Wednesday, October 10, 2018

What is Your Moral Requirement?

It was a classic spit take as I sipped my tea and read the article. No this wasn’t some social media meme intended to misrepresent. It was a quote from a pharma executive when asked to explain the price increase on an antibiotic by 400%. The executive insisted the company had the moral requirement to sell at the highest price to make the maximum amount of money.

I have heard some smarmy excuses for the excesses of capitalism before. 
“The stockholders demand it.”
“I deserve it.”
“People will pay it.”
“This is how capitalism works.”

But I have never heard someone claim a “moral requirement.”

Most organized societies have survived interactions with each other through a common legal code. A moral code would extend beyond that, covering for situations not addressed in the legal code. People tend to assume that a moral code is religious, but it can also be cultural. It is an agreement on what a society deems to be important and how that dictates proper behavior.

A moral code always points to an underlying value.

If your moral requirement is to set the price for a life-saving medication as high as possible regardless of any person’s ability to pay, your underlying value is wealth.

The pharma exec is living an example of the Heinz Dilemma. 

The only difference is that this pharma exec is not likely to be robbed. Although, it is entirely possible that someone might die because of the price of this drug. Furthermore, not even the pharmacist in the Heinz Dilemma claimed a moral requirement to charge so much. This claim seems to be a new low.

The thing about a human-created moral code is that it can be ambiguous.  It is wrong to cause a death, and it is wrong to steal. The moral code does not say which is worse, or when it might be acceptable to steal or look the other way when you could prevent a death. Your decision in this dilemma depends on what you value.

What is your moral requirement regarding money?

It is easy for me to condemn this executive, but should I be pointing the same finger at myself? How often do I put the value of money over the value of others: decisions about charities, complaining about taxes, voting to restrict spending on missions because our church budget is too tight? What if, in the name of self-discipline and stewardship I am acting against God’s will by putting money ahead of love?

What is your moral requirement regarding safety?

It is easy for me to justify political decisions that promise safety. Both sides of the political spectrum have supported military spending, guns, fighting the War on Drugs with little more than jail cells, and concrete (or legal) walls to prevent immigration. It is essential to have a strong government interested in promoting safety, but perhaps I am making decisions that fool me into trusting the government, or a weapon, or a policy, over my trust in God? When does God want me to take risks in the name of ministry? 

I do not want to leave the impression that God’s truth is pliable or ambiguous – it is not. God does not have values or laws that change to suit situations. Nor does He promote that as a solution for us. The world has both right and wrong. But, for us humans the challenge is found in discernment and application.

It is easy for us to say that the pharma executive has the moral requirement to put a reasonable price on his drug, but the law says he has the right to put any price on that drug. When we look at laws to restrict this right, we run into the possibility that such laws would cause more trouble.

This decision is way above my pay grade – on so many levels.

As people of Christian faith, we have two sides to the idea of moral requirement. There is the law side that tells us what is right according to what God requires. There is also the grace side which tells us what is right according to what God shows us.

Yet, we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. Galatians 2:16

As children of God, we are in a strange and wonderful situation. We are no longer under a law requirement. The law no longer condemns us. It can no longer leave us hopeless and certain of death. We have not lost our need for the law, but it has lost its hold on us, and that makes all the difference.

The law is still our curb, mirror, and guide, but instead of sentencing us to death it points us to our need for the Salvation of Christ.

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2: 19-20

We still live under a moral requirement. We live under the moral requirement of love and grace. In judging a situation, we must use both law and grace.  We apply law as it is needed, but always in the spirit of grace. If it weren’t for this grace, we would have no hope. With grace, we have every hope.

We likely need more laws about drug prices, safety, drugs, and immigration. At the very least, these should be challenging and complicated discussions not left to social media memes. I do not know what the moral requirement for each situation is, but I do know that love and grace must be a part of the equation.

We are not people of the law, but people of the cross and the empty grave.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5: 13-14

Sunday, September 2, 2018


I have been playing a little game with social media. I keep hiding stuff from my newsfeed in hopes that those life determining algorithms will stop sending me stuff I don’t want. This seems possible to me because the other day I used a laminator meme I found on Google image in a presentation, and now I get ads for laminators. You would think if the system works for stuff I don’t need I will work for stuff I don’t want.

I am using a new guideline when determining what to hide from the newsfeed. I started by hiding anything political that I felt an urge to comment on (just trying to keep myself out of trouble.) Now, I am expanding that a bit. I have noticed that the worst stuff on the internet, political or otherwise, has three characteristics: sarcasm, contempt, and a spattering of facts or research.

