Sunday, July 25, 2010

Good Choices Leave Few Regrets

This may come as a shock to some of you, but at one time I was a teenager. I know, I know, it was a very long time ago. At least, it seems more and more that way all the time. I was a teen in the seventies….and I survived without too much long-term damage. I guess, probably most of the credit is due to participating in my church’s youth group, but I had a dad that taught me to love God at an early age, and I can’t discount that in the least.

One of the activities that I participated in as a teen in my youth group, and later as a college-age counselor was “going to camp.” Camp Indogan in northern Indiana was our destination of choice, and the place gave me some great memories. I made some friends, flirted with some girls, hiked in the woods, played some ball, and studied the Bible.

One lesson that I heard there so long ago gave me a point that I want to share with you. I’m not sure anymore who the speaker was, but the thing he said that made a tremendous impact on the course of my life was: “Would you rather be able to look back and say ‘I’m glad I did’ or ‘I wish I had’?”

I took that to heart, and have carried it with me for about thirty years.

Thinking ahead is something that we tend to not be very good at….thinking ahead to the consequences and results of our choices and actions. Thinking about the question I mentioned above has forced me over the years to do just that. Not that I’ve been perfect at it. I still have some regrets, but not nearly as many as I likely would have had.

I’m glad I can look back and say that I lived a life of sobriety, instead of regretting a life of addiction or alcoholism.

I’m glad I’ve been faithful to my wife for over twenty-five years, instead of regretting a series of broken relationships.

I’m glad I’ve devoted my life to honesty, integrity, and ethical practices, instead of constantly worrying about whether my latest lie contradicts any previous ones.

Again, I do have some regrets, but they’re not worth rehashing. I beat myself up enough about those, I suppose. But, the real point is to look forward with a longer-term view of things from the point I’m at right now.

You may be reading this and are beating yourself up because of the regrets you carry. If that is true, STOP. You can’t change the past, but you can learn from those mistakes. You can use them to help others and make a difference in someone else’s life. The thing to do now is to look forward and think about what you’d like to be able to look back and say once more water has gone under the bridge. Starting right now, what would you like to be able to look back at in another five, ten, or twenty years and be able to say that you are glad that you did it?

One other thing I’ll add…it is the little choices that hang us or that make us. The little choices in which we compromise are often the ones that add up into large regrets. If we look forward to consider the kind of person we want to be, and the kind of life we would want to have, then we have to be sure to not compromise in the little choices. Did you know that if you add up enough pennies, you’ll end up with a lot of money? It is the same with our choices. Make enough small bad choices, and you end up with large regrets. But, the opposite is also true. Make enough small good choices, and you’ll end up with great results and a great life.

Writing this has brought me to the conclusion that I need to refresh my earlier commitment. I need to be sure to consider whether in the long-term I will be able to look back and say that I’m glad I followed the course that I did; made good choices and have no regrets.

In closing, remember…Would you rather be able to look back and say, “I wish I had” or “I’m glad I did”?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Grace the Final Frontier

If you happen to be a fan of the Star Trek franchises, then you’ll recognize the following phrases: “Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise” and “…to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before!”

I discovered Star Trek when I was in middle school. I loved the adventure, the mystery of space, and the little social lessons that were mixed in to every episode. As a young man, I imagined that I was James T. Kirk, the invincible captain who wins every battle of wits, every fight, and always got the girl (even if she did happen to be green). However, I think what I loved most about Star Trek was where it took me. Through imagination, it took me beyond the realm of the normal and carried me off to someplace amazing with every installment.

I discovered something else in middle school. Church, and by extension the concept of Grace. Church I understood pretty quickly, but Grace is something I’m still coming to understand. Grace to me, is the real final frontier!

Grace is an amazing thing. It is what allows us to boldly go before the throne of God. It is what puts an end to the judgment that awaits us because of our own shortcomings. It is the overriding concept that brings us into a relationship with God Himself. He thought it up. He brought it about. He planned all of history so that at just the right time we could be brought close to Him through that trail He blazed with His own blood.

