1502) Flying Feathers and Careless Words

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     A woman whose tongue was sharp and unkind was accused of starting a rumor.  She was brought before the village rabbi to be reprimanded, but she protested: “What I said was all in fun.  I was only joking.  Besides, it was others in the village who carried my words forth.  I am not to blame.”

     But the victim cried for justice, saying, “You’ve soiled my own good name!”

     “I can make amends,” said the woman accused.  “I’ll just take back my words and you can excuse me.”

     The rabbi listened to what she said, and sadly thought as he shook his head, “This woman does not comprehend her crime, so she will do it again and again.”

     And so he said to the woman accused, “Your careless words cannot be excused until you bring this feather pillow to the market square.  Cut it and let the feathers fly through the air.  When this task is done, bring me back all the feathers; every last one.”

     The woman reluctantly agreed.  She thought, “The wise old rabbi’s gone mad indeed!”  But to humor him, she took his pillow to the village square.  She cut it and feathers went flying in the wind.

     She ran and ran, this way and that way.  She tried to catch this feather and that feather.  But for every one she picked up, a hundred blew farther and farther away.  Weary with effort she clearly discovered that the task could not be done.

     She returned with very few feathers in hand.  “I could not get them back,” she said, ” for they have scattered over the land.”  She sighed as she lowered her head and said, “I suppose that is like the words I can’t take back from the rumor I spread.”


     Socrates was visited by an acquaintance of his.  Eager to share some juicy gossip, the man asked if Socrates would like to know the story he’d just heard about a friend of theirs.  Socrates held up his hand to silence the man and asked, “Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to say is true?” 

     The man shook his head. “No, I actually just heard about it, and …”  

     Socrates cut him off.  “You don’t know for certain that it is true, then.”

     “No, I do not know if it is true, ” said the man.

     Socrates then asked, “Is what you want to say something good or kind?”  

     Again, the man shook his head. “No.  Actually, just the opposite.  You see …”

     Socrates again lifted his hand to stop the man from speaking.  “So you are not certain that what you want to say is true, and it isn’t good or kind.  One more question remains, though, so you may yet still tell me.  Is this information useful or necessary to me or anyone?” 

     Defeated, the man replied, “No, not really.”

     “Well, then,” Socrates said turning away, “If what you want to say is neither true, nor good or kind, nor useful or necessary, please don’t say it at all.”


Proverbs 6:16-19  —  There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

Proverbs 16:28  —  A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.

Proverbs 26:18-20  —  Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is one who deceives their neighbor and says, “I was only joking!”  Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.

Ephesians 4:29  —  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.



O God, you command us not to bear false witness against our neighbor.  May we so fear and love you that we do not betray, slander, or lie about our neighbor; but defend him, speak well of him, and explain his actions in the kindest way; through Jesus Christ,  your Son, our Lord.  Amen.

1442) Who Says Murder is Wrong?


Another video from Prager University (see yesterday’s Emailmeditation for more information about Prager U.)


If the above link does not work go to:



“IF THERE IS NO GOD, MURDER ISN’T WRONG”  By Dennis Prager (transcript)

Do you believe that good and evil exist?

The answer to this question separates Judeo-Christian values from secular values.

Let me offer the clearest possible example: murder.

Is murder wrong?  Is it evil?  Nearly everyone would answer yes.  But now I’ll pose a much harder question: How do you know?

I am sure that you think that murder is wrong.  But how do you know?

If I asked you how you know that that the earth is round, you would show me photographs from outer space, or offer me measurable data.  But what photographs could you show, what measurements could you provide, that prove that murder or rape or theft is wrong?

The fact is…you can’t.  There are scientific facts, but without God there are no moral facts.

In a secular world, there can only be opinions about morality.  They may be personal opinions or society’s opinion.  But only opinions.  Every atheist philosopher I have read or debated on this subject has acknowledged that if there is no God, there is no objective morality.

Judeo-Christian values are predicated on the existence of a God of morality.  In other words, only if there is a God who says murder is wrong, is murder wrong.  Otherwise, all morality is opinion.

The entire Western world – what we call Western Civilization – is based on this understanding.

Now, let me make two things clear.

First, this doesn’t mean that if you don’t believe in God, you can’t be a good person.  There are plenty of kind and moral individuals who don’t believe in God and Judeo-Christian values.  But the existence of these good people has nothing – nothing – to do with the question of whether good and evil really exist if there is no God.

Second, there have been plenty of people who believed in God who were not good people; indeed, more than a few have been evil – and have even committed evil in God’s name.  The existence of God doesn’t ensure people will do good.  I wish it did.  The existence of God only ensures that good and evil objectively exist and are not merely opinions.

Without God, we therefore end up with what is known as moral relativism – meaning that morality is not absolute, but only relative to the individual or to the society.  Without God, the words “good” and “evil” are just another way of saying “I like” and “I don’t like.”  If there is no God, the statement “Murder is evil” is the same as the statement “I don’t like murder.”

Now, many will argue that you don’t need moral absolutes; people won’t murder because they don’t want to be murdered.  But that argument is just wishful thinking.  Hitler, Stalin, and Mao didn’t want to be murdered, but that hardly stopped them from murdering about a hundred million people.

It is not a coincidence that the rejection of Judeo-Christian values in the Western world – by Nazism and Communism – led to the murder of all these innocent people.

