I was a journalism major. I was trained to ask questions and search for facts in order to write a narrative, informative, investigative, non-slanted article. I like to do that. And then there are opinion pieces, the op/ed pages of the newspaper where ideas are expressed and situations fleshed out with facts as a skeleton, but really not critical to the piece being written. I like to do that more. Today it is hard to tell one from the other. The op/ed pieces often appear as news stories, or news stories are littered with opinions. The following is not a news story, nor in my opinion is it fiction. This opinion I hope is on the target of Truth. Some will say it is a fairy tale. I can live with that. I know differently.
In the midst of the Pandemic, and the current election season, I have been stuck on the same thought for a number of weeks. As I observe the country in despair and elevated anger, with little or no fruitful dialogue from almost anyone, I am left with this thought. The best deception is one that can deceive everyone. It matters not which side of an issue you take. Both are wrong. Like a Secret Double Agent, the deceiver is not just the object of a thrilling movie, the ability to deceive seems so real. Who doesn’t love a good “conman” movie. My favorite is an oldie but truly goody, “The Sting.” I was glued and fooled and twisted and for a moment I thought I knew what was going to happen.. Well I didn’t really. The deceived targets are rarely ever aware that they are being fooled by the focus of their attention. Houdini was a great deceiver and illusionist, until he no longer was… then everybody says “I knew that was how he did that trick.”
In 1990, I went to Las Vegas to watch Siegfried and Roy and their family of white tigers at the opening of the Mirage Hotel. The tigers would appear and disappear at the will of the illusionist. I payed big money to be deceived. After all when you work with tigers it is NOT a slight of hand illusion. I was honestly amazed and flabbergasted. Perhaps one of the best live events I ever witnessed. The illusionist made me believe what I saw with my own eyes. I was stunned. Truly stunned. Then when I left the auditorium I said to myself, “I knew it wasn’t real.” But not because I knew or saw something, but because I know it could not be real. Because I DID see it with my own eyes. But what I saw, I did not see. The best Deception. But it is a deception I paid for, I asked for, I hoped for. It was illusion beyond my wildest expectations.
I believe we now are living today in a world of illusion. World class deception. Everybody I speak with is certain they have an answer, a solution, a cause, or a source code. Deception is beyond science, but it uses science. Deception is beyond feelings, but it uses feelings. Deception is in opposition to Truth, but it uses truth. And You and I must make a choice about what we think we are seeing. This deception is not entertainment. I did not ask for it, but I am paying for it. As are most of the world’s residents.
I have made a choice. There is only one way to combat the deception. And it is to choose. It is a “Black or White” or an “In or Out” decision. I did not make this rule. I just believe it. I am “in.” You don’t have to believe it. You then by default, choose “out.” I think my choice is a good one, you think your choice is a good one. You may think you have not made a choice, by not getting in. But you have chosen.
It is like the swimming pool. You can choose to get in and you are wet and in, or you can say I am not going to choose. But you have. By default, you are out. Or you can choose to be out. There is no difference in the result, you are dry.
What I write going forward will be very difficult for those who are “out” to understand, and most will not agree at all. It may well sound like jibber-jabber. And I understand, it is a clanging gong. But for me it is Truth. For those who are “in” I believe it could be fairly “new” thinking. But unless you have chosen to be “in”, there will certainly be confusions. What is the key to get in was written to the Romans by Paul.
New International Version
9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
I have willingly made my decision. And I profess with my mouth “Jesus is Lord” And that confession alone triggers a new journey with new understanding. The confession does NOT complete the journey, but it is no longer as confusing to travel. Information and clarity will be found on the path. It may not, in fact it cannot be known in completeness in this day.
There will be those who make a choice I don’t agree with, it is likely the “other choosers” will not agree with me. But I will still care about the person who chooses differently than I. I will not, I cannot force someone to make a choice of this nature… any more than someone can force me to choose against my will. God has provided access to all to choose Him. But I do hear the detractors, the dissenters. You think I am whack, you think I run a circus. But you are wrong. If you expect a complete explanation in a single post, you WILL NOT get it. This is the first step of a long walk.
Just as you may say you would never choose my life, I need to let you know, that once I believed what you believe. We will all live with our own consequences, intended or otherwise. And we are truly living in the age of untended consequences. Only one of us is being fooled by the illusionist. One of us believes the tigers really did disappear. It is a “Free country.” Free to Choose, AND receive the consequences. I neither judge, not do I exact the judgement or consequences.
Although it is a rare occurrence, someone I know will look me in the eyes and say “You are a good man, Bob Fulton.” I blush, I mildly resist the compliment, I self deprecate, but ultimately I “humbly” accept the words of the presenter. I walk away, because I am a “good man.” It is so cool to be a good man. It causes me to help more dogs, like my former foster dog Herald. And help more people. Like the broken down car on the side of the road I stopped to assist yesterday. I do good stuff, so someone on either Facebook, or Face-to-face will recognize that I am a good man. After all, I believe we all love being good people. It earns me participation points and an prize.
