Charlie Brown


For some strange reason, I am cheerful this morning. This is a bit strange, since I am rarely cheerful before ten in the morning, and I received less than 5 hours of sleep last night. Ordinarily, writing under such conditions, I produce some dark, brooding essay, inveighing against some injustice or the perpetual curse of human sin. In her subsequent review, Kathy would either veto the entire article or ask me to add a bunch of cheerful pictures for my not-so-adoring public to look at while skipping over my gloomy blatherings.

Actually, Kathy reminded me that she had prayed for me, that God would redeem the sleeping time I lost, especially since I had been so kind to take our family & friends out for an evening on the town. Praise God for His kindness to me!

Truth be told, I could probably drum up the proper melancholy spirit if it was necessary. But I’ve already started my second Diet Coke, and I just can’t stop humming the tunes from a musical I attended last night. It is Friday, after all … I guess a little cheerfulness on the ferry can be overlooked, even in the morning.

While I’m on the subject, I’ll offer a few life-saving tips to those morning people out there. Here is a short list of the things you should never say to a night-person before noon, unless you seek bodily harm:

  • “Rise and shine!”
  • “Greet the day!”
  • “Up and at ‘em, sleepyhead!”
  • “The early bird gets the worm!”
  • “Carpe diem!”

Nearly any bright and cheerful trill that requires an exclamation point is right out. Avoid any sentence with a verb more active than those routine for sloths or glaciers … otherwise you invite muttered threats, rejoinders and vulgar gestures, e.g., “I’ll greet your day, buddy.”

I guess that is enough do-gooding for today … consider that a public service announcement intended to preserve the lives of unwitting morning people. … And now, back to our regularly-scheduled programming.

As a birthday present to Kathy (her birthday rages on, unfazed by the number of intervening days since the 16th of July) I purchased tickets to attend the Taproot Theatre’s production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown for Kathy, myself, and our oldest three children (Weasel, Nettle and Slug). As an extra treat, I arranged for some dear friends to attend the same performance, unbeknownst to my beloved Kathy and the children. Our faithful neighbor, Annjanette, held the fort and babysat our two youngest children, Thunder & Lightning.


I first saw this musical on stage here in Washington in 1972 (give or take a couple of years). I think it was performed by a local amateur group at Fort Lewis, and I don’t remember much about it. My Dad somehow acquired a reel-to-reel tape of the musical (8-tracks were too modern and trendy for him), and played it on request for me throughout the four years we lived in Germany. It occupies an important place among my childhood memories, particularly the “Book Report” song. (More perhaps on that later.)

My children are all Peanuts fans, particularly Weasel, who owns many, if not most, of the collections of that long-running comic strip. And of course we own several Peanuts videos, including the animated version of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”, which I heartily recommend.

Arriving in North Seattle, we ate a hurried dinner at a nearby pizza place, and located our seats by the clever expedient of finding our friends who were there before us. I was particularly smug to see how surprised Kathy and the children were to see their good friends ‘coincidentally’ attending the show with us. Kathy sat right next to Tina and Nettle and Slug greeted their friends enthusiastically. (We are none of us looking forward to the Burt’s departure for Missouri next week — even three days of separation seemed excessive.) The production lasted almost exactly two hours, including a few additional songs along with the parts of the musical we knew so well.

The show was excellent, playing to a packed house. We had great seats in the first and second rows along the side of the long protruding stage, sitting with our missionary-in-training friends and their three children. Kathy had to remind Slug not to put his feet on the stage, for fear that he would trip one of the actors. (For some reason, I always seem to get good seats at performances … I’m not sure why. I always try to be kind and gentle-spoken to the box-office workers and frequently enlist their aid in choosing seats … maybe that is my secret? Or perhaps it is a gift from God, and no credit to me at all. Hmmph.)

I particularly enjoyed the facial expressions as the familiar play unfolded … the actress playing Lucy nearly stole the show away from the Charlie Brown character, in my opinion. The actor playing Schroeder (a worship leader at a nearby Bible church) gave a tremendous boost to his role in the “Book Report on Peter Rabbit” song, dramatizing the fight between Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham with his oversized pencil. (Many ill-informed readers are not familiar with the critical role that these two medieval characters play in the well-known bedtime story, Peter Rabbit.)

Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus and Schroeder were assigned a book report on the children’s classic, Peter Rabbit. The approaches taken by each of the characters are worth noting for the simple reason that they outline four of the primary possible reactions to any academic assignment. Indeed, this part of the musical made a lasting impression on me and provided the foundation of much of my later academic, er, success.

The song is begun by Lucy, who takes a minimalist line of attack. She quickly establishes the parameters of the assignment (100 words) and eventually reaches that goal through the clever expedient of listing all the vegetables in the garden and liberally using the adjective “very”, as in, “the very very very end.” She completes the assignment having gone through the motions and writing exactly 100 words, most of them devoid of any original thought.

Some assignments and life situations seem to require exactly that approach.

Schroeder begins his report with good will but finds the subject insufficiently interesting to hold his attention. He quickly segues into a plot summary of Robin Hood and ties it back together like this:

“… away they ran. Just like rabbits. Who run a lot.
As you can tell from the story of Peter Rabbit
which this report … is about.”

I have used this method frequently. When an assignment or situation lacks scope or interest, it can frequently be hijacked into a different, more interesting project, without adverse consequences. Frequently your audience is sufficiently pleased with your passion in the new topic, that they are willing to overlook your failure to address the original issue.

Linus takes an approach which I have labeled “over the top.” Similar to Schroeder, he is unwilling to settle for a simple 100-word report on Peter Rabbit but rather dives deep into the subject matter, examining the sociological pressures under which Peter labored and his deeply-rooted rivalries with Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail. At the very least, deep-sounding philosophy can often cloak empty-headed babble, as is regularly evidenced in this blog.

As a sort of a counterpoint to each of these themes, Charlie Brown agonizes over the advisability of procrastination:

“If I start writing now,
when I’m not really rested,
it could upset my thinking,
which is not good at all.
If I wait ’til tomorrow,
there’ll be lots of pressure,
I work best under pressure …
I should start writing now.”

Ultimately the other three reach a crescendo and complete the assignment, which time Charlie Brown has wasted in his dithering. He now begins after all the others have finished.

Sadly, this is perhaps the approach I have most relied upon, with predictable consequences. Nevertheless, I really like the “Book Report” song.


Leaving the theater, as we straggled our way to our respective cars, we were treated to an additional bonus. The cast members, heading for their own vehicles, joined us as they exited from backstage. They spoke kindly to each of the children, and shook hands with each of us. Snoopy took time to instruct Slug in the finer points of barking, and I had a chance to congratulate Schroeder on his excellent performance.

We ate our leftover pizza on the way home, stopping for milkshakes after an appropriate interval. I was dead-tired but happy when we arrived at home around 12:30 am. Kathy’s marathon birthday continues, unchecked.

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Beautiful Birthday Bash

On Friday we celebrated Kathy’s birthday.

Some people are born on the 29th of February, and can only truly celebrate their birthday once every four years. I once worked at a chemical company with a 9-year-old computer programmer who had held that job for more than 12 years.

Others are born near Christmas, or their birthdays are overshadowed by some other major event or occasion — some of them eke out unhappy lives plaintively wishing that someone would celebrate them.

Not so in this family. Birthdays are a big deal for us all, led by Kathy’s passion for celebration — a typical birthday includes massive decorations (Kathy routinely stays up past 2 am hanging streamers & signs), breakfast in bed, an elaborate party, an avalanche of presents, and immunity from all regular work or school for at least the actual birth day itself. When we eat the cake, we always sing “Happy Birthday” and blow out the candles twice (once is never quite enough).

Kathy holds to this philosophy with regard to her own birthday, as well. So it begins in early June, with not-so-subtle hints about how it will “soon be my birthday”. Excitement typically builds to a fever pitch a day or two before her birthday, tapering off a week or so later. Eventually the festivities fade to whatever passes for normalcy in this household around the end of the month, just in time for Kathy’s brother Thom’s birthday.

