Playing with Fire

“Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? – Acts 5:3

Is telling a lie okay? Does God really understand when we tell a lie to get out of trouble? Is lying any less sinful than any sexual sin or murder? So, how could we pride ourselves as good Christians because we don’t fornicate or kill, but continue to lie?

 It reminds me of the story of two children who got into an argument.

 “A fib is the same as a story, and a story is the same as a lie,” Thomas said.

“No, it’s not!”

“Yes, it is. My father said so, and my father is an editor.”

“I don’t care if your father is an editor. My father is a real-estate man, and he knows more about lying than your father,” Nathan said emphatically.

The point is that we have made lying so acceptable that it has become a normal lifestyle. We lie to get what we want from each other, avoid losing a favor, get a job or contract, make ourselves look good before others, destroy other’s reputation, and mislead others. We lie when in trouble, during examinations, on application forms, in interviews, tax claims, filing reports and other routine documentation. We embellish the facts a little here and there when telling our story or that of others for effect. In all of these and many other situations, we walk away congratulating ourselves for being smart or for being such wonderful speakers. What is wrong with us?

The story is told by Dr. Charles Gilkey of Chicago who recalls an uncle at Islesboro, Maine. As he sat by the fireside conducting a family worship, he read Psalms 116:1.

“I said in my haste, all men are liars” (Ps. 116:11).

The old uncle remarked, “David said this in his haste; but if he had taken his time to think about it deeply, he couldn’t have come nearer the truth. He wouldn’t have had any reason to change his mind.” And that’s the pity of today! It shows how normal lying has become.

We have conveniently forgotten how seriously God views lying and how harshly He deals with it!  We forget the Garden experience that got us here before Christ.

“Did God really say, ‘you must not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Satan said (Gen. 3:1).

You know the rest of the story.

Sadly we continue to lie. However, the story of Ananias and Sapphira must be seen as God’s deliberate reminder to the church of His aversion for lying (Acts 5:1-10). Why then haven’t we learned? I don’t know how many of us would be alive today if God reacts to our lies as He did to Ananias and Sapphira.

In spite of grace, have you considered the diverse ways in which we lie? There is nothing harsher than grieving the Spirit or quenching His fire (Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19). Ask strongman Samson (Judges 16:20). If we claim Jesus who is the Truth as our Savior and Lord, we can’t continue to speak the native language of the devil (Jn. 8:44).

Our defense is in perceiving God in His holiness. When we see Christ in His transcendent glory and majesty, we realize how sinful telling a lie is. Hopefully, we’ll be humbled enough to bite our tongues and rather tell the truth. He deserves nothing short of glory.

 

A Contrast in Beauty and Tact

His name was Nabal and his wife’s name was Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband was surly and mean in his dealings—he was a Calebite – 1 Samuel 25:3

The commentary is very specific. Abigail was intelligent and beautiful. Nabal was surly and mean (1 Sam. 25:3). The contrast is striking for a couple, but that was the reality. Today, the commentary would be “Divorced on grounds of incompatibility.”  That says a lot about how far we have come.

Here was a woman God attributed beauty to. I don’t think God referenced her physical appearance alone, for we hear more about her inner beauty later in the narrative.

Disaster from David and his men hung over Nabal’s household because of Nabal’s insensitive response to David. Who do you appeal to for a corrective measure at such a crucial time? Nabal’s servants knew the two couple, and they chose Abigail over her “wicked” husband (14-17).

Sometimes, we think our subordinates can’t discern beyond our official responsibilities. They know more than we can imagine. They watch us from a distance while going about their daily responsivities. It’s a privileged knowledge you’ll never know until it may be too late.

Abigail showed wisdom in her quick reaction to the crisis (18-19). She loaded more provisions than David may have asked for and set out to meet him. The dialogue that ensued was just phenomenal. It drips with heavenly wisdom, tact, and sensitivity.

Abigail didn’t mince words about her husband: “He is just like his name – his name means Fool, and folly goes with him” (25). David may have chuckled; but she had his attention. She reminded David about his God-given restraint from avenging himself with his own hands. The lady had mediation skills equaled only by Paul when he pleaded for Onesimus in his letter to Philemon. “May your enemies and all who are intent on harming my Lord be like Nabal” (26)!

 Now, anger, where is your strength. Revenge, where is your hold on David’s heart?

Discerning David’s positive demeanor now, Abigail presented her gift to him and his men. She asked for forgiveness for presuming that David was going be king of Israel. “When the Lord has fulfilled for my lord every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him ruler over Israel, my lord will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself. And when the Lord your God has brought my lord success, remember your servant” (30-31). What a woman!

