…and nothing but the truth…

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9 ESV

When you take an oath to tell the truth in a court of law, you don’t get to pick and choose which parts of the story you tell. It’s not just the truth that’s needed, it’s the WHOLE truth and ONLY the truth. The oath used by most courts says: “I promise to tell the TRUTH, the WHOLE TRUTH, and NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH.” But why is this oath so tightly worded?

When we are faced with a situation that might put us in a bad light, or show us up in the eyes of family and friends, we choose the easy way of telling only a part of the story, and it may well be true. That also goes as we recount and retell someone else’s account of events, and perhaps even more so.  Telling the whole story can be a hazard to our perceived integrity and reputation, so we speak the parts that only go our way, and leave out the damaging parts. You become very vulnerable when you decide to tell the whole truth, and our human nature doesn’t like it when our pride takes a hit.

When Scripture says the heart is deceitful and sick, it does not overstate or sugar coat the problem. In truth, if we look at our own lives, we don’t always tell the whole truth, and we take the chance no one will notice so that we get away with it, again especially as we retell someone else’s story. And anyway we think, the other person who has a different view, is doing the same thing, so we are equal. Yes, we have hearts that are desperately wicked.

We all know that someone who will only answer the part of the question you put to them, and they hold back the rest. The result is that you must ask the correct questions to get closer to the truth, assuming that you do eventually believe you got the full story. How do I know this? Firstly, the Bible tells me, and secondly, I do recognise that heart and at times, it is mine. Sadly, I can get away with only telling a part of the whole truth that I know, and only seldom get caught out. What about you? Are you open and honest enough, when faced with a real question, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Tough ask, isn’t it? So who is the only one who can be trusted with the whole truth? We must leave that answer in the words of the next verse and be open to the Lord’s searching and testing.

“I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” Jeremiah 17:10 ESV

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That’s Grace

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. Micah 7:18-19 NIV

The Word of God, speaks directly to us just when we need it. The Bible is called “The Word of God” for good reason. It speaks straight into our heart and life without cutting corners, and this is such an occasion.

It’s not a case of ‘if we stumble’, but ‘when’. The worst kinds of stumbles are those little ones that surprise us and come out of the blue, at least that’s the way it is for me. It is possible that few, if any, will have been noticed but that’s not the point is it? We could kick ourselves by entertaining those thoughts, or saying those little words that offended. Especially a little one or someone young in the faith or searching for the truth.

God’s grace is there for us all in the big mistakes of life, and those little ones too, but first we need to ask, and then to know that they are pardoned, and I love this part, “He will….hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”. Indeed, as the verse starts, “who is a God like you?” Thank you, Lord.

What Makes The Difference?

There was a sinful woman in that town. She knew that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house. So the woman brought some expensive perfume in an alabaster jar. She stood at Jesus’ feet, crying. Then she began to wash his feet with her tears. She dried his feet with her hair. She kissed his feet many times and rubbed them with the perfume. I tell you that her many sins are forgiven. This is clear, because she showed great love. People who are forgiven only a little will love only a little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Luke 7:37-38, 47-48 ERV

Have you ever asked yourself what the big deal is about being a Christian? What difference does it make? And perhaps more important is the question, “What changes do others see in me?” Do they see me as approachable, loving, or forgiving? Let’s be honest, in this world many people desperately need the assurance of love and forgiveness.

The woman in this passage is a good example of the overwhelming love of God, and His total forgiveness. In a relatively short period of time she goes from being a social outcast, to being loved, forgiven, and a child of the Kingdom. What happened? The short answer is that she opened her heart in love to the Saviour, and forgiveness naturally followed.

Who do you and I need to forgive? Or let me put it another way,  who is there that might need forgiveness FROM us? Can you think of someone who needs our love and assurance, or are we so ‘good’ that there is no one in that category? Think again. The chances are that we may have dismissed some needy person from our life, and that person is desperate for our forgiveness. How about the ones whom we avoid, or move away from because of their bad history just like the sinner in Luke’s account? The others round the table didn’t think her past lifestyle deserved that second chance, but thankfully Jesus did.

For me, the key lies in the words near the end of the verse:  “People who are forgiven only a little will love only a little.” Your ability to love is directly linked to your capacity to forgive. So that person we have decided can’t be forgiven has cost us our love. Can we be happy with that? A better question would be: Is Jesus happy with us being like that?

Words

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29 NIV

Most, if not all of my good friends, use language carefully. They use the words which convey meaning best and don’t waste time dancing around a subject with big words, or worse still, words that are on the edge, if not over the edge, of profanity and cursing. These are the actions and life of my friends, but what about those others who inhabit a place of church  leadership? Not all leaders, but some will try to be so close to the unchurched that they want to be just like them. If that means the odd ‘soft swearword’ (if such a thing exists) is spoken, then so be it. If that kind of language is adopted by one or more of the leaders in a holiness church, what then? Do we ignore it and swiftly move on, pretending we didn’t hear? This behaviour disturbs me. Am I right to be disturbed, or should I accept this kind of talk from everyone, whether a professing Christian or not?

