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)]

Say no to hateI walked into the university workout facility and was greeted by a large sign telling me the school says no to hate. I was surprised that a Christian University felt the need to say what should be obvious. Has hate become so much a part of our everyday lives that we have to be reminded not to do it? There wasn’t a sign telling us not to pee in the pool, have fist fights, or swear. Evidently, certain acceptable behavior was assumed but not hating wasn’t! Apparently, the sign is necessary because people feel freer to express their prejudice, intolerance, and bias than do any of those other things.

Monday, Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker re-established a task force on hate crimes. It will advise him on issues such as the prevalence, deterrence and prevention of hate crimes and support for hate’s victims. In 2015, the state had 424 hate crimes including intimidation, vandalism and assault. The Massachusetts Anti-Defamation League found a 44% increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the first nine months of 2017 and the state’s hate crime hotline has received more than 2,000 calls since it began just a year ago.

One look at the news tells us that Massachusetts is not alone. Hate (and its cousin anger) make the headlines regularly—violence in Charlottesville, a sport star’s home vandalized with racial slurs, Asian-Americans told they don’t belong here, swastikas painted on Jewish temples, and a Texas mosque burned to the ground. Trucks become weapons in the hands of extremists and shootings in theatres, shopping centers, schools, concerts and churches almost seem commonplace. Last night, a local pastor was interviewed about the large security/safety staff now present during any church function. His church is not alone; many places of worship have felt the need to protect themselves from haters.

Hate can express itself in subtle ways through slurs, intolerance, intimidation, harassment, marginalization, and exclusion. Hate is also a crime when a criminal offense is motivated by race, ethnicity, ancestry, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religion, or disability. Whether or not a crime is committed, in God’s book, hate is an offense. Worse, hate is like an infectious disease—the victim of hate often becomes a hater himself!

As Christians we are allowed to hate evil. We can and should hate things like hypocrisy, godlessness, violence, greed, immorality, exploitation, dishonesty, brutality, deceit, abuse, idolatry, betrayal, false teaching, corruption, intolerance, and hate. What we must never do is hate people. Rather than hate, we are commanded to love and that love isn’t limited to Christians or people who think, look, speak or act like us. We are to love all of God’s children. There’s plenty that’s wrong in our broken world; let’s not add to it by spreading hate through bigotry, intolerance, racism, discrimination or prejudice. We shouldn’t need a sign that tells us to say no to hate. Let us be the ones who demonstrate God’s love in this broken world of ours.

You have heard that our ancestors were told, “You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.” But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! … You have heard the law that says, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! … If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. [Matthew 5:21-22a, 43-44, 46-48 (NLT)]

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It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah. [Ephesians 2:4-6 (MSG)]

The same Jesus who turned water into wine can transform your home, your life, your family, and your future. He is still in the miracle-working business, and His business is the business of transformation. [Adrian Rogers]

TIGER SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLY - WILD BERGAMOTIn the Sunday school stories we learned as children, the Bible’s heroes were larger than life. When we read about them as adults, however, we read the parts skipped in Sunday school and realize they were real people with feet of clay. Yet, it’s their sins and weaknesses that make their lives as relevant today as they were centuries ago. No matter how great, all except Jesus were flawed. Peter denied knowing Jesus, Matthew was a dishonest tax collector, Thomas doubted Jesus’ resurrection, Noah and Lot got drunk, Abraham lied to protect himself, David was an adulterer and murderer, Rahab was a prostitute, Jacob deceived his father, Jonah refused and fled, Sarah doubted and grew impatient, Samson allowed lust to lead him, Paul persecuted Christians, Elijah got so depressed he wanted to die, Gideon dared to question God, and, in spite of his great wisdom, Solomon disobeyed Him. The disciples argued amongst themselves and deserted Jesus, Isaac played favorites with his sons, and both Eli and Samuel tolerated the shameful behavior of their boys. Nevertheless, flawed as they all were, there is much to learn from their stories. We see the possibility of transformation and redemption. The prostitute was instrumental in an Israelite victory and became one of Jesus’ ancestors. The corrupt taxman became a disciple and turned his record keeping skills into gospel writing. The Pharisee became Christ’s messenger throughout the Roman Empire and the fisherman who denied Christ became the leader of the disciples. In spite of their faults, all of them were saints of God.

Like us, the Bible’s heroes disobeyed and doubted, erred and strayed, lied and cheated, quarreled and despaired. Their sins illustrate God’s mercy; we truly do have a God who can forgive seventy times seven and more. Moreover, when we see that such flawed people can achieve great things, we see examples of God’s power. When He touches a life, great things happen. In each of the Bible’s heroes, we see God’s transforming power. He doesn’t just turn water into wine, He turns sinners into saints!

