We’ve learned the wrong lesson from 9/11

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

So said George Santayana, a Spanish-born American author, in 1905.

Perhaps that’s why my wife and I, during a long weekend in New York for a wedding, took a train and subway ride into the Big Apple to see the 9/11 memorial.

As a friend told us, that’s something you do only once. It’s a sober reminder of what happened on one particular day 18 years ago.

Once is enough for a powerful reminder like that.

Cannot forget

If you were old enough to remember that day, those two airplanes crashing into the iconic World Trade Center towers provided memories you’ll never forget. I was a newspaper copy editor in Michigan at the time, watching the surreal events unfold on deadline.

newspapers 7

Our daily newspaper published several editions that day, because the news happened so fast. Our first edition didn’t even mention the attack. The last edition – literally a stop-the-presses moment – reported the panic and shock of a nation-defining tragedy.

Since that day, our society has changed permanently, and not necessarily for the better. We no longer trust each other, not in airports – security is tighter than it’s ever been – or even on the sidewalk, where we stare at our phones or listen to our music, oblivious to the world around us.

Burned-out fire trucks and ambulances. Twisted steel of the north and south towers. Charred pieces of the airplanes-turned-weapons. Snippets from the morning TV talk shows, interrupted by updates from Ground Zero. Smoke billowing in New York, at the Pentagon and in western Pennsylvania.

memorial 9

The memorial captures all of it. And much more.

As if we could ever forget.

Fear replaces trust

It struck me that people in other parts of the world face these fears every day. Imagine the Kurds in Syria right now. Will they be alive tomorrow?

We lived through that once.

Just once.

We have the capability to prevent such attacks, for the most part anyway, by stepping up security. Cameras watch us everywhere – not just at airports, but at businesses, street corners and even some private homes.

We don’t trust anyone anymore.

Why is there so much evil in the world today? Because that’s what we expect of each other.

We act out our fears.

If, instead, we would look for the good in the world, we’d see it. I discovered that as we raised our three sons. Give them a little age-appropriate responsibility, and they’ll step up. A little alone time because Mom and Dad both need to run a short errand. Then, our oldest driving to an out-of-town event with his best friend as a teenager. Eventually, all three of our sons went away to college.

We trusted them, because we’d prepared them. And they passed with flying colors.

Perhaps that works at home, but society no longer operates that way.

Unity, for a brief moment

If your skin color is different, if your nationality or religious beliefs are different, you are not to be trusted. That didn’t start on Sept. 11, 2001, of course, but it sure increased after that date.

Immediately after 9/11, this nation unified like I’d never seen it do before. That lasted about three weeks. Then people stopped going to church and praying for each other, seeking solace in the unity that comes from a shared experience.

memorial 8

In a sense, we’ve forgotten the past already. We’ve forgotten what unifies us.

We care only about what divides us. Our politics, our religion, our nationality, our social values, our language. We build walls, literal ones and figurative ones in our hearts.

Every one of us, including me, does this.

When our sons were learning to drive, I told them not to trust any other driver on the road. Act as if all of them are idiots, so that when another driver does something stupid, you won’t be surprised. And you’ll be ready to react.

That’s good advice on the road. Unfortunately, we live all of our lives that way, don’t we?

We prove ourselves untrustworthy. Every time I drive on a highway – every single time – I get passed by drivers going 15 mph or more over the speed limit. So do you, unless you’re the speeder. There aren’t enough police cars out there to prevent this.

Identity theft. Robo calls. Inferior products (we don’t build things the way we used to; I could write a column just about this). I’m renting a tux for an upcoming wedding; the company doesn’t want me to pick it up early, and they want it back on Sunday, the day after the wedding. They don’t trust me to keep it even one extra day, even though I’m paying more than $200 for the privilege of holding onto that tux for, like, four days. Not five.

The new normal

Why do we remember 9/11? Is it to point fingers at the bad guys?

Is that all we learned?

Have we forgotten what unifies us?

memorial 23

Every one of us is the bad guy, actually. Each of us, including you and me, is an enemy to someone. If you call yourself a Republican or a Democrat, you’re an enemy. If you’re white or black or Middle Eastern, you’re an enemy to someone. If you’re a Christian or a Muslim, you’re Satan personified to someone.

We have more in common than we think we do. 9/11 proved that, if only for three weeks.

The fallout proves how much we’ve forgotten.

Why visit the 9/11 memorial in New York?

How do we prevent such a tragedy from happening again? While we haven’t had an attack of that scale on our soil since, we have mass shootings all the time. Most of them are internal, not from outside terrorists.

memorial 27

We no longer trust each other. We put up walls and stockpile weapons to protect ourselves. The spiral deepens.

