If a person is on the fence about whether or not they have
full faith in the existence of God, what does it take to jump off and take a
side? I say it requires something very personal, a dream, an experience or event
that hits home, transforming what you know to be true.
Maybe the jump is to the side of unbelief in God. Perhaps
there was a critical time in a person’s life when they needed help or an
answer. If they put the problem out there for God to solve or come to their
rescue and they felt nothing happened, God must not exist. They gave God a
chance to prove Himself, and they feel He failed them. If their parents or
friends believe or don’t believe, can that determine which side to fall on?
Does it mean they follow others or does it push them in the opposite way? Some
people want to exercise control over their lives and believe that it is solely
up to the individual to direct their path and make things happen. Having a God
who wants them to relinquish control and has rules to be followed isn’t what
Others see the suffering, evil and destructive forces in the
world and conclude there is no God or if there is, He is not completely good
and loving. For some, the decision to believe or not believe is determined by
the actions of ‘so called’ godly people. There are church leaders caught in
scandals or religious teachings that fuel conflict and hate. If God’s people
don’t live as an example of God’s way of being good, why believe or follow it?
Many religious organizations teach “what” we should believe but they don’t tell
the reasons “why” we should believe.
Even if taught the reasons “why”, would it change anyone’s faith or lack
Some people are ruled by logic and objective reasoning; on
the surface, the belief of God isn’t logical. There are skeptics that need hard
evidence to convince them of the truth. Or could it be that whether to believe
or not believe is based on genetics and how are brains are wired? Or is it more
influenced by our environment? Nature or Nurture? Maybe a little of both?
A huge factor that really drives us to choose a side with
the divine comes out of our life experiences. Something awakens the spirit
inside that says you are not alone and that there is meaning in this great big
physical world. You find that you matter to The One most powerful, or your
self-centered nature dies to something that matters most. It is a unique path
for every person, but when it happens it changes everything. You are different.
The pages of history are full of radical, personal divine
transformations that have changed the world. Full religions have grown from
visions, dreams and inspirations known by the person to be the result of
supernatural direction over their lives. If it isn’t a personal god that is revealed,
it may be a spiritual rebirth where the person’s understanding of the meaning
of life and an individual’s role in it is fired up. There is a quest to put the
experience in a greater context. If the experience is real for one person, what
does it tell us about the rest of the society in which we live? What does one
person’s transformation mean for the world? Once a fire is lit, the intensity
and passion people have propels them forward. They do things and have impacts
in unexpected, often amazing, ways. The commitment to their beliefs can be so
strong they may be willing to die rather than deny it.
When I think of the transformations that have changed the world and have led millions of people to follow God’s way, it fills me with awe. There is no question for many, they believe God is real. They feel it, they know it! It is especially inspiring and incredible when I don’t put a fence around how God or the divine is defined by religion, culture and history. How different the world is because God revealed The Way and guided human leaders to spread the word. God is still real! Look at all that is happening around you! Think of your experiences in the context of being led by a super-powerful force directing you to your unique path forward. Have you gotten off the fence and taken a side? Have your experiences established your belief that God is there? Wishing that you are filled with a holy fire and that you hear God’s voice providing the inspiration to live a life that fulfills your greater purpose. You’ll be able to say with confidence that God is real. Yes, I believe it! ‘
What does it take to find forgiveness? We may need forgiveness for ourselves or struggle with whether to forgive when people have wronged us in a way that has put a great strain on our hearts and our lives. The situations are unique to each individual’s journey, with God as our guide for the actions we should take. Our behaviors when facing a decision and the practice of forgiveness have a critical role in our relationships in both the divine and human realms.
important in many religious traditions and it is critical for our spiritual
health and peace of mind. There is a
Tibetan Buddist story about two monks (some updated versions change it to two
prisoners of war). They had been in
prison together where they were tortured by their captors. Years later, they meet again and the first
one asks, “Have you forgiven them?” The other replies, “I will never forgive
them! Never!” Then the first says, “Well, I guess they
still have you in prison, don’t they?”
Forgiveness is a way to liberate your feelings about the worst of life’s
Two songs, released in 2012, speak about forgiveness and the feelings that even though it isn’t fair, it is important to move forward from the hurts…
Matthew West, Forgiveness: Even
when the jury and the judge, say you have a right to hold a grudge, It’s the
whisper in your ear saying set it free
7th Avenue North, Losing: Oh
Lord, give me grace to forgive them,Cause
I feel like the one losin’
In the Jewish culture,
before Jesus, the steps to repentance and to earn forgiveness were often of a
physical nature: an animal sacrificed as
a sin offering, fasting, ripping of clothes, wearing sack cloth, an action by
the High Priest. The act of killing an
animal could symbolize the punishment and that justice was being extracted
through the blood of the animal that takes the place of the one who
sinned. Forgiveness was transactional. A sin against God required a debt to be paid
back to God. After a sin against another
person, the transgressor became obligated to the person they offended.
When Christians confess
and ask God, with a repentant heart, sins are forgiven (1 John 1:9). Biblical lessons have taught that this became
possible through the life and death of Jesus.
The ultimate sacrificial act of love for humankind was God’s gift to his
creation when we were overwhelmed by sin.
God’s plan through Jesus
made it possible to be forgiven for the wrongs we have committed and the shame
we feel. It isn’t a physical
transaction. It is a process that takes
place in the heart, a re-connection to God.
There is a joining to correct the break in our relationship that was caused
by our sin. The teaching of Jesus before
his crucifixion spoke of our responsibility to forgive others (Matthew
6:14-15). Seventy times seven times if
that’s what it takes (Matthew 18:22). We
are not stuck waiting on the actions of others.
Forgive as you have been forgiven (Ephesians 4:32).
When forgiveness is an exchange, an apology and justice is needed for the offense. But does an “I’m sorry” or a verdict of consequences really result in healing for the one who has been hurt? Evil people can act with disregard or hatred toward others, creating situations where repentance and restitution may be an impossibility. In the Hindu Dharma, the feminine forgiveness is granted when there has not been repentance, “which is higher and more noble than the masculine forgiveness granted only after there is repentance.” Does it really take two willing parties for acts of forgiveness to be effective? I hope not!
