Thursday, May 30, 2013

Judging . . . and Changing

A recent CBS News poll revealed 80 percent of Americans are unhappy with the Federal government, with 50 percent of respondents classified as “dissatisfied,” and another 30 percent termed “angry.” A Gallup Poll had similar results, reporting nearly 70 percent of people surveyed stated they are either “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied.”

If we’re among those sharing similar discontent with the United States’ direction and how it’s being run, what can we do about it? We can complain to our friends. After all, most people like preaching to the choir. We can grumble on Facebook, Twitter or email, including sharing articles and posts that affirm our opinions. We can write letters to the editor. We can anticipate the next election with every intention of “voting the rascals out.”

How can we, as individuals, bring about
meaningful, lasting change in our world?
There’s nothing wrong with any of those, but at best our individual impact in those ways is very limited. We can feel fairly helpless to bring about change. There’s another way, however.

An oft-quoted verse from the Bible – by both believers and nonbelievers – is Jesus’ statement in Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” He made this declaration during His "Sermon on the Mount."

A common interpretation of this passage is we have no right to judge anyone else – values, behavior, or lifestyle. But if you read the rest of what Jesus said, that’s not what He meant.

Jesus proceeded to state, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?... You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:2-5).

Talk about not mincing words! As I understand it, Jesus was chastising His listeners for being quick to find fault with others while ignoring their own failings – sometimes similar to shortcomings they saw in other people. When we point to someone else, three fingers point back at us.

So what does this have to do with changing society? A lot.

Recently I read a brief commentary, "I Wanted To Change The World," written by an unknown monk around 1100 A.D. His sentiments seem timeless, worthy our consideration:

“When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world.
I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation.
When I found I couldn't change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn't change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family.
Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.

Change, recalling Jesus’ earlier statement, must start with ourselves. As much as we wish we could, we can’t change people – even loved ones. As for bringing about change in our communities, our country, the world? We can do our part, of course. But the only definitive, enduring change we each have direct control over is oneself.

So while we're wringing our hands over the state of the world, nation, community, and people around us, we can begin making real change – in ourselves. No telling how far those changes can reach. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Going the Extra Mile

It’s said a picture is worth a thousand words. In a similar way, a few well-chosen words can speak volumes.

Consider, for instance, this quote from the late inspirational speaker and writer, Zig Ziglar: "There are no traffic jams on the Extra Mile."

Isn’t that true? Going the extra mile, acting beyond the call of duty, doing more than what’s required – these once were virtues people aspired to. Sadly, that’s rarely the case anymore.

Today, people want to know the bare minimum they can get away with. In college, many students don’t care what they’ll learn in a certain course. All they typically want to know is, “Will this be on the exam?” I’ve worked at places where sick leave accrued from pay period to pay period, and you could almost set your calendar by people that would call in “sick” the moment they accumulated a full day of sick leave.

People pay huge sums for new houses, expecting the home of their dreams, only to encounter shoddy construction, along with substandard fixtures and furnishings. Deficiencies in craftsmanship apply to home repairs as well. Never mind the “extra mile” – often workers quit before finishing the first mile!

There's not a lot of foot traffic from people
committed to going the extra mile.
That’s why people willing to go the added mile seem exceptional. As Ziglar pointed out, traffic is light on the extra-mile highway.

If you go out to dinner, for example, tipping a certain percentage is standard even for mediocre service. But when a server is extra attentive, checking back frequently and even anticipating needs before they’re verbalized, you don’t just want to leave a larger tip. You want to recognize the person with a brass band.

When you have work done at your home, if the carpenter or painter or landscaper takes extra pains to ensure the project is completed at the highest level, when it’s time to pay you want to ask, “You’re sure that’s enough?”

Jesus spoke about this in His so-called “Sermon on the Mount” but related it, interestingly enough, to people with whom we have adversarial relationships. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person…. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:38-42).

Jesus calls His followers to do more than what’s required, more than what’s asked for – even for people we feel aren’t deserving of it. Why? There are several good reasons:

When we’re mistreated, our natural response is to respond in kind. To strike back, maybe get revenge. Christ’s followers, however, are to act differently – because He’s made them different. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you?... And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you?... But love your enemies, do good to them…. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:32-36).

