Mourning When Disaster Strikes

Disaster and death have filled the last six weeks. There have been natural disasters like hurricanes in Houston, Florida, and Puerto Rico, and a major earthquake in Mexico. In recent days we’ve watched in horror as California burns. Besides the terrible toll of homes and businesses destroyed, 34 people have died in the flames. Beyond these natural disasters, there was the horrific human evil of the shooting in Las Vegas, with over 500 wounded and 59 murdered, the largest mass shooting in US history.

Of course, when disasters strike, I’m often asked a variety of questions, like, why did God allow that? Or what should we do for the surviving victims? A question that is not so common is, how should those of us who are observing these events express our sorrow. That’s what I want to focus on today—what does Scripture teach about how to mourn for these tragic events?

We should begin by identifying with those who suffer. Romans 12:15 says we should “weep with those who weep.” We need to feel the pain and suffering of each sufferer. We ought to stand with the people of Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico, Mexico and California in their times of pain. We need to identify with the anguish of Las Vegas. We who love the Lord must take the time to stand in sympathy with those who suffered these awful losses and pain.

Second, we should cry out to the Lord. This is not only a time of sorrow, but a time of  prayer. So many verses tell us to cry out to the Lord in our pain: Psalm 18:6 says “I called to the LORD in my distress, and I cried to my God for help.” Psalm 50:15 says “Call on Me in a day of trouble; I will rescue you, and you will honor Me.” Psalm 86:7 declares “I call on You in the day of my distress, for You will answer me.” Also Psalm 120:1 similarly says, “In my distress I called to the LORD, and He answered me.” If there is one lesson to be learned from the Psalms it’s this: When we see or experience the horrors and pain of this evil world, we shouldn’t run further from God but turn closer to Him in prayer. Sometimes it’s these kinds of evil events that turns our hearts to God more than any other kind of experience. We need to be praying for those who have suffered and asking God to send deliverance.

Besides identifying and praying, a third suggestion is to spend time reading God’s Word.  This is what Psalm 119:50 says: “This is my comfort in my affliction, That Your word has revived me.” In my life, whenever I’ve had to deal with life threatening fears, with heartbreaking loss, with the tragic death of loved ones, I have found turning to God’s Word, the Bible, especially the Psalms, has been my true source of comfort.

And finally, after identifying with those who suffer, crying out to God, and drawing comfort from His Word, we need to trust that God will bring comfort. One of my favorite Psalms, Psalm 34, says in verse 18 “The LORD is near the brokenhearted; He saves those crushed in spirit.” Here’s what we believe—that God is present with those who suffer, that He is near us when we humbly cry out to Him, and that He will answer us with His supernatural comfort.

Dorothy Sayers once said, “For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is— limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death—He had the honesty and the courage to take His own medicine . . . . He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair and death.” Whatever else we can say, we know this: that Jesus, the man of sorrows who was acquainted with grief, truly understands our heartbreak right now.

Doomsday Scenarios and the Bible

Is September 23 Rapture day? Are the stars aligned in the way predicted by Revelation 12, indicating that the tribulation is upon us?

According to a few beguiling preachers and teachers, today, September 23 is the date of the Rapture. According to this view, the number 33 is important because Jesus’ lived His earthly life for 33 years and September 23 comes exactly 33 days after the August 21 solar eclipse. Moreover, the sun, moon and stars will be aligned today just as Revelation 12 allegedly foretells. Additionally, it is claimed that a planet called Nibiru is heading toward Earth. When it passes later this year, it will cause catastrophes in the form of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tidal waves. According to these preachers, by the time we get to October, the seven year Tribulation will have begun.

These false speculations are so ridiculous, I am constantly flabbergasted that people are taking in by them. But worse than being ridiculous, these Doomsday scenarios oppose the clear teaching of the Bible, God’s word. Here’s why:

First, doomsday speculation contradicts the words of Jesus Himself. He said of the rapture, “Now concerning that day and hour no one knows—neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son—except the Father only” (Matthew 24:36). He told his disciples, when they began to enquire about the time of the end, “It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority” (Acts 1:7). How strange (and brash) that any sensational preacher would claim to know what the Lord Jesus has said only our Father in heaven knows.

Second, doomsday speculation misinterprets the Bible. The whole speculation has to do with the alleged alignment of the stars being predicted in Revelation 12:1. There it says that “a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of 12 stars on her head.”  But the problem with this allegation is that Revelation 12 isn’t about the alignment of the stars at all. The woman in the passage is symbolic and to help the reader identify the symbol, it includes an allusion to Joseph’s dream back in Genesis 37, where he saw his father Jacob and his mother and his brothers as the sun, moon and stars. The woman in Revelation 12 is Israel and refers to events that will take place yet in the future. It is decidedly not about the constellation Virgo being clothed in sunlight, in a position that is over the moon and under nine stars and three planets.

