Do Unto Others (Business Edition)

Yesterday I wrote briefly about the Golden Rule and what that looks like lived out in everyday life. Today I’d like to talk about what it looks like in the business world…or should look like, in my opinion. Specifically, I’d like to address what it should look like when dealing with employment inquiries.

I know from firsthand experience that many companies do not in any way acknowledge employment inquiries if they are not interested in pursuing the inquiring individual for a position. More than ten years ago I sent an inquiry to a couple of ministries that I respected and who had needs that my skill set could have matched. In these instances I sent the inquiries via good old fashioned postal mail. In neither instance did either ministry acknowledge my inquiry or follow up with me in any way. Not only is that disheartening but, quite frankly, it caused me to lose some respect for those organizations.

I am not suggesting that such behavior on the part of an organization–secular business or Christian ministry, for-profit or nonprofit–is unusual. I am suggesting, however, that it should be. If someone takes the time to submit a serious, respectful and well-written inquiry regarding employment, it would behoove the receiving organization to politely, respectfully and promptly acknowledge the receipt of that inquiry. Even if there is no position available, it would take at most a few minutes and the cost of a piece of paper, an envelope and a stamp to send a letter acknowledging receipt of the inquiry, thanking the inquirer for his or her interest, and explaining that there is no current opening.

When I reached a position of leadership wherein I was the one responsible for reviewing and deciding on employment inquiries and applications I had the opportunity to put this approach into practice. I still remember looking at an inquiry, deciding that we had no opening for which the inquiring individual was qualified, and then asking my administrative assistant to prepare a letter indicating that we had no opening at that time. She said, “We usually just file the inquiry. We have never sent a letter.” I think she was genuinely just trying to inform me of what established practice had been, but I told her that I would like to send a letter. We did so that time, and every subsequent time. Why? Because I knew from experience the frustration of not having my inquiry even acknowledged, and I wanted to “do unto others….”

The inquiries I referenced above were initiated by me. I did not know if there was an opening or not, but I was interested in working for those ministries because I respected what they stood for and the work that they did. I don’t whether there is an advertised opening or not, however, should make any difference when it comes to responding to legitimate inquiries. An example of how responding can make a positive impression came once several years back. I am a long-suffering fan of the Baltimore Orioles. I say long-suffering because the Orioles haven’t had a winning season since I was in college. Once, in the midst of a particularly lousy season and even more lousy moves by the Orioles front office I went on their web site, found the link for employment inquiries, and submitted an inquiry for the position of General Manager. I knew full well that the position was not open, and even if it was I would not be considered. It was intended as an expression of my dissatisfaction with the organization. Yet, within a few days, I received an response from the Orioles personnel office informing me that the Orioles GM position was not open at that time. Guess what? I was still disgusted with the performance of the team, but the organization gained new respect in my mind.

I found myself exploring employment opportunities again in 2010-11…which opened up a whole new opportunity for learning by experience. I would like to say, first of all, that every inquiry I sent during that go around was in response to an advertised opening. It amazed me how many of my inquiries or even submitted applications received no acknowledgement or response. I kept a list of the organizations I inquired or applied to, the position I applied for, the date I inquired, and the response received, if any. Several organizations grew in my estimation because of polite acknowledgements, updates on their progress in the job search and/or sending me additional information about the organization. One school I applied to, for example, sent me a folder with information about the school, the position, the town, the cost of living in their area, etc. Even just brief acknowledgements to let me know that my information had been received and a human being had seen it, though, went a long way.

Here are a couple of examples of responses that had the opposite impact:

One organization to which I inquired, by submitting a cover letter tailored to their organization, the advertised opening, and my qualifications and experience relevant to the opening; my resume; and another document relevant to the opening received a response from the organization within less than five minutes of the moment I hit “send,” telling me that I did not meet the qualifications they had in mind for the position. First of all, I did meet the qualifications as described in the ad, so if there were other qualifications that were that foundational to the process they should have been included in the ad. Second, it simply is not possible that anyone could have opened and read thoroughly all of the attachments I sent, formulated a realistic evaluation of my qualifications, and responded within 300 seconds or less. And to be honest, even if it somehow had been that obvious, the very act of shooting down a sincere applicant that quickly is probably about as bad as not responding at all.