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me … Otherwise … if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak” (32-34). What else could David do, but accept her gift, and grant her request.

So, who said women are weak-willed and emotional wrecks in times of crisis? Who has questioned their ability to do what any man could do? May those who suspect the woman’s intelligence and godly insight bow their heads in shame before Abigail’s testimony! Such people do not know history and haven’t read their Bibles enough.

A woman submits to the headship of her own husband because God says so (Eph. 5:22-24). But make no mistake here, Mr. Man. You will meet your match if you ever pitched your arrogance against an emancipated woman in Christ like Abigail – respectful of authority, but strong and beautiful for God’s glory.

Ask Nabal.

 

Dizzying Sight from the Summit of Mt. Forgiveness

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” – Matthew 18:21

Peter was feeling good about himself. He was magnanimous in his proposition to Jesus with his question. The Pharisees taught that a person should be forgiven up to a maximum of three times. That was one more than anyone could be forgiven for infringing the law. It was a privilege the Pharisees arrogated to themselves for being the most righteous. “Uncommon feat to the ordinary person,” they said. So, you can understand the source and basis of Peter’s question.

“Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Now, see it this way. Maybe somebody had been making Peter’s life very uncomfortable. The person had offended him the first time, and Peter forgave him. The person did it again and received Brother Peter’s mercy. “He will not do it again,” Peter may have thought. But he did – a third time. Now, our brother is thinking, “Does he really care? Is he not taking me for granted? Will he not continue to hurt me, as long as long as I forgive, like it’s not a big deal?”

Peter may have remembered the teaching of the Pharisees, which stipulated that to be truly righteous, the offended could forgive a third time, but no more. Peter then may have gulped a big lump, and with a deep sigh, tersely said to his offender, “Okay, I forgive you; but not another time.”

So, why is Peter’s tormentor running to him again, palm in palm, for another dose of mercy? He must be joking! Tough call for Brother Peter, for he has gone with his offender to the pinnacle of Mt. Forgiveness with the last offense. What should he do?

Thankfully, there is a new Teacher in town, Jesus the Son of God, and Peter has direct access to Him. In fact Peter is very intimate with him and so he comes to Jesus with a smug attitude.

“Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Notice what Peter did. He lifted Mt. Forgiveness by a hundred percent and topped it with a bonus layer. He laid it before the Teacher, as if to say, “Top it, Jesus. Seven is the number of perfection, so how far up could you go?”

“I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven,” Jesus said.

“You can’t be serious, Master! You mean I have to forgive this guy, four hundred and ninety times? That’s ridiculous! Who can do that?”

The master Teacher that Jesus is, He tells the story of the servant who was forgiven much, but failed to be merciful to his fellow servant who owed him only a small amount of money relative to what he was forgiven by his master (Matt. 18:23-35). The ungrateful servant had this poor servant imprisoned till he could pay. The Master heard of it, called the ungrateful servant, reprimanded him, and threw him into prison for failing to forgive his brother, as he was forgiven earlier (32-34).

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart,” Jesus said.

Imagine Brother Peter’s face at this time. His offender is off the hook, he knew it. Not only that; the offender is granted forgiveness as many times as he asks for it.

Now, that’s new! But, it’s the Kingdom requirement. It’s called grace unlimited. It flows from Calvary and is dispensed lavishly (Eph. 1:7-8). As you have been forgiven for your past, present and future sins, it says, so forgive your brother or sister with same magnanimity.

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13).

It’s too difficult this time? The Holy Spirit says, “Just yield to me, and I will carry you through it.”

The Forgive Is Christlike

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32)

Forgiveness is an act of kindness and love. We all crave it when we offend others. Regrettably, we resist offering it to those who offend us. It really doesn’t matter that we have been forgiven by God in Christ Jesus; we find it very difficult to forgive others. Our natural inclination is to see our offenders suffer, even when they ask for our forgiveness.

Couples do it to each other, in spite of their proximity in bed. A wounded friend struggles to forgive the other, and siblings fight to free each other from their hate nest, when they are badly hurt. However, the real battle is waged in the hearts of victims of oppressive regimes. They could even hate God for forgiving and saving their brutal leaders. The amazing thing is how we forget our unworthiness when mercy and grace found us on Calvary. Paul puts it this way:

“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rm. 3:23); and “the wages of sin is death” (6:23a).

But for the grace of God through Christ Jesus, God would look away from us when His wrath is revealed (v.23b). We’re forgiven, not because we deserve it. It’s the overflow of God’s infinite love that dissolves our sins in the precious blood of His only Begotten Son.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

 Despite this bounteous gracious God has lavished on us, we still struggle to forgive one another.