Between individuals, whichever
side that you find yourself on, the actions leading to forgiveness are hard,
but not impossible. Forgiveness is a
choice. Human disagreements can stem
from both parties viewing themselves as right, with neither side giving in and
taking fault for an offense. Resentment
hardens our emotions and “shifts our attention from those who matter to us to
those whom we disdain, deadening our spirit.
Why would we choose to live this way? It gives those who wronged you an
even greater victory than their original act.”1
Granting forgiveness when our pain and loss has been great, doesn’t
mean you forget. Forgiving doesn’t mean
we accept the wrongdoing as okay and it doesn’t absolve the perpetrator of
blame. We do not have to lose our
story. There are lessons in it. Our experiences add to our wisdom. Learning to let go of the bitterness and
anger, we can embrace the fullness of life and what awaits in our future. We let go so that we are not drawn into
continual plans for seeking revenge or the feeling of being stuck as a victim
without hope for the days ahead. When we
forgive, we heal. Withholding
forgiveness is like putting our peace of mind directly into the hands of
someone who has already been shown to be untrustworthy. Isn’t our peace more precious to us that we
should take the actions necessary to remain in control of it?
In the Taoist tradition, there is a lesson about forgiveness
taught to a student. The Master teacher
tell the student to “Put a potato into a sack for each person who has offended
you.” The student collects a fair number
of potatoes. The Master asks him to
carry the sack of potatoes around for the week.
At first, the student doesn’t find the potatoes to be much of a burden,
they are not that heavy. But as the week
goes on, he starts to tire of having to drag the sack everywhere he goes. On top of that, the potatoes start to smell
as they rot and spoil. The next week,
the Master says that the student can dump all the potatoes, but needs to then
collect more, one for each new and remaining negative feeling about an
offense. The student realizes that to
refill his sack, he will be constantly striving against the offenses. But The Way of Tao does not involve
striving. “So what is the Tao,
Master?” The Master says, “If the
potatoes are negative feelings, what is the sack?” Having learned the lesson, the student
replies, “The sack is that which allows me to hold on to the negativity. It is something within us that makes us dwell
on feeling offended…Ah, it is my inflated sense of self-importance.” “What happens if you let go of the sack?” The Tao of forgiveness is the conscious
decision to relinquish the entire sack.”
For Muslims, forgiving
means not carrying a grudge in your heart against that person. If you were given a chance to retaliate, you
would choose not to and that you do not wish the other person evil, even
secretly. If there is an inability to
forgive, it may cause the person to repeatedly bring anger and bitterness into
every relationship and new experience.
If you cannot move on from the hurt, it is projected onto others. When praying for your own forgiveness to
Allah, it is recommended that you use His names including “He who pardons,” “He
who forgives,” and “The oft-forgiving” to reflect the attributes of God that
To find forgiveness, pray
about the situation. If you have
offended someone, ask God to give you courage and humility to do what it takes
to mend the relationship. If you’ve been
wronged, don’t sit and focus on your wounds and nurse hate for the person who
hurt you. Pray for the persistence to
get past the obstacles blocking your way forward. Pray for the person who offended you. This can be a very hard thing to do, but the
deeper the pain they have caused is a sign of how far they have strayed from
the path God had in mind for them. Pray
that God’s power will influence their future actions. Pray for God to give the grace to forgive
them, “they don’t know what they they’ve been doing” (Luke 23:34).
The acts of forgiveness
takes a lot of work. Let us be able to
show God that we are able to take the high road and that we trust God to know
how justice is best served. In doing so,
with help from God, we will be set free to experience peace and spiritual
restoration that is beyond understanding.
For that, we can give praise and thankfulness back to our big God.
Dharmawisdom.org, Phillip Moffitt (referenced on February 23, 2019)
Matthew West, Forgiveness, From the Album “Into the Light” (Sparrow)
Avenue North, Losing, From the Album “The Struggle” (Reunion) 2012
In the last few decades, it seems a lot of people have
come ‘out of the closet’. Maybe it would be better to say the closet was
replaced by a community. Lesbian, Gay,
Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) individuals now come together to support one
another and seek acceptance. Celebrities,
siblings and children are being open about who they are choosing to love as
their significant other and what gender they identify themselves with.
In the past, people struggled more with determining
whether “coming out” was the right action for them. Some lived a hidden life to avoid the
judgments from others. Will the reaction be one of rejection or
acceptance? They have already felt
isolation and have been affected by harsh opinions from society. Homosexuals have been called abnormal,
disgusting, sexually deviant, and immoral.
They may be considered sinful by religious organizations, criminals by
intolerant governments, disliked by those who do not even know them, and sadly even
becoming the target of deadly hate crimes.
They wonder how their parents, brothers, sisters, friends, classmates
and co-workers will act when their true, self-identity is revealed. Some loving family members may even consider
it a “phase”; the person is just confused and will come around eventually. A mother may believe that once her son finds
the right girl, he’ll become “straight”, as if it were a decision he made and
that he could make another choice any time he felt like it. Overall, with all the trouble and risk
associated being non-heterosexual, why would someone voluntarily elect to be so
ostracized? Is this simply attention
seeking behavior? Perhaps for some. If the person cannot bear the thought of
letting their parents or community know their real selves, life can become a
game of ‘cover-ups’, with fear that the truth will be disclosed. One thing is certain, everyone has an opinion
on homosexuality and more often than not, the emotional response is strong,
even extreme. How many families have
been broken apart by it? How many
children have been disowned?
Many years ago
I met a man that was gay, a friend of a friend.
I had heard him talking before seeing his appearance. His voice was that of an older woman. With that quick introduction, I believed that
homosexuality must be based on biology and hormones. The balance of biochemistry had shifted him
from having the masculine characteristics that would be expected, and, instead,
clearly feminine elements were being expressed.
He didn’t make a choice about this; he was made that way. Just as every one of us is a unique
combination of chemistry and biology beautifully brought to life, this was just
one more element of the diversity of natural human development. God made each of us special, without mistakes.
