WHY DO WE WATCH? 

I will walk with integrity of heart within my house; I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. [Psalm 101:2-3 (ESV)]

rainbowWhile writing about curiosity yesterday, I thought about our insatiable curiosity concerning the lives of others. Some people think nothing of prying into other people’s lives by asking how much it cost, how much you’re paid, what the grade was, and more. The number of followers of the various social media platforms and fans of tell-all books, gossip magazines, tabloids, and reality TV tells me plenty of people want to know all that and more. Whether we know them or not, we seem to have a voracious appetite for the lives of other people, especially the lives of celebrities, former celebrities, one-time-wonders, housewives, bachelors, bachelorettes, the rich and privileged, and just about everyone else. We have talk shows where the more salacious the content the better and people come to blows after revealing sordid betrayals. We have assorted judge shows where in-law problems, unknown paternity, infidelity, and other poor choices reign. Private disagreements, personal relationships, and shocking secrets are openly aired for the curious world.

As much as I struggle to understand why any of us are interested in other people’s private lives, I find it even harder to comprehend why people choose to make public spectacles of themselves. Reality TV, of course, isn’t real and those “real housewives” aren’t really “housewives.” Knowing that circumstances are contrived to guarantee crisis, conflict, and drama, I wonder why people deliberately allow themselves to be manipulated for their five minutes of fame (or infamy). Considering the number of people who have an incredible willingness to freely share the most intimate details of their lives with the world, it appears as if curiosity and braggadocio are two sides of the same coin.

Perhaps it’s conceit, egotism, or a weird sort of arrogance that leads people to think that, no matter how appalling, their every thought, feeling, experience, meal, or intimate moment is worth sharing with the world. People have become so immodest that they will bare their souls and just about everything else to complete strangers. They are like exhibitionists who leave the curtains half open to dance in front of the window and their curious audience is like the voyeur who peeks through those curtains. Sadly, our curiosity has turned people parading their private lives into a lucrative business (apparently the more dysfunctional the better.)

It’s almost malevolent the way people want to see others at the worst. Perhaps we’re drawn into this tabloid culture so we can congratulate ourselves on being nicer, saner, smarter, more moral, and less superficial. Pride puffs us up because we don’t hoard, commit adultery, spend excessively, or keep having needless plastic surgery. Self-righteously, we pat ourselves on the back for not living vicariously through our talented children, exploiting our families, brawling in public, or letting cameras into our bedrooms. We feel superior because we’re better behaved, pay our debts, and know who fathered our children.

Granted, there is a difference between watching chefs contend for top honors, brainiacs compete for money, super athletes vie for a title, or pickers search for rare artifacts and watching people engage in attention-grabbing, immoral, inappropriate, or self-destructive behavior. Nevertheless, there is a fine line between innocent interest and prurient curiosity and crossing that line leads us into sin’s territory of judgment and pride.

To rework Jeff Foxworthy’s quote about going to the state fair: “If you ever start feeling like you have the goofiest, craziest, most dysfunctional family in the world, all you have to do is watch reality TV because pretty soon you’ll be going, ‘You know, we’re alright. We are dang near royalty!’” Perhaps people’s bad behavior, excessive alcohol consumption, emotional outbursts, humiliation, tears, and turmoil became entertainment simply to make us feel like saints in comparison to them. Let’s not fool ourselves; we’re not! Perhaps it’s time to check our curiosity and rethink how we spend our time and with what we fill our minds.

