ARE THERE RIGHTEOUS LIES (Lies – part 1)

You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. [Leviticus 19:11 (ESV)]

canna - bandana of the evergladesA 2010 study on “Human Communication Research,” found that people average 1.65 lies per day. I suspect the 1,000 they people surveyed were not completely truthful and the number is probably higher! We’re all liars but are all lies equal? Is a POW’s lie to his interrogator about his platoon’s position the same as a thief’s lie to a detective? Is an undercover policeman’s lie to a drug dealer the same as not reporting all your income on your 1040? Is deceiving someone so you can give him a surprise party the same as saying the check’s in the mail when it isn’t?

Many theologians and Biblical scholars hold that, regardless of the circumstances, a falsehood of any kind is never condoned by God and is a sin. Be that as it may, there are some notable episodes of lying by some of the Bible’s heroes. We have Rahab, the prostitute/innkeeper in Jericho who saved the lives of Joshua’s spies with a blatant lie to the king’s men. Some theologians (like Calvin and Augustine), insisting that no lie ever is permissible, condemn Rahab. In that case, perhaps Joshua and his spies should be condemned. Joshua sent his men out secretly and a spy’s purpose is to deceive people into thinking he is friend rather than foe. As long as we’re condemning liars, we might as well condemn the two midwives, Shiprah and Puah, who lied to Pharaoh and spared the lives of Hebrew baby boys. Let’s add Elisha to the list since he lied to the Aramean army before leading the blind troops straight into the city of Samaria.

Is there such a thing as a “righteous lie?” Are there situations when deception is permissible? Can it ever be the morally right thing to do? The hardliners hold that we are to obey God first and foremost—even before we look to our neighbor. For them, regardless of its size or the reason behind it, a lie is a sin. They maintain that the lies of Rahab, the midwives, and Elisha showed their lack of faith in God and they should have trusted Him enough to tell the truth regardless of the consequences.

While Augustine said, “A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving,” the other side defines a lie as an intentional falsehood that denies someone’s moral or legal right to know the truth. For them, not all falsehoods are lies and, on those occasions when people have forfeited their right to the truth (such as during a war or a criminal act),  a falsehood is ethically permissible. For this camp, whether or not a falsehood is a lie, depends on the circumstances.

Clearly, a lie for personal gain is wrong, as evidenced by the leprosy inflicted on Gehazi for lying to Elisha and the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira for their lies to Peter. But, rather than being displeased with the lies told by Rahab, the midwives, and Elisha, God seemed to reward them. Rahab and her family were saved, she married an Israelite, was an ancestor of both David and Jesus, and became one of two women listed in the Hebrews 11 “Hall of Faith.” God blessed Shiprah and Puah with families of their own and Elisha went on to perform twice as many miracles than did Elijah.

Were their falsehoods sinful lies or, because of circumstances, were they excusable and possibly commendable? In Rahab’s case, although an arrow had not yet been shot, war between Jericho and the Israelites was on the horizon and, once she hid the spies, she’d taken Israel’s side. In the case of the midwives, Pharaoh had declared war on the Hebrews by instructing the women to kill all male infants. As for Elisha, his lie occurred during a time of war between the king of Aram and Israel. The lies they told were the kind of lies told by Oskar Schindler that saved over 1,000 Jews in Germany, by the Benedictine monk Father Bruno that safeguarded 300 Jewish boys in Belgium, and by Corrie ten Boom that hid and protected Jews in the Netherlands. Would God condemn them (or others like them) for lying in the war between good and evil?

Are there ever times when deception is permissible? Can a higher moral good outweigh the sin of a lie? Can we lie to protect a life? When lying is the only way to prevent a horrible evil, is it acceptable to God? Or is such a lie a failure of our faith? I’m not sure I know the answer. John Wesley famously claimed that he would not tell one lie to save the souls of all the world. I wonder if he would lie to save a life so that he then could save a soul.

Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. [Psalm 34:13-14 (ESV)]

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ACT YOUR WAY INTO IT

I’m giving you a new commandment, and it’s this: love one another! Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another. [John 13:34 (NTE)]

As the thunder echoed across the lake, my mother-in-law and I looked out the window and watched the lightning flash, the wind rage at the trees, and the rain pour down. Summer thunderstorms at the lake were an impressive sight and, while viewing it from the safety of the cottage, my mother-in-law confided that she used to be terrified of thunderstorms. She told of the panic she experienced as a child whenever the thunder boomed, lightening flashed, and rain pelted the roof and windows of her house. Even as an adult, she’d flinch at every crack of thunder and cower in a corner during storms. Once she became a mother, however, her behavior changed when she saw that her fear was infectious. Not wanting her boys to catch her unfounded terror, she decided to put on a brave face for the youngsters and soon discovered that, by acting unafraid, she’d actually become unafraid. Instead of feeling her way into a behavior, she’d behaved her way into a feeling!

