Musings on Good and Evil

Adolf Hitler. Ted Bundy. Joseph Stalin.

Mother Theresa. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ghandi.

Can we agree that there is both good and evil in the world?

If we can agree that there is both good and evil in the world, a question comes up. Where does our sense of good and evil come from? Why is that we know with absolute certainty that the Holocaust was wrong, and the actions of Mother Theresa are good?

Some people would say that this sense of right and wrong comes from society – we have laws that tell us not to do certain things, and we grow up being told not to do certain things. Naturally we must conform to those same patterns of thinking. But I don’t think this is the whole story. Can you remember hitting someone as a child or hurting a friend? I can. I remember an instance where I bit my brother when I was younger. I had never been told that biting was wrong, but somehow I knew it was. My brother was in pain, and I felt guilty before I got into trouble and my parents told me it was wrong to bite others.

Some people would say that this sense of right and wrong is just instinct, but I’m not convinced this is right either. If you are walking across a busy street and you hear the sound of honking horn, instinct says that something is wrong and you need to move quickly out of the way. But if you hear that horn and see a child in the way of a car, something else inside of you tells you to fight against your instinct and run towards the danger to save that child.

Whether we realize it or not, we all have this certain something inside of us that communicates a standard – a line drawn in the sand of what is acceptable and what is not. Granted, as we learn more about the world we find out that some things are not as clear as others. Violence is not always wrong – what if someone is attacking your family and you need to defend them?

Even with these “grey areas” as they are often called, there are still many things that we can know for certain and that every society can agree upon:

Murdering innocent people is wrong.

Is this just an opinion? No. An opinion is much simpler. You might have the opinion that ice cream is the best dessert, but you won’t go to jail for eating a pint of rocky road. When has a serial killer ever been set free from jail for having a different opinion on murder? Certainly they can hold that opinion, but they are horribly wrong. No – this is not just an opinion, it is a belief. In the same way, if I believe our sun is freezing cold, or that water is made up of nitrogen and sodium atoms instead of hydrogen and oxygen, I am wrong. No matter how strongly I believe or how much I try to prove my point, I will always be wrong. I am not right simply because I want to be.

There are certain things that are true, and always will be no matter what we believe. For a long time the earth was believed to be flat, but that belief doesn’t make it true.

Perhaps you are confused because I am using the word “beliefs” in places where you feel like I should use the word “facts.” Fair enough. Facts are not exactly the same as beliefs. Facts can be proven with hard evidence. We know that water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen because we can now see it under a microscope. We know that the earth is round because we have traveled around it and have seen it from above, among many other things. A fact is not a belief. But, sometimes a belief can be a fact… if it is the right belief.

            A true belief is a fact.

This seems like an ambiguous statement because it is hard to find facts to prove our beliefs. Often times our beliefs are intangible – love, hope, and faith can’t be seen with the naked eye. If I believe in love, how do I know that my belief is true?

Truth exists. No matter how hard you have to search to find it – it is not lost. We can know for certain that some things are true, and others are false. And no matter what you believe – the truth will not change. By its very nature it cannot.

Do you really know that what you believe is the truth?

I challenge you to dig into your beliefs. Yes, those that you have held true since you were a child, and those beliefs that you have just recently started following. Find out the truth. Don’t just search for the answers that line up with what you believe – that’s not looking for truth. Truth is there whether you believe it or not… and it might look a lot different than you think.

When You Feel Like a Failure

I know this post is longer than what I usually write, but stay with me. I want to take a break from my travel posts to share something that has been on my mind for the past few weeks.

This week I feel like I’m sitting in a big puddle of failure. It is soaking through to everything and it sucks. Emotionally, physically, spiritually – everything! My house is a total mess. I made some dumb financial decisions at the beginning of the month and so I’m suffering financially. I am slacking on my diet. I am snapping at my husband when he doesn’t deserve it. I have missed not one, not two, but THREE workouts in a row. This is not me complaining about my life, this is me sharing things that are all completely and entirely my fault. I’m screwing up.

So what do I need to do when I feel like I’m a total failure and everything I touch turns to crap? I know some people who would say I just need to get a positive attitude and focus on changing my self. But what if that is not enough? I need something more than self-motivation.

I know some people would say that I should turn to my husband and my friends, that I should ask them for encouragement. But what if even they aren’t enough? What do you do when even the words from the people you care about the most aren’t enough to lift you up?

No matter how many times you try to motivate yourself, no matter what people say to encourage you, there are times it just doesn’t work. And I know I’m not the only one that this happens to. You can say your mantra of peace and remind yourself of the things that you know are true about yourself, but some days you need more.

