WHY DO WE WATCH? 

I will walk with integrity of heart within my house; I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. [Psalm 101:2-3 (ESV)]

rainbowWhile writing about curiosity yesterday, I thought about our insatiable curiosity concerning the lives of others. Some people think nothing of prying into other people’s lives by asking how much it cost, how much you’re paid, what the grade was, and more. The number of followers of the various social media platforms and fans of tell-all books, gossip magazines, tabloids, and reality TV tells me plenty of people want to know all that and more. Whether we know them or not, we seem to have a voracious appetite for the lives of other people, especially the lives of celebrities, former celebrities, one-time-wonders, housewives, bachelors, bachelorettes, the rich and privileged, and just about everyone else. We have talk shows where the more salacious the content the better and people come to blows after revealing sordid betrayals. We have assorted judge shows where in-law problems, unknown paternity, infidelity, and other poor choices reign. Private disagreements, personal relationships, and shocking secrets are openly aired for the curious world.

As much as I struggle to understand why any of us are interested in other people’s private lives, I find it even harder to comprehend why people choose to make public spectacles of themselves. Reality TV, of course, isn’t real and those “real housewives” aren’t really “housewives.” Knowing that circumstances are contrived to guarantee crisis, conflict, and drama, I wonder why people deliberately allow themselves to be manipulated for their five minutes of fame (or infamy). Considering the number of people who have an incredible willingness to freely share the most intimate details of their lives with the world, it appears as if curiosity and braggadocio are two sides of the same coin.

Perhaps it’s conceit, egotism, or a weird sort of arrogance that leads people to think that, no matter how appalling, their every thought, feeling, experience, meal, or intimate moment is worth sharing with the world. People have become so immodest that they will bare their souls and just about everything else to complete strangers. They are like exhibitionists who leave the curtains half open to dance in front of the window and their curious audience is like the voyeur who peeks through those curtains. Sadly, our curiosity has turned people parading their private lives into a lucrative business (apparently the more dysfunctional the better.)

It’s almost malevolent the way people want to see others at the worst. Perhaps we’re drawn into this tabloid culture so we can congratulate ourselves on being nicer, saner, smarter, more moral, and less superficial. Pride puffs us up because we don’t hoard, commit adultery, spend excessively, or keep having needless plastic surgery. Self-righteously, we pat ourselves on the back for not living vicariously through our talented children, exploiting our families, brawling in public, or letting cameras into our bedrooms. We feel superior because we’re better behaved, pay our debts, and know who fathered our children.

Granted, there is a difference between watching chefs contend for top honors, brainiacs compete for money, super athletes vie for a title, or pickers search for rare artifacts and watching people engage in attention-grabbing, immoral, inappropriate, or self-destructive behavior. Nevertheless, there is a fine line between innocent interest and prurient curiosity and crossing that line leads us into sin’s territory of judgment and pride.

To rework Jeff Foxworthy’s quote about going to the state fair: “If you ever start feeling like you have the goofiest, craziest, most dysfunctional family in the world, all you have to do is watch reality TV because pretty soon you’ll be going, ‘You know, we’re alright. We are dang near royalty!’” Perhaps people’s bad behavior, excessive alcohol consumption, emotional outbursts, humiliation, tears, and turmoil became entertainment simply to make us feel like saints in comparison to them. Let’s not fool ourselves; we’re not! Perhaps it’s time to check our curiosity and rethink how we spend our time and with what we fill our minds.

