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Showing posts with label honesty. Show all posts
Showing posts with label honesty. Show all posts

Monday, July 8, 2024

A Warning for the Rich | A Sermon from James 5:1-6

Introduction
We are now in the last chapter of the Epistle of James.  Lord willing, we will spend 4 more weeks studying this letter that was written by Jesus’ half-brother.  The message today might make you feel uncomfortable.  I want you to know it makes me feel uncomfortable too.  Why?  Because James gives a stern warning to rich people.  And although I don’t consider myself a rich man, I do realize I live in one of the most prosperous nations on the planet. 

According to zippia.com, the USA has the 7th highest avg annual income in the world - $70,930/year.  Now the average income of the whole world is $9,733/year.  The average annual income in Afghanistan is only $390/year.  So maybe that puts some things in perspective for us.  And God’s Word to us today in James is challenging.

James 5:1-6
1 Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. Your gold and silver are corroded. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh like fire. This corroded treasure you have hoarded will testify against you on the day of judgment. For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

You have spent your years on earth in luxury, satisfying your every desire. You have fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter. You have condemned and killed innocent people,[a] who do not resist you.


A Warning to the Rich
James speaks to his 1st century Jewish Christian readers to remind them not to become like the rich and powerful who persecuted them.  Many of his readers may have been wealthy.  Many of them had suffered and lost much wealth at the hands of non-Christians who persecuted them.  And as always, James is very blunt.  He warns the wicked rich using terribly vivid imagery of the troubles the wicked rich will endure.  Your wealth will rot away.  Your fine cloths will be moth eaten rags.
Your silver and gold will corrode.  The wealth you counted in will eat your flesh like fire.
And all your wealth will testify against you in court on Judgment Day.  That makes you squirm in your seat a little bit—if not for yourself, then for anyone who faces it.

Money IS NOT the Root of All Evil
It’s important for me to correct a often misunderstood statement in the Bible.
Contrary to popular belief.  The Bible never says money is the root of all evil.

The verse people misquote to proof-text this is 1 Timothy 6:10, which says, “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”  It is the love of money that is the root of all kinds of evil.  That’s an important distinction. 

If you know your Bible, you will realize there were many godly rich people who were part of God’s story.  Abraham is revered as a holy man by three world religions--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  Yet Father Abraham was a wealthy nomad who had large flocks of livestock and a the large household of a wealthy man by the standards of his day.  One of Abraham's descendants, Joseph, was part of that wealthy household.  Joseph lost it all when he was sold into slavery by his treacherous brothers, but he eventually rose to power as second in command to Egypt's Pharaoh (who was arguably the wealthiest and most powerful man in the world at that time).  David started out as a lowly shepherd, but then became King of Israel and lived in a palace with the wealth and power of the nation at his disposal.  Then the Bible says David's son, Solomon, was the wealthiest person in the world.  There were also several wealthy people who supported Jesus’ ministry and the Christian church in the New testament – Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy man who donated a tomb for Christ burial.

There is nothing wrong with having wealth.  It’s how you get your wealth and what you do with it and your attitude about it that matters most.  James warns the rich who got their wealth by unjust means.  Verse 4 says, “Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay.”  These were people who had little power.  The landowner could promise to pay them a certain wage, but if he decided to cheat them, what recourse did they have?  (There weren't even any labor unions back then.)  And these were also people who lived hand to mouth, so if the landowner didn't pay them on time, they would certainly go hungry.  James says when rich people act like this, God hear the complaints of the people they cheat and He see the rich people's wickedness and He will judge them.

As God’s people, we are to be holy as the Lord is Holy.  What does it mean to be Holy?  It means to be set apart, to be different from the sinful world.  It means to be like God.  

God is righteous.  He does not cheat and steal.  He does not mistreat and use people.  Therefore, we must not cheat, steal, and mistreat people either.  We must be kind and generous and gracious, just as God is kind and generous and gracious  We must be fair, just as God is fair.  