Where do you escape to clear your mind and renew yourself? Traveling? Pouring your heart into your work? Picking up a new hobby or skill? Changing your hair cut or taking a day off? Buying a new outfit? Tell me, did it work? Is it long lasting?

No… I don’t think those are the answers. All these ideas are temporary. The newness wears off after awhile and you feel the same. Then the cycle continues to repeat over and over again until when…?

Before you start spiraling into depression by just reading this post, there is something else I want to share with you. Truly, I wish that you were sitting here in front of me so that I could take your hand and tell you this in person.

Today out of the blue this verse came to me, a verse that I haven’t thought of in a very long time. It brought me encouragement, and I ask you to read it, even if you aren’t a spiritual person. The prose is still beautiful even if you are not a believer in Christ.

 I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
 He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
    and put their trust in him.

For me that verse is extremely meaningful. It changes things in my heart. I feel like I need a whole other post to explain why that is so encouraging to me, but I will try to be brief.

When we accept our failures, it means that we give up trying to be perfect. We realize that we can’t do it all alone. And that is freeing to me – not because I will forever be imperfect and depressed, but because I have someone to help me. Not just someone who will tell me I look pretty or to keep my chin up. This person reaches deep inside my soul and is capable of mending the very fiber of my being. He touches pieces of my heart that no one else can reach. God hears my cries and is here to lift me out of this pit of all my failures. I am not just talking about feeling better for a few days, or forcing a smile on your face. I’m talking about healing. Do you know what that feels like? In Christ I am a totally different person. When God looks at me, he doesn’t see all the things that I’ve done wrong, or all the ways that I feel like I’m screwing up. He sees perfection. Complete and utter perfection.

Are All Religions Essentially the Same?

A few weeks ago, I was confronted in a conversation with the idea that all religions are essentially the same. The person who shared this with me believed that all religions pointed to basically the same goal: try to be a good person and treat everyone with respect. This person also shared the thought that, “Religion goes wrong when someone tries to say that their religion is better than someone else’s.” I understand where this person was coming from, but I have to say that I disagree. I have been thinking a lot about this conversation over the past few weeks and I’d like to share my thoughts.

First of all, I use the term religion here to help people who are unfamiliar with Christianity to understand where I am going and to keep from having to explain myself constantly. I do not believe in having a religion from the standpoint of adhering to a specific set of rules and traditions, rather I believe in having a relationship with a holy God. With that being said, I will use the term “my religion” in this blog to refer to my beliefs and my standards.

Second, while I do respect all other human beings and their desire for a religion that differs from my own, I do not respect all other religions. The term respect means to hold something in high regard, and to see it as having importance or high value. I do understand a lot about other religions. I understand the desire and the need for a human being to have a religion, and I understand that it might be different from my own. I will not devalue another person based on their religion. But I cannot, and I will not hold differing beliefs in the same regard as my own.

Third, I do not believe that all religions are essentially the same. Consider this: I believe my actions do not determine whether or not I go to heaven or hell. I base this belief off of Ephesians 2:8-9 which says,”For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” The term works in this verse simply means an act or a thing being done. In contrast to this idea, Hindus believe in karma, the law of cause and effect by which each individual creates his own destiny by his thoughts, words and deeds. This is from the 9 basic beliefs of Hinduism. These two beliefs are in opposition with one another. One says that there is nothing that I can do change my eternity, another belief says that it is entirely up to me and my decisions. In other words… both beliefs are not the same, in fact they are in exact opposition with one another.

Fourth, I would like to address the idea that it is wrong for a person to say that their religion is better than someone else’s. My religion states that believing in Jesus is the only way to attain eternal life. If I choose not to believe this, I choose not to believe in Jesus. If I say that you can get to God by believing in yourself, or that you can get to God by worshiping nature, or even that you can get to God by being a good person, I can no longer call myself a follower of Christ.

Essentially, by saying that all religions and paths to God are the same I disown my own religious beliefs.

I do not write this because I believe that I am better than someone else. On the contrary, I am no different from any other person on this planet. The only thing that sets me apart is the grace of God. This grace is his gift to me, and I did nothing to deserve it.

I encourage you to comment or email me if you have questions/disagreements/comments about what I have written or about my beliefs.

Content in God’s Strength

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted, and I thought that I would share a little bit of what God has been teaching me lately. As many of you know, my husband is overseas in South Korea now. Many of you also know that my father in law is very ill and will not be with us much longer. I am also in the midst of pre-Clinicals for student teaching at a title 1 school. With all that is in my mind these days, it is very easy for me to react by either shutting down and simply going through the motions of my day without feeling anything, or by constantly complaining about my circumstances.

