Telling Lies

“So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbours the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. ‭‭
Ephesians‬ ‭4:25‬ ‭NLT‬‬

In this verse Paul highlights a seemingly-eternal human trait – the telling of lies. What’s the problem with lies, some might say. After all, telling the truth to someone can protect them from unnecessary worry or pain. Surely a “white lie” can be justified? Should I really tell a loved one the truth that they are suffering from an incurable condition? Wouldn’t a lie instead be the best way? Didn’t Paul really mean that we shouldn’t tell lies to excuse our bad behaviour or hurt someone? Difficult questions, but Paul writing through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, unequivocally stated that we must tell the truth. Lies must stop. Jesus warned us that lies originate with the devil, who He referred to as the father of lies. The words of Jesus were recorded in John 8:44 when addressing the people in the Temple, “For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies”. So perhaps Paul was pointing out the truth that lies are of the devil. The situation is simple – truth comes from God, lies come from the devil. 

So what does today’s pilgrim do about telling lies? Why do we tell lies in the first place? Some people seem to tell lies by default, to the extent that they seem unable to separate lies from truth. There is obviously an attraction to tell a lie if we can see it will get us off the hook for some misdemeanour. Or there might be an opportunity to gain a reward by lying. Some people will tell lies to make themselves look better than they really are, driven by some insecurity or other emotional problem. There are many reasons for why we feel the temptation to tell a lie. But in the end we have a choice. Our Heavenly Father doesn’t want us to tell lies. He wants the truth.

There is a way to tell the truth in everything, because if there wasn’t God would have said so. We read earlier in this chapter in Ephesians, “Instead, we will speak the truth in love,….”. That’s the key – God’s love flowing through us will help us find the right words and deliver truths the right way. With God in our lives there is no reason to tell lies. 

Paul finally reminded his readers about unity in the body, the church. And that is one thing which hasn’t changed over the years. Lies and deception will undermine and destroy the love that binds together our churches in unity. Jesus felt so strongly about the importance of truth, that He prefixed many a parable or teaching by the words “I tell you the truth“. Or, in the old King James version, “Verily, verily, I say unto you“. In John 14:6, Jesus affirmed that in fact He was the Truth. He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life…”. So telling the truth is rather important don’t we think? We plod on in our pilgrimage the Jesus way, the way of truth.

Worldliness

“So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.”
‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:17-19‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Strong words from Paul. He presented to his friends the inviolable requirement that they had to change the way they live. No more living in a worldly way. No more going with the flow. No more following the crowd. Obviously his friends in Ephesus were once steeped in worldliness and he points out that living in this way was futile. It would lead nowhere other than to death and destruction. Paul’s observations of living life the Gentile way involved having hard hearts, insensitivity, sensuality, impurity and greed. Strong words indeed. The problem the Gentiles had was that they didn’t know any better. They had no moral compass. They had no appreciation of sin and its consequences. If it felt right they did it, regardless of what might happen. 

Here we are in the 21st Century and Paul’s analysis seems just as relevant today as it was in his day. Nothing has changed. In fact things may even seem to have got worse. Human nature has not been changed by the intervening years, by the improvements in “civilisation”, by the embracing of technologies totally beyond the thinking of the Ephesian Christians. We look around us at the behaviour of worldly people – take just the war in Ukraine as an example of futile thinking, of greed, of hard hearts. Our depressing analysis of human nature today won’t change the reality of the sort of world in which we live. But as Christians we must double our efforts to show those around us that there is a better way. Jesus came to this world bringing His Kingdom, a counter-cultural new way of living. Living God’s way, not the way of human nature dominated by “futile thinking”. And so today we reach out to Jesus and pray. We pray for those around us. We pray for divine appointments. We share our message of hope with our families, our communities. And we pray for our governments, that God will penetrate the dark thinking, the sinful ways, showing them that there is a better way. God’s way.

Living In Sin

“Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.”
Ephesians‬ ‭2:1-3‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Paul starts the second chapter of his Epistle, looking back at what his readers, entitled the Ephesian church, used to be like. He pointed out that they “used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil”. And he continued, pointing out the status and work of the devil and his demonic resources. He rounds up these three verses by exposing the fallen state of mankind, with no one escaping their lot in life, being “subject to God’s anger”. But how did it all come to this? As we know, it all started in a garden in an episode that must have broken God’s heart. When the devil exposed his strategy and through his temptation led the first couple into sin. And so the door opened, allowing sin to enter the world, infecting every human being who has ever lived. Everyone follows “the passionate desires and inclinations of [their] sinful nature”. Paul chose his words carefully, he didn’t use the excuse “the devil made me do it”, as some try to do.

