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.


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.


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.


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.

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

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.


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

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

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


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, 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?



So, I guess I am splitting hairs.

I’ve had all four of those thoughts listed in the 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. 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.

Sexual harassment, part 2: The standard

Many of you provided excellent, thought-provoking comments on the blog I wrote last week about sexual harassment. In today’s highly sex-charged environment, I asked for a definition that everyone can agree on.

Several of your comments hinted, and one said directly, that such a definition likely doesn’t exist. Harassment is a very personal issue. What hurts you might not hurt me, and vice versa.

So, coming up with a national standard likely won’t happen.

A former human resources executive reminded me that all companies have a code of conduct handbook that defines sexual harassment, among many other issues, for that company. If an employee crosses that line, termination often is the result. The details don’t have to be made public.

Perhaps Hollywood needs a code of conduct handbook. Federal (and state and local) political bodies, as well.

Perhaps the bottom line is common sense. If something would hurt me, don’t do it. If I even think it might hurt you, don’t do it. If I cross the line by mistake and you say so, I must apologize immediately.

That’s why Garrison Keillor’s situation bothers me. He did that, and still got fired when a lawyer got involved. Perhaps there is more to his story than we know. Perhaps not. We may never know.

Keillor didn’t fight the accusation, so perhaps neither should I.

Searching for the standard

I still wonder:

Is there a standard that we can follow?

Since each us has our own standard, and they aren’t identical, any “true” standard would have to be bigger than ourselves.

This is one reason I submit myself to God’s ways. The one who created us knows what’s best for us, how we should use our bodies and get along with each other.

Since we’ve managed to screw all that up royally these days by ourselves, it’s worth seeking a way out of our mess.

News flash: Neither Republicans, President Trump nor Democrats have the answer. Each may have a part of the answer, but each also misses the mark.

Hollywood is part of the problem, not the solution.

We like to blame “the media” for all kinds of things, without knowing what the media really is.

“The media” used to mean newspapers, radio news and TV newscasts. It’s broadened to include entertainment we see on TV, in magazines and in other places. Newspapers have far less “fake news” in them than other media do. (Disclaimer: I worked in the newspaper industry for nearly 30 years.)

Design, build for productivity

Without getting too theological, God knows us better than we know ourselves, because He created us. When we design and build things, the designer and builder get to decide how those products are used. If we use a product in a way it wasn’t intended, it breaks, or it doesn’t work at all.

It’s the same with us humans. We have limitations. We like to push limits, but sometimes we go too far.

Sexual harassment is a perfect example of this.

So, we need to go back to why our Creator made us in the first place, and what our purpose is.

We were created to “have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:26) So, we were created to take care of the earth and everything in it.

We also were created to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it …” (Genesis 1:28)

“God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) This includes us as humans, too. We were created good – actually, “very good.”

How the product fails

So, what happened?

We as humans decided we wanted to control our own lives. Our Creator wasn’t good enough for us any more.

God said: fine. But consequences go along with that, just like there are when we use a product in a way it wasn’t intended to be used.

There wasn’t any written law from Adam to Moses, but there still were consequences for doing things incorrectly. “Right” and “wrong” are written in our hearts. Laws just explain what we already know.

When Moses came along, we got the Ten Commandments – a controversial document then, and a controversial document today – along with a host of other laws and rules of conduct.

You shall not make for yourself an idol.

Honor your father and mother.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not covet … your neighbor’s wife … (Exodus 20:4, 12, 14, 17)

When Jesus Christ arrived, he expanded on those themes. For example: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5: 27)

Here’s another one: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you … Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5: 43-44, 48)

There’s our standard. If every one of us followed these “laws,” sexual harassment would become a thing of the past.

Perfect love

Love is not what I think, or what I want. That’s what harassment is all about, isn’t it?

True love is what you want.

The truest love is what God wants, which benefits you and me both more than any love we have for each other can possibly do.

Our standard is perfection. Nothing less.

Jesus knows how impossible that is for us to do. That’s what his life, death and resurrection addressed.

All we have to do is accept Jesus into our hearts and minds, then live for Him the best we can. We still are sinners; we’ll still get it wrong, including on the harassment issue. If you think Christians live happily ever after, well, we don’t and we do. On this earth we do not. In the next life, yes, we will.

