556) Good Choices (part two)


     (continued…)  In the year 2000, 22-year old Wes Moore achieved the pinnacle of academic success.  He was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, the most prestigious post-graduate scholarship in the world.  He was given two full years, all tuition and living expenses paid, to study anything of his choosing at the oldest and most famous university in the world, England’s Oxford University.  This is an incredible honor and opportunity, and in every field of endeavor, in any place in the world, the doors swing wide open to a Rhodes scholar.

     On the very same day that Wes Moore was reading an article about his Rhodes scholarship in the Baltimore Sun newspaper, he also read an article about another young African-American man, this one also named Wes Moore.  This other Wes Moore was facing charges of first degree murder for the killing of a police officer.  The two young men were unrelated, and had never even heard of each other.  But both had roots in Baltimore, and they had similar stories of growing up in poverty without a father.  One graduated from college, had a Rhodes scholarship, and a world of opportunity ahead of him.  The other would spend the rest of his life in prison.  Out of curiosity, the successful Wes Moore contacted the ‘other’ Wes Moore in prison, got to know him and his story, and then wrote a book about their two lives, a book that powerfully demonstrates the importance of good choices every step of the way.

     Both boys grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, living in terrible neighborhoods.  There, the big money was in stealing and drug dealing, and where any attempt to do what is right– even making a positive effort at school– would result in being despised by all the other kids in the neighborhood.  Both boys were at first unable to resist temptation, and both ended up in hand-cuffs in the back seat of police cars.  Both received second chances, and that was where their stories began to differ.

     Both had absent fathers and caring mothers.  But the one mother showed her care by denying and then excusing her son’s drug addiction, making it easier for him to continue making his wrong choices.  It was when he was robbing a jewelry store for money to sustain his drug habit, that he killed the police officer, who was the father of five children.  This troubled Wes Moore now serves a life sentence with no chance for parole.

     The other mother showed her care by firm and persistent discipline, and by sending her son to a private school she could not afford.  She did all she could to encourage better choices, and when he continued to be a problem, she threatened to send him to a private military high school.  He thought she was bluffing, but she wasn’t, and off he went.  His grandparents mortgaged their home to pay the tuition.  He ran away five times in the first four days, but finally, the discipline wore him down, he made some friends, and decided to stay.  Four years later he graduated first in his class of 750, and was on his way to success.

     The successful Wes Moore writes in his book, “One of us is free, and has experienced things that he never even thought to dream about as a kid, but the other will spend every day until his death behind bars…  The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine.  The tragedy is that my story could have been his.”  And while pointing out the right choices he made along the way, he acknowledges the role of the others in his life, along with the hand of God.

     The successful Wes Moore had a hard-working and successful father, but that father died when Wes was only three years old, and his mother was then forced to move into that poorer part of town.  But the mother had spoken often of that good man, and even in death, the father was an inspiration to the young boy.  The father of the troubled Wes was not dead, but had never been around much.  The boy rarely saw him, and his main memory of his father was seeing his father laying in a drunken stupor on a relative’s couch.  After waking him, the father looked into little Wes’s eyes and said, “Who are you?,” before passing out again.  That father’s example did little to inspire good choices.

     Without a father, the boys sought out other role models after which to pattern their decisions and choices.  The troubled Wes looked up to his older brother, a drug dealer who always had plenty of cash.  The successful Wes, after getting tired of trying to run away from the military school, found a friend and role model in an older student, the respected leader of the best drill unit in the school.  He decided that was a far better kind of respect than what he had seen of the tough guys back in the his neighborhood, and he chose to try and gain that other kind of achievement and respect.

     To what does the scholar Wes Moore attribute his ability to make the better choices?  He gives all the credit to the place of God in his life.  In response to an interviewer’s question about his faith he said, “My grandfather was a minister and so faith played a huge role in my life.  The experience has taught me that had it not been for divine intervention, the other Wes could have had my story and I could have his.  My faith is very important to me.  I recognize my blessings and because of my experiences, my faith has taken on a greater role in my life.”

