation.” No one earns it.

Why God saves some, why He shows mercy, proves that He loves us and wants the best for us.

Including you.

Instead of asking why bad things happen to good people, we should ask:

Why do good things happen to bad people?

All of us, every single one of us, is “bad.” You can find fault with me rather easily, and a few of you do. I could find fault with you as well if I wanted to look at you that way.

How do we break that cycle?

Only by following God’s example.

He sees the good in each of us, and wants to draw that out. He offers “salvation” as a gift.

But it’s not a gift until we accept it.

I can offer you a Christmas present, but if you return it to the store, you’ve rejected it. So, it’s not a gift.

God doesn’t do that. He offers us “salvation” even though we don’t deserve it.

Then, we spend the rest of our lives getting to know Him better.

It’s worth the effort.

Righteousness, a study

Be prepared.

That theme came to me twice in two days this week.

I led a men’s Bible study on the breastplate of righteousness. Why wear a breastplate? Be prepared for enemy attacks.

The next day, I attended a first aid and CPR recertification class. The purpose of first aid? Be prepared for a potential emergency. Our instructor made sure we knew that before starting the class.

To help us prepare for life’s battles, here’s a summary of my notes from the breastplate discussion.

 

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you maybe able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.

Ephesians 6:13-14

 

The breastplate worn by Roman soldiers was generally made of iron, though some wealthier soldiers may have worn a bronze breastplate (which is lighter than iron). It consisted of overlapping pieces of metal with connecting front and back sections. There were rounded pieces connecting the shoulders and the breastplate usually rested on the soldier’s hips so the entire weight wasn’t carried on the shoulders. The overlapping pieces allowed for more flexibility of movement.

www.gotquestions.org

 

What’s the purpose of the breastplate?

It protects the soldier in battle. The breastplate covers the heart and other vital organs. The shield wards off enemy blows that we see, but the breastplate provides protection from unexpected directions or overwhelming numbers.

If the soldier gets ambushed from behind or attacked from multiple sources, he has protection.

 

What happens when armor is not worn correctly, or not worn at all?

1 Peter 5:8 – the devil looks for someone to devour.

Hebrews 3:12 – unbelief.

Romans 6:1-2 – we abuse grace by making excuses for sin.

Hebrews 4:5-7 – disobedience, hardening your heart.

2 Corinthians 2:10-11 – we do not want Satan to outwit us.

 

Why do we wear God’s armor?

The example of Job. Satan tested him severely, but God gave him parameters. First, don’t touch his body. Then, don’t kill him. Job faced two back-to-back unexpected tragedies, without knowing why or how long they would last.

If Job wasn’t wearing his “armor,” how could he have possibly survived?

Eventually, God restored to him his family and possessions – more than he had to begin with.

 

Satan realizes that if he can get our minds and emotions, that will affect our worship and our obedience to God. That’s why he always works to implant wrong teachings and lies into our minds through books, music, TV and conversation. Our minds affect our walk – how we live. But Satan also wants to get our emotions. Many Christians are emotionally all over the place, and part of that is a result of spiritual warfare. Satan stirs up people to criticize and condemn. He sirs up little romances with the opposite sex to distract us from focusing on God. He works to make believers worry and fret about the future so that they lose their joy. The enemy is cunning and keen. Therefore, we must guard our hearts above all else.

www.bible.org

 

Here’s another Bible verse on the breastplate:

1 Thessalonians 5:8 – put on the breastplate of faith and love.

What’s the connection between faith, love and righteousness?

Abraham provides a great example.

Hebrews 11:8-12 – Abraham’s faith in the impossible – numerous descendants who will live in a promised land. (He and his wife both were too old to have children when God gave him those promises.) Read about the promises in Genesis 15.

Romans 4:18-22 – Abraham’s faith was reckoned to him as righteousness.

Did Abraham see either of those promises come to pass?

No. Yet he never doubted God’s plan. He didn’t let his mind or emotions sway him from God’s promises. Why should he care what happens after he’s gone from this Earth? But he did care. And he believed God. Which was reckoned to him as righteousness.