Third, doomsday speculation erodes biblical authority. This past week numerous articles have appeared in the secular press about the September 23 doomsday scenario. One major newspaper story said even said that the constellation of planets, “a sign prophesied in the Book of Revelation — would reveal itself in the skies over Jerusalem, signaling the beginning of the end of the world as we know it.” What struck me is that it states that the book of Revelation actually predicts this alignment of the stars, which it does not. When September 23 comes and goes, it will lead people to dismiss as nonsense what the Bible actually says about the return of the Lord Jesus. In the words of Peter, people will scoff, “saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming’” (1 Peter 3:4)? Whether it is 88 reasons Jesus will return in 1988, blood moons, or a made-up and fake planet Nibiru, secular people actually think the Bible teaches these foolish harbingers of the end, and then dismiss and doubt what the Scriptures truly foretell—that Jesus will indeed return.

Fourth, doomsday speculation undermines genuine faith. People get so caught up in the sensational speculations of these false prophets, that they begin to rely on sensationalism rather than the sound teachings of God’s Word. Paul warned his disciple Timothy of this danger, describing the product of the sensational teachers of their day this way: “These [teachers] promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith” (1 Timothy 1:4). We should have faith in the good news because of the trustworthiness of the scriptures not sensational speculations.

Finally, doomsday speculation minimizes the imminent return of the Lord Jesus. The Bible teaches that Jesus’ return would be sudden and surprising, “like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2). Using the analogy of the thief in the night in Matthew 24:43-44, Jesus said, “This is why you also must be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” If we could know when the Rapture would happen, we wouldn’t need to get ready for it every day. I love the story about the little girl who asked her mom if Jesus could return soon. Her mom said “Yes, He could.” So the little girl continued to ask, “Today? This morning? Before breakfast?” Yes, said her mom, to which the girl replied, “Mommy, can you brush my hair?” She wanted to be ready for Jesus’ return and so should we, any day, any moment, not just on Sept 23.

I’ll give my final caveat to all this—I believe the one day the Rapture will most likely not happen is September 23. That’s because the Father would never want to endorse the silly speculations and fabricated falsehoods of the sensationalist prophets of doom. Neither should we.

When the Hurricane Hits

Virtually all of us have been watching tv news reports about the shocking destruction of Hurricane Harvey in Texas even as we await the devastation of Florida and the east coast by Hurricane Irma. Right in between, a massive earthquake struck in Mexico. These disasters have already resulted in deaths, destruction, homelessness, and there’s more to come. And every time disaster strikes, people ask the same age old question. How could God let this happen?

So how do we respond to this question? If God is good, why are there terrible disasters like hurricanes?  Why are there earthquakes, tornadoes and floods that kill innumerable people and destroy communities? There are no simple or completely satisfactory answers to these questions. But here are six quick biblical concepts we can remember when disaster strikes.

First, it’s an absolute truth that God is sovereign in all these matters. These hurricanes didn’t  surprise God; He wasn’t shocked by any other evil event we’ve experienced. God says this in Isaiah 45:7: “I form light and create darkness, I make success and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.” Just as God is the sovereign Creator, so He is sovereign over disasters.

Second, our problem is that we don’t know His purposes. And it’s a terrible mistake to assert that they are even knowable.  That’s why God declared through Isaiah: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).” We can’t explain God’s intentions nor should we ever try. We just know God is there and He is good.

Third, we need to remember that tragic events are not necessarily related to the specific behavior of nations or individuals. Evil things happen because we live in an evil and fallen world. People get terminal diseases, planes crash, tidal waves overwhelm communities. Paul wrote in Romans 8:22, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”

Fourth, Jesus taught that disasters, whether natural or man-made, are a reminder of God’s mercy. In Luke 13:1-9, responding to the question of why God allowed evil, Jesus said that bad things happen to some people, not because they are “more evil” than others. According to Jesus, if God were to act based on our behavior, disaster and devastation would be the norm, not the exception. We all sin, and if God responded based on what we deserve, we’d all be devastated. This is what Jeremiah meant when he wrote, “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail” (Lam 3:22). It is only God’s loving mercy that prevents Him from destroying all of us instantly.