Men compare themselves with men, and readily with the worst, and flatter themselves with that comparative betterness. This is not the way to see spots, to look into the muddy streams of profane men’s lives; but look into the clear fountain of the Word, and there we may both discern and wash them; and consider the infinite holiness of God, and this will humble us to the dust. [Robert Leighton (A Puritan Golden Treasury)]

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. [Philippians 4:8 (ESV)]

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. … Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. [Colossians 3:1-3,10 (ESV)]

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WORDS AREN’T ADEQUATE

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. [1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NLT)]
butterfly

Last weekend my three children flew in from California, New Mexico, and Illinois to surprise me for my birthday. No words can express my absolute joy at their arrival. As we reminisced and laughed until it hurt, we realized the last time just the five of us were together was in 1992. After then, whenever we gathered, either someone was missing or our friends, grandparents, significant others, spouses, or children were with us. We now number thirteen and, while I love being with the whole gang, with all of our shared memories, there was something magical about gathering just the original five! Words failed me when I tried to express my appreciation for the way my husband and children juggled their schedules to make last weekend happen.

Even harder than finding words to thank my family was finding the right words to thank God—there simply are none that can encompass my gratitude. I can’t send Him flowers and He doesn’t need an invite to see the photos on Shutterfly since He was there. It’s not like I can return the kindness by surprising Him on His birthday! The question of how to properly thank God, not just for last weekend, but for all of His blessings has been with me all week. “How can I thank you?” I asked.

We thank God with our love, which begs the question, “How do we show our love?” We do it by remembering Him with gratitude in everything we do and all we encounter—not just in the big things like a family reunion or a good biopsy, but in all the little things of our day. It’s telling Him how we appreciate the strawberries in the garden, the smell of fresh mown grass, a summer breeze, or having milk for the coffee and jam for the toast. It’s being grateful while we wash the windows or mop floors simply because we have windows and floors to clean! It’s continually thanking him for things like “raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens” and even for the inevitable dog bites, bee stings, and sadness that come with our favorite things.

We show our love and gratitude through action. While there’s nothing we can do for God, there’s plenty we can do for His children. When we serve others, we are serving (and thanking) Him! We thank God by expressing our appreciation to the people who serve us throughout the day. We can scatter seeds of gratitude and joy. We show our love for God through our witness. While it seems that we’re more than willing to tell people about the good things for which we’re thankful, most of us aren’t as willing to tell those same people about the Giver of those gifts.

Remembering James’ words that, “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens,” [1:17] we show our love and thanks to God with humility. Those children of whom I am so proud are His, not mine. While I’d like to think they matured into the wise and wonderful people they are because of my husband’s and my stellar child-rearing skills, I know it was God’s wisdom that led us, His hand that protected them, His voice that led them, His love that covered them, and His forgiveness that showed them how to forgive. It was God who gave me people who cared enough to plan the visit and it was God (with a little help from American Airlines) who got them safely here.

We show God our love and gratitude with prayer, praise, and worship. If we’re truly grateful, however, we offer those things both in good times and bad and, most especially, in those mundane boring days that fill so much of our lives. We continually offer prayer, praise, and worship simply because every day we’re given breath is a day for thanks—whether we’re on the mountain top, in the dark valley, or somewhere in between.

While no words adequately express our gratitude to God, the way we live our lives certainly does!

Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and be not poorer but richer for having made it. [A.W. Tozer]

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done. Sing to him; yes, sing his praises. Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds. Exult in his holy name; rejoice, you who worship the Lord. [Psalm 105:1-3 (NLT)]

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FENCES

Stay away from every kind of evil. [1 Thessalonians 5:22 (NLT)]

Moses received the Torah from Sinai and committed it to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets to the Men of the Great Assembly. They said three things: Be deliberate in judgment, raise up many disciples, and make a fence around the Torah. [Misnha (Pirke Avot)]

tigerLast December, after breaching the barrier surrounding the tiger enclosure at our local zoo, a man stuck his hand into the tiger’s cage. A similar incident occurred a few months later at a nearby airboat attraction when a man improperly went through the first enclosure and put his arms into the tiger’s cage. Although both men survived, they suffered serious injuries to their hands and arms. Fences are placed to protect us and keep us from getting too close to danger but you can’t protect people from their own stupidity.