As Christians, our hearts should be in the right place; we should live differently than everyone else does, because our motivation is different – to serve others before ourselves. In this sinful, messed up world, we should stand out as shining lights of the way life is supposed to be lived.

Far too many of us claim to be Christians when we really aren’t. We try to justify our sinful desires, rather than try to change to be more like God.

The religious leaders of His day, not the tax collectors and sinners, crucified Jesus. The church people. Those who knew the Scriptures inside and out. Those who should have known better.

If Jesus were to walk in the flesh across the United States today, I’m convinced His message would be exactly the same. And we – the church people – would crucify Him again.

Not all church people would crucify Him, but many would.

Why? Because we reject His standard and prefer our own inferior, sin-infested standards.

Is the church a shining light of God’s pure love? If it is, all of us should want to be a part of it.

That’s the standard.

Someday, we’ll get there.

Paddock’s possible motive: loneliness

Stephen Paddock was married previously and currently had a girlfriend. He bought 33 guns in the past year, USA Today says. He was a real estate developer, but his full-time job was gambling. He was wealthy.

Paddock had no apparent ties to any terrorist groups, no political animosity or religious zealotry that might set him off.

So, what made him kill 59 people and injure more than 500 others in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history?

Understanding why

There’s one nugget in there that many people have overlooked, but that may provide an important clue.

As a gambler, according to The Associated Press, “his game of choice was video poker, a relatively solitary pursuit with no dealer and no humans to play against. And while neighbors described Paddock as friendly, he wasn’t close to them.”

Police still have no answers to Paddock’s motive. Joseph Lombardo, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department sheriff who has become the face of the investigation, questioned whether anyone would ever truly understand why the shooter did what he did, Yahoo reported.

Even his girlfriend apparently saw no warning signs of the mass shooting.

Perhaps that’s the way Paddock wanted it.

No clues. No warning. No history of hatred or violence.

The sheriff is likely correct. We never will fully understand why.


But it began in his head. His heart left him long ago.

He was a loner.

Even though he had relationships, he kept secrets.

Las Vegas Shooting

Many men keep secrets. We’re good at that. Especially those of us who struggle mightily to share our thoughts and feelings with someone else, even a spouse or close friend. Some of us never figure that out.

I understand loneliness very well.

It’s hard to describe or explain. Loners by definition do not share their deepest thoughts, desires or fears with anyone. When we feel injured or wronged, we internalize our feelings, twisting the pain over and over in our brains, most likely increasing the hurt and convincing ourselves that the person who wronged us had motives that he or she most likely didn’t.

In other words, we make the problem bigger than it really is. But that becomes our reality.

Crossing the line

What pain did Paddock suffer that affected his brain and/or damaged his heart so severely that he buried it?

It may not have been one thing. Perhaps little things just added up over the years, until he crossed a line.

Most loners don’t kill people. We react to internal pain differently than that. I’m sure we hurt the people closest to us by not opening up to them, not sharing our feelings and seeking help or at least a different perspective.

Paddock apparently had anger issues. I saw reports that he berated his girlfriend in public numerous times. Perhaps he was a control freak.

Perhaps he just didn’t know how to relate to a woman.

I wonder how prevalent that is in American society. Probably more so than any of us would care to admit.

Paddock didn’t care about people. He didn’t understand the human soul. If he did, he wouldn’t have destroyed so many.

The answer

How do we overcome loneliness? Can we discover that it’s enjoyable to be around other people?

Many of you won’t understand that question. You do enjoy the company of others. Affection and joy come naturally to you.

I envy you.

Some of us prefer to be alone. Even if we are in a long-term relationship, alone time is valuable to us. That’s not a slight against our significant others; it’s not their fault. Even though that hurts them. Deeply.

So, what’s the answer?


Talking about our feelings, wishes and desires.

I know that.

But that doesn’t mean I do it.

It’s not natural. I daresay more men, especially, than we think understand this.

No precedent

I’m 57 years old. I’ve never in my life had an “accountability partner,” someone I can share my deepest secrets with.

Opening my deep heart with a man I trust would cross a line.

This line is worth crossing. Indeed, it’s necessary for inner peace and healing.

