James 4:17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
Just act right! So many people get this simple concept wrong! I have found myself wondering why people can’t just act right so many times in my life. It is mind-boggling things that you hear people will do. I often wonder what drives them to do the things they do. What evil lurks within them to drive them to do drugs, lie, steal, murder, cheat, swindle, etc. I know it has to do with having bad character (and doing nothing to improve it). I also know it has to do with choice. All people are empowered with great power in their lives–the power of choice. So what causes us to make the right choice. Ultimately it is love. We love someone more than ourselves so we choose to do right by them. Sometimes we lose our way. Sometimes it just seems easier to do wrong and take the easy path. Even if we know it will hurt someone we love we do it. But just because something is easy does not mean we should do it. We have to choose to do the right thing. We have to find a reason to do the right thing. I have made all kinds of better choices in my life because I have a beautiful wife and beautiful children. I love them and don’t want people to think their husband/father is a bad person. So I make good choices because I love you. I don’t just think about “what’s in it for me” all the time. Stepping back you can think about how important this concept is in the makeup of our civilization as a whole. Our society sometimes, many times, doesn’t think this way or promote the importance of this concept. But this reminds me of the quote from Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. So all that said I think evil people who do the wrong things do not love anything more than themselves. They are not making choices for anyone besides themselves. It can get pretty easy for a selfish person to barrel down the path of bad choices and into doing a whole lot of wrong.
There is a kind of catch-all term that sums up a variety of bad behaviors that you will want absolutely nothing to do with, moral turpitude. Wikipedia contains a nicely organized list of crimes and how they break out across the moral turpitude spectrum at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_turpitude. All these things are wrong and will get you in a heap of trouble if you get caught doing them. Getting caught is not the only reason not to do these things (but it is reason enough).
There are a ton of less obvious right/wrong behaviors that won’t land you in trouble with law enforcement or your employer but still break the ‘it ain’t right test’. Lying (even white lies), cheating on your significant other, treating people poorly, sneaking into rated R movies, speeding, underage drinking, believing people are out to get you all the time, gossiping, spreading rumors, bullying, texting while driving, etc. These are sometimes really hard and very subjective. What might be considered wrong to one person might be just fine to another as people have different morals and character. But ultimately, it is pretty easy to determine if you have half of a moral compass. And I know each of you guys does.
I have gone through life believing that good will win out over evil almost all the time. Sometimes it takes a while but it generally always happens. I think that if you live your life trying to always do the right thing that good things eventually happen to you. I obviously can’t prove this or guarantee it but I’ve seen it happen enough that I can safely say it happens (and often). I smile big and wide when I see it happen. Even though I know it isn’t right I love seeing bad things happen to bad people. It gives me hope in life and humanity and compels me to continue on the path of doing what I know is right as much as possible.
So what is good character? If you’ve grown up in our house you know the difference between right and wrong. I promise. You will also be taught that you always have a choice in which one you choose. You will also be guided strongly to always choose the right choice or the road less traveled in almost all cases. Of course, your mother and I can’t make you do the right thing once you are an adult. We can only hope that we’ve taught you why it is important. And consistently show you through our example that if you do the right thing life is going to be okay. We love you so that is how we’ve done it. We hope you love us and will perpetuate it in your life. We hope you will perpetuate it in the lives of those you come in contact with (those people that you love).
A good test for me has always been to live like whatever you are doing will be broadcast on the evening news or published in the newspaper for all your family and friends to see. If you are doing something that you wouldn’t want Mom, Dad, grandparents, friends, pastor, teachers, bosses, people you love, etc. to know about publically then you probably have no business doing it. I’d add that you are probably jeopardizing something at some level and that your life is on the wrong track at some level. JUST ACT RIGHT!
So where can you learn right from wrong?
- Laws – There are plenty of laws in our land. There are different levels of crime. Felonies are bad. You will go to jail for a long time. Misdemeanors are less bad but still bad. You will likely lose something if you do these things (job, rights, money, etc.). The laws have been hashed out in the court system (with judges and juries filled with our fellow man) since our country’s inception and in most cases provide a pretty good indicator of whether something is right or wrong.
- Love – Learn about what love is. Since love will guide you to make good choices for those you love then if you know about love you will probably wind up doing what is right a great deal of the time. 1 Corinthians 13:4-13 is probably the best description I’ve ever read about what love is.
- 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.
- Church/Bible – Lots of people in the world believe going to church is a dumb, waste of time. Of course, lots of people in the world are dumb. I think this however is the single best way to constantly improve your character. If you decide to proactively seek out regular advice on how to be better you will be better. Even if people don’t believe in God or religion, seeking out wise advice to proactively reset your moral compass will make you better. The Holy Bible is filled with all kinds of character-building passages you can study. There is a reason it is one of the most read books on the planet. Because it is worth reading. So read it!
- Ephesians 4:17-32 is a great little primer on how to act.
- 17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. 20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him following the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, about your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. 25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. 29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what helps build others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
- Galatians 6:9 is a great reminder that goes back to my good wins over evil thought. It is a very encouraging verse that reminds us that doing the right thing is not a sprint but a marathon. It isn’t one choice but, rather, a life full of choices. Will you mess up? Sure. But do the right thing the next time.
- 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
- Ephesians 4:17-32 is a great little primer on how to act.
- Family/Friends/Mentors – Finding people you trust that can help you make sense of a particular situation when it arises is so important. You want to find people who you love and people who love you. No one says you have to make all these choices alone. Some people love you (probably the same people who you love) who can/will help you when you need help. I can’t count how many times I’ve used advice from someone who loves me in my life to start making better choices. Every day, IF I LISTEN, I can probably learn something that will help me make better choices…and do right! Consider yourself fortunate to have these people who love you in your life and seek them out to help you when questions of right/wrong arise and you need advice or even need help doing what you know is right.
When do you stop learning right from wrong? NEVER! I learn something new every day. Perhaps I was just ignorant about something and became educated about it. Perhaps I made a bad choice in my past and I have learned better now. Perhaps I made a bad choice in my past and knew it was bad at the time and it stuck with me and I use it every day to make sure it never happens again. Perhaps a bad choice I made ended up in a life-changing event. Sometimes bad choices will lead to really bad things like this happening. Some call it The University of Hard Knocks. I pray something like this never happens to you. But, it stresses the importance of making good choices to do what is right and to always seek to learn more ways to do it.
Why is all this so important? Because you are a Dean. You are probably a Christian. You are an American. You might be an employee. You might be a member of an organization. You are whoever you are. You are a representative of yourself and those you are associated with. Since you love yourself and those you are associated with you will want to ensure your character positively represents yourself. Your character is one of the most important things you will have throughout your life. It is your calling card and it is hard to change once it is set or once it is going the wrong way. Every decision you make could land you on the front page of the paper. Will you be satisfied with what is written? Will you be proud of what is written? Would you want to have the story re-written another way? If so, start re-writing it…every day…with every decision. JUST ACT RIGHT!
Love you so much!
[originally published] 2/29/2016