Friday, September 28, 2012

Tattle Tales, Rats, and The Bible

Nobody likes a tattle tale.  We all know them and have had them in their lives.  They are like little Satans who stand before anyone who will listen accusing anyone of anything they think they have seen.  Some grow out of it, but some spend their lives with the bizarre enjoyment of getting other people in trouble.  Some like to do it for professional reasons where they climb a corporate ladder made out of the knives sticking in the back of people who once trusted and respected them.  Some do it for sadistic pleasure.  Some do it to feel better about themselves.  In prison, they compete with child molesters for the lowest of the low in that particular hierarchy.  It is true, nobody like a tattle tale.  That said, there is another extreme.  There is the idea that it is somehow noble to lie or hold back information so as not to get someone you know into trouble.  This comes back to loyalty. Are you loyal to God or to man?  I will begin with some Scripture and it is one that must be stamped on our hearts if Jesus is our true loyalty.
If you love Me, keep My commandments.  John 14:15 NKJV
So in keeping in the context of that verse and Jesus truly being number one in our lives, let us take a look at what the Bible says about the subject of what the world calls being a rat, tattle taleing, or even just being a good friend. 
Lying lips [are] an abomination to the LORD, But those who deal truthfully [are] His delight.  Proverbs 12:22 NKJV
The first thing we need to know is that we should never lie for a friend.  We all know this from the Ten Commandments.  Lying is wrong, plain and simple.  There is no righteous way to lie for your friend to cover for him.  This also applies to family.  If someone asks you about something your friend or family member may have done wrong, it is never right to tell a lie.  This is a great application of conflicting loyalties.  Either you remain true to God or to your friend.  In this case, there is no middle ground.  I know the world tells us to cover for our friends and family and to even be dishonest if it means not getting that person in trouble, but God says differently.  What you or the world may think is noble, is actually sin and no sin is ever noble. 

Some of you may point out that there is, in fact, a way to be honest and to cover for your friend and that is to honestly say you do not want to talk about it.  That is, in some cases, more than valid.  For example, if a gossip or anyone else who has no business knowing anything asks you about your friend, you have every right to tell that person you not want to talk to them.  But there is a time when it is the business of someone else to ask. 
If a person sins in hearing the utterance of an oath, and [is] a witness, whether he has seen or known [of the matter]--if he does not tell [it], he bears guilt.  Leviticus 5:1 NKJV
In other words, if you have information regarding a crime or even a civil matter and there is a call for you to testify, you must testify.  This idea of covering even to the police for a friend is wrong.  If your friend commits a crime and you know about it and the police come and ask you about it, you are bound to answer them.  This is not betraying a friend, this is being true to God who is a God of justice.  God gave the authority of punishing earthly evil to earthly authorities.  Getting in the way of justice is getting in the way of God's minister of justice.  I know very well that mankind has abused this privilege, but this idea is affirmed in Romans when Christians were living under terrible tyranny and persecution.  In other words, and as much as we might hate the idea in the flesh, it is not our concern if the law is abusive, we are to concede justice to our earthly authorities.  If we are called to testify, even against our best friend or closest brother, the Bible tells us that we are just as accountable for what they did wrong so long as we are part of covering up that crime.

There is one other instance I want to bring up when we are supposed to, in a sense, tell on someone.
Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' And if he refuses to hear them, tell [it] to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.   Matthew 18:15-17 NKJV
If someone has sinned against you and refuses to repent when challenged, your a supposed to then involve other people.  If, at that point in time, that person still refuses to repent, then you are to bring the matter before the church.  In this case, you are basically tattle taleing, but in a righteous sense.  This, again, is not betraying your brother or being a tattle tale as much as it is living in obedience to the Word of God.  We hope that we can talk it out with our brother, but sometimes he may be more stubborn than we would have hoped.  Sadly. many fail at these steps for fear of being seen as a trouble maker.  Sadly, this has allowed things to go on in the church that should not. 