The truth is that the one who has not learned to be unselfish cannot forgive. Until the self stands aside, forgiveness cannot pass through.

Jesus taught this in Philippians 2:5-8. The King of the entire universe removed His royal regalia, adorned Himself in humanity, assumed the role of servanthood, humbled Himself, and learned obedience to death – even to death on the cross.

Before He cried, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” Christ destroyed selfishness in His incarnation for our benefit and example (Luke 24:35; 2:6-7).

To forgive one another therefore, the “I” and “me’ must give way to “”we” and “us”. It’s something this generation can’t deal with. In today’s world, it’s my way or none other. So, a husband walks away from a marriage without a care for how it hurts his children. A wife abandons her marital home for the quest of self-assertion with no regret, because career calls. It’s modern and chic. It’s the expression of the self that leaves no room for forgiveness.

Paul instructs on the precursor to self-emptying in these verses:

“Do nothing out of selfishness ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interest of the others” (Phil. 2:3-4)

A heart that seeks the interest of others, always seeks their restoration in forgiveness, and good fellowship with God and others. As Charles Swindoll says, instead of holding grudges against those who offend us, we should be anxious to forgive. When we combine this with our Lord’s command to “Love [our] enemies and pray for those who persecute [us]”, grudges thaw easier in forgiveness (Matt. 5:44). And who knows, you may be on the receiving end next week.

 

The Trash in the Closet

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus – Philippians 3:13-14

I tried to put it behind me, but it stuck unyieldingly in my mind’s eye. I prayed and cried, “Lord forgive me.”

Doesn’t the Bible promise forgiveness after confession (1 Jn. 1:9)? Why don’t I feel free then? Why again the burden?

Then someone told me about Philippians 3:13-14.

“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

“Just forget it and move on,” he said. “It is a thing of the past. Leave it there and look ahead.”

“That simple?”

“Yeah! That’s the power of the word. Stand on God’s promise and remind Him of His word.”

So I plowed on every day. With bended knees and clasped hands, I sought after mercy. Yet, my guilt would not go away. Like Paul, I cried out in anguish,

“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (Rm. 7:24).

David said it right in Psalm 32:3-4.

“When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
 For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.”

I felt the crushing heat in my bones and the heaviness of guilt, and I groaned all day long. I continued reading.

“Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin.

Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
will not reach them” (5-6).

Somebody explain this to me. I have confessed my sins to God. I have tried to forget the past and press on with my life. What then is the problem?

I thank God, for a brother who has matured through it.

“Have you confessed it to her?”

I stuttered.

“You mean her, as in my …?”

“You got it right, brother. Your wife! She is the one you directly sinned against, isn’t it?”

You see, confession is not complete until you tell it directly to the one you have physically sinned against. Cry as you may to God, you will not come into the lightness of His forgiveness until you settle it with the human object of your act. You violate Matthew 5:23-24 – even before God to whom you are pleading.

The command begins at the altar: Leave, go, reconcile, and offer. Until then, your prayer is held in escrow until you clear it with brother Bee or sister Cee. It doesn’t matter if they don’t know you did it. The Spirit of God convicts and demands your obedience. That’s what matters.

Is it difficult? Do you risk losing reputation and respect? Can it strain a beautiful relationship for a season? What does God prefer anyway – sacrifice or obedience (1 Sam. 15:22-23)?

Make no mistake. Paul was right when he said, “forgetting the past … I press on” (Phil. 3:13-14). Nevertheless, you cannot forget the past until you clean the trash in your closet.

So, bring all the offenses out before the offended. See mercy melt your guilt away and experience the healing power of grace.

 

A Tale of Two Prodigals

The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him – Luke 15:28

I thought I was better than my younger brother. I always saw him as rebellious, proud, flirtatious and never serious. He gravitated to the world. He surrounded himself with friends of character. Women were his Achilles Heel. Where did he get that from? Dad is not like that; neither is mom. He may have dropped out of space; for he looked nothing like any of us. Of course, I was different – certainly not like him. Everybody said I was the exact replica of dad, his favorite who did everything to please him.

Contrary to my brother, I knew the essence of hard work and integrity; so I always strived to make the mark, and dad appreciated it.

I will never forget the day my brother asked Dad for his share of the family estate. What nerve! His request revealed his heart about poor Dad. “I wish you were dead.” Boy, I hated him for it. If ever I yearned to kill somebody, it was that day. But I looked at Dad and saw love embracing disappointment and sorrow in his face. I saw his pain; yet, I saw how much he loved darling brother. How could I multiply his anguish?

Imagine my joy when my brother packed his things and left home. I danced liked never before. “Adios, Amigo!” Our home smelled nice again; for the reeking stench of my brother was no more. The family dignity was restored.