Just as those fences around the tigers’ cages were meant to protect people from the tigers (and the tigers from people), many of the Rabbinic innovations were designed to protect the commandments of the Torah. It is in the Mishnah (the oldest collection of post-biblical Jewish laws) that we find the phrase “make a fence around the Torah.” It is this fence, not the Bible, that explains the hundreds of prohibitions we find in Judaism.

Those Rabbinic rules were supposed to prevent people from being tempted to break the law or unintentionally doing so. For example, items like hammers and scissors that were associated with prohibited work like building or cutting, were not even to be picked up lest handling them led to their use. Although the Sabbath officially begins at sunset Friday, a few minutes were added before its beginning and after its end to make sure no one accidentally worked too late or resumed work too early. Even today, for my Jewish friend, the Shabbat candles are lit and all work has stopped no later than 18 minutes before the sun officially sets. His Sabbath ends when three stars are visible, which can be about 30 minutes after sunset. Rather than additions to the Mosaic law, these fences were seen as a way of helping people remain obedient to the law; they were erected to keep people from giving into temptation or just cutting it too close! Sadly, through the years, the rules became increasingly complicated and, by Jesus’ time, they were the heavy yoke about which He spoke.

Nevertheless, Jesus gave us a New Testament version of building a fence when He equated the emotion of anger with the act of murder and the attitude of lust with adultery. Anger and lust are like stepping too close to the tiger’s cage—they’re dangerous territory! Just as picking up his cell phone on Saturday might lead my Jewish friend to break the Sabbath by using it, lust and anger can lead to something far worse! Sticking your arm in a tiger’s cage or stepping into sin never ends well and, rather than gouging out our eyes or cutting off our hands, we can erect spiritual boundaries to keep us and our loved ones safe. We may restrict our youngsters to G or PG movies or set specific rules about dating for our teens. We might use internet filters to screen out inappropriate content on our computers, abstain from alcohol, or avoid the appearance of inappropriate behavior by following the “Billy Graham rule” of never being alone with a person of the opposite sex except for one’s spouse. We each have our own spiritual fences.

Unless they’re found in Scripture, however, those fences are not doctrine. They are our personal rules and, as such, other people may have different ones, some of which may be closer or further from the tiger’s cage than ours. We are not in a position to judge other people’s spiritual barriers any more than they are to judge ours. Unfortunately, for the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, the fence around the Torah became more important than the law itself. We must never do that. Every fence we erect must comply with God’s simple law that we love Him with our entire being and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

…he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” [Mark 12:28-31 (NLT)]

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KEEP HOLY THE SABBATH DAY

Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. … For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy. [Exodus 20:8-10a,11 (NLT)]

orchidIt’s hard to think of our omnipotent, invincible, and unstoppable God getting tired after a mere six days of work but Scripture tells us He “rested” on the seventh day. The Hebrew word translated as rested, however, is shabath, meaning to stop, cease, or desist. Rather than God resting because He was exhausted; God simply stopped! I suspect it’s because He wanted to enjoy His finished creation. Picture Him sitting in the Almighty’s version of a La-Z-Boy chair, looking out at the magnificence of the universe—breathing in its aromas, tasting its sweetness, hearing its song, and delighting in its beauty.

In Exodus, when God gave the Israelites the Sabbath Day, He was telling His people to do the same thing—to stop and appreciate His blessings. Imagine how strange the fourth commandment seemed to a people who’d been enslaved by the Egyptians and cruelly oppressed by Pharaoh. They hadn’t enjoyed a day free of work in their entire lives and now they were commanded by God to do just that.

While the Bible doesn’t specifically list the kinds of prohibited labor, it alludes to several areas of work and, in the writings of the Talmud (the oral law), we find 39 kinds of work specifically forbidden on the Sabbath. Through the years, however, the rabbis further defined those 39 prohibitions with hundreds of subcategories. For example, no sewing includes no gluing, welding, or stapling; the ban on lighting a fire means that no fuel can be added to an existing fire; and no building includes not pitching a tent. The Sabbath, however, was meant to be a gift rather than a burden. Along with its prohibitions, the Talmud also encourages Sabbath activities such as temple attendance, singing Sabbath songs, reading the Torah, sleeping, hospitality, spending time with family and friends, and even marital relations!