It is also not a coincidence that the first societies in the world to abolish slavery – an institution that existed in every known society in human history – were Western societies rooted in Judeo-Christian values.  And so were the first societies to affirm universal human rights; to emancipate women; and to proclaim the value of liberty.

Today, the rejection of Judeo-Christian values and moral absolutes has led to a world of moral confusion.

In the New York Times, in March 2015, a professor of philosophy confirmed this.

He wrote: “What would you say if you found out that our public schools were teaching children that it is not true that it’s wrong to kill people for fun?  Would you be surprised?  I was.”

The professor then added: “The overwhelming majority of college freshmen view moral claims as mere opinions.”

So, then, whatever you believe about God or religion, here is a fact:

Without a God who is the source of morality, morality is just a matter of opinion.  So, if you want a good world, the death of Judeo-Christian values should frighten you.


German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) has had a profound influence on Western philosophy and modern intellectual history.  He has been admired by atheists the world over for his eloquent and obnoxious disdain for Christianity.  But he was a consistent atheist, following it to its logical conclusions, and correctly observed that rejecting God yet embracing Biblical values is illogical.  He said:

“When you give up Christian faith, you pull the rug out from under your right to Christian morality as well… you smash the whole system.”

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Exodus 20:13  —  You shall not murder.

Deuteronomy 6:17a  —  Be sure to keep the commands of the Lord your God…

Deuteronomy 5:32  —  So be careful to do what the Lord your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left.



O God, you have forbidden us to kill:
Lord, grant that we so fear and love you, that we never do our neighbor any bodily harm nor ever cause him any suffering, but rather, that we help and befriend him in every way.

1407) I’m Not Perfect, You Know

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     In Matthew 5:48 Jesus says, “Be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”  How are you doing with that?  In the piece that follows, Philip Yancey describes the efforts toward perfection made by some religious groups in American history.  Believing they could do away with sin and create Utopian communities of perfect peace and harmony, the leaders of these groups made a noble attempt to get everyone to keep all the rules, all the time.  It did not work.  Every one of them failed.  Are you surprised?  While Yancey sees no hope for such projects, he does admire the effort. 


By Philip Yancey in, A Guided Tour of the Bible, 1989, pages 657-658.

     A few years ago I attended a conference at a place called New Harmony, the restored site of a century old Utopian community.  As I ran my fingers over the fine workmanship of the buildings and read the plaques describing the daily lives of these ‘true believers,’ I marveled at the energy that drove this movement, one of the dozens spawned by American idealism and religious fervor.

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Rockers in the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky

     Many varieties of perfectionism have grown on American soil: the offshoots of the Second Great Awakening, the Victorious Life movement, the Shakers, and the communes of the Jesus movement.  It struck me, though, that in recent times the urge to achieve perfection has nearly disappeared.  Nowadays we tilt in the opposite direction, toward a kind of anti-Utopianism. The recovery movement, for example, hinges on a person’s self-confessed inability to be perfect.

     I prefer this modern trend.  I find it much easier to believe in human fallibility than perfectibility, and I have cast my lot with a gospel based on grace.  Yet in New Harmony, Indiana, I felt an unaccountable nostalgia for the Utopians:  all those solemn figures in black clothes breaking rocks in the fields, devising ever-stricter rules in an attempt to rein in lust and greed, striving to fulfill the lofty commands of the New Testament.  The names they left behind tug at the heart: New Harmony, Peace Dale, New Hope, New Haven.

     Yet most Utopian communities— like the one I was standing in— survive only as museums.  Perfectionism keeps running aground on the barrier reef of original sin.  High ideals paradoxically lead to despair and defeatism.  Despite all good efforts, human beings don’t achieve a state of sinlessness, and in the end they often blame themselves, a blame often encouraged by their leaders (“If it’s not working there must be something wrong with you”).

      Still, I admit that I sometimes feel a nostalgia, even longing, for the quest itself.  How can we uphold the ideal of holiness, the proper striving for life on the highest plane, while avoiding the consequences of disillusionment, pettiness, abuse of authority, spiritual pride, and exclusivism?

     Or, to ask the opposite question, how can we moderns who emphasize community support (never judgment), honesty, and introspection keep from aiming too low?   An individualistic society, America stands in constant danger of freedom abuse, and its churches are in danger of grace abuse.

     It was with these questions in mind that I read through the Epistles, charting the motives they appealed to.  I read them in a different order than usual.  First I read Galatians, with its magnificent charter of Christian liberty and its fiery pronouncements against petty legalism.  Next I turned to James, that “right strawy epistle” that stuck in Martin Luther’s throat (too much law and not enough grace for Luther).  I read Ephesians and then I Corinthians, Romans and then I Timothy, Colossians and then I Peter.  In every epistle, without exception, I found both messages:  the high ideals of holiness, and also the safety net of grace reminding us that salvation does not depend on our meeting those ideals.  I will not attempt to resolve the tension between grace and works because the New Testament does not.   We must not try to solve the contradiction by reducing the force of either grace or morality.

     Ephesians pulls the two strands neatly together: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith; and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (2:8-10).  Philippians expresses the same dialectic: “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (2:12-13).  First Peter adds, “Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God” (2:16).