But Dad! What is wrong with him? I thought he would be happy he was gone – relieved of the pain he caused him. Rather, I saw somebody whose heart had been torn apart and thrown into the ocean. Now, I was confused. Who did I loathe the most – darling boy or Dad?

Then the report came in. Darling brother had become utterly obscene, indulging in revelry, and prostituting himself with wild women.

“I knew it,” I said to Dad. That son of yours was never going to be anything, but a Casanova!”

The look in Dad’s face said it all; and I ran out of the house, perplexed.

How bad could things become for my selfish brother? How low could he fall? In a farm, tending pigs? How could a Jewish young man defile himself that way? But that’s his reward for his rebellion, and he asked for it. Everybody deserves what they ask for.

So, what’s all the gaiety coming from my house? I ask and a servant tells me it’s a party for my darling kid brother. He’s back, and it’s Dad’s welcome party.

Somebody tell me it’s a dream. How could Papa do that? After all this good-for-nothing son of his has done to him? Where is my recognition? Where is my reward for obedience? After all these years of slaving for him, he’s not given even a young goat to enjoy with my friends. That’s it. I am not going home again. I’m hard working, and I can make a life for myself somewhere.

There he comes, daddy big heart!  Tell me Dad. How could you do that to me? Did he not leave with his portion of the estate? What part does he have in it anymore to be enjoying it?

Remember, son, “We had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:32).

Those words pierced my heart like an arrow, and I am ashamed of myself. My brother was dead, and I rejoiced. He was lost and I could care less. But now he is back and I can’t rejoice for him or with poor dad for a second. Where is the love I’ve always professed for my father? Where is my heart?

By the way, who is the real prodigal here? We both left, but at different times and for different distances. He broke Dad’s heart, and I am being worse. I see my pretension, selfishness, greed, jealousy, and hypocrisy; and I am ashamed of myself.

I will embrace Dad and join in the celebration for my brother. Both of us were dead, and are alive again. We were both lost, and are found.

Thank you Dad, for helping me to find my heart this way! I love you, Abba, Father, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

A Father’s Heart

“O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!” – 2 Samuel 18:33

He was the darling boy of his father. Handsome from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet, Absalom was highly praised and adored by all Israel. His hair, full and heavy, may have charmed the women (2 Sam. 14:25-26). And he had charisma to match it. A smooth talker and schemer, Absalom “stole the hearts of the men of Israel,” by projecting himself as a potentially better king than his father David (15:1-6). His conspiracy gained steam, and Absalom declared himself king in Hebron (10-12). He pushed David out of Jerusalem and took control of the palace. He set up a tent on its rooftop in broad daylight, and in full view of all Israel, Absalom lay with all his father’s concubines (16:22). What insult and dishonor to his father!

So, why was David concerned about the life of a son who had raised his fist against his honor and rule?

“Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake” he told Joab, as his troops marched out against Absalom who had come to finish his coup by killing David (18:5).

What was David doing crying over the death of Absalom (33)? After all Absalom did against him, why the bitter lament for the rebellious son? It’s called a father’s heart!

 The heart of a real father is weak and tender towards his children, even when they stray. It is difficult for a father’s heart to completely close up to a child, let alone to oversee his death. Tucked deep down in the heart of every father is a special love for his children. That place is personal and sacred. Disobedience and rebellion may drive a wedge between father and child, but that sacred sanctuary cannot be obliterated. His heart yearns for the return of his child. He prays and hopes after them. Each day opens with a glimmer of hope that the first voice daddy hears would be that familiar one he heard when daddy and child played around the house. O, the many painful times when disappointment drove its cruel dagger through daddy’s heart!

 “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33).

That’s the language of a father’s heart! It’s laden with love and tender kindness. King David would have given his life for his son, Absalom. I am sure that throughout Absalom’s conspiracy, King David hoped the young man would come to his senses and surrender into his loving hands. But sometimes a child has to learn the hard way that sin and rebellion have consequences.

I am so glad the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable came to his senses and returned to his father. The old man’s sleepless nights came to a joyful end.

“We had to celebrate and be glad, because this [my son] was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Lk. 15:32).

That’s our loving Father in heaven for you. His only Begotten Son has propitiated our sin and bridged the chasm that separated us from Him in that far country. Through the broken body of Christ Jesus, every sinner has access back into God’s loving arms. The heavenly celebration waits for whosoever wills (Jn. 3:16).  The Father’s hug and kisses, the ring, the new robe, the sandals, and the fattened calf are all ready for you (Lk. 15:20-24).

So, why don’t you come back home to the Father today through Christ Jesus, and let the celebration begin?

Happy Father’s Day!