Uzziah sought God during the days of Zechariah, who taught him to fear God. And as long as the king sought guidance from the Lord, God gave him success. … But when he had become powerful, he also became proud, which led to his downfall. [2 Chronicles 26:5,16 (NLT)]

peacockWhen writing about pride earlier this week, I remembered the Bible’s stories of proud men who got their comeuppance. 2 Chronicles 26 tells of Uzziah who, as long as he “sought guidance from the Lord, God gave him success.” His mighty army defeated the Philistines, Arabians, and Meunites (who then paid him an annual tribute) and, under his rule, Jerusalem’s walls were fortified, wilderness forts were established, water cisterns were dug, and something like catapults were erected on the walls to defend the city. With Uzziah as king, Judah prospered and the powerful king’s fame spread “far and wide.” Sadly, along with prosperity, power, and fame came pride. Believing he was above the law, the proud king entered the sanctuary and usurped the high priest’s role by offering incense. When priests warned him about his sacrilege, the proud king raged at them and immediately was stricken with leprosy—a disease that meant the “unclean” man lived the rest of his life in isolation and never again could enter the Temple. All the blessings, accomplishments, and prosperity of his reign were overshadowed by Uzziah’s one act of pride, insolence, and arrogance.

It is in the book of Daniel that we meet the proud Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. He was so full of pride that he erected a 90-foot golden statue of himself and then demanded that people fall down and worship it as a sign of loyalty to him. When the king had a disturbing dream about a tree that grew tall and then was cut down, he called upon Daniel to interpret its meaning. Daniel explained that Nebuchadnezzar was the tree and would be cut down by losing his kingdom. He then would live like an animal until he repented of his pride and learned that Heaven, not man, rules. Although Daniel advised the king to acknowledge God’s rule and govern with justice, his words fell on deaf ears.

About a year later, as Nebuchadnezzar looked down from his rooftop at the majestic splendors of Babylon, he proudly congratulated himself on his mighty power that accomplished such great things. Before the words were even out of his mouth, a voice from heaven pronounced judgment upon him and the king developed what is known as boanthropy, a psychological disorder in which one becomes delusional and thinks they’re a cow. The high and mighty king was driven from society and lived and ate like an animal for the next seven years. It was not until the once proud (but now repentant) king raised his eyes to heaven and acknowledged that God is the ruler over mankind that his sanity returned and his kingdom was restored.

For forty days and nights, the Philistine giant Goliath had proudly sauntered out to taunt the Israelite troops. Dressed in his bronze helmet, coat of mail, and leg armor while armed with spear, javelin, and sword, he challenged them to fight. Calling himself the Philistine champion and Israel’s army mere servants of Saul, the arrogant warrior thought himself invincible. What the Philistine didn’t know (but David did) was that, in taunting Israel, the braggart had insulted the God of Israel. When the nine-foot Goliath saw David walk toward him, he was filled with disdain for the apparently weaponless youth. In his smugness and conceit, he never considered the possibility that the boy was armed with sling, stones, and the power of Jehovah. When David ran toward him, the giant never saw what hit him. What a humiliating end for the warrior! He was felled by a single stone and beheaded by a shepherd boy wielding the giant’s own sword! Goliath’s demise is a perfect example of the old saying that “pride comes before a fall!”

Pride leads us down a dangerous path and, as we’ve seen from Scripture, pride inevitably leads to humiliation. It’s not just kings and giants who are proud rather than humble and fail to acknowledge from whom their gifts come and to whom they should submit. All that we possess in the way of power, strength, riches, intelligence, possessions, ability, talent, and even health are gifts from God—and He can take them away as easily as He gives them! Let us be humble.

No matter how dear you are to God, if pride is harbored in your spirit, He will whip it out of you. They that go up in their own estimation must come down again by His discipline. [Charles Spurgeon]

The Lord detests the proud; they will surely be punished. … Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall. First pride, then the crash—the bigger the ego, the harder the fall. Better to live humbly with the poor than to share plunder with the proud. [Proverbs 16:5,18-19 (NLT)]

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Sin whispers to the wicked, deep within their hearts. They have no fear of God at all. In their blind conceit, they cannot see how wicked they really are. [Psalm 36:1-2 (NLT)]

prickly pear cactusI enjoy stopping for a short stroll on the boardwalk of a local nature preserve that is home to well over 100 gopher tortoises (a protected species) and a wide assortment of native plants. The boardwalk is low to the ground and has no railing because it’s not there to protect people from the alligators and snakes of the swamp; it’s there to protect the animals and their dry scrub habitat from people! Several signs are posted about not stepping off it onto the fragile landscape. When I spotted an absolutely beautiful prickly pear cactus in full bloom, I was disappointed it was out of decent photo range. Since mine had been the only car in the parking lot, I was tempted to disobey the posted signs. “I really want that photo! Who’d know? What harm could I do?” I asked myself. If I’d seen someone else stepping off the boardwalk, however, I would have admonished them for their lack of environmental concern! Recognizing sin’s whisper in my ear, I stayed put. Nevertheless, I realized how tempting it is to think my desires are more important than anything or anyone else.

