I have an urgent news flash for you:  Just because you know something is wrong, that doesn’t mean you’ll avoid it.

Shocking, I know.  And the corollary is also true: Just because you know you’re supposed to do something, that doesn’t mean you’ll do it.

Suppose you could interview Jonah – the Old Testament’s version of Gilligan – and ask him what the most important requirement was for prophets. What do you think he’d say?  My guess is that he would tell you that a prophet’s number one job is to speak what he hears the Lord saying to speak.

Why, then, did Jonah have to travel from the boat to the belly to the burp to the beach before he decided to do what his own standard said to do?

Resurrect a first-century Pharisee and ask him what it took to please God, and you’d probably hear something about keeping the law and prophets, serving God and walking in humility and discipline.

Why, then, did Jesus refer to the scribes and Pharisees as unwilling to lift a finger to meet a need, doing all their deeds to be noticed by men, loving the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and insisting on being called by respectful titles in public?  If serving God faithfully was so important to them, why did the Son of God warn people not to be like them?

Whenever the bad news breaks out about somebody who has shocked us with their oh-no, no-no behavior, we often ask silly questions like, “Well didn’t they know that was wrong?”  Of course they did.  Why, then, would someone violate their own standards of right and wrong?  I’ll give you eight reasons to think about in a minute.  But first, let me deal with the so-what question.

We live in a culture that often proposes knowledge as the solution to all our problems.  For example, in the wake of all the accounting scandals in 2001-02, red-faced business schools admitted they no longer taught ethics and rushed in to fix the problem.  With the rise of sexually-transmitted diseases in various areas has come a new push to educate the population.  But knowledge alone, while preferable to ignorance, has never solved anything.  In fact, knowledge creates as many problems as it solves because it doesn’t address the issues of the soul.

Well if knowledge alone doesn’t work, then surely legislation will.  Right?  Tell you what.  Let’s make it against the law to kill somebody and see if that eliminates murders.  Let’s threaten to put people in prison who steal stuff and see if theft goes down.  Seriously?  We’ve been trying that since the serpent arrived on the scene in Eden.

Maybe if we can understand what would drive somebody to defy their own standards, we can help empower some wise choices.  Here are eight reasons to consider:

1.  Pleasure

Start with the obvious.  It feels good.  Not in the long run, of course, when the guilt and shame and humiliation show up.  But when you’ve forgotten what it feels like to have adrenaline rush through your veins, or haven’t felt love (or the illusion of it) for so long, it’s easy to check your principles at the door.

2.  Money and Stuff

Of course, this isn’t those pieces of linen and paper with pictures of dead people on them.  It’s the illusion of what money can do for you – of what it can buy.  I used to have a friend who would say to me, “If money is the solution to your problems, you don’t have a problem.”  But tell that to the person who is desperate, or who feels like he can’t compete with those who do have it.  Tell that to the person who’s just gotten drunk in the rush that comes from an influx of cash.  Again, it’s a case of short-term thinking.  But that doesn’t stop people from violating their conscience or sometimes selling their souls for a little more stuff.

3.  Pride – to look good

This one, like the previous two, goes all the way back to Eve.  She saw that the forbidden fruit was to be desired to make her wise.  Bottom line, she wanted to look good, at least to herself.  Today it’s more about looking good to others or feeling good about yourself.  Neither of those are bad in themselves.  But when it leads to attitudes of superiority, arrogance, or defiance against God, the old proverb is still true – pride goes before the fall.  But prior to that fall, it’s pretty alluring and deceiving.

4.  Fear of rejection

Sometimes people violate their conscience out of fear.  The most obvious of these has to do with peer pressure (and don’t think for a minute that peer pressure is reserved for adolescents).  I don’t care who you are or how old, rejection – especially by the “in group” – still hurts.  And I’ve seen countless people “go along to get along” all the way to stupid.  Or unemployment.  Or prison.  Or the graveyard.

5.  Fear of loss

“But what if I lose everything?”  “But what if he leaves me?” “I’ve got to keep this job – do you know what the economy is like out there?”  The fear of loss leads people to make bad choices in the short run and hope that they can fix everything later.  But “later” often brings new fears of its own.  The issue here is the fear, not the loss.  When you live your life driven by inner fear, you will eventually compromise your convictions, no matter what your intentions are.

6.  Ambition/power

The allure of power – of being in a position where you can tell people what to do, purchase loyalty or compliance, or punish and reward people – can be an intoxicating thing.  Before you claim that doesn’t interest you, think about how many TV shows or movies you watch about weak or powerless people.  Ambition often leads to “just this once” kinds of thinking.  I’ll do it just this once, because the greater goal is worth it.  But “just this once” is rarely ever just once.

7.  The appearance of a no-win situation

This one is tricky.  Now we’re in the land of the moral dilemma, where there is no clear-cut “right” answer.  And frankly, sometimes there isn’t.  But sometimes appearances are deceiving.  It appears to be no-win because doing the right thing in the short run leads to short-term pain.  Most no-win situations have long-term-win options.  We just don’t want to make that choice if it involves suffering in the meantime.

8.  Urgency

Sometimes people cross their own boundaries because they believe they’re in a desperate situation or a desperate hurry.  They feel as though their back is to the wall and they have to do something fast, even if it’s wrong.  People use this in sales all the time – ever hear the words “today only?”  This also shows up in politics, wartime, business, and church world.  The illusion is that we can correct a bad decision today with an improved decision tomorrow.

There are others, I’m sure.  But you’ll notice that in these are four recurring themes:  illusion, fear, short-term and desire.  And there are many approaches to protecting yourself from stupid choices.  But I would suggest starting with what LifeVesting is all about:

Abundance – I live in an abundant universe, created by an abundant God, who wants me to have an abundant life.

Legacy – I have the power to influence and bless others long after my life on earth is over.

Increase: – I will receive an increase on my life choices in proportion to my willingness to invest and wait.

Freedom:  – I will be served by the people and things I invest in and serve.

Eternity:  – I have the opportunity to affect the quality of eternity by the choices I make.

With these five principles as your guide, and the courage to see past the immediate and stay anchored to the truth, you can challenge the short-term thinking and illusions that threaten to paralyze you.

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