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Archive for November, 2017

Once when President Franklin Roosevelt was preparing a speech, he needed some economic statistics to back up a point he was trying to make. His advisers said it would take six months to get accurate figures. “In that case, I’ll just use these rough estimates,” FDR said, and he wrote down some numbers in his text. “They’re reasonable figures and they support my point. Besides,” he added as an afterthought, “it will keep my critics busy for at least six months just to prove me wrong.”

It is only a mild kind of disregard for truth that is far too common on the part of those who are elected to serve in public office. And this is true all the way from the county court house to the White House and in both houses of Congress in Washington, D.C. The tragedy is that what begins as the careless handling of the truth ultimately becomes a willing, deliberate, and habitual distortion of truth. The lack of truth breeds distrust.

God’s Word calls for Christians to always be people of truth. “Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is Christ . . . . .Therefore, each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Ephesians 4:15,25).

There are at least four benefits of always speaking the truth:

First, you will not have to portray a false image. I have often said of a person, “What you see is what you get.” And I like that trait! Truth tellers don’t have to maintain a facade. They are real. You can count on what they say. They know that those who think a white lie is permissible quickly become colorblind to truth.

Second, you won’t have to worry about the truth being discovered. When you tell the truth, you don’t have to face the fear of contradicting yourself later. Politicians live with this fear, or at least they should! The practice of making promises in order to get elected, and then forgetting those promises once they are elected, is all too common in the political arena. Politicians do not have a monopoly on the habit of fabricating or stretching truth by any means. People in every area of public life are guilty of this.

Sam Stephens, a man in my hometown in Georgia in the 1940’s, enjoyed fishing. He also loved to exaggerate the number and size of the fish he caught. People knew Sam’s reputation, so they made up a story that would teach him a lesson. According to the fabricated story Sam’s neighbor’s wife had a baby, and Dr. W.F. Massey, our family physician, delivered the baby at home. The pair of scales with which Dr. Massey usually weighed newborns was broken, so he went next door and borrowed Sam’s fish scales. The newborn baby girl weighed 49 pounds and thirteen ounces. Sam’s habit of stretching the truth to embellish his reputation as a fisherman took quite a hit. Lies, like chickens, always come home to roost.

Third, you will have freedom from guilt. Unfortunately some people have lied so frequently their conscience has been anesthetized. But most of us know what guilt feels like, and it is miserable. King David described it best when he said, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your (God’s) hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer” (Psalm 32:3-4). He had learned that when you have a clear conscience, you will also have peace of mind.

Fourth, truthfulness honors God. “No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence” (Psalm 101:7). God honors those who have a truthful heart. The lack of truthfulness is one of the major reasons relationships break down – with others or with God.

Telling the truth is not always popular, but it is always right.

 

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All of us have heard someone described as “a self-made person.” The truth is that no one is self-made. I am not. You are not. No one is. No one will ever be. It is impossible to become eminently successful at anything solely by self-effort.

Having said that, how long has it been since you personally credited someone who contributed to all or part of your success? Legions of people cooperate to make each of your days possible. Some work very hard daily: the trucker on the road at 3:00 AM delivering the produce you consume, those involved in law enforcement seeking to provide for your security, and even the crossing guards who protect and assist you on your way across the street to attend school.

There is the pastor in his study preparing a message that he prays will lift your faith. There are teachers who guided or who still guide you through school. There are those who gather the news, print, and deliver the daily newspaper that keeps you informed on what is happening around the world. There is the research scientist on a stool in a lab trying to learn something that will buy you a few more years of life. Closer to home there are the members of your family who strive to meet your needs daily.

Do not forget the men and women in the military services of our country who risk their lives in hot spots around the world in order to preserve the liberties no American should ever take for granted, men on platforms drilling for oil so you can drive where you wish, and secretaries, receptionists, restaurant cooks and waiters who serve you. This is only a partial list of those who touch your life on a regular basis.

Your father worked and earned the income that provided food to eat, clothes to wear, and other necessities for you and each member of your family. Your mother nursed you when you were just a child, clothed you, and kept you safe. Millions in our world die before the age of ten. Millions more are beaten, abused, famished, and diseased. Life and health should never be taken for granted.

Teachers taught you to read, inspired you to learn, gave you a love for music, and taught you to play a sport. Nurses brought you a blanket or a tray of food when you were a patient in the hospital. Someone went the second mile to meet a specific need you had or have.

