Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Copyright Kevin McShane, The Gracious Winner, Flickr

To Gloat or not to Gloat?
That is the Question!

Whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished.
Proverbs 17:5

After tragedies like Hurricane Sandy and the recent school shooting I’ve noticed a troubling reaction in some Christians who believe events like these are God’s judgments. Whether these incidents are or are not is a subject for another time. What bothers me is the smug satisfaction and sometimes outright glee demonstrated when events like these occur. Although they don’t come right out and say so, these believers are quite pleased at the misfortune of others. Vindicated because their belief that sinners will be punished is confirmed, they are proud. They “knew” this would happen. I have no doubt that God doesn’t feel this way at all.

The bible contains the story of Jonah, the only evangelist I know who was angry because of ministerial success. Called by God to warn the residents of Nineveh concerning their behavior, Jonah hit the ground running – in the other direction. In the attempt to avoid his assignment, he placed a ship and its crew in mortal danger. A fierce storm arose that threatened to sink the ship and kill all aboard. The crew cast lots to determine the person responsible for their misfortune and the lot fell to Jonah. When confronted, Jonah confessed. The only solution was to cast him overboard and the crew gladly obliged. Prepared for this turn of events, God provided aquatic transportation, in the form of a very large fish, to deliver Jonah to his destination. At Nineveh Jonah preached, the people repented and judgment was averted.

Called to warn the Ninevites of pending doom, Jonah ran away. Why? He didn’t stutter like Moses. He wasn’t a coward like Gideon. What was his problem?

When God saw what they (Ninevites) did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home?...I knew that you’re a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”
Jonah 3:10-4:1-2

Jonah wanted the Ninevites to get what he believed they deserved - judgment. I find some Christians today feel the same. Deep down they know God is quick to forgive. Just like Jonah, when presented with an opportunity to warn someone they’ll run, but not out of fear of rejection or failure. They want to see people experience the consequences of their actions. I know; I’ve done this.

Proverbs 17:5 warns that gloating over someone’s misfortune is an invitation for punishment. It’s never the right response. What we wish for others we’ll receive; the law of sowing and reaping always works. The next time disaster hits, and it will, let’s not adopt a self-righteous “I told you so” attitude. Instead, let’s be proactive and take preventative measures beforehand. Sharing God’s love with others will change their lives and derail disasters. Rather than gloating over a field of carnage, wouldn’t it be more fun to rejoice over the blessings and good things God has done in the land and lives of the living?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


I recently read the account of Peter’s water walking adventure in Matthew 14. The word immediately is repeated three times; this got my attention. Five thousand people had just been fed miraculously.

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd” Matthew 14:22 (emphasis mine)
Why was Jesus so eager to get rid of the disciples?

The Jewish people, including the disciples, expected the Messiah to set up a literal, physical kingdom upon his arrival. John 6:15 reveals that this was the crowd’s intention. The disciples could have easily joined the throng, placing additional pressure on Jesus. Apparently unaware of the crowd’s desire, the disciples obeyed without complaint or hesitation.

Lesson One on “immediately”: When God gives a command, just do it.

Obedience doesn’t always result in smooth sailing. “Things got bad and things got worse*” for the disciples. In the middle of the sea, in the middle of the night, a storm erupted that frightened even the experienced fishermen in the group. Jesus, aware of their predicament, did the only logical thing; He walked out to help them. Terrified, the disciples didn’t recognize Him (Matthew 14:26). Hearing their cries, Jesus immediately responded with words of assurance.

Lesson Two: Fear can cause us to not recognize the Lord when He shows up. God is always aware of our situation and is already at work, even before we call out for help. He responds immediately to our cry and isn’t restricted to only natural means of providing a rescue.

Peter, emboldened by the Lord’s arrival put Jesus on the spot. “Lord if (emphasis mine) it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water” (verse 28). What else could Jesus say but, “Come.” Under normal conditions water doesn’t provide a solid surface; step on it and you sink immediately. Distracted by the storm Peter began to sink and cried out, “Lord save me! Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him” (verses 30-31). Grabbing Peter, Jesus walked the shaken disciple through the storm back to the boat.

Lesson Three: Any call for salvation prompts an immediate response from God but not necessarily an immediate change in circumstances.

The presence of Jesus in the boat changed everything. Matthew’s account says the wind died down. John 6:21 adds, Immediately the boat reached the shore where they were headed.”

Lesson Four: The presence of God can change things immediately. Caught in a ferocious storm one minute, the disciples found themselves safe and sound at their destination the next. With God, all things are possible immediately!

In the perfect will of God the disciples experience “the perfect storm.” Jesus knew this and His first reaction was to reassure them, not to stop the storm. Peter’s request to walk on water delayed their deliverance but taught them a powerful lesson on the possibilities of faith. Instantaneously they went from tempest tossed to high and dry. God’s responses were always immediate, but not always what one would expect.