Fifth, God uses suffering to remind us to turn to Him. When we see natural disasters strike others, Jesus said that this was the reminder for us to turn to God before we perished as well (Luke 13:3-5). That’s the very reason the Psalmist wrote, “I turn to the Lord in my distress, and He answers me (Psalm 120:1).” C. S. Lewis wrote: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world .” God uses our pain and sorrow, to get our attention and remind us turn to Him for comfort.

Sixth, God uses tragic events to remind us that we’re not home yet.  It’s so easy to get overly comfortable here on earth, never to want to leave, as if this was the best God has for us. But there is yet an eternity. Suffering on this earth reminds us that God intends a far better home for us in the future. These “present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Rom 8:18).” Disasters remind us not to allow ourselves to become overly comfortable and satisfied with this world but remember that we’re citizens of a far better, future world, where every tear will be wiped away, and all pain and sorrow will be removed.

One last thought: Dorothy Sayers said that when it comes to the problem of evil, this must be said, “God took His own medicine.” In the Messiah Jesus, God entered this world as a fully human person, and not only suffered with us, but suffered for us, that through His death and resurrection, we can have life forever.

Do Jews and Christians Worship the Same God?

Just a couple of weeks ago, an Open Line caller asked if Jewish people worship the same God as Christians do? He was concerned because Jewish people did not believe in the Triune God and he wondered how anyone could think that Jewish people were worshiping the same God as he worships. That’s an important question, important enough that I wanted to take a longer look at what the Scriptures say about this.

When looking at the New Testament, it does appear that Jewish people and Christians worship the same God. Four passages support this idea. First, in the context of Acts 22:3, Paul has been falsely accused of bringing a Gentile beyond the court of the Gentiles in the Jerusalem temple into an area where it would be forbidden for non-Jews to worship. Rather than go quietly, Paul asks and receives permission to address the crowd. At the outset he begins to tell his faith story and says in v. 3, “I am a Jewish man, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and educated according to the strict view of our patriarchal law. Being zealous for God, just as all of you are today.” Speaking to this Jewish crowd, Paul can’t be saying that he is zealous for God (with a capital G) but they are zealous for a different god (with a small g). By saying that he was zealous for God just as they were, Paul is indicating that both he and the Jewish people worship the same God.

Second, in Acts 24:15 where Paul is on trial for the same alleged offense but this time he is before the Roman governor Felix. To Felix he says of those Jewish people who accused him of wrongdoing: “And I have a hope in God, which these men themselves also accept, that there is going to be a resurrection.” Paul is saying that his faith and expectation is that God will raise the dead and that his Jewish accusers share that same faith and expectation in God. Since they share the same hope, it would lead to the conclusion that their hope is in the same God as Paul’s.

Third, in Acts 26:6-7, Paul is still on trial for the same alleged offense but this time he says to the Jewish King Agrippa, “And now I stand on trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers, the promise our 12 tribes hope to attain as they earnestly serve Him night and day.”  When saying that Jewish people earnestly serve God, the word Paul uses, “serve,” actually is a Greek word, used in Scripture, to mean “worship.” The verse is speaking of the God who made a covenant with Abraham and it clearly states Jewish people worship Him.

Finally, in Romans 10:2, after expressing a heart of compassion for his Jewish brothers who don’t yet believe Jesus is the Messiah, Paul says “they have a zeal for God but not according to knowledge.” The word “zeal” means “passionate activism.” Paul identifies his Jewish brothers as passionate activists, not for being Jewish but for the God of Israel, the same God for whom Paul was zealous. This verse is helpful because it reveals that Jewish people worship the same God but nevertheless, have an incomplete view of Him; it is “not according to knowledge.” Although there are some Jewish believers in Jesus (see Romans 11:1-5), most Jewish people who believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob don’t realize that He is the God and Father of the Lord Jesus; they do not acknowledge that He is triune, nor do they recognize that Jesus is the promised Messiah.

The Bible makes it clear that this incomplete knowledge leads to incomplete worship. Therefore, in Romans 10:1, Paul says his heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Jewish people is that they might be saved. Jewish people worship the same God but they still need to know Jesus, and experience forgiveness by believing in Him. So we must pray for them and tell them lovingly of the good news that the Messiah of Israel has come, and that He is Jesus of Nazareth.

One last thought: We may very well be thinking about this question incorrectly. Instead of asking, do Jewish people worship the same God as Christians?, we might want to acknowledge that Christians worship the God of Israel. When Christians worship God of the Bible, they are worshiping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Christians worship the Holy One of Israel, as Isaiah called Him. Instead of portraying Jewish people as worshiping a different false god, Christians should acknowledge that their faith is in the God revealed in the Hebrew Bible, the God of Israel. And if Christians truly appreciated that, it might lead to greater respect for their Jewish friends and also a deeper determination share the Good News with their Jewish friends, that the Messiah of Israel has come and His name is Yeshua, the son of David, the son of Abraham (Matt 1:1).