Know that you owe. Know whom you owe. Know that you could not be the person you are, know the things you know, or do the things you do, if it were not for others. Do not fail to recognize the countless contributions that countless individuals have made and still make to your life every single day. And please do not forget to say “Thank you” – to God, or to others – when these two words are earned and appropriate.

You fool no one except yourself if you are foolish enough to think you made it, or could ever make it, entirely on your own. No one ever has. No one ever will. Countless individuals have made investments in your life. Know that you would not and could not be the person you are without those investments.

It is not what you have in your pocket or in the bank that makes you thankful; it is what you have in your heart. Be grateful not just for the doors of opportunity that have opened to you, but also for those who oiled the hinges. There is a sense in which no gift is ours until we have thanked the giver.

 

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Thomas Gaddis’s book, The Birdman of Alcatraz, is a biography of the convicted criminal and two-time murderer, Robert Stroud. Stroud spent most of his seventy years behind bars and in solitary confinement in the prison known as Alcatraz. During his first twenty years of confinement he became increasingly withdrawn, bitter, and harder to handle. Needless to say, he was considered to be a maximum-security risk.

However, something happened that drastically changed Stroud’s life. During one of the prison courtyard exercise periods, a tiny sparrow fell from its nest during a storm. Stroud found the sparrow, and initially had the impulse to snuff out the little bird’s life just as he had snuffed out the lives of two human beings – but he didn’t! Instead, he carried the sparrow to his cell and nursed it back to health.

His interest had been aroused, and he read everything he could on the subject of birds. Other prisoners began sending their ill canaries to him. When encountering diseases that had no known cure, he would experiment and often find a cure. Little by little he was changed from an incorrigible prisoner into a quiet, serious, able authority on birds.

One day Stroud asked his guard, a man with whom he had previously refused to speak, for the orange crate on which he was sitting, that he might make a cage for his sparrow. “For twenty years I’ve tried to get through to you and be nice to you,” the guard said, “but you have never given me the time of day.” After a few minutes of silence, however, the guard had a change of heart and slipped the orange crate into the cell. When Stroud noticed it, he mumbled two words he had probably never said before: “Thank you!”

Robert Stroud’s rehabilitation began the moment he learned to say, “Thank you,” and mean it. Only then did he begin to understand himself. He began to realize that he was not the isolated, self-sufficient, independent character he had so long pretended to be. In the same way, it is only when we can say: “Thank you,” and mean it, that we begin to understand ourselves for what we are – creatures rather than creators, receivers who can learn to become givers. Paul Tillich spoke wisely when he said: “A man who is able to give thanks seriously accepts that he is a creature and acknowledges his finitude.”

It is only by being grateful that we can recognize how dependent we are – upon God first of all, and also upon others, for our very being. It is always a tragedy when we forget who we are and why we are here. This is what the ancient writer of Deuteronomy meant when he said, “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 8:10-14a NIV).

Is this not an accurate picture of what is happening in our country today? When we forget to give thanks, or refuse to give thanks, we forget who we are – creatures of the living God, dependent upon Him for our very being. There are basically three reasons why we need to have the spirit of thanksgiving in our lives: (1) to teach us who we are, (2) to remind us that we belong to God, and (3) to make us aware of the countless ways we are blessed by God and by others.

He who forgets the language of gratitude can never be on speaking terms with happiness.

 

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God’s Word tells us: “There are six things the Lord hates: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers” (Proverbs 6:16-19). In early Christian history the wording changed on the things God hates, and they were referred to as The Seven Deadly Sins: envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth and wrath.

If early Christian leaders had added an eighth deadly sin I would nominate gossip. As a Christian minister since 1951 I have seen the devastating effect that gossip has had within the body of Christ. Gossip can be very cunning, for Satan has a slick marketing trick that he uses to influence church members. He leads us to call gossip by euphemisms like “sharing our concerns” or “venting to a brother or sister.” Euphemisms make gossip sound much less dangerous.

Church members who gossip often try to remain anonymous when they pass along what they consider juicy information about a fellow church member. It doesn’t have to be true. For example, a lady in my home town often visited her neighbors early in the morning for the purpose of spreading the latest gossip. She would end her conversation by saying, “For God’s sake don’t tell a soul what I’ve told you.” She wanted to tell everybody herself.