I have a Jewish friend, the head of a large law firm, who works long hours six days a week. Friday afternoons, however, he turn off both phone and computer, stops billing over $600 an hour, and strictly observes the Sabbath. The Talmud’s many restrictions mean he and his family must plan ahead and prepare for their holy day. He has to leave work early enough Friday to be home well before sunset, the Sabbath food is cooked on Friday, the table is pre-set, lights are turned on or set on timers, the refrigerator light bulb is unscrewed, and even toilet paper and paper towels are pre-torn (since tearing is prohibited).

As they follow their Sabbath rules, my friend and his family are reminded of the holiness of the day. For them, the Sabbath isn’t a day of unreasonable restrictions because it’s about more than ceasing from work. It is a special day of rest, relaxation, peace, family, food, fellowship, worship, Scripture, and even a few board games. On a day wholly dedicated to God and peace, anything that could possibly interfere with the restful spirit of the day is avoided. For 24-hours there’s no television, radio, computers, phones, video games, or social media. Moreover, as a day designed to soothe the frayed nerves and exhaustion that come from a week’s work, there’s no talk of things like business, money, COVID, politics, the war in Ukraine, children’s grades, family conflicts, or the high price of gas!

My Jewish friend’s Sabbath is beginning to sound quite pleasant. Rather than a day of prohibitions, he sees it as a day of respite from the world and a way to reconnect with the Lord. Perhaps our Sabbath should be more like his— a day filled with worship, gratitude, retreat, prayer, and rest—a day to mindfully spend time with family, friends, God, and His word.

O what a blessing is Sunday, interposed between the waves of worldly business like the divine path of the Israelites through the sea! There is nothing in which I would advise you to be more strictly conscientious than in keeping the Sabbath day holy. I can truly declare that to me the Sabbath has been invaluable. [William Wilberforce]

Keep the Sabbath day holy. Don’t pursue your own interests on that day, but enjoy the Sabbath and speak of it with delight as the Lord’s holy day. [Isaiah 58:13a (NLT)]

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KEEP IT ON THE ISLAND

A gossip goes around telling secrets, but those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence. [Proverbs 11:13 (NLT)]

aftermath of fireWhile attending a spiritual retreat, three ministers decided to share their gravest ethical lapses with one another. After a little hesitation, Pastor Jones started the ball rolling and confessed to having an affair with his beautiful (and married) church secretary. After admitting to a gambling problem, Pastor Smith owned up to embezzling thousands of dollars from his church. Pastor Brown, however, was reluctant to share his moral failings. Telling him that “confession is good for the soul,” the other two ministers urged him to speak, especially since his transgression couldn’t be any worse than theirs. Nervously, Pastor Brown answered, “I’m sorry to tell you fellows, but I’m a compulsive gossip!”

Because secrets often get shared in faith-based small groups, the church is a dangerous place when it comes to gossip. When two or three are gathered together in Jesus’ name, God will hear their prayer. When those same people are gathered together, He also might hear some gossip. When we’re asked to pray for someone, we often learn details about their lives that are intensely private. Through prayer requests, small groups, friendships, and counseling, we often gain knowledge of addicted children, attempted suicides, abusive spouses, abortions, adultery, medical conditions, and more—information that is not ours to share with anyone.

As Christians, however, we’ve found a gossip loophole. Instead of telling others about someone, we can ask them to pray for that person by name and then give the juicy details of their problems. Some people seem to think passing along information about the life of someone not present isn’t gossip if a “Bless her/his heart” is added to the end of the conversation. They’re wrong! When requesting prayers, God already knows all the names and particulars so specifics aren’t necessary. When given a person’s deepest secrets, we should treasure them, lock them in a safe place, and toss away the key.