I went for a jog through the neighborhood shortly after we bought our house two years ago. I left the front door open, since I wasn’t planning to be gone long. My neighbor noticed and said I shouldn’t do that, because there’s teenagers around who will steal stuff.

Even in suburban America, this is the world we live in. We’re hardly safe even in our own homes.

The world has come to our front porch. We’ve slammed the door, and locked it out.

This is our 9/11 legacy. I’m afraid we’ve missed the lesson we needed to learn.

Perfect justice will come

Justice and wisdom. They go together.

I found the best explanation of justice in a book on hope by Max Lucado. The best description of wisdom resides in another book, this one a novel.

Let me set the stage with this:

 

For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.

2 Corinthians 5:10

 

Justice

Lucado published a book last year (2018) called “Unshakable Hope: building our lives on the promises of God”. One of those promises is titled, “Justice Will Prevail.”

Lucado explains how that 2 Corinthians judgment will work. It makes a whole lot of sense.

You and I, along with each person who ever lived, is living or will live, one day will stand before God’s judgment seat.

Heaven requires that sins be paid. All of them. There will be no sin in heaven.

hope

How will God remove all sin from Heaven? One at a time. As long as it takes.

Here’s the picture Lucado paints of what judgment will look like.

Each of us individually will stand in a courtroom, God’s courtroom, and face our Maker. “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books.” (Revelation 20:12)

In those books are all of our works, good and evil. Every single one.

In an American courtroom, every defendant is allowed an advocate, someone to defend him or her. It’s not mandatory; we can reject assistance and stand before the judge on our own if we so desire.

On God’s judgment day, those of us who know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior will have an advocate as God reads off our sins. For example:

  • Bill made a comment behind someone’s back. Jesus: I died for that.
  • Bill ignored a person he could have helped. Jesus: I know. I have forgiven him.
  • Bill cussed under his breath, but a few people heard him. Jesus: I took care of that.

And on and on. Every single sin I have ever committed, and will commit, in my entire life. God will read them off.

Jesus will accept the punishment for each one of them.

There will be no secrets in Heaven, no wondering, “What did he/she do down there on Earth?” We will be free, completely free, from all sin – and able to worship God and live for Him with our whole hearts.

When the list is ended, anything good I’ve done will also get read aloud by the living God, according to the verse I quoted in 2 Corinthians. God will celebrate all the good that happened (and is happening and will happen) down here on Earth.

This is the judgment of each one whom Jesus knows intimately.

But some people on Earth reject God.

God will honor that. And He will judge accordingly.

These folks will face the same judgment. They will stand before God, and He will read off their sins, one by one, just as He did mine.

But they will have no advocate standing next to them, offering to pay for their sins.

God, therefore, will declare them guilty – the only sentence He can pronounce.

Justice will prevail. For each and every one of us.

Wisdom

Justice plays out in a similar fashion in one of my favorite novels – “The Shack,” by William Paul Young. In a chapter titled “Here Come Da Judge,” we see two main characters: Mack, who is bitter over the kidnapping and death of his young daughter, and the judge, later identified as Sophia, the personification of God’s wisdom.

shack

Mack also has a wife and four living children. In this chapter, we learn that Mack, like many of us, is quick to judge just about everyone he meets – and he blames God for allowing his daughter to die.

How accurate are our judgments? God writes down all of our deeds, good and evil, in books that will be opened one day. But how much do you and I truly know about each other?

Since Mack was quick to condemn the killer of his daughter and God for allowing that scenario to play out, Sophia did something unusual. She got up from her judge’s chair and invited Mack to sit there. Judgment Day had arrived, and he was the judge.

Mack was unnerved. He felt unqualified.

But he judged people all the time, so he had lots of experience at it. He was qualified then, right?

Judge Sophia gave him a challenge: Only two of your five children can go to heaven. You must send the other three to hell. Which of your children would you sentence to hell?

When you put it that way, Judge …

But that’s what we do every day, don’t we?

Mack said he couldn’t do it. No way. Sophia said you must. You want to judge, you think God judges like this, then render your verdict.

Mack pleaded for his children, all of them. He said he’d take the punishment for their sins – send him to hell, let all of his children go to heaven.

Mack finally understood wisdom. Because that’s exactly what Jesus Christ did for His children.

There’s so much more to “The Shack” than this one scene. It’s a great book, and it came out as a movie two years ago.

The advocate

I’m glad I’m not the ultimate judge of anyone, even though I try sometimes. I don’t know your motives, why you do what you do. You don’t know my motives. Shakespeare said all the world’s a stage, and he was right. We’re all actors, and when we play a role, we can hide our true selves.