There are several specific mentions of gossip in Scripture. Three Old Testament highlights are as follows:

  • Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people” (Leviticus 19:16).
  • They visit me as if they were my friends, but all the while they gather gossip, and when they leave, they spread it everywhere” (Psalm 41:6).
  • “A troublemaker plants seeds of strife; gossip separates the best of friends” (Proverbs 16:28).

The apostle Paul showed how seriously he considered gossip when he included it among this unattractive menu of sins: “Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip” (Romans 1:29). Those who gossip probably never realized that God’s Word lumps gossip in with hate, murder, and deception. No follower of Jesus should ever give gossip a place to live. Why is this true? “Fire goes out without wood, and quarrels disappear when gossip stops” (Proverbs 26:20).

God is not glorified when a Christian imagines things and spreads idle chatter about a fellow Christian, for it both grieves the Holy Spirit and causes the one who is talked about to experience emotional pain. In the New Testament James is brutally honest in describing the impact of gossip: “The tongue is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:6).

                If you have been guilty of passing along hurtful information about a fellow Christian you need to repent and receive the gift of a new heart that acts in accordance to the love and law of God. This new heart can only come from God. He has said, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees” (Ezekiel 36:26).

A good practice for Christians to follow before passing along information about a fellow Christian that has the potential to be controversial or cause distress is to ask these five questions: (1) Is it true? (2) Is it helpful? (3) Is it inspiring? (4) Is it necessary? (5) Is it kind? If what we are about to say does not pass these five tests, we should keep our mouth shut. To do this will both keep us from dishonoring Christ and creating disharmony in the body of Christ.

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Six times in the first chapter of Genesis the word good is used to describe the various stages of creation. “And God saw that it was very good” (verses 4,10,12,18, 21, 25). In Genesis 2:18 we find the first “not good” mentioned in the Bible. But the consistent theme dealing with the creation of all things is this: “And the Lord saw everything that he had made and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).

The first two chapters of Genesis tell us that the only institution to exist prior to the fall of man was the family. God designed the family to carry out His purposes in extending His life, expressing his character, and exhibiting His dominion. He designed the home to be His most effective tool against Satan. He gave to Adam the freedom to eat the fruit from all the trees in the garden — with the exception of the tree of life, that is.

Genesis tells us that after Adam was created, God brought all the animals before him to be named. He did not find in any of the animals a “helpmate” – thus God created Eve. Charles Spurgeon, the outstanding English pastor many years ago, described the creation story in this way: “Woman was not taken out of man’s head to be lorded over by him, or from his feet to be trampled on by him, but from his side to be equal with him, from under his arm to be protected by him, and from near his heart to be loved by him.”

It didn’t take long for trouble to develop in history’s first family. Eve disobeyed God’s warning about not eating the fruit of the tree of life in the center of the garden. She chose to do things her own way, not God’s way. Every family can profit by examining the mistake she made:

First, she was isolated from her husband when she disobeyed God. Adam was her protection. She was his completion. Satan knew that if he could get to Eve, he could eventually get to Adam. This has been his method down through the centuries. He had the advantage of having Eve alone for his work of deceit.

Second, Eve communicated with Satan when she should have deferred to her husband. After all, it was Adam who had heard the original command not to eat the fruit from the forbidden tree. Adam was the proper one to confront the half-truths of Satan with what God had asked him to do.

Third, Eve ignored revelation and turned to reason. This happens too often in families today. For Eve to follow God’s will required only obedience; following her own will was an act of disobedience. When Satan convinced her to look for a second time at the tree instead of following God’s instructions, he was well on the way to conquering her. When she saw that the fruit on the tree was good for food and pleasant to the eye, she ignored God’s command and began traveling down the road of human reason.

Fourth, God created them to function as a team. The dominion God had given them was to be exercised together. Satan could not conquer them when they thought and acted together. Eve sinned and Adam followed. Chaos resulted. From their failure has come every failure of mankind to this day.

The instructions God gave to history’s first family have never gone out of style. Unfortunately too many families still do not follow God’s instructions. It is why the three stages of modern family life have been described as matrimony, acrimony and alimony. Your family doesn’t have to be a battleground – not if Christ is Lord in your home, love is growing, and commitment to one another is a constant reality.

Sir John Bowring described this kind of family by saying, “A happy family is but an earlier taste of heaven.” It would be hard to describe a genuine Christian family any better than that.

 

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