If moral values don't begin with the small things, they never go anywhere.
I begin my story today with three parties who shall remain anonymous, to protect the guilty. I shall refer to them as Mr. X, Pastor Y, and Organization Z. Mr. X is running for a political office in the state of Maine. Pastor Y is a pastor here in Maine, who apparently runs an organization (Organization Z) devoted to conservative Christian values and social/political action.
Pastor Y is also a spammer. His organization sends me spam on two of my e-mail accounts -- both of which are publicly posted on the Internet, and which I never use to sign up for e-mail lists. I never asked to receive e-mail from him, yet I receive it anyway. Twice. This, by definition, makes him (or his organization) a spammer.
I received two e-mails from Pastor Y this morning. In these e-mails he described how he had sent out inquiry to all our Maine political candidates, asking for their views on conservative moral issues. He said that only two candidates responded, and only one of them gave actual answers to the questions. That was (you guessed it) Mr. X. Therefore, Pastor Y explained, he felt that we should all get behind Mr. X in his political campaign.
I felt obligated to warn Mr. X that Pastor Y was spamming people on his behalf, and it didn't make him (Mr. X) look good -- it made him look guilty by association.
Mr. X's campaign headquarters replied that Pastor Y has "been an advisor to the campaign since day one," and he sent out the spam (they didn't call it spam) with the approval of the campaign, and they encouraged me to do the same. (Yeah, that's not a joke, they actually asked me to pass on the spam as well!)
So I was disappointed with Mr. X's campaign on two levels. First, that they were spamming people. Second (and far more importantly) for the deceit involved. I have tried and tried to reconcile "I sent an e-mail to all the current Maine congressional candidates asking them about several issues" with "...has been an advisor to the campaign since day one."
Was it an outright lie? No, Pastor Y never stated that he was not affiliated with the campaign. But the implication was that he picked out a candidate based on an inquiry to an existing campaign.
My second e-mail to Mr. X expressed this disappointment in his campaign, and finished with: If moral values don't begin with the small things, they never go anywhere.
I thought of the people of Israel, going out to fight the city of Ai, thinking they were winning a great battle for God, never knowing that a hidden deceit was eating away at them. How can we stand for the right on issues like abortion, pornography, and many many other issues, when the platform on which we stand is shaky? The platform I speak of is not a political platform, but a platform of personal integrity, character, and righteousness.
A few years ago I had an interesting incident occur at our youth group. One night while the teens were playing a game out in the field, two of the girls decided to go visit a relative who lived within walking distance of the church. And they left without either asking permission, or telling anyone they were going.
Now, we have a policy that we don't permit teens to leave youth group unless they have permission given by a parent/guardian or the parent/guardian comes to pick them up.
So I wasn't happy when I realized these girls had taken off.
When they returned, I approached them and asked, "Where have you been?"
One of the girls replied, "Oh, we were just over on the other side of the building."
The thing that was ironic about this was, if they'd told me the truth, they would not have gotten in trouble. Why? Because, to the best of my recollection, I couldn't remember that I had discussed this youth group policy with the teens that year, and these two girls were new to the youth group. So I realized it was possible they didn't know the policy, and therefore it would have been inappropriate for me to "chew them out." Instead, I would have simply explained the policy, and that would have been the end of it.
But since they lied, oh yes, you'd better believe they were in trouble! The difference, of course, was that they knew lying was not right!
People wonder sometimes why God gave the law, and there are several reasons for it, but one of those reasons is precisely what I just described; God gave the law because He knew what was right and wrong, but we did not. Galatians 3:19 says: Why then the Law? It was added because of transgressions...
People already broke God's holy standard of righteousness. The law was given so that people would know what was right and wrong, and could therefore be corrected when they violated those commands.
Imagine a world in which God never said to the people, "You shall not lie," or "You shall not commit adultery," or "You shall not murder." What a terrible place that would be -- so much worse even than it is right now!
Our society is filled with people who will start a lawsuit at the drop of a hat, and our court system can potentially get clogged with frivolous lawsuits that people take way too seriously.
