FAKE NEWS (Part 1)

Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar. [Proverbs 30:5-6 (NIV)]

gray catbirdBoth 2 Samuel 1 and Joshua 10 mention stories that could be found in The Book of Jashar (sometimes translated as Book of the Upright One or Book of the Just Ones). Biblical scholars speculate The Book of Jashar was a collection of Hebrew poems and songs praising Israel’s heroes and victorious battles. Scripture tells us it existed at one time but we’ll never know what was in it because it vanished more than 2,000 years ago.

Although The Book of Jashar can’t be found in our Bibles, nearly a dozen versions can be found on Amazon and elsewhere. Saying they’re the lost book referenced in Scripture and written by Jashar, “son of Caleb,” they claim to cover Hebrew history from creation through Joshua’s day. In spite of their claims, these books are works of fiction and none date further back than the 1600s. Confusing the issue, there is a genuine collection of Jewish legends called Sefer ha Yashar (or The Book of Righteousness) Written in the 1100s and first printed in Italy in 1544, it doesn’t claim to be history or written by Jashar. Nevertheless, this Hebrew title can be found as part of some of the fictional works purporting to be Jashar’s!

I enjoy reading fiction; my problem is with fiction that claims to be truth, most especially with fiction claiming to be on a par with the Bible! When reading reviews of the Jashar books on Amazon, it was disturbing to see that many people—people who should know better—believed this fiction was God’s truth. One woman (identifying herself as a Christian) wrote how wonderful it was to read the same words Jesus read in the Temple. She also asserted that The Book of Jasher was removed from our Bibles 200 years ago. Jashar never was in our Bibles and Jesus couldn’t have read those words because the book was lost by His time!

Another reviewer, thrilled to have a “deeper understanding of the people of the Bible,” was delighted to learn the reason Esau was so weary the day he sold his birthright was that he’d just killed Nimrod. Another reader cited the book’s explanation that it was God’s anger at man for having made an herbal concoction used as birth control that brought about the flood. Creative writing but not Biblical truth!

Fiction masquerading as truth can be found in fake gospels, as well. The Gospel of Thomas is a collection of 114 alleged sayings of Jesus, some of which are contrary to the rest of Scripture. Alleging a physical relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, the Gospel of Philip also explains that the world is imperfect because God made a mistake and “fell short of attaining his desire.” The Gospel of Barnabas has Jesus predicting the Prophet Muhammad and claims that Judas was mistakenly crucified in Jesus’s place. Judas is rehabilitated in the Gospel of Judas which asserts that Jesus taught one message to eleven of the disciples but a special one to Judas. According to it, Judas served our Lord honorably because Jesus asked Judas to “betray” Him. Written in the second to fourth centuries, these “gospels” have no connection with any of the disciples, no historical support, and show no understanding of 1st century Judaism. They are nonsense!

Let us be cautious and discerning in our use of extra-biblical writings. While these works of fiction make interesting reading, we must never mistake them for God’s word. Unlike them, the 66 books of the accepted canon are not myths, legends, or filled with contradictions and errors. In Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, Dr. Tebring calls the Bible “a product of man.” Tebring had it wrong. The Da Vinci Code, The Book of Jashar, and the various “missing” gospels are all products of man. The Bible, however, is God-breathed and merely transcribed by man! Let us never confuse the two.

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. [2 Peter 1:20-21 (NIV)]

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)]

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WALKING ADVERTISEMENTS

The one thing I would stress is this: your public behaviour must match up to the gospel of the king. [Philippians 1:27a (NTE)]

As children of obedience, don’t be squashed into the shape of the passions you used to indulge when you were still in ignorance. Rather, just as the one who called you is holy, so be holy yourselves, in every aspect of behaviour. It is written, you see, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’ [1 Peter 1:14-16 (NTE)]

ducks domestic

When I’m riding “shotgun” and we’re moving at snail’s pace in a traffic jam, I often amuse myself by reading the bumper stickers on the cars and trucks surrounding us. People tell us the number of children they have (and how bright they are) and make known their favorite pets, profession, and hobbies along with their stand on a variety of political issues. Bumper stickers certainly give an impression of the driver (or possibly the vehicle’s previous owners). While some stickers indicate the driver might be someone I’d enjoy meeting, I know I’d have little in common with the trucker who said he hated everybody, the one who thanked God he was an atheist, or the driver who told me to test my faith by driving with my eyes closed and avoid hangovers by staying drunk.

