WHEN FACED WITH A CHOICE (LIES – Part 3)

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. [Philippians 2:3-4 (ESV)]

coreopsisWhile writing about lies these last few days, I recalled Mark Twain’s Was it Heaven? or Hell?, a short story in which the principle of absolute truth is challenged by that of Christian love. The widowed Margaret and her 16-year old daughter Helen live with their two elderly maiden aunts, Hannah and Hester. The aunts are uncompromisingly strict in their moral code and any sort of lie is inexcusable. When Helen admits having told a small and harmless lie, the aunts demand that she confess to her mother who is ill in bed.

It is only after the doctor visits that the sisters learn that both Margaret and Helen have typhoid fever. When the doctor asks the sisters if any situation could be a valid reason for a lie, they maintain they’d never lie to shield a person from injury or shame—not even to save someone from pain or grief. Positive that any lie would cost them their souls, they vow never to tell a lie of any kind, not even one of courtesy, kindness or compassion.

Not knowing that her daughter is sick in bed, Margaret assumes Helen’s absence from her side is to prevent her from getting typhoid. When Margaret asks about the girl’s well-being, Aunt Hester hesitantly replies that Helen is well when, in fact, her health is rapidly failing. Learning of Hester’s deceit, Hannah reprimands her sister for lying but, the following day, when Margaret asks Hannah about the youngster, she also lies that Helen is well. Not wanting to give Margaret the cruel truth that her daughter is dying, the sisters regularly reassure her that Helen is happy and healthy. As the girl’s health further deteriorates, the aunts even forge cheery notes to reassure her sick mother. When Helen dies, the aunts continue to bring her mother news of the girl’s well-being and, to explain the noise during her wake, they even tell Margaret they’re having a party. When Margaret dies, Hannah and Hester agree that she was blessed never to have known of her daughter’s death.

At midnight, an angel of the Lord appears and says, “For liars a place is appointed. There they burn in the fires of hell from everlasting unto everlasting. Repent!” The women fall to their knees but, rather than repent, they say they’d tell the same lies again. The last words of the story ask this simple question, “Was it Heaven? or Hell?”

Mark Twain was not a Christian so he can be excused for not understanding that the sins of a Christian already are forgiven. Nevertheless, the underlying question remains—is every lie, no matter its reason or purpose, a sin? Were the sisters’ lies a sin or did their act of love trump the sin of a lie? After three days of writing about deception, I still don’t know the answer. While we have a God of truth, truth is not god! The Apostle Paul asked, “Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?” adding, “If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” [Galatians 1:10] If we come to a time when we have to choose between truth and deception, perhaps we should ask whose approval we are seeking and who we would be serving with our actions.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”… The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. [Galatians 5:13-14,22-23 (ESV)]

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THE GRAY AREA (Lies – Part 2)

Therefore, the proud may not stand in your presence, for you hate all who do evil. You will destroy those who tell lies. The Lord detests murderers and deceivers. [Psalm 5:5-6 (NLT)]

gray catbirdYesterday, when writing about notable liars in Scripture, I thought of other less commendable circumstances when people lied. When David was on the run from Saul, he arrived in the town of Nob and visited Ahimelech, the high priest. Although his purpose was to obtain food for his men and a weapon for himself, David blatantly lied and said he was there on a private matter for the king and lied again to explain being weaponless. Ahimelech, who didn’t know of the rift between Saul and David, gave David bread for his men along with Goliath’s sword.

While the lies told by Rahab, the midwives, and Elisha can be justified, David’s lies can’t and Scripture gives us no reason to think Ahimelech was an adversary. Rather than taking the easy way through deception, David should have trusted God, explained the situation honestly, and left it up to Ahimelech as to whether or not he would help.

David probably thought his deception harmless but it wasn’t! Saul’s chief herdsman, Doeg the Edomite, heard the exchange and reported it to the king. Misconstruing the priest’s aid to David as treason, Saul ordered the death of all the priests in Nob. Obliging the king, Doeg killed 85 priests and slaughtered everyone in their families. When David learned of the massacre, he regretted his action and learned a valuable but costly lesson about honesty and integrity.

Although the Doeg never lied, he failed to tell the whole truth. When reporting the priest’s aid to David, he neglected to mention that David lied to the priest. When Ahimelech tried to explain that he had no knowledge of any plot against Saul, Doeg had a second opportunity to clarify the situation, but he didn’t and his half-truth was as sinful as any lie!

Like Doeg, Samuel also told a half-truth. Although his real purpose was to anoint a new king when he arrived in Bethlehem, he said he came to offer a sacrifice. While misleading, his answer was truthful since he’d brought a heifer with him and did have a feast. The difference between his half-truth and Doeg’s was that God instructed the prophet to answer that way!

Nevertheless, people played fast and loose with the truth several times in 1 Samuel. Saul lied to Samuel about obeying the Lord’s command to completely destroy the Amalekites and all they owned when he only destroyed what was of little or no value. After planning a ruse to test Saul’s intentions toward David, Jonathon lied to his father about David’s whereabouts. Michal helped David escape from Saul’s men by making it look like her husband was asleep in his bed. When her subterfuge was discovered, she falsely claimed that David had threatened to kill her if she hadn’t helped. Twice, David deceived King Achish and the Philistines: first, by feigning madness and later by making the Philistines think him an ally who was raiding the Jerahmeelites and Judeans when he really was raiding non-Israelite allies to the Philistines. Saul later deceived the Witch of Endor about his identity.

Some of these lies and half-truths seem justified while others do not. Some seem incredibly self-serving and some served others. While some situations seem clear cut, many others aren’t. Is there a gray area between absolute and complete truth and outright deception? How do we know what is right? Let us continue to look to Scripture for our answer.

Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. [1 Peter 3:10-11 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

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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