Another organization sent no acknowledgement of receiving my application and communicated with me in no way…until five months after I had sent it. Then I received a phone call telling me they were now ready to start the process of reviewing candidates and wondered if I was still interested. While I had accepted another opportunity by that point, I would not have been interested even if I had not. There is no excuse for that kind of a lapse, and it spoke volumes about the organization in question.

Lastly, I had two instances of in-person experiences that are great examples of “don’t do unto others.” In the first instance I had submitted my resume, then a completed application, and had completed a phone interview before driving to the school for an interview. During the interview I met with the superintendent, toured the school, met the outgoing principal, toured the town, then went to dinner with the superintendent. At dinner I also met the board chair. Despite it being clearly stated in the school’s handbook, application and during the interview that, as a non-denominational school there were some issues on which the school did not take official stances, the superintendent then proceeded to ask me this question: “As you know, there are some positions on which the school does not take a stance, because our faculty and our students come from various churches and backgrounds. But where are you on Calvinism?” Despite being surprised, I answered his question, only to find that he held a different position than I do. (I am what Norman Geisler calls a “moderate Calvinist,” whereas my questioner was a 5-point Calvinist). He then proceeded to tell me why he was right and I was wrong, and wanted to know if I would be able to work with him and other strict Calvinists. Enough said…I was no longer interested.

In another instance I was again being considered for a high school principal position. I had again submitted a resume, a completed application, and had gone through a phone interview. I then took two flights to fly to an interview several states away, went through questioning with the superintended and with the middle and elementary principals, went to lunch with the superintendent and development director, and then took a flight home…making for a VERY long day. The next morning I literally was not even out of bed yet when the superintendent called and wanted to know when I could return for a second interview to meet with the board. I went through the process of identifying flights that could get me there within the time frame she wanted only to receive an e-mail in response saying she wasn’t so sure after all, because she didn’t know if my skill set was what her staff expected in the new principal, even though she thought I would do a great job and that the two of us would work well together. I thanked her for letting me know and politely informed her that we would, in fact, not work well together if her style of leadership was one in which she substituted her own thoughts regarding what was best for the organization with what she thought the other staff members may or may not prefer, and if she thought it was acceptable business practice to ask someone to return for a second interview and then chicken out. Again, “do unto others….”

Unfortunately, I can also cite other examples of poor business practices from personal experience, from a search committee calling me on a Saturday afternoon (in our first direct contact) and asking if I was available for a phone interview right then (I said no) to a board failing to mention during the phone interview, first in-person interview or second in-person interview that the school was deeply in debt and had no realistic expectation of being able to continue operations while still honoring all outstanding financial obligations.

In closing, I can tell you that, having now been the one “in charge” for the last seven years of professional life, and the one who is involved in the review of employment inquiries and interviews, that I have had several instances when individuals (none of whom I hired, by the way) thanked me for responding to their inquiries, answering their questions, and being honest and thorough in the entire process. Just last month, in fact, I had someone I had been in contact with about an opening at our school send me an e-mail telling me that he had accepted a position at another school. That e-mail also included this statement: “I really am extremely grateful for the opportunity however. It has been eye opening how many schools/districts/teaching councils/etc. do not even contact people who show interest in teaching at their schools.”

I am not writing any of this to pat myself on the back or to hold myself up as an example. Rather, I’m simply trying to point out that the Golden Rule has very real and very powerful implications for business practice, and it is the wise organization/ministry that will put into practice the idea of “do unto others….”

Do Unto Others

I think most people are familiar with the Golden Rule, whether they claim to believe the Bible or not. It is, after all, simply a nice way to live. But the truth is that the Golden Rule, when Jesus first taught it, was rather revolutionary. It took the expectations of how people treated one another to whole new level.

See, the Pharisees and other religious leaders had a rule of their own that went something like this: Don’t do to others what you would not want them to do to you.

At first glance it may not seem like there is a lot of difference between those two , but in reality there is a world of difference. I can refrain from doing things to you and still not treat you kindly or even acknowledge you. After all, I don’t think I would have a difficult time going through life not hitting others upside the head, or not shooting people who annoy me, but that still leaves open all kinds of ways in which I could treat or interact with others without doing so in love and kindness.

The Golden Rule that Jesus taught is a proactive approach. It is not enough to sit back and avoid doing things to you that are unpleasant because I wouldn’t want them done to me. Rather, to obey Jesus’ commandment, I need to actively treat others with the kindness and respect that I would want them to extend to me. This takes a lot more effort and intentionality than the old version of the rule for interacting with others.