With the election coming up, many vehicles now display political ads. I don’t base my vote on bumper stickers, but the sentiments expressed by the other stickers on a vehicle often tell me something about the kind of person who supports the advertised party or cause. When the vehicles with political stickers also sport idiotic, hateful, bigoted or rude messages, their combination gives me pause. If the sort of person who supports that policy, party or politician sees nothing wrong or inappropriate with the rest of his messages, what does that say about his politics? If this driver is a typical supporter, would I want to further that movement?

If we were cars, what sort of messages would we display? Would they be the sort of stickers Jesus would have on His bumper? Or, do we claim to be Christian but preach a different story with words of hate, intolerance, narrow-mindedness, bigotry, or sexism? Are we good spokespersons for the church of Christ or do people look at us and want nothing to do with whatever it is we claim to believe? People judge Jesus by His followers and the world is watching us. What message are we sending with our words and actions?

The world takes its notions of God from the people who say that they belong to God’s family. They read us a great deal more than they read the Bible. They see us; they only hear about Jesus Christ. [Alexander MacLaren]

Behave wisely towards outsiders; buy up every opportunity. When you speak, make sure it’s always full of grace, and well flavoured with salt! [Colossians 4:5-6a (NTE)]

Anyone who says, “I abide in him,” ought to behave in the same way that he behaved. [1 John 2:6 (NTE)]

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MORE THAN HOT AIR

But I will come—and soon—if the Lord lets me, and then I’ll find out whether these arrogant people just give pretentious speeches or whether they really have God’s power. For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power. [1 Corinthians 4:19-20 (NLT)]

hot air balloonBecause we heard the fan running, we didn’t realize the AC wasn’t working until we returned home after being gone most of the day. By then, the inside temperature of 86 told us we were in trouble. A check outside told us the AC compressor wasn’t operating and the blackened grass near it told us why: a lightning strike during the previous night’s storm! Although the fan could still operate, without the power of the compressor, all it did was blow hot air!

Sure there was a lesson somewhere in all of that useless hot air, I thought of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians expressing his concern about eloquence without evidence. Even though some of their teachers were saying the right things, they weren’t living them out. Without God’s power, they were just windbags and, like our fan, full of hot air! Accustomed as they were to great orators, the Greeks were impressed by eloquent speeches but talk is cheap. Paul explained that the Kingdom of God isn’t speaking the right words; it is living them! He promised that, when he came to Corinth, they’d see the real power of God!

When Paul referred to the Kingdom of God, he wasn’t referring to Christ’s future reign but to Christ’s present reign in the hearts of His followers. The Kingdom of God is wherever the King is and His kingdom isn’t powered by words; it’s powered by the Holy Spirit and leads to changed lives.

John Calvin described a Christian’s task this way: “We must make the invisible kingdom visible in our midst.” That’s not done with flowery phrases, grandiose sermons, impressive words, or empty promises; it’s done by the way we live. As Paul said to the Corinthians: “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” [13:1] The Kingdom is made visible by the evidence that our King rules us in every aspect of our lives: whether at work, school, church, or home; with family, friends, co-workers or strangers; when writing a check, browsing the internet, or posting on social media.

The power enabling our air conditioner to function is in its compressor; the power enabling us to function as citizens of the Kingdom of God is found in the Holy Spirit. If we find ourselves just blowing hot air; it’s time to check the connection!

