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)]

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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COMPASSION FATIGUE

Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.” [1 Kings 19:4 (NLT)]

hibiscusMost of us think of sloth as laziness: a dislike of work or any physical exertion. Having watched the local zoo’s sloth in action (or, rather, inaction), I think the sluggish animal is appropriately named. Spiritual sloth, however, is far different than being a couch potato. Originally, the sin of sloth was two sins: sadness and acedia. Compiled by Evagrius of Pontius, 4th century monk, these two “capitals sins” were part of a list of eight he believed to the greatest threats to devout monasticism.

We know what sadness is and it’s important to remember that the sadness which Evagrius found problematic for his monks was not clinical depression; it was that despondency or gloom that easily came upon a monk living an ascetic life of prayer, fasting and labor in the middle of the Egyptian desert in the 4th century. It was unhappiness with one’s present situation and the melancholy that comes from longing for something different. It was distress at one’s circumstances and the inability to give thanks in all things. In this troubled world, we certainly don’t have to be monks to suffer that kind of sadness.

Acedia comes from the Greek and means without care or concern. Rather than laziness, it is apathy or a fatigue of mind and soul. A spiritual boredom or weariness, acedia results in listless prayers, study or service. In the midday heat, the monks were tempted to let their minds wander during study and prayers and then fall asleep causing Evagrius to call acedia the “noonday demon.” Seeing the correlation between sadness and acedia, in the late 6th century, Pope Gregory combined the two sins into sloth .

A few mornings ago, I fell victim to compassion fatigue and began to understand spiritual sloth. The previous night’s discussion in Bible study had been disheartening. We’d talked of the recent hurricanes (with yet another one on the horizon), Mexico’s earthquakes, Puerto Rico’s devastation, Korea’s threat, the horrendous carnage in Las Vegas, a polarized nation, and the unrest in the Middle East. As I added that night’s heartbreaking prayer requests to my already burgeoning and depressing list, I grew numb with grief. “What’s the point? I wondered as I listed a two-year old just diagnosed with metastasized stomach cancer, a woman who may lose her feet because of nursing home neglect, and a friend’s suicidal son. “What difference can I make? Why bother?” I cried. At that point, my heart was so weary with grief that I no longer wanted to care or pray. I probably felt as Elijah did when, while fleeing Jezebel, he sat down under that broom tree and said he wanted to die. That’s spiritual sloth and it’s not just monks and Old Testament prophets that can be afflicted with it. The enemy wants us all to become so downhearted and world-weary that we fall into spiritual inactivity or sloth.

Elijah was cured of his spiritual sloth by food, rest, and a talk with the Lord. Although I didn’t eat, I was nourished by Scripture. I didn’t sleep but I rested in the words I read and then, like Elijah, I had a prayerful chat with God. God whispered to Elijah and gave him new strength. He whispered to me and refreshed me with his words of love, comfort, reassurance and hope.

I cried out, “I am slipping!” but your unfailing love, O Lord, supported me. When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer. [Psalm 94:18-19 (NLT)]

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. [Philippians 4:8 (NLT)]

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MYOB

If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. [1 Peter 4:14-15 (ESV)]

standard poodleThe store was called “Ms. Bossy Boots” and the sign in the window said, “I’m not bossy, I’m just helpful.” Having just had an encounter with a precocious youngster who’d been wearing some very bossy boots, I laughed. After advising me that I needed to put televisions in all my bedrooms, she informed me we couldn’t sell our house because she didn’t want new neighbors! She announced her disapproval of the appetizers, questioned the dinner menu, told me jam should be served with the bread, and criticized the vegetables. Following dinner, I was advised that any remaining cookies should be packed up for her. In a younger child, her behavior might have been slightly excusable. At her age, however, it was demanding and ill-mannered. Over-indulged by her mother and grandparents, she has not learned that it is the meek who will inherit the earth.

Most of us don’t behave like impertinent children but that doesn’t mean we aren’t meddlesome or bossy; we’re just more subtle than that cheeky little girl. When we put on our bossy boots, we excuse ourselves by saying we’re being helpful, interested, or supportive. If anyone had the right to interfere, it was Jesus but He refused to intervene when asked to settle a dispute about an inheritance. Because rabbis often resolved disagreements, it wasn’t such an odd request. Nevertheless, our Lord, knowing what constituted His business and what didn’t, refused to get involved. He did, however, take that opportunity to teach about greed.