Muslim believers may contend that “homosexual behavior is sinful”. These people may not intend to disrespect
anyone, but they firmly hold on to what they feel the Bible or the Qu ‘ran teaches
on the subject. Their level of acceptance
may go so far as saying that judgment for how we each of us acts is to be left
in the hands of God or Allah, but they may continue to think of gays and
lesbians as sinners. Christians may cite
sections in the Bible as the basis for the conclusions they draw. On that, my thought is, “No, I don’t think
that is what the Bible says.”
One section of
the Bible often quoted relative to homosexuality is I Corinthians, Chapter 6
verse 9&10, New Living Translation).
9 Don’t you realize
that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in
sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes,
or practice homosexuality.
10 Or are thieves, or
greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will
inherit the kingdom of God.
The judgement on homosexuality is equal to the judgement
on greedy people and drunks or those that cheat people. There were people acting terribly in the
Church of Corinth; there was fighting, arguments and jealousies. Some of the people were saying that they can
do anything they want and still be considered followers of Christ (I
Corinthians 6:12, New Living Translation).
But this section talks about how not everything is good for you and gives
a warning about not becoming a slave to your behaviors. Taking parts of the Bible and magnifying them
without giving consideration to the context in which they were written can lead
to misinterpretation. If I look only at the first verse of I Corinthians
Chapter 7, it says “It is good for a man not to touch a woman” or “It is good
to abstain from sexual relations” depending on the translation (King James
Version & New Living Translation). In verse 7 of the same chapter of the letter
Paul is sending to the new Christians in Corinth, he wishes that all men were
like himself, able to resist sexual desires.
But he knows most cannot have that much control over their passions, so
he basically tells people to get married so you are not tempted into immoral
actions. In the verse right after the
one condemning certain types of people to be excluded from God’s Kingdom, it
talks about how Jesus died for sinners (I Corinthians 6:11) and then in the
last verse of the chapter, a summary is provided.
11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified,
but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our
20 For ye are bought
with a price: therefore glorify God in
your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
I had always heard that God destroyed Sodom
and Gomorrah because homosexuality was rampant in those cities. But reading Genesis 18:20 (King James
Version), the Lord said “their sin is
very grievous.” He didn’t specify,
but God and the angels looked long and hard to find at least ten righteous
people so that the City of Sodom could be spared. In Genesis 19:5, men come looking for the
angels that had arrived to save Lot’s family and the men at the door want to
rape the visitors. Lot was even willing
to turn over his two virgin daughters to the evil men outside his door in
exchange for the protection of the angelic men within his home. How horrible?
The real answer
about the sin of Sodom popped out at me when reading Ezekiel Chapter 16, 49-52
(NLT), spoken to Jerusalem.
49 Sodom’s sins were
pride, gluttony, and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her
50 She was proud and
committed detestable sins, so I wiped her out, as you have seen.
51 Even Samaria did not
commit half your sins. You have done far
more detestable things than your sisters ever did. They seem righteous compared to you.
52 Shame on you! Your sins are so terrible
that you make your sisters seem righteous, even virtuous.
So, some of the biggest things that the Sodomites did
wrong was not caring for the poor and being lazy. In the KJV it said the people of Sodom were “haughty”. I had to look that one up. Haughty means arrogant and disdainful and
treating people with scorn. This doesn’t
say anything about sexual orientation. Societies
who judge others as unworthy of God’s love instead of extending it, are falling
into the trap that the people of Sodom were in.
In Ezekiel Chapter 18, there are many encouraging words from the Lord
regarding sins of the soul, contrasted with doing what is right and lawful, and
the life and death consequences of each of our actions. It talks about how we are each responsible
for our own thoughts and whether we choose to be righteous or wicked. This section lifts up God’s way of dealing
with us as just. We will each be judged
according to our ways.
There is sure a
whole lot said on the internet on the subject of homosexuality. I am sure you could find opinions and
convictions that line up with a full spectrum of feelings on the topic. What I’m sharing here are my own individual
thoughts. I can find many speaking out
in a similar fashion and many others who would contradict me. I found thoughtful words from Janet Edmonds
in “The Bible Doesn’t Say That Homosexuality is a Sin”. I found heartfelt words from Matthew Vines. There are people that say you cannot change
the interpretation of the word of God just to fit the current changes in
culture. But you have to admit that the hateful
and abusive culture of the world needs changing, thousands of years ago and
today. Things are pretty messed up. Knowing that God gets personal with us as individuals,
He wants to work on the hearts of each of us, in whatever unique situation we
find ourselves in. He wants us to be humble and have a teachable spirit. He wants us not to judge others “lest we be
judged.” He wants each of us to know
that we are loved by Him. God knows what
is best for us and wants us to figure that out through a relationship with Him.
I feel for
young people still in school and trying to figure out who they will be when
they grow up. If feeling attracted to
the same sex is part of their emotional tapestry, or if they feel a conflict in
the body they were born with, how much more difficult those years must be for
them? Kids can be so mean to each other. Adults can be just as mean. Churches and other religious organizations are
making policies regarding human sexuality and it is disappointing when it seems
the decisions are based on creating laws that exclude people and don’t make
allowance for acceptance and love for one another. Sometimes the rules become impersonal and
take away the rights of individual communities to listen for God’s guidance for
themselves. Should people attracted to same-sex partners really be lumped
together with ‘abusers’ and ‘thieves’, and other evil people who won’t have a
share in the blessings of God’s kingdom?
Is being a member of the LGBT community really a sin?
sin? God has tried over and over again
to help us easily recognize it. He gave
Moses the Ten Commandments to share with his people. Ten rules to live by. That doesn’t seem so hard but for hundreds of
years, people struggled with that covenant.
So Jesus comes. He distills the
commandments down to the essentials:
love God with all your heart and treat others the way you want to be
treated. Wow, it sounds so easy! Are we able to do it? When a man loves God and loves another man in
a committed relationship, is he disobeying what Jesus said? If he lies and tells people he is not a
homosexual when in his heart he knows the truth, wouldn’t he then be breaking
one of God’s Commandments? Let’s say he never held an evil thought toward
others and trusted and listened to God throughout his life. Is this man going to Hell? When God looks into a woman’s heart and sees
that she holds great love for Him and also observes the love she has for
another woman, does God condemn her? I
say, “No, if the love in her heart is what is guiding her actions, then God is
pleased with her.”