Jesus told us we are to love one another but, let’s face it, there are an awful lot of people out there who are unlovable—people we don’t even like so we really don’t want to love them. We certainly don’t feel like forgiving them, bearing their burdens or praying for them. Given a choice, we’ll even go out of the way to avoid them. Jesus, however, didn’t make an exception for the disagreeable difficult ones and certainly not for the ones who don’t look, talk, think, or act like us! With the story of the Good Samaritan, He made it clear that everyone—even our sworn enemy—is our neighbor and someone we must love!

Although that storm and our conversation took place many years ago, whenever I question how I can possibly love certain people, I remember it—how by acting brave, my mother-in-law worked her way into feeling brave. If she’d waited until she felt brave before acting fearless, she would have been afraid of storms until her dying day. She couldn’t force her feelings, but she could force her actions!

Is it hypocritical to act with love when we don’t feel love for the person? Acting with kindness and consideration, however, is not comparable to toadying up to someone or fawning over and flattering someone falsely. When we act with love, we’re not trying to curry someone’s favor; we’re obeying the Lord. When we act with love toward our neighbor, we are doing it for God. We can’t always muster up affection for someone but Christian love isn’t a feeling of affection; it is merely a wish for the other person’s good.

As followers of Christ, even when we don’t feel love, we can act with love because we love God! The Apostle John tells us that “anyone who loves God should love their brother or sister,” and they’re all our brothers and sisters! Love for God and love for our brothers and sisters are inseparable—we truly can’t love the One without loving all the others!

Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. [C.S. Lewis]

We love, because he first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” but hates their brother or sister, that person is a liar. Someone who doesn’t love a brother or sister whom they have seen, how can they love God, whom they haven’t seen? This is the command we have from him: anyone who loves God should love their brother or sister too. [1 John 4:19-21 (NTE)]

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WHAT CHANGED THEM? (Easter – Part 2)

But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. … Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” [Matthew 10:17-18,16:24 (NLT)]

rabbitThe Federal Trade Commission is charged with enforcing truth-in-advertising laws so that all advertisements are truthful, not misleading, and backed by scientific evidence. Although drug companies abide by the FTC’s regulations by listing their products’ side effects, between the fine print and the announcer’s fast talk, most consumers don’t understand them. Jesus didn’t resort to fast talk, deceit, or ambiguity when he told His disciples the cost of following him. He was brutally honest and told the disciples they would arrested, persecuted and hated because of Him.

While the disciples may not have comprehended completely, they couldn’t say they weren’t warned and Jesus told them the possibility of losing their lives was very real. Nevertheless, I imagine they thought He was speaking figuratively when He spoke of them carrying a cross. Even though He’d predicted His own death, I suspect his followers really didn’t understand what lay ahead until that fateful night when Jesus was arrested. Once He’d been tried, sentenced, and crucified, I’m sure the Lord’s cautionary words echoed in their minds and they finally understood the reality of that cross they’d be expected to carry! No wonder they cowered together in a locked room. The next step after arresting a revolutionary was to arrest his followers.

It was only John and a few women followers at the foot of the cross and it was a stranger, not a follower, who carried the cross for Christ. Jesus’ disciples, the men with whom he’d lived for three years, weren’t there to carry his heavy load or share his final hours. Rather than His friends, it was a secret follower of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea, who placed Him in a borrowed tomb. Rather than a day of rest, the disciples’ Sabbath probably was a day of mourning, disappointment, confusion, and fear. Sunday morning, with the Sabbath over, some followers returned home while the rest continued to cower together in fear.

What turned a veritable group of despondent deserters into men who bravely spread the good news of Christ the Savior? These are the same men who fled from Jesus when He was arrested and Peter publicly denied knowing Him three times that night. What caused the two disheartened men from Emmaus to return to Jerusalem and the disciples in that locked room? What turned Jesus’ followers into people who courageously faced persecution and martyrdom? Of the disciples, all but John are thought to have been martyred. They had nothing to gain from a lie but everything to lose with the truth. What turned a bunch of deserters into evangelists? They saw the risen Christ! They spoke with Him, touched his scars, and broke bread with Him. They knew it to be the truth!