It’s a good reminder for all of us of how we should interact with those we come in contact with, whether family members, coworkers, neighbors, students, cashiers, or strangers. If we want others to acknowledge us, we must acknowledge them. If we want others to be polite and helpful, we must be. If we want others to speak in a respectful tone and with polite language, we must do that, too.

It’s not an easy thing to do, and it simply does not come naturally…but it is a commandment from the Lord and is a lifestyle choice we should all strive to make.

To and Fro

Yesterday evening my family and I had the opportunity to spend some time visiting friends who own a ranch. While there we all rode around in the pick up truck to check the cows, which included tagging a couple of new-born calves. Since just about everything that ranching involves is foreign to me, it was a neat experience to learn more about what all is involved. Later, I asked my friend how many times each day he goes around to check the cows, to which he replied, “Six or seven.” I’m guessing (I didn’t ask, actually) that this number is indicative of the number of times he checks during calving time, and that it is not necessary to check that often year-round, but it still prompted me to think about God, and the incredible reality of His omnipresence and omniscience.

The Bible reminds us in several passages that God always knows what is going on. 2 Chronicles 16:9a says, “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth.” God is able to watch everything that is going on everywhere on earth. He knows what’s happening with all 7 billion-plus people at every moment. Proverbs 15:3 says, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (ESV).

My friend cares for his cattle, so he goes around regularly to check on them. God cares for us, too…but because He is God, we do not have to wait for Him to come check on us. If something happens, we need not wait until the next time He makes His rounds in order to ask Him for help. We can go to Him in prayer anywhere, anytime, and know that He will hear. Even more amazing though is the fact that He will already know what is going on with us. As His eyes run to and fro throughout the earth God has never laid eyes on me and though, “What’s that guy doing? I didn’t expect to see that!” No, He knows. He is never caught unaware or by surprise.

The other important thing to remember about this truth, though, is that just as God always knows what we are doing and what we need, it is equally true that we can never hide anything from God. The passage above in Proverbs makes it clear that He is watching the evil and the good. He knows everything that happens…even those things we might prefer He did not know. If someone wanted to steal some cattle, he would likely watch to see when my friend had made his rounds, and then try to act quickly before he went around again. As a school administrator, I know the reality of students sometimes behaving differently when I am in a room than when I am not. As a supervisor I have seen examples of employees behaving differently when I am present than when I am not. As a Christian I know that there have been times when I have acted differently when I am in church or around other believers than when I am not. The fact that God is always watching, is ever aware, and is never able to be fooled is an excellent reminder that there really is no such thing as anything done in secret.

A Response to Feedback

My last post, addressing Kirk Cameron’s statements about homosexuality during an interview with Piers Morgan, prompted a comment from someone I do not know. This individual responded to my post with this comment:

“No tolerance is living YOUR life YOUR WAY, and letting other people live THEIR LIVES, THEIR WAY. I don’t interfere in Mr. Cameron’s choice of who he’s going to spend his life with nor am I interested in what sort of consensual sex he has. The LGBT community would certainly appreciate it if he didn’t concern himself with our lives either. Scripture (and its interpretation) is only of interest to those who follow it, certainly not to those who do not.”

This comment reveals several important points that are relevant to an issue that includes, but is larger than, discussion of homosexuality. First, the commenter argues that tolerance means letting everyone live their lives in their own way, without interference from others. Interestingly, however, it has not traditionally been those who are opposed to homosexuality and other hot button issues in the tolerance discussion that have dragged the issue out of the realm of the private and into the realm of the public. In the specific instance that was the basis for my last entry, it is important to recall that Cameron’s remarks came in response to a question that he was asked–and a question that was not consistent with the reasons he had been led to believe that he was on the show. Had Mr. Morgan asked Mr. Cameron a question about his new documentary, and Mr. Cameron proceeded to contort his answer in such a way that provided an opportunity to speak out against homosexuality then the comment above would have merit. In light of the reality of the situation, however, his comment does not hold water.