But we can’t hide from the living God.

That’s why His justice is perfect.

Each of us will get what we deserve.

The question is: Will you have an advocate with you on the Judgment Day? Only one advocate will be allowed in that courtroom, and he paid a very heavy price to claim that role.

A price that no one else can come close to paying.

That day will come. It’s been promised.

Will you be ready?

Naming the lie I’ve lived with all my life

I’m not good enough.

Like a broken branch hanging from a tree, I don’t fit in. I’m not connected.

I’ve lived this lie all my life, without even knowing it. I knew something wasn’t right in my heart, but I couldn’t name it.

Until this month.

Let me explain.

The wound is given

I grew up in a Leave-It-To-Beaver home, father-mother-son-daughter. From the outside we were an all-American family. Living in the suburbs. Dad had a good job most of the time (my sister and I were shielded from the tough times – we always were provided for). Good public schools, and a college education.

We made a couple of out-of-state moves, in the middle of my second-grade year and just before ninth grade. Those were hard, moving to a new place where we didn’t know anyone, but that allowed me to keep my façade intact.

I was a loner. No close friends. I was bullied a little bit in junior high because I’m small physically and quiet. I was an easy target and wouldn’t complain. We moved after eighth grade, and that ended.

I knew my parents had my back, but my sister and I received no affection growing up. No encouragement or praise. Little advice. We didn’t take risks, try new things, step out of comfort zones, have people over for dinner, none of that.

My whole life I thought loneliness was my wound, the bleeding in my heart that I could not stop. Satan allowed me to think that, to identify the wrong wound. That way, I’d never heal.

In October I spent two days with Mom and Dad. Just the three of us.

Dad

Dad is 85 and doesn’t expect to live too much longer. His death is not imminent, but he knows the end is coming. Mom turns 82 this week and is very healthy.

“If Mom dies before I do, I’m in trouble,” Dad told me last month.

He’s right. She provides for his every need. As she has every day of their 59-year marriage.

I’ve never heard Mom express an original thought or opinion. When she speaks, it’s often softly so no one will hear her or respond. She stays in the background.

Personality-wise, I am my mom’s son. I rarely will tell you what’s on my mind. (It’s much easier for me to communicate by writing than by speaking. Just sayin’ …)

There are reasons for this. Looking at the upbringing of my parents – ie, my grandparents, on both sides – I see where their personalities come from.

The point: Mom and Dad are who they are. They raised me. They did the best they could. They did a good job.

The wound continues

But this wound …

I told myself I’d break the cycle when I had children. I won’t pass the wound on to them. I knew I had a wound as a child and young adult, even though I couldn’t name it correctly.

But since I had mis-identified the wound and I didn’t have a support system to fight it, I did pass it on to our sons. I see that now. It manifests itself differently in each of them, but it’s there.

Satan tailors our wounds to our weaknesses. My sons may have different wounds than I do. I should ask them about that. I began a conversation about this the other day with my youngest son, and we’ll see where that goes.

My wound affects my marriage, too. We’ve been married 34 years – from the outside, we’ve got a great marriage. And it is great in many ways. But I have not been the husband and father that my family needed – and still need.

Facing my shadow

The week before I visited Mom and Dad, a good friend and I attended a three-day conference in Chicago on inner-city ministry, since the church we attend is starting a campus in an inner-city area of Lorain, Ohio. One of the keynote speakers discussed emotional health. I also attended a workshop he led on the topic.

Then, I bought his book. I’ve started reading it, because I am not an emotionally healthy leader.

Not even close.

The speaker and author, Peter Scazerro, talked about “facing your shadow.” Scazerro put it this way:

 

Everyone has a shadow. So what is it?

Your shadow is the accumulation of untamed emotions, less-than-pure motives and thoughts that, while largely unconscious, strongly influence and shape your behaviors. It is the damaged but mostly hidden version of who you are.

The Emotionally Healthy Leader, page 55

 

Largely unconscious. Yes. Damaged and mostly hidden. Satan wants it that way.

Don’t tell me Satan doesn’t exist. We either give Satan too much credit, or none at all. The spiritual world is very real. You and I both know it, too.

Yes, you do. Even if you won’t acknowledge it out loud, you know that there is a bigger story out there.

We must understand this. Our very lives depend on it.

I’m not exaggerating.

John Eldredge, in his book “Wild at Heart,” has a different name for the “shadow.” He calls it a “wound,” and says most of us get that wound from our fathers.

Naming the wound

The week after I visited Mom and Dad, I attended a four-day retreat based on Eldredge’s book with about 100 men. Eldredge and a couple of his staff led video sessions, followed by personal experiences from a number of leaders of the retreat. That was followed by quiet times across the 80-plus-acre campsite where we could wrestle with God on the topic just discussed.