We haven’t walked with Jesus, but we’ve read the words of those who have. We haven’t been in the same room with Him, but we’ve heard His voice. We’ve not touched Him, but He has touched us. We haven’t seen his wounds, but He’s healed ours. We didn’t see His ascent into heaven, but we’ve experienced his Holy Spirit. No—we haven’t actually seen the risen Christ but, as Jesus people, “We live by believing and not by seeing.” [2 Corinthians 5:7]

You can kill us. But you cannot hurt us. [Justin Martyr (c. AD 150)]

During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God. [Acts 1:3 (NLT)]

Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” [John 20:29 (NLT)]

WHEN GOD MOVES A STONE (Easter – part 1)

On the way they were asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” But as they arrived, they looked up and saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled aside. [Mark 16:3-4 (NLT)]

Easter tombAlthough Jesus repeatedly predicted that He’d rise from the dead, the women didn’t bring clean clothes for a living man that Sunday morning when they went to the tomb. Instead, they brought burial spices of their own with which to anoint His dead body. Because of the Sabbath, Jesus’ burial was rushed and His body laid in a borrowed tomb. Although Joseph and Nicodemus had anointed Him, perhaps the women were concerned that, in the men’s haste to finish before sunset, they hadn’t done a proper job of preparing the body. The spices they brought would conceal the stench of decay and, out of love for Jesus, they wanted to complete the burial rites properly.

Not knowing about the guards Pilate had posted at the tomb, the women wondered how they would manage entry into it. Many Judean tombs were caves. The opening was covered by a large disc-shaped stone set into a groove cut in the bedrock. Getting the stone in place was fairly easy as it was rolled down a slight incline to cover the tomb’s opening. Several men, however, would be needed to roll it up the incline. “Who will roll the stone away?” they asked. Even though the women didn’t know how it would be done, they trusted that it could be done and proceeded in faith.

For a moment, consider that heavy stone at the cave’s opening. It was impossible to remove from within the tomb but it wasn’t removed so Jesus could exit the tomb. The Messiah who raised the dead, walked on water, and healed the sick certainly didn’t need anyone to move the stone for Him. Regardless of size, no boulder could block the way of the one whose resurrection meant that death had been conquered. That stone wasn’t moved so He could get out; it was moved so that His followers could get in, find the tomb empty, and share the good news!

The women didn’t let their reservations about moving the stone stop them from going to the burial site and serving their Lord. What about us? When we are called to serve Him, do we worry about the stones that might block our way and allow them to stop us? Let the Easter story remind us that, just as that stone was removed for the women so they could tell the good news, God will remove the barriers blocking our way from sharing the resurrected Christ!

Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.” [Matthew 28:5-7 (NLT)]

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EROSION

Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the Lord. Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts. They do not compromise with evil, and they walk only in his paths. [Psalm 119:1-2 (NLT)]

Yellowstone RiverA few miles from our Illinois home, a giant ski jump towered over the treetops. Originally erected in 1905 by Carl Howelsen and a group of Norwegian skiers living in Chicago, it’s been rebuilt over the years and is still used today. In a curious coincidence, in 1913, the man who loved the mountains and deep snow found his way to the Colorado mountain town we once called our winter home. Although Howelsen returned to Norway in 1922, he left an indelible mark on the town by introducing it to recreational skiing and ski jumping. Not far from the hill named for him, stands a statue of the man known as Flying Norseman.

Howelsen never returned to Colorado, but I heard his son, Leif Hovelsen, speak at the dedication of that statue several years ago. It was then that I learned the legacy Howelsen left his son was even greater than the one he left our mountain town. When Leif was just a boy in 1930s Norway, Carl sent him on a delivery. Upon his return home, it was discovered that the boy had been short-changed. When his father insisted that he return and get the proper payment, the youngster balked. Not wanting to face the man who’d cheated him, the lad offered to make up the difference from his own savings. His father, however, insisted that he return to get the correct payment. It wasn’t about a few kroner, explained Carl. It was that every time we accept things like cheating, thievery, hate, depravity and deception, a little bit of our integrity erodes until none remains.