This principle holds true for the entire matter of homosexuality. I am not aware of anyone in this country going around suggesting that homosexuality should be a crime, or that engaging in homosexual behavior should result in criminal or civil penalties. On the contrary, there are many people–most them plenty noisy and aggressive–who are suggesting that homosexual couples should be granted the same rights as heterosexual couples, that marriage should be redefined to include a man and a man or a woman and a woman, and that the legal protections, rights and benefits that have always been reserved for marriage should be extended to include homosexual couples. Who, then, is interfering with whom? It is the LGBT community that is actively seeking to force its views on everyone else. If asked, I am confident that Mr. Cameron would say that homosexual behavior is unnatural and is a sin. So would I. But I also feel confident saying that Mr. Cameron would not suggest that two consenting adults engaging in homosexual behavior should be criminalized, and neither would I. Put differently, if the LGBT community would, as my commenter suggested, live their lives their way and let others live their lives their own way, the issue would pretty much go away. Issues such as homosexual marriage, sodomy, birth control and others deal with issues that should be private, and if they were kept private rather than brought out into the open by those who actually want to destroy their own definition of tolerance and force their positions on everyone else, they would not be nearly the controversy that they are. There are people who believe that the use of contraception is a sin. I do not know of anyone, however, who has argued that the manufacture and sale of contraception should be outlawed. There are those, however, who believe, and argue strongly, that contraception should not be paid for by the government. This only became an issue when those on the other side of the argument began demanding that the government pay for contraception, claiming that contraception is a right.

The second element of my commenter’s statement is that Scripture is only of interest to those who follow it, and not to those who do not. I hope the individual who took the time to leave the comment does not think that he has just advanced a novel or arresting argument, because it is disingenuous and, quite frankly, obvious. I am not suggesting, nor, in my opinion, was Mr. Cameron suggesting, that what Scripture says should be forced on everyone in our country. We live in a representative democracy, not a theocracy. We live under a government “of the people, by the people and for the people,” meaning that “we the people” have the right and the responsibility to be actively involved in the affairs of government, to make our voices heard, and to seek to effect the changes we believe should be made.

That does not mean that those who believe the Bible should not speak out in accordance with their beliefs. The same right that an unbeliever has to say he does not believe it is held by those who believe it and have their opinions and convictions shaped by its teaching. The presentation of arguments is a required, and healthy, part of the democratic process.

So here’s what it comes down to, sir… If you, and the LGBT community at large, want to keep your positions to yourselves and live your lives in such a way that do not interfere with mine, then we would probably get along just fine. I will continue to believe that you are living in sin, but I will also continue to love you with Christ’s love. You will be free to continue to think that I am an arrogant and bigoted Bible-thumper, and you can love me or hate me, or just plain ignore me, the choice is up to you. But if you, and the LGBT community at large, is going to continue to actively seek to redefine foundational elements of our heritage, our law and our culture, please be prepared for to speak out against those redefinitions. If you want to argue passionately for your beliefs, convictions and opinions, please respect my right to do the same thing. If you want to ignore the Scripture, please respect my desire to embrace it. You just cannot have it both ways.

Oh, and one last thing, for Piers Morgan and anyone else…if you ask a question, have the decency to respect the other person’s answer even if it is one with which you completely disagree. Isn’t that actually what freedom of speech is all about?

Taking a Stand

Actor and former teen-heart throb Kirk Cameron has been in the news a lot lately, and most of it has been in the form of attacks on Cameron for his stand on the issue of homosexuality.

Cameron has a new documentary, Monumental: In Search of America’s National Treasure, in which Cameron addresses the founding of America and the decline of the nation, which he directly attributes to a turning away from those founding principles. I have not seen the film, so I am going by what I have read about it in articles and reviews. Apparently, though, the film has nothing to do with those issues for which he has been in the news, and according to Cameron himself, “never alludes to such hot-button topics.” The controversy stems from Cameron’s appearance on CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight in early March.

Morgan asked Cameron about homosexuality, abortion and other so-called social issues during the interview rather than talking much about the documentary. Morgan’s approach, in my opinion, was a result of Rick Santorum’s prominence in the GOP presidential race at the time and his focus on such issues, combined with the general tendency of the liberal media to seek out opportunities to attack Christian beliefs that are consistent with Scripture.

When asked about homosexuality, Cameron told Morgan, that homosexuality is “unnatural” and that it is “ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization.” That should not come as any surprise to anyone who (1) is familiar with biblical teaching, or (2) expects a Christian to stand by his beliefs. Cameron made the point in the aftermath of the interview and resulting frenzy that there should have been nothing surprising about his answers. Rather, he said, “the only thing that would have been surprising is if I had not answered the way I did. That would have been more newsworthy than what I said” (WORLD, April 7, 2012, p. 61).