My daughter is a waitress.  She usually makes a decent wage, but a good portion of here income comes from tips.  When people don't tip the customary amount, she suffers.  And I know many people say they are god tippers if the wait staff  does a good job.  I understand your sentiment.  But what if God treated you the way you treat your waiter or waitress?  What if God was watching over you looking for any mistake you made as an excuse to withhold blessings from you.  We would all starve to death because we make many mistake.  But that's not how God is.  God is gracious with us and blesses us even when we fail.  We ought to be the same with people in our dealings.  We should seek to be holy as God is holy.

If you read about the heroes of the Bible, the holy ones who had great wealth, you will find that they kind and generous and fair.  They also did not put their trust in their wealth; they depended on the Lord.  King David, who was a powerful king who wrote so many of the Psalms, wrote in Psalm 20:7, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”
And Solomon, who the Bible says was the richest man who ever lived, wrote in Proverbs 11:28, “Trust in your money and down you go!  But the godly flourish like leaves in spring.”

David and Solomon were wealthy men, but they didn’t trust in the riches to keep them safe.  They knew the Lord was their strength and their shield.  As Americans who live in one of the most prosperous nation in the world, we also must hear and head James’ warning.  Don’t trust in your wealth to keep you safe.  Put your trust in God.  And be very careful not to cheat and steal to gain or increase your wealth.  Be honest.  Be fair.  Be gracious.  And don’t hoard your wealth.  Be generous.  Don’t waste your money in careless living, but also be careful that you aren’t stingy. 

Chick-fil-A vs. McDonald’s
Have you ever noticed the difference in quality between Chick-fil-A and McDonalds.  Chick-fil-A just seems to have better quality food and service.  Chick-fil-A is a company that operates on Christian values.  They make a bold statement about their Christian identity by closing on Sunday.  That means they potentially earn 1/7th less than McDonalds (who is open seven days a week).  But Chick-fil-A still manages to pay their employees an average of $0.50 more per hour than McDonalds.  Christian values lead Chick-fil-A to care more about their employees and treat them better.  

It’s not so much about our wealth, but our attitudes and values surrounding wealth.  As Christians, we must understand we are blessed so that we can be an blessing.  Our blessings are not just for our own selfish gratification.  Christians are blessed so we can be a blessing.

Hard Times
There is a saying going around that I think makes a lot of sense.  It says that hard times create strong people.  Strong people create good times.  Good times create weak people.   And weak people create hard times.  That seems to be true in my experience.  (And when I say strong or weak people, I’m not talking about physical strength; I’m referring to the strength of a person's character.)  When times are hard, people have to buckle down and live right and work hard to survive.  It builds strong character that improves society and leads to good times.  But when times are good and easy, people tend to get lazy.  And lazy people tend to develop weak character.  They live too high on the hog and their entitlement attitudes lead to hard times.  It’s a cycle I see play out in society and in families. 

Where is our nation in this cycle right now?  It would seem to me that we have been living through some very good times.  We are the 7th most prosperous nation in the world.  But we are also seeing increasing inflation and times are harder in the past couple years than they have been before.  Perhaps it is because we are getting lazy and are living too high on the hog.  It’s leading to hard times.  I certainly can see in my personal dealings with people in our town that we have too many weak characters who feel too entitled to blessings without having to work for them.  It does not bode well for our community or our nation.

But maybe there is hope!  As Christians we are called to be different, to be holy as God is holy.  We are to be the salt of the earth.  We are to be people of good, strong character and values.  Pray that you are being part of the solution and not living in ways that lead to hard times.  

Conclusion
Remember Jesus Christ, who is the King of kings and Lord of lords.
  If anyone was entitled to take it easy and live well, it was Jesus.  Yet Christ left the glory of heaven and humbled himself as a slave and even laid down His sacred life for us.  He came not to be served, but to serve.  And we who follow Him as Lord are called to do the same—to live selflessly, to give sacrificially, to be a gracious blessing to people (not because they deserve it, but simple out of an abundance of grace). 

Every time we celebrate Holy Communion, it is a reminder of how Christ laid down His life for us.  His sacrifice gives us life and strength.  Let’s remember to live for Him because He died for us.  It will make our lives and the lives of everyone around us better.