Becoming righteous

  1. Isaiah 64:6What is our righteousness like? Our human righteousness is like a filthy rag.
  1. Isaiah 59:15-17Who put on righteousness like a breastplate? Why? God Himself put on righteousness like a breastplate. Israel needed rescuing, as do we.
  1. Matthew 6:33 – we seek God’s righteousness first, and “all these things” will be added to us. What things will be given to us as well? This is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Read the rest of the sermon for that answer.
  2. Psalm 119:172 – all God’s commands are right (righteousness). Pretty self-explanatory. However, we need to read the entire Bible to understand ALL of God’s commands.
  3. Proverbs 8:20 – we are to walk in righteousness. Righteousness and justice are choices. They don’t just happen. They take effort.
  4. Proverbs 11:4-6 – great rewards for righteousness: delivered from death, keeps our ways straight, saved.
  5. 2 Corinthians 5:21 – Christ became sin to give us His righteousness.
  6. 2 Corinthians 10:35 – taking every thought captive.
  7. Jeremiah 23:5-6who does this passage refer to? (Jesus) The righteous Branch is coming: The Lord is our righteousness.

 

An in-depth study of all the scriptures concerning righteousness (there are 301 in the New King James Version) reveals that servants of God in the Bible who had righteousness all had it because they followed God’s way. Though it may seem a sweeping statement, it is through a continuing and dedicated adherence to both the letter and spirit of God’s law that we can defend ourselves with His righteousness.

www.freebiblestudy.org

 

Ezekiel 33:12-17 – Righteousness is not a one-time event. We must keep wearing it. Our past righteous deeds aren’t good enough, and our past sins do not prevent us from receiving God’s righteousness.

Job was attacked twice. Paul was attacked repeatedly. If they took off their armor even for a moment, they would have been defeated.

Philippians 4:8-9 – whatever is true, whatever is noble … think about such things. This is a good way to put on the breastplate of righteousness.

Isaiah 32:17 – The results of righteousness: peace, quietness and trust forever. Was this true for Job? Abraham?

Job did not get bent out of shape over his circumstances. Peace, quiet and trust were his hallmarks.

Abraham’s faith also gave him a life of peace, quietness and trust.

News, sports and weather

To start the new year, a little of this and that:

Browns in stable condition

The Detroit Lions fired head coach Jim Caldwell this week, as did the Chicago Bears with John Fox. Caldwell went 36-28 in four years in Detroit; Fox, 14-34 in three years in Chicago. Both had success in previous head coaching gigs.

Since I’ve lived in Michigan and west of Chicago, I have friends who root for those teams.

Those NFL teams are still searching for new head coaches.

They can’t have Hue Jackson. He’s taken.

Hue Jackson

Jackson, of the 0-16 (and 1-31 two-year record) Cleveland Browns, is coming back for a third year, according to owner Jimmy Haslam.

Those of us in the Cleveland area are scratching our heads.

And with no consensus No. 1 pick in the college ranks this year, the Browns are sure to bungle that, too.

Perhaps best to avoid talk radio this off-season. Could get ugly.

Of course, one win next year – or, gasp, two – would be a marked improvement.

Hey, the Browns have more stability right now than the Lions or Bears do. That counts for something, right?

Cold not cool

I wrote on this blog last week that I enjoy the up-north outdoors year-round. Yeah, right. See if I write that again any time soon.

freezing

This week, we’re having single-digit highs and below-zero wind chills – in the daytime. No outdoor exercise for me at the moment. Like everyone else around here, I’m just trying to stay warm.

We moved to Northeast Ohio four years ago this week during a polar vortex, when temps were even colder than they are today. It was so frigid, the diesel moving truck couldn’t start, so our move was delayed a day.

A slight thaw would be nice.

It’s expected early next week. Something to look forward to.

No guardrails

old fall river road

We visited Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, Colo., last September, before winter weather forced park officials to close the Old Fall River Road. The 11-mile dirt road up the mountain – with no guardrails and plenty of drop-offs, along with a 15 mph speed limit – was a fun drive. (Guardrails would spoil the view.)

