Monday, July 6, 2015

Outward Appearances Can Be Deceiving

“Beauty is only skin deep – but ugliness goes clear to the bone!” This nonsensical saying dates back to my boyhood years, but underscores our human fixation with how we look on the outside.

Most of us really do have a thing about outward appearances. We draw conclusions about people based on the houses they live in, cars they drive, vacations they take, jobs they have, even the books they read and movies they see.

We watch the ”beautiful people” – stars from Hollywood and all realms of the entertainment world strolling red carpets, regaled in their finest attire (or in some cases, lack of attire). We gaze at their smiling faces and presume what nice people they must be. Experts on political campaigning tell us the candidates most likely to win are those that succeed at looking good on the TV screen, who can project themselves as personable, attractive, approachable, sincere, clever, and “just like us.” It’s call telegenics.

The problem with using outward
appearances to judge people is
we can't see their hearts.
Makes me wonder if Abraham Lincoln, gawky and ordinary-looking as he was, would ever have had a chance at the Presidency had he been running today.

But this concentration on how folks look on the outside isn’t limited to celebrities and politicians. When we meet someone new, most of us find ourselves – consciously or subconsciously – sizing them up based on their externals.

We assess them based on how they’re dressed and groomed, the way they smell, and their natural physical attributes: Pretty (or not). Strong (or weak). Successful (or not). Intelligent and/or educated (or not). Wealthy, middle class, or poor. Happy and friendly, or angry and aloof.

One national magazine recently reported in the near future cosmetic surgery will become, for most people, not a matter of “if,” but rather, “when” and “how much.” Largely, all in the name of “lookin’ good.” The reasoning is if people are going to gauge who we are according to our outward appearance, we might as well do whatever we can to enhance the effect.

Even though Jesus said, “Do not judge or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1), we do it anyway. We appraise people according to gender and age, for good or ill. For instance, if I’m leaving a restaurant and hold the door for a women going in, she may regard me as polite, maybe even gentlemanly – or she might think I’m condescending and sexist. Even though we’ve never met, the woman could make a snap judgment about me based on what she sees and her biases.

Have you ever observed an elderly person driving a car a bit slowly and concluded something like, “That person really should take a new driver’s test. Probably shouldn’t even be on the road”? Many of us have, and yet we know nothing about that person – except what we can observe outwardly.

I remember a time when I was in college – many years ago – being stopped by police officers, even though I had done nothing wrong. My “crime” was wearing my hair long enough to fit me into the category of “those hippie types.” Yes, I was “profiled,” long before anyone used the term.

Fixation with outward appearances, of course, is central to racism and other forms of prejudice. We make assumptions about people that look a certain way, and react accordingly, without knowing anything about who they truly are. Why bother getting to know people when you can fit them into handy, one-size-fits-all stereotypes, right?

Thankfully, God isn’t that way. In fact, the Bible says He’s just the opposite. In searching for someone to succeed King Saul to lead the nation of Israel, the prophet Samuel learned, “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). On that basis, God chose an unassuming sheepherder – David – to become king. A young man who initially didn’t look the part, but as it turned out, was “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22).

Years later, David’s son, Solomon, who succeeded him as king, made a similar observation: “All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart” (Proverbs 21:2).

Outwardly we may appear to have the purest motives. We might have even convinced ourselves that our intentions are the best for everyone involved. But God sees behind well-crafted façades and examines our hearts, sometimes revealing motivations not as noble or pure as we might want people to believe.

One time Jesus confronted the prideful, self-assured religious leaders of His day. He minced no words: Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Matthew 23:27). Not exactly the way to win friends and influence people, but Jesus was calling it as He saw it – viewing their sinful, self-righteous hearts.

Unfortunately, we can’t peer into someone’s heart as God can. But we can ask Him for wisdom as we interface with others. Then we can invest the time necessary to get acquainted with them, seeking to know their inner person before jumping to conclusions that might prove way off base.