Monday, October 9, 2023

 

Introduction
The Jewish people of the New Testament were commanded by God to be honest.  The 9th of the 10 commandments says, “Do not false witness against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16) And throughout the Scriptures, God instructs people to be honest.  Just as God does not lie, we should not lie. 

And yet, how could Jews live under the oppression of the all Romans, and not lie?  Think about it.  Suppose you were in their shoes and some Romans soldiers came to arrest and execute your brother, who was hiding in your basement.  And they demanded, “Where is your brother?”  And you say, “I don’t know!  He isn’t here.”  Your lie may save his life.  And yet, in lying, you broke God’s command not to lie.

The Romans weren’t stupid.  They knew the Jews would lie for each other; who wouldn't in that situation?  But they also knew the Jews were religious and they feared God who told them not to lie.  So they might make the Jews swear a vow.  “Swear to God you don’t know where your brother is?”

An oath or vow like this was a very serious business to ancient people—especially the Jews.  Jews believed more than any other people that God was real and all powerful and all knowing.  Lying to God was a serious offense and He would punish you.  The Jews believed that wholeheartedly.

Now that’s a problem if you live in occupied territory.  What were the Jews supposed to do?  Well, Jewish religious leaders came up with some work arounds so Jews could lie to the Romans and not offend God.  We can deduce some of these from Matthew 23:16-22.  They could make a vow “by God’s Temple” as long as they didn’t make the vow on the “gold of the Temple”.  Or they could make a vow “by heaven” as long as it was not “by God in heaven”.  So these were ways Jews could use a vow to sound honest but actually lie. 

That’s convenient.  If we found ourselves in their shoes, we could probably all appreciate the practicality of being able to lie to the enemy like that.  Kids who live in abusive households often learn to lie for very similar reasons.  In order to avoid abuse and unfair punishment, they learn really quick it’s easier to lie and cover up than to be beaten.  It’s a coping mechanism and it often works.

The problem for many kids who learned to lie because they're abused is they grow into adults who are habitual liars.  Even though they are no longer in an abusive situation, they are still in the habit of lying because it’s more convenient.  Sometimes it’s just easier to lie than explain the truth.

The unfortunate Jews who lived under Roman occupation learned to be good liars.  They even learned to feel good about lying by using vows to cover it up with religious language.  But what was to stop them from using religious language to now lying to each other?  Nothing.

And into this world of lies and deception, Jesus speaks the Truth in His Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 5:33-37
33 
“You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord.’ 34 But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne. 35 And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is his footstool. And do not say, ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the city of the great King. 36 Do not even say, ‘By my head!’ for you can’t turn one hair white or black. 37 Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.

On Earth as it is in Heaven
Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.  His preaching often started with words like Matthew 3:2, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”  Now the people to who He preached (just like us) lived in the real world.  The real world is a place where people lie and cheat and steal.  The real world is a place where we must look at all the bad options available and pick the least evil one. Right?  You know what I mean.  We live in the real world, not some fantasy.

It’s ironic that we call the broken world we live in “The Real World”.  It’s real to us, because it’s all we’ve ever known. But Jesus came to show us this isn’t the way the world is supposes to be.  He met our broken world head on and challenged all its broken people and broken systems.  And Jesus refused to bow down to the way things work in our broken world.  It may be one of the main things that annoyed the religious and political leaders most about Jesus—that He refused to get with the program about the way things work in the “real world”.  And so, when Jesus refused to cave in and play along by the rules of the “real world”, they arrested and executed Him.  They said, see, this is what happens to people who don’t play by our rules, you die in shame and agony on a cross.

But then an amazing thing happened.  Jesus rose from the dead on the third day because He is Lord!  You see, in the “real world” honesty and integrity may get you rejected and killed.  But in the Kingdom of Heaven, those who follow Jesus rise to new life—eternal life.  And we all have to decide which is really the “real world”.  Is it this broken world of lies or is it the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus preached?

Jesus challenged all His followers, “Pray like this:  Our Father in Heaven… Thy Kingdom come.  Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven…”  (Matthew 6:8-10)  Jesus came to overthrow our broken world and He calls all His believers to have faith to live as though His Kingdom is the true reality and this so called “real world” which we believe is reality is really a corruption and a lie that is passing away.  God’s Kingdom is coming, and we are called to live by the Kingdom’s principles.