However, lately God has been impressing on my heart the idea of being content. I have been thinking a lot about the many ways that I am blessed, and I want to share them with you.

Unlike many of the children that I teach, I was born into a Christian home to parents who not only loved me, but counted me among their most treasured possessions. Many of the children at my school have abusive parents, and do not understand what it is to be loved.

Many of the kids at my school will never leave Anderson in their childhood. I stepped foot on 3 continents before middle school, 4 before high school, and 5 before the age of 22. I have been exposed to different languages, religions, cultures, and tasted foods from around the world.

I have been blessed with a loving husband and a promising future. Not only do I have the opportunity to attend university and get a degree of my choosing to enter a field of work that I have always dreamed of, but I have my soul mate to accompany me along this journey.
My husband respects me, and adores me.

I am blessed with a wonderful church family in Anderson who care about me and want to see me succeed. They uplift me and encourage me and stand by me.

I have never gone hungry, I have always had a roof over my head, and I have never been without clothing.

I am rich. I am rich beyond all understanding, and I am blessed far beyond what I could ever imagine or deserve. My God is so gracious.

I am encouraged today because I know that while my family is going through a difficult trial, God is with us. He has gotten us this far and he will not leave us or forsake us now. He is our rock and our fortress, and we cannot be shaken. The enemy may try to discourage us, he may try to weigh us down with grief, and he may try to cause us to fear. But he will never have our soul. He will never win. Our God is stronger, and though we are discouraged we rember the hope we have in Christ. Though we grieve over our coming losses, we rejoice in the fact that they are temporary. And we hold onto the perfect love of Christ that casts out all of our fears.

I Want to be a Mango Tree

No, I’m not crazy. Bear with me here. While listening to a podcast called Real Talk the Pod (Episode 43) I heard an analogy about a mango tree and a tomato plant. The tomato plant is easy. Once you plant it and take care of it properly, it grows fruit within a few weeks! However, the tomato plant will die off and have to be re-planted each year. The mango tree, on the other hand, takes anywhere from 5 to 7 years to bear fruit from the time it is planted. But once it bears fruit, it will continue to do so year after year for 40 years.

Now don’t be confused, I have nothing against home grown tomatoes. YUM. What I took away from this analogy was not that I should go plant a mango tree in my back yard (well… if I had a back yard I might…). This analogy taught me that good things are worth waiting for.

Although my husband and I may not have taken the easy route in our marriage, I believe that we will be rewarded with a deeper love for each other when we do get to spend time together. The time that we spend together now is so much more valuable because of the time that we spent apart. I want to be someone who can be patient now, and look forward the blessings down the road instead of seeking out whatever will make me happy in the moment.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
– Galatians 6:9

Our God is a God who Provides

For those of you who may not know, I am back in the States! I wanted to share with all of you some of God’s provision for me on my trip back. 

Because of the high cost of return tickets, Jason and I made the decision for me to attempt to fly back home on the military version of stand by which is called Space Available. The way that Space Available works is unfortunately not in my favor. Once you sign up, your name is called based on category and the time that you sign up. Jason and I signed up as soon as possible, but of course we could do nothing about my category. I am a category 5 (out of 6 categories), meaning that I am a dependent who is not stationed permanently at OSAN Air Base. We had spoken to the employees at the terminal a few days prior to the flight, and they told us that in the past 3 months they had not gotten past a category 3. My chances of getting on a Space Available flight were slim, and even if I tried for several weeks there would be no guarantee that I would get a seat.

None-the-less, I packed up my bags and we drove to the terminal the morning of the first flight. Neither one of us had high hopes that I would get out that day, but we both continued to pray that God’s will would be done. We were really hoping that his will did not include us having to pay full price to buy my ticket home. 

I sat in the terminal and watched as one by one names were called and people got up to go get their ticket for Space Available. I was almost the last one in the lobby when lo and behold I heard my name called. It was a total miracle from God. This flight had the most seats available that they had had in months, over 40 seats. The price for my ticket? $29.00. 

This ticket got me all the way to Seattle, and once I landed I now faced the challenge of getting back home to Charlotte. Even as I stood in line at customs and wondered how much the ticket would cost to get me home, God was already at work to provide for me.

As it turns out, a close family relative who works for a popular airline was able to get me a stand by ticket into Charlotte for a mere fraction of the cost! Everywhere I turned, God was providing for me and my husband. I have nothing but praise on my lips for him and the ways that he continues to prove his faithfulness. 

Waiting Actively

When I was little, whenever I and my parents would have to stand in line somewhere or whenever I had to wait for my mother to finish talking before I could speak, my parents would always tell me to be patient. I learned that, “patience is a virtue,” and, “Good things come to those who wait.” But what does that actually mean? What does it mean to be patient?