Here’s the thing, though. I don’t think we really understand it. First of all, I think it is quite impossible for human beings to completely understand the full height, depth, and breadth of God’s Grace. It is beyond our reasoning. It is a God thing. But, even further, I think we have trouble even just accepting it. We keep messing it up! (At this point, I’m asking myself why I’m even trying to express my own thoughts about it. I’m bound to be wrong in some respect.) On the one hand, we take it too far and pretend that nothing we do or say matters because of God’s grace. In that view, we can sin all we want and God is just going to look the other way. In essence, we’re saying: “Go ahead. Spit in His face. He won’t mind.” On the other end of the spectrum, we better be awful careful because if we aren’t just the most perfect Christian, we will be condemned for falling short of God’s Grace. We put more and more spiritual starch on our lives until we’re so stiff that we can’t enjoy even the simple act of worship. Further, if we promote Grace in people’s lives, then nothing will get done because nobody will feel any obligation to work. Both views are extreme, and I think both are out of line with the POINT of Grace, which is a RELATIONSHIP with a FATHER that LOVES us and has orchestrated all of history to allow us to have a relationship with Him.

It is interesting to me that we can think we understand it, and still miss it. When I was a young Christian, I used to read my bible every night before I went to bed. I enjoyed it. I wanted to do it. I loved God and I wanted to know about Him and what He wanted of me. I didn’t feel an obligation to do this. I just wanted to. However, over the years, something changed. People began to impose on me an EXPECTATION that I needed to read my bible everyday in order to be “right with God.” There is no command of scripture to read it everyday. This was a rule made by man, and its effect on me was significant. Soon, what I did everyday out of a sense of wonder, joy, and love for God became drudgery. I had to do it. I was expected to do it. Soon, I didn’t want to do it at all. When I moved away from a relationship based on Grace to a sense of legalistic obligation, the joy of being a Christian began to disappear.

When we really embrace His Grace, then we are motivated by God’s love rather than a fearful expectation of His wrath.

Grace is what makes us able to stand before God with confidence despite our sinful shortcomings. It brings salvation through Christ to the murderer and the liar, the adulterer and the thief, and to the pride-ridden and the hateful. We all find ourselves somewhere in the list of sins. If you say otherwise, then you deceive yourself.

Another interesting thing: The very concept that most religious folks would say allows the murderer and rapist to stand forgiven before the Father in heaven somehow doesn’t apply to the person who disagrees with them on some point of doctrine.

What if Grace does trump doctrine?

Roll that one around for a while.

None of us have it all together. We don’t walk around with a perfect understanding of God. We all fall short doctrinally in some respect. But, somehow we seem to think it is okay to make ourselves the standard by which God’s Grace is applied. As long as a person’s doctrine is aligned with our own, then they are good, but if they disagree with us, then they are in danger of being lost. Who do we think we are? Who died and left us in charge. You know what….NO ONE! Someone did die though,…and He’s still in charge.

I don’t know where the lines are drawn. I don’t know how far God’s Grace will be extended. I have a suspicion that it is farther than we really understand. That said, it really isn’t my business, is it? Drawing lines is God’s role. The Judgment Seat still belongs to Someone else. It’s not my chair, and I’m not going to sit down in it.

Grace, is the final Frontier! We can find new life and boldly go where no man could go before! I know, it’s a cheesy illustration, but hey, give me some Grace!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Race for the Ideal

One of my issues that I have no plan to try to change is that I have a streak of idealism. I tend to long for how things OUGHT to be rather than settle for how they are. I guess I have this notion that if we shoot for the ideal, then what we will end up with will be just that much better than if we simply settle for the realistic.

How many of you recognize this quote:
“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.”

This was penned and spoken by another idealist. It was his vision that one day a person’s race would no longer be an issue; that one day what would be important would be a person’s actions, and attitudes, and that moral character would speak louder than the color of their skin….or rather, that their skin color would be immaterial. I agree with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I grew up in a city and at a time when racial issues were hot. I was pretty isolated in a “white” part of Muncie, Indiana, but I heard about the riots at the high school and it definitely scared me. I remember one late night my mom was driving to pick up my dad at work, and we passed through a “black” neighborhood. We were stopped at a traffic light when a large rock landed on our back window just above my head. Scary!

