Telling the Truth (Exodus 20:16)

We've been looking at Ten Values to Build Strong Families. We've been looking at how God's guidelines for life result in stronger families and better lives. Today we're coming to the ninth value. Exodus 20:16 says, "Do not testify falsely against your neighbors." Leviticus 19:11 simplifies it for us when it says, "Do not lie."

At the start of the new millennium, Redbook Magazine published seven New Year's Resolutions for a Better Marriage. "Forget those marriage-enhancing touching games and getting up a half hour early to spend 'quality time' with your spouse," the article said. "These 60-second strategies are guaranteed to get your marriage off to the right start in the new millennium without requiring much change on your part." That's my kind of change. How can you improve your marriage? Greet him at the door when he comes home. Hold that kiss an extra ten seconds. Reach out and touch him. Turn off the boob tube. The sixth key to a healthy marriage, according to Redbook Magazine? "Tell a lie."

All of God's commandments seem to make sense in improving our families and our lives. We can see how putting God first, avoiding workaholic tendencies, and affair-proofing our marriages can improve our lives and relationships. But today's value seems to be a relationship-threatening value. How will telling the truth improve my relationships? Won't telling the truth just alienate those around me?

Some of the lies that we tell in our families can be not only marriage-saving, they can be lifesaving. Rate yourself on how likely you would be to lie when asked questions like this: "Honey, do I look fat in this outfit?" "Is my bald spot getting bigger?" "Do you think I'm a good cook?" "Do you ever regret marrying me?" Sometimes it seems easier to lie.

We've gone from valuing the truth to stretching the truth. We live in a culture of spin and dishonesty. We use words like white lie, whopper, fish story, and fib. We live in an age in which it's expected that politicians and executive leaders will lie - even under oath. President Clinton asked his court questioners to define the meaning of the word is. There are no longer any objective standards of truth.

91% of us lie regularly. 64% of us would lie for convenience. Only 31% agree with the statement, "Honesty is the best policy." 32% believe that they've been lied to by a clergyman.

We lie all the time in our families. 86% lie regularly to parents. 73% lie to their siblings. 69% admit that they lie to their spouses.

Why should I tell the truth? How will the truth improve my relationships? And what steps can I take to become more truthful? We're going to look at these questions today.

But before we look at how and why to tell the truth, we need to figure out what lying actually is. You're not lying when you don't divulge everything you know. For instance, you're not lying when your child asks, "Where do babies come from?" and you give an incomplete answer. You're not lying if someone asks you today, "How are you?" and you don't mention the fight you had on the way to church, not to mention your medical history and financial situation. Telling the truth doesn't mean that you have to tell people everything you know about every subject.

You're also not lying in many inconsequential social arrangements. Some have argued that makeup is a form of deception. Other people say that playing card games such as Cheat or Poker is lying. Sometimes, in telling a joke, there is deception until the punch line is delivered. A quarterback will sometimes fake a throw. You may put your lights on a timer so it looks like you're home when you're not. I don't know many people who would make a strong argument that deception is wrong in these circumstances. Jesus himself encouraged his disciples to use makeup when they were fasting. Toupees aren't a serious form of lying. These are inconsequential. They're not important.

There are also exceptional circumstances in which lying is the lesser evil. The Egyptian midwives were right to lie when they were ordered to kill all male Hebrew babies. It was okay for citizens to hide Jews from the Nazis. But the truth is that these are exceptional circumstances. They're not everyday life. When it comes to everyday life, God says, "Do not lie." God calls us to be truthful in our relationships.

What is lying, then? Lying is intentionally misleading. You can lie with your words. You can lie by telling a half truth. You can lie without even speaking.

It reminds me of a man named Mr. Myrick, who had to go on a business trip. He persuaded his brother to look after his cat in his absence, even though his brother hated cats.

When Mr. Myrick returned back home, he phoned from the airport to see how his cat was. "Your cat died," the brother reported, and then hung up.

Mr. Myrick was devastated. His grief was magnified by his brother's insensitivity. He called again to express his pain. "You didn't have to be so blunt," he said."

"What was I supposed to say," asked the perplexed brother.

"You could have broken the news gradually," explained Myrick. "You could have said, 'The cat was playing on the roof.' Then, later in the conversation, you could have said, 'He fell off.' Then you could have said, 'He broke his leg.' Then when I came to pick him up, you could have said, 'I'm so sorry. Your cat passed away during the night.' You've got to learn to be more tactful. By the way, how's Mom?"