     I take some comfort in the fact that the church in the first century was already on a seesaw, sometimes tilting toward perfectionist legalism, and at other times toward raucous freedom.  James wrote to one extreme; Paul often addressed the other.  Each letter has a strong correcting emphasis; but all stress the dual message of the gospel.  The church should be both:  a people who strive toward holiness and yet relax in grace, a people who condemn themselves but not others, a people who depend on God and not themselves.


Grant me, O Lord, to fervently desire, wisely search out, and perfectly to fulfill all that is pleasing unto Thee.  Order my worldly condition to the glory of your name; and grant me the knowledge, desire, and ability to do what is required of me.  I pray that my path to Thee be safe, straightforward, and perfect to the end.

Give me, O Lord, a steadfast heart, which no unworthy affection may drag downward; give me an unconquered heart, which no tribulation can wear out; and give me an upright heart, which no unworthy purpose may tempt aside.

Bestow upon me also, O Lord my God, understanding to know Thee, diligence to seek Thee, wisdom to find Thee, and a faithfulness to the end that may finally embrace Thee.  Amen.

–Thomas Aquinas  (1225-1274)

1402) The Golden Rule (c)

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     (…continued)  The principles for a good and ethical life are not complicated.  There are just a few basics.  Think about it.  Think about what the world would be like if everyone simply told the truth all the time, did not take what did not belong to them, treated each other with respect, and was content with what they had.  One of the striking things about the perfect world of the horses in Gulliver’s Travels was the simplicity of life there.  Gulliver tried to explain to the talking horses about life in England (see #1400).  One of the things I especially remember is Gulliver telling the horses about the judicial system with courtrooms, judges, bailiffs, lawyers, juries, trials, jails, and everything else that goes with our court system, all there and busy every day simply to find out one thing— whether or not people are telling the truth in each case.  The horses could not imagine such a world, just as we cannot imagine a world where the truth is always told.

     The man questioning Jesus in the tenth chapter of Luke is an expert in the Law, perhaps a lawyer (the word used in some translations).  A lawyer’s job is to find his way through the many complications of the law, and they are usually able to find ways to make it even more complicated.  Jesus, on the other hand, was always trying to simplify the law.  In Luke 6:31 he summarized the entire Law in eleven words, words you all know as the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  That can be applied to every ethical question, and almost every ethical question can be answered with another question:

How much help am I obligated to give that poor man on the side of the road?  How much help would I want in that situation?

Am I obligated to tell the person buying my house about the termite problem?  Would I want to know about the termite problem if I were the purchaser?

Is there anything wrong with a little harmless gossip about the neighbor’s family troubles?  If I was having the same troubles in my family and people knew only half the story, would I want everyone talking about it and criticizing my every move?

You are nineteen, three months pregnant, and you don’t want to have a baby at this time in your life; should you continue the pregnancy or have it ended?  Are you grateful that your mother did not end her pregnancy with you? 

A friend just made a thoughtless, stupid comment (perhaps unintended) that I find offensive and insulting– should I put him in his place and insult him with a mean, but witty comeback that I have on the tip of my tongue?  Or should I remember all the thoughtless, stupid comments I have made that have been graciously overlooked?

And so on.

     The lawyer in the story wanted to get into a debate about the subtleties of the commands about loving your neighbor as yourself.  Jesus wanted to talk about one specific neighbor who needed help.

     This is all just basic morality.  Christianity is not complete without it.  After all, God created the world and everyone in it, so we ought to be willing to hear from him the details about how this life is best lived.   But those details are not complicated, and most people already know them.  The problem is, we neglect to do what we know is right.  We are weak and we fall into the pattern of living in the ways of everyone all around us.  But Jesus calls on us to obey his Word and then, one decision and one action at a time, live in it.

     God’s amazing grace and abundant forgiveness of all our sins is another part of the story.  That is the story of what God has done for us.  But this mediation has been on what we are to do.  We are to obey God and do what we know is right.


“We do not so much need to be instructed in morality as we need to be reminded.”

–English linguist Samuel Johnson


Luke 6:31  —  (Jesus said), “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

Luke 6:46  —  (Jesus said), “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

Luke 10:36-37  —  (Jesus said), “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”  Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”


Lord Jesus, give me the faith and the will and the strength to obey you in all things, doing unto others as I would have others do unto me.  Amen.

–Based on the words of Jesus in Luke 6:31

1363) Is There Anything Unique About Christianity?

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     Greg was a freshman in college.  He went home for spring break and on Sunday morning went to worship at the church he attended while growing up.  After the service he stayed to talk to the pastor.

     “Pastor Mike,” Greg said, “I am not so sure any more about much of what I learned from you in confirmation class.”

     “Oh really?” the pastor replied.  “Tell me more.”

     “You always taught us that Christianity was the one, true faith, and how everyone should believe in Jesus,” Greg said.  “But I am taking a class on world religions and it is becoming clear to me that all religions say pretty much the same thing.”

     “Tell me more,” Pastor Mike said.  “Perhaps I’ve missed something.”

     “Well, as you know,” Greg continued, “Christianity is primarily about loving your neighbor, obeying the Ten Commandments, and following the Golden Rule.  But what I have been learning is that every religion has a moral code, and they all say the same things—don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t commit adultery, worship God, love your neighbor, and all the rest.  There is nothing unique about Christianity’s moral code.”

     “I agree with you completely,” said Pastor Mike.  “Was there anything else you were wondering about?”

     Greg looked bewildered.  “What?” he said.  “You agree with me?”