Some of my favorites, in addition to the very well-known case of the woman who sued McDonald's because she got burned by the coffee when she spilled it into her lap, include the following:
Yep, our society will sue at the drop of a hat. Makes me think of some verses in Proverbs:
How quick we are to argue with our neighbor, and even make our argument a matter of public record and attention, instead of quietly resolving the matter with those concerned.
The proverb tells us that those who make their case public, and go out hastily to argue, end up being embarrassed, humiliated, and have their reputation besmirched.
How true this is; the people mentioned above can find their stories plastered all over the Internet, and though some of them have won monetary awards in their frivolous cases, what they have lost is far more important -- their reputation and their standing in the community.
What person in their right mind would invite this woman into their home, knowing full well that if she injures herself (by spilling coffee on herself, or any other way!), she's likely to sue your for your hospitality?
What person in their right mind would volunteer to coach a baseball team, knowing that one of the parents is perfectly content to sue you if the team doesn't do well?
A week ago I was teaching our youth group from 1 Peter 2:1-3, in which Peter tells us to put aside (among other things) malice.
I told the teens that having malice in your heart is like being fitted with the wrong prescription eyeglasses. Nothing looks right to you, and you never see things as they really are. People who are filled with bitterness and malice never see the world as it really is; they see it in the way that best feeds their bitterness, and allows their malice to fester.
Today I saw a perfect example of that. Our youth group went to a high school boys' basketball tournament between the Christian academy in our area and another Christian academy in the state (which I will leave nameless).
When our boys were running out onto the court to be introduced, a woman -- through no fault of her own -- walked unsuspectingly into the path of our team, and the situation was such that neither she nor they saw the other in time to avoid a collision.
The woman was knocked to the floor, and was knocked unconscious. Someone called 911, and the woman was taken to the hospital (before she left she had regained consciousness, and was coherent, and had full mobility).
Our boys were just standing around with that "deer-in-the-headlights" look when they realized what had happened, until it became obvious that there was nothing they could do, and were sent to begin warming up for the game.
But I happened to be sitting in the bleachers right in the middle of a group of fans from the other school. Not a big deal, right? I mean, we are a group of Christians, and we can maintain cordial relationships, even in the midst of a sporting event. Right?
Tragically, that was not the case. The group sitting behind us personally knew the woman who was knocked down, and became enraged over the accident. One woman, who (by the testimony of her own mouth) didn't even see what happened, within minutes of the accident was telling all her friends about how "that boy who knocked her down just kept right on going and never stopped to see if she was alright."
Blatantly not true.
"He's laughing about the whole thing. What a jerk."
Likewise not true.
"That whole team is a bunch of jerks. They're so stuck on themselves."
"I hope God makes them lose this game. Serves them right."
"I hope that boy gets hurt. If I get a chance, I'm going to go punch him in the face."
And in the area of the bleachers where we were sitting, we actually had fans around us cheering and laughing when "that boy" was fouled and knocked to the floor.
Honestly, I was embarrassed and ashamed to be sitting in the middle of such an ungodly display of malice and deceit. The viciousness of the woman's slander was disgraceful. But as I thought about it, I realized that, although this woman was spewing out blatantly false statements about the boys on our team, she probably didn't even realize she was doing it.
Though she didn't see what happened, she latched on to the story that would feed her malicious anger, and because malice prevents you from seeing things as they really are...I think this woman actually believed the story she had invented, and was spewing out to all her friends.
Tragic. But it was exactly what I had told our teens about the week before.
It's easy to shake our heads in disgust at stories like that, and think "I would never be like that," but in reality, every one of us has probably -- at some time or another -- let our anger, our malice, our bitterness and rage, cloud our view of events, and destroy our ability to perceive things as they really are.
As a child growing up on a small farm, there were many chores I disliked. Shoveling out the barn, weeding the garden, feeding chickens, and the pig...
But there was one thing I disliked more than all the others. One yearly event that I dreaded. Haying.
That was one of the hottest, sweatiest jobs imaginable. Whether I was in the hayloft throwing and stacking bales, or out in the fields putting bales onto the trailer (yes, we did it the old fashioned way...for us a "thrower" had two legs, two arms, and very tired muscles), haying was a miserable job. If you were in the hayloft, the heat and the humidity were enough to kill an ox -- let alone a ten-year-old boy -- and if you were in the field you had to suffer with the summer sun baking and roasting everything in sight.