I should intentionally step out in faith and do it.

Trust does not come easy, however, when we’ve never done it.

So we continue to hurt ourselves, and we hurt those closest to us.

What was Paddock’s dark secret? Was it the gambling? If so, why did it turn lethal?

Or was it something else, something he never told anyone?

Did he keep a journal? I’m sure the authorities will find it if he did. That’s a place to write our deepest thoughts, yet keep them hidden.

We can’t hide our thoughts and feelings forever. I think we all know that.


manalay bay

We rent a hotel room, as Paddock did, for a myriad of reasons. Motive isn’t always as obvious as it seems.

My wife and I rented a room in Glendale, Colo., recently. The motel clerk did not know why, nor did she care – as long as we gave her our credit card to pay for it. We were there to visit our son who lives there, certainly a legitimate reason to rent a motel room.

Paddock spent thousands of dollars a day at the casino tied to the hotel where he rented a room last weekend. Over the years he gambled so much at that casino, they gave him the room for free. He was there to gamble, the hotel staff thought, I’m sure. Or, perhaps to see the country music festival, since he requested a room overlooking the venue.

We now know he had a different motive. Even his girlfriend was unaware.


Why do we do the things we do? Why do we think the thoughts we think?

We cannot hide

Some of us prefer to keep those answers to ourselves.

But we will get found out.

Even if I hide my thoughts from you, the living God knows everything about me. I cannot hide from Him. That’s why you cannot judge me, but He can. You don’t know my motives. God does.

We may never know Paddock’s true motive. But God does.

Justice will come.

For you and me as well.

Ultimately, we cannot hide. We will get exposed.

Sooner or later.

Sooner is better. Let’s talk.

Positive v. negative: Which prevails?

When they had come to the land of Canaan … the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.”

Genesis 12:5, 7


“We are not able to go up against this people, for they are stronger than we.” So they brought to the Israelites an unfavorable report of the land that they had spied out …

Numbers 13:31-32


How easy we forget a promise. Or, perhaps because we know all about broken promises, we just won’t take God at His word.

In the first book of the Bible, God promised Abram (later renamed Abraham) a land flowing with milk and honey for his descendants. A few books later, God is ready to fulfill His promise by leading Israel into the Promised Land.

Before entering the land, Moses wanted to see what (and who) was there, so he sent 12 leaders, one from each of Israel’s tribes, to spy out the land. They reported that the land indeed was flowing with milk and honey.

They also noted that the inhabitants of Canaan were strong with large fortified cities – which they didn’t think they could conquer.

Two of the 12 spies, Caleb and Joshua, remembered God’s promise to Abram, saying, “If the LORD is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us …” (Numbers 14:8)

The nation’s response? “The whole congregation threatened to stone them.” (v. 10)

The majority opinion

You know the story. God forced Israel to wander in the desert for 40 years until that entire generation (except for Caleb and Joshua) died, and their descendants entered the Promised Land.

As I studied this familiar story recently, one I’ve read many times, a new thought came to me. (God does this all the time, as regular Bible readers know.)

The nation in the wilderness supported the majority opinion. Ten v. two. Ten spies said the inhabitants were too strong to overcome. Two said God was able to keep His promise, and that somehow God would lead Israel into the Promised Land.

It’s easy to judge the 10 in hindsight, because of course God eventually did help Israel conquer Canaan.

At the moment, however, I’m sure the 10 were very persuasive.

The big picture

It’s so easy to focus on our circumstances and lose sight of the big picture, as those 10 spies did. Who cares that God made a promise many generations earlier? These enemies are too strong for us. We can’t do it.

Caleb and Joshua saw the same situation that the other spies did. All of them saw the fruit of the land, how good it was, and the inhabitants, how big and strong they were.

The difference? Their attitudes.

Caleb and Joshua had seen God’s power as Israel escaped Egypt: the plagues, the Passover, the parting of the Red Sea, the giving of the 10 Commandments, manna in the wilderness that just appeared every day – all of it. They saw and experienced God’s power.

When they spied the Promised Land, they did not forget.

The other 10 did.

How easy it is to leave God in the wilderness, to focus on the challenges facing us and not on the God who promises to overcome the challenges.