It can be hard to get over to godless people the fact that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “But I’m a good person” is a response often heard. “I pay my taxes”, “I try to help others”, “I give money to charity”, and so on, are reasons for the “good person” response. But four words in the verses above expose the real issue – “refuse to obey God”. Sin is all about rebellion to God. Notice that living in sin is a choice and is not inevitable. We can choose to be obedient to God, a choice that starts at a place called Calvary.

We live in a world infected by a sin pandemic. As Paul said, the word “All” implies that everyone catches this disease, and it is inescapably fatal. No ICU or Nightingale hospital will save us from the consequences of our disease. And there is no vaccine other than that supplied by God through His grace.

In our earthly pilgrimage, we journey in an atmosphere of sin. Temptations often and unrelentingly crop up, trying to draw us away from the right paths into the mud and mire of all sorts of transgressions. But God is always there to help us. In 1 Corinthians 10:13, we read, “ The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” What a faithful, loving and gracious God we serve!

But we have a Heavenly Father who loves us too much to leave us at the end of verse 3 – there’s more to come in the next verses in Chapter 2.

Ferreting

“I will not allow deceivers to serve in my house, 
and liars will not stay in my presence. 
My daily task will be to ferret out the wicked 
and free the city of the Lord from their grip.
Psalms‬ ‭101:7-8‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Removing the wicked from amongst us is a wonderful idea. After all, we would all like to live in a Godly and sin-free environment. We would all like to eliminate anti-social behaviour in our communities. Or drugs, or drunkenness, or ….. But how do we do that? The statute book in our societies lists what we should and shouldn’t do. Misdemeanours are treated according to their severity, and some miscreants end up without their liberty. Police forces do their best to uphold the law of the land. But who are the wicked the Psalmist was writing about? If we read through this Psalm, we find words describing people, including “vile”, “vulgar”, “perverse”, “evil”, “slander”, “conceit”, “pride”, “deceivers”, “liars” and “wicked”. Hang on a minute, though, I can’t somehow see a policeman arresting someone with any of these qualities. They need to be translated into something tangible that the person can be arrested for. Some crime defined by our laws. But here’s the thing – only God can see the thoughts in a person’s mind and so only he knows how to “ferret out the wicked“. Only He has that right.

Jesus taught about wheat and weeds in a parable in which the farmer planted good seed but the enemy, the devil, came along and scattered weeds. When the wheat and weeds started growing, the farm workers suggested to the farmer that they go into the field and pull up the weeds, leaving the wheat. But the farmer stopped them, because of the potential for damaging the growing wheat. We then read in Matthew 13 that Jesus said, “Just as the weeds are sorted out and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the world. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” In other words Jesus was saying that there will come a time of judgement one day and the qualities of the “wicked”, the “weeds” in the parable, will be exposed and consequently dealt with then. 

Back in Psalm 101, the Psalmist’s intentions of achieving purity among the inhabitants of God’s city was a noble one. One that at least superficially sounds like a good idea. But then the thought crosses our minds – do we suffer from any of the qualities of the wicked? Have we never had a proud thought? Have we never gossiped about a neighbour? Have we never …? And before we know it, the application of the Psalmist’s “daily task” would soon result in no-one left in God’s city. We wouldn’t be eligible for citizenship in God’s city either. 

But there’s a tremendous section of Scripture in Romans 3. We read, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. So there we have it. Although none of us can meet God’s standard of righteousness, we can nevertheless have the right to live in God’s presence, in His city, through the blood of Jesus. Through His grace and mercy. Too good to be true? Too good not to be true.

