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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I’M FINE

And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for. [1 John 5:14-15 (NLT)]

snowy egretsWhen asked about her boys, a friend used to answer, “They’re doing their own thing.” Years later, I learned “their own thing” meant they were breaking her mama’s heart with their addictions and run-ins with the law. Because she kept her pain concealed, she carried the weight of that burden alone for many years. We often hear similar answers when we ask someone how they’re doing— brusque responses like, “I’m fine,” “It’s taken care of,” or “We don’t need a thing.” Maybe everything really is hunky dory but those answers are often used when life has gone seriously awry and things are anything but fine. Those vague but terse responses are conversation stoppers. Even best friends, who suspect something is amiss, won’t pry and the subject is politely changed.

We wrap ourselves up in a nice package on the outside when inside we’re a mess. We allow people into the vestibule of our lives but won’t let them in to see the messy kitchen or dirty floor. We refuse to expose our vulnerabilities and then we wonder where our friends are when we need them. No one knows we need them if we refuse to allow them into our lives. The same goes for God. “Where are you God?” we complain without being willing to admit life’s a mess and we need Him.

Think of the paralyzed man whose friends took him to see Jesus in Capernaum. What if he’d told his friends he was just fine and didn’t need a thing? While his friends went off to see Jesus, he would have remained paralyzed at home and there would be one less miraculous healing. What if the blind man in Bethsaida or the centurion’s servant had said they were fine? Scratch two more healings!

As for Job’s friends—he could have rebuffed them at the door, telling them, “I’m fine; this is just a little setback.” Instead, he allowed them inside to see his scabs, sores and misery. Even with his friends’ erroneous theology, Job must have found comfort when they remained at his side. Perhaps their discussions even strengthened his faith in God.

We tell people we’re okay when we’re not and we often tell God the same thing. We’re so used to replying, “I’m fine,” when a stranger says, “How are you?” that we forget our friends and God actually care about the answer. Most of the time, when people inquire about our lives or ask how they can help, they sincerely want to know. If they’re not really interested, their response to our answer likely will be, “Sorry, I’m busy!” Even though God knows everything about us and all that we need, He tells us to ask Him. He knows we’re not fine, but do we? Fortunately, with God, we can be confident that He’ll never tell us He’s too busy!

Refusing to ask for help when you need it is refusing someone the chance to be helpful. [Ric Ocasek]

You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy. [John 16:24 (NLT)]

Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. [Matthew 7:7-8 (NLT)]

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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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WHAT LEGACY?

But God said to him, “You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?” Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God. [Luke 12: 20-21 (NLT)]

Trumbull Cemetery - OhioWhen touring a nearby resort town, a beautiful old mansion was pointed out. It was once owned by a man who made so much money on his invention of the sanitary milk bottle cap that he retired at the age of 26. For 93 years, the Chicago White Sox played at a ball field named for the team’s founder. In 2003, the field was renamed US Cellular Park and then, in 2016, it became the Guaranteed Rate Field. When I went to Northwestern University, the football venue was named for a former Evanston mayor. In 1997, the stadium was renamed to honor the family of a generous donor to the school’s athletic facilities. A friend’s daughter is attending a school named for a German immigrant who opened a Chicago butcher shop in 1883. Who were these men?

If you’ve not been on a Lake Geneva boat tour, you’ve never heard O.N. Tevander. Although one can still find pictures of his bottle capping machine, he doesn’t even rate a mention in Wikipedia. Do today’s baseball fans know that Charles Comiskey was a key person in the formation of the American League and founder of the Chicago White Sox? Do the Northwestern Wildcats know anything of William Dyche, class of 1882, and that his name was to remain on any NU stadium for perpetuity? In another twenty years, will they have any idea that Patrick Ryan founded Aon Corporation and once served on the university’s Board of Trustees? By then, it’s possible that another large check will have been written and the stadium will have yet another name. When you hear the name Oscar Mayer, do you think of an immigrant butcher from Bavaria or of a large corporation (now owned by Kraft), hot dogs and the wiener song?

Even if we amass great wealth, make generous donations, or achieve some modicum of fame, chances are that most of us will be forgotten in a few generations. Our last name might remain on a corporate letterhead or, if wealthy enough, we could have a building or stadium named after us (at least for a while). Our headstone may rest in a cemetery, we might be listed in a genealogy chart, or an old letter or picture of us may reside in a box of memorabilia stored in someone’s attic. Nevertheless, we will be long gone and, for the most part, forgotten. For William Dyche, perpetuity lasted only 71 years! How long will it last for us? Even if a great grandchild has our china, a piece of our jewelry or carries our name, our essence will have vanished. We will be little more than a short family story or a faceless name.

Jesus told a parable about the rich man whose land was so productive that he ran out of room to store his crops. Rather than share his excess, he just built bigger barns so he could relax and enjoy his wealth for years to come. Unfortunately for him, he died that very night. A simple parable, it points out the temporal nature of life.

Financial planners often ask their clients, “What will be your legacy?” The rich man in the parable left a legacy of filled barns for someone else to enjoy. Sadly, he forgot the most important thing—his soul. Sometimes we’re so busy thinking about our legacy here on earth that, like the man in the parable, we also forget about our souls. Whether or not we are remembered in this world isn’t really important. The real question is whether or not God will welcome us into His kingdom in the next.

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. [Matthew 6:19-21 (NLT)]

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OUR FOUNDATION

In that day he will be your sure foundation, providing a rich store of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge. The fear of the Lord will be your treasure. [Isaiah 33:6 (NLT)]

Dear God, what misery I beheld! The ordinary person, especially in the villages, knows nothing about the Christian faith, and unfortunately many pastors are completely unskilled and incompetent teachers. [Martin Luther]

Old World Wisconsin churchYesterday I mentioned getting an email with the subject, “How firm is your foundation?” Although it was an advertisement for a new study Bible connecting Biblical teachings to Christian beliefs, that very question has been the topic of discussion in our northern church for the last few weeks. The parish is doing a church-wide study of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. Back in the 1500s, Martin Luther was appalled at the lack of knowledge of both pastors and their congregations. Not especially tactful, he accused some pastors of being “lazy bellies and presumptuous saints!” His words for their congregations, “simple cattle and mindless pigs!” were no more diplomatic. People who called themselves Christians had no idea what that meant. They didn’t know the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed or even the Lord’s Prayer, let alone anything else in the Bible. Last week, our Pastor asked us what Luther might say if he visited today’s churches. We agreed that his words for our pastors would be more complimentary but that his words for their congregations might be the same or worse!

To remedy the deplorable lack of knowledge he found, Luther wrote his Small Catechism in 1529. This little book of Christian instruction was written not for theologians and priests but for ordinary people. It covers the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Holy Baptism, confession, Holy Communion, daily prayers and even offers a Household Chart of Bible passages describing the duties of people in various walks of life. Much of the catechism is done in question and answer form with the answer succinctly provided. For example, after listing the first commandment, it asks, “What does this mean?” and then explains: “We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things.” In short, Luther’s Small Catechism is a 16th Century version of Christianity for Dummies. Surprisingly, given its age, it is amazingly straightforward. Without theological minutia or argument, it is easily understood and certainly not limited to the Lutheran church.

This brings me back to the question that appeared in my email yesterday, “How firm is your foundation?” Do you know and understand what it is you profess to believe? Do you know why you believe it? How firm is your foundation?

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled? [John Rippon]

Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash. [Matthew 7:24-27 (NLT)]

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