The majority saw the negative. Caleb and Joshua saw the positive.

As a (retired) journalist, I am by nature cynical. It’s so easy for me to see the negative side. I have trouble finding joy in life, even though I know it’s there, because I see all the strife and turmoil around me.

I experience it every day. Road rage. Companies downsizing, including the one I worked for a few years ago. The opioid epidemic, which makes the news nearly every day around here. People on their phones instead of interacting face-to-face. And I haven’t even mentioned politics, which is its own special case.

How do I experience such things? With pessimism or optimism?

It’s the popular thing to complain and criticize. Even, perhaps especially, if we’re the majority.

But does that make it right?

What if the majority is off-track? What if most of us are missing the big picture?


I get upset when someone cuts me off at 65 mph because he or she is in a hurry to get somewhere. If I turn that into road rage, a fleeting incident would have lasting consequences, perhaps life-taking consequences.

Let it go and move on. Pick your battles. I’m on the highway because I’m going somewhere, and I want to get there. That’s the big picture. Suck it up and swallow my pride. I just hope that speeder doesn’t cause a crash down the road that takes or ruins an innocent life.

Do I see life in a positive or negative fashion?

Can I find the good in you? It’s there, of course.

Or, do I focus on the bad in you? That’s there too.

As it is in me.

If you want to find fault with me, you certainly can. If you focus on that, you might draw that out of me.

If you focus on the good in me, you might draw that out instead.

Attitude. That’s the difference.

Caleb and Joshua did not see an insurmountable obstacle. They saw a way to conquer the land. They didn’t know the details of how it would happen, but they trusted their God and His promise.

Even when the other 10 leaders and the entire nation of Israel didn’t see it.

Human nature is selfish. It’s so easy to get caught up in our own world and miss what’s really going on around us.

If we seek a positive outcome, we just might find it. This is one reason I believe in God, and try to see life through His lens. I don’t know what tomorrow brings, what Promised Land I will enter.

I need to remind myself of this all the time.

My cynical, self-centered, critical attitude is only part of the picture. When God offers a positive outlook, I need to pursue it.

I saw a John Eldredge movie last night with some friends. The author and adventurer says each of us has a story, and we need to discover it. That story involves not only adventure, but beauty.

If the world is such a bad place, Eldredge, says, where does beauty come from?

Perspective. Attitude. What we’re looking for.

Beauty or evil?

Which do you see?

Don’t trust the majority on this one.


God’s benediction prepares us for each moment

The LORD bless you and keep you;

The LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;

The LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

Numbers 6:24-26


I heard this benediction many times in church as a child. It’s a warm, positive, uplifting way to send a congregation out of the sanctuary and into our big, bad world.

This blessing rests in the middle of a lecture from God to Moses for the people of Israel camped at Mount Sinai, as they were beginning their wanderings in the desert before reaching the Promised Land. This part of the lecture included rules for the Levites, whom God designated as the priests for the entire nation.

Numbers is a book about holiness. Israel is set apart from all other nations. The Levites are set apart from all other Israelites. Break the rules, and you die. Literally.

Not every rule was punishable by death, of course – at least for the perpetrator. God instituted plenty of sacrifices for the people, including the Levites, to regain their holiness when they become “unclean” or when they sinned.

Those sacrifices meant that an animal had to die for a human’s errant ways.

Serious stuff. And bloody.

Most of Numbers 6 talks about the meaning of a nazirite vow, “to separate themselves to the LORD” (v. 2). We’re familiar with this vow because Samson broke all of it, reaping a heavy price while still receiving many blessings from God (his story is told in Judges 13-16).

So, while this blessing asks God for favor, we have a role to play as well. If we turn our backs on God and reject His laws, we can’t expect many blessings from Him, can we?

I frequently test God this way. I want to do things my way, then ask God to bless it and make it good. Most of the time, my way is a cheap imitation of what my Lord and Savior really wants to give me, and wants me to do.

I know that God wants the best for me. If I only understood what that really means …

The LORD bless you … offers six definitions of “blessing:”

  1. the act or words of a person who blesses.
  2. a special favor, mercy, or benefit:

the blessings of liberty.

  1. a favor or gift bestowed by God, thereby bringing happiness.
  2. the invoking of God’s favor upon a person:

The son was denied his father’s blessing.