Men compare themselves with men, and readily with the worst, and flatter themselves with that comparative betterness. This is not the way to see spots, to look into the muddy streams of profane men’s lives; but look into the clear fountain of the Word, and there we may both discern and wash them; and consider the infinite holiness of God, and this will humble us to the dust. [Robert Leighton (A Puritan Golden Treasury)]

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. [Philippians 4:8 (ESV)]

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. … Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. [Colossians 3:1-3,10 (ESV)]

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CURIOSITY

When the Woman saw that the tree looked like good eating and realized what she would get out of it—she’d know everything!—she took and ate the fruit and then gave some to her husband, and he ate. [Genesis 3:6 (MSG)]

catI often wonder why Eve ate that forbidden fruit and why Adam so foolishly followed suit. Of course, we have the clever, devious and deceitful serpent to blame. Assuring Eve that God lied to her, he said she wouldn’t die if she ate the apple. He promised that she’d be just like God with the knowledge of good and evil. God hadn’t given Adam and Eve any reason to doubt His word, so why did they succumb so easily to Satan’s temptation?

It certainly wasn’t hunger that led them to that forbidden fruit; they lived in Eden where everything was good and all of their needs were met. The two already had the knowledge of all that was good so why were they so interested in learning about evil? The serpent, however, piqued Adam and Eve’s curiosity. Seeing that lovely tree with luscious looking fruit, they got inquisitive. Why did God forbid that fruit? What would happen if they ate it? What did it taste like? Who would know? What was evil? What was death? What would it be like to have that knowledge—to know everything? Curiosity tugged at the two of them and they started yearning for what wasn’t theirs to have.

Curiosity was given to us by God and it is a beautiful gift. It makes us wonder what lies beyond and question what things are made of, how they work, and how they can be used. It causes us to ask, “What would happen if…?” Curiosity moved mankind forward in an amazing and awesome way and, without it, we wouldn’t have things like the wheel, electricity, solar energy, computers, vaccines, telescopes, or space travel. As William Arthur Ward said, “Curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning.”

Along with being that wick in the candle of learning, however, curiosity can be a double-edge sword. While it’s what makes a child explore and ask “Why?” it’s also what makes him stick a fork in an electric socket, swallow button batteries, and bite into detergent pods. Curiosity sent the Magi to Bethlehem and the shepherds to the manger but it also caused Adam and Eve to disobey God. It was curiosity that caused the Ethiopian eunuch to ask Philip to explain Isaiah but it also caused the prodigal son to explore a profligate lifestyle.

Untamed curiosity can make us vulnerable to the enemy’s attacks. It was curiosity that caused David to watch Bathsheba from his rooftop and lust for what wasn’t his to possess and curiosity made the men of Beth Shemesh peek in the Ark at what wasn’t theirs to see. Curiosity asks, “What’s the harm in one taste…one touch…one sip…one try…one time…one look?” Remember, Lot’s wife took just one inquisitive look back at Sodom and it didn’t end well for her.

“Where would we be today if no one got curious?” asked the teacher. “In the Garden of Eden!” answered the little boy. When curiosity leads us to be displeased with the wrongs of the world, it is a blessing. But, when curiosity leads us to be discontented with the blessings we have, as it did with Adam and Eve, it only leads to trouble. Curiosity isn’t a sin but what we do with it can be! Like free will, curiosity is a God-given gift but, like free will, it must be used with caution. The choice is ours.

Curiosity is a kernel of the forbidden fruit which still sticketh in the throat of a natural man, sometimes to the danger of his choking. [Thomas Fuller]

When God, your God, cuts off the nations whose land you are invading, shoves them out of your way so that you displace them and settle in their land, be careful that you don’t get curious about them after they’ve been destroyed before you. Don’t get fascinated with their gods, thinking, “I wonder what it was like for them, worshiping their gods. I’d like to try that myself.” [Deuteronomy 12:29-30 (MSG)]

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RELUCTANT HEROES

Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt.” But Moses protested to God, “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?” [Exodus 3:10-11 (NLT)]

red-shouldered hawkIn the late 1970s, psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance developed the concept of what is known as the “imposter syndrome.” Loosely defined as doubting one’s abilities and feeling like a fraud, it is believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. The impostor syndrome manifests in failing to realistically assess our competence and skills, self-denigration, a fear of not living up to expectations, and attributing any of our successes to someone or something else, like luck.