After a long pause, the brother replied, "She's playing on the roof."

How can I be honest in a dishonest world? How can I tell the truth?

1. ANTICIPATE THE TEMPTATION

Leonard Sweet, in his Soul Café newsletter, has written a top-ten list of lies. See if you can relate to any of them:

10. We'll stay only five minutes.
9. This will be a short meeting.
8. I'll respect you in the morning.
7. The check is in the mail.
6. I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you.
5. This hurts me more than it hurts you.
4. Your money will be cheerfully refunded.
3. We service what we sell.
2. Your table will be ready in just a minute.
1. I'll start exercising, or dieting, or forgiving tomorrow.

When you think about it, there are specific times that you know you're going to be tempted to lie. It may be at a certain point at work. It may be in your marriage. You've got to anticipate the temptation so you can deal with it.

Augustine said there are eight different kinds of lies. Mark Twain said there are 869 kinds of lies. In essence, though, there are three broad categories of lies. Ask yourself which of these types of lies you are tempted to commit most often:

LIES TO PROTECT OTHERS - These are what you call "white lies." We sometimes lie to protect others. "I love your dress!" "I'd like to stay later, but we have to get home because of the babysitter." "You haven't aged a bit." "Thank you - I love this gift." We're tempted to lie all of the time to protect others. This motivation can be good, but lying to protect others can cause problems.

We don't have to be brutally honest in all of our relationships. There is a place for tact. But lies can damage relationships instead of protecting them. Proverbs 29:25 says, "Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but to trust the LORD means safety." Your life will be full of lies of you're afraid of other people. The Bible teaches in Proverbs 28:23, "In the end, people appreciate frankness more than flattery." Honesty is a lot better than avoiding conflict.

LIES TO PROMOTE YOUR INTERESTS - These are the lies that get you ahead. "The dog ate my homework." In 1993, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey decided to find out how many applicants falsify resumes. They ran an ad for electricians with expertise using Sontag connectors. There is no such thing as a Sontag connector. But they still received 170 resumes. It's estimated that 40% of people pad their resume. 92% say that they lie to save f ace. Many of us are tempted to lie in order to promote our interests.

You may have seen the commercial of the couple talking over the phone. They're obviously just getting to know each other, and the guy is trying to impress her with his knowledge of her favorite topics. Everything she mentions, he quickly types into the keyboard and searches over the Internet so he can sound intelligent. Most relationships start out this way. We try to present our best face. We lie to look better than we really are. Some relationships never get past this stage. They keep sweeping stuff under the carpet. The pile gets bigger and bigger. Don't lie to promote your own interests.

LIES TO CAUSE DAMAGE - The Bible calls this slander. You can use this to get even with someone. You misrepresent them to make them look bad, and also so you will look better. Why do we do this? Jealousy, hate, anger, resentment. I'm amazed at how tempting it can be to badmouth someone. We're tempted to do this all the time.

Leviticus 19:16 says, "Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people." Proverbs 17:9 says, "Disregarding another person's faults preserves love; telling about them separates close friends." If you're tempted to lie and be cruel, anticipate that temptation. It will help you to be prepared for when you are angry or hurt.

How do you conquer lying? You've got to be prepared. The lying isn't the problem. The real problem is your motivation. Once you understand your motivation, you can then deal with the real issue. Anticipate the temptation.

2. ACCEPT GOD'S STANDARDS OF TRUTH

The second step is to accept God's standards of truth. We live in an age in which everyone is lying. Time Magazine did an article called "Lying: Everybody's Doing It." The article asks, "Is anyone around here telling the truth?"

Many people today believe that there is no such thing as truth. "Whatever is right for you is right for you and nobody else has a right to question it." "I can believe whatever I want, no matter how inherently contradictory or logically flawed my belief is." "You have a right to define truth any way you feel is appropriate - as long as you don't impose that belief on others." A 1990 article in Child magazine said this:

The Old View: Lying, like other issues of morality, was seen only in black and white. Children were taught that all lying was bad, deserving of strict punishment, and frequently reminded that "lying will make your nose grow as long as Pinocchio's." The New View: Today, some lying is considered normal. In fact, a child's first few lies are seen as an important step in the development of the self.