I had a brief discussion with a very sweet and kind spirited friend on Facebook a couple of days ago. She might be among the kindest people I know. She does so many good things, and shares so many positive thought with all in her wake. And while we were speaking about honest people, she said this to me, “Bob, …I choose to see good in people and want to believe that most people would be honest and would not cheat, but I am also a realist…a hopeful but realistic optimist.” In light of my prior comments, I do understand her, and it feels really good to see good and acknowledge good in people. But I do not agree with her premise of what most people are. I believe in the total depravity of man, OUCH! People are NOT basically good, not in this age.
So how do I agree with my friend. With what do I not agree? Indeed, I agree that people do good things. The world is filled with good deeds. Again I say, there is NO denying people do good things. There are even laws “anointing” good deed doers. A person does not need to read or believe in the Bible to know the phrase “That’s a Good Samaritan.” It is a common phrase, and there are even “Good Samaritan” laws in affect. I have to believe that for many, there is little knowledge of the basis for the term Good Samaritan. It is just a phrase that “some” use without any thought of why it is a title or anointing. It is just like, “she’s a good egg.” It is just a saying, Or is it?
He’s a Good Samaritan is like many phrases or cliches that are often used but rarely include knowledge of the origin. Like selling everything but “lock, stock and barrel,” which referred to a settlers selling everything to stay alive, in the wild West. They sold everything but lock, stock, and barrel. What does THAT mean? These were the last things to sell, the components of their rifle, the lock, the stock, and the barrel Because if the settler were without a rifle, the source for protection and procuring meat would also be gone. If you sell “lock stock and barrel” it was time to quit and go home, or die. How about has “the cat got your tongue” which has nothing to do with your sweet kitten. Origin: The English Navy used to use a whip called “Cat-o’-nine-tails” for flogging. The pain was so severe that it caused the victim to stay quiet for a long time. Another possible source could be from ancient Egypt, where liars’ and blasphemers’ tongues were cut out and fed to the cats. So also, there is a special story behind the “Good Samaritan.” And this is the Story that Jesus told, 2000 years ago.. as it is written.
New International Version
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
What made the Samaritan Good? Well it looks to me like it was his works. So I say to you Good Samaritan, “you are a good man.” But was he a good man? Or was just a man who performed a good deed? Potentially there is a difference, and in my mind it is a part of the illusion.
And what of the other two examples in the same story of two people who failed to serve? In fact, two men moved to the other side of the street to avoid getting involved. Two men did pass by the man who was beaten and robbed, without a word but with the action of avoidance. So do I make the statement, “you are a bad man?” Do I say to the Priest in the story are you a bad man? Does it make the Levite in the same story a bad man? Or were they just a couple of men who really made a bad decision? Thinking perhaps of their personal safety. Potentially there is a difference. Are these men Deceived?
Let me compare this to the broken down vehicle I saw today. Dozens of cars drove by the guys in the broken down truck on the side of the road yesterday. But I stopped, inquired if they needed help, and I went and got water for the radiator. Was I, Am I better than all who passed? I think not, but I do think I stopped to do a good thing others chose not to do. In that moment, I was different than anyone else in that stranded soul’s world. Coincidentally, I was on the speaker phone chatting with a friend just chatting, when I chose to stop, when I asked my friend to hold, there was a warning to be careful. “Helping people on the side of the road is what I do,” I said to my friend. And then I left, returning with gallons of water, to cool an overheated radiator in search of a quenching. The stranded motorist tried to pay me, and I refused saying, “NO, this is what I do, you might want to help someone some day.” I drove away, I did not say you need to know God, what they needed was water. I know that everybody sees God all the time, they just might not know it. And I left, after I knew their truck would start and drive. And as a result, in strange collision of factors that some label coincidence, I regard the “coincidence” the presence that is God. Not God speaking to me in that moment, but in my quiet times with God letting Him know that I was committed to helping stranded motorists. I would be my way of spreading the Kingdom of God.
And God would give me a story yesterday that I could share in the midst of writing this blog. Because I see God everywhere, I see him in “coincidence.” And I share this story, not so I can be called a good man, but so I could add clarity for those who are in or out. It added clarity for me. Yesterday I was a God Samaritan. Hundreds passed by without stopping. Are they all bad people? Of course not, but I WAS a Good Samaritan. I was NOT God, I was a conduit. I was NOT a different person from the moment before the water rescue, to the moments after. God who is Good, gave me a blessed moment of Goodness to share. A chance to extend His Kingdom. No Fanfare, and if I were not writing this, only the person on the other end of the phone would know I did anything. God does this for both the in and out. The choice to do good. The rain falls on the Good and the Evil, “the just and the unjust.” Matt. 5:45.