When God called out to Moses from the burning bush, He assigned Moses the task of going to Pharaoh and leading the people of Israel out of Egypt. Moses’ response is a classic example of imposter syndrome. As the princess’ son, he spent forty years as a prince in Pharaoh’s palace, was well-educated, and knew the royal protocol, language, and culture of Egypt and, as a Hebrew, he also knew the language, history, culture, expectations, and God of Israel. Although he was uniquely qualified for the task, Moses belittled his speaking ability and showed his fear of failure with the question, “What if they won’t believe me or listen to me?”

Moses, of course, is not the only one of the Bible’s heroes to suffer from the “imposter syndrome” when called to do God’s work. Isaiah thought he was too sinful, Jeremiah thought he was too young, and then there’s Gideon. When we first meet him, Gideon is hiding in a winepress while threshing wheat, which seems somewhat cowardly. The people of Israel, however, had been oppressed for seven years by marauding nomadic tribes like the Midianites. Their livestock and crops were being pillaged and the people were being starved into submission as they hid in caves. Not about to let his family starve, Gideon had come up with a clever way to conceal his activity and threshing wheat in a wine press may have been wiser than it was cowardly. Nevertheless, when the angel of the Lord called on him to rescue Israel, the man disparaged not just himself but his entire clan of Manasseh. Even though the people had no other leader, Gideon was sure he had neither status nor authority to call up an army.

Convinced that they weren’t capable of doing God’s work, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Gideon listed all that they weren’t rather than looking at all of the things God is. They didn’t see what they brought to the table and certainly didn’t understand the power they’d receive from God. It wasn’t eloquence that caused Egypt’s plagues or caused the Israelites to follow Moses nor was it strict adherence to the law or maturity that enabled Isaiah and Jeremiah to prophesy. It certainly wasn’t status and authority that led to Gideon’s victories. It was the power of God!

While there are many competent, experienced, and skilled people in the world, God isn’t interested in whether or not we’re qualified. God is interested in our devotion to Him. If we’re committed to doing His work, God will provide the qualifications! If we’re not devoted to God, however, we’ll remain unqualified regardless of our eloquence, status, authority, talents, wisdom, or expertise. Let us never underestimate our abilities but, more important, let us never underestimate the power of our God!

Many Christians estimate difficulties in the light of their own resources, and thus attempt little and often fail in the little they attempt. All God’s giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on His power and presence with them. [James Hudson Taylor]

Then the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon with power. He blew a ram’s horn as a call to arms, and the men of the clan of Abiezer came to him. He also sent messengers throughout Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, summoning their warriors, and all of them responded. [Judges 6:34-35 (NLT)]

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FENCES

Stay away from every kind of evil. [1 Thessalonians 5:22 (NLT)]

Moses received the Torah from Sinai and committed it to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets to the Men of the Great Assembly. They said three things: Be deliberate in judgment, raise up many disciples, and make a fence around the Torah. [Misnha (Pirke Avot)]

tigerLast December, after breaching the barrier surrounding the tiger enclosure at our local zoo, a man stuck his hand into the tiger’s cage. A similar incident occurred a few months later at a nearby airboat attraction when a man improperly went through the first enclosure and put his arms into the tiger’s cage. Although both men survived, they suffered serious injuries to their hands and arms. Fences are placed to protect us and keep us from getting too close to danger but you can’t protect people from their own stupidity.

Just as those fences around the tigers’ cages were meant to protect people from the tigers (and the tigers from people), many of the Rabbinic innovations were designed to protect the commandments of the Torah. It is in the Mishnah (the oldest collection of post-biblical Jewish laws) that we find the phrase “make a fence around the Torah.” It is this fence, not the Bible, that explains the hundreds of prohibitions we find in Judaism.