We must be careful with this last one.  There is a fine line between reaching out to a sinning brother and spreading gossip.  Until that person fails to repent after a personal intervention and an intervention with a few select others does it need to get out to the rest of the church and only by and through the authority of the pastor of that church.  It is never your business to spread anything around the church.  You do not have that authority and you are yourself guilty of the wretched, horrible, divisive sin of gossip.   

In summary, there are a few things we can glean from what the Bible says on today's topic.  First and foremost, we are never to lie.  Telling a lie for a friend or a family member to cover for them is not noble.  It is sin, no matter how you look at it, and it is always wrong.  God is certainly more than capable of working things out without us trying to "help" God by lying.  Secondly, is many cases there is the option to simply remain silent.  However, this is not an option if you are being asked to testify.  And, finally, if there is someone sinning and refuses to repent even after discussing the matter alone with him with others and him, that matter is to be brought before the church.  Yes, there does come a point to tattle.   We also learned that we must balance this against being guilty of gossip.  Yes, this even includes telling the wrongdoings of others in order to "pray" for them.  Be honest, it is just an excuse to spread information to people who have no business knowing.   

I know the world hates the idea of anyone who does not keep quiet.  The world hates a rat and a tattle tale, but there are times when it is the right thing to do.  Doing so may not make you popular, but following God is often not a popular thing to do.  The way of God is not the wide road, it is the narrow and sometimes lonely path.   Once again, it all comes down to loyalty and whether or not God really is first in your life.  It also comes down to faith and trust.  Do you trust God to work things out by doing the right thing or do you think you need to "help" God by doing the wrong thing? 
The fear of man brings a snare, But whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe.  Proverbs 29:25 NKJV

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Christian Loyalty Club

Loyalty is generally seen as a good trait.  Husbands and wives are supposed to remain loyal to one another.  Friends hold loyalty in high regard.  Employers seek loyal employees.  Businesses like to reward loyal customers.  It is very evident that loyalty is considered a virtue, but is the world's view of loyalty a correct one?  As is usually the case, the world is wrong.  Loyalty with one exception can easily become an idol.  The only loyalty we are called to is loyalty to God. 
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.  Matthew 6:24 NKJV
I know many like to focus on the application of the principle as presented by Jesus, but let's look at the principle itself.  What I mean is that Jesus says you can not serve God and money, but He bases that on the more general principle of not being able to serve two masters.  This holds true not just in terms of God and mammon, but it holds true in God and anything else.  You can not serve anything else and serve God.  You can not have competing masters or competing loyalties.  One must be your true loyalty and everything else seen in that context.  For us, as Christians, we must be loyal to God first and only in that context do we have any other loyalties.  What I mean is that anything we have loyalty to in this world must only be because that loyalty is an expression of our loyalty to God.  Anything else is idolatry. 

The first example I gave in my opening is marriage.  That is a perfect example of a situation where we are loyal because it is an expression of our loyalty to God.  God hates divorce.  God tells wives to submit to their husbands and husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church.  Being loyal to God means actively seeking to fulfill our roles and to remain committed through good times and bad.  Marriages based on loyalty to spouse or self often result in divorce.  In fact, I will make the claim that the high divorce rate in America and (just as bad if not worse) divorce rate among those calling themselves Christians reflect our church's and our nation's abysmal level of loyalty to God.  With the exception of adultery, no husband or wife can say that they are loyal to God while seeking a divorce.  The only reason that adultery is even an exception is because the offending spouse has already severed the bonds of marriage by their actions.  Therefore, an adulterer can also in no way claim loyalty to God. 

Marriage is simple and clear cut, it is other relationships where conflicting loyalties often come into play.  Many people think they can be loyal to a friend or family member and be loyal to God.  This only works if being loyal to that friend always means being loyal to God.  First let's look at being loyal to a friend.  Friends love loyal friends, but that loyalty often comes into conflict with loyalty to God.  Are you a good friend if you comfort and encourage them in their sin?  Are you a loyal friend if you go out drinking with your friend and the both of you have a good time in sin together?  The world may tell you that you are a great friend, but the Bible would tell you differently.  You see, it is our loyalty to God that must define what it even means to be loyal to a friend.  God wants us to be loyal friends, but not in how we might define loyalty.  God wants us to share the truth with our friends.  If you have a friend caught up in sin or heading on the road to eternal Hell, being a loyal friend does not mean allowing your friend down that path without a fight.  Being a loyal friend means sharing the truth, in love, even if that means harming that relationship.  I see too many instances where friendship is placed higher than truth where even Christians will support and condone and even facilitate a friend who is in sin or who has not even accepted Jesus.  Think about it, if you had to choose a friendship with your friend or your friend being saved, what would you choose?  If you answer that your friend's soul is more important, do your actions reflect that as reality?   