     “I certainly do,” replied the pastor.  “No religion, and no culture for that matter, would last very long without such a moral code.  How could it?  Families would disintegrate, no one could be trusted, no one’s property would be safe, and people would end up killing each other in order to survive.  Society would be reduced to ‘survival of the fittest,’ just like in the animal kingdom.  The Ten Commandments are just the basic rules necessary for life together.  Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and even the ancient Aztecs and Egyptians, all contain many of the same rules.  Now, I do believe Christianity has a superior moral code.  You don’t find much in the other religions about loving, forgiving, and praying for your enemies; and you learn much more about serving those in need from the Bible than anywhere else.  But I’ll agree, Greg, there is nothing unique about the Christianity’s basic moral code.”

     “Why, then, is there all this fuss about having to believe in Jesus?” Greg asked.  “Why do we send missionaries all over the world to tell people about Jesus if they already have a good enough religion?”

     “Oh,” said Pastor Mike, “are we talking about Jesus now?  I thought we were talking about morality.”

     “Isn’t it all the same?” Greg asked.  “Didn’t Jesus say he was here to uphold the Law, and wasn’t he always telling people to ‘go and sin no more.’?”

     “That’s right,” said the pastor, “but isn’t there anything else you remember about Jesus from confirmation?  I will give you a hint.  Next Sunday is Easter.”

     “Well, yes,” Greg said, “Jesus rose from the dead, but…”

     “But what?” asked Pastor Mike.  “Think about what you just said: He rose from the dead.  You said there was nothing unique about Christianity’s moral code.  But there is much more to our faith than ethics.  And the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is unique.  Have you ever seen anything like it?  What’s more, have you run across anything like that in your study of the world’s religions?  Islam can be traced back to Mohammed, but any Muslim will tell you that Mohammed died and stayed dead, and if possible, they will make a pilgrimage to his tomb.  And Buddha never claimed to be able to rise from the dead, nor did Confucius or Moses or any other religious leader return from the dead.  Have you learned in your world religion class of any other resurrected leaders?”

     “No, I guess not,” replied Greg.

     Pastor Mike continued.  “Greg, I’m not a Christian because of the Ten Commandments.  I can get rules and laws anywhere.  So of course, all the religions of the world have that part of the truth.  But Jesus offered much more.  Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins—our failure to keep the rules—and then he rose from the dead to defeat death and offer us eternal life. That is what we need most; not more rules.  And that part we could never manage on our own.  We can obey rules– at least some of them, some of the time.  But we can’t raise the dead, and we can’t prevent our own death.  If you want to know about Christianity, you don’t start with the commandments; you start with Jesus and his death and resurrection.  There is the heart and soul of our faith.  That is what Jesus told his disciples to tell the whole world about.  There is much in every religion that is true and good.  But only in the person of Jesus of Nazareth did God visit his creation, die for the sins of all humanity, and then rise from the dead offering eternal life to all who would believe in him.  No other religion has anything like that.”

     Greg thought for a moment, and then said, “Why, then, did you make us memorize the commandments?”

     “Because we need that, too, and so does everyone in the whole world,” said Pastor Mike.  The commandments are not the most important part of the Christian faith, but they are important.  Yes, Jesus offers resurrection from the dead and life in heaven forever. But until then we have to live together here on this earth and get along now in this life.  Because our obedience will always be far from perfect, this world will always be a sad and troubled place.  It was on the cross that Jesus somehow took all that sin and sadness upon himself and died for it all.  But when he rose from the dead, he promised that we too would one day be freed from sin and death.  Obey the rules, yes, but most of all, believe in Jesus.  There is no one else like him.”


John 6:68-69  — Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Acts 4:11-12  —  Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Romans 10:9  —  If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.


Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.

–Ancient Jesus prayer

1306) Your Inner Pinocchio

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By Julie Borg, posted 11-1-16 at http://www.wng.org


     Every time Pinocchio lied, his nose grew longer.  Of course, a real boy’s nose does not change when he lies, but his brain might, according to a new research study published in Nature Neuroscience.  

     Researchers at the University College London (UCL) have discovered the brain actually changes the way it responds when someone continues to lie.  For the vast majority of people, the brain area known as the amygdala begins a rapid-fire response when a person is dishonest, producing uncomfortable emotions and unpleasant physical reactions.  Our heart beats faster, blood pressure escalates, and we begin to perspire.  A polygraph machine is designed to detect these physiological changes and alert an investigator that a person may be lying.  It is these unpleasant sensations that discourage someone from continuing to lie.

     But the UCL researchers found when people lie repeatedly, the amygdala settles down and decreases its response, making it easier to lie again and initiating a slippery slope of dishonesty.

     The researchers conducted MRI scans on the brains of 80 volunteers while they took part in tasks that encouraged them to lie.  During several different scenarios, the researchers showed the volunteers pictures of pennies in jars and told them to estimate the number of pennies and then send their estimate by computer to another unseen participant who would use their advice to guess the number of pennies.

     The first scenario established a baseline for comparison by testing how the volunteers’ brains responded when they were not lying.  The researchers offered the volunteers a chance to earn a cash reward for themselves and their partner if they estimated the number of pennies in the jar accurately, providing incentive for the volunteers to be honest.  But in subsequent scenarios, the researchers told the volunteers they might earn a cash incentive by either over- or under-estimating the number of pennies.