As the passage above states, we’re to reflect the mercy we ourselves have received. “He saved us, not because of righteous things we have done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:5). God extended His mercy – not giving is what we did deserve, and offered His grace – giving us what we didn’t deserve.

Another reason might be because in darkness, even the weakest light shines brightly. That’s what Jesus calls us to do: “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). We’re to stand out, to be exceptional, not to blend in. And one way to do this is…by going the extra mile.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Weighing in on a Weighty Matter

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
(Wikipedia Commons photo)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie recently divulged he underwent gastric banding surgery in a quest to overcome his struggle with obesity. Christie stated the weight-loss procedure was “for my long-term health,” not an effort to enhance his political future. (He has been mentioned as a potential candidate for the Presidency in 2016.)

“This is about (his wife) Mary Pat and the kids and me and not anybody else,” Christie insisted.

This surgery involves a band being placed around the top of the stomach to limit the amount of food an individual can ingest. Prior to deciding on the procedure, he consulted with medical experts and with Rex Ryan, head coach of the NFL New York Jets who had the same operation in 2010.

Some pundits speculated the governor’s motivations were fueled by political ambition, reasoning his excessive weight could diminish his appeal as a Presidential candidate. Even if aspirations for higher public office were part of his rationale, I applaud his decision. And, intended or not, I suspect it will bolster Christie’s political future.

I understand the strong pushback against “thin is in” biases. Whether it’s slender models or svelte hunks, not everyone has the genetic makeup or physical build to fit those images. At the same time, ample scientific and medical research shows, like smoking and excessive drinking, obesity can – and often does – have severe consequences for health and longevity.

In his insightful book, The South Beach Heart Program, noted cardiologist Dr. Arthur Agatston writes about, “an important medical condition so obvious I can diagnose it without performing a single diagnostic test. I can spot it the instant a patient walks into my office…. (a) colleague says that when a patient’s belly is the first body part to enter his office, the diagnosis is made.”

Several members of my family have struggled with weight issues and its ramifications for their health. My mother died in her early 50’s of heart disease and diabetes. I’ve undergone open-heart surgery myself. So this issue is a personal one. 

This isn’t to suggest every overweight person should undergo weight-loss surgery. It’s not a guaranteed “fix,” especially if other necessary lifestyle changes aren’t undertaken as well. Healthy eating and exercise often are all that’s needed. But whatever it takes, the adage holds true: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

So will Christie improve his Presidential chances if his weight loss initiative succeeds? Possibly, but it won’t be because he “looks better.” Rather, it will be because he seems more physically capable of coping with the rigors of the office.

Anyone that’s observed Presidents throughout their terms can see the toll the weight of the Oval Office takes on them. In voting for a candidate, I want to feel confident the person is up to the task physically as well as philosophically.

But there’s a spiritual dimension to this as well. Churches often talk about “stewardship,” but it’s typically defined in monetary terms. In reality, we might differ in our financial and material resources, but we all are limited to 24 hours in a day and we each have only one body.

Proper stewardship, in God’s view, involves wise use of our time and our “temples,” as it’s described in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”

Interesting concept – referring to our bodies as God’s temple. Nowhere do the Scriptures instruct us to build “bigger temples.” We know humankind’s mortality rate is 100 percent, but rather than being fatalistic we should recognize our responsibility as stewards of the physical bodies God has entrusted us with, living in and using them for His glory.

As Psalm 139:14 reminds us, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” As such, we should be faithful to honor our Maker by attending to our bodies. Just as a car is difficult to drive after it’s been wrecked, it’s hard to effectively perform the work God has for us if we’ve misused and abused this “earthly tent” He has given us (2 Corinthians 5:1).

Weight control can be difficult. Countless men, women and children can attest to that. But it's a challenge well worth undertaking. For our sake, for our loved ones' sake – and for God's sake.

Monday, May 20, 2013

No Job for the Lone Ranger

The U.S.A. was founded with a healthy dose of “can do.” Pilgrims sailing across the ocean. Venturesome pioneers exploring the horizon to the West, discovering territories previously unseen by non-native Americans. During the Industrial Revolution, enterprising entrepreneurs embodying the virtues of “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.”