I have thought about this a lot this summer since we have travelled a lot. Traveling, in case you didn’t realize, requires a lot of waiting. Half of our travel time is not actually spent on a plane, but sitting in a terminal, waiting in the ticket line, waiting in line for security, waiting in line for immigration, sitting on the plane waiting for it to take off…. the list goes on and on. And of course there are situations in life that require much more serious kinds of waiting. Everyday someone is waiting to hear back from the doctor about a diagnosis, waiting to hear from God about which college to go to or which job to take, waiting for a phone call from a loved one, waiting, waiting, waiting. I find myself constantly in a state of limbo and most of the time there is nothing I can do to speed up the process.

I believe that there are several options you have when it comes to waiting. One option is to complain. It takes up time, and if you can get someone else to join in it might make you feel a little better for the time. Complaining isn’t just verbal, either. You can complain with an expression, and you can complain in your thoughts. But the truth is that complaining doesn’t help. It makes you grumpy, and it makes the wait feel even longer. And if the outcome isn’t one that you hope for, it leaves you bitter. Another option is to do nothing, or to do something useless. You stand in line and stare off into space hoping that if you daydream long enough the line will move forward. Or you stare down at your phone refreshing your Facebook newsfeed even though nothing new is coming up. If your are dealing with something more serious than waiting in a line, it might mean that you are non-responsive to those around you or that you crawl under your covers and hide from the world. This option doesn’t seem all that bad on the surface, but it isn’t helpful either. This is still a form of feeling sorry for yourself, whether or not you are willing to admit it. Finally, you can choose to wait actively. This means that you take every opportunity you have to be an encouragement to others and to use the time you have for the glory of God. Who can you chit chat with in the check out line to make it go faster? How can you use this moment to teach your children a lesson? How can you be a light for Christ in your darkest moment when the world says that you should be running away? How do your reactions to your time of waiting encourage those around you?

Now I realize that there are some people out there dealing with really heavy things. There are times when you may not feel like getting out of bed, and it’s a good day if you can do that much. I am not telling you to suck it up and be happy. If you are dealing with something serious, me telling you to be a light for Jesus probably feels like I’m pouring lemon juice on a cut. Jesus did not call us to suck it up and be happy. BUT he did call us to trust in him, and lean not on our own understanding.

Psalm 62:5-8 says this: “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God;he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”

Waiting actively means to rest. Does that sound like an oxymoron? It means that you are not worried about the future, and you are not stressed or agitated over having to be still for awhile. It means that you trust that God has everything under control, and you bless his name as you wait to see what he has in store. You continue to do what you can do in this moment to encourage others and to lead your family.

I know this post isn’t a fix all for all problems, but I hope that it is an encouragement and a challenge to you today.

Debrief after Thailand

Thailand, what to say. I didn’t exactly fall head over heals love, but it is a place that grows on you after awhile. When we first arrived, Jason and I were constantly afraid of being pick pocketed. You see signs everywhere warning you about protecting your belongings, and we had read plenty of horror stories online before coming! We were worried about the infamous “lady boys,” the taxi rip offs, the Grand Palace schemes, and being robbed in our hotel room. We were worried about not being able to get around the city, about our bank accounts being locked out, and about getting in trouble for doing something culturally wrong. Pretty much the entire first day there was spent constantly reminding each other about what we needed to look out for! We were the epitome of the conscious and safe tourist. Which also meant that we trusted no one, and we assumed that everyone who looked at us had the intention of harming us.
The second day was quite different. On our second day, we took a trip into the rural parts of Bangkok on a Canal Trip. Ahh the canal trip. Here we did not have to wade through large crowds, merely a peaceful river with the ocasional Thai on a small river boat selling fruit or a bowl of soup.

This is my favorite face in Thailand:
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Certainly, I don’t know much about this woman. Nothing that would lead me to trust her anymore than anyone that we saw in the crowds of Bangkok. I know that she sold us a wonderfully delicious bowl of soup, and I know that she smiled at me when I took her picture. I know that she has an adorable little boy who ran out to meet her at the pier (Butt naked by the way… I will not include pictures of him, in case you were wondering). I know that she had a spirit house built in front of her own, which means that she is a Buddhist. With such little information about her, how can I love her more than all the other faces I saw in the course of a week?