This very same principle applies as much to family as it does to friends.  I am not speaking of wives or unmarried children where there is specific scriptural direction, but I am talking about everyone else.  If you are married or grown, then I am even speaking of your parents.  Families often put strict loyalty standards on each other.  Whether it be pressured visits, attendance at certain events, where you live, and even where you work and worship.  For some families, everything revolves around the family, even their faith.  Faith, or even its expression, should never revolve around family.  That is putting another loyalty in conflict with your ultimate loyalty to God.   Family is important, but God is more important and following His direction for our lives comes before all else.  God must always come first and be our one and only loyalty.  Loyalty, even to family, must be defined in context of our loyalty to God. 

The final loyalty I want to talk about today is perhaps the most ridiculous, and that is loyalty to a brand.  By this I mean where we shop, where we work, and even where we go to church.  I know that last one may ruffle some feathers, but the fact is that we should be loyal to none of these outside our primary loyalty to God.  God can ask us to leave any or all of these at any time and we must be prepared to act on His direction.  If you want a Ford and God asks you to get a Chevy, then you need to get the Chevy.  If you love your job and you make a lot of money and have amazing benefits, and God asks you to give it all up to move to another place and start all over again, our loyalty needs to be to God.  If you are in a church and have great friends and family that also attend, but the doctrine and direction seems to be lacking and God is telling you to move elsewhere (or even if that is not happening and God asks you to move elsewhere) then we must trust His plan over our own desires. 

The point I am making is that loyalty must be only to God, otherwise other things will inevitably get in the way.  Anything that gets in the way of God is an idol.  This can be family, friends, our own desires, church, employment, houses, cars, money, and really anything else that is not God.  There is only one God and it is only to that one God that we are to pledge our loyalty.  Jesus said it plainly, you can not serve two masters.  Serve God and everything else will fall into line.  The fact is that this is a complex and confusing life we live full of complex and ever-changing relationships.  Many will try to secure and test our loyalties and at times it can be very confusing as we try to figure out how to reconcile conflicts.    The thing is, if you are only loyal to God you do not need to worry about the rest.  Life has a way of working out when your loyalty is only to the One who can make it all work out.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.  Proverbs 3:5-6 NKJV

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

When Christian Celebrate the Train Wreck of Other People's Lives...

Last week I witnessed a conversation regarding people watching a certain reality TV show featuring a young exploited child and her tragically dysfunctional family.  I do not want to dignify this show by mentioning its name though I am sure many of you know what I am talking about.  Many reality shows basically televise the train wreck lives of others all for our entertainment.  People laugh and make jokes all in an effort to feel better about themselves.  There are several glaring problems with that mindset.  The first is that we fail to realize that these people are people created in the image and likeness of God and that we are to never ever look at someone else to make us feel better (or worse) about our own lives.  One verse brings this to crystal clarity.
Blessed [are] the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3 NKJV
Some of you may be thinking what this verse has to do with anything I have said.  On its own, this passage can be interpreted in many ways, but taking it in its context as the lead of the Beatitudes, its meaning becomes clear.  The Beatitudes describe the man of God and offer a sort of progression.  This is the first of that progression.  It is not talking about any poor sad fellow as having the kingdom of heaven, but one very specific kind of person.  This is a person who has had an encounter with God and realizes their poverty of spirit.  This is Isaiah when confronted with God and feared for his life. This is Paul, one moment puffed up in pride looking to persecute a church he saw as an evil, to a man blinded and humbled and seeking direction from the Lord he was just blaspheming.  It is the man who has had an encounter with the true and living God and realized just exactly who he is when compared to who He is. 

