THERE’S NO EXCUSE

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. [Ephesians 4:31-32 (NLT)]

If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. [Matthew 6:14-15 (NLT)]

mourning doves
The husband quietly arranged for a week’s vacation from work and the wife also arranged for a week off from her job before they joined one another on a romantic getaway. Unfortunately, they weren’t married to one another and their respective spouses were blindsided by their heartless and public betrayal. Since the man was finance director of the school district, unfounded rumors abounded in our small town that he’d absconded with funds along with someone else’s wife. Even though this occurred decades ago, I still remember my shock a week later when, having found the forbidden fruit wasn’t near as tasty as they’d expected, the two adulterers returned to town and their respective homes.

I don’t know how the betrayed husband welcomed his wife or what became of their marriage but, since the betrayed wife lived three doors down and our children played together, I do know what happened to hers. Amazingly, the deceived wife forgave her repentant husband and welcomed him home. While forgiveness doesn’t necessarily end in reconciliation, in this case it did. “How could she forgive him?” asked a shocked (and very gossipy) neighbor. “After all,” she added, “There’s just no excuse for his shameful behavior.” Her question gave me pause since I wondered the very same thing—how could she forgive such an indefensible act?

Rather than look to gossipy neighbors, however, I turned to Scripture. Does God only forgive my “excusable” sins—when I accidentally fall into the mud—and not forgive the ones in which I deliberately go play in the muck? There was no acceptable excuse for the man’s abysmal behavior and nothing could justify the way he so publicly wounded and humiliated his wife but isn’t that the point of forgiveness? Regardless of the circumstances or how we choose to justify our actions, there never is an excuse for sin! If something was excusable—if extenuating circumstances justified a transgression or if there were a valid reason behind an offense, there really would be no need for forgiveness! Forgiveness is what God does because there is absolutely no excuse for our offenses, no defense for our sinful behavior, and no exception to the rules broken by our transgressions.

There was no excuse for that adulterous couple’s behavior but one woman let her faith guide her. Choosing love over hate, hope over despair, and mercy over retaliation, she quietly forgave her repentant husband and continued their marriage. There was no excuse for Gomer’s betrayal of Hosea and yet the loving prophet redeemed her from slavery, forgave her, and welcomed her back into their home. David had no excuse for dallying with Bathsheba and Peter had none for denying Jesus yet both were forgiven. There was absolutely no excuse for the first sin and yet God loved us enough to redeem mankind with the blood of his Son, Jesus Christ.

There is no way we ever can justify any of our sins and yet, when we confess with repentant hearts, we are forgiven. It is precisely when there is no possible excuse that forgiveness is necessary. Let us never forget—if we want to be forgiven of all our sins, we are expected to do the same—even when there is no excuse!

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. [Colossians 3:13-14 (NLT)]

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WHITE LIES

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

A faithful witness does not lie, but a false witness breathes out lies. … A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will perish. [Proverbs 14:5,19:9 (ESV)]

squirrel
In the movie Liar Liar, comedian Jim Carrey portrayed a glib lawyer who plays fast and loose with the truth. After his son wishes his father would tell the truth, the insincere and conniving man finds it impossible to lie and immediately gets himself into hot water. Many of his problems, however, don’t come from telling the truth as much as they do from his callousness and insensitivity when he does. The self-centered man doesn’t know the difference between brutal honesty and truthful tact, crudeness and candor, vulgarity and restraint, or rudeness and civility. Among other things, the comedy illustrates that lying, while wrong, is often far easier than telling the truth.

At one time or another (probably more if we sell used cars), we’ve all told what we think of as “white lies.” Deception of any kind didn’t exist until Satan, the father of all lies, brought it into the garden. The deceit continued as both Abraham and Isaac lied about their wives, Sarah lied to God about laughing, Jacob and Rebecca tricked Isaac, Laban and Leah hoodwinked Jacob, Joseph’s brothers lied to Jacob, and Potiphar’s wife lied about Joseph. The lies continued as Israel’s midwives lied to Pharaoh, Pharaoh lied to Moses, Rahab lied to the king’s men, Samson lied to Delilah, Saul lied to David, both Michal and Jonathon lied to Saul, David lied to Ahimelech, Gehazi lied to Naaman, Elisha misled the Syrian army, Peter lied about following Jesus, and Ananias and Sapphira lied to Peter!