Two years ago, disaster struck. In all other ways, it was a very good day, but with regard to birthdays, it was terrible: our daughter Sarah had the unmitigated nerve to be born on the 16th of July, the same day as Kathy! We begged and pleaded with the hospital staff to forge the birth certificates, but they took refuge in some legal technicality and refused, point-blank. (Too bad I didn’t have this blog back in those days — I could have traded on my influence by threatening to negatively expose them to my vast readership.)

Last year wasn’t too bad — Sarah was contented with the traditional piece of chocolate cake, and preferred the wrapping paper anyway. But this year the relentless creep of her individuality made itself felt — Kathy had to actually share her birthday.

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The older kids tried to make it up to her. Joshua organized the breakfast-in-bed committee, and Rachel covered the kitchen in crepe-paper streamers. Daniel served as the “right-hand man” and (like many who have served in that capacity) it was not entirely clear how he contributed. They all conspired with a neighbor to purchase presents in advance, and wrapped them the night before, secreting them away in Joshua’s room. It isn’t every mom that can have fresh fruit, chocolate milk and blueberry waffles served to them in bed at 8:20 am. Following the breakfast, they wheeled in the kid’s video player and watched an episode of “Little House on the Prairie”.

I made reservations at a Thai restaurant for that evening, and met Kathy & four friends for dinner there, while Annjanette and Sierra graciously babysat for the entire tribe (our five plus three Burt children). Kathy really seemed to enjoy the time with these dear friends — gifts were presented, pictures were taken and we went for a walk along the Poulsbo waterfront at sunset.

But all the time, it was there in our minds — Kathy is really sharing this birthday with our youngest little girl. When we got home, all the kids pretended to have fallen asleep draped around the living room (even the babysitters) — Kathy and I were completely duped and tiptoed around wondering what to do! It was a good joke, and a fun ending to the day (especially when the babysitters refused to accept payment)!

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On Saturday we opened presents, pretty much all day. Since I had not managed to wrap anything in advance, each gift required a trip to the wrapping station I had assembled on the deck — I am a very slow wrapper. We tried to give Kathy a “not in charge” day, but with five kids, a lot of the parenting splashed on her anyway. It was a very pretty day; certainly the Olympic Peninsula cannot be accused of failing to produce weather fitting the honor of Kathy’s special day. I tried to have the kids come to me rather than bothering Kathy, and Joshua graciously made lunch for everyone — we did manage to give her some time off. Typically, she couldn’t stand to be left out of things, and followed us around, even when we were all out on the deck trying to give her a break. I even changed a diaper or two — a chore I have pretty much abdicated ever since I started my job in Seattle.

I did have one ‘coup’ — Kathy had asked for a new cordless phone, and it occurred to me to give both my birthday girls a new phone. Sarah’s phone was a big hit — the phone allows me to record a message that she can listen to when I’m away at work. Sarah hardly puts it down and pretty much all the kids have thoroughly enjoyed it — a well-spent $7.

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For some reason, Sarah got the idea that it was my birthday. Each time a gift was opened (most of them were for Kathy), she would gently take it from her Momma and bring it to me for approval. I got a good chuckle out of this; perhaps a little too much — but I found it very amusing in a sort of ironic way.

Kathy hates for her birthday to end; this year I’m a bit more clever than usual. Instead of paying extra shipping charges to ensure that all her gifts arrived on time, I deliberately ordered them with the cheapest shipping modes, so that some will be late in coming. I’m expecting several gifts throughout the week, and (with my sloth-like wrapping speed) I expect to parlay this birthday out for another 8 or 10 days at least.

I don’t know what the future will hold — can Kathy and Sarah work through this whole birthday conflict, without a lot of bloodshed or expensive therapy? Maybe one of them can shift to another day (or week, or month?) but it is hard to see how it will work out. I guess each day has enough trouble for itself — we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. For now, Sarah thinks that she got a square deal, and we just have another two weeks or so of Kathy’s birthday celebration. We haven’t yet made a cake, so we can probably spin that into a couple of days, if only to clean up the mess.