And in God’s Kingdom, there’s no reason to lie.  There is no sin or abuse.  There is no Enemy.  We are called to live with honesty and integrity.  We’ve got to let go of our habits of lying.  We should be such honest people we no longer need vows to prove we’re telling the truth.  So the person who says, “Yes” is just as believable to as the person who says, “I swear to God, yes!”  In fact, the person who says yes may be more believable than the person who makes a vow.  Because why would you even need to say, “I swear to God…”?  If you have to swear to prove you’re telling the truth then it almost implies the possibility that you may have lied at other times when you didn’t swear to God.  In the Kingdom of Heaven, where Jesus is King, people are always honest.  Yes means yes and no means no.

Can Christians Make Vows or Swear Oaths?
Some Christian denominations interpret Jesus words about vows to mean Christians should not make vows or take oaths of any kind.  For instance, Quakers, Mennonites, and the Amish interpret Jesus’ words in Scripture to mean they should not make vows or swear oaths of any kind.  In fact, George Fox, the founder of the Quaker movement (officially called the Religious Society of Friends), was put in prison because he refused to swear on the Bible to tell the truth.  Ironically, Fox was a deeply religious man and argued the very Bible he was being compelled to swear upon required him not to swear an oath.

Was George Fox right?  Does the Bible forbid Christians from making vows or swearing oaths?  No.  I don’t believe it does.  That’s not the point of what Jesus is saying.  Besides, Jesus was involved in a trial where an oath were used.  When Jesus was on trial before the Jerusalem High Council (Matthew 26:63-64), the high priest said, “I demand in the name of the living God—tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”  Jesus replied, “You have said it.”  That’s not much different than when the judge asks you in court, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” and you respond “I do.”

Other Christian denomination may see it differently, but Methodists (and the vast majority of Christian denominations throughout history) have allowed and even encouraged Christians to make vows in certain situations—like when you get married and say, “I do” or when you become a Christian and join a church and are asked, “Do you confess Jesus Christ as Savior, put their whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as their Lord?” and you respond, “I do.”  So the point is not to prohibit vows.  The point is to uphold the high value of honesty and integrity in God’s people in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Conclusion
Jesus reveals once again that the demands of holiness in the Kingdom of Heaven are beyond the reach of our sinful hands.  We fall so far short of God’s glorious standards. We’re so accustomed to living in a broken and sinful world, we don’t even realize how much we sin.  Jesus points out our sin—not to shame us, but—to wake us up to our desperate need of salvation.

Do you struggle with honesty?  Are you a liar?  Before you deny it, reflect honestly and deeply.  Some of you learned to lie when you were in an abusive situation—maybe an abusive relationship or marriage, maybe even as a child who could not be honest with your parents and still survive.  Now you are free of that abuse, but you still cling to your habit of lying.  Maybe it’s just easier to lie than tell the truth.  Isn’t it time to ask God to heal you so you can start to value honesty as Jesus does?

Some of you think you are honest.  You may even be proud of how honest you are.  But think about it. 
Did you ever laugh at someone’s joke when everyone else laughed even though it wasn’t funny?  That was dishonest.  Why did you lie?  Were you trying not to look foolish?  We’re you just being polite?

Have you every smiled and pretended understand someone when you couldn’t really hear or understand them?  Have you ever covered up your physical flaws to make yourself look better than you really do?  Maybe put on a little makeup or dye in your hair or wore clothing that covered up your flaws.  Isn’t that in some sense dishonest?

Friends, we’ve all lied.  If we’re honest about it, we can all see it and admit it. It may be a small thing to us, but we’re talking about the absolutely perfect and holy standards of God.  You see?  We can’t fulfill it.  And when we’re proud of our honesty, we can see even our pride is misplaced and sinful.  We’ve nothing to be proud of.  Even our so-called righteousness is but filthy rags.

But with Jesus there is mercy and grace and forgiveness.  With Jesus, there is salvation.  We must lay down our false righteousness and throw ourselves upon the mercy of Christ.  Repent and turn to Him today and seek to live by the principles of His Kingdom.