     When volunteers believed incorrect estimates could benefit them at their partner’s expense, they began to lie slightly about the amount of pennies they thought the jars held.  Their MRIs showed strong responses from their amygdalas.

     As the experiment progressed, the volunteers continued to lie, and each lie tended to get bigger.  With each subsequent lie, the amygdala’s response decreased, making it easier for the volunteer to tell progressively increasing whoppers.

     “This may lead to a ‘slippery slope,’ where small acts of dishonesty escalate into more significant lies,” Tali Sharot, senior author of the study, said in a statement.

     The researchers speculated this same sort of brain adaptation may also occur with other immoral behaviors.

     “We only tested dishonesty in this experiment, but the same principle may also apply to escalations in other actions, such as risk taking or violent behavior,” said lead author Neil Garrett.

     The findings did not surprise Jason Lee, dean of Biblical and theological studies at Cedarville University, who noted this is the very thing Paul wrote about in the beginning of his letter to the Romans.  The Bible says when people continue to reject God they become futile in their thinking, their hearts are darkened and God gives them up in the lusts of their hearts.

     “The internal checks are there,” Lee said.  “God has put this internal, moral conscience within everyone, but when a person dulls the mind with habitual sin, God turns them over to the sin they choose and they just continue like a snowball headed down the hill.” 


Romans 1:25  —  They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.

Romans 1:28-31  —  They did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.  They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity.  They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.  They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.

Jeremiah 9:5-6  —  Friend deceives friend, and no one speaks the truth.  They have taught their tongues to lie; they weary themselves with sinning.  You live in the midst of deception; in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me,” declares the Lord.

Psalm 119:29  —  Keep me from deceitful ways; be gracious to me and teach me your law.

I Peter 3:10  —  Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.


PSALM 120:1-2:

I call on the Lord in my distress,
    and he answers me.
Save me, Lord,
    from lying lips
    and from deceitful tongues.

1292) No Cheating!

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Or, we could try the Ten Commandments…


From “How the Ten Commandments Stop Us From Cheating” by Christian B. Miller, October 18, 2016, at: http://www.christianity.com .  Miller is professor of philosophy at Wake Forest University. He is the director of the Character Project and the philosophy director of the Beacon Project


     Reading the news, you might well conclude that the 2010s are the decade of cheating.  Dozens of runners allegedly broke the eligibility rules to enter the 2015 Boston Marathon.  In 2012, 125 of the students in a Harvard University government class— with 279 students total— were accused of cheating, and 70 were eventually forced to withdraw from Harvard altogether.  In 2015, the hacking of Ashley Madison’s website (“Life is short. Have an affair”) uncovered 37 million users worldwide.

     The world of sports has provided seemingly endless examples.  In 2013 Lance Armstrong admitted that he had cheated, for decades, while bicycling.  Alex Rodriguez missed the whole 2014 Major League Baseball season for cheating.  Russian weightlifters were banned from the 2016 Rio Olympic Games— and though Russia’s Olympic delegation barely escaped a blanket ban for that nation’s history of cheating, the same was not true for the Paralympic Games that followed the Olympics, where the entire Russian team was banned...

     The sheer volume of these cases is enough to make us despair about human character— even if we didn’t have ample evidence from our own, more or less spectacular, moments of dishonesty.  Maybe we are all, deep down, just dishonest people.

     But we don’t just have to speculate.  We live in the age of social psychology, where researchers can actually investigate our hunches about the prevalence of dishonesty.  But surprisingly, the same researchers who have confirmed our worst suspicions— people are very prone to cheat— have also discovered something less expected.  They’ve found a way to practically eliminate cheating altogether.

     First the bad news.  Athletes and celebrities are not alone.  In fact, most people will cheat if given the chance.  A London Business School study had people in a control group take a test with 20 problems.  When the time was up, the test was graded by the experimenters, and each participant was paid $0.50 per correct answer.  On average they solved eight problems correctly.

     Another group took the same test, and also knew that they would get paid $0.50 per correct answer.  But here was the twist:  They were told to grade their own tests and shred their answer keys when they were done— meaning they could report whatever number of correct answers they wanted and get paid accordingly, with no questions asked.  What happened?  They “solved” thirteen  problems correctly.  Could it be that this second group was just that much better at problem solving?  It could be.  But I think we all know what really happened.

     So far, this sounds like more of the same depressing news about dishonesty.  But researchers at the University of Toronto had a really clever idea about how to expand this experiment.  Their control group averaged  3.1 problems solved (these were clearly harder problems).  Then there was the “shredder” group.  For this group, confirming the earlier experiment, the number of problems “solved” went up, to 4.2 on average.

     But— and here is the clever part— the researchers had a third group of participants.  This group was given the same instructions as the “shredders,” with one difference:  They were asked to recall the Ten Commandments before taking and grading the test.  What happened?  On average, this group reported solving just 2.8 problems.  The cheating (presumably) seen in the “shredder” group was entirely gone…

     Explaining the cheating is fairly simple:  Deep down, it seems, most of us would choose to cheat if we thought we could benefit from it and get away with it.  But then why do the Ten Commandments matter so much?  Because we also want to be perceived as honest people both by others and— crucially— by ourselves.  The Ten Commandments serve as a moral reminder of the right way to behave.  Having been given that reminder, it becomes harder to regard ourselves as honest if we then proceed to cheat…

     This is encouraging news.  Most of us are not entirely dishonest people after all.  Truly dishonest people would not care about the Ten Commandments, nor would they care about seeing themselves as honest and let that regulate how much they actually cheat.