Some people might think that this is a little excessive. “She’s a grown woman”, they might exclaim — “Why is she carrying on as though her birthday is such a big deal?” But we know that merely conceals their secret envy. How many of us ever got enough celebration as children or adults? One of the really special things about my Kathy is the joy and fun that she brings into even the most commonplace of household rituals. If that means we spend the month of July singing “Happy Birthday”, then it is well worth the effort.

It’s true, though — the party hats and noisemakers do start to get a little shabby, after the third week of parties.

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Challenge Authority

Last week I had the opportunity to worship at a nearby Bible Church. The pastor spoke on the desirability of trusing in God over man (Psalm 118:8-9) and the unreliability of the “carnal” (worldly) mind … as opposed to the spiritually-oriented mind. He began with a call to “Distrust Opinion” and included himself among those to be distrusted. While many give lip-service to the priority of scripture over man’s teaching or tradition, I have found that many pastors think that they are, by definition, exempt from being questioned, challenged, distrusted or held to account. Yet pastors are in no way exempt from falling into patterns of worldly thinking and some have led many astray. I found it very encouraging to hear a pastor declare from the pulpit that his congregation must carefully study and pursue the scripture as their primary source for God’s revelation, and that they should not just take his word as normative in spiritual teaching. Naturally, I didn’t take his word for that. :)

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Sarah takes her Biblical doctrine very seriously.

As it turns out, the scripture has quite a bit to say about this. One of the foremost examples is when Peter and John were dragged before the Sanhedrin for the terrible sin of healing a man (another example of the truth of my “No Good Deed Ever Goes Unpunished” motto!). They were instructed by the supreme religious leaders of their day to be silent on the “minor” doctrinal matter of the Deity of Jesus Christ:

“But Peter and John replied: ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’” Acts 4:19-20

Or there is always the case of Stephen, charged with blasphemy against the temple and the law, standing before the high priest, boldly rebuking the Jews who rejected their own Messiah:

“You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him … you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.” Acts 7:51-53

The early church was founded by men of faith who were not afraid to stand up to the so-called and self-appointed guardians of righteousness, often blinded by pride and greed and fear. Throughout the history of the Church, men of faith and boldness have challenged and opposed the established authorities, as in the Protestant Reformation. Stephen was martyred, and many of the early reformers also died for their challenge to the Catholic church. There are consequences today as well, for those who hold to scripture and oppose a particular pastor or a church’s leaders. Look at the division within the Episcopal church as some attempt to uphold scriptural condemnation of homosexuality, in the face of those who attempt to marginalize the scriptures or pretend it doesn’t apply.

I was reading yesterday in I Corinthians, where Paul writes about the difference between the spiritually-minded man and his worldly counterpart:

“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgement:” I Corinthians 2:14-15

I am not advocating “Lone Ranger” Christianity. Each of us is an integral part of the body of Christ and is subject to various authorities, including those in spiritual authority over us. And yet, we require no high priest but Christ himself … we are empowered through the Holy Spirit to interpret scripture and to understand spiritual things for ourselves, to the extent that we have become “spiritually minded”. In II Corinthians, chapter 11, Paul warned against those who claim to have special spiritual authority yet teach contrary to the gospel and the scriptures:

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. II Corinthians 11:13-15

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David, illustrating his reaction to false apostles.

We are responsible to be on our guard against false prophets (II Peter chapter 2):

“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” I John 4:1

Although it can seem a daunting task, we who call on the name of Jesus and are filled with the Holy Spirit are able to tell the difference between truth and falsehood. Sadly, many believers are carnally-minded and are deceived all too easily, cutting themselves off from the Holy Spirit:

“Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” Romans 8:5

The Church today is badly in need of reform. Bit by bit, doctrinal values once widely accepted have been compromised and traded away by the major denominations in our country. One group permits homosexuals to openly serve as pastors, while another elevates women to the role of elder. Many Christians hold to a “Health and Wealth Gospel” that reduces our God to a giant vending machine. Some no longer accept scripture as inerrant, while others wave away portions of scripture as “not applicable to the modern day Church”. Most churches do not exercise any effective form of church discipline or hold their flock accountable in any meaningful way. Less than 5% of evangelical Christians tithe, (let alone more sacrificial giving) according to recent studies. Ignorance of the scriptures (particularly the Old Testament) is rampant among lay leaders and teachers.