I bottomed out the rental car in a pothole only once.

The drive down the other side of the mountain on a paved highway was much smoother, literally.

Make the drive in the morning, because afternoon thunderstorms frequently and suddenly pop up. We heard one up there as we were on our way down the mountain.

The Rocky Mountains are beautiful. We certainly don’t have anything like that here in the Midwest.

All talk, no action

Neither President Donald Trump nor North Korea leader Kim Jong-un has a “nuclear button” on his desk. Kim isn’t ready yet, and Trump doesn’t have the authority to declare nuclear war on his own.

But Kim has finally met a world leader who speaks his language.

Trump’s tweets make me cringe, since he frequently talks against his own policy and subverts the efforts of his own negotiators. Trump, however, was elected in large part because of his foreign policy stances. He’s tired of seeing the United States pushed around and dis-respected on the world stage.

Kim and similar leaders don’t follow diplomatic rules. The U.S. can sign all the treaties it wants and we can talk until we’re blue in the face, and Kim won’t care. Whether he signs a treaty or not is irrelevant. He’s building his nuclear arsenal regardless.

Trump understands that, and is acting accordingly. About time.

Neither side will flinch, and neither side will pull the trigger. They both know what’s at stake. Finally, a stand-off on equal terms.

Kim is 33. Trump is 71. We’ll see how this plays out long-term.

Who’s No. 1?

spartans logo

My Michigan State Spartans men’s basketball team is ranked No. 1 in the country this week. That’s nice, but it doesn’t matter, really.

Basketball crowns its champions (men and women) through a tournament. It can do that because the games aren’t physically brutal like football is, which is why the football playoff system will rage forever with no final solution that pleases everybody.

The Spartans can’t beat Duke, so I wouldn’t make them the favorites to win the national title.

It could happen, though. Perhaps this is the year.

I’m ready for March Madness already.

Suffering with Jesus

I’m reading through Romans with some friends. The next lesson includes this:

“ – if, in fact, we suffer with him (Jesus) so that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.”

Romans 8:17-18

bible

Do I suffer with Jesus? The apostle Paul, who wrote that, was shipwrecked, beaten, stoned, jailed and given lashes because he was a Jesus follower.

I can’t relate.

Many Christians today do suffer like that. Some are killed for their faith. Not in the United States, but in other places.

Does suffering include things besides physical pain?

I don’t suffer physically. Emotionally, do I?

How much are emotional wounds self-inflicted? That doesn’t count as suffering, not really.

All of us die eventually, and some of us suffer more than others through that process. That’s not what these Bible verses are talking about, either.

Suffer with him.

Should I? Do I?

Food for thought.

Getting outside, no matter the weather

Even though it’s the lead story on the 6 o’clock news many nights, I haven’t written about the weather in awhile.

News flash: It’s cold out there right now.

You already knew that.

But it’s not that cold today. I went for a walk/jog earlier, and my car temperature gauge recorded a balmy 17 degrees. The sun was out, too.

Unlike some of you, I like living in a place with four seasons. I don’t wear a scarf in the winter; I like the cold on my face. It’s invigorating.

When jogging, I wear layers. My thumbs and fingers get cold first, so I wear two pairs of gloves. I had no issues today.

Joy of winter

I’m thankful for winter. Last year, it never came. I jogged in the rain in January last year – and got soaked in a rainstorm when it should have been snowing. Ugh. That was my worst jog ever.

Those signs that say “Bridge may be icy”? It’s true. There are two bridges over the Black River on my favorite exercise path, and they do ice over before the path itself does. I tread gingerly there. (They get slick in the rain during summer, too. Got to pay attention all the time.)

I drive a passenger van for a living, so maybe it’s strange that I say I enjoy winter. This means I have to slow down when the weather turns nasty. Welcome to the real world.

I learned how to drive in a Chevette in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula a long time ago. I can rock a stuck vehicle out of a snowbank with the best of you.