During one of those quiet times, God named my wound.

I see it in my growing-up years.

I also see it in a couple of jobs I’ve had. I worked for 24 years at The Saginaw (Mich.) News; most of that time I was a copy editor. I loved it there. We were a fantastic team. I was part of a bigger story, helping produce a top-notch daily newspaper that was the talk of the town, literally.

But something happened. The Internet came along, and newspaper management didn’t handle it well. Overnight, we were micromanaged. I’d done the same job for two decades, and I was no longer good enough.

I stopped trying. I gave minimum effort and put in no extra time. My passion disappeared. I survived this way for two years before we were downsized.

I did not handle that period of my life well at all. My wife, especially, suffered severely. We only recently began talking about issues related to that, and I was downsized nine years ago.

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My most recent job, as a driver for a day program for adults with developmental disabilities, ended in August. During my exit interview, I discovered a side issue that I didn’t know about. I had been blacklisted as a driver from picking up individuals at two houses around town. At each house, I did something that someone inside the house didn’t like. Instead of giving me the chance to work it out and get it right, I was not allowed to ever return to those homes. The company has a zero tolerance policy for some very minor issues.

When I discovered that, I got angry. I hadn’t felt anger in a long time, and it surprised me that anger came over this issue.

Why?

Because I wasn’t good enough to do my job. I was not allowed to do my job to the best of my ability.

I’m not good enough.

The wrong question

Jesus Himself said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Even Jesus says I’m not good enough, right?

But the story doesn’t end there.

Indeed, that’s the wrong question.

Whether I’m good enough or not is irrelevant. God loves me anyway.

The summer after ninth grade, I attended a church camp in western Pennsylvania. The counselors and other campers – my peers – noticed me and cared about me just because I was there. I didn’t have to do anything to earn their love and respect.

It wasn’t a sermon that won me over, or a good book. It certainly wasn’t a church service. What changed my life? People cared about me, and made it clear that Jesus cared about them – and me – like that too. I wanted what they had. Jesus was it.

I asked Jesus to “save” me from my sins, and He did.

Deception

Immediately, Satan took me out. He kept me focused on my faults and shortcomings, kept me fuzzy about my wound or shadow.

My salvation was not the issue; my effectiveness as a Christian was.

chapel

This battle took place in my heart, in the spiritual realm. This is real life, as real as it gets.

It’s still taking place there.

But naming my wound and allowing God to defeat it gives me the courage to live life the way God wants me to live it. I’ve buried my true feelings for far too long.

God doesn’t care whether I’m good enough or not. He loves me anyway.

He loves you like that, too.

As a journalist, I like to ask questions. Asking the right question yields the best answer.

If you could ask God one question about your own life, what would it be?

Be careful. He just might answer it.

Justice, kindness, humility: They go together

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;

and what does the LORD require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

 

We don’t like to be called “mortal,” do we? That means we aren’t immortal – and God is. Many of us don’t like that thought.

Some of you reject the Bible and God for just that reason, don’t you?

Truth is truth, even if it’s inconvenient sometimes.

If something is “good,” then that means something else is “bad.” Good is a comparative term. This sentence says justice, kindness and humility are good, which means their opposites are bad.

Most of us would agree that justice is a good thing. I think justice means different things to different people, though.

Kindness is “good,” too.  A kinder world would be a better world. We might agree with this, but not enough of us do much about it.

Humility, especially with God? That’s a tougher one. But we can’t get along with each other, much less with God, unless we “walk humbly.”

These three concepts go together. We can talk about each separately, but we can’t have justice without kindness and humility, or kindness without justice and humility, or humility without justice and kindness.

Justice

1 Just behaviour or treatment.

‘a concern for justice, peace, and genuine respect for people’

1.1 The quality of being fair and reasonable.

‘the justice of his case’

1.2 The administration of the law or authority in maintaining this.

‘a tragic miscarriage of justice’

2 A judge or magistrate, in particular a judge of the Supreme Court of a country or state.

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/justice

 

Here’s another definition with a slightly different slant:

  1. the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness: to uphold the justice of a cause.
  2. rightfulness or lawfulness, as of a claim or title; justness of ground or reason: to complain with justice.
  3. the moral principle determining just conduct.
  4. conformity to this principle, as manifested in conduct; just conduct, dealing, or treatment.
  5. the administering of deserved punishment or reward.
  6. the maintenance or administration of what is just by law, as by judicial or other proceedings: court of justice.
  7. judgment of persons or causes by judicial process: to administer justice in a community.
  8. a judicial officer; a judge or magistrate.

https://www.dictionary.com/browse/justice

 

Justice has to do with law, but also with “moral rightness.” It includes being “fair and reasonable.”