Racism Is a Three Letter Word

It was Friday night, and a community of Jewish people gathered to pray and welcome the Sabbath. There had been Nazi calls to burn their synagogue, so, as a precaution, they had already removed the Holy Scriptures, moving their Torah Scrolls to a safe location. Still they came to pray. But when they arrived, they saw Nazis gathered across the street. Each of the Nazis was carrying a semi-automatic rifle. Swastika banners waved over the group of hateful young men as they shouted “Seig Heil.” With Nazis menacing those in the synagogue, the praying Jewish people had to sneak out of the back door, to avoid potential attacks by these Antisemites. And when and where did this happen? This was not in 1938 Nazi Germany, but last week in Charlottesville, VA, right here in the United States.

Nazis and White Supremacists marched through the streets of Charlottesville bearing torches last Friday night. Saturday, they gathered to give revolting, racist speeches, expressing hatred for Jewish people and supremacy over African Americans. One of these haters even drove his vehicle into a counter protesting crowd, injuring 19 people and murdering a young woman. The so-called “Unite the Right” rally was ostensibly designed to protest the removal of a confederate memorial. But its real purpose was to give voice to a repulsive racist, White Supremacist and Antisemitic ideology.

In the past week, I’ve heard many good and godly believers denounce the vileness of racism. But I’ve also seen a few too many believers, driven by political partisanship or “bothsideism” justify these racists. As people whose first devotion is to the Lord Jesus and whose commitment is to live and think biblically, we have to consider, what do the Scriptures have to say about racism? So here are the facts about the Bible and racism.

First, the Bible teaches that God loves all people. John 3:16 is our most foundational verse: “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” The old Sunday School song is true, “Jesus loves all children of the world.” And by the way, although God considers this racist ideology a grotesque evil, He still loves these racists and longs for them to come to repentance and to a true knowledge of forgiveness in the Lord Jesus.

Second, the Word of God declares that God made all humanity in His image. In Genesis1:27 it says, “So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female.” God has placed His fingerprints on every person, making each one so valuable to Him, that the Father paid an infinite price to redeem humanity, the death of His one and only Son. Although sin has marred the image of God in us, it has not destroyed it. Therefore, each person remains infinitely precious to God.

Third, when it comes to spiritual matters, which are most important, the Scriptures teach that God does not show favoritism among peoples. That’s why, when Peter came to proclaim the Good News of Jesus to Cornelius, he said, “Now I really understand that God doesn’t show favoritism” (Acts 10:34). And it’s what Paul meant, in Galatians 3:28, when he wrote that when it came to God’s justification of sinners, “there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female.” This doesn’t mean that in God’s eyes the world consists of one homogenous people anymore than it means that all people of faith now become androgynous. Rather, the Bible is saying that all must come to God the same way, through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus.

Fourth, the Scriptures teach that God celebrates ethnic diversity. In Revelation 5:9 it says the Lord Jesus is worthy because “you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Then two chapters later it depicts these same people groups as “a vast multitude from every nation tribe people and language” worshiping their worthy Savior (Rev 7:9-10).  The point is that God redeems from all the nations and receives and enjoys worship from all these diverse peoples. In the end, worship in heaven will be a vast, glorious multi-cultural event.

Fifth, the Bible calls followers of Messiah Jesus to stand against the vileness of racism. For example in Isaiah 5:20, God warns, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.” We dare not ever find justification for racism because of feelings of being disadvantaged or by claiming that those who oppose racism also do wrong things. We must be clear and forthright, condemning evil and never justifying it. Proverbs 24:11-12 says “Deliver those who are being taken away to death, And those who are staggering to slaughter, Oh hold them back. If you say, ‘See, we did not know this,’ Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work?” Can you imagine if all the believers in Nazi Germany had understood this passage and taken their stand against racism and Antisemitism? What a difference it would have made in Germany then and what a difference it can make in the United States today.

A former student of mine reminded me this past week of something he heard my wife Eva say in class many times. She frequently said, “Racism is a three letter word: S-I-N.” Oh that those of us who name the name of Jesus would love Him and hate sin, even the sin of racism.