Step up your game

For Christmas, we visited family in Michigan. I drove my wife and oldest son to a late-afternoon Christmas Eve service in Ann Arbor (with Ohio license plates and a Michigan State sticker on the back windshield, by the way) along snow-covered roads. I traversed aptly-named Hill Street and pumped the gas pedal repeatedly without thinking to get our minivan up the incline. If I’d floored it, I’d have spun the wheels and lost traction. Keep the wheels rolling, slow enough to keep traction with the road but fast enough to keep the vehicle moving.

There’s a skill to winter driving. Perhaps that’s why I like it.

Speed limits, of course, go out the window when it snows. Before our sons were born, we motored through Buffalo the first week of January during a snowstorm similar to the one Erie, Pa., got this week. I drove 15 – that’s fifteen – mph on the New York State Thruway, a 55 mph highway then (it’s 65 mph now). We were grateful we had a motel reservation; otherwise, we might have been stranded out there.

I always see an SUV or two speed past me on snow-covered roads. Be my guest. I’m not surprised to see them in a ditch or stopped by a police officer a few minutes later. Happens all the time, doesn’t it? You’d think we would learn.

I have never owned a snowblower. Put on the boots and get out the shovel. I’ve been blessed with excellent health. It’s good exercise.

Year-round beauty

I enjoy spring more when we’ve had a real winter. If trees never “die,” how can they “come to life” again? New blooms, greener grass, warmer temperatures, more people outside (I saw only one older man on my 6-mile walk/jog today).

There’s a reason Easter is in the spring. It’s a symbol of new life, of rebirth.

Summers are nice in northern Ohio (although I did get dehydrated once after my walk/jog last summer). Not too hot or humid, usually. I couldn’t handle a Florida or Texas summer.

Fall is a beautiful time, as leaves change color and the temps begin to chill a little. We bought a house a few months ago that has a number of mature trees in or near our yard. I spent a lot of time this fall raking those leaves. Again, good exercise. (I have to find the positive side, right?)

Our city has an awesome leaf collection system. We rake leaves to the curb, and the city brings around a huge vacuum cleaner that sucks up the leaves. It’s pretty cool. They come through several times each fall, so we just keep raking. (I filled a couple of yard waste cans with late-falling leaves on Dec. 21, just before the most recent snowfall. Someday I’ll get all the leaves off the yard. Maybe.)

I enjoy getting outside year-round. Cold, cool, hot, warm. It’s all good.

It sure beats over-eating while watching blowout bowl games all day (which I did yesterday, actually – yawn).

Fresh air. It’s good for your health, and mine.

See you on the trail. Any time of year.

Still learning a 2,600-year-old lesson

Thus says the LORD: Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth; but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the LORD; I act with steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the LORD.

(Jeremiah 9:23-24, emphasis added)

 

Wisdom, might, wealth.

Love, justice, righteousness.

Two lists, separated by God.

Wisdom, might and wealth are human gains.

Love, justice and righteousness belong to God.

That explains a lot about our country right there.

What do we pursue the most? Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We search for those things in our wisdom, might and wealth.

Wisdom

Wisdom, according to Merriam-Webster, is the ability to discern inner qualities and relationships; good sense; generally accepted belief; and accumulated philosophical or scientific learning.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wisdom

We gain wisdom as we learn things. Wisdom is never complete; we never see the entire picture.

For centuries, “generally accepted belief” and “scientific learning” told us that Earth was flat. As we gained more wisdom, we learned otherwise.

That’s why trusting entirely in science is not enough. There’s so much we don’t know yet. All the tiny details of how atoms work, how to cure cancer, what’s on the far reaches of outer space. We know a lot, certainly, but wisdom comes in bits and pieces, sometimes by excellent research, sometimes by good luck, sometimes by trial and error.

Wisdom is what we’ve learned. And since some of my experiences differ from yours, my “good sense” and “generally accepted belief” might be different than yours. My wisdom is not your wisdom, necessarily.

Wisdom is good, but only to a point. It’s not conclusive.

Might

Why do we glorify physical strength? The reason so many NFL players get hurt these days – ie, nearly all of them – is specifically because they all are so big and strong. (And when they retire, what happens to their bodies without the exercise? We never hear about that.)