This poverty of spirit is a reality that never really leaves the life of a believer.  Not that we are to go around moping about just how low we are, but that we are to rejoice in that God loves us regardless of our lowly state.  Jesus said "blessed" or "happy" are the poor in spirit because it is in that moment when we realize we are not good enough that we find Jesus who died so that we do not have to be good enough.  The beginning of salvation is the realization that we need a savior and may God forbid that we forget the reality that we will never stop needing a savior. 

That said, I hope we can understand why it is such a terrible thing to look at the dysfunctional lives of others in an effort to make you feel better about yourself.  It gives you some false sense of you actually being any better than you really are.  How prideful is it to sit back on your couch and watch the crumbling or downtrodden lives of others and laugh at their misfortunes and dysfunctions?   Have you ever even really considered just what it is you are doing?  Have you ever really considered just how arrogant you are?  These are probably the same kind of people who would call me judgmental while judgement has become their chosen form of recreation.  We are to measure our lives by God.  We are not to try and make ourselves feel better by watching others, but get a true picture of ourselves by looking upon our Lord. 

Speaking of sitting in prideful judgement, being entertained by the dysfunctional lives of others, let me get to my second point. 
So God created man in His [own] image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.  Genesis 1:27 NKJV
We have this idea that if we see it on television that it is not real and I will admit that many things are played up and edited to make them entertaining for us.  This does not negate the fact that we find dysfunctional lives and the exploitation of children to be entertaining.  It is a sickness we have that we really must break.  Those people are not actors playing a role but real people really created in the image and likeness of God and who Jesus really died for.  It is not for us to make fun of their lives, but to pray for their lives.  When we see these things, it should grieve us and not make us laugh.   Do you think that Jesus laughs when young girls get pregnant out of wedlock?  Do you think that Jesus rejoices in child exploitation (although He did say something about millstones and necks for those who do).  These people we watch need Jesus.  Oh that we would have the heart of Jesus and look upon misfortune as an opportunity for ministry and prayer and not something for our entertainment.  Remember that next time you are laughing at their lives, those lives are lived by real people with real souls really created in the image of God.  

It grieves me to hear people being mocked and humiliated.  Yes, adults in reality shows choose to have their lives put on display.  Children, on the other hand, are put into these roles without any real understanding as to their implications.  They are not given a choice and, even if they were, they are not developed enough to make an intelligent decision.   Even with adults, though, should we find the glorification of the dysfunction of their lives something to laugh at and celebrate?  I know this post is similar to one I wrote not very long ago, but I wanted the phenomena of reality television to have its own post as it is a special case.  Next time you choose to watch, please take a moment and consider what you are doing.  Consider your pride in thinking that you are so much better than they are that you can just sit back and laugh at them as though they were created for your entertainment.  Consider the hurt they are causing their children.  Consider the mistakes they made.  Consider that by doing that, you are worse than they are.  We are to humble ourselves before God and not puff ourselves up in comparison to other men.  If we don't God can very well do it for us.  If you would not want your life to be the laughingstock of the world, do not impose it upon others.  I think Jesus said something about these things as well. 
For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. Luke 14:11 NKJV

And [the] second [is] like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Matthew 22:39 NKJV