Learning the Secret of Contentment

A recent blog post I read was titled, “The Unattainable Urge to Want What We Can’t Have.” It spoke about our desire for both people and stuff, and the more inaccessible an item is, the more we tend to want it. This rather common human desire has a biblical word—covetousness. And in the Ten Words that Will Change Our Lives (or what some translations call the Ten Commandments), there is a definite prohibition against coveting. Exodus 20:17 says, “Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Notice that coveting, or the uncontrolled desire to acquire what belongs to someone else, relates to both property and to people, to stuff and relationships that don’t belong to us.

The entire advertising industry is based on getting people to acquire more stuff. That’s how we get into debt. Someone once said his problem wasn’t that he had too little money but that he had too much want. Another study recently pointed out that when a single woman meets a single guy, 57% were interested in exploring a possible relationship. But if that man was already in a relationship with another woman, the number jumps to 90% of single women being interested in a relationship with him. It just shows the impact of covetousness on relationships.

That’s why the tenth word that will change our lives is contentment, or satisfaction with what we already have. In Philippians 4:13 Paul wrote, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” Contentment is an attitude that doesn’t come naturally; we must learn it. So here are five ways to learn the secret of contentment.

First, to learn contentment, we need to refocus our perspective.  1 Timothy 6:7-8 says, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.” This verse reminds us to focus on the eternal not the present. Remember, you’ll never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul. Also, it prompts us focus on what is essential, what we really need, not everything we want. I once saw a billboard advertising the lottery with one question written on it—“How much money do you need to be happy?” Truth to tell and contrary to that ad, very little.

The second way to learn contentment is to resist comparison to others. That’s why Paul wrote, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction” (1 Tim 6:9).  This is the danger of seeing what others have and wanting the same or more. It’s possible to admire what others have without insisting on having it for ourselves.

Yet a third step in learning contentment is to rejoice in God’s gifts. The wise man wrote, “Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God” (Eccles 5:19). Also, he wrote, “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth (Prov 5:18). Remember to explicitly thank God for everything we have and to celebrate every relationship that He has granted us. Being grateful for God’s good gifts will keep us from yearning for what is not ours.

A fourth aspect of learning contentment is always to remember what we deserve. The prophet Jeremiah reminded us, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail” (Lamentations 3:22). Mistakenly, we believe we deserve more stuff, more wealth, and better relationships. But, in reality, if we got what we deserved, all we’d be is a small pile of ashes, consumed by the judgment of a righteous God. God is merciful and gracious and that’s why we’re not consumed and instead given so many good gifts.

A fifth and final way to learn contentment is to release our money and possessions to others. Speaking of the affluent, Paul wrote, “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share” (1 Tim 6:18). One of the ways God teaches contentment is by allowing us to give of our wealth and of our stuff. Fred Smith said, “Giving is the drain plug of our greed.” Instead of unwholesome wanting, generous giving enables us to be content with what we have.

The Talmud asks and answers this question: “Who is wealthy? He who is content with what he has.” Therefore, we all have it within us to be rich.

Becoming a Truth Teller

“Tell her the truth!” That’s the advice the genie gives Alladin in the hit movie and play. But it’s hard to tell the truth all the time. What should we do?

Eva and I have a female friend that often jokingly quotes Psalm116:11 to single young women: “All men are liars!” she says.  But really, it’s no joke. The book, The Day America Told the Truth finds that the majority of us can’t get through a week without telling a lie. 1 in 5 of us can’t make it through a single day without lying. And we’ll lie to just about anyone, and we’re more likely to lie to those we are most closely related.  In fact, 91% of us lie regularly. It has become a cultural trait. Child magazine reported that we should no longer read Pinocchio to our kids because lying is healthy for them. Psalm 116:11 was never truer: All people are liars!

But the word for us today is “truthfulness.”   In Exodus 20:16, it says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”  It’s the Ninth of the Ten Words to Change our Lives, God calls us to honesty and integrity in our speech. In short, we should practice truthfulness. Instead, we practice lying in a variety of ways. We are apt to flatter someone to gain their approval or to exaggerate our own accomplishments to win respect. If we don’t like someone, we will insinuate falsehood about him or even deliberately slander her. Sometimes we’ll deceive others by remaining silent in the face of lies. No matter what method we choose, the book of Proverbs reminds us that lying remains destructive. Proverbs 11:9 says, “With his mouth the ungodly destroys his neighbor” showing the damage we do to others with our lies. Amazingly, lying is just as destructive to the person doing the lying.  Proverbs 11:3 says “dishonesty will destroy those who are not trustworthy (NCV),” meaning it will bring ruin to the person who lies.

If lying is so dangerous and destructive, what should we do? We need to develop a truthful tongue and here six biblical ways to do just that.