Some of those liars were good people and others were not. They all lied for different reasons and some of their falsehoods were less treacherous than others. Is there such a thing as an innocent white lie and, if so, when does it become a guilty gray? Since Rahab’s lie protected Israel’s spies, is there such as thing as a righteous lie? Can we lie to protect ourselves or someone else, to prevent needless worry, or to spare feelings? If all lying is wrong, can deception be less wrong in some situations?

Scripture, however, doesn’t appear to split hairs when it comes to lies. The Israelites were commanded to be truthful in all things and lying is condemned throughout Scripture. Jesus said he was the way and the truth and truth isn’t relative. Regardless of its size or intent, any lie is a deception and the Bible seems pretty clear about deceit; God doesn’t like it! The end never justifies the means if the means involves sin.

For the most part, a white lie is just the lazy way out of a sticky situation. It’s easier to spin off a lie than to find a way to be honest, tactful, and considerate. Nevertheless, when we tell people the dress isn’t too tight when it is, the check is in the mail when it isn’t, the procedure won’t hurt when it will, or we’re busy when we aren’t, we’ve done more than lie; we’ve given false witness and stolen the truth. Moreover, when people look in the mirror, see the postmark, feel the pain, or discover the duplicity, we’ve lost our credibility both as a friend and a Christian. While it may not be easy, it is possible to be loving and honest at the same time.

On the flip side, perhaps we also should be more willing to hear the truth. When we ask if the pants make our butt look big, do we look tired, were we wrong, or did the family enjoy the tofu casserole, we better not take offense when we get an honest answer.

Hang this question up in your homes – “What would Jesus do?” and then think of another – “How would Jesus do it?” For what Jesus would do, and how He would do it, may always stand as the best guide to us. [Charles Spurgeon]

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ… Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. [Ephesians 4:15,25 (ESV)]

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HIDDEN BLESSINGS

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. [Romans 8:28 (NLT)]

great blue heronAs Christians, we know everything that touches us has first passed through our sovereign (and loving) God’s hands. While it is our faith in Him that enables us to accept difficult (even tragic) events, acceptance is easier said than done. Along with faith, Pollyanna, the fictional heroine in Eleanor Porter’s book by the same name, found that the correct mind set helped.

When Pollyanna was disappointed to find crutches instead of the doll she wanted in the package sent by the Ladies Aid Society, her missionary father taught her the “glad game.” Telling her to look at the good side of things, he pointed out they could be glad because she didn’t need the crutches! Pollyanna continued to play the glad game until she was sorely tested by paralysis. Admitting the game wasn’t as much fun to play when it got so challenging, she eventually found some good in her plight—she still had her legs! Indeed, the “glad game” is much harder when the issues are greater; nevertheless, it is a game worth playing.

At the age of 96, my lively and alert father-in-law died, but not of natural causes; he died within an hour of being in a car accident. As my mother-in-law rehabbed in a nursing home from the same accident, I was shocked when she said, “I’m so glad he went that way!” Fortunately, she explained, “He would have hated being in a place like this.” While I would have preferred God taking Grandpa while he napped in his easy chair, she had a point. Like a cat with nine lives, he had several amazing recoveries from earlier strokes and other health problems and still had a good quality of life. In reality, however, he was just a fall or another stroke away from becoming an infirm resident in a nursing home. This energetic and active man of faith was ready for his heavenly home and would have hated waiting for his departure as an invalid. Rather than being angry at the driver who caused the accident, I joined my mother-in-law in the glad game and chose to look at that accident as one of God’s blessings in disguise.

Sometimes, it takes time and the gift of hindsight before we recognize hidden blessings. I was fifteen and the only child still at home when my mother died within a few months of her cancer diagnosis. My emotionally detached and workaholic father was left with a teenager he barely knew while I was left with a man who was more a presence than a parent to me. He knew next to nothing about parenting and I resented his coldness and dogmatic ways. In an odd way, as much as we both mourned my mother, we were blessed by her absence because her death threw us together in a way that demanded change. Out of necessity, he gradually became a loving father and a far better man while the angry troubled teen I was became a loving responsible daughter and a far more compassionate woman. My father died less than five years later but several more years passed before I became aware of my older siblings’ continued resentment, anger, and bitterness toward him. It was only then that I realized how my mother’s death was a blessing in disguise because it gave my father and me an opportunity to build a relationship and to change for the better.

God often conceals blessings in our challenges, disappointments, and heartbreak; it is our task to seek them out. Playing our own version of the “glad game” by looking for God’s loving hand in our lives is the way we can have joy, not in spite of our troubles and sorrow, but because of them.