We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love. We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. [2 Corinthians 6:6-7 (NLT)]

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ESTATE PLANNING

Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. [1 Peter 1: 3b-4 (NLT)]

giraffe family -Serengeti - TanzaniaBack in March, when this pandemic began, people began thinking seriously about worst-case scenarios. Looking at the death tolls in other countries and seeing them rise in ours, many began scrambling to write their wills and end of life directives. By late April, one on-line estate planning platform reported a 223% increase in customers. When schools announced plans to resume in-person classes, that trend continued as many teachers added will writing to their back-to-school tasks.

Since we’re well into our seventies, my husband and I didn’t need a pandemic to remind us of our pending departure dates. Wanting to be good stewards of our financial blessings in both life and death, we’ve made arrangements and written our wills. Our lawyer wisely suggested that our end goal should be to have everyone in the family still speaking to one another when all is said and done. Unfortunately, even with a pandemic, many people fail to plan ahead for what we know will happen eventually to all of us. Sadly, their families end up squabbling over money, Uncle Joe’s war memorabilia, Grandma’s ring, or Sue’s Beanie Baby collection! By the time everything is resolved, the lawyers are the only ones who come out ahead and no one is speaking to anyone. Money rarely brings out the best in any of us.

Other than our financial assets (or debts, as the case may be) and a few possessions, what do we really leave to our children? Money and property are not the only legacy about which we should be concerned. Some things are far more important than cars, houses, insurance policies, or jewelry.

Perhaps we should be as concerned about our spiritual estate planning as we may be about our financial one. Unlike money, the quality of a spiritual bequest is far more important than its quantity. Good memories, an example of Christian living, wisdom, morals, love and good will are all more valuable than money or property. If we leave our children with humility, confidence, courage, hope, self-respect, the ability to laugh at themselves, and the desire to give and serve, we’ll have given them far more than money can buy.

The one thing we can’t leave them, however, is faith; that’s something they’ll have to find for themselves. We may have laid the groundwork by raising them as Christians but the choices they make are theirs alone. We can give them our prayers, good example, guidance, and love but they’ll have to do the rest on their own.

Heavenly Father, we give you our children—our heirs—and pray that they will become your heirs, as well. May they become heirs to the richness of your kingdom and glory.

I have now disposed of all my property to my family. There is one thing more I wish I could give them, and that is the Christian Religion. If they had that and I had not given them one shilling they would have been rich; and if they had not that and I had given them all the world, they would be poor. [Patrick Henry]

For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. [Romans 8:16-17 (NLT)]

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THE MILLSTONE

These people are as useless as dried-up springs or as mist blown away by the wind. They are doomed to blackest darkness. They brag about themselves with empty, foolish boasting. With an appeal to twisted sexual desires, they lure back into sin those who have barely escaped from a lifestyle of deception. [2 Peter 2:17-18 (NLT)]

zion parkAround 67 AD, Peter wrote to the church at large to warn them about the danger of false teachers. In a stark contrast to the Messiah’s living water, they were likened to wells without water and Peter warned that they were dangerous, especially to those new to Jesus.  The Apostle’s words reminded me of Jesus’ caution to the disciples about causing one of His “little ones” to fall into sin. “What sorrow awaits the one who does the tempting,” He warned while mentioning a fate involving a millstone. It’s bad enough when we sin but even worse if we drag others down with us. We can do that by preaching a false message, inviting them to share in our sinful behavior or, in a far more subtle way, by causing them to distrust the gospel message or turn from their faith.

The Greek word translated as “cause to sin” is skandalizō, meaning “to put a stumbling-block or impediment in the way upon which another may trip and fall.” In the New Testament, it meant “to entice to sin.” If skandalizō  sounds familiar, it should. It’s the source of a word we see far too frequently nowadays: scandal. Yet another well-known name has been added to a long list of church leaders brought down by scandal and I think of the stumbling block of scandal. The worst thing about any scandal in the church is what it does to those left in its wake: the “little ones,” the spiritually immature, the “baby Christians” in our midst. They are the people who may be tempted to reject the gospel message because of the sinful behavior of those who supposedly represent Jesus and His followers!