Initially Morgan said that Cameron had been “brave” and “honest to what he believed,” according to the Huffington Post. But when Cameron expressed during an interview on FOX that he was blindsided by Morgan’s questions since he had been told that the interview would be about his new documentary, Morgan took offense and retaliated through Twitter, tweeting that Cameron was “moaning” and “whining” and accusing Morgan of “stitching him up” on the issue. One tweet said, “So I’ll let others decide if he was stitched up…or just a bigot.” That was followed by Morgan’s final tweet on the issue: “I respect his religious beliefs – just don’t respect his use of bigoted, inflammatory language re homosexuality.”

Hmmmm… Let’s see. There seems to be a contradiction there somewhere. Piers Morgan respects Kirk Cameron for speaking out for his religious beliefs, and for staying true to them, but he thinks that in so doing Cameron was bigoted and inflammatory? I don’t see how it could be both ways. After all, there is not really any less-direct or less-offensive way to say what Cameron said, is there? I suppose he could have simply said that he believes it is a sin and left it at that, but that would not really change the message. And I think that it is relevant to point out that Cameron did not launch into an attack on homosexuals or use the platform of Morgan’s international audience to advance his convictions; he merely answered Morgan’s question.

What we have here is yet another prime example of the intolerance of those who so loudly preach tolerance. Apparently tolerance means tolerating just about any position, belief or idea other than those held by Christians and taught by the Bible. After all, there were no loud cries of inflammatory language against those who spoke out against Cameron after his interview. Herndon Graddick, spokesman for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), said that Cameron’s comments cause “gay youth and victims of bullying” to “truly suffer,” and said that Cameron said that homosexuals were detrimental to civilization. (What he said, of course, is that homosexual behavior is detrimental to civilization). Roseanne Barr went much further, tweeting, “Kirk or Kurt or whatever Cameron is an accomplice to murder with his hate speech.” GLAAD launched a petition called, “Tell Kirk Cameron It’s Time to Finally Grow Up.” Notice the implication–having a conviction that is contrary to what the media or the noisy masses say is okay is considered juvenile and immature.

This issue also serves to highlight the growing tendency of liberal churches and liberal Christians (and I do not mean “liberal” in the left-wing political sense) to compromise on, and even ignore, biblical teaching. Entire denominations have, of course, now sanctioned homosexual marriage and allow homosexual clergy. Outspoken individuals professing to be Christians are lauded for saying that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality and that God created homosexuals that way. The problem is, the Bible clearly does not teach that. Why would our culture embrace those who claim to believe something and then deny part of what it is that they claim to believe? It is easy-believism. Believe the parts we like, leave out the parts we don’t. That way we can feel good about ourselves and still do what makes us feel good.

A case in point, unfortunately, is actress and singer Kristen Chenoweth. She is a professing Christian, but is also a support of gay and lesbian rights, and she says there is no contradiction between those two things. How does she explain that? By claiming that homosexuality is not a choice, but is actually how God makes some people. “If it was a sin to be short, what would I do? Well I’d be right on the hell bus,” she has said (Chenoweth stands 4’11”). “I don’t believe God makes mistakes, and that includes a person’s sexuality.” I have addressed this issue in previous posts so I will not elaborate other than to point out again that there is a definite and important difference between physical attributes over which people have no choice and they cannot change (height or race, for example) and behaviors over which people do have a choice, even if you believe they were born with a predisposition toward such behavior.

Here is a comment from Chenoweth, posted on Flordia Agenda’s web site (Florida Agenda is an LGBT newspaper): “Even as a young child, I thought, ‘Why is being gay bad?’ I didn’t understand it. So I asked my grandma, who is the best Christian I ever knew. I’d say, ‘what about my friend Denny: he’s gay, is he going to hell?’ She told me, ‘I read the Bible like I eat fish. I take the meat that serves me well but I don’t choke on the bone.'”

The problem is, the hard teachings of Scripture, those that are contrary to what we may like or want them to say, are not bones in the sense that Chenoweth’s grandmother used that analogy. Fish bones are not intended to be eaten. The Scripture, however, is intended to be read and understood–eaten and digested, if you will–in it’s entirety. Not just the parts that taste good.

2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” That little three-letter word at the beginning makes all the difference. Not some…but ALL.