For we all must decided what is real.  Is this world we see around us, with all its corrupt rules and customs, the “real world”?  Or is the real world the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus taught about and showed us with His life?  You must decide.  Make your choice today, right now, this very moment.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Proverbs Day 19

Read Proverbs 19
Fools tell lies. Whether it's an evil scheme to get what they want or just the easy way out of a difficult situation, dishonesty is never the wise course. Truly wise people are honest and have integrity.

Pastor Chris' Paraphrase of Proverbs 19:1, 5, 9, 22, and 28

1 It is better to be a poor person with integrity than a fool who twists words.

5 A witness who lies will be convicted. Someone who tells lies will not get away.

9 A witness who lies will be convicted. Someone who tells lies will be destroyed.

22 We long for people to be faithful; a poor man is better than a liar.

28 An evil witness mocks justice and takes a gulp of terrible trouble with every lie they tell.

Notice how verses 5 and 9 say almost the same exact thing. Why would there two nearly identical proverbs in the same chapter? Because telling the truth is essential to healthy relationships, civil society, and God demands it. Be honest. Strive for integrity. Be a loyal friend. Practice telling the truth in love. Even if it's harder in the short-term, it's always better in the long run and God will honor you.

Prayer
"Father, help me to be honest and faithful in the way I live and the things I do. Amen."

Monday, February 1, 2016

Living Christian in a Gay World, part 4 - Coming Out of the Closet

Part 4 – Coming Out of the Closet
Galatians 6:1-3

Introduction
            Four Sundays is not nearly enough time to say all that could be said on the subject of homosexuality.  If you would like more, I recommend the book by Sam Alberry, Is God anti-gay? Allberry is an Anglican pastor who struggles with same-sex attraction and has chosen to remain single and celibate in obedience to the Gospel.  Allberry’s book is written from a unique perspective.  The book is easy to read and offers an easy to understand examination of homosexuality from a Christian perspective.  I highly recommend it and have a few free copies if you are interested.
The goal of this blog is to encourage everyone to break the silence about their personal struggles.  Whether it is homosexuality or divorce or substance abuse or anything else, we are called to love, pray for, and support one another in our struggles instead of hiding them and pretending we are perfect. 

Galatians 6:1-3
1Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. 

Coming Out of the Closet
Most people who struggle with homosexuality keep their struggle secret.  They don’t tell anyone for fear of how they will react.  In this secretive stage, they are said to be “in the closet.”  In other words, they are keeping their struggle secret as if hiding in a closet.  Once a gay person finally decides to reveal their homosexual feelings to others, they are said have “come out of the closet.” 
Coming out of the closet can be very scary.  One doesn’t know how their family and friends will react to the revelation about their sexuality.  Will they be angry or disappointed?  Will they reject?  Will they be understanding, kind, or supportive?  It takes great courage for someone struggling with something as sensitive as homosexuality to make their struggle known to others.
You may not know this, but there is a strong parallel between homosexuals who “come out of the closet” and the journey of the Christian faith.  For the Christian is also called to “come out of the closet” (i.e. reveal to others the secrets about that with which they struggle).  1 John 1:9 says “confess our sins to [Jesus]” and James 5:16 says “confess your sins to each other”.  Galatians 6:2 says we should “share one another’s burdens,” meaning we should share our most difficult struggles with each other.  Homosexual temptations might be one of those struggles, but it is not the only one or even the toughest one.  We are all burdened with sin and temptation and we usually want to keep our secret struggles locked away in the closet.  Christ calls us to “come out of the closet” in order to let the light of His love heal and help us.  

We’re Not Perfect
Somewhere along the way, many people got it into their heads that Christians are always supposed to live happy, perfect little lives and never struggle.  Christians often try very hard to keep up this fa├žade.  We smile, hide our struggles, and pretend to be the perfect people we’re expected to be.  This is not the reality the Bible teaches.  And in all honesty, it hinders our witness.  People need to know Christians are real people with real struggles.  We are not perfect, but we serve a perfect Savior who promised to help us through our struggles.  Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
We should expect that Christians will struggle with many kinds of temptation, sin, illnesses, tragedies, and other problems.  We should expect that some Christians will struggle with homosexuality.  Struggling does not mean one is not a Christian or is somehow weak or lacking in faith.  It simply means you are human. 
When we “come out of the closet” about our struggles—whatever they may be—we open ourselves up to healing and other Christians are able to help us.  Furthermore, our lives become a powerful witness—not that we are perfect people (we never are), but—that Christ took our brokenness and didn’t give up on us.  People cannot see the power of Christ overcoming your brokenness if you always wear a mask pretending to be just fine. 
 