The reason is that for me, she represents all the other faces in Thailand. This woman means that even though there may be darkness in Thailand, there is still hope. If there is one thing that I learned from my week there, it is that there is so much work that needs to be done in Thailand. There are so many lost people, hoping to find peace by making the right sacrifice, meditating in the right way and for the right amount of time, doing good things, and thinking good thoughts. They believe that they are capable of eventually freeing their minds from suffering by concentrating on constantly and thinking what is good. And I’m not sure why, but when I saw this woman smiling her precious goofy grin on a hot Thursday afternoon, it reminded me that Jesus is capable of bringing the peace that they desire. The difference is that his peace cannot be earned, it can only be accepted. If only this beautiful woman could know how easy it is to be filled with peace.

Well. Now still have no idea what we actually did on the trip, but I’m sure I’ll manage to get another blog out soon enough with some more details. For now, lift a prayer to God and thank him for the free gift of grace that saves us and pray for those in this world who have yet to receive it.

A Lovely Lesson from Much Afraid

While on our vacation to Thailand, I have decided to revisit one of my favorite books, Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. For those of you who are not familiar with the title, it is an allegory about a young woman named Much Afraid who represents a new Christian. She is led through a very difficult physical path by a Shepherd who has promised to lead her to “the High Places.” In the book, Much Afraid is not always directly accompanied by the Shepherd, but is often led by a guide whom the Shepherd appoints to her. The Shepherd promises Much Afraid that although he must leave her to go to the High Places and place her in the care of others, he will always return to her the moment she calls to him in need.

There are often times within the story that Much Afraid comes upon a situation where I as the reader know the answer but she does not. She will make the wrong decision or have momentary doubts about what the Shepherd had promised her. In those moments, I often find myself thinking, “Silly Much Afraid! You have such little faith.” But just then, Much Afraid will lift her voice and call to the Shepherd to come to her need. Unlike me, the Shepherd is not annoyed at her lack of faith or irritated that she called him away from the High Places. He fills her with love and encouraging words, and sends her on her way refreshed and renewed.

As I think about this, I marvel at what a wonderful Shepherd we have as our Father. He does not be one irritated when we doubt his promises or fall prey to a temptation. Instead, he rejoices when we call on him in our moment of weakness saying, “I believe Lord, help my unbelief,” (Mk. 9:24). He does not come to us saying, “I wish you would stop calling on me whenever you get into a bind, it’s getting old,” but instead tells us that he is always here to help remind us of what he has promised to us. We must follow him into the dessert or high up the mountain through treacherous rocks because we know that it all has a purpose. Out of each trial that we face and each doubt that we have comes stronger faith. Each time we call upon The Lord he will renew our strength. As we come to trust in this, our trials become more about relying and focussing on the joy of Christ and less about enduring suffering. The joy of The Lord is our strength! Though sorrow may last through the night, his joy always comes in the morning. (Lam. 3:24-26)

If you are struggling now with a physical, spiritual, or emotional trial, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Hinds Feet on High Places. It will not make your trial go away, but if you allow it to speak to you, I know you will find your strength renewed with the promises of God.

A God Who Answers Prayer

Although Christianity is widely accepted, Buddhism is still the predominant faith in South Korea. I have seen little pieces of it everywhere we travel – evidence that there is still a great need here for the Spirit of God. 

In the Garden of the Morning Calm, which I posted about earlier, we noted that everywhere there were stones balanced on top of one another. Each stone represents a prayer or a wish for luck and good fortune to be bestowed upon the person who stacks the stones.

At Nami Island, we noticed a feast laid out as a sacrifice to General Nami. The feast is laid out for him in hopes that he will send rain and protection to the island. 

And finally, this past weekend we noticed several people lighting candles underneath rocks at the beach. These candles are lit for a few different reasons. One is to meditate on the light in order to be enlightened. Another reason is to remember deceased ancestors. 

1 Timothy 2:5-6 says that, “There is one God, and one mediator between God and man.” I wish that I had the words to share this with so many people along our various journeys. The prayers of these people are misdirected. The peace and comfort that they search for in these rituals can be found in Christ alone.

I serve a God that does not require a sacrifice of food, or daily rituals. He requires only surrender. Perhaps this idea of surrender scares many people because of what is going on around them in neighboring countries. Perhaps they do not wish to give up their lifestyle (more on that later). Or perhaps they don’t see their need for God. 

I cannot communicate with them, but I can pray. Not to my ancestors  and not to Buddha, but to my God who hears me. . You can pray as well that God would open the eyes of these people to their need for a living God who answer their prayers. They desperately need to see that God is Jehovah Jirah, the God who Provides. They need to know that God is El Tephillah, the God who Hears Prayer. They need to know that he is El Shaddai, the All Sufficient God and that they do not need to rely on any other god but Him. He is the only one who will hear their prayer, and the only one who will answer. 

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