Who gets to decide what is “fair,” “reasonable” or “morally right?”

Those who write the laws of the land make those decisions.

Those laws are not irrevocable, at least in this country. New leaders can change laws or write new ones if they decide that “moral rightness” is not happening.

It’s not an easy process, but it does happen. Women were given the right to vote, for example, in the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1919; before then, they couldn’t.

Earlier, on Jan. 31, 1865, the 13th amendment became law, which abolished slavery. This law has been enforced unevenly since. “Justice” and “morally right” still clash on this issue far too often.

We can’t legislate respect, although these amendments tried.

Justice in the Bible adds a couple of layers to the nation’s definitions.

 

We cannot begin to understand God’s justice unless we first understand sin. Sin … embodies everything contrary to God’s holy nature. Thus, sin is a crime against God, and justice demands a penalty of death and separation from Him for it (Romans 1:18-322:53:23). But God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to pay that penalty for us (Romans 5:8-116:23) and made salvation available to all who believe in His name (John 1:123:15-1720:31).

(This is) not in spite of His justice, but because of it. He loved us so much that despite the fact that our sin demands our death, He sent His Son to be our substitute upon the cross, thus demonstrating that His justice was not violated, but instead satisfied (1 Thessalonians 1:105:9).

https://www.gotquestions.org/God-of-justice.html

 

The Bible also talks about “social justice.” The Bible interprets that term differently than the world does:

 

The Christian notion of social justice is different from the contemporary notion of social justice. The biblical exhortations to care for the poor are more individual than societal. In other words, each Christian is encouraged to do what he can to help the “least of these.” The basis for such biblical commands is found in the second of the greatest commandments — love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39).

Today’s notion of social justice replaces the individual with the government, which, through taxation and other means, redistributes wealth.

https://www.gotquestions.org/social-justice.html

 

If we want to have an intelligent, meaningful discussion on justice, we need to define the term and understand what we’re talking about. If you and I think differently about justice, we might have to work hard to understand each other.  Listening is essential to communication.

Kindness

Kindness is a behavior marked by ethical characteristics, a pleasant disposition, and concern and consideration for others. It is considered a virtue, and is recognized as a value in many cultures and religions.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kindness

 

An entire movement, “random acts of kindness,” encourages us to do nice things for each other. That started in a Sausalito, California, restaurant in 1982 when Anne Herbert scrawled the words “practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty” on a placemat. From there it spread to bumper stickers, quietly at first, but with all the powerful momentum of something important – calling us to lives of caring and compassion.

https://makeadiff.wordpress.com/2006/06/02/the-history-of-random-acts-of-kindness/

 

We need more caring and compassion in our country. It won’t happen by accident; whether as random acts or among friends and family, kindness is intentional. God recognized this centuries ago, and “requires” this of us (along with justice and humility).

“Walk humbly with your God”

I like this definition of humility:

 

True humility is to recognize your value and others’ value while looking up. It is to see there is far greater than ourselves into who we can become, who others can become, and how much more we can do and be.

To be humble is to serve others for their good as well as your own.

To be humble is to have a realistic appreciation of your great strengths, but also of your weaknesses.

https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Humility

 

 

Humility is not thinking I am unworthy of anything. It’s recognizing my value, while acknowledging your value as well.

“Realistic” is a great word. You and I both have needs and desires, and I should serve you to improve your life in some way. That’s humility. I would receive a benefit too – the satisfaction of knowing I did something good.

Why be humble and serve others? Because God served us first, by creating us and then offering us salvation from our sins. This is not only God’s justice, but His mercy – giving us a gift we don’t deserve. It’s a small way we can say “Thank you” to God. This is where humility starts.

Micah offers a good formula for living. Justice, kindness and humility depend on each other. If I seek justice, I will seek your best interests as well as mine. If I seek kindness, I want you to be just as happy as I am (possibly more so). If I seek humility, I want to see your life get better.

All three concepts are not about me. They involve serving God. And serving you.

For our own survival, we must re-learn history

“Go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” The people of Nineveh believed God. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: “Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands.”

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them.

Jonah 3:2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10

 

The people of Nineveh knew they were doing bad things. Their lives were evil and violent, in the words of their own king.

When a prophet of God called them out on it, they – including the king – repented immediately.

I wish such a scenario could be repeated today in the United States.

It won’t.

For starters, if a prophet of God were to proclaim such a message today, he (or she) would be either ridiculed or ignored. We’d find ways to dilute such a prophet’s message, or refute it, or pretend we didn’t hear it.

