Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Lyin' King

The Lord detests lying lips,
    but he delights in people who are trustworthy.

-- Proverbs 12:22
"With lies you may go ahead in the world," says a Russian proverb, "but you can never go back."

It's a reminder that credibility and character mean a lot. And that seems to be the public's message to the news media following several high-profile scandals.

In 2015 Brian Williams lost his job as anchor of NBC Nightly News after he was found to have fabricated reports related to the Iraq War and Hurricane Katrina. New York Times reporter Jayson Blair resigned in 2003 after he Liarplagiarized and made up portions of his stories. And in 2004, USA Today's Pulitzer-nominated correspondent Jack Kelley quit after he was accused of concocting source material and writing articles that were largely fictional. 

The damage has added up. An October 2015 Gallup poll revealed that just 40% of those surveyed trust the media. Only 33% said they have a "fair amount" of confidence, and just 7% reported having a "great deal" of it.

Once you've lost your credibility through lies and deception, how can you ever retrieve it? That's the question King Solomon seems to pose to the media--and to us--through Proverbs 11:3:
"People who can't be trusted are destroyed by their own dishonesty."

There are  several ways that we can hurt ourselves and others through questionable words and deeds. For example, flattery is a form of lying since it tells people what they want to hear--regardless of its veracity. We can also be dishonest through exaggeration. Likewise, cheating (or fudging the truth so we come out on top) is a particularly serious issue since it can impact personal and business relationships. What's more, we also lie when we break our promises. Jesus touched on this by directing his followers to avoid the common practice of using God's name to lend credibility to their words:

"You know that our ancestors were told, "Don't use the Lord's name to make a promise unless you are going to keep it.' But I tell you not to swear by anything when you make a promise! Heaven is God's throne, so don't swear by heaven. The earth is God's footstool, so don't swear by the earth. Jerusalem is the city of the great king, so don't swear by it. Don't swear by your own head. You cannot make one hair white or black. When you make a promise, say only 'Yes' or 'No.' Anything else comes from the devil."

Dishonesty is like a heavy chain that weighs us down and holds us back. But the truth--and the clear conscience that accompanies it--is liberating. But telling the truth isn't always easy. And conveying honesty and integrity can even cost you something in certain situations. As Christ-followers, however, we must always reflect the words and deeds of our Creator, who's always faithful and dependable.

"God is not a man, so He doesn't lie," we read in Numbers 23:19. "He's not human, so he doesn't change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?"

That's what's said about God. So what do our words and deeds say about us?

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Altar Call

Have respect for marriage. Always be faithful to your partner, because God will punish anyone who is immoral or unfaithful in marriage.

-- Hebrews 13:4
For better or for worse, there's been lots of talk the last few years about our nation's need for fundamental change. But the fact is that America has changed drastically since the end of World War II--and without the help of politicians and celebrities. There's the obvious, like the explosive growth of the suburbs, Walmart and smartphones. And of course there's the Internet.

Are these changes good or bad? Opinions Wedding Ringsvary. But one change that's unquestionably negative involves society's attitude toward marriage and the family. Sixty years ago, news of a couple living together outside of marriage would have been considered scandalous at the very least. And in some states, it could actually lead to jail time for the offending parties. But how much has changed now that we are so much more "enlightened" than our grandparents!

Think of everything we've gained now that such a large segment of the populous has turned its back on committed marriage (the "death 'til you part" type). With more flexible divorce laws and the literal promotion of adultery in the media, it's no wonder that so many marriages end prematurely--and that fewer people take the institution seriously. It's also no surprise that so many perceive marriage as not even worth the trouble. Living together has become the rational option. 

It's easy to see that modern culture has rejected Biblical ideals like monogamous marriage between faithful, committed couples. Moreover, we've turned away from God and His teachings as a whole--the ones He gave us for experiencing meaningful, fulfilled lives. What were once considered clear, black and white issues of right and wrong have blended over the decades into murky shades of gray. But society now says that everything--even truth--is relative. And who needs those pesky Ten Commandments, anyway?

That was never God's message regarding marriage. In fact, it's only two chapters into the Bible that we find this revealing passage:

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

Yes, to many so-called "progressive" thinkers, easy-divorce options, living together without strings, and downright cheating are more palatable and tolerant lifestyle choices. After all, commitment is an uncomfortable word--and one that implies responsibility, faith and dependence on a much greater Power.

But ultimately, isn't that what it means to be a Christ-follower?

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Jesus Take the Wheel

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, 'Raca' is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.