The first time this week that I saw this combination it was a far-right political op-ed posted by a friend who wanted to make sure that everyone noticed the factual information. I had a hard time finding the facts amid all of the sarcasm and insults, and as a long time op-ed reader, I wondered when contempt became a substitute for supporting ideas. It’s not – but it sure does a lot for creating that I-belong-to-the-right-group feeling.

The second example, arguably, came from the opposite end of the spectrum although it was not political – it was atheist. Again, it was hard to identify the research that supported the statements that were interspersed with sarcasm and veiled criticism. Really? This is what passes for discussion, now? Like its earlier counterpart, this interview did not have strong support for assumptions, but it was oozing with that warm the-other-side-is-idiotic sentiment.

Okay, enough of the sarcasm. That junk is so seductive, isn’t it? It draws us in with humor that speaks to our fear and anger. It keeps our attention with a faint whiff of facts or research, but it really has us hooked with the contempt. Contempt is more than insults and insinuation. Contempt is fear turned to hate. Contempt tells us there is no hope for the other side. Contempt is dangerous.

Contempt is denial. It denies humanity. It denies possibility. It denies hope.

Yes, contempt is denial and denial is the devil’s favorite tool.

A friend and I have been working our way through the Gospels. I have been struck by the depths of denial demonstrated by the temple leaders. They watched Jesus perform miracles, but their only take away was to plot His demise. They failed every debate with Jesus – from taxes to heavenly marriage – and still, they tried to make Him look ridiculous. 

They didn’t even stop when Jesus was suffering on the cross:

And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with Him also reviled Him. Mark 15:29-32

After a trial scattered with suspicious facts, the temple leaders saw to it that the crowd turned on Jesus, asking for His death. You can bet they accomplished this with fake news, probably some sarcasm, and a whole boatload of contempt.

It all starts with denial. Jesus cannot be the Messiah. Jesus cannot be the Son of God. Jesus cannot save even Himself, how can He save us? It starts with denial and turns to contempt. Once you have moved into contempt, the battle has been won. You are now part of the “winning” group. Congratulations.

But wait, Jesus doesn’t work this way. Jesus replaces sketchy facts with righteous rebuking. He does not hide behind sarcasm, and He has no room for contempt. He lays the truth at our feet and opens His arms welcoming us to forgiveness and peace. 

Afterward, He appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and He rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw Him after He had risen. And He said to them, “go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. Mark 14:14-16

Jesus does not accept us because we are without fault – or because we have fewer faults than those who are on the “other side.” He accepts us because He took our sarcasm, our contempt, our hatred, and all of our other sins away from us leaving us with His righteousness. This is not manipulation or seduction, it is self-sacrificing love.

Thank you, Jesus. Live Your love in me -- even on social media.

Friday, August 24, 2018


Travel in the last two weeks has been one navigation challenge after the other.

First, I had problems with Google Maps. My phone kept dropping the map and forgetting to give me directions. This wouldn’t have been a problem if I had not become dependent on lady google alerting me to my next exit or turn.

On the way home both my husband and I missed the turn off to Highway 2 and ended up driving from Missouri to Lincoln, Nebraska by way of Omaha. I think I was expecting Paul to remind me about the exit and he was expecting me to, well, pay attention and drive.

Because of these events I borrowed my father’s GPS to navigate my way around Detroit. I had a navigation issue just finding the car because they were painting the lot and the attendant handed me the key telling me to keep pressing the button until a car winked at me with its headlights. I kid you not, the very first turn outside of the rental car lot I heard the GPS say “recalculating.”

I must have been tired because later that night I took a wrong turn in my hotel room and walked into the closet. Then, when I got back to the Omaha airport the shuttle driver tried to convince me that a white Toyota was my car. When he saw the confused look on my face he immediately recalculated and checked the slip of paper he got from me and realized he was in the wrong lot. At least this navigation error was not my mistake.

What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him – these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. I Corinthians 2:9

We have a God much more effective than a GPS. He built us a perfect world, created us to live in it, and immediately recalculated when Adam and Eve took the first wrong turn toward sin. The snake made this choice seem reasonable, but God knew where they were headed and He had a better plan.