Those who have minds set on what the Spirit desires must hold firm against this attrition of the soul and speak out against the false teachers who chip away at faith in the name of tolerance and liberalism.

If you find your thinking dominated by fear, bitterness, hatred, malice, greed or pride; if your goals are set in terms of satisfying your flesh (personal comfort, gain, happiness), then you likely do not have your mind set on what the Spirit desires, and can easily be deceived.

Seek to practice love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22) … set your mind on what the Spirit desires. This will protect you from all kinds of error and keep you busy in good works as a bonus.

But whatever you do, don’t accept another person’s word for what God desires. Weigh every doctrine, evaluate every teaching, question the authority and legitimacy of anyone who claims to occupy the spiritual high ground. Any godly person will be delighted to be held accountable in this way, and will be thrilled to see you thinking for yourself. False teachers will generally flee such accountability or will at least be revealed by their hostile reaction to any attempt to question their authority.

Each of us stands or falls to our own Master; and He is able to make us stand.

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Chutzpah — an Unsolved Mystery

Riding the ferry and rubbing elbows with a large sampling of commuters, I have the opportunity to see all kinds of people and many varieties of behavior. One characteristic which recently came to my attention is chutzpah, that special aggressive edge of indifference to societal pressures that some people seem to have. It is difficult to define, but it seems to include an habitual “me first” orientation and a sense of individual freedom in the absence of personal accountability. Chutzpah seems to contain a thread of entitlement and a “I’m going to get my share” mentality that (at least in some) overrides the constraints of politeness and fairness.

As you wait to board the ferry at the Bainbridge Island terminal, the passenger ramp is divided into two lanes by a series of cones connected by orange tape. The convention seems to be that the southern lane is for passengers boarding the ferry, while the northern lane is for those exiting the ferry. Nearly everyone follows this tradition, perhaps to avoid being trampled by the disembarking passengers; by the time I get to the terminal, there are usually upwards of 100 people waiting in the right-hand lane like cattle at a slaughterhouse (minus the manure and mooing).

There is a woman, perhaps Samoan or Filipino, who somehow manages to arrive at the terminal at pretty much the same time as me every morning. She habitually wears shorts and white or grey colors, and always carries a small backpack. Instead of waiting in line with the other cattle, er, passengers, she strides down the exit lane and places herself at the front of the line. Somehow she avoids being trampled, and she is among the first to board the ferry. The resentful stares of the other passengers seem to make no impression on her, she appears entirely unabashed and seems to accept the empty exit lane as her appropriate due.

We all would like to do this. How many times have you wanted to ride the shoulder and jump ahead of merging traffic? Many of us suspect that all the rest of the people on the planet were simply put there to provide a backdrop for the center of all creation, which is me (or you, depending on perspective). But we are hampered by our own socialization, the inculcated sense of the rights and prerogatives of others … ultimately we care more about social opinion than we do about squeezing maximum advantage out of life.

The funny thing is, we are all arriving at Seattle at pretty much the same time. Unless she is willing to stand at the front of the ferry for the entire trip, it will be much more difficult for her to be among the first to disembark. While there are certain seats that are preferred, there is a lot of room on the ferry and little difference between those who board first and those who board one hundred and first.


I couldn’t stand it. I had to discover the dire purpose that drove this woman to disregard all social mores and push herself forward in this way. I walked to the front of the boat and found the woman (pictured here) sitting among the forward seats. Sure enough, as we approached Seattle, she positioned herself so as to be among the first of passengers to disembark. But she could be the last to board the ferry and still be among the first to disembark, since people don’t gather outside until a few minutes before we arrive in Seattle. A more casual investigator would have concluded that she was “just one of those ferry wackos”, but I am made of sterner, curiouser, stuff.