No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing. [Ephesians 2:9-10 (MSG)]

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Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. [Ephesians 5:1-2a (NLT)]

Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. [1 Corinthians 10:31b (NLT)]

snowy egret - corkscrewAs he took us to the car rental agency, the van’s driver welcomed us to Cleveland, explained where to get gas before returning our cars, and reminded us not to text and drive. After asking if there were any other questions, a voice from the back asked, “What is the purpose of life?” The driver quickly replied, “Finding comfortable shoes!” While we might rank finding comfy shoes high on our life list, that’s not the purpose of life.

In a Ziggy comic (written by Tom Wilson), the bald headed underdog arrives on a mountaintop in a quest to find life’s purpose. The wise sage replies, “If you have to ask the meaning of life…You can’t afford it!” Apparently, the meaning of life isn’t as expensive as the cartoonist thought. In 2000, someone claiming to have discovered “the reason for our existence” offered that knowledge to the highest bidder on eBay. Evidently, this wisdom had little value; the starting price was a penny and the winning bidder got the information for a mere $3.26.

Of course, the easy answer is that the purpose of life is to have a life of purpose but, like most pat answers, that’s inadequate and disappointing. According to the Bible, the reason we are here is to glorify God, enjoy fellowship with him, love our neighbors and be good stewards of God’s creation. In short, we’re here to honor God in all we do and we do that by being more like Christ.

Within that general purpose of glorifying God and being more like Christ, we each have a distinctive purpose and a unique role to play in God’s plan. While it’s easy to know what our purpose isn’t—sin, self-indulgence, power, riches, fame, popularity, pleasure, success, or status—it’s harder to know what our unique purpose is. I know this much—if we’re dissatisfied, we haven’t found it. It won’t take a flight to Cleveland, a trek to a mountaintop guru or a winning bid on eBay to find our purpose. We just need to ask God and listen to our satisfaction, inner convictions, gifts, and passions. God wants us to find the purpose of life more than we do. After all, He’s got big plans for us!

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. [Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)]

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. [Romans 12:2 (NLT)]

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Don’t let selfishness and prideful agendas take over. Embrace true humility, and lift your heads to extend love to others. Get beyond yourselves and protecting your own interests; be sincere, and secure your neighbors’ interests first. [Philippians 2:3-4 (VOICE)]

peonyOne week after Hurricane Irma, our Florida church met where they usually do in the city park. As the service began, an irate city official arrived. Afraid of unsafe conditions and liability issues, he insisted that the service be stopped immediately. While the senior pastor continued the service, our associate pastor tried to calm him down. He started by asking the bureaucrat how he was doing. The overwrought man’s response was a recitation of all of the challenges he’d dealt with in a city without power, working sewers or safe water. “No,” our pastor said, “I know the city is a mess, how are you doing?” He went on to ask about the man’s family, his house, and whether he was in need of anything. Instead of seeing him as a problem to be solved, our Pastor saw him as a person under a great deal of stress. As the two men talked and shared their personal hurricane stories, the official calmed. He finally took a good look at the park and decided the service could continue. This didn’t happen because our pastor won an argument; it happened because he saw the city employee as a person with problems of his own and showed that he (and our church) cared.

I heard the story of another minister, one who kept asking his new neighbor to church but was always rebuffed. When the minister stopped seeing his neighbor as a potential convert and actually spoke with him, he learned that the fellow liked barbecue. When he extended an invitation for a rib dinner rather than church, the invitation wasn’t declined. As the men got to know one another, a friendship resulted and that church invitation was eventually accepted. This didn’t happen because the new neighbor liked barbecue ribs; it happened because the minister took the time to look at his neighbor as a person and not a prospect.

I think of Jesus and his first encounters with the two tax collectors, Matthew and Zacchaeus. He didn’t confront the men about being cheats or traitors to their people.  Instead, Jesus went home to dinner with them. They didn’t become believers just because Jesus was a good dinner guest. They believed because Jesus saw them (and their friends) as people and not just the sinners they were.

We must never see people merely as foes, problems to be solved, prospective church members, causes, sinners, or troubled souls that need saving. Before we can change people’s minds or lives, we need to show that we care about who they are, what they believe, what made them the way they are, and the challenges they are facing today. We are told to love our neighbors but, before we can love our neighbors, we must truly see them—not just their faces but the person and circumstances behind that face.