It’s easy to get so caught up in the importance of ourselves—our projects, possessions or purpose—that we forget it’s not really about us. Last year, a town north of us had a severe water shortage and asked residents to water lawns only once a week—yet, despite the city’s pleas, people disregarded the restrictions. Apparently, their landscaping took priority over the needs of their community. When no water comes out of the fire hydrants, however, the color of their grass will be of no importance.

I regularly see drivers run red lights, fail to yield right of way when entering roundabouts, and multi-task by texting, applying make-up, eating, and reading while driving. Apparently, their desire to get somewhere on their timeline takes precedence over anyone else’s safety. Of course, the few seconds they may save will be lost in an accident!

Why do we disobey laws (or God) so easily? What was it that made me (even briefly) think I deserved a photo denied to any but those with the finest camera and telephoto lens? The answer C.S. Lewis might give is pride. Calling it the “complete anti-God state of mind,” he considered pride the underlying cause of every other vice.

Competitive in nature, pride causes people to look down on things and other people. Could it be pride that makes people decide their lawns are more important than their city’s water supply or their destination is more important than the safety of their fellow drivers? Is it pride that causes us to think God’s commands, government regulations, traffic laws, community requirements, ethical principles,  moral standards, and even the rules of common courtesy apply to everyone else but not to us? Is it pride that makes us forget about doing unto others as we would have done to us? Could it be pride that makes us think that we deserve bigger, better, faster, fancier, sooner, or more than the other guy? It certainly was pride that allowed me to briefly think I deserved a photo op denied to others!

Pride means more than enmity between people; it is enmity to God. Faced with one infinitely superior to him, it was Satan’s pride that caused him to rebel and fall from heaven. It is our pride that makes us rebel, as well. We foolishly think that we’re better, smarter, richer, prettier, wittier, grander, saintlier, and more deserving than anyone else. We’re not!

It is pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began. …Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense. [C.S. Lewis]

“Scoffer” is the name of the arrogant, haughty man who acts with arrogant pride. [Proverbs 21:24 (ESV)]

Haughty eyes, a proud heart, and evil actions are all sin. … Mockers are proud and haughty; they act with boundless arrogance. [Proverbs 21:4,24 (NLT)]

(A week later, I came across another cactus right beside the walking path in the Botanic Garden. Thank you, God!)

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There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. [Isaiah 53:2-3 (NLT)]

poppyBecause we know little about the geography or politics of Jesus’ time, we sometimes miss subtleties in the gospel accounts. We know Jesus was from Galilee but what do we know of Galilee? Located north of Judea with the province of Samaria separating them, Galilee originally was settled by the tribes of Naphtali, Asher, Issachar, and Zebulun—all of whom failed to drive out the Canaanites. King Solomon gave twenty towns in the northern part of Galilee to King Hiram of Tyre either as payment for the cedar, cypress, and gold Hiram provided for the Temple’s construction or as collateral to cover later payments. In any case, Hiram later returned the cities to Solomon who then settled Israelites in them. When the kingdom divided, this region became part of the northern kingdom of Israel.

When Assyria defeated Israel, much of the Jewish population was relocated while those remaining often intermarried with the Gentiles sent there to repopulate the area. By the 7th century BC, the region was known as Galilee with Upper (northern) Galilee known as the “Galilee of the Gentiles.” This was a rich and fertile region and, with the Sea of Galilee being the largest freshwater lake in the area, it was an ideal location for settlements and fishing. After returning from their exile in Babylon, Judean immigrants resettled the region.

By the time of Jesus, Galilee was a heavily populated area. Jesus was raised in Nazareth in Lower Galilee. Most, if not all, of His disciples were from Galilee and He spent much of his ministry preaching around the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee in towns like Capernaum and Bethsaida. It was in Galilee that he turned water into wine, gave the Sermon on the Mount, and performed miracles like feeding the 5,000, healing the centurion’s servant, raising Jairus’ daughter and the widow of Nain’s son, walking on water, and calming a storm.

What we 21st century believers probably don’t know is that, in Jesus’ day, Judeans disparaged Galileans. Even though most Galileans were Jewish, the pureness of their ancestry had been diluted by intermarriage and Judeans considered them of questionable ancestry. The Galilean Aramaic dialect differed enough from Judean Aramaic that Galileans (like New Yorkers) were recognizable by their accents. It was Peter’s accent that identified him as a Galilean when he denied Jesus and it was their distinctive accent that caused Judeans to consider Galileans uneducated. One story in the Babylonian Talmud told of prohibiting them from speaking in the Temple for fear they might mispronounce something and offend God! In Acts 4:32, we find the Council amazed at the confidence with which Peter and John spoke because they were “unlearned and ignorant” men. It was their thick Galilean accents, not their words, that caused the incorrect assumption of ignorance.