Light and Care

“Send me Your light and Your faithful care, let them lead me; let them bring me to Your holy mountain, to the place where You dwell. Then I will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise You with the lyre, O God, my God.” Psalms‬ ‭43:3-4‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Have you ever been somewhere where there are no street lamps, even close by? No cities lighting the sky in the distance? Not a glimmer of light anywhere? With a clear sky overnight the visual presentation of celestial bodies is breathtaking – there are just so many of them. But if the stars are obscured by clouds it can be a scary place, because literally you cannot see your hand in front of your face. Spiritual darkness is a bit like that too. With a view of the spiritual Heavens, God is visible and tangible. Blessing us with His presence. Communicating Spirit to spirit. But when obscured by the clouds of our rebellion and sins, God isn’t visible to us anymore, and our prayers bounce off the cloud’s underbelly, falling back to our lips answered.

The Psalmist prayed that God would lead him through His light, dispensing His faithful care in the process, revealing through the spiritual gloom His presence and His home. The Psalmist knew that once there He would find joy, delight and a place of praise. It doesn’t get better than that!

Today, O Lord, I pray that through the light of Your Word, with a thankful heart because of Your faithful care, I would find You dwelling in my heart where I can praise and worship You. Amen.

The Great Assembly

I have not kept the good news of Your justice hidden in my heart; I have talked about Your faithfulness and saving power. I have told everyone in the great assembly of Your unfailing love and faithfulness.

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭40:10‬ ‭NLT‬‬

David, the Psalmist behind Psalm 40, never hid his relationship with his loving Heavenly Father from the people around him. He always communicated things about God – His justice, faithfulness, saving power, unfailing love – to those around him in the “great assembly”, as we can see from this verse. These were things about God that he had experienced through a life spent close to God. That is not to say he was perfect and never sinned (Bathsheba?) or made mistakes but his heart was after God all his life. And so, David told people around him all the things he knew about God. He was a natural evangelist.

As a Christian I have a story to tell. Through the things God has done for me, my faith in Him has grown. I have experienced His grace and mercy, His love and kindness, His faithfulness even when I haven’t been faithful. He has put a hope for the future in my heart so real and pressing that it is bursting out to inform others.

But this “great assembly”. Is it the church we attend? It could be, but God’s heart is for the lost. Luke records this verse in his Gospel, “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who do not need to repent” – Luke 15:7. C.S Lewis said, “The salvation of a single soul is more important than the production or preservation of all the epics and tragedies in the world“. So the “great assembly” consists of our friends, family, and community, not just the church we attend. We may not be Billy Grahams, speaking to thousands in one rally after another. But I am, as the quotation from J.T.Hiles says, “a beggar telling another beggar where to find bread“. 

So, like David, we must take every opportunity to tell others the “good news” about God. May we never be guilty of keeping it to ourselves.

God’s Master Plan

“O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us. Your plans for us are too numerous to list. You have no equal. If I tried to recite all Your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them.” Psalms‬ ‭40:5‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Any attempt to unpick and drill down into this verse can only end up in becoming lost in the depths of our Creator God, full of grateful praise and worship. The bottom line is that God’s wonders, plans and deeds are uncountable because there are so many of them. For example, just take the environment in which we live. The number of conditions that combine to enable life as we know it on this planet are uncountable. And it was God’s plan to create a world where His plans could be developed. And look at the complexities of human life – how could two cells coming together in a mother’s womb ever develop into a human being capable of so much? It beggars belief that so many people believe the lie that our world and all its contents happened by chance. As the verse above points out, our Creator God has performed many wonders and deeds in implementing His plans.

But there is a wonder, a plan, a deed, that is far above anything else God has done for the human race. We find in the Genesis account that God created men and women in His image. And He wanted to have a relationship with them based on love and friendship. But things went horribly wrong with man’s response to God, as we can find in the early accounts of the Israelite nation. God wasn’t going to give up on His creation, though, and He devised a master plan to reconcile mankind back to Him. His love for us was so intense that he wasn’t going to let us continue in living a life less than how He designed it to be. A life without the ultimate richness of being a friend of God. We can read about God’s master plan through the words of Jesus in John 3. This is the Message version. “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.” That was God’s plan. To put the world back into the place He had designed it to be. He wasn’t going to give up on His creation and He never will. Through Jesus, God’s Master Plan, everyone person living on this planet can find out about God’s wonders, plans and deeds. If they want to. The choice is theirs. The choice is yours.