Just as I was certain I knew the correct way to head on the interstate in Detroit, I also tend to think I know the right way for my life and ministry decisions. Even wrong decisions seem to make sense – at the time. I might be certain I will be working for a particular institution but my efforts find serious road blocks. Even as I am making the wrong turns, God is recalculating my life for me. He knows in what direction I should be traveling and gets me there in spite of my faulty reading of the map. There is no promise that the route He chooses for me will avoid construction or traffic jams. There is no promise that I will arrive in the place I think I should go. When God is your GPS the promise is His wisdom and care. We cannot imagine what the journey will present, but we rest in the hope that God is our planner, our guide, and our fixer.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words. And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8: 26-28

When I think about the paths my thoughts follow I realize I can get myself so lost I might not even know what questions to ask. My desires, my assumptions, and my mistakes lead me in so many bad directions that it is a wonder I have not been lost in my own head.

When disappointments lead me away from my faith I am as lost as when I am traveling the wrong way on an interstate. When my assumptions about how things should work do not come to pass it is as if I turned a corner and found a road closed sign with no detour directions. When my sins cause me trouble I sit and fret and wonder what to do.

But God knows. He has the plan. He has the recalculations. He even sends His Spirit to pray for me and take me out of my confusion and grief. He gives me the faith and the strength to follow Him.

No matter how many times He has to recalculate my journey the destination remains the same. In the righteousness that comes from faith, all roads lead to God.

You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forever more. Psalm 16:11

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Lessons from Ireland: Trust

One of the most fascinating things we got to do in Ireland was to take a boat ride out to an island called Skellig Michael. On this island is the UNESCO world heritage site of a Gaelic Augustinian Monastery circa the 600’s. (Yes, you read that right -- the 600's)

To get to the site you must climb up the side of a cliff using a staircase built with dry set rocks. On occasion I review the trip on this clip because all I remember from my hike up and my hike down was watching my husband’s shoes a few steps ahead of me.

Apparently I have issues with 1,400 year old staircases offering precipitous, possibly fatal falls. Who knew? Here is the only photograph of the climb I had the courage to take.

In my defense, we started this ascent shortly after reading the sign below -- note the phrase "fatalities have occurred."  

Six huts, a chapel, a graveyard, a garden, and an intricate cistern system make up this monastery.  Here the monks were left in peace to worship, pray, study, protect scripture and suffer for their faith. Even in this hard to access fortress at least one Abbot was known to have been captured by the Vikings.

Not even on the top of a barely accessible island mountain can we protect ourselves from the sin of our world.

But I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt you know no God but Me and besides Me there is no savior. Hosea 13:4

I like this verse for describing the monk’s knowledge of God because my study Bible tells me that the meaning for “know” in this instance is an “evidential, experimental knowledge.”  The monks that lived in this monastery up through the 12th century not only saw daily evidence of God’s power, but likely experienced God’s presence in ways we cannot understand.  They understood our Savior as a deliverer in a very real and present way. God provided for their needs and their protection just as He provided for their Salvation. There was no government, no medical organization, no police, fire, rescue crew, no military – not even a storm warning system. They were in God’s care, alone. They had the law of their harsh existence and they had the grace of their fellowship with each other.

Think for a minute, about how different our view is. We are blessed to have all of the protective systems that the monks lacked, yet instead of being grateful we turn from trust in God toward trust in the protection of our own making.

The left-hand kingdom (government) will do what it decides it will do. We are to be an influence on the government but we are not to allow ourselves to be lost in it – or lost because of it. We are wrong to store the treasure of our faith in the government of man. We must not only remember – but live in a way that shows we do not put our trust in guns, walls, repeals of laws, politicians, government programs, political party platforms, or SCOTUS picks.

We are not democrats or republicans, conservatives or liberals, rich or poor, citizens or immigrants. We are children of God. Our trust must be in Him, alone.

So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continuously for your God. Hosea 12:6

Luther tells us that the word “love” in this verse can be seen as goodness in action -- grace. Because the monks knew God’s love, protection, forgiveness, and grace they were able to share these things with each other. When we are able to share the same it is evidence of our trust in God. A trust He gives us, that becomes something so easy for us to ignore when we pretend we can build a fortress of any type to protect ourselves.

Here is one more poignant verse from Hosea. God speaks to us through words intended for the Children of Israel who had ignored the gift of trust to worship other gods, make alliances with other countries, and depend on their own might for protection. We are not so different.

Take with you words and return to the LORD. Hosea 14:2

“Take with you words” In other words – confess.

Take that confession and return to the LORD, our Protector and Savior.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Lessons from Ireland: Justice

So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God. Hosea 12:6

This is a picture from Kilmainham Gaol a former prison located in Dublin, Ireland. The prison was in operation from 1796 until 1924 and housed many people from rebellions including the Easter Rising of 1916. Touring this museum was a fascinating and sobering experience.