Render to Caesar

Tax day is here again. I do not know anyone who gets excited about tax day, or about paying taxes. Sure, those who get nice refund checks after filing look forward to their refund, but that is not happiness about taxes. After all, if you’re entitled to a refund, that refund simply means that the government has been holding your money for a year or so, getting an interest-free loan from you. So taxes are not fun, but they are necessary, and Christians do have a responsibility to pay them.

Perhaps the fact that I feel a need to point that out strikes you as odd, but I have actually had intelligent, well-informed and articulate Christians tell me that paying taxes is wrong, and that Christians should not pay taxes. If you’ll allow me, then, I would look to point out several examples where the New Testament very clearly instructs that Christians in fact should pay their taxes.

Probably the clearest example is found in Matthew 21. In this chapter the Pharisees are up to their favorite activity–trying to trick Jesus. Verse 15 says that they “plotted how to entangle him in his words” (ESV). How did they intend to do this? By asking Jesus this question: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and their followers in His usual way, calling them hypocrites, but He proceeded to answer the question. First He asked for a coin, and He was handed a denarius. Jesus then asked those assembled whose likeness was on the coin, to which they replied that it was Caesar’s likeness. Jesus then told them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

The fact that Caesar’s likeness was on the coin was indicative of the fact that the coins were issued by the government…much like coins in the U.S. say “United States of America” and “E Pluribus Unum.” Jesus was making the point that it would be foolish to accept and use money issued by the government and then refuse to pay the taxes that support the government. The issuance of money is one of those responsibilities which clearly belongs to government–then and now.

There are other passages that make it equally clear that Christians are called to submit to the government. In Titus 3, for example, Paul writes, “…[B]e submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work…” (ESV). In Romans Paul writes, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:1-2). That passage goes on for several more verses to stress the responsibility of believers to obey the government.

Now, am I saying that Christians are instructed to be supportive of the tax code regardless of how severe the tax burden may become? Of course not. Christians have the same rights as any other citizen, and perhaps even greater responsibility, to be informed, involved and influential in government affairs. In The United States, Caesar is “We the people,” and therefore we ultimately have no one to blame but ourselves for the actions of the government. Now that oversimplifies things, I know, but you get the point (I hope). We may not like the tax code, we may not like the government’s policies, and we may not like individual people who hold elected or appointed positions. In such cases we should work to bring about change, but we must still submit and obey in the meantime. Unless and until the government requires Christians to do something (or not do something) which is contrary to God’s Word, we have the responsibility to obey.

Think that Paul didn’t exactly have taxes in mind when he wrote his letter to the Italians? Read the rest of the passage: “Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:5-7).

Happy Tax Day!


Wow…a week has elapsed since I last posted. Not for lack of anything to say, I assure you. Rather, I have had one of those stretches we all find ourselves in from time to time, when every time I turn around it seems there is something else I need to do and those things which I intended to do kept getting pushed off. And, in the grand scheme of things, blogging is not that important, so the blog often ended up at the bottom of the pile. Today I finally found the bottom!

The title of this entry also happens to be the title of a movie which has received an incredible amount of attention in Christian circles over the past year, but this blog actually has nothing to do with that film. Instead, it has to do with a senior class, and four seniors in particular, whom I found to be courageous last Wednesday evening.

Courageous is one of those words that falls into the category of words that the dictionary defines by using its root word. Quite irritating, if you ask me. After all, if one does not know what “courageous” means, looking it up and finding that it means, “possessing or characterized by courage” is not likely to help much. So, turning to “courage,” the dictionary provides this definition: “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.” If you look it up on you will also see referenced the idiom, “have the courage of one’s convictions,” which it defines as, “to act in accordance with one’s beliefs, especially in spite of criticism.”

Last Wednesday a group of students from the senior class at Sunshine Bible Academy led the student chapel in its entirety. They planned it, from the songs that would be sung, to the students who would be involved in leading the singing, to which students would pray, which would speak, and which would lead the small group discussions afterwards. Now, seniors at SBA have to present a “senior chapel” as one of their graduation requirements, so this does not seem unusual at first. However, this particular chapel was in addition to the required chapel. Most of the students involved have already presented their senior chapel. There was no requirement that they do this, and no asked them to do so. Rather, feeling led by the Spirit after their senior trip, Mega Teen retreat, Spiritual Life Emphasis Week, and the realization that graduation is rapidly approaching, these seniors realized that there was something they wanted to say to their fellow students.