I do believe that this is a conundrum, a confusing and difficult problem or question. And in the Jesus world, it is, as I perceive it, an illusion. It is critical to know what I see in the world of goodness. Why? Because I am not hanging out in this life to get a participation ribbon for goodness and works. I am not here just for this moment only. I am here to find purpose, to find something meaningful. I am here to glorify God, to enjoy Him forever. I want to be a part of something great. It is the illusion of good man vs. good work. And it is at the heart of much deception.
Goodness is at the core of how to crack the identity of life’s double secret agent. What side is Goodness on? What is the this goodness conundrum? Let me be as clear as is possible. People can do good deeds. Doing something good does not make a person good. Because I write something occasionally in a blog, does NOT make me a writer. Because I can change the air filter on my car, I am NOT a mechanic. But Goodness is confusing. Why? Because nearly everyone wants to be thought of as a good person.
It is not my fault or God’s fault that a believer may not accept the role of God Samaritan to pull over and help a stranger. That is why AAA and insurance companies now sell roadside assistance plans. I have one. I understand caution in unknown situations. People progress on their journeys at different rates. But, It is my fault if I CHOOSE not to stop, for I am called to do so.
It is not “goodness” that is the deceiver. The deceiver is the interpretation of what is good, what that goodness represents.
Unless you find an answer or understanding, you will label people doing good things as good people. Good deeds do not make Good people. Lots of unsavory people still do good things. Al Capone Opened Free Soup Kitchens in Chicago. Did Al become a good man as a result? I have many friends that do not believe that, and spend their lives doing good things. So they can be Good People. So they can “earn their way to heaven,” or wherever they intend to go. That is the Deception, the double secret-agent.
What is the answer to the goodness riddle?
The answer for me is found in the words of Jesus. It is the story of the rich young ruler which has brought this to light for me only recently. Perhaps as recently as the words I am typing now. I have known the story since the 1960s. In fact, this story appears in the Bible 3 times, told by 3 men. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, all share this story in similar fashion in their Gospel accounts. Following is Mark’s account, the earliest authored Gospel of Jesus.
17As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 18And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. 19“You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’” 20And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” 21Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.
I learned this story of the rich young ruler, early in my journey, in high school. In college and beyond, I have preached the story of the rich young ruler. I have interpreted the heart of the rich young ruler. I have spoken about this story in light of explaining eternal life, and how to be a part of life everlasting.
And what I have shared in the past was true. It is all those things. Today I believe it is so much more. What I never saw properly before was the answer to what I am calling the “Goodness conundrum.”
“Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
This verse has been my teaching focus in the past. In other words, this is essentially what I thought the young man was asking. “Jesus you are a good man. I have heard your good words. I have seen your good deeds. I saw you feed 5000 hungry people the other day. And I want eternal life… I want to be a good man too. I want to be like you and do good stuff.”
And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.”
And I have overlooked this. In my first deep dive into this simple statement, is what I believe at this moment is a new revelation for my life. I sniffed this stuff in my early relationship with Jesus. But that was 5 decades ago.
“Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.”
An exclamation.. of “OH MY GOODNESS!” This verse is the code, and the key. It is what the Creator wants me to see, when I get caught up in the illusion of good works. God is good. The illusion is good men get eternal life, it is “saved men and women” who get eternal life. Good does not provide access to the Kingdom of God, Faith does. Goodness is a double secret agent. Without understanding the world will be in turmoil as Good People fight among each other to be “GOODER” than the other guy. Look around your world, and the people you care for. Faith unlocks mysteries and allows me to live in peace within that which I do not comprehend.
I never thought I would see Goodness as an illusion. I mean it is just good. And good people are good. And what can be bad about good people?
St. Augustine wrote in the 5th century.. “For what is that which we call evil but the absence of good?”
ON a closing and worldly note. This is a warning to those who believe. The absence of good is why we as a nation may well be at the war within. There really is nothing good about politics. Politics is often the absence of Goodness. And there are no “good” candidates. Take care as you watch both candidates from both parties spend millions of dollars to talk dirty politics about their opponent.
Be careful, these are seeds of evil, the absence of good. They will find a home in the fertile soul of you and your family if you don’t demand otherwise. Watch the seeds grow into bitterness. Watch the seeds germinate and become anxiety, and hopelessness. I hope you will resist the temptation to join in the illusion that something special is had by sharing negative reports. Take care with what you post on your Facebook or Twitter pages. Post positive stuff. The best deception will deceive all involved. I guarantee you will be miserable as you watch this election process. And no matter who wins, there will be the other half which will be miserable again for four years. Resist, you need to resist. I understand that all of you who vote, including me, will vote for one set of candidates. But I pray that they might speak of the positive things they want for America, not to the crap that they don’t want from the other party. I doubt that will happen. But YOU can resist, and speak positively on what you want. Don’t plant seeds of bitterness. I see these seeds making my friends uglier and uglier every day. Pull those up by the roots… plant real seed of Goodness.
Bless not curse, or You will miss out on the joy of life itself.
James 4:7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.