I weigh 140 pounds. I’m on the low end or off the scale of every height-weight chart I’ve seen. I’ll never win a weight-lifting competition. If might is the goal, I have no chance.

The Winter Olympics is coming up, when athletes will show tremendous feats of strength and agility. Once the Olympics is over, we won’t hear from most of those athletes again. How fleeting life is in the public eye.

We glorify might, but it doesn’t last. Our bodies wear out eventually.

Wealth

Wealth is power. You have to be rich (and either a Republican or a Democrat) to run for political office. Money talks in the business world. Entertainers and athletes make big money. (Teachers don’t, comparatively.) The largest public employee salary in many states belongs not to the governor, but to a college football or basketball coach.

As with might, money doesn’t last. When we spend it, it’s gone. And when we die, we can’t take it with us.

Most people across the world don’t have near the wealth that the average American has. Even our poor are wealthy by the world’s standards.

It’s easy to get greedy and envious. There’s always someone who has more than I do. (There’s always someone who has less as well, but most of us aren’t looking in that direction.)

Wealth is either inherited or earned.

And it can disappear overnight. Those of us invested in the stock market in 2008 can attest to that.

Are wisdom, might and wealth the highest goals we can attain?

Love

Love has many definitions, of course. The purest love wants the best for the other person.

It’s not about me. It’s about you. Me serving you. God serving us both.

This kind of love does not come from us. We are selfish by nature, every one of us. True love originates with God.

This is not debatable.

Again, there are many types of love. Husband-wife, parent-child, friends. All of them are (or should be) other-person-centered.

Others-centered love does not come naturally. If it did, our divorce rate would not be between 40 percent and 50 percent (higher for subsequent marriages – we aren’t learning the lesson the first time around). Our violent crime rates wouldn’t be so high. We wouldn’t be searching for love in all the wrong places – illegal drugs, prostitution and pornography, fancy clothes or cars or houses or (fill in the blank), climbing the corporate ladder, a bigger salary … and on and on.

God shows us the love we need. All we have to do is accept it, then give it away.

It really is that simple.

In theory, at least.

Justice

Justice, according to Merriam-Webster, is “the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims,” the administration of law, and the quality of being just, impartial and fair.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/justice

How well is all of that working out in our nation?

When we impart justice on human terms, it changes all the time. Jim Crow laws. Same-sex marriage. Legalization of marijuana (which is coming eventually nationwide).

What is murder, anyway? Self-defense? Insanity plea?

So many gray areas in our laws. Loopholes and exceptions. How do we know which of these are just?

Depends who you ask.

Do impartiality and fairness even exist?

We need to try, certainly.

But ultimately, justice belongs to God alone. He sees the big picture. He understands the human heart, because He created it, so He understands motive. We try to figure it out, and we don’t always get it right, do we?

The Ten Commandments were given to us for a reason. For our own benefit. No human court of law or body of legislators has ever improved upon it.

Righteousness

Righteousness, again quoting Merriam-Webster, is acting in accord with divine or moral law; morally right or justifiable.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/righteousness

We don’t hear much about righteousness in the news, because it’s about “divine law.” We’ll stick with our own “morally right or justifiable” laws, thank you.

Even though those laws change depending on who has the wisdom, might and wealth at the moment.

Is there a “moral law” greater than the human mind can come up with?

We’re doomed if there isn’t.

As we enter 2018, if we can’t figure out how to get along with each other – love in its most basic form – we won’t have much of a future as a nation.

The prophet Jeremiah warned us about this 2,600 years ago. We still haven’t learned the lesson.

Will we ever?

Happiness and joy: synonyms?

What’s the difference between happiness and joy?

That question crossed my mind recently, as I wonder how happy I am and whether I can do anything about it.

Happiness is a choice, many people believe. I’ve seen posts and books about that, and heard people say it.

I’m not sure I buy it.

Happiness, the way I see it, is the result of doing something that makes us happy.

We can choose to do something that makes us happy, but we can’t choose to be happy all by itself.