First, each of us needs a heart transplant. Jesus said, “For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart” (Matt 12:34). If we want to be truthful, we need to get honest with God. We do this by recognizing that we have failed, that Jesus died to take the punishment for all our failures, and then was raised from the dead. If we trust in what Jesus has done for us, the Bible says we’ll be transformed from within, in other words, we’ll get a new heart.

Second, we must confess our lies immediately. The Bible teaches that when we disobey God, we need to talk with Him about it right away. Here’s what the apostle John wrote: “If we say, ‘We have no sin,’ we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). Confession actually means agreeing with God, and we need to get on the same page as the Lord immediately after failing Him.

Third, we should pray for truthfulness. David wrote, “Lord, set up a guard for my mouth; keep watch at the door of my lips” (Psa 141:3). The wisdom writer prayed, “Keep falsehood and deceitful words far from me” (Prov 30:8). If we want something deeply, we’ll pray for it, and that includes praying for a truthful tongue.

Fourth, it’s wise for us to be surrounded with the truth. There’s several ways we can accomplish that. For example, in John 17:17, Jesus told His Father, “Your word is truth.” Daily input of the Bible is a way to be surrounded by the truth. Another way is to be surrounded by truthful people. Paul reminded us, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals’” (1 Cor 15:33). If we hang with people who lie, we’ll become liars. The converse is true is well; If we associate with honest people, we’ll be influenced towards honesty. And yet another way to be surrounded with the truth is to consciously choose truthful thoughts. This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things” (Phil 4:8).

Fifth, we need to practice disciplined speech. In Psalm 39, David wrote, “I said, ‘I will guard my ways so that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth with a muzzle as long as the wicked are in my presence’” (Ps 39:1). If we want to get good at something, we need to practice it, whether it’s playing piano, hitting a baseball, or cooking a meal. If we want to be truthful, we need to learn to practice honesty, by constantly muzzling our mouths.

Finally, we need to always be loving when we speak the truth. Ephesians 4:15 says, “Speaking the truth with love.” Too often, truth tellers are perceived as harsh and unkind. Therefore, we need to balance our honest words with kindness, always wanting what is best for those to whom we speak.

In the old movie called Crazy People, an advertizing executive began to tell the truth about the products he was advertizing. For example one slogan he wrote was, “Volvos: They’re boxy but good.” Although he was very successful, everyone thought he’d lost his mind and was put into a mental institution. It’s a funny story but it’s not true. The reality is, if we become people who are truthful, those around us will learn to trust us. Truthfulness is the path to becoming trusted family members, dependable co-workers, and faithful friends.

Prospering through Integrity

When our son was a teenager, we picked him up from a camp–we met him in NYC. We put all his stuff in the car trunk and went to dinner before heading home. While we were eating, someone broke into our car and stole all his stuff. We felt terribly violated. And that’s what we generally think of as stealing. But I would also say, if you’re reading this, most of you are not engaged in that kind of behavior. Consider the following questions: Do you open a bag of cookies and eat a few while grocery shopping and then toss the bag aside before checkout (I mean who wants to pay for a used, open bag of cookies)? Do you shop at a department store where a friend works the register and does she help you out by not charging you for every item of clothing you bring to the check-out counter? Do you use your computer at work to check facebook, email, or follow items on ebay without your employer’s permission? If you said yes, just remember, these are just a few of the many ways people actually steal.

We’ve been looking at 10 Words that will change our lives. What many translations call the 10 commandments, the Bible literally calls “The Ten Words.” Today we’re taking a look at the eighth word that will change our lives, and it’s “INTEGRITY.” In Exodus 20:15, God commanded Israel, “You shall not steal.” In the New Testament, Paul wrote “The thief must no longer steal” (Eph 4:28).

Of course this doesn’t apply only to breaking and entering. The Bible teaches that we’re stealing if we cheat our customers (Prov 20:23; Amos 8:4-5), if we withhold from our employees (Lev 19:13), if we default on loans we’ve taken (Psa 37:21), if we deceive the government so as not to pay all our taxes (Rom 13:6-7; Matt 22:22), or if we rob God by not giving to Him at all (Mal 3:8). All these are ways that many of us steal. But, the Bible teaches that if we’re to prosper, we must prosper with integrity.

So how should we develop our income with integrity? Obviously, the first way is by working. After Paul wrote that the thief must stop stealing, his next words were that “he must do honest work with his own hands” (Eph 4:28). A friend of mine recently lost his job because of cut backs at work. Rather than say, I’ll just collect unemployment, he immediately got a job at a home improvement store. He didn’t say I have to wait for something in my field to open up or maybe this is my opportunity to have some time off. No, he said, my kids need to eat—I’ll get a job.