Wouldn’t we want other people to do the same for us?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Confessions of an Unapologetic Flag-Waver

Is patriotism dead? On life support, perhaps? In some ways it would appear to be. Protesters burn American flags for various reasons – or non-reasons – and many pundits view that as their right to free speech.

Immigrants from other nations benefit from living in the U.S.A., but show disrespect for American traditions. On the West Coast, Muslim residents of a housing complex protested when a fellow resident proudly displayed the flag, claiming it was offensive and made them feel threatened. Can we say, “Really? Seriously?”

Statesmen in the past seemed to revel in the Stars and Stripes, but today numerous elected officials apparently view such practices as wearing an American flag lapel pin, or even putting their hands over their heart during the singing of the National Anthem as beneath their dignity. Celebrities, many of whom have enjoyed firsthand the benefits of “the American dream,” boldly declare how ashamed they are of America.

Again, the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to free speech – politically correct, of course – so I suppose they’re exercising that right. But as a bonafide “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” born on the 4th of July, I would hope this Independence Day the patriots among us will again rise up and declare our pride in our flag, our nation, and in being true Americans.

The United States is far from perfect, and people are entitled to object in a dignified manner to injustices and wrongdoing. But when I see the 50 stars on a field of blue, along with the stripes of red and white, I don’t see them symbolizing materialism and greed, prejudice or social disparity. I see them as representing the courage of men, women and children who came to our shores centuries ago to start a new life. I see them as emblematic of the thousands upon thousands of lives sacrificed to protect the values and principles upon which this nation was established.

The website,, discusses the colors of the American flag and what they represent:
The colors red, white, and blue did not have meanings for the Stars and Stripes when it was adopted in 1777. However, the colors in the Great Seal did have specific meanings. Charles Thompson, Secretary of the Continental Congress, reporting to Congress on the Seal, stated:
"The colors of the pales (the vertical stripes) are those used in the flag of the United States of America: White signifies purity and innocence, Red, hardiness & valour, and Blue, the color of the Chief (the broad band above the stripes) signifies vigilance, perseverance & justice."
Also, from a book about the flag published in 1977 by the House of Representatives:
"The star is a symbol of the heavens and the divine goal to which man has aspired from time immemorial; the stripe is symbolic of the rays of light emanating from the sun."

I wholeheartedly believe we can respect and revere the American flag, which has weathered storms both internal and external, while acknowledging much remains to be done on many fronts to better serve and protect its citizens. Even though my immediate ancestors came to the United States in the early 1900s, they and subsequent generations have enjoyed much of what this nation and its society have to offer. For that I’m extremely grateful, and hope that in some small way I’ve been not only a beneficiary but also a contributor.

That being said, I don’t believe we are – or ever truly were – a “Christian nation.” There has always been room for disparate beliefs, as well as unbelief. And history shows our founding fathers reflected the spectrum of these. But our Declaration of Independence speaks of all men being “created equal,” not evolving, and “being endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” Our statesmen through the centuries have affirmed belief in the divine, ranging from George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, to Abraham Lincoln, to more contemporary Presidents and government leaders.

The United States has long stood as unique among the world’s nations. Some have termed it, ‘The Great Experiment.” While I can’t prove it empirically, I believe our nation has prospered in large measure due to the blessings of God to whom we as a people have given deference, as least until recent decades.

Today our flag flies in figurative tatters, battered by unconscionable violence, strife and discord that would hardly be reflective of how a “Christian nation” should act. But we’re not without hope. It will require taking to heart – and putting into practice – an Old Testament promise that’s often repeated, but soon forgotten:

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Dating back to the 1960s, first our judicial system and then our houses of law determined we didn’t need God. Perhaps we’d become so prosperous as a nation that we concluded we should declare independence from Him. And God, although sovereign, seems to have acquiesced, telling us, “If I’m not wanted, I’ll withdraw and remove My hand from you. See how that works out.”