From Leif Hovelson’s life, it’s obvious that he took his father’s words to heart. Unable to accept the evils of Nazism during World War II, 19-year old Leif smuggled radio parts out of Oslo to members of the resistance fighting the Nazi occupation. Betrayed by a friend, he was captured by the Gestapo in 1943. As he was dragged from his home by soldiers, his mother’s parting words were, “Leif, never forget Jesus!” It seems that he never did!

Although he’d been placed in solitary confinement in a concentration camp, threatened with death, regularly interrogated, and tortured badly enough to lose much of his hearing, Hovelsen set his heart on reconciliation rather than revenge. After the war, he spent years in Germany working to help that country rebuild its moral and spiritual foundations. Choosing to love rather than hate, Hovelsen dedicated his life to Moral Re-Armament, an international movement with Christian roots and based around the “Four Absolutes:” absolute honesty, absolute unselfishness, absolute purity and absolute love. One of the core ideas of the movement was that changing the world begins with making changes in oneself. For Hovelsen, that change began when his father warned him of spiritual and moral erosion.

When I think of Carl Howelsen, I don’t think of the legacy he left to the sport of skiing and to the town that now boasts of 98 winter Olympic athletes. I remember the advice he gave his son and the impact it had on him.

Let us remember that, every time we accept that which is unacceptable, a little part of our soul wears away. While it takes water centuries to eat away at rock, it only takes one bad decision to start eroding our souls. We live in a world where immorality, prejudice, greed, selfishness, corruption, and dishonesty constantly assault us. If we are to be people of integrity, it is God’s standards, rather than the world’s, that must be our standards. Moreover, we can’t maintain the absolutes of honesty, unselfishness, purity, and love on our own; for that we need the power of the Holy Spirit.

Sow a thought, reap an act. Sow an act, reap a habit.
Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny.
[Attributed to both Charles Reade and Ralph Waldo Emerson]

I will lead a life of integrity in my own home. I will refuse to look at anything vile and vulgar. I hate all who deal crookedly; I will have nothing to do with them. I will reject perverse ideas and stay away from every evil. [Psalm 101:2-4 (NLT)]

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CASTING CARES

Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken. [Psalm 55:22 (NIV)]

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. [1 Peter 5:7 (NIV)]

yampa river fishingEven though I’m not an angler, whenever I read about casting my cares, I picture using a fly rod and casting my concerns out into the river so the fast moving water can carry them away to God. When we lived in the mountains, one of our favorite walking trails ran alongside the Yampa River and we often paused to watch as the fishermen (and women) cast their lines into the water. Fly fishing is all about the art of casting and a bit like poetry in motion. It was fascinating to watch an angler flick the rod back and forth, gradually increasing the speed of the motion, before finally casting the line forward so the fly would land in the perfect spot. Masquerading as a water insect, the fly is made of things like fur, feathers, fabric and tinsel and secured to a hook. Rather than purchasing flies, many fishermen spend hours tying their own flies. Not wanting to lose either fly or fish in the river, anglers use at least five different knots to securely connect the reel to the backing, fly line, leader, and tippet before finally tying on the fly.

There is an art to fly casting and fly fishermen spend years perfecting their technique, especially since no one cast is ideal for every situation. Christians, however, aren’t casting flies—they’re casting things like fear, problems, anxiety, and worry—the cares every believer faces in this fallen world. While there’s no special technique to casting those cares, like fly fishing, it’s often easier said than done. Just as a fly fisherman may labor over tying his flies and fret about choosing the perfect ones for the day’s conditions, we often spend a great deal of time focusing on our worries rather than casting them into God’s river. Just as the fisherman ties those five knots to keep from losing his fly, we tie ourselves up in knots when we’re reluctant to give up our cares to God!

The anglers casting their lines in the river want to catch and land a fish but, when we cast our cares, we want to bring in an empty line. They catch, we release! Our cares are not for God to take away from us but for us to release to Him. Because the flies on the end of a fishing line are nearly weightless and our cares often seem as heavy as boulders, casting cares seems harder than casting a fly in the river. Nevertheless, it can be done and is far more rewarding than a trophy-sized trout.

Fishermen go to the river with an empty creel and hope to return home with a full one but we go to God with a creel full of cares so we’ll end up with an empty one. Our creels may be empty but we’ll be filled with the peace of God!

He that takes his cares on himself loads himself in vain with an uneasy burden. I will cast my cares on God; he has bidden me; they cannot burden him. [Joseph Hall]

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. [John 14:27 (NIV)]

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)] 

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