False Reports

March 15, 2019

Although the Internet makes spreading a false report easier to do, it is obviously not a new human problem. Moses address the problem over three millennia ago, “You shall not spread a false report” (Exodus 23:1, ESV).

And before the Internet, we still had photocopiers. I remember the first time someone handed me an article that this person wanted placed in the bulletin. My response was I would run the article if it was true, but I wanted to research it first. This person’s body language indicated surprise and maybe some impatience at the idea of research. After all, the article was so urgent.

Researching the article in the 1980s meant going to the public library. It was a more difficult and time-consuming process. But in this case, the article turned out to be a false report.
Since that first experience with a false report that someone wanted me to duplicate for others, I’ve come to realize that there are many of these false stories out there. And the false stories don’t seem to die. Once released to the public, they have a life of their own. The truth is out there too, but it never seems enough to rid us of the false report, because people don’t check the facts before repeating the report.
The Internet speeds up this process. We can spread a false report to hundreds of people in our news feeds on social media at the click of a few buttons. But the Internet also allows us to use a search engine and gather information on the report. Most of the time, you can tell quickly whether something is true or false.

False reports harm someone. The report may cause prejudice against an individual where people know the report but not the person. This prejudice may impact the person targeted in the false report financially and even in judicial settings. False reports can be divisive. Douglas K. Stuart observes, “False reports could also create factionalism as one group believed the report about a member of another group, and the person’s own group determined that the report had to have been started by the other group.”*

Before sharing a report on the Internet or conversing about it with others, ask these basic questions Is it true? How do I know that it is true? Have I confirmed the truthfulness of this by a reliable source (which from observation needs to be more than a friend posted this)? Don’t spread a false report.

*Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, vol. 2, The New American Commentary, 524.


What Spills Out

March 11, 2019

A man had a short temper. He seemed nice enough until he lost his temper, and then, he could inflict emotional pain with his words. The outbursts would come with the frustrations and accidents of life, and those kinds of moments always come. In his book, After You Believe, N.T. Wright tells this story.

A famous preacher had a friend who was well known for his short temper. One day, at a party, he asked this friend to help him serve some drinks. The preacher himself poured the drinks, deliberately filling several glasses a bit too full. He then passed the tray to his friend. As they walked into the room to distribute the drinks, he accidentally-on-purpose bumped into the friend, causing the tray to jiggle and some of the drinks to flow over the brim and spill. “There you are, you see,” said the preacher. “When you’re jolted, what spills out is whatever is filling you.”

When you are jolted, what spills out reveals your character. In a discussion about unclean foods, Jesus makes the same point.

And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:20–23, ESV)

That is why Jesus talks about trees and their fruit. (Matthew 7:15-20, 12:33-37). A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. Somehow, I don’t think Jesus is giving a lesson on tending orchards. He instructs us to “make the tree good.” Jesus’ solution for behavior (“fruit” in Jesus’ parable) is to transform us on the inside (“make the tree good”). When our character is transformed to be more Christ-like, we don’t have to worry much about the actions that spring from such character. After all, good trees (people) produce good fruit (behavior).

This really is God’s plan. When Jeremiah prophesies of the new covenant, it is about “the law written on hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). When Paul summarizes the big picture of what it is all about, he says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29, ESV, my emphasis). We are to be like Jesus.

Character transformation is a lifelong process. We must cooperate with God to allow Him to change us on the inside. It takes God’s word. It takes prayer. It takes effort. It takes time. When you are jolted, what spills out?


Passing Through Vanity Fair

February 22, 2019

John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is a wonderful, allegorical tale of Christian living. Christian, the main character, and Faithful come to the town of Vanity where there is a yearlong fair. The fair is named Vanity Fair because all is lighter than vanity. All that come there and all that is sold there is vanity.

Therefore, at this fair are all such merchandise sold as houses, lands, trades, places, honors, preferments, titles, countries, kingdoms, lusts, pleasures; and delights of all sorts, as harlots, wives, husbands, children, masters, servants, lives, blood, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones, and what not.

And moreover, at this fair there is at all times to be seen jugglings, cheats, games, plays, fools, apes, knaves, and rogues, and that of every kind.

Here are to be seen, too, and that for nothing, thefts, murders, adulteries, false-swearers, and that of a blood-red color.

The Prince of princes himself, when here, went through this town to his own country, and that upon a fair-day too; yea, and, as I think, it was Beelzebub, the chief lord of this fair, that invited him to buy of his vanities, yea, would have made him lord of the fair, would he but have done him reverence as he went through the town.

It was Bunyan’s way of warning about worldliness. It was his colorful way of picturing the warning of 1 John.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions–is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:15-17, ESV

The desires (lust) of the flesh is the fulfillment of physical desires in wrong ways. This desires of the eyes is covetousness. Covetousness is an unreasonable desire for what we do not possess. Pride in possessions is arrogance, arrogance that forgets dependence on God.

The town of Vanity is no lasting city. All that it contains is temporary and fleeting. We must be pilgrims to the Celestial City (heaven) and not linger or be caught up in Vanity Fair. The danger is real. It takes prayer, stewardship, and discernment not to be charmed by Vanity Fair.


Not Bound

February 15, 2019

Timothy was a traveling companion and fellow worker with the Apostle Paul. He receives two personal letters from Paul that are a part of the New Testament. The two letters address him as he does the work of evangelist in the city of Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3, 2 Timothy 4:5). Paul breaks out into good news and writes:

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! (2 Timothy 2:8–9, ESV)

In one sense it may seem odd to say to a preacher of the gospel: remember Jesus Christ. Isn’t he going to anyway? Yet, the two thoughts that follow it make the statement much more understandable. Remember Jesus even when there is suffering attached. Remember Jesus because the word of God is not bound.
I need that last reminder. The sharing of the good news can at times be discouraging. Paul is reminding all of us that the power is in the message not the messenger. Paul may be bound and in prison, but the word of God isn’t.
Other passages remind us of the same great truth.