Flaunting our evil

The lines between good and evil are often blurred today.

Even when the lines are straight and we know right from wrong, we often flaunt our sins.

  • Just yesterday I saw the driver of a pickup truck on the highway weaving in and out of traffic, going 10 to 15 mph faster than everyone else was driving. He cared nothing for traffic laws on the books or the welfare of anyone around him, including me. This is nearly an everyday occurrence in my world.
  • When was the last time a popular movie or TV show celebrated marriage and the marriage bed?
  • Violence makes the news every day in this country. In Chicago, for example, 409 people have been killed so far this year. That is 126 fewer than 2017, according to the Chicago Tribune. I saw a blurb the other day that said Chicago went 22 hours without a single shooting being reported. That’s what we’ve become: almost a whole day with no shootings is a moral victory.
  • Police officers, teachers and parents do not have the respect that they should. Some of that is their own fault. Some of it is not.
  • Politicians can’t decide right from wrong in any situation these days. No matter how they rule in the Judge Brett Kavanaugh case regarding his U.S. Supreme Court nomination, many of us will get angry. People on both sides are convinced they have the moral high ground. Politicians can’t get it right because we the people won’t let them. Because we the people no longer know what the moral high ground is.
  • Addictions have become an epidemic: opioids, illegal drugs, alcohol, pornography, social media, our jobs … many things. Choice or disease? We’d rather debate that than actually solve any addiction problems.

Experience vs. reason

Was life simpler back in Old Testament times?

The people of Nineveh dealt with the same temptations and evil things that we do. We have far more technology, of course, so we can disseminate evil much faster and more efficiently.

The people of Nineveh didn’t always follow the king’s lead; they responded to Jonah’s message first, then reported it to the king. To the king’s credit, he was paying attention to the pulse of his city.

I wish we had the listening skills that the Ninevites – the people and the king – did, and even more, the discernment to determine good and evil, as they did.

Instead, we justify ourselves.

Experience comes before reason.

In a previous chapter of my life, I was deeply involved in the United Methodist Church. A basic tenet of that denomination is the Wesley Quadrilateral, named for the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. The quadrilateral is: Scripture, tradition, reason and experience.

In that order.

Except that some United Methodists prefer to flip the order, starting with experience, and using reason, tradition and Scripture to justify their experiences.

That debate now permeates our common culture.

If we can’t agree on the basic tenets of what our society should be, how can we possibly solve our moral dilemmas?

That’s what Nineveh had that we do not.

I did it my way

Unfortunately, there’s just enough truth in every modern viewpoint to muddy the waters. Women and immigrants are real people. Abortion is the death of a human being.

Laws should align with those tenets.

They frequently don’t.

Or if they do, we have to fight for them.

And because of our propensity to flaunt laws we don’t agree with, we are becoming an anarchy – refusing to accept authority. Rule by the individual. I have my rights and I’ll do what I want.

If it hurts you, I don’t care.

If I kill you on the road or abort my son or daughter, it doesn’t matter to me. If you don’t satisfy me as a lover, I’ll find one who does.

Never mind the collateral damage.

I did it my way, in the words popularized in 1969 – almost a half-century ago – by Frank Sinatra.

Many of us today have taken those lyrics to heart. We try to justify our actions. And we frequently get away with them.

Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me

Sackcloth and ashes. How archaic.

That attitude is too, isn’t it?

The people of Nineveh asked God to forgive them for their evil and violent ways. God listened, and forgave them.

As a secular – very secular – city.

Then, for a time at least, the people of Nineveh actually changed their ways. Until temptations lured them into evil and violence again.

Is this even possible in 2018 in our country?

It is possible, yes, but I don’t see it happening any time soon. That would require a willingness to admit that we are on the wrong track as a nation, as Nineveh did. We can’t point fingers at others and say, “You need to repent.”

No. The people of Nineveh got down on their own knees.

Am I good enough?

I am not good enough.

“The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

I am the least in my family.

“I will be with you.”

This is the story of Gideon, starting in Judges 6.

It also is my story.

If I choose to believe it.

An angel of the Lord called Gideon into battle. Instead, he found excuses. He hid. He wanted the angel to choose someone else, I’m sure.

Satan has told me this same lie for years, and I believed it. I’m not good enough. No one cares what I think. No one is listening, so why barge in?

Send someone else, God.

My thoughts don’t matter.

No one has ever actually told me that.

Why do I believe it’s true, then?

Because very few people try to draw me out, to seek my thoughts on an issue. It’s easy to remain unnoticed.

Sometimes, I don’t have anything to say. (I pick my battles, far fewer than many people do.)