Christianity is not a religion or a philosophy, but a relationship and a lifestyle. The core of that lifestyle is thinking of others, as Jesus did, instead of ourselves. [Rick Warren]

Love others well, and don’t hide behind a mask; love authentically. Despise evil; pursue what is good as if your life depends on it.  Live in true devotion to one another, loving each other as sisters and brothers. Be first to honor others by putting them first. [Romans 12:9-10 (VOICE)]

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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)]

Hedge BindweedPlanning to place her home on the market, a neighbor asked my friend, “Isn’t this an absolutely perfect floor plan?” Not wanting to hurt her neighbor’s feelings, she made a vague comment implying agreement. In actuality, my friend dislikes the floor plan and believes it will deter buyers. Later, she asked me how to have answered honestly without offending her neighbor.

In the movie Liar Liar, comedian Jim Carrey portrays a glib lawyer who plays fast and loose with the truth. When his son wishes he’d tell the truth, the insincere and conniving man cannot lie for 24 hours and immediately finds himself in hot water. Many of his problems, however, don’t come from telling the truth as much as they do from his callousness and insensitivity. 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.

White lies—we all tell them at one time or another. While wondering when an innocent white lie becomes a guilty gray, I looked to the Bible and realized there is no line between the two. Deception of any kind didn’t exist until Satan, the father of all lies, brought it into the garden and deceit remains his primary weapon. The Israelites were commanded to be truthful in all things and lying is condemned throughout Scripture. Jesus said he was the truth and the way without adding the words “most of the time” or “only when convenient!” Regardless of its size or intent, a 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.

What about a lie of expediency? After all, Abraham, Rahab, Peter and David all lied. Can we lie to protect ourselves or someone else, to prevent needless worry, or to spare feelings? If lying is wrong, can lying be less wrong in some situations? Truth, however, isn’t relative so it would seem that any lie is wrong. In the end, it is God who sees into the hearts of man and decides the rightness or wrongness of both our motives and our words.

For the most part, white lies are 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’s 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 they 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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RainbowThese people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. In the end they will get the punishment their wicked deeds deserve. [2 Corinthians 11:13-15 (NLT)]

More than four weeks have passed since Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc on southwest Florida. Debris is piled into mini-mountains along the roads and, with over $320 million in damages in our county alone, the storm chasers have descended. Calling themselves restoration specialists, their trucks prowl the neighborhoods. They claim expertise in water extraction, mold removal, window and screen replacement, roofing, landscaping, carpet cleaning, drywall, plaster, demolition and reconstruction. At best they are anything but expert and do shoddy work; at worst, they are scam artists who take their money and run! Desperate to get back to some semblance of normalcy after this devastating storm, people will hire just about anyone who promises speedy restoration. These swinders are having a heyday while leaving behind a mess for the homeowners.

As Christians, we have the genuine restoration specialist: Jesus Christ. Rather than restoring flooded houses, He restores sight to the blind and life to the dead. His death and resurrection restored our relationship with God the Father. Nevertheless, during the hurricanes that occur in our lives—those storms that leave us emotionally battered and bruised—we can fall prey to another team of counterfeit restoration specialists. Called false prophets or false apostles in Scripture, I think of them as the pseudo philosophers and ersatz preachers of today. Some just may be misguided but others are charlatans and hypocrites. Either way, their teachings are incorrect and, like faulty wiring, dangerous!

When desperate, we tend to grab onto the first thing we see and the enemy is no fool; he quickly has his restoration specialists at our doors with their false promises of repair and renewal. Knowing that outright lies are far easier to recognize than half-truths, their deception is usually mixed with a little truth. Rather than denying the entire Gospel, they distort and misrepresent its message. Like storm chasers, they’re  great salesmen—friendly, empathetic and smooth talkers who tell us what we want to hear. Instead of a new roof in two days, they promise hope and a means to a better life but, like any scammer, their work is costly and defective!

Knowledge is power. The more we know about our homes, the more knowledgeable we are about their repair. We can recognize a solution that is too easy, too expensive or too cheap to be true. Knowledge is power when it comes to our faith, as well. The more we know about the Bible, the better able we are to recognize incorrect or fabricated doctrine. The entire message—not just a few cherry picked verses—must come from the Bible. Jesus is essential; the only salvation is through Christ and the cross. Rather than asking for a business license, we should make sure our spiritual storm chaser exhibits the Fruit of the Spirit and that his message will yield that same fruit in us. Moreover, we must be wary of any message that promises a quick easy fix. If it promises forgiveness without repentance or heaven without hell, it really is too easy (and too cheap) to be true! Repair and renovation after a hurricane takes time and effort and so does spiritual renewal after we’ve been hit by any storm in life. Just be sure to depend on the number one restoration expert—Jesus Christ!

Satan is the counterfeiter. …He has a false gospel, preached by false ministers, producing false Christians. …Satan plants his counterfeits wherever God plants true believers. [Warren Wiersbe]

Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here. [1 John 4:1-3 (NLT)]

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