I may be in the minority, but in my view, it’s not working very well. On this Independence Day, maybe it’s time to consider that independence from God isn’t such a great idea.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Not THE Root . . . But Definitely A Root of Evil

“I’ve been rich, and I’ve been poor – and I’m here to tell you, bein’ rich is much better.” No, I didn’t say that. I’ve never been rich – in a savings account or stock portfolio kind of way. Although I would say I’ve been rich, and still am, in ways that don’t show up on a bank statement.

But honestly, while money can’t buy everything, it can buy lots of things. And if you don’t have money, you have little choice but to do without things you’d like to have. Not having money can present real problems. So why do some people say, “Money is the root of all evil”?

This image which has been circulating the Internet
makes a creative statement, but isn't quite accurate.
If you answered, “Because that’s what it says in the Bible,” cue the buzzer: BUZZZ! You’re wrong. Similar to sayings like “Cleanliness is next to godliness” and “God helps those that help themselves,” this oft-used quotation doesn’t appear in the Bible. Not quite.

The Scriptures do declare, For the love of money is a root of many kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). There are numerous other “roots” of evil, sometimes related to money and sometimes not – jealousy, envy, anger, laziness, lust, gluttony, and more. All of them, as C.S. Lewis observed, are anchored in what he considered the ultimate sin, pride.

That being said, it’s amazing how much evil the act of loving money can stir up. There’s greed, leading to conclusions such as “too much is never enough,” as well as answering the question, “How much is enough?” with, “Just a little bit more!”

There’s selfishness, the unwillingness to share one’s abundance with others for fear economic collapse or global catastrophe or unexpected personal setback could transform that abundance into a shortage. So, the miserly rationalize, it’s better to keep a tight grip on what you’ve got and let other people find theirs somewhere else.

How about unbridled ambition? The quest for a bigger paycheck can motivate people to accept work less fulfilling than their previous jobs or turn them into Peter Principle participants, putting them in job roles beyond their levels of competence and capacity. We sometimes do nonsensical things while grasping for more money.

Then we have the unholy alliance of lust and envy, wanting the latest and greatest high-tech device, a newer car with more awesome accessories, or a bigger, showier house. Not because we need them, but because someone else has them and we feel equally deserving – or just want to keep pace.

In mentoring men over the years, I’ve found they will speak freely on virtually any topic. Except money. When financial issues come up, more often than not they clam up. “My money is none of your business” is their implied message.

Money issues, more than any other cause, are blamed for divorces, with the stress of bills and overreaching lifestyles proving more than the bonds of marriage can endure. And when financial obligations mount, to the point where resolution seems hopeless, desperate decisions can be made, ranging from gambling to high-risk loans.

So no, money really isn’t the root of ALL evil. But it’s often involved in many of its forms. Jesus spoke frequently about money and financial issues, not because it consumed His thoughts but because He understood how devastating money’s temptations and abuses can become. He devoted a substantial portion of His so-called Sermon on the Mount to the subject.

For instance, Jesus warned against unhealthy preoccupation with riches. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21-24).

Even charitable giving, according to Jesus, can be tainted by wrong motives. We might wish to be recognized for our “generosity,” and even feel annoyed if it’s not sufficiently acknowledged. “Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men…. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-4).

As for our own daily needs, which usually require money to obtain, Jesus again urged His followers not to let that become their focus. Closing out a lengthy discourse on the topic, He said, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear/’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:31-33).

The Bible doesn’t denounce money, or condemn people that have it. But in hundreds of passages it emphasizes it can indeed become the root of many kinds of evil. It has a diabolical tendency to become an idol, even a god unto itself.

And when God declared, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3), He was including the almighty dollar, peso, pound, Euro, and any other form money takes around the world. The old saying advises, “Buyer beware.” It’s also wise to be wary of what you’re using to buy things with.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

It's Not Rare to Err - Or to Cover It Up

Have you seen one of those sitcom episodes where one of the main characters does something careless or foolish, but instead of ‘fessin’ up to it, proceeds to lie about it instead? That falsehood leads to another, then another, until the magnitude of the original issue is dwarfed by the dilemma it has grown into. The deception becomes far worse than the original deed.