So, after the time of singing, two boys and two girls–Cameron, Katie, Beth and Christian–spoke to the middle and high school students from their heart, sharing the lessons that they have learned in their years at SBA and in their walk with the Lord. The lessons shared were not trite or cliche, either. Yes, Cameron talked about the need to spend more time reading the Bible and praying, but he was speaking out if his own experience, and sharing how he had come to this realization in his own life, and the difference that it had made for him personally. Katie bravely encouraged students to be selective about the extracurricular activities in which they are involved and even (gasp!) to curtail their involvement in order to focus on what they really want to do, to do it well, and to avoid becoming overwhelmed by trying to do everything. Beth spoke about not dating in high school. That’s right, NOT dating. We live in a culture that encourages students to date early and often, and at ever-younger ages, and yet Beth explained why dating in high school may not be such a good idea after all. And Christian addressed the importance of attitude, and how attitude really does make as huge difference…and is ultimately a matter of choice.

The things that Cameron, Katie, Beth and Christian spoke about are not necessarily popular, even in a Christian school. Yet they chose to be courageous, to take a stand and to speak out, encouraging their fellow students. They chose to follow the advice that Paul gave to Timothy when he wrote, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe” (NASB).

Then Came the Morning

On that first Easter morning, no one was looking forward expectantly to seeing an empty tomb. The Gospels contain several accounts of what happened that morning, and not one of them includes any evidence of anyone expecting to see the tomb empty, expecting to see Jesus alive, or initially responding with anything other than sorrow, dread or doubt when it was discovered that the tomb was indeed empty. From our 21st century vantage point it can be easy to look back at the disciplines and others and think, “How could you not get it? Were you not listening at all to what Jesus told you?” After all, Jesus had certainly explained to His followers that He was going to die…and that He was going to rise again. As is so often the case with looking back on events of the past from the perspective of our added knowledge, though, I think it would be foolish to think that I would not have reacted in the same way had I been there.

The exciting thing about Easter, though, is that the confused and fearful reactions of those who first discovered the empty tomb were quickly replaced by joy, praise, gratitude and exhilaration once they realized the truth…Jesus IS ALIVE!

I borrowed the title of this entry from one of my favorite Easter songs. The song includes these lines:

Then came the morning, night turned into day;
The stone was rolled away, hope rose with the dawn.
Then came the morning, shadows vanished before the sun,
Death had lost and life had won, for morning had come.

There are many songs about Easter, and Christ’s triumph over death, hell and Satan that I love to sing. Some are old hymns, some are new songs, but what they have in common is the celebration of the dramatic change in circumstances that is captured in the lyric above–night turned to day; shadows vanished before the sun light; death lost and life won. HOPE had risen!

There is nothing more exciting to read, and more foundational to the Christian faith, than the biblical account of that first Easter Sunday…

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” Matthew 28:1-10 (ESV)

It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ that separates Christianity from any other religion. It is because Jesus rose from the grave, conquering death, that we who have accepted Christ can have the hope of eternal life in heaven with God rather than an eternal life in hell, separated from God. It is because the perfect Son of God took the sins of the world upon Him, suffered and died to pay the penalty for those sins, and arose victorious that we have any hope at all.

The apostle Paul makes very clear the importance of the resurrection…

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 (ESV)

If Jesus Christ did not rise from the grave, we have no reason to hope. Everything else in the Bible is in vain. It is all worthless. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the foundation upon which all other elements of the Christian faith rest. Without it, it counts for naught. So praise God that Paul did not stop writing in verse 19, but went on in verse 20 to write, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.”


The Night Before Easter

As I type this, it is the night before Easter. As I look forward to tomorrow and think about the significance of Easter, I cannot help but think about what this night must have been like for Jesus’s followers on that night before the very first Easter. It was the Sabbath–the Lord’s day was Saturday, remember. What must it have been like for the disciples? For Mary? For the other followers of Christ? They had watched Christ die. They had seen Him buried. If they had slept at all Friday night they had surely awoken tired, weary and completely in despair. How difficult it must have been for them to observe that Sabbath day…to worship God after watching Jesus crucifixion.