Maybe that’s splitting hairs.

According to a couple of official sources, it is splitting hairs.

Merriam-Webster defines “joy” this way:

 

1.a : the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : delight

b : the expression or exhibition of such emotion : gaiety

2: a state of happiness or felicity : bliss

3: a source or cause of delight

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/joy

 

The dictionary calls joy an emotion, and basically a synonym for happiness. It also says the first known use of the word came in the 13th century.

Really? It’s in the Bible, written hundreds – if not thousands – of years before the 13th century.

So, I checked another source I go to sometimes, especially with questions about the Bible, gotquestions.org. In its discussion of “Is there a difference between joy and happiness?” are these statements:

 

 

It is common today to hear believers speak of a difference between joy and happiness. The teaching usually makes the following points: 1) Happiness is a feeling, but joy is not. 2) Happiness is fleeting, but joy is everlasting. 3) Happiness depends on circumstances or other people, but joy is a gift from God. 4) Happiness is worldly, but joy is divine. But there is no such distinction made in Scripture, and forcing a distinction between two words that are so obviously close in meaning is unnecessary …

There is nothing in the Bible that suggests we divorce joy from happiness. The two are equal.

Of course, there are different types of joy and happiness. There is a joy that comes from the world, such as “the fleeting pleasures of sin” spoken of in Hebrews 11:25. There is a joy that is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galations 5:22). There is a temporary happiness and an eternal happiness, but we can call both “happiness.” We don’t need to split hairs between the meaning of joy and happiness. We just need to decide where our joy comes from. Are we happy in the Lord, or are we content with the happiness the world affords?

https://www.gotquestions.org/joy-happiness.html

 

 

So, I guess I am splitting hairs.

I’ve had all four of those thoughts listed in the gotquestions.org explanation. If they aren’t true, then where do those ideas come from?

I do not consider myself a “happy” person. I laugh, but not very often, and never in the routines of life. I don’t get excited or enthusiastic. I can encourage others and hopefully make them feel good about themselves, but I have a hard time doing that for myself.

Emotions are fleeting. They come and go. Happiness follows that track.

If happiness and joy are so closely related, does that mean joy comes and goes, too?

 

James 1:2 says, “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials.” Christians can be happy, even in the midst of difficulties, because we know “the testing of our faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (verses 3-4). As we persevere through trials, with God’s help, our faith strengthens and matures. By God’s grace we can be happy despite our circumstances.

 

Gotquestions.org includes this paragraph on joy while suffering. Can we really be happy in the midst of difficulties?

Perhaps this is what we Americans are missing today. Many of us do have difficulties. We certainly are angry about a lot of things. We get upset when things don’t go our way.

Even more than that, “good people” suffer, too. People get sick and/or sometimes die far too young. Or God calls home a leader who has influenced many people, and we wonder why, when other people whom we don’t respect as much continue living.

We think like that all the time, don’t we?

God sees the big picture. All of us will die at some point. That’s a guarantee. Very few of us know when death will claim us.

Sometimes, people suffer before they die. Why? I can’t answer that.

Can suffering people be happy? Can suffering people find joy?

I work with almost two dozen adults with developmental disabilities. None of them can live on their own or take care of themselves. All of them have physical and/or mental disabilities that prevent them from living a life that you and I can enjoy.

Yet, I see happiness in my workplace every day. They laugh. They have fun when doing activities they enjoy. When I communicate with a non-verbal individual and we understand each other, both of us feel a joy, a connection, that’s hard to explain.

When two people connect, there’s joy. Friendship deepens. When one person holds back from communicating (that’s usually me), joy does not come.

Perhaps that’s why happiness often eludes me. A great communicator, I’m not.

So, where does my joy come from? As a Christian, I should be “happy in the Lord” all the time. That doesn’t mean I’m oblivious to suffering or to the real issues facing our family, city, nation, world, etc. I should have a joy that helps me see the bigger picture, to help me get through those issues.

Can I be joyful without being happy?

Perhaps not.

Perhaps I do need to choose joy/happiness.