Despite those things, I was never prejudiced. I had neighbors and relatives who were, but for some unknown reason, I was not. For that, I am thankful. I was a bit afraid of black folks, but that was driven by ignorance rather than any animosity, and when I finally attended a school that was integrated my fear melted away. In seventh grade, I made a couple of new friends: Marvin Dent and James Flye. I don’t know if James remembers me these days, but I’ve recently reconnected with Marvin after about 35 years. When I found him on Facebook, Marvin didn’t remember me, but I was still excited to find him.

For a little more than a year, my wife and I lived in South Carolina. While there, my wife worked as the secretary at the church we attended. In that role, she received at least one phone call where the person calling asked: “Is this a black church or a white church?” Her answer: “Yes.” The fact was that our congregation in Columbia, South Carolina was a bit different than the norm. We were nearly 50-50 black and white.

So, back to my idealism. I don’t want white friends or black friends. I just want friends. We shouldn’t have white congregations and black congregations of churches. We should just have churches. We don’t need organizations to promote a certain race; black or white. Favoring one race over another is racism whether it is done out of a sense of superiority or the opposite; out of a sense of regret or penance. You cannot correct racist behavior by swinging the pendulum to the opposite extreme.

All that said, my idealism doesn’t make me blind to reality. There is still racism in America. It isn’t as “in your face” as it used to be, perhaps. It isn’t behind every tree or behind every door, but it is still there. What I am saying though, is that maybe we need to be more idealistic in dealing with it. Maybe instead of being so race-sensitive, we need to make our society race-neutral. Wouldn’t the ideal situation be just as Dr. King stated it? Shouldn’t we all be judged by the content of our character rather than the color of our skin. If that is true, we have to stop using race as a factor at all. We need to become color-blind.

Yes, I am definitely an idealist, but I’ll start the trend if you’ll follow.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Freedom to Go Fishing

Happy 4th of July! I used to eagerly wait for this holiday every year. Christmas might be the only holiday that I loved more as a kid, but that was only because of the presents. July 4th had it all: summer, fireworks, friends, fireworks, food, and… oh, did I mention fireworks? That’s right, I loved the fireworks! I loved to watch the big stuff over Prairie Creek Reservoir in Muncie, and I loved to shoot off my own on the back walk at my folk’s house.

As a child, that was all it meant; fun and fireworks. Now, I guess I’m past the fascination with stuff that blows up, but I’ve gained a new appreciation for the day. The 4th of July is now “Independence Day” to me; the date of our nation’s birth. Oh, sure, there’s still the other stuff; summer, food, friends; but today I’m also thinking about what this country really means to me.

We have it so good here. Even the poorest among us have more resources and perks than most of the rest of the world. Televisions. I-pods. Cars. Parks. Hospitals. Fast food. We take so much of it for granted. Even things like indoor plumbing and fresh water are not necessarily commonplace in most of the world.

What has made this all possible? Certainly, it isn’t the simple presence of the natural resources. It isn’t just that we are a “Christian” nation. Christianity has existed for much longer than the good ole USA. So, what has made the difference for us?

I’m thinking it is FREEDOM. The freedom to choose. The freedom to go. The freedom to do. The freedom to make our own way; to build our own future; to surge forward unimpeded. The freedom to choose our own leadership, and the freedom to change it when we decide it is time.

But, on this Independence Day, let’s not confuse that freedom with government. Historically, our form of government provided the opportunities because it created the framework for our way of life, and then it got out of the way. We didn’t become a great nation because our government controlled everything; in fact, I believe that the opposite is true. We became greater because the government did not exercise control. The more government controls, the less real freedom we have.

The American Dream is not a family of four in a nice big house with a dog, a cat, and a boat. The American Dream is the freedom to exercise our own personal vision; to build our own future; and to create our own path. We are a nation of trailblazers, explorers, and entrepreneurs….let us do it!

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want any more “stimulus” bills. Don’t give me a fish; give me the freedom to go fishing! Our government can provide the framework for the protection of all, but then it needs to get out of the way. No more stimulus bills, less red tape, and lower taxes….American ingenuity will do the rest.

What we need is the freedom to go fishing…if you know what I’m trying to say.