The Lone Ranger and Tonto,
a team of the 1950s.
Yes, we’ve prided ourselves in our self-sufficiency. From 1952 to 1954, TV even offered a “poster child” for this independent attitude: “The Lone Ranger.” The mysterious masked man would ride into town on his white horse, Silver, accompanied by his faithful companion, Tonto, and discern what problems were plaguing the local citizenry. He’d deftly dispose of the bad guys and then, without fanfare, ride off into the sunset with a mighty “Hi-yo, Silver, away!”

The local folks were left behind, scratching their heads and wondering, “Who was that masked man?”

In July, we’ll get a fresh look when a new “Lone Ranger” movie premieres, starring Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp. I have a suspicion “ke-mo sah-bee” will never be the same!

American culture being as strong as it is, this lone ranger mindset infiltrated every aspect of daily life, including spirituality. For decades churches have produced “lone ranger” believers showing up from time to time for worship services, professing to be devout in their faith, but having little ongoing connection with other followers of Jesus Christ.

This is not how the so-called “Christian life” is to be lived.

In John 15:5, Jesus declared, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Paul the apostle affirmed that when he said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

A major distinction between Christianity and other belief systems is that through His Spirit, God can empower believers to live as He calls them to live.

But there’s another dimension to this reality. Jesus’ followers aren’t to live in isolation – they need one another. Many passages underscore the importance of strength in numbers.

For instance, Proverbs 27:17 states, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” And Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 points out, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!... A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

The apostle Paul also offered a model for carrying out Christ’s Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Paul instructed Timothy, the man he was mentoring, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).

Have you ever wondered, with various studies showing a large portion of Americans believe in God and the Bible, even claiming to be followers of Christ, why is our nation in such moral and ethical chaos?

That question has no simple answers. But “lone ranger thinking” is a significant contributor. Through the years I’ve been fortunate to have many people, men and women, who invested in my life in various ways. And I’m striving to “pay it forward” by investing in others through personal mentoring and teaching. We can't do it alone.

The Christian life never was intended to take place in a vacuum. Just as human organs must function in concert to sustain healthy life, as parts of the body of Christ we’re designed to support and complement one another. For following Jesus, lone rangers need not apply.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Pain of Rejection

How do you handle rejection?

Unfortunately, rejection is one of life’s constants. I remember as a boy when we chose sides for a ball game. Not being a natural athlete, I was never the first person selected. Sometimes I waited and waited until the captain of one of the teams finally pointed to me and said, “Robert.”

I remember the anxiety I felt attending a school “sock hop” and trying to muster up the courage to ask someone to dance. What if she said no? What if she realized I wasn’t a very good dancer? That fear continued into my dating years in high school and college, trying to find the boldness to ask an attractive young woman to go out. The possibility of being rejected was terrifying for a young man with an already fragile ego.

This window display in Giessen, Germany shows rejection,
fear and "angst" are universal concerns.
Rejection, of course, doesn’t end in college. You apply for a job, or engage in an interview where a prospective employer evaluates you and how well you could fill a specific role with the organization. Being rejected directly, or even indirectly when the promised “We’ll get back to you” never happens, is never enjoyable.

As a writer, the ominous threat of rejection became real when I started sending out query letters and proposals for magazine articles and books. How could anyone not be as enthused about my scintillating ideas as I was? Letters that said, “We regret to inform you that your idea does not fit our needs,” or the kinder, “The concept you suggest for your book is intriguing, but we’re sorry that we cannot consider it at this time,” were difficult. Even established authors like John Grisham, Stephen King and many others painfully recall rejection letters they accumulated over the years.

A book I’ve edited for a friend has just been sent to a publisher, and I’m excited about the impact it can have. It’s an inspiring story about overcoming rejection and using that as motivation to keep trying, never giving up. The question is not whether we’ll experience rejection, but rather how we respond when we do.

Recently I came across a Bible passage about rejection that struck me as never before. It talks about Jesus: “...the living Stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him…. ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,’ and ‘A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall’” (1 Peter 2:4-8).

The times when I’ve been rejected were hard, but understandable. I wasn’t fast or agile enough, not experienced or talented enough, perhaps not “cool” enough. I was rejected because I was deemed unworthy. But considering the rejection of Jesus, who did no wrong and performed so much good, defies my comprehension.

He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, and showed compassion to the emotionally and spiritually wounded, yet He was rejected. And that rejection, unlike my own, led to an excruciating death on a cross.