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8, ESV)

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. ” (Isaiah 55:10–11, ESV)

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Corinthians 4:6–7, ESV)

I need reminding that the power is not in the messenger but in the message. It is the gospel that is the power of God for salvation. The word of God when presented will have its effect. It will not return to God void. The word of God is not bound.


Love in Marriage

February 8, 2019

I’ve frequently heard 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 read at a wedding ceremony. Paul’s ode to love is beautiful and appropriate for the occasion. But there is something to notice about Paul’s definitions of love. They are actions and not feelings. This passage contains things we do and don’t do to fulfill love. This kind of love can be commanded. This kind of love is a matter of the choice of will. When we think of romantic love, we often are thinking about an emotional high which we feel towards our loved one. This emotion seems quite involuntary. Paul’s teaching about love is different from this.

Now I am all for romantic love. I suspect that Jacob had romantic love for Rachel, or he wouldn’t have worked another seven years for her. And the Song of Solomon definitely seems to be love poetry. But we need wisdom as we deal with it.

Scientists have even studied romantic love. Researchers from the University of Pavia found that the powerful emotions of new love are triggered by a molecule known as nerve growth factor (NGF). But after one year, the couples who have stayed together find their levels of NGF dropping down to the same level as singles and couples in a long-term relationship. This chemistry may be important to bonding two people together, but this emotional high does not last. Although researchers can now point to a particular molecule, the wise have always known this truth from human experience.

Marriage has its ups and downs: children, illnesses, and stress. The reality of life means our feelings of love for our spouse may also ebb and flow. We need the commanded love of 1 Corinthians to sustain romantic love. Marriage is a covenant—the vows say how you promise to treat one another, not necessarily how you will always feel. These feelings of love may also ebb and flow. The vows call on you to place your actions before feelings—to allow your actions to deepen and at times even rekindle your feelings. That’s why Paul’s teaching on love is so important. He places the emphasis on right actions. This kind of love seeks the best for the beloved.

Love sums up and encompasses every other virtue. To treat with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness is to love. Love boldly acts with the other’s best interest at heart. Love is the fulfillment of the law. Love encompasses all the virtues. This kind of love seeks the best for the other. This is the love that can fulfill vows which say for better or for worse until death do us part.


Hearers versus Doers

February 1, 2019

James gives us a powerful illustration to ponder as we listen to and read God’s word. I suspect that James speaks of “hearers” because in his time and culture owning a personal copy of the scriptures was cost prohibitive for most Christians. Without a printing press, books had to be copied by hand. To give you an idea of what that means, a scribe can write about 2 characters per second. The four Gospels contain about 320,000 characters. 320,000 characters divided by 2 characters per second leaves a writing time of 160,000 seconds. 160,000 seconds divided by the 3600 seconds in an hour gives you a total 44 hours. And that is just for four books. We live in a time of privilege where physical books and electronic books are available at very reasonable prices. Whether we are hearing the word read in the assembly or we are reading it ourselves in the Bibles we are so privileged to own, the warning and the illustration speaks to us.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22–25, ESV)

We all understand mirrors. We probably looked in one this morning. We look so that we can make adjustments to our appearance. Some may wake up with a bad hair day and attempt to bring order to their hair. Men may shave; women may apply makeup. And none of us want food stuck in our teeth. We would think it odd for a person to look in the mirror, see these defects, and then walk away without correcting them.
In the same way, James wants us to look into the law of liberty. It is like a mirror in that it shows us what we should be as we ponder what we currently are. James says this takes perseverance on our part. But it should lead to us be a doer who acts. As scripture holds up a mirror on our lives, it should lead to correction, just as a mirror in the bathroom leads to corrections in our appearance. Failure to do this is self-deception. Perseverance in doing this will lead to blessing.


Why Do We Read and Study the Bible?

January 25, 2019

I encourage regular Bible reading and study. But our motivation will be enhanced as we think about what we should gain. I said “should” because I realize that a skeptic may read the Bible and profit little from it, although skeptics have been known to be converted by their Bible reading. I think much depends on an attitude of honest searching and enquiry. I’m reminded of Jesus’s teaching, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority” (John 7:17, ESV). Several passages speak to the why of Bible reading.
Deuteronomy 17:18-20 provide instructions for a future king of Israel.

And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:18–20, ESV)

The king is to have an approved copy of the law which he reads all of his life. This reading should lead to a fear of the LORD. We probably should feel terror if we are going away from God, because God is a consuming fire. But normally we think of this word “fear” in the sense of reverence and awe. Reverence leads to respect and a willingness to hear God’s word. This leads to obedience: “keeping the words” and “not turning aside … either to the right hand or the left.” The king should also learn humility before God and in dealing with others: “that his heart may not be lifted up above brothers.” One of the dangers of holding political power is that a ruler may think of himself as above the law. This is not just an ancient problem. It is a human problem that manifests itself even now, and it doesn’t have to restricted to rulers. People sometimes expect others to play by the rules from which they are very willing to exempt themselves. Finally, the king will be blessed in his reign by his meditation on God’s instructions.

I think this command to Israel’s king has instruction and application for us. Reading and meditation on God’s word may lead to reverence, obedience, humility, and blessings for us too. The blessings may differ, but God still blesses those who listen to him.

I have often pondered this command to the king, and Israel’s actual history. I suspect many of the kings failed to follow this instruction, and Israel’s history was a disaster because of it. Failure to read has consequences too. Deuteronomy 17:18-20 is a command fit for a king, but it also instructive to us who are brothers and sisters of King Jesus.