Regional prejudices were as prominent in Jesus’ time as they are in ours and Judeans, especially Jerusalemites, viewed Galileans as uncultured peasants. “Galilean” was as derogatory a term as are “redneck” or “hillbilly.” Consider Nathanael’s surprise when Philip told him the Messiah was from Nazareth: “Can anything good thing come from Nazareth?” When Nicodemus dared to defend Jesus by pointing out He deserved a trial, his fellow Pharisees taunted him with their answer: “Are you from Galilee, too? Search the Scriptures and see for yourself—no prophet ever comes from Galilee!” Not only did their scorn prove their bias and prejudice, but it also revealed their own ignorance. The prophet Jonah came from Gath-Hepher, just a few miles north of Nazareth, in Galilee! Their bias also kept them from seeing how Jesus filled Isaiah’s prophecy of a Messiah in Isaiah 9 (repeated in Matthew 4:13-16).

Are we as judgmental as were the Pharisees? Do we make assumptions about groups of people based on pre-existing beliefs about their heritage, race, accent, attire, age, gender, religion, or disability? Many in Judea turned their backs on Jesus and the disciples because all they saw were uneducated peasants who spoke with a Galilean accent! Because of their prejudice, they continued to sit in the darkness in the presence of the Light! Let’s not make a similar mistake!

He went first to Nazareth, then left there and moved to Capernaum, beside the Sea of Galilee, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This fulfilled what God said through the prophet Isaiah:  “In the land of Zebulun and of Naphtali, beside the sea, beyond the Jordan River, in Galilee where so many Gentiles live, the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow, a light has shined.” [Matthew 4:13-16 (NLT)]

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TATTOOS – Part 2

Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. [1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NLT)]

While the New Testament does not specifically address tattooing, my friend’s question about tattoos got me wondering whether it’s addressed in general terms. Because tattoos apparently originated in things like pagan symbolism, superstition, and idolatry, some maintain they’re prohibited in Scripture. Indeed, the Israelites were prohibited from worshipping the pagans’ gods, following their customs, and participating in “detestable acts” like child sacrifice and the New Testament warns of sorcery and idolatry, but applying those words to tattoos seems a long stretch. The dates of holidays like Christmas (Saturnalia), All Saints’ Day (Samhain), and Valentine’s Day (Lupercalia) have pagan beginnings as do customs like placing flowers on graves, embalming, and celebrating birthdays. Must we abandon those (along with the heart symbol) because of their pagan origins? In that case, we’ll need to ditch our calendars since both the days of the week and the names of the months are founded in astrology and pagan gods (i.e., Saturday/Saturn, Thursday/Thor, March/Mars, and June/Juno)! Where do we draw the line?

Just because pagans did something doesn’t necessarily mean it is sinful. Before condemning every pagan custom, we should remember that even the pagans ate, harvested crops, worshipped, and prayed! In fact, much of the early church’s success was because it adapted to (but didn’t adopt) the pagan culture of its time without compromising the gospel message. “Like the apostle Paul,” said pastor and theologian Dr. E. Glenn Hinson, “they sought to be all things to all people, that Christianity might become the religion of as many as possible.”

The Apostle Paul refers to a Christian’s body as God’s temple and some condemn tattoos with this verse. Likening tattoos to graffiti in the sanctuary of a church, they consider them nothing short of vandalism or defilement. Citing Paul, they maintain that altering our bodies in any way is a sin. Again, where do we draw the line—at make-up, plucking eyebrows, shaving, piercings, coloring hair, Lasix and cataract surgery, corrective and reconstructive plastic surgeries, Botox, or even Spanx? All alter our bodies in one way or another. Since the Apostle was specifically addressing sexual immorality among believers, that’s not what Paul had in mind with his words.

Perhaps the best Scripture to guide us regarding any body embellishment is found in 1 Peter 3. Rather than prohibiting adornments altogether, Peter was emphasizing a proper sense of values. Materialism, boastfulness, conceit, attention seeking, and obsession with sex existed in the 1st century just as they do today. Whether it’s a body entirely covered with tattoos, one enhanced with every sort of plastic surgery, a see-though gown with plunging neckline, heavy gold chains around the neck and gold rings on every finger, or tee shirts with rude or hateful messages on them, none seem to display the Spirit of God or represent the way our humble, gentle, and holy Lord would have appeared.

How we adorn our bodies is one of those grey areas that, to some extent, is a matter of taste and judgment. Remembering that we are created in God’s image and hold His Holy Spirit within us, we must be led by the Spirit, the Word, and common sense. Clearly, any practice that is vulgar, ostentatious, insensitive, or a distraction to one’s Christian influence should be avoided yet, even those guidelines are open to interpretation. When in doubt, I find it best to err on the side of caution and ask, “What would Jesus do?”

Our lifestyle, language, attitudes, and manner of dress reflect on His name. He leads us in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Unless you are honestly convinced that the thing in question will bring glory to God, then don’t do it. [Curtis Hutson]

Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. [1 Peter 3:3-4 (NLT)]

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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)]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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