Other times, I’ve thought about speaking up. Occasionally, I actually do.

But that’s why I write. It’s easier for me to share my thoughts with a keyboard than verbally.

My thoughts frequently are off the wall anyway. They would make you uncomfortable. I’m sure of it.

Iron sharpens iron, they say. But iron is hard. It hurts if someone gets hit with it.

So, like Gideon, I make excuses.

But sometimes, God speaks to me too, as He did to Gideon.

No more excuses, Gideon. I’ve got a plan for you.

Go do it.

“I will be with you.” (Judges 6:16)

Does God have a plan for me?

He does.

God talked with me over the weekend, several times. I attended a men’s retreat with about 40 men from our church.

Actually, it wasn’t a retreat. Our leader called it an “advance.” Men don’t retreat. We move forward.

We advance.

Like Gideon did, despite his low self-esteem.

At one point during the weekend, I watched a Canada goose for 40 minutes. The goose swam peacefully on a small lake for awhile, then came ashore to find some breakfast.

Until one of our men walked past. As he approached, the goose sensed danger and retreated to the safety of the water. When the man continued on and the perceived danger was removed, the goose returned to the shore in search of breakfast.

This happened three times, as three men passed by, one by one.

Men are not supposed to retreat like this goose did. If we perceive danger, we are to face it.

Perhaps the danger is real. Perhaps not.

None of these men had any intention of harming the goose. In fact, all of them ignored it. Didn’t even notice what the goose was doing.

The goose didn’t understand that. It perceived danger, and removed itself.

We are men. God gave us minds and hearts to make sense of the world around us.

We are to live in the moment, not retreat from it.

We are to engage. We just might learn something. Or solve a problem.

Perhaps I might get hurt.

Or, possibly, a man and the goose might help each other. Companionship. Assistance finding breakfast, for example.

How do we know unless we engage?

At another point during the “advance,” God told me I need to change my heart towards two people in particular. A specific challenge.

With one person, I’m not good enough. I misunderstand and I’m misunderstood, because I don’t share my thoughts and feelings nearly enough.

I need to engage much more than I have done.

With the other person – who has developmental disabilities than make him unable to understand life the way I do – I need patience and love. He is an adult physically but not mentally. I should not expect him to respond as an adult should.

It’s hard to treat an adult with respect when he acts like a child. He is a child in an adult’s body.

Patience.

Getting angry hasn’t solved anything yet. Frustration doesn’t work either.

Patience.

One of our “advance” speakers challenged us to say yes to God, even when He asks us to do impossible things. And God will ask us to do impossible things because we are men, and we are given opportunities to glorify God – because we are worth that much to Him.

We are good enough, our speaker said. We are capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for.

Despite our failures in the past.

This is the God we worship.

“I will be with you.”

On Saturday afternoon, seven of us men descended a couple of hundred steps (I didn’t count them, I’m guessing here) to the top of a beautiful waterfall that emptied into a gorge. We saw some flat rocks in the gorge that we could stand on, so we bushwhacked down the hill to reach them.

No steps or path there. It had rained the day before, so the leaf-covered hill was damp and a little muddy.

And steep.

And slippery.

We descended anyway.

Once the first couple of guys started down the hill, the rest of us followed.

The waterfall was beautiful from down there. We hung out for a little while, enjoying nature’s beauty.

Eventually, we had to climb up. We joked about calling for a helicopter to rescue us, but that was a joke.

Grab a tree branch here and hope it holds my weight. Pull myself up. There’s a big root over there; I grabbed that next. My shoes got muddy and I got a scratch or two, but I made it up to the stairs.

All seven of us did.

It took us a minute to catch our breaths.

On my own, there’s no way I would have trekked that hill. Such a thought never would have crossed my mind. When the steps and the path ended, well, that’s where I stop.

See what men can do when we work together? Encourage each other? Push each other, even?

I’m not good enough.

Oh, yes I am.

Now that the “advance” is over, I need to live the rest of my life that way.

Those men won’t be with me day by day, but the living God is.

“I will be with you.”

I need to say yes to God.

Today. Moment by moment.

Let the adventure begin.

 

Saturday

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.

Saturday.

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

At Easter: Why Jesus?

Even if I could prove beyond doubt that Jesus Christ not only existed but was – and is – the Son of God who takes away the sins of the world, some of you, perhaps many of you, still would not accept that.

I heard a conference speaker say recently that the evils of smoking are well documented, but millions of people do it anyway – with the full knowledge that they are harming their bodies. Smokers have their reasons. I don’t judge them; it doesn’t bother me one way or another, as long as no one smokes in my car or house (where the effects will linger, proving that no one lives in a vacuum; every decision we make does affect others).