 
Advice for Coming Out
In his book Is God anti-gay, Sam Allberry offers some helpful advice to those struggling with same-sex attraction.  This is good advice for dealing with any kind of problem, not just homosexuality.  I offer the following suggestions for everyone, regardless of the secret problem with which you struggle. 

Pray about your struggles.
            You can talk to Jesus about any struggle you face—whether it is homosexuality or anything else.  There is nothing off limits with Him.  Jesus said in John 3:17, “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”  You can talk to Jesus about anything and know that He will love you unconditionally.  Furthermore, there is no one who can keep a confidence better than Jesus!
            When you pray, you don’t have to use fancy language.  Just be honest and authentic.  Talk to Jesus about your confusions.  Share with Him your distress.  Ask him to help you with your temptations.  Seek forgiveness for times you feel you failed.  Jesus “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (1 John 1:9).  Jesus “understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15).  Talk to Jesus in prayer and tap into the unlimited power of God to deal with your struggles.

Think about your struggles in the right way.
            Sometimes we struggle with something so hard it starts to look like an insurmountable problem.  Some people here might be thinking, “You know, I’ve struggled with this for so long and failed so many time, God has probably given up on me.  I’m just too far gone.” Or you might think, “My temptation, my sin is just too big, too dark, too unspeakable, to despicable, God would never want to have anything to do with me.” 
Sin has a way of twisting our perspective that way, but don’t you believe the Devil’s lies.  God loves you no matter what and He will never give up on you.  You are never too far gone, out of reach, too dirty, too lost, or too wicked to be saved by God through Jesus.  God would save the Devil himself if only he would turn from his sins and turn to God through Jesus Christ.  Surely, you are not that far gone.
Regardless of whether you struggle with homosexuality or something else, something big or something small, keep it in perspective.  Your struggles don’t disqualify you and they define you.  You are not a homosexual.  You are not a pervert or a thief or a drunk or a liar.  You are a child of God and Jesus would go to the ends of the earth to seek and save you.  In fact, he went all the way to the cross for you.  So when your problem seems too big, you just remember how much bigger God is and you let Him define you instead. 

Seek support from others.
            Galatians 6:2 says, “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.”  A burden is something you were not meant to carry all by yourself.  Everyone has to carry their own load, but a burden is heavier than one person can safely carry by themselves.  So we should share our burdens. 
            In our context today, this means we should share our struggles with each other.  Now, you might not want to run around telling your deepest, darkest secrets to every person you meet—not even within the church.  But you should find a trusted, Christian friend—someone who will listen and not judge you and not go around talking behind your back.  If you don’t have someone like that, you can come talk to me.  That’s my job as a pastor.
            Galatians 6:2 also says that when we share each other’s burdens, we “obey the law of Christ.”  So it would seem that sharing our struggles with each other—both opening up to others and helping others with their struggles—is the law of Christ (which is love).
            Sharing our struggles with others and seeking support can yield tremendous results.  Sometimes, just talking about our problems brings marvelous relief.  It relieves built up pressure and anxiety and helps put our troubles in proper perspective.
            I have seen amazing results and personal growth when people “came out of the closet” about their secret battles.  I am bound to keep names and specific details confidential, but I can tell you that right here in this church, I have seen racism overcome and family bonds healed.  I have seen drug and alcohol addictions conquered.  I have witnessed broken marriages made whole.  I have watched out of control tempers brought under control.  I have seen friendships restored, shame and guilt released, and lives put back on track.  And in each case, it was possible because people courageously opened up about their struggles and sought the support of others. 

