The Right Thing–Happy Valley and Our Lives

Doing the right thing is so complicated at times, isn’t it?  Or at least it seems that way.

Tonight, if you haven’t heard, legendary Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno was fired amidst a child abuse scandal at the school.

I won’t go into the details of the case, and I will assume you know them, if not, go to USA Today or ESPN.  But the details we need are this: In March 2002, Joe Paterno was apparently told by his graduate assistant that Jerry Sandusky, a former coordinator for PSU, had been seen doing something of a sexual nature to a ten-year old boy in the locker room.  And he passed the information along to his superiors.  Again, that’s as graphic as I will get tonight.  Read the grand jury report if you want details. I warn you, don’t read them aloud to your children….they are extremely disturbing.

I say these things only to set the stage for my post tonight.  Here is what most people would call a heinous crime, an unthinkable act of sin and moral depravity, and here’s Joe Paterno.  This man stood for 50 years as an icon, not just on the football field, but an icon of integrity off the field.  Now, all of that is now tarnished, whether you think it fair or not.  Why? Because men, supposedly good men, failed to make the right decision.

He (Paterno) is not implicated in the case.  Again, Paterno is not facing charges.  He told his superiors, including athletic director Tim Curley, who has, along with other school officials, stepped down.  So, legally, he did what he had to do.  Did he do enough morally?  I don’t know, because right now, we don’t know how much Paterno knew.  So, changing from my reaction last night, I’ll refrain from making a judgment on Paterno’s moral level of responsibility.

My questions lie with the graduate assistant as much as anyone.  He apparently sees a child being raped, and he doesn’t call the police?  Really?  While Joe Paterno might need to hold some responsibility, the man who saw this act needs to be held accountable as well.  When it comes down to it, though, everyone failed at Penn State by failing to investigate more.  I would wait to make a judgment on how responsible Paterno is, but at the heart of this matter is the failure of adults to protect children from predators, and the failure to make the right choice.

The right choice isn’t determined necessarily by what the law says.  It must go far beyond that.  The law says nothing about attempting to stop a murder, rape, or kidnapping.  It doesn’t say that we are obligated to help a child that is lost.

The Bible tells us that it is a sin to not do the right thing.  James 4:17 says “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”  It is sin.  Moving past Penn State and Paterno now, I move to our lives.  Do we consistently do the right thing?  I don’t mean giving ten percent on Sunday.  I’m not talking about artificially smiling at people so they think you love them.  I’m talking about every day, going out of our way to serve others, to love others, to do the right thing.  To take care of our children! To take care of the homeless, the poor, the hated, the outcast, those who don’t know Jesus!  Because the Word says that if we do not do these things, it is sin!

Read Proverbs.  Read James.  Read the gospel.  Doing the right thing is not just a laundry list of religious rituals.  It is daily taking up your cross, and with every single ounce of fight within you, taking up your cross, making war on sin, and living a life that is modeled after Jesus Christ’s, and that seeks to bring glory to His name.

Brothers, sisters, we’re together in this.  I confess that I do not always fight as hard as I should.  Lately I have felt and seen and suffered from spiritual warfare.  It is hard.  Win or lose, I’m exhausted, which only adds to the pressure academics has put on me this week.  So I need prayer.  But I also need to fight.  As soon as I asked God to give me supernatural strength to fight sin, a few hours later, temptation came.  I thought about it for a few minutes, then remembered how bad it felt.  How empty I felt.  And I felt this unbelievable, and God-given, surge of strength to get up, scream (which I’m sure my hall enjoyed), and walk away.  It is a war.  It is a choice, doing the right thing.  And we must do it.

I’m not saying that we will always win, that we will be perfect.  We will not be.  I’m certainly not.  Joe Paterno isn’t.  Does that take away from who he is and what he’s done?  No.  It means he’s human.  But it teaches us a lesson: No matter how good you think you are, or how you’re viewed, or how long you’ve been making the right decisions, sin is always there.  You can always slip up.  So we must constantly guard ourselves, and make the right decision, whether it be how we handle a relationship, how we talk to our professors, how we conduct ourselves in ministry, etc.  It is vital for the believer to not disregard these sins of omission, and this sin of not making the right decision.

Simply living a life of “not being bad” is not enough.  We’re called to bear fruit.  These sins of omission have brought down some mighty figures in America tonight.  And they can bring any of us down as well.  We are no better.  I say these things with love for all those involved, and not judgment.  I believe Paterno made the wrong decision, but you know, the thing is….would we have had better judgment?  I asked that earlier, but don’t think it’s an easy question.

But it’s a question we face every day.  Will we do the right thing?  Will we honor Christ in our decision-making?  I applied for summer missions tonight.  And I had to fill out my “history.”  I had to answer some questions that are uncomfortable, and you can guess what they are based on my previous posts.  It’s tough to tell people what’s happened in the past, and to trust that it will not affect their judgment of my ability to serve next summer.  But I had to be honest.  If I’m not honest, what would that say about me?  Being transparent is very important for us today, because it shows that we are real people, with real problems.

We aren’t perfect.  But may we take this lesson from a not-so Happy Valley tonight: We face a choice to make the right decision every day.  We face the day, knowing by God’s Word, the right thing to do.  When we get into our days, we know what those things are.  The question for us tonight is this: How will we respond?

When the time comes to do the right thing, to make the right choice, to do what is right, no matter what the law says….what will we do?

Keep the victims of this horrific crime in your prayers.  Keep Paterno, and all of the PSU officials, in your prayers.  Keep me in your prayers, and I’ll keep you in mine.  May tonight remind us all that none of us are safe from sin, from the devil, from temptation, and from failing in our Christian responsibilities.  We need each other.  It’s a sad night, and a scary night, for those of us who realize how real the temptation to act sinfully, or to not act righteously in omission, really is.  Spiritual warfare is real, in Happy Valley, in Birmingham, in Montevallo, Europe, Africa, everywhere.  We must respond by making the right decision.

May we do the right thing.  May we make the right choice, the right decision.  May we learn from this example, and know that no matter how much it inconveniences us, we must do the right thing, and honor the Lord.

God bless,

Neal E


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