I followed her in my best Inspector Clouseau manner to see if she hurried to catch a bus or some other form of transport, but she proceeded at a slow pace and took the foot ramp across Alaskan Way into downtown Seattle. I can only conclude that she is one of those who hates to be behind other people. Maybe one day I’ll dare to ask her why she does it … although I’m not sure I really want to confront someone with that much chutzpah. Until then, it is an unsolved mystery.

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A Bad Deed

My older children read my recent “Pantless in Seattle” blog entry and found it wanting. “It wasn’t very funny,” they said.

You would think that, with all of Seattle to choose from, I would have little difficulty in finding humorous content. But, then, maybe the problem is with me. It is true that I tend toward dry and sardonic humor rather than slapstick comedy … I can see how my children would find that disappointing.

The makers of Jelly Belly candies are marketing a new candy-coated chocolate that they call “JBs” — a recent radio commercial suggests that a lot of fun things could be even more fun. They propose a birthday party on a roller coaster (you hear the voice of an anguished boy shouting, “My presents!” over the clank and roar of a roller coaster, suggesting the havoc that centrifugal force and gravity would play on a birthday party). They also suggest adding clowns to baseball games, which I think would probably liven-up an otherwise boring sport, especially with the Mariners in last place.

“It’s a line drive, off Crazy Tom at third base, picked up by the shortstop … who gets a pie in the face from Laughing Larry Briskin!” says the announcer. The world could definitely use more slapstick.

But sometimes life is not so funny, especially when there is sin involved. Yesterday I was a little late leaving the house, and hence was driving a little more aggressively than I usually do. Exiting the highway at Poulsbo, I roared around the left-turning traffic in the right lane (legal, but not at the speed I was traveling) and cut in front of a small red sedan in time to make my subsequent left turn at the next traffic light. My reckless antics did not go unnoticed … the two men in the red sedan were shaking their heads, and the motorcycle cop in the oncoming traffic gave me a few seconds of close attention.

My relief that the motorcycle policeman did not turn around was short-lived … soon I became aware that the red sedan was following me to my bus stop. As I parked, I reflected on the fact that I much prefer my reckless driving to be kept on an anonymous level … I’d rather not be held to account by a real flesh & blood person. I sighed, and walked over to the red car to apologize. The passenger, who I now recognized as a fellow-commuter, looked particularly disgusted. He dismissed my excuse about being in a hurry to catch the bus: “You had five minutes to spare.” After renewing my apologies (this time without an excuse) they grudgingly forgave me. As I walked away, they mentioned that my left front tire was nearly flat (having had a recent opportunity to observe it at close quarters).

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This is the bus that I ride. I didn’t think the guys I cut off would appreciate having their picture taken.

I am not a very observant person. How long would it have taken me to notice that something was amiss with not one, but both of my front tires? I suspect that, had I not apologized, those men would not (in a passive-aggressive sort of justice) have mentioned anything about my tire. Where would I have been, when one or both of those tires finally gave up the ghost? In the evening the car was still (barely) driveable and I was able to limp to a filling station and fill the tires long enough to get to Costco, where I had them both replaced.

When I was in the Army, I acquired this motto: “No good deed ever goes unpunished.” I have found this to be nearly true … many “good deeds” result in negative consequences, sometimes from surprising sources. While this line of thinking is a bit on the cynical side, I find it helpful to consider the likely cost of a good deed in advance, not allowing that cost to discourage me unduly. My Dad even lettered it on a small plaque for me, and it hangs on the wall above my desk. But it would seem that I have overlooked a possible corollary, “No bad deed is unforgiveable.”

Of course, this is only possible within the context of the grace of God and the forgiveness available through the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. If you don’t love God, and if you haven’t accepted Jesus as your Savior, then your bad deeds are, indeed, unforgiven (along with your so-called good deeds). If you find yourself in that case, I recommend you repair that condition immediately … write to me and I’ll be glad to tell you how.

The moral of the story is twofold: 1) always apologize quickly, and 2) God’s power is able to turn a bad deed into a good outcome.

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