     But for most of us, our view of our own characters matters.  We want to think of ourselves as good— and honest— people.

     This discovery has a number of important practical applications.  One is for education.  Cheating is a huge problem in high schools and colleges today.  According to one study, the average rate of cheating while in college is a whopping 86 percent.  But a school’s honor code, if it is taken seriously and used for every paper and test, can serve a similar function as the Ten Commandments.

     In fact, the same researchers at Toronto showed this experimentally.  Control participants averaged 3.4 correct answers.  When given an opportunity to cheat with the shredder, those participants usually did (6.1 correct answers).  But when they first signed an honor code, cheating disappeared (3.1 correct answers).  Strikingly, this was true whether they would be paid $.50 per correct answer, or even $2— four times as much.

     The key, though, is that students actually sign the code.  It can’t just be a nebulous commitment of the school.  It has to be something they are personally committing themselves to.

     Another practical application has to do with cheating on financial paperwork, whether taxes or a company reimbursement form. Such cheating probably results in billions of dollars in losses each year.  Normally the place where you sign your name and pledge that you have completed it honestly comes at the very bottom.  The London Business School researchers found that 79 percent of participants in their study who signed on the bottom of a tax form misreported their earnings.  But when they moved the moral reminder to the top of the form, the percentage of participants misreporting shrank to 37 percent.

     Or consider cheating in relationships.  My wedding ring serves as a daily reminder of the moral commitment I have made to my wife— a reminder to me and to others.

     Christians, of all people, should not be at all surprised by the prevalence of cheating in these experiments (or in society more generally).  Indeed, we could have predicted ahead of time just what the psychologists would end up discovering:  Most of us want to cheat but we also want to think of ourselves as good people.  These are exactly the kind of psychological contortions you’d expect of sinful people.

     But because we ourselves are sinful people, we shouldn’t discount our need for mirrors to our souls—both our temptations and our aspirations. And as it turns out, literal mirrors might work best of all. In another study, when psychologists asked participants to take a test in an empty room for five minutes and then stop when an alarm bell goes off, 71 percent kept going well after five minutes.  But when the participants were seated at a desk with a mirror facing them on the wall, only 7 percent went past five minutes.  A stunning difference.

     We all need mirrors like that— literal or metaphorical.  It might be wearing a cross around one’s neck.  It might be a special bracelet or ring.  It might be a verse that one carries in a pocket or has taped to the office wall.  It could be the simple presence of a Bible in plain sight next to the tax forms or the computer with unfiltered Internet access.

     Thinking that we can get by and not cheat by depending on the goodness of our characters or the strength of our willpower is foolish.  

     We need all the moral help we can get.


In matters of morals, people need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.

–Samuel Johnson  (1709-1784)


Deuteronomy 6:4-9  —  Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates.


Set our hearts on fire with love to thee, O Christ, that in its flame we may love thee with all our heart, with all our mind, with all our soul, and with all our strength, and our neighbors as ourselves; so that, keeping thy commandments, we may glorify thee, the giver of all good gifts.  Amen.

–Eastern Orthodox Church

1191) The Power of a Good Name


By Armstrong Williams, businessman and nationally syndicated columnist (March 1996 column).

     One summer day my father sent me to buy wire and fencing for our farm in Marion County, South Carolina.  At 16, I liked nothing better than getting behind the wheel of our Chevy pickup, but this time there was a damper on my spirits.  My father had told me I’d have to ask for credit at the store.

     Sixteen is a prideful age, when a young man wants respect, not charity.  It was 1976, and the ugly shadow of racism was a fact of life.  I’d seen my friends ask for credit and then stand, head down, while a patronizing store owner questioned whether they were “good for it.”  I knew black youths just like me who were watched like thieves by the store clerk each time they went into a grocery.

     My family was honest.  We paid our debts.  But before harvest, cash was short.  Would the store owner trust us?

     At Davis Brothers General Store, Buck Davis stood behind the register, talking to a middle-aged farmer.  Buck was a tall, weathered man in a red hunting shirt and khaki pants, and I nodded as I passed him on my way to the hardware aisle.  When I brought my purchases to the register, I said carefully, “I need to put this on credit.”

     The farmer gave me an amused, cynical look.  But Buck’s face didn’t change.  “Sure,” he said easily. “Your daddy is always good for it.”  He turned to the other man.  “This here is one of James Williams’s sons.”

     The farmer nodded in a neighborly way.  I was filled with pride.  James Williams’s son.  Those three words had opened a door to an adult’s respect and trust.

     That day I discovered that a good name could bestow a capital of good will of immense value.  The good name my father and mother had earned brought our whole family the respect of our neighbors.  Everyone knew what to expect from a Williams:  a decent person who kept his word and respected himself too much to do wrong.

     We children — eight brothers and two sisters – could enjoy that good name, unearned, unless and until we did something to lose it.  Compromising it would hurt not only the transgressor but also those we loved and those who loved us.  We had a stake in one another — and in ourselves.

     A good name, and the responsibility that came with it, forced us children to be better than we otherwise might be.  We wanted to be thought of as good people, and by acting like good people for long enough, we became pretty decent citizens.