Justice can be a difficult thing to determine in the case of rebellions. Some of those housed in this facility had murdered or plotted murder. Some came back later as part of the new government. When you are on the wrong side of the ruling party it can be hard to distinguish right from wrong.

But, there must be some laws that should be broken under no circumstances. Surely stealing is always wrong, isn’t it?

While the Kilmainham Gaol is quite famous for its political prisoners it was also in high use during the Great Potato Famine of 1845-1850. When we toured the museum we saw where children as young as seven were housed after being convicted of stealing something as inconsequential a loaf of bread. The conditions for incarceration were horrible – sleeping on stone floors with little protection from the elements. It is hard to think that children were condemned to prison for simply answering the pangs of hunger. 

When humans, or their children, are hungry or unsafe these conditions become more important than the law. We can see this when we realize that in the case of incarcerating starving  people  for the theft of food, punishment did not deter the crime. In fact, it may have encouraged it as children realized that even with the horrible conditions in the prison they would at least be fed for the duration of their sentence. They could find no other help for their hunger.

Millions of people died or emigrated during this famine. Beyond their suffering the most horrible realization was that Ireland was producing enough food for its people, but the price of the food was kept prohibitively high due to laws that favored absent landlords. These same landlords, when faced with the requirement to help pay for relief simply evicted tenants to avoid the tax. They burned houses and watched children cry as their families were left with nothing. There were no laws to stop these actions. Even the government relief agency felt that the famine was judgement from God to teach the Irish a lesson. They crafted relief regulations that left the poor with nothing and at the same time condemned them for being idle. 

It would be nice to be able to say we humans learned our lesson from the atrocities of this famine.  But, we are steeped in sin and insist on repeating those same sins – with impunity – as we protect ourselves and attempt to justify our actions.

When we turn to scripture to find the right recourse for fellow humans who suffer poverty and violence we find no specific solutions, but instead a strong directive: God wants justice for the poor.

I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and will execute justice for the needy. Psalm 140:12

The tough part is we don’t always know what justice looks like. Which political party is truly concerned with justice? Who knows how to provide justice effectively? Is it about health insurance? Job opportunities? A fair wage? A stronger police force? A visa, green card, or a path to citizenship? I suspect the answer is different for each kind of poverty or hurt.

Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. Isaiah 1: 17

The Irish did not have justice because the laws, tariffs, and policies of the day prevented them from escaping poverty. They were highly vulnerable even before the potato blight. When the law was used to persecute them it was not used as a curb, a guide, or a mirror – it was used as a club. This use of the law is ineffective.

No, scripture does not give us the answer to poverty or violence. God does not tell us what to do, but He does tell us what not to do. We cannot hide behind man-made law when people are suffering for lack of justice.

Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing  oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey! Isaiah 10:1-2

We should not turn our eyes away from suffering. We should not allow laws, policies, rhetoric, or politics to favor the “haves” at the disastrous expense of the "have nots." We should not use those who suffer as pawns in a political game. We should not be a part of further trauma for people who are helpless and hopeless for reasons beyond their doing. We should not let people suffer and then blame the law or hide behind it.

We should not turn away from the need for justice – or the need for grace. 

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Matthew 23:23

We do not currently have a potato famine, but we do see people, all over our world – including our country – who are forced to desperate measures in order to find food or safety for their children. God does not tell us to give welfare to the poor or to grant asylum to everyone who asks. He tells us to be concerned with justice. We are compelled to ask: What keeps these families from providing for their children? What can we do to help and how can we avoid making the situation worse? When the law brings justice it implies there was a legitimate choice for behavior.  For the Irish during the famine, keeping their children from starvation was obeying a greater law than man’s law.

Correct me, O Lord, but in justice; not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing. Jeremiah 10:24

God grants us justice and grace because He knows us, He loves us, He sent His Son to die and rise again for us. The justice we deserve is not what we receive because there is no stronger empathy than agape love. 

If we are to know what constitutes justice in the case of the poor, for those who live with violence, who just want safety for their children, we need to stop thinking we know the motivation for their actions. We need to think about their needs and pray for the wisdom to find justice and the courage to ask for it. We need to stop making fear, politics, or the law into a false god. 

We need to stop using the law as a club and move the world toward grace because only grace changes things and only grace heals.

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amos 5:24

Instead of hiding behind the rationalizations of politics, instead of posting, retweeting, or fuming in anger, I will stop, pray, love, empathize, and look for a way to bring justice.  

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8