“Why didn’t they just admit what they did in the first place?” we wonder, caught up as viewers in the fictitious circumstances. “They turned a little molehill into a mountain.” Of course, if they had addressed the situation when it occurred, it would have spoiled the TV comedy’s storyline. But sometimes we do the same thing in real life and often, unlike the sitcoms, the end result isn’t funny-ha-ha.

Walt Disney's Pinocchio, and
pal, Jiminy Cricket, are icons
for the perils of dishonesty.
And yet, “To err is human,” right? We’ve all heard somebody say that. You’ve probably said it yourself. And it’s true – nobody’s perfect. In fact, some people seem determined to turn their imperfections into a fine art. Everyone makes mistakes, so what’s the big deal?

Well, just as to err is human, so it seems the practice of trying to cover it up is, too. Think Adam and Eve and the proverbial fig leaves. Politics and politicians have provided us with countless glowing examples – consider Watergate, Monica Lewinsky, Iran-Contra, or Benghazi just for starters. Then there are scandals in business, the entertainment world, manufacturing, the sciences, education, and sadly, even in the realm of religion. For all segments of society, cover-ups are common.

Rather than stepping up immediately and admitting what was done – or not done – for whatever reason we have a tendency to try and sweep it under the rug, so to speak. (Not easy to do these days, especially if you only have hardwood floors!)

Not long ago I came across an interesting quote by somebody named Dan Heist that fits here: “When you realize you’ve made a mistake, make amends immediately. It’s easier to eat crow while it’s still warm.” Crow doesn’t sound appetizing at any temperature, but his advice has a lot of merit. Why complicate our deceptions?

Sometimes, however, admitting to our errors is difficult. Maybe it’s a matter of pride, reluctance to concede we’ve made a mistake. Or we fear the repercussions, so we unwisely choose to conceal the truth, hoping it will never be exposed so no one will ever know the difference. The problem is, if and when the truth does materialize – as is typically the case, sooner or later – consequences are generally compounded.

This is one reason the Bible places such a high premium on honesty, even including it among the Ten Commandments: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). This commandment not only tells us what we shouldn’t do – to be dishonest, deceptive or to conceal the facts – but also instructs us to be truthful and forthright in our dealings with others.

In Proverbs, we read repeatedly how costly it can be to be dishonest about our mistakes and wrongdoing. For instance, “A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who pours out lies will not go free” (Proverbs 19:5).

The value of integrity shouldn’t be underestimated, we’re told. “The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out” (Proverbs 10:9). Being willing to admit our mistakes is like driving on a smoothly paved highway, while deception gives a “ride” more like a bumpy, hole-filled country road: “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity” (Proverbs 11:3).

In numerous other passages the Bible addresses honesty, dishonesty and integrity, but one verse in particular uses interesting imagery to applaud the virtues of being truthful in all of our dealings: “An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips” (Proverbs 24:26).

To err definitely is human, just as it is human to sin – to miss the mark of God’s perfect standard. But as we strive to do better, the best approach is at least to be honest about when we fall short, even if it’s uncomfortable or painful. As Heist observed, if you’re going to have to eat crow, it’s best to do so while it’s still warm. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Ya Gotta Have a Plan!

As someone wise first observed, the road to failure – and lots of other bad places – is paved with good intentions. We have a worthwhile idea, fully intend to get around to it someday, but when “someday” arrives, we haven’t done anything.

The problem is, intentions without well-conceived plans – plans subsequently executed – are like clouds that one moment look white and fluffy, then dissipate moments later. Intentions are good. They serve as seeds for future endeavors, whether it’s learning a foreign language, acquiring skills to find a better job, deciding to take up a musical instrument, losing weight, improving a relationship, or growing closer to God.

Plans, without action, are
little more than good intentions.
But intentions are like the starting line of a race. They won’t get you to the finish line until they are activated with a specific plan in mind. Brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright are known as “the fathers of powered flight,” but it’s likely other people had similar ideas. They might even have intended to invent something to bring their ideas into reality. But the Wright brothers were the ones that did it, devising very specific plans and performing the hard work to carry out the plans.