Those Rabbinic rules were supposed to prevent people from being tempted to break the law or unintentionally doing so. For example, items like hammers and scissors that were associated with prohibited work like building or cutting, were not even to be picked up lest handling them led to their use. Although the Sabbath officially begins at sunset Friday, a few minutes were added before its beginning and after its end to make sure no one accidentally worked too late or resumed work too early. Even today, for my Jewish friend, the Shabbat candles are lit and all work has stopped no later than 18 minutes before the sun officially sets. His Sabbath ends when three stars are visible, which can be about 30 minutes after sunset. Rather than additions to the Mosaic law, these fences were seen as a way of helping people remain obedient to the law; they were erected to keep people from giving into temptation or just cutting it too close! Sadly, through the years, the rules became increasingly complicated and, by Jesus’ time, they were the heavy yoke about which He spoke.

Nevertheless, Jesus gave us a New Testament version of building a fence when He equated the emotion of anger with the act of murder and the attitude of lust with adultery. Anger and lust are like stepping too close to the tiger’s cage—they’re dangerous territory! Just as picking up his cell phone on Saturday might lead my Jewish friend to break the Sabbath by using it, lust and anger can lead to something far worse! Sticking your arm in a tiger’s cage or stepping into sin never ends well and, rather than gouging out our eyes or cutting off our hands, we can erect spiritual boundaries to keep us and our loved ones safe. We may restrict our youngsters to G or PG movies or set specific rules about dating for our teens. We might use internet filters to screen out inappropriate content on our computers, abstain from alcohol, or avoid the appearance of inappropriate behavior by following the “Billy Graham rule” of never being alone with a person of the opposite sex except for one’s spouse. We each have our own spiritual fences.

Unless they’re found in Scripture, however, those fences are not doctrine. They are our personal rules and, as such, other people may have different ones, some of which may be closer or further from the tiger’s cage than ours. We are not in a position to judge other people’s spiritual barriers any more than they are to judge ours. Unfortunately, for the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, the fence around the Torah became more important than the law itself. We must never do that. Every fence we erect must comply with God’s simple law that we love Him with our entire being and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

…he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” [Mark 12:28-31 (NLT)]

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LOOKING FOR “LOVE”

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NLT)]

cardinalNormally, the Internet would be one of the worst places to search for love but, according to my favorite online Bible resource site, some people went looking for love on line and were successful. Of course, they were looking for it in one of the right places—the Bible. With nearly 3 million searches a day (which, in case you wondered, is more than 2,000 per minute 24/7), “love” was the keyword most commonly searched for by the 160 million visitors to their site in 2021. Appearing 759 times in the NLT Bible, “love” was easily found (even in the King James that only uses it 442 times)!

“Love” tops the keyword search every year and “peace” (appearing 362 times in the NLT) retained its second-place position. As expected, hope, joy, and faith rounded out 2021’s top five most popular word searches. With “hope“ used 190 times, 333 appearances for “joy,” and “faith” mentioned 507 times in the NLT, the Bible was the right place to find them all. Although the number of occurrences depend on the version searched, these favorite words are found in every translation.

The Bible certainly is the place to look for love, peace, hope, joy, and faith but, with nearly 7,000 mentions of “Lord,” almost 5,000 of “God,” and nearly 1,500 of “Jesus” in the NLT, the Bible is a good place to go looking for them, as well! Those names, however, were missing from the most popular searches, as were words like prayer, humility, righteousness, repentance, servanthood, surrender, worship, sanctification, sacrifice, justification, judgment, sin, obedience, and atonement.

2021’s most searched for Bible verse remained John 3:16: “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” The perennial runner-up continued to be Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’” As two of the most encouraging and heartening verses in the Bible, it’s easy to see why they are favorites.