Conclusion
It takes courage and faith to “come out of the closet” about our problems with each other in the church because it seems like everyone else is perfectly happy.  What we don’t realize is that everyone struggles with something and often the smiles we see are only the masks people wear.  We all need to remove our masks and live more authentically.  It is the only way we can grow in Christ.  And who knows, when you are honest and come out of the closet, it might not only help you.  It might just help someone else who is secretly struggling too.  So what are you waiting for?

 

 

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Ninth Commandment

Exodus 20:16

Introduction
            We only have two more commandments to look at in this series on the Ten Commandments.  I want to start today by giving you a little background on the list I challenged you to memorize.  The list of the Ten Commandments I've used in this blog for the past 9 weeks is a paraphrase I developed back in 2003 as part of a Christian martial arts program I taught.  At the beginning of each class, students would bow in, have a moment for silent prayer, and we would recite the Ten Commandments.  Each student was required to memorize the commandments as part of our curriculum.  Usually, my martial arts students would have the commandments memorized within a month.  In this way, I have probably helped hundreds of students memorize the Ten Commandments—even if they didn’t stick with the Karate class for more than a couple months.
            The list I used is a paraphrase of the 10 Commandments found in Exodus 20:1-17.  I wanted my list to use simple language that was easy to understand and got straight to the point.  I struggled a bit with the Ninth Commandment and I didn’t really know why until this week when I studied it to prepare for this message. 
            Before we look at the 9th commandment, let’s recite the whole list together.  There are some blanks to fill in.  Let’s see how you are coming on memorizing the Ten Commandments.

The Ten Commandments:
1.     Do not _______ any God except the Lord.
2.     Do not ____ _____ of any kind.
3.     Do not ______ the ____of the Lord.
4.     Remember to _______ the _______ ___ and keep it holy.
5.     Honor your ______ and _______.
6.     Do not ______.
7.     Do not commit ________
8.     Do not _____.
9.     Do not _______ _______against your neighbor.
10.  Do not _____.

Good!  Keep working on it until you have all 10 memorized.

Today we will look at the Ninth Commandment as found in Exodus 20:16
16 “You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.

As I said before, I struggled with how to word the ninth commandment in my list.  Here’s why.  I wanted to simplify the wording and just say, “You must not lie.”  But as I prayed about it, I felt the Lord was leading me to keep the words “testify falsely” instead of “lie.”  That phrasing is a little more awkward and complicated, but something told me it was there for a reason.
I know now why after studying for this message.  You see, the Ninth Commandment wasn’t originally concerned with ordinary, everyday types of lies.  The Ninth Commandment deals with the justice system of the community.  It’s about the court system.  That’s why it uses the term “testify.”  When a judge hears a legal case, he will call witnesses to testify.  Suppose someone has been accused of stealing.  The judge will ask if anyone saw the accused person steal or has any other information that will determine if the accused did or did not steal.  The integrity of the justice system depends on the honesty of the witnesses.  God wants His people to live in a just society.  For that to happen, the court system must be reliable.  For that to happen, witnesses must be honest. 
Justice is sometimes personified and depicted as a person holding a set of scales and wearing a blindfold.  The scales represent weighing the evidence.  The blindfold represents objectivity; i.e. it doesn’t matter if the person is a friend or an enemy, rich or poor, a citizen or a foreigner; justice is blind so everyone is treated fairly and impartially.  Therefore, witnesses must not twist the truth to sway justice one way or another.  