So, if proof isn’t enough, why follow Jesus?

Because it works.

Abundant life

Jesus wants the best for us.

“I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Why would we not want that?

Because having “abundant life” means giving up things that do not benefit us. We don’t like being told we can’t have something or can’t do something, even if it might hurt us.

“Thou shalt not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14)

How antiquated is that in American society? And yet God put that in the Ten Commandments for a reason. Marriage is supposed to be the highest form of relationship, when done right, when the husband and wife want the best for each other.

Many of us have screwed that up, so we look for validation in other places. But we’ll never find a deeper relationship on Earth than we will in “holy matrimony.” There are plenty of effects of relationships gone sour when we don’t want the best for each other.

We are inherently selfish. I want the best for me, even if that hurts you. But if I hurt you, I won’t ever find the best for me, because I’ll feel sadness when you are hurt. We are inherently that way too.

The Ten Commandments are a list of dos and mostly don’ts that we are to follow. All of them are for our own benefit. Our common laws are based on them (do not steal; do not commit murder; do not bear false witness against your neighbor; you shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor).

Whether the Ten Commandments are posted on the Courthouse lawn or outside a school doesn’t matter to me. They’re just words on paper, or stone. When they are written on our hearts, then they mean something.

The ACLU has no jurisdiction over my heart.

Head and heart

My heart. That’s where “faith” meets “prove it.”

I had a lonely, insecure childhood. My family moved around some in my elementary and junior high years, including out of state a couple of times. Getting uprooted meant I never formed deep friendships. I’ve never been more afraid than the first day of ninth grade, in a new town in a different state where I didn’t know a soul, except my seventh-grade sister in another part of the building.

The following summer, we attended a church camp in western Pennsylvania, again someplace I’d never been before. I was accepted immediately. The counselors and even other campers noticed me – not because I did anything, but just because I was there.

They made it clear they did that because Jesus loves them as much as He loves me. We don’t have to earn His love; He gives it away freely.

This was new to me.

I wanted what they had.

I didn’t ask for a theological discussion. I didn’t know the history of the Bible then. I didn’t know what the Bible said about marriage, money, pain and suffering, or the End Times. I just knew that Jesus loves me, because I saw it and felt it in the people around me.

That was my starting point.

As I’ve studied the Bible since, on my own and in groups and with Sunday morning sermons, I’ve learned more about Jesus’ love for me, and how to live that way. Mind and heart. Jesus connects in both places.

Good and evil

Why do bad things happen to good people? That’s a big stumbling block for many. If God wants the best for us, why do we all suffer?

My wife and I just attended the funeral of her cousin. She died a week ago of a heart attack at age 56. Left four children and 15 grandchildren. No warning. Totally unexpected. Why?

I can’t answer that.

But none of us is exempt from that kind of story, are we? Who do I think I am that I am above pain?

If we lived life happily ever after on Earth, where would we find meaning? Seriously.

We find meaning in helping others. We fundraise to fight cancer or world hunger. We provide clothes and other necessities to victims of fires, earthquakes or floods. We mentor in schools. We raise awareness for autism or diabetes. We do a myriad of things to serve those less fortunate than us.

Why?

If life is only about making me happy, why should I care about you?

God put a deeper purpose in our hearts than the “pursuit of happiness.” There’s nothing wrong with being happy, of course, but how do we do that? Really?

God: yay or nay

Here’s the kicker, the real reason most people don’t follow Jesus: He demands a response from every one of us. “Faith is fine for you, but not for me,” you might say. Or, “What makes you so certain that your faith is the right one?”

Because Jesus is the only “god” who wants the best for us. No other god can offer salvation from anything. There’s no bigger picture.

Jesus is inclusive and exclusive at the same time.

“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

The invitation is open to every person, but not everyone will accept the invite. There are rewards and consequences either way. No exceptions.

Good Friday is the most horrific story ever told. What makes it so compelling is that Jesus died on that cross willingly, because He wants the best for us: relationship with His Father.

Jesus overcame even death on Easter.

We do not want the best for our own lives. I say and do things I know I shouldn’t, but I do them anyway.

I ask forgiveness, and Jesus forgives. Every time. He knows the human heart. He created it. I reach out to Him again. He smiles. I walk away, then return to Him. He smiles again.

This is relationship. This is the way life is meant to be.

It’s the way we should treat each other as well.

Think how much nicer America would be if we did.

If we let the God who wants the best for us lead us.

Take a deep breath. Could it happen?

Theoretically, yes. In practice, no.

Because we cannot know good without evil.

So, we live with both.

Which side will you choose?