The world’s greatest musicians, business leaders, surgeons, statesmen, writers, designers all started with a dream. But it didn’t stop there. The idea conceived was birthed through careful, intentional planning that spurred them on to action.

When you woke up this morning, did you have in mind something you intended to do? Have you done it yet? Have you taken even the first step toward getting it done? If not – why not?

There are many principles and philosophies that guide successful enterprises, but often they can be reduced to three simple questions: Where are we going? How are we going to get there? How will we know when we’ve arrived?

In other words, goals and objectives are of little value without plans in place for pursuing and achieving them. This is true not only for the business and professional world, but also for every other facet of living.

Let’s say you’re concerned about your physical conditioning and want to make improvements. Buying exercise videos or joining a fitness club might fortify your intentions, but unless you start putting those to use on a consistent basis – not once every week or three – your intentions will remain nothing more than wishful thinking. The attitude, “I love exercise. I can watch other people doing it for hours,” won’t tone your muscles or shed unwanted pounds.

What about something even more important, like spiritual growth? After all, the Bible observes, For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). Again, many of us have wonderful intentions. We’d like to become wise, godly individuals, people that others would recognize as having a close walk with God. But intentions alone won’t get us there.

So we need a plan. And it’s not something another person can devise for us. We’re all uniquely, “fearfully and wonderfully made,” as Psalm 139:14 reminds us. God has a special, distinct plan for each of us, so what works for me might not work as well for you.

But in every case it should start with striving to know the Lord, and there’s no better way of doing that than spending time in His Word, where He reveals Himself as well as His commandments, laws and principles for everyday life.

After Joshua succeeded Moses in leading the Israelites, God told him, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8).

Psalm 119, all 176 verses of it (by far the longest chapter in the Bible), repeatedly underscores the importance and value of knowing and following the teachings of Scripture. The psalmist states it plainly in writing about God, ”How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to Your word…. I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:9,11).

However, there’s more to it than simply knowing what the Bible says. It also involves using it to formulate a plan for putting intentions into action. As the apostle Paul exhorted followers of Jesus in the city of Philippi, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9).

And he wrote to his young protégé, Timothy, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

So if our desire is to know God and live fruitfully for Him, we need to move those intentions into a solid, workable plan, built on the foundation of His Word. Then, drawing from the wisdom and insight He gives us, we need to find answers to the three simple questions: When am I going? How am I going to get there? And how will I know when I’ve arrived?

Devise a plan that works – and work your plan.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Being Sapped By the Apps

My first computer was a Macintosh 512K, given to me in 1985 by a kind friend who was an Apple dealer. He figured it was about time for me to become liberated from my electric typewriter and enter the new and exciting world of word processing. He was right. Even in its primitive state, the 512K changed my life in many ways.

If you’re old enough to remember, the 512K was a slower-than-molasses machine with a tiny black-and-white screen that could hide in a corner of my present iMac monitor. Only at the time, we didn’t know it was slower than molasses. We just figured snail’s pace was how desktop computers were supposed to operate.

I remember writing for a few minutes and – having learned the hard way about the necessity of periodically saving the work you’d done – selecting “Save” from the menu. (We used to quip that Jesus wasn’t the only one that saves.) The computer would grind away, as if trying to figure out what to do with the data – sentences and paragraphs I’d just keyed in. It took so long I’d pray that the power wouldn’t go out before my eloquent words could be preserved.

Apps can sap the energy on our smartphones,
tablets - and in our minds.
Fast-forward to today, when computers of all kinds, including smartphones, possess far more power and capacity than room-sized computers did back in the “olden days.” Even applications – we know them as “apps” – offer possibilities for work, entertainment, information and efficiency that seemed inconceivable just a few decades ago. Ah, the wonders of technology!

Of course, as with many things, there are drawbacks. One is that apps can provide instant access to almost anything we want or need, but also can drain the power from our rechargeable devices. It took a while to realize that unless I fully closed out an app, it would continue running in the background, draining power from the battery. I couldn’t just bounce from app to app if I wanted to continue using my iPad or iPhone for an extended time without having to recharge it. Now I consistently close apps not in use. Beware of being sapped by the apps!