Any of us who have been through times of intense personal loss can relate at least at some level to what these followers must have felt. More than likely the day had been full of going through the motions. In many ways, they were probably on auto-pilot…eating because they were supposed to, not because they wanted to or really felt hungry, for example. What conversation there was was almost certainly in hushed tones. There may have been some fond reminiscences of things Jesus had said or done, but for the most part I imagine their entire day was overshadowed by grief.

Mark 15:47 says, “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid” (ESV). To me, this means that they stayed close enough to Jesus to see exactly what happened each step of the way…from removing His body from the cross, to wrapping it in a shroud, to placing it in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb, to seeing that tomb sealed with a stone. These women, like John and the other disciples, and many other individuals unknown to us by name, knew that Jesus was dead. This man whom they had spent an incredible amount of time with other the last three years (or, in Mary’s case, His whole life), whose teachings that had heard, whose miracles they had witnessed…He was dead.

These individuals had misunderstood much of Jesus’s teachings about why He came to earth and how He would save the sinners, and therefore these was no hope in their hearts. This is evidenced by the fact that the women went to the tomb on Sunday morning with burial spices to dress the body.

At the same time, the night before the first Easter must have been the most joyous and celebratory day in history for Satan and his minions. Satan had been trying throughout the earthly ministry of Jesus to destroy Jesus’ ability to be the unblemished redeemer. He had tempted Him in the wilderness three times at the beginning, and now he thought he had won, because Jesus was dead…

—To be continued—

Life’s Warning Signs

Sometimes life’s warning signs can really get on your nerves, can’t they? A few years ago my family and I were vacationing on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. For the entire time that we were there the red “No Swimming” flags were flying, meaning that we were not allowed to get into the ocean. Now, some people go to the ocean to soak up the rays on the beach or to build sand castles or to collect sea shells. But others–like me–go to swim in the ocean, which means that red flags are a real disappointment.

The truth is, though, that the “No Swimming” flags were there because someone knew more about the situation than I did. For people who like to play in the ocean, body surf, and battle the waves–again, people like me–the water looked very inviting. It looked like there was enough wave action to make it quite fun. I could not see, of course, that there was also a very strong rip current, and swimming out in the ocean would have been very dangerous, possibly even life threatening. Fortunately, those people who knew more about the realities of the situation and the possible risks took the time to post the flags. The flags were not there to ruin my fun; rather, they were there to protect me from potentially serious consequences.

Life works much the same way. Our world is filled with warning signs. Some are so redundant that we see them all the time and do not think much about them, like the “Do Not Enter/Wrong Way” signs that we see all the time to prevent us from going the wrong way down a road, against oncoming traffic. Others are seemingly ridiculous, like the warning on irons not to iron clothes while wearing them. (I suppose someone actually tried that once, resulting in this now-universal warning). Probably the most well-known example of a ridiculous warning is the one that now graces cups of coffee purchased from fast food and other coffee shops–“Warning: Beverage is Hot.” Odd that this would require a warning, given that people purchase coffee fully expecting it to be hot. Indeed, they would be disappointed if it was not hot. Other warning signs, like the “No Swimming” flags or “Bridge Out” signs, as two examples among many, are there to protect people from dangers they otherwise would not know were there.

Parents, and schools, operate the same way. Rules and policies are in place for children and students because the parents and school administrators know, from experience, that there are some things that children can do and some things that they cannot do–at least not without getting in trouble or even getting hurt, whether that hurt is physical, emotional or even spiritual. The children/students do not always like those rules, of course–but then very few of us like all the rules we have to follow.

The Bible is like that, too. God provides, through His Word, many warnings and cautions and even commands about what we should and should not do. As is the case with the red flags at the beach, those biblical instructions are there not to rain on our parade, so to speak, but to protect us from dangers and consequences we may not know are there. Just like someone knew more about the rip currents than I did, God knows far more about human behavior and potential consequences than we do. Red flags, and the inability to swim in the ocean may have resulted in a vacation that was not as fun or exciting as I had hoped. Considering the potential alternative, though, I should have been grateful for those flags.

The trick thing is that sometimes people can ignore rules and seemingly get away with it. Other times, other people ignore rules and suffer serious, if not life-ending, consequences the very first time. We never know, though–which is why the rules are there in the first place: to prevent us from finding out, the hard way.

Like anyone else, I sometimes ignore the warnings and go ahead and do my own thing. In the end, though, it always turns out that God was right…and He always will be right. We just have to heed the warnings and remember that they really are there for our own good. And we can have much more fun by following the rules than we ever could by flaunting them.