What if we
looked at this from the perspective that individuals are placed specifically
into our lives as part of a test of our ability to follow God’s desires? Are we all able to love God and each other
unconditionally? Or is our ability to
follow the example of Jesus’ love only in full force when our circumstances
make it easy? Are we only able to fully
love those who we feel live the right way?
Life on Earth is filled with challenges, individual situations that
drive our actions and beliefs. The
difficulties each of us face are as diverse as the people in the world itself. If you or part of your family is impacted by
homosexuality, don’t let the feelings it causes turn you away from God or let
it interfere with relationships grounded in love. Ask God how to respond and follow through on
the messages He writes in your heart.
Through all things, let your thoughts and actions please God. In God and by God, every single one of us is
wonderfully made, equally lovable, equally special. We all have a job to do in God’s Kingdom; we
need to love and respect one another. It
is also important that we hold love and respect for ourselves, to develop the
uniqueness that makes us into the person God intended us to be.
We’ll have many people cross our paths in our life’s journey. There are people that sin by committing harmful, evil acts which cause emotional hurts, pain and suffering or physical death. The Bible teaches that God will deal with the wicked. If good people start doing evil, they must be put to death, while wicked people who start to do right can save themselves from punishment. God says we are to give up our evil ways and think pure thoughts (Ezekiel 18:26-28). We are able to find peace when we surrender ourselves into God’s hands and when we produce the fruits of the spirit, against which there is no law (Galatians 5:23). For each person that is in our lives, we get to decide how we will treat them. We may be asked to support them, pray for them, help them, care for them, no matter our differences. We are not the ones to judge, we cannot see the state of someone’s heart. God expects nothing less from us than for us to love one another just as Jesus has taught, the way He loves us.
hearts get broken. It is inevitable that
something goes wrong. Not everyone is
living in the “Happily Ever After” part of their stories. Jesus said, “In this world you will have
trouble.” It isn’t the trouble that
meets us, that makes us who we are. What
we do in response to our challenges creates a bigger impact on who we
become. Jesus encouraged his followers,
“But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). There is a saying that we cannot avoid the
storms, but we can learn to dance in the rain…or sing. Stories
about songs born out of heartache strike a chord. The song can touch others and be an
inspiration. There are so many songs out
there with amazing stories about how the songwriter and artists were moved in
the creation process. Plus so many more stories
tell of a listener hearing the song at just the right time to make a difference
in their day or their lives. The songs’ messages
can speak to our souls. Noted here are
just a few stories about songs—some old, some new.
In ~1779, Amazing Grace by John Newton: Newton said only God’s amazing grace could
take a rude, rough, slave trading sailor and transform him into a child of God.
He was talking about how God changed
him. “…that saved a wretch like me…”
In 1855, What a Friend We Have in Jesus by
Joseph Scriven: Joseph experienced the
loss of his first fiancé the day before their wedding due to an accident. The next person he loves also died before
they could marry due to pneumonia. He
wrote the hymn to comfort his mother.
“We should never be discouraged—Take it to the Lord in prayer.”
In ~1862, Jesus Loves Me poem by Anna B. Warner
was put to music by William Bradbury.
Based on her sister’s request, Anna had written the poem to bring
comfort and peace to a dying child. “Little ones to Him belong, they are weak
but He is strong.”
In ~1876, It Is Well with My Soul by Horatio
Spafford: The hymn was written after a
tragedy in which his four daughters drowned when the boat sank on a
transatlantic voyage. “When sorrows like
sea billows roll, whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say It is well, it is
well, with my soul.”
In ~1886, Standing on the Promises by Russell
Kelso Carter: Athletic in his youth,
Carter was diagnosed with a critical heart condition at 30 years of age. Felt God healed him and Carter lived for 49
more years but did suffer with many health issues. “When the howling storms of doubt and fear
assail, By the living Word of God I shall prevail.”
2002, I Still Believe by Jeremy
Camp: This was the first song that God
gave to Jeremy Camp after his first wife passed away. “I still believe in your faithfulness, I
still believe in your truth, I still believe in your Holy Word, Even when I
don’t see, I still believe.”
In ~2014, There’s Hope in Front of Me by Danny
Gokey: The song is about journeys people
go through when it feels like the rain storms will not end, but God puts little
pieces of hope in front of you leading you to the light at the end of the
tunnel. “…up ahead there’s a big sun
shining, right then and there you realize, You’ll be alright.”
In 2016, Thy Will by Hillary Scott & The
Scott Family: The song was written by
Hillary and friends after a much wanted pregnancy ends in miscarriage. “I don’t wanna think, I may never understand,
that my broken heart is a part of your plan.”
In 2017, Broken Prayer by Riley Clemmons: Written from a feeling that you have to have
yourself together to go to God, like your broken pieces are not good
enough. “Every scar and every fear, You
want all I have, with no holding back.”
Prayers that you will always have a song in your heart that lifts you up when you are down.
Respect. Aretha Franklin sang about it, but has our modern culture forgotten how to show it? “Just a little bit?” Frequently we see it played out that when two people have differences, each is quick to demonize the other side. Insults, accusations, arguments and hatred are thrown back and forth in a game where there will be no winners. In today’s society, demonstration of mutual respect is sadly found to be lacking in politics, in neighborhoods, even in families. There’s certainly a better way for us to exist as members of civilized society.
Too bad we all couldn’t get down to the basics and follow the Golden Rule. Many religions teach a version of this common-sense virtue.
For example, in Hindu, the guidance goes back to ~3000 years B.C. from the Vedic tradition of India….
“This is the sum of duty. Do not unto others that which would cause you pain if done to you.” Mahabharata 5:1517
Or as Confucius said in ~500 B.C….
“Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.” Analects 15:23
This has got to be Our Big God’s all time favorite way for each of us to behave.
From the video clips we see on the news, we are not doing so well at treating others as we’d want to be treated. Maybe we can blame the media because conflict gets attention and sells more than comradery. Yet, all we appear to be doing is stirring up intolerance. Two groups, standing at odds without anyone willing to be a bridge to find commonalities and ways to work together, doesn’t tend to lead to progress.