This rejection continues today. To my knowledge, Jesus Christ is the only name of a religious or spiritual leader that is used as an expletive, a curse word. Not Mohammad, Confucius, Buddha, Krishna, or anyone else you can think of. Interesting, isn’t it?

And for people like me, whether we call ourselves Christians, followers of Jesus or His disciples, we encounter increasing ridicule, even malice. However, it’s usually not us being rejecting, but Him.

All I know is what 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells me: For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” Amazingly, even unbelievably, Jesus endured ultimate rejection so that I – and all who would receive His offer of forgiveness and mercy – could be reconciled to God. That, as the famous hymn tells us, is “Amazing Grace.”

Monday, May 13, 2013

What’s With Customer Service?

In the classic film, “Miracle on 34th Street,” there’s a scene when Kris Kringle, Macy’s Department Store’s designated Santa Claus, tells a parent unable to find a gift for her child she should go to Gimbels Department Store instead. That’s a picture of what customer service is all about – even if it means sending a customer to a competitor.

I’ve been wondering what’s happened to this whole notion of customer service. At one time, too many salesmen in stores became pests, hovering nearby as you examined their merchandise at your leisure. Today, however, finding any sales associate is tantamount to finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. Often we even have to trudge across a store to make a purchase.

Several weeks ago I bought a new, expensive light bulb to replace one that had burned out in the range hood above our stove. Last week the replacement bulb burned out. So I went back to the name brand, big-box hardware store and exchanged it for another. The packaging for each of the new bulbs that matched mine was torn apart, so I purchased a different bulb a store associate stated would do the trick.

When I got home, however, I opened the intact packaging only to discover the new bulb was cracked in three places. So I returned to Name-Brand Hardware Store again, bought a bulb that seemed sound – no cracks – and brought it home. But this one didn’t work either. (Hint: When you pick up a bulb and you hear something that sounds like broken glass inside, it probably is.)

Lastly, for the second time in one week, the national newspaper I subscribe to – which is delivered every morning with the local daily paper – didn’t arrive. I called the newspaper’s circulation department, received the obligatory “I apologize” and “I’m sorry,” and was assured the periodical would be delivered by 3 p.m. As I write, it’s 4:30 – and still no national newspaper!

We read about the woes of the retail industry, citing declining sales and often decrying purchases made online rather than in stores. Is that any surprise, when retail institutions have cut service to the bone until it bleeds and we receive as much personalized attention on the Internet?

Years ago, entrepreneurs like J.C. Penney and Sam Walton built their businesses on genuine interest and concern for their customers, who felt valued and received help when needed. Penney and Walton were men of faith, undoubtedly motivated by biblical passages like, “do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12) and “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

Modern-day business, loosed from the moorings of a Judeo-Christian worldview, prefers a short-term, profit-centered approach. Customers are treated like cattle rather than valued assets that help the businesses to survive.

God actually set the best example. He took a “customer service” attitude when He sought to reconcile rebellious humankind to Himself. In Romans 5:8 we’re told, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And Jesus declared in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Wow! If that’s not the ultimate in customer service, what is?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

In Praise of Moms

The feminist movement – also once known as the women’s liberation movement – accomplished a lot of good. It raised the social standing of women, afforded them access and opened doors they never had before, and erased some damaging gender stereotypes. But I think an unfortunate byproduct of feminism was diminishing the value and importance of motherhood.

Certainly becoming a mother is optional, and not every woman has that desire – or opportunity, at least biologically. But in some quarters there has been the notion that there’s something wrong with being “just a mom” or a “homemaker.” As if, to become fully realized and successful, a woman must do something more than that.

I have great respect and admiration for women in all areas of endeavor, whether in the business world, media, education, entertainment, athletics, medical professions, politics, the arts, or other vocations. Where would our world be without the Florence Nightingales, Amelia Earharts, Mother Teresas, Madame Curies, Margaret Thatchers, Oprah Winfreys, Carol Burnetts and Althea Gibsons that have left such indelible marks with their lives and work?

My mom, Helen.
But I hold equal respect, admiration – and amazement – for the moms of this world. When I go into a mall and watch a young mother wrangling two or three toddlers, without complaint shuttling them from place to place, dabbing their tears and responding to their pleas, I am truly amazed.