We were told, “Mind your own business,” when we tattled in school and, “Keep your eyes on your own paper!” when taking tests. Keeping our mouths shut and our eyes on our own business remains good advice today. Far too often, our “helpfulness” is really just an excuse to be bossy or stick our noses into somebody else’s affairs. Soon we’re just a word away from engaging in gossip and self-righteousness while telling others how much we are doing, solving or repairing and how well we are doing it. The Apostle Peter lumps meddlers in with thieves, murderers and other criminals and Proverbs likens meddling to grabbing a dog by the ears. Whether we call it helping, tweaking, or enlightening, it’s wise to remember that just a few inches away from a dog’s ears are some pretty sharp teeth. Eventually, meddling will turn around and bite us!

Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears. [Proverbs 26:17 (ESV)]

And to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, [1 Thessalonians 4:11 (ESV)]

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ROOTS

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)]

sea oatsIt’s not just light poles that were destroyed by Hurricane Irma’s winds; many trees also met their end at her hands. As I looked at the upended roots of a once mighty oak, I thought of one of Aesop’s fables about an oak in a storm. A proud oak stood by a stream, and like this one, had survived several storms in its many years. One day, a hurricane the likes of Irma arrived and the great oak fell with a thunderous crash. As the water rose, it was carried down to the sea. When the oak eventually came to rest along the shore, it looked up at the sea oats that were waving in the now gentle sea breeze, “How did you manage to weather such a terrible storm?” it asked. “I’m a great oak and even I didn’t have strength enough to battle the wind.”

The sea oats replied, “That was your problem. You were too proud to bend and yield a little and so the wind knocked you over. I’m just an insubstantial sea oats plant but, knowing my weakness, I didn’t resist as the wind gusted. The harder it blew, the more I humbled myself and the lower I bent. So, here I am, still enjoying the beach. Aesop’s moral is that it is better to bend than to break. “Perhaps there a message here,” I thought and, yet, I wasn’t sure it was just about pride and humility.

The Apostle Paul was very clear about standing firm in the face of trials and temptation. He told the early church to stand firm and not to waver; he wanted them to be oaks and not sea oats. When facing one of life’s hurricanes, however, it’s pretty hard not to wobble, quiver and quake wildly. If we stand firm, will we be knocked down and end up a piece of drift wood or ground up into mulch? If that mighty oak couldn’t weather the storm, how can we?

The Apostle also said that growing roots in Jesus is what will keep us strong. That fallen oak’s upended roots were taller than me and yet they didn’t do the oak much good when Irma arrived. The roots of which Paul speaks are deep roots that grown down into our Lord. It is strong deep roots that will serve to anchor a tree in the ground. I’m not an arborist, but I could easily see that there was nothing deep about that oak’s roots (or the roots of the many other uprooted oaks throughout our community).

In Jesus’ parable about soil, he told of seed scattered on good soil that grew, seed strewn on a path that was eaten by the birds, seed that was crowded out by the thorns, and seed that fell on rocky soil. Those plants in rockyy soil grew quickly but, since their roots weren’t deep, they withered in the hot sun. If He’d been in a tropical climate like Florida’s, Jesus could have used sand and hurricanes instead of rocks and sun in His analogy. Good nutritious soil is necessary for a plant’s success and Florida’s soil is shallow and mostly sand. The many fallen oaks’ roots, while wide, were shallow and certainly not the kind of roots of which Jesus and Paul spoke.

Aesop’s fable was about pride and humility but the many uprooted oaks in town tell me something more. Granted, there may be times we need to bend a little, as do the sea oats, but we must never bend if that means compromising our faith. I think of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Their roots were so deep that they were willing to die before they bent down to worship a false god or failed to worship the true one. While a miracle saved them, there was no miracle for Stephen, a man whose deep roots in Christ gave him strength enough to stand and testify before the Jewish high council knowing he’d die because of it. These men were willing to be sacrificed and broken before bending to the prevailing wind.

Given a choice, I would rather stand strong, like an oak with deep roots, than fall because of the wind. Nevertheless, if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, like Stephen and other Christian martyrs, I would rather be broken and fall than bend and survive as do the sea oats.

I pray from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. [Ephesians 3:16-17 (NLT]

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THE HOLY GOALIE

And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. [Ephesians 6:10-12 (MSG)]

Several weeks ago, there was a story on the morning news about a youth hockey camp. When the sportscaster mentioned having a “holy goalie” in attendance, I stopped to listen. As it turns out, this was not a typical athletic camp but a faith-based one—one that combined sports and God. The aforementioned holy goalie was a Catholic bishop from downstate who loves hockey almost as much as he does Jesus!