     The desire to keep the respect of a good name propelled me to become the first in our family to go to university.  Eventually, it gave me the initiative to start my own successful public relations firm in Washington, D.C..

     I thought about the power of a good name when I heard Colin Powell say that America needs to restore a sense of shame in its neighborhoods.  He’s right.  If pride in a good name keeps families and neighborhoods straight, a sense of shame is the reverse side of that coin.

     Doing drugs, abusing alcohol, stealing, getting a young woman pregnant out of wedlock — today, none of these behaviors are the deep embarrassment they should be.  Nearly one out of three births in America is to an unwed mother.  Many of these children will grow up without the security and guidance of a caring father and mother committed to each other.

     Once the social ties and mutual obligations of the family disintegrate, communities fall apart.  Politicians may boast that crime is falling, but while the population has increased only 40 percent since 1960, violent crime in America has increased a staggering 550 percent — and we’ve become used to it.  Teen drug abuse is rising again.  No neighborhood is immune…

     Cultural influences such as television and movies portray mostly a world in which respect goes to the most violent.  Life is considered cheap.

     Meanwhile, the small signs of civility and respect that sustain civilization are vanishing from schools, stores and streets.  Phrases like “yes, ma’am,” “no, sir,” “thank you” and “please” show self-respect and respect for others.  Yet, encouraged by the pervasive profanity on television and in music, kids don’t think twice about aggressive and vulgar language.

     Many of today’s kids have failed because their sense of shame has failed.  They were born into families with poor reputations, not caring about keeping a good name.

     Today, when I’m back home, I receive respect because of the good name passed on as my father’s patrimony and upheld to this day by me and my siblings.  People like Buck Davis came to know of my success in the world.  But it was my family’s good name that paved the way.

     Keeping a good name is rewarded not only by outsiders’ esteem but when those who know you best put their confidence in you.  In the last months of his life Daddy, typically, worried more about my mother than about his illness.  He wanted to spare her the grief of watching him die at home.  So he came to me.

     By then I was living and working in Washington, D. C.  When Daddy arrived from South Carolina, I had him admitted to a nearby hospital.  For two months, I spent every day sitting by his bedside.  Both of us knew he had little time left.

     When he was not in too much pain to talk, he would ask about the family.  He wanted to be sure he had met his responsibilities in this world.  On the last day, I was there with him as he passed away.

     My daddy had never been rich or powerful.  But in his dying, he gave me a last gift:  his faith that I was the man he had wanted me to be.  By trusting me to care for him at the moment of his passing, he showed not only his love, but his pride and confidence in me.

     After all, I was James Williams’s son — a Williams of Marion, South Carolina —  and a Williams would do right.


Proverbs 22:1  —  A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.

Proverbs 3:1-4  —  My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity.  Let love and faithfulness never leave you… write them on the tablet of your heart.  Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.


 I confess and ask for your grace, because I have so often in my life sinfully spoke with malice and contempt against other people.  They depend on me for their honor and reputation, just as I depend on them for the same.  Help us all to obey this commandment, giving our neighbor the benefit of the doubt, and explaining their actions in the kindest way.  Amen.

–Martin Luther, prayer on the 8th commandment

698) I. RULES, Excuses, Forgiveness


EXODUS 20:1-4…7-8…12-17:

God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

You shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below...

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy….

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house… or anything that belongs to your neighbor.


     These are the Ten Commandments as they were given to Moses by God on Mt. Sinai.  The Ten Commandments are rules, and what do we like to say about rules?  Nobody likes to be boxed in by rules, so we sometimes say, “Rules are made to be broken.”  This is a common expression that is often said by someone who wants to break a rule.  “Rules are made to be broken– ha, ha, ha,” and off we go to break a rule.  But when someone is in charge of enforcing the rules, then you don’t hear them saying, “Rules are made to be broken.”  You don’t hear parents telling their six year old who just told them a big lie, “Oh well, rules are made to be broken.”  And you don’t hear teachers telling their pupils who are standing on their desks and throwing books all over the room, “Oh well, rules are made to be broken.”  And you don’t hear policemen telling the drunken driver who just ran a red light and hit another car, “Oh well, rules are made to be broken.”

     And you don’t hear God telling anyone that either.  In Leviticus 19:37 and many other places you hear God saying, “Keep ALL my decrees and ALL my laws and FOLLOW them, for I am the Lord your God.”  PERIOD.   That’s what we hear from God in the Bible.  And in response to that, also in the Bible, we read expressions of gratitude and praise to God for his laws and commands and decrees.  Imagine that; giving thanks for rules!  On many pages of the Bible there is expressed a deep appreciation for the guidance God gives and the order God brings to the world by the giving of his Law; not only in the written word, but also by the imprinting the law on every human heart in what we know as our conscience.  There are many expressions of praise and thanks to God in the Bible for his laws.  The longest chapter in the whole Bible is Psalm 119.  There are 176 verses in that one chapter, and the theme of that Psalm is giving thanks to God for his law.  One of the best known verses is verse 105 which says, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”  If it wasn’t for the Word of God’s Law we would have no way to see our way through the darkness of this world.

     Not only that, but verse 45 of that same Psalm says, “I will walk about in FREEDOM, for I have sought out your rules, O Lord.”  That is not what we are used to hearing or thinking.  The Psalmist says he can walk about in freedom because of the rules.  We usually think we are more free when we forget the rules; ‘rules are made to be broken,’ and all that.  But here God’s Word is telling us that we have a better chance of walking around in freedom when the rules are kept.