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Deuteronomy 30:15  —  (Moses said), “I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.”

Deuteronomy 30:19b-20a  —  (Moses said), “…I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.  For the Lord is your life…”

Proverbs 3:5,6  —  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.


Lord, you know what I desire, but I desire it only if it is your will that I should have it.

If it is not your will, good Lord, do not be displeased, for my will is to do your will.  Amen.

–Lady Julian of Norwich

555) Good Choices (part one)



(Verse 34b:  …He put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.)

     What was it that made the Good Samaritan stop and help that poor beaten man on the side of the road (Luke 10:25-37)?  The Bible does not say that he knew the man, and, whoever beat up the man on the road might still be lurking nearby behind some rocks waiting for their next victim.  Common sense, safety, and self-interest were all on the side of passing by on the other side of the road, which is just what the first two travelers had done.  Why did this man stop?

     Jesus tells us very little in this parable about the man’s possible motives, saying only that ‘he took pity on him.’  This is a parable not about thinking the right thing, or even about believing the right thing.  There are certainly other parts of the Bible that talk about those things.  But this parable is about simply choosing to do the right thing.  “What must I DO to inherit eternal life?” was the question that prompted the parable.  “DO THIS and you will live,” said Jesus after telling the man to love God with him whole heart, mind, and soul, and to love his neighbor as himself.  Then, after the questioner asked ‘Just who is my neighbor,’ Jesus told this parable.  It is the story of three men, each who made a choice.  Two men chose to do the wrong thing and ignore a man in need, and a third man who chose to do the right thing and go out of his way to help a stranger in need.  Jesus then said we should “Go and do likewise.”

     The words of Moses to the people in Deuteronomy 30 are also all about choosing, and about the consequences of our choices.  In verses 15-18 Moses, near the end of his life, said to the people on the verge of finally entering the promised land:

I set before you today life and prosperity, or death and destruction.  For I command you to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees, and laws; for then you will live and increase, and the Lord will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.  But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and to worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed.

     Sometime later, Joshua, the man who followed Moses and led the people into the promised land, repeated the challenge.  After they were settled on the land, and when Joshua was near the end of his life, he said to the people, “Choose this day whom you shall serve, but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

     There are big and little choices.  Children make choices every day, but the consequences are usually short term.  Should I tell the truth or tell a lie?  Should I clean my room as I was told or should I continue to play and see if someone else does it?  Should I hit my little brother, or should I just tell my mom that he used his color crayons on the walls in my room?  These are small choices with short term consequences, except that in even those small choices, patterns begin to emerge, and character is being formed.  Lying might become a habit, or, hitting and anger might become the way to deal with everything.  On the other hand, the child might begin to learn that honesty is indeed the best policy, or that hard work and diligence brings its own rewards.  

     Before long there are bigger choices with lifelong consequences.  Should I go to work or go to college?  Should I take this job or prepare for that career?  Should I marry this one, or are there too many red flags in the relationship?  Choices are made and lives are set, and this is done on the basis of previous patterns of deciding and choosing.  We don’t need Moses or Joshua to tell us that choices are important.

     But we do need Moses and Joshua and Jesus and the rest of the Bible to put before us that most important choice of all, the choice of who we will ultimately believe in and who we will serve.  Moses said, “I set before you today life and prosperity, or death and destruction.”  And Joshua said, “Choose this day whom you shall serve; as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”  That is the most important choice of all, that choice has not only long term consequences for this life, but also for the eternal life which God offers beyond this world and this life.

     In the meantime, there are those day to day choices, and in those too we must be faithful.  The Bible tells us that our ultimate decision and choices about God and eternity will influence all those other, day to day, choices in our lives in the here and now.  (continued…)


Luke 10:25  —  On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus.  “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Luke 10:36-37  —  (Jesus said), “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”  Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Joshua 24:15  —  (Joshua said), “…Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…  But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”


Grant, O Lord, that what we have said with our lips, we may believe in our hearts and practice in our lives; and of thy mercy keep us faithful unto the end; for Christ’s sake.  Amen.  –John Hunter