  1. praise; devotion; worship, especially grace said before a meal:

The children took turns reciting the blessing.

  1. approval or good wishes:

The proposed law had the blessing of the governor.

God wanted to give the Israelites favor, mercy and good wishes. He wants the same for us today.

… and keep you

This blessing also asks God to “keep you.” This means that God will protect Israel and keep them from harm.

God protects us today as well.

The LORD make his face to shine upon you …

This implies that God does not shine on everyone. He causes His face to shine on those who seek His face and want to be a blessing to Him. Several times in the Bible, people asked that God not hide His face from them (Job 13:24, Psalm 27:9, 44:24, 69:17, 88:14, 102:2, 143:7).

… and be gracious to you offers these definitions of “gracious:”

  1. pleasantly kind, benevolent, and courteous.
  2. characterized by good taste, comfort, ease, or luxury:

gracious suburban living; a gracious home.

  1. indulgent or beneficent in a pleasantly condescending way, especiallyto inferiors.
  2. merciful or compassionate:

our gracious king.

  1. Obsolete. fortunate or happy.

I like the “merciful or compassionate” definition for Numbers 6, although “kind, benevolent, and courteous” certainly could apply as well.

We’re asking God to be on our side, not because we deserve it or we even know what “merciful” or “compassionate” mean, but because we know God has the best plan, the right plan, for each of us. By giving us mercy and compassion, God wants us to give those away – ie, share mercy and compassion with literally everyone we meet.

The LORD lift up his countenance upon you …

What is countenance? explains it this way:

  1. appearance, especially the look or expression of the face:

a sad countenance.

  1. the face; visage.
  2. calm facial expression; composure.
  3. approval or favor; encouragement; moral support.
  4. Obsolete. bearing; behavior.

Countenance is a person’s face or facial expression. It doesn’t have to be positive, but it often is. Moses is asking God to smile for us, because of us. What a thought that is.

… and give you peace

Peace is a tough concept to understand. lists many possibilities:

  1. the normal, nonwarring condition of a nation, group of nations, or the world.
  2. (often initial capital letter) an agreement or treaty between warring or antagonistic nations, groups, etc., to end hostilities and abstain from further fighting or antagonism:

the Peace of Ryswick.

  1. a state of mutual harmony between people or groups, especially in personal relations:

Try to live in peace with your neighbors.

  1. the normal freedom from civil commotion and violence of a community; public order and security:

He was arrested for being drunk and disturbing the peace.

  1. cessation of or freedom from any strife or dissension.
  2. freedom of the mind from annoyance, distraction, anxiety, an obsession, etc.; tranquility; serenity.
  3. a state of tranquility or serenity:

May he rest in peace.

These definitions say “peace” is the absence of war, but it’s much more than that. Absence leaves a vacuum. If not war, what replaces it? Mutual harmony? Tranquility or serenity?

I think peace is more than those things.

Here’s a few Bible verses on peace:


Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.

Hebrews 12:14


And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:7


The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace.

Psalm 29:11


Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

Psalm 34:14


For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6


“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33


We are to pursue peace; it’s not in our human nature to do this. We prefer to defend ourselves, even if that means we antagonize others. Jesus “gives strength to his people” to pursue peace.

Jesus is called the Prince of Peace 700 years before He is born. Jesus claims this by saying peace is one of His objectives for us. The world doesn’t understand peace; only Jesus offers peace that “transcends all understanding,” that “overcomes the world.”


There’s a lot in this Old Testament benediction. If we do our part, God will surely do His.

Blessings will follow. That’s a promise.

Hamilton on religion: Belief in God as moral authority

One in a series on Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow. On July 18, we discussed his views on central government vs. states’ rights:

Today, we see his views on religion.