Dads can do this too, but moms seem specially gifted in this form of “multi-tasking” – seeking out bargains and conversing with friends, while tracking the little ones and warding off whatever dangers lurk around the next corner.

Most of the time when our phone rings, it’s one of our daughters calling for…Mom. She answers their questions, helps solve their problems, talks about their day, and will drop everything at a moment’s notice should a crisis arise. All without murmuring. In fact, if there’s a need, Sally’s jumps at the chance to assist. (I might help as well, but I’ve been known to murmur.)

Three of the moms in our family: Becca, Sarah and Sally.
With four daughters raising a total of seven children, I’ve observed a lot of mothering firsthand. While the dads are at work, battling deadlines and pressures, these women are handling their own job responsibilities, as well as cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring, washing, mediating disputes, wiping noses, and many other tasks somebody has to do – so they do them. Juggling isn’t just a skill for circus performers.

I commend the women that are full-time CEOs, entrepreneurs, physicians, educators, musicians and high achievers in other pursuits. But I don’t believe there’s a more noble, higher calling than being a mom, surviving the everyday challenges of child rearing, from womb through childhood and teens, on to college, marriage and beyond.

There's something unique
about a mother's devotion.
Bryce knows that about
his mom, Amy.
Without diminishing other roles, the Bible holds mothers in high regard. The mother of Moses, for instance, bravely placed her son in a basket of reeds for the pharaoh’s daughter to discover, never imagining the boy would grow up to become God’s man to lead Israel out of Egyptian captivity to the Promised Land.

Before her there was Sarah, wife of Abraham, who at an advanced age became the matriarch of a “great nation, as numerous as the stars” (Genesis 15).

Then there was Mary, who not only gave birth to the Son of God and nurtured Him as a child, but also grieved as He hung from a cross. One of Jesus’ last concerns was to ask His disciple, John, to care for her. “…He said to his mother, ’Dear woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother’…” (John 19-26-27).

In a letter to the church in Thessalonica, the apostle Paul reminded the believers, “we were gentle among you…like a mother caring for her little children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7). Clearly, he thought that was a good thing.

So it’s fitting that on Sunday we observe Mother’s Day, a worthwhile celebration if ever there was one. Let’s honor all women who carry out this priceless calling, often overworked, underappreciated and sometimes even unnoticed. Moms, where would we be without you?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Not Always As They Seem

It’s become increasingly evident that often, people we think we know – we really don’t know at all.

Case in point: The two brothers of Chechen descent that allegedly orchestrated the Boston Marathon bombings and had plotted further mayhem. Some neighbors and fellow students described them with adjectives like “quiet,” “nice,” “friendly” and even “kind.” Huh? Hardly terms that fit makers of pressure-cooker bombs that killed and dismembered people near the finish of one of New England’s most celebrated events.

But such a disparity isn’t unusual. Mass murderers are often depicted as aloof, introverted, or moody, but rarely does anyone say something like, “Now there was a potential serial killer if ever I saw one!”

People being not always as they seem isn’t restricted to perpetrators of heinous crimes. Recently a single day’s news included multiple reports of prominent entertainers and media celebrities being arrested for alcohol and drug-related violations. One being a popular, perky actress who never would have been envisioned as a mean drunk.

In dealing with people, what you see
often isn't what you get.
And it doesn’t stop there. What about the revered preacher, author of best-selling books and star of weekly TV and radio shows, caught in secretive, sexual indiscretions? Or the iconic business executive found guilty of ethical wrongdoing? Even the “perfect couple” next door, envied by all, shockingly filing for divorce?

We think we know people, but do we…really? What’s the deal?

The Bible offers insight. In the Old Testament, God had sent the prophet Samuel to anoint one of Jesse’s sons to succeed Saul as Israel’s king. Samuel studied each son and wondered, “Is this the one?” Apparently they all passed the look test. But with each one the Lord responded, “Nope. Not him.”

Finally, Samuel discovered Jesse had one more son – David, a shepherd boy still tending the sheep. So Samuel had Jesse summon David. When the boy arrived, God informed the prophet, “That’s the one!”

Earlier Samuel had received the explanation: “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

That’s our problem. We can only look on the outside, drawing conclusions based on perceptions. God, however, examines the heart – the inner person. He knows one's true thoughts, motives, desires and aspirations.