Several years ago, I attended a meeting where John Dingell Jr. was speaking. He served in the US Congress from 1955 to 2015. Someone asked him what was the biggest change he had observed from when he first started in Congress. I recall him describing the tight knit family feel in his early years. Party affiliation was less of a factor when it came to who socialized with whom. Dingell said people would get to know one another, their spouses, their children. They would visit each other’s homes and have meals together. This spirit of caring for one another could carry over into debates held on the House Floor regarding the best decisions to make for the country. Now, instead, there is marked party division. There is less effort taken to seek out common ground.
People want “their way”, which they think to be the “right way”, or it’s “no way”. The trouble is that in today’s complex world, as was the case years ago, there are big problems to solve. We need smart people with influence to come together to determine the proper path forward. On a global level, we need to find solutions for the betterment of mankind. The world is not as big as it used to be. We are all interconnected and what each part does has ramifications that are felt more immediately across country lines and oceans wide. We don’t need immature power plays, threats and intimidation. We need to listen. Hearing different points of view and being able to debate and discuss the best course of action can lead to transformation.
Recently, I read an article called “The Art of Arguing” by Caleb Jenkins (Fowlerville News and Views, January 20, 2019). The author talked about the difference between arguing and debating. He said, in a debate, “two or more differing viewpoints are discussed respectfully and factually.” He shared good advice on the subject(s). It seems clear that we would be moving in the right direction if we brought respect and honesty into our conversations.
Differences between individuals that are handled disrespectfully can harm relationships. Clashes between groups can ignite violent emotions, with people getting hurt. Showing respect for one another demonstrates strength in character and morals. Putting R-E-S-P-E-C-T into practice would be an excellent start to following the Golden Rule. Set a high standard of behavior. Let’s not step down to a lower level.
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12
Respectfully show God you can be the bigger and the better person. Pray over the situations. Ask God to grant restraint, patience to listen, grace, wisdom and discernment. Ask God for answers. Ask that you are given the strength of character needed to show respect generously and indiscriminately. “Sock it to me” (Aretha Franklin, Respect, Album: I Never Loved a Man The Way I Loved You, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc. Universal Music Publishing Group, 1967).
Where do you want to go? Do you want to change something? What do you want to be, know or do?
Wherever it is that you want to move, it must start with the
next step in the right direction. You
may choose to stand still or even take steps in retreat if you don’t feel
ready. Those moves won’t get you where
you want to be but they may be necessary in the process. Reaching your destination begins with desire,
you have to want it. Then next it
requires a plan, to chart a path forward.
Once the plan is there, it just takes that next step. Will it be in the right direction?
What if you are being pressed to do something hard? Let’s say you need to make lifestyle changes
for your health or you need to break bad habits preventing you from being your
best. Start by asking God for help. Don’t worry, God wants you to ask. When we admit we cannot do it alone, we are
humble and through our weakness, we can be given strength. Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit,
taking care of it is important. It may
be tough looking at a long road ahead but is it too tough to just take the next
step, make the next choice, your next movement?
If you have habits hurting you or others in your life, try to change
them one moment and one thought at a time.
You are the child of God, He will recognize and support your efforts to
become the best version of yourself. We
all slip and stumble, but focus on that one more step leading you in the right
way. After one step, the next may be a bit
What if you have a big dream? It is exciting and fun to think about. That is not to say taking steps toward your
dreams is easy. Turning grand ideas into
reality requires choices and it may involve risk as you step out of your comfort
zone and into a place of uncertainty and unknowns. It often takes hard work to make dreams come
true. First and foremost, place the
desire in front of God. Open your heart
to hear whether He is giving you peace and energy to make this happen. Listen for guidance on timing. Sometimes we have the right vision but it may
not be for right now, perhaps God is saying “yes, but later”. It can get frustrating to work toward a dream
that God doesn’t feel you are ready for.
Maybe there are other goals to reach before pursuing the big one. What will be your next step? It could be a small one, that’s okay. Keep your eyes and spirit tuned to the doors
that God might be opening for you and the people God may be lining up to help
you. With each step forward, you can
build confidence that you are on the right path or you might find you need to
revise your route. Keep stepping out,
building momentum so that your dream will get ever closer. One day you’ll step into that dream and be
amazed and thankful for how God led you into it.
Now I need to take my own advice. There are things I want to change, be, know
and do. I’ll present them to God for His
help, blessing and guidance. I’ll create
a plan. Then I need to take that next
step in the right direction. Here we go,
not looking at the mountain, but just putting one foot in front of the other.
It seems everywhere we turn there are people struggling. Perhaps a family member or friend is facing a health challenge. Or you hear about an accident or a natural disaster impacting strangers or those you know. Addiction, depression, grief, troubled relationships and hurts cause our souls to ache. Maybe it is you who is going through a tough time. Our hearts get heavy and you want to help or make the difficulty go away. The situation may not be fixable; it may be outside of anyone’s control. But there is always an action to take that is powerful and purposeful: PRAY!
Your prayer may be for a
healing miracle or for peace and knowledge that God is holding the hand of each
person involved. The prayer could be one of thankfulness for God granting
strength and understanding to you. God’s Word has guided us that there are many
ways to pray, there is no wrong way, and we can pray without ceasing. We can do
it wherever and whenever we want. I’ve heard some people say that their
problems are theirs to deal with, that God has more important things to do than
to listen to their complaints and concerns. But that couldn’t be farther from
the truth. The wonderful truth is that our God is infinite, omnipotent and
omnipresent—His ability to pay attention to each and every one of us is never
God is asking for our action
and thoughts and often we find what He wants us to do is in opposition to our
instincts. Prayers for ourselves yield more power if they come from an attitude
of humble submission, releasing control and surrendering it all to God. When
praying for others, God wants us to be warriors. We need to have confidence to
ask God to do big things for the benefit of aching souls. We can pray with
thankfulness and tell God we trust Him. When we don’t know what to say, there
is a song that says “Just say Jesus”. That is the amazing power of prayer and
God, we don’t really have to say anything, just fix our thoughts on Him and He
knows the reasons our souls ache. He knows the outcomes. He has invited us to
enter His peace and put our souls into His care. We can know that no matter
what happens, we can have hope, confidence and anticipation that when our
earthly journeys end, we will make it to Heaven. We can pray with thankfulness
Get your ‘to do’ list
ready—PRAY TODAY! Aching souls are in need of your action. God Bless!