At the end of his life, Hamilton sought out a religious experience more deeply than he did earlier on. As he lay dying after Aaron Burr shot him in a duel, “he made it a matter of urgent concern to receive last rites from the Episcopal Church.” (p. 706)

Hamilton asked for the Rev. Benjamin Moore, rector of Trinity Church in New York City and the Episcopal bishop of New York. Moore balked at giving Hamilton holy communion for two reasons: “He thought dueling an impious practice and did not wish to sanction the confrontation with Burr. He also knew that Hamilton had not been a regular churchgoer.” (p. 707)

hamilton mug

Hamilton then turned to a close friend, the Rev. John M. Mason, pastor of Scotch Presbyterian Church, near Hamilton’s home in New York City. Mason said he could not administer communion to Hamilton because “it is a principle in our churches never to administer the Lord’s Supper privately to any person under any circumstances.” (p. 707)

Hamilton then returned to Moore. Hamilton’s friends pressured the bishop to grant the dying man’s last wish. Moore eventually agreed, and gave holy communion to Hamilton. (p. 708)


Hamilton repeated to Bishop Moore that he bore no malice toward Burr, that he was dying in a peaceful state, and that he was reconciled to his God and his fate. (p. 708)


While he professed faith throughout his life, it wasn’t a deep-seated tenet of everything he said and did.


Like Adams, Franklin and Jefferson, Hamilton had probably fallen under the sway of deism, which sought to substitute reason for revelation and dropped the notion of an active God who intervened in human affairs. At the same time, he never doubted God’s existence, embracing Christianity as a system of morality and cosmic justice. (p. 205)


Deism, according to an online dictionary, is “belief in the existence of a supreme being, specifically of a creator who does not intervene in the universe. The term is used chiefly of an intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries that accepted the existence of a creator on the basis of reason but rejected belief in a supernatural deity who interacts with humankind.”

I see a similar thread across the United States today. According to Gallup, 89 percent of Americans say they believe in God, although that number is declining. At the same time, also according to Gallup, 75 percent of Americans identify as Christian, a number that also is declining.

A vast majority of us today believe in God’s existence, as Hamilton did. Do we believe He intervenes in human affairs? Many say yes but wish He wouldn’t, saying things, for example, like: Why do bad things happen to good people?

Hamilton, however, believed in an impersonal God who just lets life happen. He saw the Bible “as a system of morality and cosmic justice” that transcends humankind.


For Hamilton, the French Revolution had become a compendium of heretical doctrines, including the notion that morality could exist without religion … (p. 463)


Yet for most of his life, religion could go only so far, in his view.


Like other founders and thinkers of the Enlightenment, (Hamilton) was disturbed by religious fanaticism and tended to associate organized religion with superstition. … Like Washington, he never talked about Christ and took refuge in vague references to “providence” or “heaven.” (p. 659)


His wife, Eliza, on the other hand, had a very strong Christian faith throughout her life. She rented a pew at Trinity Church, “increasingly spoke the language of evangelical Christianity,” (p. 659) and likely would not have married a man who did not share her faith to some degree (p. 660).


(Eliza) was a woman of towering strength and integrity who consecrated much of her extended widowhood to serving widows, orphans and poor children. (p. 728)


Alexander Hamilton also doted on his children – he and Eliza had eight – when he had the time, which wasn’t often because of his extremely busy public life. And he and Eliza off and on also hosted orphans and other non-family members in their home, a sensitivity that Alexander had because he was an orphan while growing up in the West Indies.


But Alexander Hamilton “lived in a world of moral absolutes and was not especially prone to compromise or consensus building.” (p. 509)


This hurt him politically many times throughout his life. As we mentioned last week, he did not value the opinions of common people, but felt the federal government should dictate right and wrong to them. “This may have been why (James) Madison was so adamant that ‘Hamilton never could have got in’ as president.” (p. 509)

Hamilton wore his emotions on his sleeve. Often without decorum, he shared his opinions – in private letters or public pamphlets – that garnered plenty of attention. He had many detractors because of this.


“Hamilton was incapable of a wise silence.” (p. 534)


He frequently felt the need to defend his honor, even when his closest friends told him he didn’t need to do that. He wrote two pamphlets that severely damaged his reputation while he lived, one defending himself over a one-year affair he had with a married woman who was blackmailing him while he was treasury secretary, and the other criticizing then-president John Adams over their political differences (even though they were both members of the Federalist party).


“Rather than make peace with John Adams, he was ready, if necessary, to blow up the Federalist party and let Jefferson become president.” (p. 615)


While Hamilton held strong opinions on many subjects, including moral judgments, often to his own detriment, his views on religion softened in his later years, as evidenced by his deathbed pleas for holy communion.