And no matter where you were, you had to deal with that rough, dried stubble scratching against your skin.
But being in the fields did have one advantage over being in the hayloft: when you were in the field, there would be an occasional moment of relief. When a strong, cool breeze would come wafting across the fields, the breeze would touch every part of you as it passed by, bringing a bit of relief from the heat. It made a miserable chore bearable, and for that brief moment you would find yourself thinking, "Aaaah! I'm going to make it through this!"
The book of Proverbs tells us this:
How true that is! How many times have you been in a position where you asked someone to do something, or they said they would do something, and then they never followed through? Do you remember that feeling? The frustration, the failed plans, the discouragement you feel can be as oppressive as the summer heat.
But someone who does what they say they will do, who you can count on to fulfill their promises -- that is a person as refreshing as a breeze blowing in off the snow-covered mountains, bringing relief and joy.
So...which kind of person are you?
When I was in college, I knew a young man who had a very interesting childhood, a young man who loved to tell stories about all the odd adventures and misadventures he'd had while growing up.
I remember, when I first knew him, sitting in the cafeteria eating supper and listening him telling the most fascinating stories. I remember thinking to myself, "How in the world does one person have so many strange things happen to them?" And I remember thinking, from time to time, either "Why couldn't my childhood have been this interesting?" or "I sure am glad my childhood wasn't like that!"
Then one day, when he was telling one of his childhood adventures, I found myself thinking about one of his previous stories he had told a month earlier, and thinking to myself, "How can both of these stories be true? They seem to contradict one another!"
From that point on, I began listening to his stories with a much more critical ear, remembering previous stories and comparing them to current stories, and looking for ways in which the stories didn't match up. It didn't take long before I realized: "None of these stories are true; they exist only in his imagination. And if any of them are true, it certainly isn't worth my time to try to figure out the difference!"
Gradually, everyone in his circle of friends began to understand that he was a perpetual, habitual liar. And soon everyone began distancing themselves from him. We all had better things to do with our time than listen to him tell stories that we knew weren't true.
Eventually, he got a whole new circle of friends, but that set of friendships was doomed as well.
I understand the desire to make yourself look good, and telling a few carefully placed lies can be one way to do that. But the cost this young man paid for "looking good" was far too high. When you give in to the temptation to speak falsehood, ultimately it becomes impossible to sort out your lies and keep them consistent. Ultimately, your sin will find you out.
1 Peter 2:1 tells us to put aside all deceit, and lists this as one of the prerequisites to having a sincere hunger for the Word of God, and of growing up spiritually. A person who indulges in deceit is a person who will never grow into a healthy, spiritually mature man or woman.
Lately I've been discovering gray hairs here and there throughout my gotee. The teens in my youth group tell me it's a sign of how old and decrepit I'm getting. They're so kind.
In reality, having gray hairs doesn't really bother me from an aesthetic point of view; I've always thought that beards which have a mixture of gray and dark look very distinguished. I'm certainly not one who feels the need to color my hair in order to continue feeling (or looking) young.
But the thing I hate about my gray hairs is that those hairs are a different texture from the rest of my gotee. When I'm trimming, the dark hairs all get trimmed, and the gray hairs all say to the razor, "Ha ha, you can't get me!" So I end up with thousands of short black hairs and a few gray hairs that keep getting longer and longer.
And there's nothing I can do about it.
Jesus actually had something to say about the color of your hair; in the Sermon on the Mount, he told his followers:
In essence, He is saying, "Don't swear by something you have no control over; it is a completely meaningless oath to swear."
But He doesn't stop there; He tells us not to swear any oaths at all! He explains that we must be so completely honest that we develop a reputation for truth-telling, and we never have to swear any oaths at all. "Let your 'yes' be 'yes' and your 'no' be 'no,'" he says.
I may not be able to control the color of my beard, but what I do with my character, my integrity, is entirely in my court. The choice is up to me.
Of course, on a related note, it's interested to see that the three little pigs in the old fairy tale disobeyed this command of Christ when they said, "Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin!" That is, after all, an oath sworn on the hair of their heads! ;D