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Significantly Insignificant

When I think of just how small I am in the grand scheme of things, I feel a whole lot like David did when he wrote Psalm 8.
To the Chief Musician. On the instrument of Gath. A Psalm of David. O LORD, our Lord, How excellent [is] Your name in all the earth, Who have set Your glory above the heavens!
Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength, Because of Your enemies, That You may silence the enemy and the avenger.  Psalm 8:1-2 NKJV
I love the contrast.  First David considers God.  If you ever wanted to feel small, consider God.  Consider how the fact that all that we know in the entire universe was created by God. Consider how God created all that we know just by speaking it into existence.  If the entirely of creation was created by God and just by speaking it into existence, how big must our God be?  We can not even comprehend the universe.  Actually, we do not even fully comprehend the individual forces that make up individual parts of individual molecules let alone the incomprehensible expanse of the universe those forces make up.  Yet despite how incomprehensibly large and complex our God is, babies can praise Him.  In fact, there is nothing more precious than that pure innocent faith in a young mind not yet infected by the corruptions of this world.  Its funny, the smarter we think we get, the more we lose that precious innocent faith we once had.  That is why Jesus tells us that we must be like young children to enter into the kingdom of God.  We must have that innocent wonder of a God so big, so complex, so glorious, and so high above anything we can begin to comprehend rather than try to figure Him out and end up getting things wrong anyway.  I love those times when I can rediscover that place of just sitting in awe and wonder of our God.  
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him?  Psalm 8:3-4 NKJV
This is the passage I had in mind today when thinking about this post.  This is about finding that place of awe and wonder.  On a clear night, I love looking up and seeing the stars.  I see the endless expanse of the universe as dark black sky contrasted by tiny lights representing stars just like our sun.  Those tiny dots are further away than man can ever travel yet they are relatively close when considering just how large all of space is.  Even in this world, I am but one of billions of people alive today and only one of who knows how many who have ever lived and will live.  I have existed for a mere thirty nine years counting my time in the womb, which is a pittance compared to all of earth history.  Yet despite of my own insignificance in my own time and in history in general and despite the tiny imperceptible dot of a planet I live in when compared to the entire universe, I have a personal relationship with the God who made it all.  Even more, that God sent His only begotten son to die for my sins. 

Let's pause there for a moment.  We live inside our own mind many times where we seem larger than life.  We need to lose that perception.  We are not larger than life.  In fact, we are only alive by the grace of God.  Any importance we have is because God, for whatever reason, created us in His image and desired a relationship with us.  God could just as well have decided to create ants in His image and give them a soul and relationship.  It is not our physical being that is His image, it is the fact that we have a spiritual component to our being, that is a soul, that makes us in the image of God.  God is spirit and each of us has an eternal spirit.  Of course, where we spend that eternity depends on whether or not we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.  I am just amazed sometimes at just how much God loves me or even that He does.  Quite honestly, I should be amazed all of the time.  I can't offer God anything.  I have no talent that He did not give me.  I have no righteousness except that which was imparted on me through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  He certainly can not hold an intellectually stimulating conversation with my tiny mortal mind.  Yet, He does love me and even enough to send His son to die for me. 
For You have made him a little lower than the angels, And You have crowned him with glory and honor.
You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all [things] under his feet,
All sheep and oxen--Even the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air, And the fish of the sea That pass through the paths of the seas.  Psalm 8:5-8 NKJV
Man does not have much going for us on our own.  Think about it for a moment.  We were created much less powerful than the angels.  We have little to no control over the forces of nature.  We are weaker and/or slower than most land animals.  We do not have the ability to fly like a bird (or even an insect) or swim like a fish.  Yet despite our seeming disadvantages on this world and our miniscule place in the universe, we are the centerpiece of creation.  Angels are agents of God to minister to man.  Whether this be to eradicate cancerous sin, to give messages of warning or blessing, to give us chance to minister to others not knowing they are angels, to protect us, and to bless us, they live to serve God and God's focus is on the story of mankind.  We can not control natural forces, but we continue to learn to use them to our advantages.  Animals that are stronger and faster exist to serve the interests of mankind.  All of creation was to create us.  All that was done was to facilitate our relationship to God.

When I consider the whole of creation and the fact that God is so much greater than that, the only significance I can find of myself on my own is my own utter insignificance.  This only adds to my awe and wonder.  On my own, I am just one of many many bags of fragile, short-lived flesh on a tiny dot of a planet, and an insignificantly small planetary system, orbiting one of countless suns, in a seemingly endless universe, created by an infinite God.  However, by God, I am a child of God, beloved and blessed, and chosen to spend eternity in His presence.  I can only say what David concluded.
O LORD, our Lord, How excellent [is] Your name in all the earth!  Psalm 8:9 NKJV