When it comes to the subject of ‘unwholesome talk’ there is another side to the verse. What about the talk that’s less than ‘whole’ and in fact by its tone is a stumbling block? Not only are we required to keep our tongues clean, we have a responsibility to live out the truth of Christ in our day to day existence. After all, our tongue has the ability to build up and encourage, or tear down and discourage, or worse. When Christians talk to each other, not only do we have to avoid gossip and bad language, we must choose our words and tone carefully so that the wrong message is not conveyed. The warning is that the tongue can corrupt our whole life, “for it is set on fire by hell itself.” May our speech be acceptable to our Lord and Saviour at all times, and in all circumstances to all people. 

In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. James 3:5,6 NLT

Elite

“Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers*. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Luke 18:10-14 NLT

*Add your own sin of choice here. There are many to pick from.

Maybe we don’t mean it, but we can get a bit ‘uppity’ in church circles, especially with anyone who hasn’t been on the way so long and doesn’t know the ropes, or maybe someone who already knows it all and isn’t slow to say so, or even someone who has been a Christian many years, but has a God forgiven unsavoury past that we don’t approve of. Oh, how far back our memory can go when we see ourselves as elite, or like the Pharisee, just ‘better’. After all, we don’t want to be seen condoning that kind of sinful behaviour no matter when it happened, and even if it has been forgiven by the only One that matters.

Jesus told this story for a reason. He knew how frail and weak we humans are, jumping to conclusions for all the wrong reasons and in the process hurting good people. All in the ‘holy’  quest of not wanting to be like or near the despised sinner. I accept and agree that we must be a good example and witness to the unchurched as Jesus was, and that will mean being in their company at times. However it should not mean that we become just like them, or one of their company in the process.

The trouble is that while we take our perhaps well meaning steps to be better Christians, we are not the ones that Jesus said are justified before God. If we put ourselves in a lofty position above others, we then are forced to look down on them. Is that what we want? Is that what Jesus would want for us? There may be a price to pay. We will have to swallow our pride and accept that we must love that same person we had been trying to avoid, while forgiving both them and ourselves. But try to be honest, hard as it may be, because that’s a better outcome in Jesus’ eyes and isn’t that what matters most? Yes, I thought so too!

Inactivity

I don’t like the word ‘inactivity’ because behind it lies a change or difference in life and lifestyle, sometimes forced on us by circumstance like age, disease or illness. The good part is that inactivity is usually temporary, unlike laziness which tends to describe a way of life.

When we are young, we have enough energy to spare that lets us do all we need and more besides. But when inactivity is forced on us, and it usually is, we have to decide what we will do about it. This is no small decision because it will involve a big change from your normal lifestyle. From being ‘out and about’ at any time of your choosing, it’s now picking carefully when to go out and what to do in the time you have before tiredness and weakness sets in and takes hold.

So, what’s the answer? I think it helps to determine to use your mind instead of your body during this temporary part of your life. How about learning a musical instrument, and perhaps dragging that old dusty ‘musical friend’ from the bottom of the wardrobe and giving it a new lease of life? Or how about reading? No, don’t turn your nose up at that suggestion because one of the best results of reading a good book is that time passes as you get immersed in the story, or learning! Before you know it, the hands on the clock have moved more than you thought, and in that time you have relaxed and learned a lot. Sometimes we need that ‘down time’ to sit, and let your mind do the work. Put another way, how often have you wished for that time when you have been run off your feet dashing here and there trying to squeeze more activity into your day? Well, this is your time.

Talking about reading, takes me to my favourite book and one of the subjects I return to often. Give the Bible another chance. I know, you have heard all the stories in Sunday School and listened to enough sermons to last you a lifetime, but have you ever taken the time to let the Bible speak to you in quietness? Straight from the recorded pages of God’s Word for our lives in this hectic world. This period of inactivity may just be the best time to open the sacred pages and immerse yourself in the wisdom, enlightenment, encouragement, and yes even some much needed correction thrown in. Are you ready for that challenge if that period of inactivity strikes? In fact, there is no better time for God’s Word than right now!

I study your teachings very carefully so that I will not sin against you. Psalm 119:11 ERV

‘Bad’ Company

Oh, the joys of those who do not follow evil men’s advice, who do not hang around with sinners, scoffing at the things of God. But they delight in doing everything God wants them to, and day and night are always meditating on his laws and thinking about ways to follow him more closely. Psalms 1:1,2 TLB

These two verses have caused some confusion in Christian circles, and mostly because the first verse is rendered in the KJV as: Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. Can you see the difference of emphasis in each version?

Some read this Psalm as an excuse to avoid the contact and friendship of sinners, while forgetting  that we are all sinners in the sight of a Holy God. It can then follow that we only seek out the good and pure as our chosen circle of friends and shut out the rest. There are denominations that set themselves up as ‘separate’ from the rest of the world, whether Christian or not. Others will actively seek out their own inner circle of confidants to the expense of their own ability to witness and minister to the fallen and hurting.

We certainly should not ‘follow evil men’s advice’ or ‘hang around with sinners scoffing at the things of God’ but there is nothing that suggests we should separate ourselves from them completely. Otherwise how can we live up to the great commission of reaching the world with the saving gospel of Jesus? Let’s use all the resources at our disposal to rightly divide and discern the Word of God’s truth, and not fall into the convenient trap of interpreting verses to suit our own thinking.