Institutional Lies
The language of the Ninth Commandment identifies it with the court system, but it applies to broader settings than that.  Remember, the Ten Commandments were written for the newly formed Israelite community after they left slavery in Egypt to teach them to live together as civilized people.  A civilized people must be able to trust their leaders to tell them the truth.
We have seen many instances throughout history where governments have lied to their people and led them astray.  Nazi Germany comes to mind as a particularly heinous example.  First, the government used propaganda to turn public opinion against the Jews--even convincing them that Jews were less than human and deserved whatever persecution and mistreatment the Germans dished out.  Near the end of WWII, as the Allies were closing in on Berlin, Hitler and his henchmen were still sending out propaganda saying they were winning the war even as their capital was crumbling around them.  They’re lies had turned into madness and a complete distortion of reality.
When leaders bear false witness, it erodes the bedrock on which society is founded.  We see the effects of this in our own nation.  Back in the 50s and 60s, most people trusted the government.  According to the Pew Research Center[1], public trust in the government was 74% under Lyndon Johnson in 1964.  But over the years as numerous scandals, lies, and coverups have come to light about leaders in various segments, the faith of the American people in their government has eroded.  In February of 2014, it was just 24%.  This is the effect falsehood has on society.
The Church is no exception either.  The year I was born, 1974, between 66-68% of Americans said they had great confidence in the Church.  Over the years, that number has gradually dropped to a low of 42% in 2015.[2]  As a 13 or 14 year old kid, I used to sometimes watch Jimmy Swaggart on the TV in the morning as I got ready for school.  Now this was unusual for me.  I wasn’t a very devoted Christian at that age, but something about Jimmy Swaggart grabbed my attention and I would watch.  I remember very vividly the footage of him crying and admitting he had “sinned against You, my Lord.”  It soon came out that he had been with a prostitute.  Such scandals make it hard for the public to trust the Church is telling the Truth.
But it’s not just the scandals of televangelists or catholic priests that damage the influence of the church.  Every Christian is an ambassador for Christ.  You are an ambassador for Christ.  The reality is, there are people who look up to you as an example of what it means to be a Christian that will never look at me.  I may be a pastor, but you are the person they know and value.  Does your life and your actions tell the truth about Christ or bear a false witness?
We can bare false witness in two ways as ordinary Christians.  First off, we could act in ungodly ways that do not set a good example for others.  But perhaps there is an even more sinister way we bear false witness with our actions.  It is when we pretend to be better than we are.  You see, no man is perfect.  We all have many, many flaws.  Just because we follow Jesus does not mean we do not make mistakes or have bad habits.  And yet, sometimes there is tremendous pressure within Christian social circles hide our flaws and weaknesses.  Looking around the church, one might think everyone is happy all the time.  All you see is smiling faces and most people keep their struggles and failings hidden.  We present ourselves as perfect (or nearly perfect).  But the reality is, the church is full of broken, fallen people.  We don’t have to be perfect; God accepts us as we are and just wants us to be honest about the good the bad and the ugly of our lives.  Anything less is to bear false witness and it erodes faith in the Church and hinders our own healing. 

Jesus and Lying
Ephesians 4:25 says, “So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body.”  We need to tell the truth--in both big and small things, and in our actions.  Christians should be known as the most honest people on the planet.
The people who lived in Jesus’ day struggled to know who they could trust.  The custom arose of using vows to guarantee a person was telling the truth.  So a person might say, “I swear upon my mother’s grave,” as a way of proving they spoke the truth.  In Matthew 5:34 and 37, Jesus said, “But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne...”  “Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.”
In his blog called “9 Sins the Church is OK With,” Frank Powell writes, “Here’s what Jesus is saying. You should live with such high integrity that your word doesn’t need attachments to make it legitimate... So, typical phrases like, “I promise,” “I swear,” and “I put it on my mom’s grave” shouldn’t be necessary.”[3]   

Conclusion
Christians should be the most honest people on the planet.  And yet the honest truth is, we have all been a false witness at some point in word or deed.  James 2:10 says, “10 For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws.”  And one day, we will all stand before the Great Judge who will determine our fate.  The Ten Commandments testify against us that we have broken God's Law in many ways.
 Romans 6:23 says “The consequences of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Although we deserve death for our sin, God offers a pardon to all who trust in Christ’s death and resurrection.  For his death paid the penalty for our sin and his resurrection won the victory over death.  Like him, we too can be raised to new life--one free of sin and death--where we live at peace with God.
Would you like to take hold of this new life Jesus offers?  Then, pray to Jesus today and ask for forgiveness, ask him to save you, and decide to follow him from now on.


[1] http://www.people-press.org/2014/11/13/public-trust-in-government/
[2] http://www.gallup.com/poll/183674/confidence-religion-new-low-not-among-catholics.aspx
[3] http://www.faithit.com/9-sins-the-church-is-okay-with/