Books, I love them! Going into a library or a bookstore can be a
step toward an adventure, an awakening of ideas, and the mastering of a
subject. With all the books organized by author, by topics and right there
within reach, you could travel far away in your imagination. Those feelings
have fueled a lifelong passion for books. Whether reading to entertain,
educate, escape, unwind, hear opinions or gain inspiration, I have been drawn
to the written word. You do not need
electricity, a driver’s license or money, but oh, the places you could go! To think that a book was so popular that it
took the world by storm and left it changed. This is what I wanted to read, something that
many other people had or were reading. Classic
or popular fiction, would the book change me?
Whether it did or not, at the least, I would be able to decide what I thought
of it. Was it worth all the
attention? Did it give me new ideas or was it just an
entertaining way to pass my time?
a young adult, I’d squeeze in an extra book in the summertime or between school
semesters. I enjoyed reading stories
from Margaret Mitchell, John Steinbeck, Steven King and Ann Rice. In more recent years, I would embrace both
the Harry Potter and the Twilight series. These latter books certainly take the
reader on a fun ride into a fantasy world of magic and super-natural abilities,
where in the end, the power of love proves to be the greatest power of
all. The other thing wonderful about
these books is that they brought back the joy of reading for a couple
generations of youth being fully engaged in and inundated by all the videos
that were taking over as the main means of sharing information. Ah, the thrill of seeing how books can still
change the world.
day, several years ago, I heard a DJ on the radio talking about the five top
read books. There are many different
lists of top books based on various criteria.
I cannot say the source for the list I heard about that day, but as the
titles and authors were read, I found that I had read four out of the
five. The one that I had not read was
the Bible. Well, I had read certain
sections and had started to read it a couple times, but I had generally treated
it more like a reference book. Like a
dictionary or an encyclopedia, I would turn to the part of interest and read
the words out of context from the whole.
I never seriously thought about reading the Bible through as if it was a
novel. The small text and the number of
pages had always intimidated me.
knew there were schedules for reading the Bible in a calendar year, but I
didn’t know anyone who did it, or if they had, it wasn’t a topic they talked to
me about. Sticking to a defined schedule
wouldn’t be a good fit for my life.
There were weeks that went by without enough minutes in the day as it
was. I wasn’t going to set a goal that
would have me quickly tossing in the towel or feeling guilty each day for
missing the mark. I already felt pretty
stupid. All these years thinking I was
reasonably well read and looking to what others wrote and said to figure out
what everything means instead of reading the Word of God. It was about time I went to the source.
I read the Bible, I did it with a sense of skepticism. I wanted the words to prove themselves as
more than something written by man.
Maybe you consider this irreverent? Also, is it wrong to approach the
Bible as if it were the latest “NY Times Bestseller”? To read it myself would let me see what all
the fuss is about. Would I like it and
by moved by it? I kept my mind
open. I allowed myself to be critical
and to have doubts. As opposed to
bringing all my preconceived notions and what I’ve been taught before, I
considered this to be a fresh start. I
didn’t go to the deepest level of disbelief as if to say, “I don’t believe
there is a God, Bible prove I’m wrong.”
I knew that a Greater Power exists.
That belief has been based less on what I have read and more on what I
feel. But still, what is God like? The way I look at it is that God gave me a
brain that asks questions, why would He hold it against me to wonder about who
He is? Is He a vengeful God of “Fire and
Brimstone”? Is He Jesus, an All-Loving God
of forgiveness and grace?
started with the “New Testament” since Christmas was coming in several weeks.
This way the books I was reading would tie to the “reason for the
season”…Christ. Matthew, Mark, Luke and
John are an easy, uplifting, read filled with the parables and the miracles of
Jesus. These are the Gospels, meaning
“The Good News”. Many of the stories
were familiar to me from Sunday School and others were new to me. I was surprised by Jesus saying that the
people should not tell about miracles they witnessed. At the time I read this, I thought, “Why not
shout it from the rooftops?”
Acts of the Apostles read like an action adventure book with shipwrecks and
fabulous tales of visits to foreign lands.
I kept at it, not fully understanding the Epistles, Letters from Paul to
the new Christian churches. Later I
would read a version of the New Testament with a historical perspective section
precluding each book. The statements
made started to be clearer with knowledge of the context of the times and
culture that Paul was addressing. I
started the “Old Testament” in March. In
all, it would take me sixteen months and 13 days to read the King James Version
of the Bible. I was not that quick, but
I was proud of myself for staying dedicated to it.
times I was shocked by what I read.
Sometimes, I thought “They didn’t tell me THAT in Sunday School!” Stories of violence, cheating, lies,
jealousy, incest, murder, war, power, weakness and conflict revealed real
people, many quite broken and messed up. Other times I was energized by the
Word and the new ideas that took hold in my head. Some parts, I could not possibly believe were
inspired by God.
Now I wanted to discuss what I was reading with others. Talking about God, the Bible and what people really believe, doesn’t always just happen naturally. Sometimes you have to push the topic into the conversation. Even once God was in the discussion, this isn’t really a subject that you can fully and openly debate, since everlasting life or death may be riding on this one. The discussion can make people uncomfortable. I’ve seen people have two styles. One is where one side forcefully pushes their beliefs on the other person regardless of where the other is on their own journey. Another way is that they play nice and try not to offend by not really diving deep, dancing across the surface of the questions. Well, I feel this is certainly a debate that shouldn’t be handled by brute force. There is a Jason Gray song that says getting to know God should be “more like falling in love, than something to believe in, more like losing my heart, than giving my allegiance.” These words send a much stronger message to me than someone banging on their Bible and saying “if you don’t believe, you are bound for Hell.”