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NLT)]

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EUODIA AND SYNTYCHE

I have a special appeal which goes jointly to Euodia and Syntyche: please, please, come to a common mind in the Lord. [Philippians 4:2 (NTE)]

sandhill cranes
These words from Philippians are the only mention of Euodia and Syntyche in the New Testament. Personally, if someone is going to read about me 2,000 years from now, I would prefer something about how easy it was to get along with me rather than about any arguments I had. Because Paul urges the women to settle their disagreement, it seems that their dispute was personal rather than doctrinal. Had the issue been one of doctrine, Paul would have stepped in and corrected the error as he did in many of his letters to the early churches.

Bible scholars have a sense of humor and it’s been suggested that better names for these women would be “Odious” and “Soon Touchy.” Perhaps Euodia really was disagreeable and unpleasant and Syntyche was thin-skinned and quick-tempered. Then again, maybe they were just like the rest of us at our less than best—stubborn, indignant, tactless, resentful, short-tempered, uncompromising, or easily offended. We don’t know what their problem was nor do we know who was “right” and who was “wrong.” In this case, by holding a grudge, they both were in error!

Because people in conflict usually expect others to take sides, conflict affects more than those directly involved. The women’s behavior was threatening the existence of the church at Philippi and their dispute was hindering God’s work. To save the church, Paul didn’t tell them they had to become best friends or even agree with each other, just to be of the same mind as the Lord. For the sake of the church, he wanted them to find a way to live in harmony.

The letter to the Philippians was written to “all of God’s holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus, including the church leaders and deacons.” [1:1] In the early church, Paul’s apostolic letters were meant to be read aloud to the entire congregation. Less than 15% of men were literate and that number was less for women. The congregation sat in a circle or semi-circle around the reader so that everyone saw the speaker. This arrangement meant they also saw one another and their reaction to the words spoken. Can you imagine Euodia and Syntyche (and those who may have taken sides in their conflict) as they heard the apostle’s words? There probably was a fair amount of squirming in the seats that day!

Like churches, families can suffer because of quarrels. My friend Wendy’s two sisters have a long-standing feud and refuse to speak with one another. Whenever she returned to her hometown, each sister expected Wendy to spend time with her but got irate and offended if she spent time with the other sibling. Even though Wendy refused to be caught up in their animosity, she was in a no-win situation. Eventually, it became easier to step away from the drama altogether and not return home at all. The sisters’ vendetta impacted more than just Wendy; ten cousins were affected as were the women’s parents when they were alive.

Heavenly Father, knowing that we can’t agree with everybody all of the time, show us how to get along with them. Give us loving, forgiving, and understanding hearts. Toughen our hides so that we don’t take offense so easily. Show us how to have harmony in all of our relationships. Help us to acknowledge other people’s points of view and guide us to respectfully agree to disagree with one another when necessary.

Until the day that you become perfect, don’t expect others to be. [From “Hugs – Daily Inspirations for Grandmas” (Howard Books)]

So, my dear brothers and sisters, get this straight. Every person should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. Human anger, you see, doesn’t produce God’s justice! So put away everything that is sordid, all that overflowing malice, and humbly receive the word which has been planted within you and which has the power to rescue your lives. [James 1:19-21 (NTE)]

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VAMPIRES

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. [2 Timothy 3:1-5 (ESV)]

halloweenAs a Christian, I don’t believe in creatures like hobgoblins, witches, ghouls, zombies, or ghosts. I do, however, believe in vampires, just not the fictional undead who live in coffins, shape-shift into bats, have fangs but no reflection, and suck blood from the necks of the unsuspecting. The ones I’ve met are people whose behavior can suck the life right out of us faster than a swarm of mosquitoes!

Saturday Night Live calls one species of vampire “Debbie Downer”. She (or he) sucks the joy out of a room faster than a Miele or Dyson can vacuum up cookie crumbs. Consummate pessimists, they carry a dark cloud of doom with them and continually rain on your parade with tales of tragedy and catastrophe. Then there are the Narcissists—the uncaring, selfish, and self-centered “me first” kind of people. Takers, they neither share nor give (unless it directly benefits them). Closely related are the Talkers—the “listen to me” people. Convinced they know everything, they drone on and on, never let anyone get a word in edgewise, and their ears are mere ornaments on the side of the heads. Then, we have the Martyrs—the suffering victims with their “poor me” complaints. Determined to remain miserable, “yes, but…” is their response to any helpful suggestion. The Bullies are the “my way or the highway” kind of vampires who dictate and demean, intimidate and insult, command and criticize, and browbeat and badger their way through life. Finally, there are the Drama Queens and Kings for whom everything (both big and little) creates a crisis of massive proportions. Worse, they are determined to entangle us in their melodrama, quarrels, and vendettas. Real vampires like these are some of the weapons Satan frequently uses against us.