A second way to prosper with integrity is by saving and investing. Proverbs 13:11 says, “Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow.” It is remarkable in this age of consumption how little emphasis we place on saving for the future. But if we’re not to burden our children as we become elderly, saving and investing should begin when we’re young.

A third way to prosper with integrity is one that we often neglect—we need to pray. James wrote, “You do not have, because you do not ask God” (James 4:2). I have a friend who has made great sacrifices by serving God in vocational ministry. Yet, he’s always had a good and dependable vehicle. When I asked him how did he afford this he said that whenever he needed a new car, he would pray. And then, without anyone being told of his need, people would ask if they could buy him or give him a car. He didn’t acquire vehicles with car loans but with prayer.

Finally, the best way to prosper with integrity is to pursue God rather than wealth. This is what Jesus taught. He asked, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul” (Matt 16:26)? That’s also why he reminded us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you” (Matt 6:33). If we pursue wealth, we may or may not achieve financial success. But seeking God above all will produce genuine spiritual success, which is far more valuable.

How to Commit Monogamy

There’s an old joke about Moses coming down Mt Sinai with the tablets in hand. He says, “I’ve got good news and bad news. First, the good news, I got the Lord to agree to make it just 10 commandments. Now the bad news, the adultery commandment stays in.” The point is that the seventh commandment, found in Exodus 20:14, “Do not commit adultery.” was somehow designed to make us unhappy, that God was taking away our fun. But the truth is, God was looking out for what is in our best interest.

A few weeks back we began looking at the Ten Words that Will Change Our Lives. We’re examining what the Bible calls, “The Ten Words” or what most English translations call “The Ten Commandments.” So far we’ve covered six words. Let’s remember them: The first word that we talked about was “believe,” as in believe in the One true God! And the second word was “prioritize,” remember to put the Lord first in everything. The third word was “respect,” treat  God’s name seriously. The fourth word was “rest,” we must take a day to rest our bodies and restore our spirits. The fifth word was “parents,” we need to honor our parents, even when we become adults. And last week’s word was “life,” we need to promote and preserve life in every way we can. And the word for this week is, “monogamy.” God intends marriage to be for one man and one woman, for life.

Of course we want to know, what’s so bad about open marriage or infidelity? The book of Proverbs gives a simple answer—unfaithfulness in marriage is destructive.  Just read these verses: “Can a man embrace fire and his clothes not be burned? Can a man walk on coals without scorching his feet? So it is with the one who sleeps with another man’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished . . .  The one who commits adultery lacks sense; whoever does so destroys himself” (Prov 6:27-29, 32). So how harmful is adultery? Studies have shown that it demolishes our marriages, it devastates our kids and it destroy our very selves.

Not surprisingly, the Messiah Jesus examined this 7th word in Matthew 5:27-32. His exposition  gave it a different spin. In a sense, He said, “You shall commit monogamy” and He gives three keys to a faithful and flourishing marriage.

According to the Lord Jesus, the first key to committing monogamy is sexual faithfulness. In Matt 5:27, Jesus repeats this commandment from Moses, reaffirming its importance. And it’s a good thing. You see, people believe adultery is common. But it’s not. Critics of marital faithfulness frequently call it the monogamy myth. They assert that 60% of men and 40% of women have been unfaithful. But no scientific study supports it. The myth is really about adultery.  According to the famous study by the University of Chicago, the statistics are 25% of men and 17% of woman. George Barna’s research group found it to be about 23% of married people in general have been unfaithful, not nearly the 50% commonly asserted. So why do people believe this adultery myth. I think it’s because of tv, where virtually every sexual act is extra-marital. But what the actual scientific studies show is that people commonly commit adultery on tv, but not in real life. In fact, according to the study by the University of Chicago, the people who were engaging in the most satisfying and frequent sexual relations were those who were in a married, monogamous relationship.

The second key to committing monogamy, according to the Lord Jesus, is mental purity. He said, “I tell you everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:28). Lust means desiring sexual pleasure apart from one’s marriage partner.  This is even more dangerous today because the internet, cable and on demand tv have brought pornography right into our homes. Who will ever know? The reason Jesus strengthens the command, going even deeper, from physical acts to visual behavior, is  because He knows unfaithfulness begins in the heart, at the seat of our intentions. He goes on to say that we must take radical action to deal with this.