“In the beginning…” with the earth being without form, with darkness all around, I have no problems with reading about an All Powerful God speaking and making it so. I’ve always considered the “Garden of Eden” to be an analogy, a story that was easy to understand, a moral and one I did not look to as being strictly literal. As a woman, I don’t want to share the blame with Eve for having allowed evil into the world. Pretty bad for Adam to cop out of responsibility and say “it wasn’t my fault, I just did what Eve told me to.” Oh, come on now Adam, didn’t you also hear God when He told you “Don’t eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge?” You could have told Eve “No, we shouldn’t do this.” But if Adam did resist, that wouldn’t give the story its intended meaning now, would it? Does anyone ask how the snake (the Devil) made it into the Garden of Eden? I guess it really wasn’t a perfect paradise if an evil element was present. The lesson: humans can easily be tempted to not follow the rules, to do what we want, to disobey God. After eating that forbidden fruit, humans had to leave the Garden and face challenges of life on Earth.
greater evil can be shown than to have two sons and one, giving in to jealousy,
commits the first murder? Brother
killing brother, the Cain and Abel story tells how evil feelings can take the
upper hand over our better nature if we let it.
This horrible episode happens so early in the biblical narrative of
humankind. The Bible says that the
trouble between Cain and his brother started over God not respecting Cain’s
offering of the “fruit of the ground”.
We are told that God had respect for Abel’s offering “of the firstlings
of his flock and the fat thereof.” (Genesis
4:4) Looking beyond the words, wouldn’t
a good God accept and respect any offering if it came with the right attitude
and purity of purpose? God says to Cain,
“If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well,
sin lieth at the door.” (Genesis 4:7) God wasn’t looking at the offering but what
was in Cain’s heart and He didn’t like what he saw. Cain’s soul was sure ugly if he thought that
the answer to his problem would be solved by bashing his only brother’s head
with a rock.
this little family of four becomes only three, with one committing the monster
sin of murder. The knowledge of good and
evil sure wasn’t enough to keep this first generation on the right path. Eve was happy when God granted her another
son, Seth. Cain leaves the presence of
the Lord and the Lord put a mark on him that he wouldn’t be killed (Genesis
4:15). The Bible tells that several
generations later, Cain’s descendent Lemech slays a man and makes threats to
kill more (Genesis 4:23). What a wicked
family tradition! No women are mentioned
as being born of Adam and Eve, and Cain is sent away and yet he still has
descendants. God put a mark on Cain to
indicate to others that he should not be killed. Adam and Eve as the first and only human
beings on the face of the earth doesn’t jive with the early parts of the story
where there are other communities mentioned.
In Genesis Chapter 6 Verse 2, it talks about sons of God taking
daughters of men as their wives. The
Bible also says there are giants in the earth (Verse 4). Interesting!
had known the story of Lot and the cities of Sodom and Gomorah, with Lot’s wife
being turned into salt. The part I
didn’t hear was how the father and two daughters settled in a different land
and the girls thought it was a good idea to get dad drunk and sleep with him as
a way to get pregnant. How messed up is
that? As I read through the “Old
Testament” books, I kept feeling like there had been so much left out in my
past Bible lessons. Now the characters
were coming to life, real people with feeling, difficulties, making good
choices at times and sometimes making big mistakes.
the first three books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus) people make
some pretty bad choices. What surprised
me is how the individuals may still end up leaders. For example, Genesis Chapter 27, Jacob
conspires with his mother, Rebekah, to steal his brother’s birthright from his
father Isaac. Pretty bad behavior I’d
say. Later we hear about Jacob’s sons,
one being Joseph. Joseph’s brothers sell
Joseph as a slave. They want their
father to think Joseph is dead, so they show Jacob the multi-colored coat with
goat’s blood on it. What family drama! Yet these brothers eventually become the
founding fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel. The theme of God’s forgiveness
for past wrongs when people change the attitude of their heart is weaved in
Exodus Chapter 20, there are seventeen verses that provide the Ten Commandments. In contrast, it shocked me how the verses
went on and on about other topics and general do’s and don’ts. In Exodus 32:27-28, God had just told Moses
“Thou shalt not kill” and yet Moses leads some of the people to slay their
brothers, companions and neighbors because of the Golden Calf incident. Three thousand of their brothers, companions
and neighbors were slayed. Moses said
the Lord told them to do it. How does
this work now? Do not kill unless it is
justified? I didn’t read any of God’s
conditions for when and where He thinks killing is acceptable. So Moses didn’t follow those ten simple rules
after hearing the covenant from the Big Guy Himself. In Chapter 34 through 40, the Lord “spake
unto Moses” all kinds of commands about the tabernacle, the ark, the garments
for Aaron, etc. There are over one
hundred verses where God is an interior decorator and fashion designer. Then in Leviticus, you have God-the Food
Safety Officer. All the rules about
animal sacrifice seem to be guides to protect the people from food borne
pathogens and other risks. Next up is
God-the Doctor. Verses give guidance on
diagnosing leprosy and preventing it from spreading. God also provides expert Real Estate advice
and the rules for proper slave ownership.
Some of the text goes into great details about jewels, colors, cloth,
dimensions, number of items, burnt offerings, fat, blood and on, and on. As I read through these sections, I cannot
help but ask if maybe more emphasis on the Ten Commandments would have really
been God’s point.
I read through the Bible, I revisited many stories that I had heard before, but
now they were in context with what occurred before and after. It wasn’t just the story of David and Goliath
from Sunday School. That story was
followed up by tales about David’s sins and the years he hid away when King Saul
wanted him dead. A generation later,
there is trouble with David’s children.
One son raped David’s daughter, the guy’s sister. David’s son tries to kill David, his father. There is so much hatred, jealousy and so many
questioned the meaning behind the story.
I don’t want to only hear what others have to say about the stories but
what do they say to me? The books of
Proverbs and Psalms contain familiar and cherished words. Books by Solomon contain wisdom. But when I read commentary about the Song of
Solomon that say this is a book about God’s love for Israel or relating to the
church as the bride of Christ, give me a break!
This reads like erotic literature to me.
The guy had 700 wives and 300 concubines (I Kings 11:1-11) for heaven’s
sake! Although Solomon had some high
points in his life, women were his weakness and they got in the way of
Solomon’s relationship with God. Apparently,
it has been stated that anyone who quotes Song of Solomon giving the section a
literal meaning and not a symbolic one should be declared a heretic and will
forfeit their spot in paradise. So we
are supposed to literally interpret Genesis but not Song of Solomon? Who is making up these rules? I say it is a bunch of men who want to tell
people how to think. Not God!
parts of the Bible really tick me off.
For example, read Judges Chapter 19.