But, before pridefully pointing fingers at people we know who might fit these descriptions, we should take a hard look at ourselves to make sure we’re not one of them! I suspect that, at one time or another, each of us have been a little like them all!

Legend has it that vampires can’t enter your home unless you invite them in. I don’t know about Dracula, but that holds true for these vampires. While God call us to love, pray for, forgive and, as much as possible, “live peaceably with all” [Romans 12:8], He never tells us we must welcome these vampires into our lives, willingly open our collars, bare our necks, and submit to their torture! Granted, some of them may be unavoidable and could be in our families. Nevertheless, in 1 Corinthians 10:13, Paul assures us that a means of escape comes with every temptation! These vampires only can suck the joy, peace, patience, gentleness, and love out of us if we allow them to do so.

As I recall, exposure to the sun or a crucifix was the way to finish off a vampire in the old movies. The power of the Son and cross continue to defeat the life-sucking vampires we face today. While some of them are unavoidable, we can limit our exposure to them and, with the power of Jesus, we can keep them from sucking the life out of us. We can stand up for ourselves, control our reactions to challenging people and situations, set healthy boundaries, and choose God’s truth and way. As children of God, we are valuable, loved, and forgiven. Nothing and no one should be allowed to rob us of His joy and peace. With the power of the Son and the cross of Christ, we can defeat vampires, ghosts, and anything else that goes bump in the night!

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. [Ephesians 6:12 (ESV)]

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KNOWING HIM WELL

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. [Colossians 2:6-7 (NLT)]

Mallards
After fifty-five years of marriage, there’s not much that surprises me about my husband. Even the surprise birthday weekend he gave me earlier this year wasn’t a surprise. Granted, bringing all three of our children together for a weekend here truly was a surprise but that he chose to do something special for me was not. I was sure that, true to form, he had something wonderful up his sleeve for my 75th birthday; I just had no idea what it actually was!

After over five decades of togetherness, more often than not, my husband and I think alike. When one of us makes a suggestion, the other usually admits to having the same thought and, with at least 97% accuracy, we know what the other will order at any restaurant. We recognize each other’s voice in a crowd and probably have a good idea what the other is saying! After more than half a century, we’ve seen one another at our best and worst. There’s nothing left to hide and any awkwardness, embarrassment, or shame is long gone. I know when he needs some nudging and he knows when I need words of encouragement. Appreciating each other’s strengths and weaknesses, we rest comfortably in the knowledge that we love, trust, and honor one another completely. The relationship is relaxed, pleasant, peaceful, and comfortable but never boring. As my birthday weekend proved, even though we know what to expect, we can still surprise one another in beautiful ways.

The covenant relationship of marriage is much like our relationship with God with one major difference. Through the last five plus decades, both my husband and I have changed so that we complement each other and accommodate one another’s likes and dislikes. God, however, is immutable. Since His characteristics and divine nature do not change, He is not about to accommodate our preferences; we are called to accommodate His! As in any relationship, however, the more time we spend in His presence, the easier it is to recognize His voice, to hear the Holy Spirit’s whisper in our hearts, to discern the meaning of His words, to know what He expects, and to offer prayers in harmony with His plan. As we draw closer to the Lord, we become attuned to His rhythm and pace and we’ll even begin to walk like Jesus.

At its most basic, Christianity isn’t a doctrine, philosophy, code of ethics, or a way of life; it is a relationship with God. Just believing in Jesus is not the same as having a relationship with Him. As with any relationship, we have to spend time in God’s presence, praying, listening to His voice, and reading His word for our relationship to flourish and grow. No serious bond is developed overnight; it took decades for my husband and me to get to this point in our marriage. Fortunately, developing a deep relationship with our triune God doesn’t take nearly that long. Like marriage, however, it is a relationship that continues to mature and mellow through the years.

After fifty-five years, I can ask myself, “What would Bob do?” and pretty much know the answer. As we develop our relationship with God, we’ll be able to ask, “What would Jesus do?” and know that answer as well!

Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. [1 John 2:6 (NLT)]

You must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen. [2 Peter 3:18 (NLT)]

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