Right now, New Mexico is experiencing the second largest wildfire in their history. For more than a month, firefighters have tried to tame this ferocious megafire but, as of Saturday, the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fire stretched across 169,000 acres and was only 20% contained. That fire, however, is only one of six wildfires burning throughout the state. Altogether, over 300,000 acres have burned just this year! More than trees, wildlife, and homes are being destroyed. Not only have those fires claimed lives but they also threaten an Indo-Hispano culture that has endured since long before the United States came into existence. A way of life that has lasted for centuries is being destroyed by those flames.

Whether carelessly or deliberately spoken, the Apostle James likens our words to a spark that can cause another kind of fire. Like New Mexico’s fires, gossip spreads rapidly, is as hard to stop, and can be just as destructive! While buildings will remain, homes may not; trees will survive but reputations probably won’t. People may not die but their lives may be destroyed. Once started, ill-spoken words are as difficult to contain as a megafire and their smoke and ash can darken a life forever.

Years ago, when we vacationed with friends on Grand Cayman, we agreed to keep any personal information we shared “on the island.” We continue to keep things “on the island” whether we’re on an island, in the living room, at small group, praying for someone, or anywhere else. Forgive me for mixing metaphors but it is only by keeping it “on the island” that we can prevent forest fires!

But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire.  And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. [James 3:5-6 (NLT)]

Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord? Who may enter your presence on your holy hill? … Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends. [Psalm 15:1,3 (NLT)]

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THROWING STONES

Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity. [Luke 6:37-38 (MSG)]

mimosaYesterday, when writing about the adulterous woman, I wondered what became of the stones that had been gathered in anticipation of stoning her. We know the Pharisees were quick to condemn people for the smallest infraction of the Law. Did they drop those stones in the road or did they put them in the pockets of their robes for another time when they could catch someone else sinning?

My husband was at the Fed Ex store when the woman in front of him dropped several packages and papers. He stooped down and helped the flustered woman gather up her scattered papers and boxes. As she departed, the man behind my husband loudly asked, “Did she even thank you?” and then, without waiting for an answer, angrily continued, “I don’t think she did and she should have. People just don’t say thank you anymore!” I agree with him that good manners seem to be in short supply nowadays; nevertheless, I wondered why he got so angry and felt the need to point out the woman’s faux pas to all around him.

How ready we are to criticize the failures of others while overlooking ours! We all set standards for others and, like that man, get peeved when they’re not met. Yet, when our hearts are filled with criticism and judgment rather than mercy, we’ll go through life picking up stones and looking for opportunities to throw them. Although the critical man cast only a pebble at the woman, it wasn’t necessary. I’m not much different than he and I suspect neither are you. In fact, I might have tossed a small stone at the man in the Fed Ex store! After all, we easily see the failings of others while being blind to ours.

Granted, common courtesy isn’t common anymore and we frequently encounter people who clearly haven’t heard of Emily Post or Miss Manners. But, if Jesus could show mercy to the woman caught in adultery, wash the feet of the men who would betray, deny, or abandon Him, and manage to ask forgiveness for the people who crucified Him, we should be able to cut a little slack for those who commit the petty offenses of everyday life! We certainly don’t need to keep stones in our pockets in case someone offends our sensibilities or look for opportunities to throw them! Maybe people would be nicer if we simply smiled more and grumbled less!

I don’t know why the woman was so frazzled that day or what really was upsetting that man. There’s wise advice in the old proverb: “Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.” Another old proverb reminds people who live in glass houses not to throw stones—and all of us live in glass houses of some kind or another. If we want God’s mercy, grace, and understanding, we must offer those same things to others.

Our days are happier when we give people a bit of our heart instead of a piece of our mind. [Anonymous bit of Internet wisdom]

Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, “Let me wash your face for you,” when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor. [Matthew 7:1-5 (MSG)]

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