Indeed, God’s Word is filled with words of comfort and reassurance, but limiting our Bible knowledge to only positive and uplifting words and verses is a bit like eating the croutons but not the salad beneath them, tasting only the crispy fried onions on top of the green bean casserole, or having dessert while skipping the main course! Some of those unsearched for words may be less tasty, but they are just as important as love, peace, hope, joy, and faith. It seems that many of us come to the Bible more interested in comfort than truth, affirmation than obedience, reassurance rather than correction, and inspiration rather than salvation. When we come to Scripture looking only for words of encouragement, we might miss the bigger message of salvation, redemption, and rebirth found in Jesus Christ. Let’s never settle for Scripture “Lite.”

If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself. [Augustine]

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. [Hebrews 4:12 (NLT)]

Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. [Joshua 1:8 (NLT)]

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DOUBT AND UNBELIEF

lilacWe reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this. If the Good News we preach is hidden behind a veil, it is hidden only from people who are perishing. Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. [2 Corinthians 4:2-4 (NLT)]

Yesterday, when writing about John the Baptist, I said that doubt was not the same as unbelief. In John’s question to Jesus, we have the doubts of a godly man but we see trickery and unbelief in most of the questions of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Because the Sadducees interpreted Scripture literally and the Pharisees gave equal significance to their oral tradition, the groups frequently argued with one another over Jewish doctrine. They were, however, united in their hatred of Jesus. Unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees did not belief in an afterlife or the resurrection of the dead. Nevertheless, they asked Jesus a question dealing with resurrection. Jewish law said that, if a woman’s husband died without having a son, the husband’s brother had the responsibility of marrying her. Using this law as their starting point, the Sadducees set up a bizarre scenario in which one brother dies without having children and his widow, who never bears a son, ends up marrying and burying brother after brother until she’s married and buried all seven brothers. The Sadducees want Jesus to tell them which of the seven will be her husband in the afterlife.

Since they didn’t believe in any afterlife, theirs was not an honest question and they’re sure Jesus can’t answer without looking foolish, offending people, or being caught in an inconsistency. He’ll appear arbitrary if he picks one brother over another and immoral if He says they all can have her! His other choice (and possibly the one for which they hope) is to admit that resurrection is a preposterous doctrine. Not only would they score a point against the Pharisees but Jesus would look like a fraud since He couldn’t be the “resurrection and the life” if there were no resurrection!

Imagine their consternation when Jesus corrected them by saying they’d misinterpreted Scripture and had underestimated God’s power with their assumption that resurrection meant a continuation of the same kind of bodies we have in this life. Jesus explained that people would be raised into bodies unlike their present ones and marriage and procreation would be unnecessary. When Jesus added that people will have bodies “like the angels in heaven,” He dug the knife deep into their absurd question because Sadducees didn’t believe in angels any more than they did resurrection.

In His final thrust, Jesus asked the Sadducees if they’d read about resurrection in the Scriptures. He then repeated these words from Exodus: “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” [3:6] Even though the patriarchs had been dead for more than four centuries, God’s words to Moses were in the present tense which showed that the men remained alive before Him. Jesus could have found scriptural support in words from Isaiah, Daniel, or Job but He chose a verse from part of the Pentateuch, the section the Sadducees found most authoritative. Having been out-argued by the Son of God, I imagine the Sadducees departed with their proverbial tails between their legs. The crowd that heard Jesus, however, was “astounded at his teaching.”

When comparing the questions posed by John’s disciples and the Sadducees, the differences between doubt and unbelief become clear. Where doubt seeks answers, unbelief isn’t interested in them. Doubt seeks enlightenment; unbelief prefers darkness. Doubt is receptive; unbelief is hostile. Doubt is straightforward; unbelief has ulterior motives. Doubt wants the truth; unbelief just wants to win.

There are those who insist that it is a very bad thing to question God. To them, “why?” is a rude question. That depends, I believe, on whether it is an honest search, in faith, for His meaning, or whether it is the challenge of unbelief and rebellion. [Elisabeth Elliot]

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. [Matthew 22:34 (NLT)]

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