God will do for us what He did for the disciples. He responds immediately to our crises. He enjoys and applauds our attempts to walk on water and provides immediate help if our faith falters and we begin to sink. He has the ability to immediately meet any need and solve any problem. He’s never late, He’s always immediately on time.

* Lodi, copyright Credence Clearwater Revival

photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/therevsteve/4435673559/">TheRevSteve</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">cc</a>

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

What Were You Thinking?

Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for. Proverbs 16:6

            One of the saddest misrepresentations of God is someone holding a sign or shouting out “God Hates You”…fill in the blank. Men have hated and defied God from the beginning of time. His response has always been the same, love.

            “Now, hold on a minute,” you may say, “the Bible is full of instances where God got angry and people experienced His wrath.”  True. Like it or not, sin’s consequences have greater impact than we realize. When God intervenes into situations and deals with men’s behavior He doesn’t hate them, just what they do. Unwilling to change, allowing their activities to persist would result in greater harm to more people.

            Jesus made a bold statement in John 14:9. “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” He declared Himself to be the tangible expression of God’s nature. Jesus didn’t run around screaming at people and telling them how much God hated them and was out to get them. He did, however, address bad behavior and tossed the corrupt merchants out of the temple: Matthew 21:12 & John 2:15. Hypocritical religious authorities were confronted, Matthew 23:13-29 and rebuked. To a woman “caught” in the act of adultery (which takes at least two people) He said, “…neither do I condemn you…now go and leave your life of sin,” John 8:11. His greatest expression of love was spoken from the cross as He was dying. “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” Luke 23:34.

            Proverbs 16:6 reveals God’s motive for redemption. Love and faithfulness, not anger, frustration nor revenge compelled God to craft the plan of redemption. The sin issue was resolved through Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. “Be reconciled to God. God made him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him (Jesus) we might become the righteousness of God,” 2 Corinthians 5:20-21.

            For the better part of His arrest, “trial” and execution Jesus held His peace. Except for a few words with the priests, Pilate and from the cross, Jesus was silent. Hebrews 4:5 teaches that Jesus was “tempted in every way just as we are.” If that had been me, I would have been tempted to give everyone a piece of my mind. I’d have defended myself and criticized my accusers. I may have even vocally wished they would suffer the same fate, or worse. Jesus was probably tempted to do all of that and more, but He didn’t.

            Why? Jesus understood the power of spoken words. Remaining mute was superior to an angry outburst that couldn’t be retracted. He stayed true to His claim of being the representation of His father. He stayed loving and faithful.

            The Bible is clear; a day of reckoning is coming. God will right every wrong. Injustices will be addressed and corrected. Those who oppose God will experience His fury. With His love and faithfulness, God through Jesus has made a way to escape this fate. “Much more than being now justified by his blood we shall be saved from wrath through Him,” Romans 5:9. God loves humanity; it’s our behavior that He sometimes can’t tolerate.

            Romans 2:4 reminds us it’s, God’s kindness that leads us to repentance.” Angry words, demonstrations, hitting people over the head with the Bible may get attention and draw a crowd, but probably won’t work. Kindness is God’s chosen method of operation, so let’s follow His lead. We’ll be amazed how effective it is. People will experience love and faithfulness; just what God was thinking when he planned to redeem them.

P.S. This edition marks the one year celebration of The Thought Just Occurred to Me. I want to thank all the readers who have made this possible. Your words of encouragement and grammar correction have been priceless. God bless you.

photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/stephencuyos/5394047165/">Fr. Stephen, MSC</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">cc</a>

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Photo compliments of Fergal of Claddagh

It’s a “P.R.” Problem

A man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the Lord.
Proverbs 19:3

The problem with free will, it really isn’t free. Free is a misnomer in this case; it implies autonomy to make decisions, which we have. It doesn’t mean our choices won’t have consequences. When things go well, we readily accept the credit. When things blow up in our face, we drag out the spin doctors and look for a scapegoat. One easy target to shift blame onto is God. If only He’d done something, life wouldn’t have gone to hell in a hand basket.

The question “where was God” asked in relation to a tragic event is usually a thinly veiled accusation that His lack of intervention is the real root of the problem. Without firsthand knowledge straight from the perpetrator of the crime, drawing conclusions concerning motive is pure speculation. Perhaps God did try to intervene and was ignored; it wouldn’t be the first time.