Mud and Clay

“I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord.” Psalms‬ ‭40:1-3‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Imagine the scene. You have wandered over some fields and come to a bank, down which you accidentally slip. You find yourself stuck in a bog, mud up to your knees and you are starting to sink further. Your cries for help are unheeded because of the remoteness of the place and very quickly the enormity of your predicament floods over you leaving an acute feeling of fear and despair. So you cry out to God for help, waiting with patience for Him to answer, full of assurance that He will do just that. And then, out of nowhere, a rope falls in front of you. You grab it and find a stranger at the other end who manages to pull you out, back up the bank, to a place of firm ground. God hears your cries and prayers for help and sends someone to rescue you.

Imagine the scene. After several days of heavy rain, the local river has burst its banks and your house is being flooded. The ground floor is now under water but you have managed to get onto the roof. You look anxiously around at the water-filled devastation, watching trees, rubbish, even cars, float past. Despair and fear increase. There is no-one to help. But God hears your prayers and sends a rescue helicopter, that quickly lifts you to a place of safety where you can wait for the flood waters to recede.

Imagine the scene. You realise that you are heading for a lost eternity because of your many sins. You are filled with fear and despair. Your situation appears to be hopeless because you realise you can’t save yourself. You cry out to God for help. But God has a plan. He loves you so much that He sends His Son, Jesus, to rescue you. But it’s a costly exercise – to rescue you Jesus has to become a sacrifice for your sins. There is no other way. And through His death on a cross, Jesus takes upon Himself all your sins, leaving you without guilt and shame, in right standing before God and able to say with confidence that your future with God in Heaven is secure. You have found a place of security. Solid ground on which to stand. Paul wrote in his Roman epistle, “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.” (‭‭Romans‬ ‭5:6‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

Three scenarios. Two of physical danger, one of spiritual danger. But all three a potential “pit of despair”. But after rescue what do you feel? Elation? Relief? Most probably an overwhelming feeling of gratitude to God for His rescue. A song you have never sung before comes from deep within you, as you sing grateful praises to God. A song that tells of God’s amazing works. A song that brings others into a trusting relationship with God too.

Far-fetched scenarios that don’t apply in real life today? God may, or may not, rescue us from all occasions of physical danger. It wouldn’t be danger if He always did. But we can have an assurance that God will always rescue a repentant sinner from spending eternity in that place Jesus called hell. How do I know? The Son of God, Jesus, told me. “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” ‭‭John‬ ‭3:16-17‬ ‭NLT‬‬.

Trust In The Lord

Don’t worry about the wicked or envy those who do wrong. For like grass, they soon fade away. Like spring flowers, they soon wither.
Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires.

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭37:1-4‬ ‭NLT‬‬

In Psalm 37, David picks up again his thoughts about wicked people, and in the process he contrasts their behaviour with that of God’s people. Again and again in this Psalm he points out what “the wicked” are doing wrong and how their lives will end, and then provides a contrast of how Godly people live their lives, adding in words of advice where appropriate. The dichotomy between the two types of people is stark and extreme and it is clear that Godless lives will not end well.

The instruction, “Trust in the Lord and do good” acts as a doorway into a gold mine of instructions, thoughts and behaviours. Just reading this inscription above the door knocker will be ineffective on its own; the door has to be opened and the nuggets within removed, consumed, and acted upon, to provide all that is necessary for life in communion with our Heavenly Father. And a relationship develops with God, so close that “Trust” becomes second nature.

The Psalmist also encourages God’s people to “do good”. Two words almost hidden and overlooked after the impact and boldness of “Trust in the Lord”. But nevertheless an important part of life as a Christian is to do good deeds to and for those around us in our communities and families. Galatians 6:10 reads, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone…”. And there are many other similar encouragements spattered throughout Holy Scriptures.

The end result of living our lives God’s way though, is clear. Safety and prosperity will result. There is always a tendency to interpret the word “prosperity” from a financial perspective. But it’s so much more than that. Think about the riches of being healthy – mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Think about being blessed by the richness of having a loving family. And of course we mustn’t overlook the prosperity God’s people will find in their ultimate spiritual home.

We can’t leave these verses without considering the last few words. As we delight ourselves in the Lord, and align our hearts, our thoughts, with those of Him, we will find that any worldly materialistic desires will be eclipsed by what really matters. God-values such as love, compassion, mercy, grace, righteousness and so on will infuse our ways of life and waking thoughts. And we don’t worship a stingy God – He will pour out bountifully all we need. 

Psalm 37. Essential reading for everyone. We ignore or disregard these verses at our peril.