Even the best goalie can’t make a save all of the time. Top hockey goalies Martin Brodeur, with 691 wins, and Patrick Roy, with 551 wins, manage to make saves only a little more than 90% of the time. Considering the age and vocation of the “holy goalie,” I doubt that his percentage of saves is anywhere that good. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a real Holy Goalie—someone who could keep the opposition—the enemy—from defeating us? We do, in fact, have a Holy Goalie and He has more defense moves than the priest, Brodeur and Roy combined. Our Holy Goalie isn’t an all-star athlete or even a presiding bishop; He is the Holy Spirit.

Of course, much of a goalie’s success or failure in stopping opposing goals has to do with his team and whether or not the players have played a good defensive game. Even with a truly Holy Goalie, like any good team, we must do our part. Before facing the opponents, hockey players suit up in a host of protective gear: shin guards, elbow pads, heavily cushioned hockey pants, shoulder pads and chest protector, protective gloves, “jock,” helmet, neck guard, mouth guard, and maybe even a face mask. Hockey is fast-moving, intense, rough and sometimes brutal; then again, so is life. We may not get body checked into the boards but circumstances can knock us down just as easily and the enemy can leave us just as bloody as a puck to the nose. Rather than padded clothing, when we suit up for the game of life, we must put on the armor of God to be protected by His truth, righteousness, peace, salvation, faith and word. In hockey, players can change “on the fly” but no one steps in for us in real life. We’ve got to keep going, playing our best, until the whistle blows. That’s where our Holy Goalie differs from a mortal one. He doesn’t just defend us when the enemy gets close to the goal; He acts as cheering section, general manager, coach, trainer, and team physician. Our Holy Goalie, like hockey’s referees and linesmen, also tells us when we’ve crossed the line, violated any rules or been guilty of unChristianlike conduct. While we have no need for a Zamboni driver, the Holy Goalie’s guidance can smooth the way for us better than any Zamboni. Thank you, God, for our Holy Goalie—your Holy Spirit!

Breath in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy. Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy. Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy. Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy. Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy. [St. Augustine]

Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted. [Ephesians 4:30 (MSG)]

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WATCH YOUR STEP

The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” [Genesis 3:12-13 (NIV)]

kittenWhen Satan presented himself to Eve, he was in the guise of a serpent. Remember, this was before God declared enmity between woman and the suborder Serpentes. The snake probably seemed as cute, innocent and harmless as a kitten to the naïve Eve. When Eve tempted Adam with that apple, he had no reason to suspect his wife. When Job’s wife told him to curse God and die, as miserable as he was, her suggestion must have been tempting. We know Sapphira consented to Ananias’ lie about the money he was giving to the church. Could his loving wife have been the one who tempted him to keep back some of it? When Peter told Jesus to refuse crucifixion, that temptation also came from someone loved and trusted. Unfortunately, temptation often comes from unlikely sources. If it really looked as threatening and evil as it is, we’d probably flee in terror before succumbing to it.

Indeed, temptation is seductive and rarely does our tempter appear to be the adversary he or she truly is. A colleague shows us how to pad the expense account, a supplier suggests a way to cut corners, a school friend suggests cheating on the test, a broker offers inside information, a customer proposes a shady side deal, tea and sympathy turn into an illicit affair, or a discussion in our small group turns into a gripe session or gossip fest. Talk to a recovering addict: that first snort of cocaine or heroin didn’t come from a wigged out junkie in a back alley; it came from a friend! Satan is no fool; if he arrived at our doorstep looking like the deceitful conniver he is, we’d never let him in. Instead, he finds ways to use people, often those we’d least suspect, even people we admire or love, to act as stumbling blocks to our faith.

Yesterday I wrote about not being a stumbling block to someone else’s faith. It’s not enough, however, not to be a tempter. We must learn how to recognize those stumbling blocks that ever so subtly lie in our path. Not every bad idea comes from someone we think of as “bad;” many come from our nearest and dearest. While Satan may skulk around like a hungry lion, he often looks a great deal like a cute innocent kitten.

We must not regard who speaks, so much as what is spoken; we should learn to know the devil’s voice when he speaks in a saint as well as when he speaks in a serpent. [Matthew Henry]

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith. [1 Peter 5:8-9a (NIV)]

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