     But is this so difficult to imagine?  Are you more free to walk around in a quiet neighborhood where most people keep the rules most of the time; or, in a neighborhood where some people feel freed up from the rules enough to shoot guns through windows as they drive by, sell drugs on the corner, and beat up and steal from whoever is weaker than they are?  Where is there more freedom– where rules are kept or where rules are broken?  The answer is obvious, and it is the same in neighborhoods, schools, homes, and businesses.  

     Yes, we all get irritated with stupid rules, and there are plenty of those, and some of those might need to be broken once in a while (see quote at the end of today’s meditation).  But that cannot blind us to the fact that human life together is possible only with rules, and we must be diligent in our obedience of God’s rules.  (continued…)


PSALM 119:25-31:

I am laid low in the dust;
    preserve my life according to your word.
I gave an account of my ways and you answered me;
    teach me your decrees.
Cause me to understand the way of your precepts,
    that I may meditate on your wonderful deeds.
My soul is weary with sorrow;
    strengthen me according to your word.
Keep me from deceitful ways;
    be gracious to me and teach me your law.
I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
    I have set my heart on your laws.
I hold fast to your statutes, Lord;
    do not let me be put to shame.

I run in the path of your commands,
    for you have broadened my understanding.


Amy Grant and Michael Smith sing “Thy Word is a Lamp Unto My Feet” at:


Rules are made to be broken– true.  Also true is that breaking rules out of ignorance leads to disaster, while breaking them from knowledge can lead to the truly special.  It can also lead to disaster.  Don’t break rules unless you know them well enough to know when they shouldn’t apply.

–Charles von Rospach

455) Who is Doing What for Who? (part two of two)

     (…continued)  What then of the commands?  The Bible is certainly full of them, and it certainly does seem at times that life would be a whole lot easier if we didn’t always have our conscience telling us to do this and not do that.  Telling a lie would often times be so much more convenient, but there is the Bible, telling us to be truthful.  Other people can be so annoying at times, and in our hearts we may wish for them the worst, but there is the Bible telling us to love other people and be forgiving of them.  And speaking of other people, it is so much fun to talk about them and their foolish behavior; but then there is the catechism explanation of the eighth commandment, telling us not to slander or even gossip about others, but rather, explain their actions in the kindest way.  And we put so much into making and spending money.  Yes, we do have to make a living, but did you ever notice what a casual attitude Jesus has toward such concerns, and how he is always warning about the dangers of getting too wrapped up in the pursuit of money and possessions?  And despite what the seventh commandment says about stealing, I just the other day read yet another article by someone in business would said that they would never be able to make it if they were honest.  Their competition, they said, were always dishonest, and an honest person would never get ahead in the world of business.  And then Jesus is always talking about giving of your time and money to help other people; and isn’t that a burden when it would be so much easier to just take care of ourselves?  What does Jesus mean when he says his yoke is easy and his burden is light?  It would almost seem that it would be a whole lot easier to not be a Christian.  It would seem that one could get rid of a whole bunch of burdens by not believing in Jesus.

     But when one thinks more deeply about these commands of the Bible, it becomes clear that our obedience to the commands of God is also a way of making our burden lighter.  The morality commanded in the Bible, which can seem like such a burden, does in fact make life easier– if and when it is obeyed.  Jesus summary of the whole Law, that little sentence that we call the Golden Rule, makes the case simply and powerfully.  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is all it says, but that can be a very helpful guide in thinking about these things.  Yes, you might find it convenient to tell an occasional lie to someone else, but do you ever want to be told anything but the truth?  And which way is easier in the long run?  Isn’t it easier to have a relationship with someone you can always trust than with someone who you know from past experience does not always tell the truth and can never be trusted?  Even little lies, once discovered, destroy trust, and that always makes a relationship much more difficult.  And does dishonesty really make things better in business?  Does it help the thousands of people that lose their jobs and pensions because of greed and corruption in the upper levels of management?  And yes, the obligation to help other people can be additional burden; that is, until we are the ones who need the help, and we all get our turn at needing help.  These are just a few examples, but the same principle holds true for all of God’s Law.  Obeying the commandments of God may seem like a burden in the short term, but breaking the commandments always, in the long run, makes things more difficult for someone.  Thus, even the commands of God are a gift, something God has done for us, giving us a guide as to how to live life best and make it easier on ourselves and others.

     Therefore, these words of Jesus apply to both the commands of God and the promises of God.  Life in this world has many burdens, but our faith in God is not one of them.  That faith is what gives us the wisdom and the strength and the eternal hope that can enable us to bear any burden.  


I Peter 5:7  —  Cast all your cares on God, for he cares about you.

Matthew 11:28-30  —  (Jesus said),  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Psalm 119:105  —   Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.

Luke 6:31  —  (Jesus said), “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”


Almighty, everlasting God, Lord, heavenly Father, whose Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our way:  Open and enlighten my mind that I may understand thy Word purely, clearly, devoutly, and then, having understood it aright, fashion my life in accord with it, in order that I may never displease thy majesty; through Jesus Christ, thy Son, our dear Lord.  Amen. 

–Johannes Bugenhagen    (1485-1558)