You Always Have A Choice (Part One)

Have you been deeply hurt by someone? What did they rob from you — innocence, opportunity, money…reputation? Whether the offense was planned, coincidental, or accidental; feelings of anger and shame can overwhelm a person with despair. But, recovery is possible once you realize you always have a choice in how you respond.

Try a simple exercise. Think about your mood right now. How would you describe your present mental state? Are you feeling — anxious, tired, distracted…curious? Now try to stand outside yourself. Imagine you are looking at yourself in a video as if you are somebody else. What do you see? Is your face relaxed or are you grinding your teeth?

Your ability to complete this simple exercise makes you uniquely human. Animals do not possess such self awareness. As a human being you can think about your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. It’s the reason humans have dominion over everything in the world. We can learn from our experiences, even hurtful ones, and discover wisdom. We can evaluate, imagine a different life, and then set out to create it. We can even empower others to build on our advances.

A simple acknowledgment of this unique human privilege provides a great starting point for recovering from your pain.

Of course we have no control over many life situations. We cannot change the past, nor can we change how parents conditioned us during early childhood. But we can choose to transcend our condition and our conditioning. Stephen Covey wrote, “Our unique human endowment lifts us above the animal world. The extent to which we exercise and develop these endowments empowers us to fulfill our uniquely human potential. Between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose.” (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)

Hope builders take responsibility for how they respond when others hurt them. They accept the uncomfortable truth that often the greatest harm comes not from what happens, but by how they respond to it. Covey notes that the word responsibility combines “response-ability” — the ability to choose a response. If we don’t recognize we have the ability to choose; we will abstain in despair. Surrender your ability to respond differently and you give more power to the one who hurt you in the first place.  As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Victor Frankl, a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp, manifested this power of choice. He was a psychiatrist trained in the school of Freudian determinism and was taught that circumstances outside your control govern life and there is not much that can be done about it. After he lived through the death camps, Frankl rejected this idea and championed personal “response-ability”. Though Frankl lost all his freedoms and suffered unspeakable atrocities, “He began to become aware of what he later called ‘the last of the human freedoms’ — the freedom his Nazi captors could not take away… He could decide within himself how all of this was going to affect him.” (Stephen Covey).

Victor Frankl, rediscovered the older wisdom of Genesis overlooked by psychiatrists because they based their deterministic ideologies in animal research (Pavlov, Skinner, etc.) His suffering clarified the distinctive capabilities of human beings created in God’s image.

God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over [everything]…over all the earth…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he create him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)

At creation, God elevated us above brute conditioning and gave us the freedom to choose our response and not react like animals. Like God, we can evaluate our thoughts and feelings. God has given us a noble sense of self so we can separate ourselves from the moment and rise above our emotions. We mimic God when we use our imagination and creativity to bring order out of the chaos, and light out of darkness. As we exercise this responsibility, we not only recover our hope and joy; we reflect the image of God.

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How Much Hope Should Christians Place in Politics?

Politicians are changing the world: redefining marriage, reordering the medical system, reforming civil liberties and reframing religious freedom. Candidates from both sides of the isle promise utopia whether that means changing America or restoring America. Pundits proclaim the 2016 election will be the most important in their lifetime, echoing sentiments heard every previous election.

But, how much hope should Christians place in politicians?

Currently the front runner for republicans is a buffoon and the front runner for democrats is unscrupulous. It reminds me of a famous quip by George Bernard Shaw, “The problem with political jokes is that they get elected.” 

TRUMP Obama Poster

Its remarkable that when God came to earth, he steered clear of politics. He was born in a stable, not a palace. He grew up in a low class town called Nazareth not an urban professional capital. He worked as a carpenter until he was 30 and never pursued political office. Jesus never called for a political revolution; never picketed; never organized an occupy movement; never demanded that the state intervene to redistribute wealth; and never assembled a militia.

Jesus avoided confrontations with political leaders until the last week of his life. When he entered Jerusalem he took the label Son of David, the title for the promised king of Israel, but clarified that his kingdom what not political — not of this world. When Sanhedrin spies tried to trick Jesus into voicing a seditious remark, Jesus instead replied, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Luke 20:25). At his arrest in Gethsemane Jesus rebuked Peter for striking a temple guard and said, “Put away your sword. Everyone who lives by the sword dies by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)

Jesus was acutely aware of the political firestorms raging around Jerusalem, but he largely avoided them. Instead he focused on people’s deepest needs — repentance for the forgiveness of sins, resurrection hope and God’s transforming love.

Jesus downplayed politics, yet he terrified politicians. The threat Jesus posed united opposing political factions to support his crucifixion. Those who condemned him to death consisted of: religious conservatives (Pharisees), religious liberals (Sadducees) and secular opportunists (Herod, Pilate).

Political leaders, then as now, saw themselves as the real agents of hope and change. Not one politician suspected they would be forgotten before Jesus. Certainly no one imagined the world would one day date time after him! Jesus and his followers were underestimated at every turn. That pattern continued throughout history. It continues today.

Jesus said His followers would have unparalleled influence, “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:13-14). History proved, time and again, Jesus was right about his followers. Space doesn’t allow me to expand but Christianity overran the Roman Empire within 350 years because Christians offered more rights to women and a better welfare system than the state. Christians remained in cities to nurse the sick and dying during the great plagues while pagans fled for safety. Their belief in the resurrection gave them courage to risk their lives when others refused. No wonder people flocked to the church.

In the 1800s Christians used the political system to bring an end to the slave trade across the English Empire. Eric Metaxes writes, “It was devout Christians almost exclusively who were concerned with helping the poor, bringing them education and acting as their advocates, and who labored to end the slave trade, among other evils. But so successful would Wilberforce and these other Christians be…[that] this attitude would become culturally mainstream.” (Amazing Grace, p.64)

Political leaders will continue to boast about their ability to right wrongs and establish a perfect order. But the Bible warns us not to bank on them (1 Samuel 8).  Jesus encourages us to place greater trust in what everyday people, transformed by His grace, can do over the long haul.

Knowing Jesus changes everything. Knowing His love empowers you to forgive others, serve your community, and give generously. Knowing Jesus’ wisdom changes the way you lead in the marketplace, parent at home, and fight injustice. Knowing His graces enables you to resolve conflict, endure hardship, and love “the other”.

If you are looking for a place to park your hope this election season, look to the gospel of Jesus and the promises of God.

Political power simply is not as enduring as gospel power. Political power is outside-in and coercive. It burns bright and hot and then it burns out. But gospel power is inside-out and transforming. It starts small and over time spreads like wildfire.

Make the gospel your hope this election season. Whether your candidate wins or looses; and especially if you don’t have one.