O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,

and you will not listen?

Or cry to you “Violence!”

and you will not save?

Why do you make me see wrongdoing

and look at trouble?

Destruction and violence are before me;

strife and contention arise.

So the law becomes slack,

and justice never prevails.

The wicked surround the righteous –

therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

  • Habakkuk 1:2-4


I ask this question of God all the time. Maybe not in those exact words, but the question remains.

When will good prevail?

I know it will eventually, but what about today?

We just celebrated the holiest week on the Christian calendar. Such wide-ranging events, such wild swings of emotion:

  • Jesus washing his disciples’ feet in a surprising act of servanthood. (Have you ever washed someone’s feet, or let someone wash your feet? It’s humbling, almost degrading.)
  • Jesus crying out in anguish to his father, asking for the unfolding scenario not to happen. “… yet not what I want but what you want.” (Matthew 26:39)
  • An unfair – and illegal – trial in the middle of the night. Jesus remained silent through most of it.
  • The horrible crucifixion on Friday.
  • Jesus’ life-altering resurrection on Sunday.

Wait a minute. There’s one day in that week where nothing seemingly happens. Only silence.


The day between the crucifixion and the resurrection.

Habakkuk wrote his essay about 600 years before Jesus lived, but he easily could have written it on that Saturday. Jesus promised that he would rise on the third day, but it hadn’t happened yet. There’s only the sorrow of death. Tomorrow hasn’t come yet. What about today? What do we do now?

In a very real sense, the year 2017 is taking place on Saturday. Yes, the resurrection has occurred, but the final victory hasn’t come yet. The Bible promises that it will. Eventually.

What do we do in the meantime?

In my personal journal, I concluded a Good Friday entry with this paragraph:


“It’s a nice day today, Father. I don’t feel it. Birds singing, flowers growing, window open, sun shining. A beautiful spring day. Where You die, and I sin. Sunday is coming. Eventually.”


When will good prevail? It already has, and still is. I often have a hard time seeing it, though.

It’s easy to focus on the negative, personally and globally, and live my life there. Sad. Frustrated. Disappointed. Angry, perhaps. Knowing that Sunday is coming, but not seeing it.

Our church gave us a Holy Week devotional that I found helpful. The Saturday entry includes this thought:


“The promise is clear: Jesus will rise. But the grief and pain are so overwhelming, nobody can hear the promise now. Nobody can remember the promise. Saturday is the day of such emotional pain, that it seems impossible to remember the promises of God. Isn’t it true that much of life is lived on “Saturday?” We’re so beleaguered by our circumstances that we forget what God has said … We doubt in the dark what God has said in the light … We cry out for help, but God does not listen.”


I get that. I put my head down when I’m jogging to watch for potholes and dog poop on the path, but I don’t see what’s ahead of me: a curve in the trail, deer in the woods, other walkers or joggers coming towards me. How far to the bridge over the river or to the overpass I’ll cross under? Am I paying attention?

My life expectancy and health give me another 30 or 40 years here on Earth. That’s a lot of Saturdays. Can I wait that long for Sunday?

The devotional continues this way:


Learning to live on Saturday is learning to exercise faith despite the pain, and clinging with all we’ve got to God and the promises he’s made. God will make good out of evil. God will bring joy out of mourning. God will bring light out of darkness. There will be a Sunday. Lord, I believe.


Habakkuk gets an answer from God to his plea:


“Look at the nations, and see!

Be astonished! Be astounded!

For a work is being done in your days

that you would not believe if you were told.”

  • Habakkuk 1:5


Wow. Is that message relevant in 2017? Why not?

Sunday is coming. Sooner or later.

That gives me hope. I don’t have to live with Saturday’s pain.

None of us do. Sunday is promised. The resurrection is proof, and Jesus’ second coming is undeniable. No one knows when that will happen.

Until then, it’s Saturday.

Good and evil co-exist. We need discernment to discover which is which. Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it isn’t. Searching for good when evil often reigns is the definition of Saturday.

It can be done, but it’s hard.

I’m ready for Sunday.

I’ll conclude this essay with the final thought of the Bible:


“The one who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

  • Revelation 22:20