In Leaders Legacy, the non-profit I work with, we use a motivational assessment tool called the Birkman Method. A key descriptor of this resource is “Usual Style” or “Usual Behavior.” This relates to outward behavior – what we observe about other people, the basis for conclusions and judgments we form about them.

However, “Usual Style” is actually learned behavior, what individuals find enables them to be most effective in life. This often contrasts sharply from “Needs” – underlying requirements or expectations that must be fulfilled to bring contentment and peace.

Realizing what you see in people isn’t always what you get, I’ve given up trying to be a good judge of people. Their external behavior can be very deceiving. God alone is capable of judging properly and accurately, because He can see what’s going on inside. As Proverbs 21:2 says, “All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart.”

Thursday, May 2, 2013

‘Where Was God?’

On April 15, the Federal income tax filing deadline, the adage, “The only certainties in life are death and taxes,” took on terrifying new meaning. The bombings near the finish line of the revered Boston Marathon took several lives and maimed many others, shattering a popular – and traditionally joyous – community and regional celebration.

The fact one of the victims was Martin Richard, a bright, engaging, eight-year-old boy, barely on the cusp of a promising life, made the sinister plot to cause pain, mayhem and devastation even more horrific and incomprehensible.

Initially, thoughts centered around who had perpetrated such a criminal act – and why. But inevitably the question arises: “Where was God?” Or as others might phrase it, “If God is so good and loving, how could He allow such a terrible thing to happen?”

Similar questions arose in the aftermath of the Dec. 14, 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in which 20 children and six adults were killed; after terrorists commandeered the jets on Sept. 11, 2001, taking more than 3,000 lives; following the bombing at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, when 168 people died, including 19 children under the age of six. And sadly, after too many other senseless acts.

So, where was God when these events took place?

There are many possible answers to this question, but I don’t believe we can assert He was uncaring, indifferent, distant, or even non-existent. In each case, He was there in the hands, arms and legs of the first responders who ran to assist the injured. He was there making certain the number of casualties was not greater. He was there in the eyes, ears, lips and embraces of people that offered listening ears, caring touches and compassionate words to all affected. And I believe He was there in ways we can’t conceive.

But there’s one aspect of the question, “Where was God?” that concerns me.

Let me offer an analogy: Picture a neighbor who makes every effort to reach out to you, offering friendship. He or she – or they – Invite you to their home for dinner or a casual visit. They extend kindnesses, like a freshly baked pie or cake, or volunteering their help. They happily greet you whenever they see you, but you consistently ignore them or look the other way.

You rebuff their every attempt to enter into your life.

Then comes a day when you desperately need their help. Perhaps your car has broken down and you need to get somewhere quickly. Or you have some kind of domestic crisis. Then – and only then – do you acknowledge their existence. You go to them, soliciting their help. How would you reasonably expect them to respond?

Now imagine God being that neighbor. For decades we have systematically schemed to exclude Him from every aspect of our daily lives – schools and institutions of higher learning; public facilities; sporting arenas; hospitals; governmental and civic events; the media; retail stores, insisting on “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” In some communities, freedom to conduct Bible studies in private homes has even been challenged.

The omnipresent God cannot be evicted by legislation or mandate, but He’s graciously withdrawn His restraining presence. Perhaps He’s said, “OK, if you don’t want me around, I’ll stay out of your way. See how that works for you.”

When things are going well, no problem. We don’t even sense God’s absence, His lack of involvement. We don’t need Him. But when calamity strikes, we suddenly wonder, “Where was God?”

I’m not suggesting in any sense that God orchestrates such heinous events. Or that His faithful followers are somehow immune from life’s calamities. But we shouldn’t be surprised when, after deliberately seeking to eliminate Him from our everyday lives, He doesn’t instantly intervene when evil intentions become evil actions, resulting in intense pain and suffering.

The Bible describes God as “my hiding place and my shield” (Psalm 119:114). Another passage views Him as “my fortress and my deliverer…my rock, in whom I take refuge…my stronghold” (Psalm 18:2).

Our nation was founded with reverence for God – and awareness of His protective powers, as described above. But in today’s “enlightened, progressive” thinking and philosophies, our society has chosen to dispense with that. Proverbs 29:18 states, When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is joyful.”

If that’s true, should the chaos surrounding us be such a great surprise?