-- Matthew 5:22

Comedian George Carlin once observed that an "idiot" is anyone on the highway who's driving slower than you. A "maniac," on the other hand, is anyone who passes you in traffic.

Although Carlin's commentary was definitely tongue-in-cheek, many people actually act out these same perceptions through road rage. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines road rage as an assault with a motor vehicle or other dangerous weapon by the operator or passenger(s) of another motor vehicle, or an assault precipitated by an incident that occurred on a roadway.

Road rage experts say the most obvious Road Rageform of this criminal offense is aggressive and excessive speeding--particularly on congested highways or in bad weather. Causes include increased congestion on the roadways, running late (too many obligations), increased levels of intra- and interpersonal stress, plus the need to "save face" and overcome feelings of being disrespected by another driver. Most telling, however, is that the NHTSA also identifies chronic or pathological anger as a leading cause of this disturbing phenomenon.

Maybe that's not too surprising. After all, anger is one of mankind's earliest and strongest emotions. And it revealed itself within the first few chapters of the Bible in the form of the world's first murder.   

We couldn't control our anger back then in quiet, agrarian settings and we still can't today on our traffic-snarled highways. But Christ-followers are held to much higher standards. In fact, gentleness is one flavor of the Fruit of the Spirit that proves God is living through us. With this in mind, note that gentleness isn't another word for wimpiness. Jesus was gentle--but He was hardly a wimp. Instead, biblical gentleness is the transformation of our innate anger into the power to do God's will in the world. Gentleness is therefore power focused on the positive.    

If you're a Christ-follower who's still a bit of a road warrior, take heart. The transformation from our old self into a new creation is a work in progress that's on God's timetable. It's a change that takes place bit by bit and day after day along that faith journey we hear so much about. But the problem is that the journey's pathway is narrow, twisting and full of unexpected hairpin turns. And when we don't keep our eyes on the final destination, we tend to end up in the ditch.

Jesus told his disciples to expect bumps and potholes in the road. "Things that cause people to sin are bound to come," he explained. "But woe to that person through whom they come."

Road rage is more than a crime: it's a sin. But the good news is that we're free from sin's power and don't have to accept its dominance in our lives. It comes down to our ultimate trust and dependence on Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. So when we slip up and give in to temptation and bad habits on the highway--or just about anywhere else for that matter--we can freely ask for help from the One who has already paid the ultimate price for all of our mistakes: past, present and future.

With that in mind, let's take singer Carrie Underwood's advice and let Jesus take the wheel.

"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart," invites the Savior, "and you will find rest for your souls."

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Shades of Gray

He has shown all you people what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

-- Micah 6:8
One of the great misconceptions about Christianity is that it's all about rules and regulations. And yes, it's true that the Old Testament has over 600 of them, covering everything from proper animal sacrifice to priests with disheveled hair. What's more, the Jewish religious authorities added many others over the years through their oral traditions. Maybe the intentions were good. But the burden was heavy. SpectrumWho could ever please God by following them all when there were too many to even remember?

"Until the time of John the Baptist, people had to obey the Law of Moses and the Books of the Prophets," Jesus explained to his followers. "But since God's kingdom has been preached, everyone is trying hard to get in."

God's Word was perfect. But Jesus got to the heart of its true meaning. When an expert in the Law asked Christ to name the greatest of the 10 Commandments, the Lord answered this way:

"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Christ-followers who stick close to this principle are likely to travel far down the road of Spirit-filled living. But there are still issues and situations--so-called gray areas--that the Bible doesn't specifically cover. Examples include issues with personal relationships, styles of worship, food and drink, and types of entertainment. Although the Apostle Paul never considered questionable Internet sites and pay-per-view movies, he was no stranger to debatable issues in his own day that pulled the church away from what was (and still is) most important: the Good News about Jesus. Paul advised early Christ-followers that their new-found faith in Jesus gave them liberty.

"Everything is permissible," he explained. "But not everything is necessarily beneficial."

In other words, just because we CAN do something doesn't necessarily mean we SHOULD do it. But this raises an obvious question: How do we know if a particular gray area is OK?

We first need to determine if the proposed activity could be a problem to those who see us do it. For example, would it build up or hinder the faith of another Christ-follower if they saw you buy a ticket for an explicit R-rated movie? And on the same note, would the activity benefit you spiritually or physically? Just because you CAN eat a bucket of fried chicken and a carton of chocolate ice cream doesn't mean it's the right thing to do.

Our faith in Jesus has given us the freedom to live enriched, fulfilled lives. But this same liberty isn't a license to sin. That should be the last thing in our mind. So whatever we choose to do, we should do it for God's glory. Because after all, the world is watching.