While it’s easy to point a finger at fallen evangelists, let’s remember that three fingers point back at us. Our failings may not be as well-publicized or as blatant as theirs but they easily can be stumbling-blocks to someone’s faith. Our transgressions do not invalidate the message of Jesus but they certainly undermine our witness. When we fall, we wound more than ourselves. If we don’t shake people’s faith in Christ, we do shake their faith in His followers.

Granted, the non-believer will not be able to excuse his lack of faith or sins because of our failings. Nevertheless, if we’ve harmed or lost a soul because of our behavior, we’ll be held accountable. That millstone of which Jesus spoke? A stone used to grind grain, it was so large and heavy that it had to be turned by a donkey. Drowning with a millstone around one’s neck actually was a form of execution used by the Romans for particularly heinous crimes and Jews found this method especially repulsive and inhumane. Jesus’ reference to the horrific fate of those who cause others to fall into sin was not lost on them. Let it not be lost on us!

But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea. What sorrow awaits the world, because it tempts people to sin. Temptations are inevitable, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting. [Matthew 18:6-7 (NLT)]

So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall. [Romans 14:13 (NLT)]

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ENCOURAGING WORDS

Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you. [2 Corinthians 13:11 (NLT)]

Oh, give me a home where the Buffalo roam
Where the Deer and the Antelope play;
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,
And the sky is not cloudy all day. [Brewster M. Higley]

pronghorn antelope - buffaloWouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where we’d never (at least rarely ever) hear a discouraging word? It shouldn’t be necessary to ride the range in Wyoming for that to happen.

When my eldest child entered adolescence, it frequently seemed like he’d decided his task in life was to annoy his mother as much as humanly possible. Regrettably, during those challenging years, there were lots of discouraging words. One evening, I realized that our communication consisted of me directing him (“Make your bed!”), correcting him (“Do it this way!”), disciplining him (“You’ve lost that privilege!”), criticizing him (“You can’t go out dressed that way!”), or denying him (“I said ‘No’ and that’s final!”). Admittedly, directions, corrections, and criticism are a necessary part of life as are discipline and denial. Nevertheless, realizing there was a room for improvement on my part as well as his, I made a concerted effort to keep my negative comments to a bare minimum.

Seldom speaking (or hearing) a discouraging word was not enough. Where, I wondered, were the words of love? Where were the words of encouragement so necessary for him to thrive and feel good about himself? One doesn’t need to take psychology 101 or even a dog obedience class to know about the importance of positive reinforcement (which is simply a fancy term for encouragement). I had to add positive and heartening comments to our interaction if he was going to flourish and bloom. With God’s guidance and a heavy dose of the Spirit’s patience, we managed to get through those trying years. In spite of my many parental failings, he blossomed into a delightful responsible young man. A wonderful father, he now has to deal with adolescents of his own (which is God’s payback)!

My mother used to say, “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all!” If we all followed that advice, the world would be a much quieter place and we’d never have to watch another campaign commercial! More, however, is needed. The Apostle Paul urged the early Christians to encourage one another and he truly practiced what he preached. Whenever he instructed and directed (even when he disciplined or corrected), Paul always seemed to add encouragement to his words.

Encouragement (or exhortation) is a gift of the Holy Spirit but that doesn’t mean those of us without this gift should fail to encourage! Those gifted with encouragement are the church’s cheerleaders, but the rest of us are the fans in the stands who join in supporting the team! In the Fruit of the Spirit, we find love and kindness (along with patience) which means all Christians are capable of encouraging the people we meet in our daily lives. It’s not enough to seldom speak a discouraging word; we need to speak encouraging ones!

Become the most positive and enthusiastic person you know. [H. Jackson Brown]

Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. [2 Timothy 4:2 (NLT)]

So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing. [1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NLT)]

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