A similar principle affects the “computers” between our ears. We have “apps” – apprehensions, anxieties, worries and fears – that all can sap us emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. They too can “run in the background,” plaguing our subconscious even as we’re trying to concentrate on other matters.

Some time ago a personal issue arose that wasn’t going to be resolved quickly. I spent much of the day attempting to work as usual, but felt like I was running in place, expending a lot of energy but not going anywhere. Then it occurred to me – my “apps” of apprehension and worry were humming in the back of my mind, depleting my mental resources.

What do we do at times like that? Fretting over circumstances might not be very productive, but often it feels like we’re doing something about the problem, even if it’s just worrying. But there’s a better solution.

We can do as the apostle Paul urged: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). We often say we’re trusting God to handle the various trials we encounter, but are we refusing to close out our “apps,” allowing our worries and fears to wear us down?

The apostle Peter expressed similar thoughts when he wrote, “Casting all your anxiety on him (Jesus) because he cares for you.” Then he warned: “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith…” (1 Peter 5:7-9).

So we can let apprehensions and concerns consume us, sapping our spirits as we let them flourish in our subconscious minds. Or by faith we can turn them over to God, believing – and acting upon the belief – that He is more than able to handle whatever challenges we face.

Admittedly, that’s easier to say than to do. But it’s the only way we can truly experience “the peace that passes all understanding” we’re promised, if only we’ll accept it.

Monday, June 15, 2015

What Does Loving Your Neighbor Look Like?

As citizens of this post-modern America, with fewer people holding the Bible in high regard or expressing confidence in what it says, we still often hear references to its teachings. One of those we most commonly hear is about “loving your neighbor.”

This principle has become a bit of a cliché, unfortunately, its meaning reduced to being understood essentially as blindly accepting, even condoning, what other people do – no matter what. After all, “judge not lest you be judged,” right? (Another overused, even misused biblical truth that’s taken on cliché status.)

If it were raining and you saw someone's car door
had been left open, what would you do?
But when Jesus stated, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39 and Mark 12:31), what did He really mean? In another passage, He elaborated on this somewhat, saying, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). Again we need to ask, however, what does this look like? How are we to live this out?

Shouldn’t this mean a lot more than merely adopting a live-and-let live, “I’m OK, you’re OK” outlook on life?

This came to mind – appropriately I suppose – one Sunday morning as I was pulling into our church parking lot. Guiding my car into a vacant spot, I noticed one of the sliding side doors of the minivan parked nearby was open and the headlights were on. My first thought was that the owner was behind the vehicle out of sight. But after a few moments I saw no movement.

Someone walked past the minivan, glancing at it before he continued toward the church building. I got out of my car, grabbed my stuff and started to do the same. “Hey, it’s not my problem. If someone’s foolish enough not to close up their car, that’s no business of mine,” was the thought that admittedly breezed through my mind.

Then I stopped. “What if that were me? What if, for whatever reason, I was in a rush or distracted and failed to close up my car? Would I appreciate someone bothering to do it for me, even though it’s not their problem?”

So I retraced my steps, looked briefly into the minivan and saw some kids’ stuff strewn around, but not a person in sight. It took me all of about five seconds to push the button to close the side door and reach in the driver’s side to turn off the headlights, which apparently didn’t have automatic shut-off.

Since it had rained earlier that morning, perhaps a single mom had been trying to herd her children into the building without getting drenched, leaving the door open and the lights on. Or maybe it was a young couple with as many little kids as they had arms, forgetting details like doors and headlights. I’ll never know, because when I got back to my car an hour later, the minivan was gone.

This isn’t to commend my actions because after all, I briefly thought about ignoring the situation. But if circumstances had been reversed and I had been the one whose car door was left open and headlights still burning, I would have wanted someone else – even a stranger – to be kind enough to correct my oversight.

Seems to me, that’s what loving your neighbor is about.