Genesis 4 recounts the familiar story of Cain, Abel and the first recorded cold blooded murder of history. Why Cain killed Abel is baffling. Abel hadn’t done anything wrong or harmed his brother in any way. His only mistake was offering his sacrifice correctly.  Often overlooked is the interaction between God and Cain in verses six and seven before the murder. God gave warning that Cain’s unjustified anger directed at Abel would bring serious consequences if left unchecked. Since God saw what loomed on the horizon, why didn’t He stop Cain from killing Abel? Free will.

Proverbs 22:5 says that “thorns and snares” litter the path of the wicked and, if we’re smart, we’ll take a different route. Cain had a “P.R. Problem”, not public relations but a personal responsibility problem. When confronted by God after the murder, Cain refused any responsibility for his actions and showed no remorse. His response…he complained. My punishment is more than I can bare,” verse thirteen (emphasis mine). Cain accused God of being unreasonable and harsh. He conveniently forgot that short of physical restraint God did everything to dissuade Him from committing the crime.

British businessman and economist Josiah Charles Stamp said, “It’s easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of our responsibilities.” This is true, but that hasn’t stopped us from trying to avoid the repercussions of our actions. It’s fashionable to adopt a victim mentality and to shift the blame to someone or something else. Exploring “why” things happen is beneficial. Understanding “why” provides a reasonable explanation but not a good excuse. Why not? Free will provides us the opportunity to respond differently. The choice is always ours.

When Cain killed Abel God responded with love not condemnation or rejection. However, He refused to excuse Cain’s actions and held him accountable. Even with a promise for physical protection for his own life, Cain got mad and “went out from the presence of the Lord”, verse sixteen. He ran rather than accept responsibility.

Unfortunately, from almost day one, men have used violence directed at each other as a means of conflict resolution. Cain’s action was replicated by one of his descendents. A few verses down in Chapter 4 we meet Lamech. He killed a man and bragged about it. Lamech boasted of being avenged seventy seven times. Ironically, Jesus, in Matthew 18:21-22 spoke of forgiving the same person on the same day seventy times seven if necessary.

Humanity has had a “P.R. Problem” from the beginning. Adam blamed God and Eve. Eve blamed the serpent and so on. We want modified free will, something that lets us have our cake and eat it too. We wish to do as we please minus any negative repercussions. This is folly and Proverbs 19:3 warns that folly will ruin our life. When God “butts into our business” He’s not trying to spoil our fun but to get us to a higher, greater level. He has an upgrade for us. Even though it means our feelings and emotions won’t enjoy the satisfaction that comes with getting our own way, listening and heeding God’s timely prompts will prevent those pesky “P.R. Problems” in our lives.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Ghost of Christmas Disappointment

“And be thankful…with gratitude in your hearts…”
                                                          Colossians 3:16

Genuine thankfulness and gratitude go hand in hand. I often struggle with these. I find it easier to focus on things that aren’t or didn’t work out as planned. Let me share with you my encounter with The Ghost of Christmas Disappointment.

I remember an incident from a Christmas over fifty year ago as if it was yesterday. We visited my grandmother a few days before The Big Event. As we left her apartment she presented each of us three children with a gift. Hers were always something special. On the ride home my sister, brother and I feverishly fingered our packages for clues to their contents. After much poking and prodding I had an alarming revelation. My present was a hanger!

I shared my discovery in a less than enthusiastic tone. My complaint wasn’t well received by my parents; something about needing to be grateful. My brother howled with laughter. My sister, sullen and silent realized she had suffered the same fate.

My worst fear was confirmed on Christmas morning. My brother, John, got a really cool Dick Tracy machine gun complete with sound effects. My sister Patty and I got fancy padded satin hangers. I felt so disappointed no, make that cheated. What kind of gift is a hanger? My poor grandmother was probably perplexed at what to buy her two young granddaughters; she’d raised two boys. My mother tried her best to convince my sister and me that these were very special gifts, especially for hanging up our favorite dresses. “Bah humbug” was my silent response. They ranked right up there with socks and underwear.

I sent my grandmother the obligatory Thank You note and not one word I wrote contained an ounce of gratitude. I’m amazed that even now I can close my eyes and relive the whole event. When it comes to remembering things I should be grateful for, I can draw a blank quickly.

There is a group of people who drive me crazy. You’ve met them. Their smile is permanently etched on their face. Looking at the world through rose colored glasses, they find the best in any situation. They exude thankfulness and gratitude. I despise them. Why? I wish I was just like them. These people were hard-wired, straight from the factory with sunny, optimistic and thankful personalities. The workers must have been on break when I came through the line. Maintaining a thankful, grateful disposition requires concentrated effort on my part.

‘Tis the season for resolutions, changes to make to improve our lives and the lives of those around us. For me, this year, being thankful and grateful top the list. Who knows, this year may be the time to dispel the Ghost of Christmas Disappointment and morph into one of “those people”…not a bad idea.