According to the Messiah Jesus, the third essential to marital monogamy is permanent commitment. He said, “Everyone who divorces his wife, except in a case of sexual immorality, causes her to commit adultery” (Matt 5:32). Jesus taught that marriage was to be an exclusive and permanent relationship between a man and a woman and the only exception for divorce was infidelity. We have so normalized divorce today that we have forgotten that it’s not in our best interests.

Here’s two reasons staying married is for our good. First, it safeguards our kids. Judith Wallerstein studied children of divorce for more than 25 years. She found that children of divorced parents are less likely to finish high school or go to college and more likely to get involved in drugs and crime. Conversely, kids whose parents stay together are strengthened both emotionally and spiritually.

Second, staying married is a safeguard for marriage partners. The reason is that the individual problems that cause divorce, are just brought into the second and then the third marriage. That’s the reason for serial divorce. Destroying a marriage doesn’t really fix the problem. That’s why it’s far better to deal with our problems in marriage than to divorce and take the problems with us into the next marriage. Someone once said, when a horse has a broken leg, killing the horse doesn’t really fix the leg. Commitment is really the strongest basis for dealing with marriage problems.

When it comes down to it, the seventh word, monogamy, is not an antiquated and unrealistic ideal. It’s God’s design for a better and happier life.

Choose Life

Chicago, where I live, has a murder problem. In 2016 there were 751 murders. Thus far, in 2017, there have been 368 murders, and the year is only half over.

How bad is the murder problem in Chicago? Although Chicago is half the size of New York City, it has more than twice as many murders. It’s so bad that a relative of mine told me she was afraid to visit Chicago, and she lives in Israel, a place most Americans mistakenly think is dangerous! Beyond that, I have even worse news: in addition to the homicide statistics, we commit murder in more ways than we ever thought.

A few weeks back we began looking at the Ten Words that Will Change Our Lives. We’re examining what the Bible calls, “The Ten Words” or what most English translations call “The Ten Commandments.” So far we’ve covered five words The first word that we talked about was believe, as in believe in the One true God! And the second word was prioritize, remember to put the Lord first in everything. The third word was respect, take God’s name seriously. The fourth word was rest, we must take a day to rest our bodies and restore our spirits. The fifth word was parents, we need to honor our parents, even when we become adults. And today’s word is LIFE, we need to be fully pro-life. We are called to promote and preserve life in every way we can.

Exodus 20:13 says, “You shall not murder.” The reason murder is such an affront to God is that people are made in the image of God (Gen 9:6). Many people misunderstand this command and try to broaden it to cover all killing. So let’s be clear, it does not prohibit killing animals for food (Gen 9:2-3), or capital punishment (Gen 9:6), or just war (Rom 13:4), or even self-defense (Ex 23:2-3). It refers to the unjustifiable murder of the innocent.

So how do we commit murder? More ways than we often realize. Of course, one way people murder is by committing homicide. James 4:2 says “You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain.” James was writing to believers and he meant actual murder. There was a guy I knew from seminary, who coveted so much, that first he stole from a couple he knew and then, to cover his theft, he murdered them. Ultimately, when he was about to be caught, he killed himself.

But there are other ways we murder. Some states permit euthanasia even though God says, “It is I who gives life and puts to death”( Deut 32:39). Another way is the permission our federal government has given for abortion even though the Psalmist declared that God made a remarkable and wonderful life in the womb (Psa 139:13-14). The Scriptures also teach that there are metaphorical ways we murder, like abusing the poor (James 5:6) or hating others–1 John 3:15 says, “ Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer.” We even murder through slandering others. As Proverbs 11:9 says, “With his mouth the ungodly destroys his neighbor.”

That said, what seems more important is to discover how we can promote life. Here are just a few suggestions from Scripture. We can seek reconciliation rather than strife. Rom 12:18 says “if possible , on your part, be at peace with everyone.” To promote life we must also learn the secret of contentment with what God has given us. Paul said “In any and all circumstances, I have learned the secret of being content.” (Phil 4:12). It’s also crucial to learn to practice generosity with the poor, remembering that “He who gives to the poor, lends to the Lord (Prov 19:17). We are also called to love our neighbors as ourselves (Lev 19:18). To avoid harming others with our speech, we must discipline our words, because “the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Prov 12:18). Ultimately, according to Prov 24:11-12, we must also pursue justice for those who are innocent, preserving their lives rather than hiding our eyes from injustice.

In the great book of Jewish wisdom, the Talmud, there is a reminder about the importance of promoting life. It says, “Whoever destroys a single life, it is as if he had destroyed the entire world; and whoever rescues a single life it is as if he had rescued the entire world” (Sanhedrin, 37a). Friends, let’s go rescue the world.