What a man allows happened to a woman is disgusting. What a sick bastard! In following chapters, huge wars start with
many dead started by this one man’s actions.
Horrible! There are stories in
the Old Testament about towns being wiped out but the warriors take the virgins
to be their wives. The use and abuse of
women seems to be condoned in the patriarchic text. Even early on in the story of Abraham and his
wife Sarah sending off poor Hagar and Ishmeal out into the desert. In Ezra, Chapter 10, there are a number of
men who “put away” their wives and children since they were considered
foreign. It irks me! These women and children were apparently
polluting God’s people. The actions seem
to not give consideration for any of the wives who worship their husband’s
are other parts of the Bible that I find helpful and intriguing. Like Ezekiel, especially Chapter
33:13-20. These eight verses speak to me
about the point of it all, that the Lord “will judge you every one after his
ways.” Then there are about two hundred
sixty verses in Chapters 40-48 that talk about the design of the temple and a
lot about the division of land. To me
these verses are hardly the point.
Daniel was interesting. I knew
about the Lion’s Den, I didn’t know about all of Daniel’s visions. He talks of prophesies and admits that he
doesn’t understand what they mean. It
foretells a lot about what was to happen between nations with kings rising and
falling. Historians have compared the
statements with events that took place between countries from the north, south
and east. Did the vision describe those
days or days yet to occur? Daniel was
told this would befall his people in latter days. In Daniel 12:10, it says “Many shall be
purified and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly and none
of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand.”
6:6-8 includes a comment that made sense to me regarding some of the Old
Testament religious practices.
shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves of a year old.
7Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands
of rivers of oil? Shall I give my
firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
hath shewed thee, O man, what is good: and what doth the Lord require of thee,
but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
words in the “Old Testament” books allude to the coming of a savior who will
bear the iniquities of many. Some of
these books were written ~700 BC or further back. The time gap between the Old Testament and New
is about 500 years. The continuity of
the books of the Bible, written at different times, by different authors, but
painting the same big picture is pretty amazing.
I finished reading the Bible, did I feel it proved to me that there is a
God? I’ll be honest here, “No”. My personal conclusion was that there were
significant realities within the Bible that came to be written because of God’s
divine inspiration and that there is a bit that was written by stupid men. I gained a new appreciation for what the
Bible shares about the depths of the human condition. It surprised me how generation after
generation, the pull to do evil is so strong.
The stark contrast is seen in Christ, with Jesus coming more alive to me
in the reading of the Bible as a whole.
We see how he is too smart to be tricked and what angers him. The power of his teachings come into
light. I hoped I was understanding the
intended meaning behind the parables.
There is a lot to take in. So I
can now see why people would read the Bible over and over to get the most out
of it. I can see how different messages
could ring more true depending on what life was throwing your way at the
in all, the most concise guide for how best to live can be found in Matthew
said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with
all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
is the first and great commandment.
the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
In our complicated world and our confusing lives, I enjoy reminders to “keep it simple”. This advice from Jesus is just right. No one could go wrong by following those words as their guide. So in the end, the Bible is a lot like the fictional tales of Harry Potter and Twilight. There is conflict and emotional struggles, tragedies and triumphs. People are torn between good and bad as they make decisions on what to do and on which leaders they will follow. The main theme shows us that actions driven by love can overcome evil and that LOVE is the greatest power of all. Any of us can tap into this superpower and heart filled with love gives us guidance on the right choices to make for our lives. You gotta love that!
IMAGINE AN ADVANCED ROBOTIC DESIGN, ABLE TO PERFORM manual labor, learn new things via a connection to the world wide web, having self-awareness and the latest artificial intelligence software algorithms. Now top that off with compasion, the ability to show empathy, care about others and to give love. Pretty incredible and world changing, right? At first this robot would be a special prototype, with a high price tag. There is bound to be de-bugging and beta-testing to be done. Later, the design would be mass-produced, just another output of our computerized, global economy.
Now think about how each human is created. A special combination of personality, appearance, strengths, passions and capabilities, produced when you came into being. All your experiences add in to make you who you are. Consider all the coincidences, chance meetings between people, choices that were made, that led you. If you believe in only nature, without an intelligent designer, you are just a random arrangement of parental DNA, dropped into the culture and environment that your mother happened to be at the time. You would be less than the robot prototype, lacking a functional plan and purpose as envisioned by your maker. But you are NOT LESS, you are MUCH MORE than unintelligent physical processes and matter. You have a Divine Maker having a hand in the connections and events that led to a unique you, a Miracle of God’s choosing.
God lights up attributes in each of us, bringing out beauty and inspiration. In an amazing world wide network of individuals and connectivity, God guides, but grants free will. Situations and experiences, both pleasant and difficult, infuse into our being. Elements of nature, nurture, spiritual strength, grace and so much more, all coalesce to form something amazing. No mistake about it, everyone is God’s Masterpiece. If you feel incomplete, uninspired, unworthy, God isn’t finished with you yet. God is refining you and is your partner in making you everything you were created to be. You have a special purpose, an exclusive designs with unique functions and relationships. You have not been programed or mass-produced. You are a one of a kind creation, never to be repeated or reproduced, before or after in all eternity.
You are God’s Miracle. You are God’s Masterpiece. Incredible and world changing, right? THAT’S YOU!
Parents brought their little children to Jesus so He could touch and bless them.
Who could argue with love?
The disciples scolded the parents for bothering Jesus. But Jesus said “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them. For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.” (Luke 18:15-16)
Jesus taught that we shouldn’t seek revenge or be a hypocrite, we should love our enemies, forgive and show mercy.
Who could argue with love?
Some of the people and the religious leaders said, “He’s demon possessed and out of his mind, why listen to a man like that?” (John 10:17) Chief Priests and elders schemed to arrest Jesus and kill him. (Matthew 26:4) Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-39)
God shows how much he loved us by having Christ die for us, even though we were sinners.
Who could argue with love?
The Council said Jesus deserves to die. They spit in his face and struck him with their fists (Matthew 26:66-67) The Roman soldiers flogged Jesus with a whip and mocked him, giving him a crown of thorns. (Matthew 27:26-30) Being nailed to the cross and crucified as a criminal, Jesus said “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”