We have a choice. We can accept the culture's standards of truth. Or we can accept God's standards of truth. What are God's standards of truth? Psalm 34:12-13 says, "Do any of you want to live a life that is long and good? Then watch your tongue! Keep your lips from telling lies!" We need to understand God's perspective on the truth.

The Bible says that God is truth. Hebrews 6:18 says, "It is impossible for God to lie." For a Christian, every word either affirms that God is truth, or it denies that God is truth. We are called to speak only the truth because God is truth.

We're also called to speak the truth because lying is Satan's native language. Jesus said these words about Satan in John 8:44: "He was a murderer from the beginning and has always hated the truth. 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." Every time we lie, we're going against God's character and using the language of Satan. We're speaking in Satan's mother tongue whenever we lie.

Your lying isn't really the problem. Your heart is the problem. Jesus said, "For from the heart come evil thoughts...lying, and slander" (Matthew 15:19). Another time, Jesus said, "Whatever is in your heart determines what you say" (Matthew 12:34). That's why God is so concerned about lying. What's going on in your heart determines what will come out of your mouth.

So what's the solution? The only way to stop lying, if you want to be a person of integrity, is to get a new heart. Jesus specializes in heart transplants. He says, "Let me fill your heart with love instead of selfishness and joy and peace instead of hate and confidence instead of insecurity and energy and power instead of laziness." Jesus said, "I am the truth." The closer you get to Jesus Christ the more you're going to love the truth and speak the truth, the more you're going to live the truth. You need a new heart.

Job 27:2-4 says, "I make this vow by the living God...As long as I live, while I have breath from God, my lips will speak no evil, and my tongue will speak no lies." Proverbs 30:7-8 says, "O God...help me never to tell a lie." Accept God's standards of truth.

3. APPLY TRUTH-TELLING SKILLS

If you're going to tell the truth, you're also going to need truth-telling skills. Otherwise you're going to damage everyone around you. Nobody wants searing honesty. You've got to learn some truth-telling skills.

How can I tell the truth God's way? SPEAK THE TRUTH CONSISTENTLY. That way people won't have to guess. They'll know that whatever you say is truthful. 80% truthful isn't enough. Ephesians 4:25 says, "Put away all falsehood and 'tell your neighbor the truth,' because we all belong to each other."

If you've been lying in your marriage, or in your job, you've got to start today to be truthful - and stick with it. It's going to take others a while to get used to you. They're going to wonder how long it's going to last. You need to develop credibility with others, so that when you speak, people will know that you're speaking the truth.

Another principle is this: SPEAK THE TRUTH LOVINGLY. This is especially important when you have something difficult to say. Ephesians 4:29 says, "Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them." People need encouragement. An old Arab saying goes like this: "When you shoot an arrow dip it in honey first." The more truthful you're going to be, the more loving you need to be as well.

When I first got married, I became very good at speaking the truth. But I made a mistake. I didn't speak the truth in love. I didn't extend the grace to my wife that she deserved. She's taught me that because she's much better at that than I am.

People are always more receptive in hearing something when you speak the truth in love and believe the best about them. People always resist the truth when it's perceived as an attack. Even if it's true, it won't go anywhere. The truth is only effective when it's joined in love.

How do you know if you're speaking the truth in love? Here's a simple truth: who is going to benefit from what you say? If you're going to feel a lot better having said it, then don't say it. You can't afford to. You're not speaking to help and love the other person. You're speaking to get something off your chest. It will be the best speech you'll ever wish you'd never made.

But if it's going to be for their benefit - if it's going to be encouraging for them - then go ahead and say it. "Let everything you say be good and helpful."

SPEAK THE TRUTH TACTFULLY. Proverbs 16:23 says, "From a wise mind comes wise speech; the words of the wise are persuasive." You have to think in order to speak with wisdom. It takes tactfulness. You need to plan your presentation. You need to think about what you're going to say and how it will be received.

Proverbs 12:18 says, "Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing." Your words have enormous power. You need to speak the truth in such a way that you're being consistent, loving, and tactful. Never speak the truth without these three qualities.

Over a year ago, I heard a simple question that has changed my life. The question I heard was this: "What is the most positive way to say it?" At first I thought this question was asking me to be dishonest. I thought that positive and truthful couldn't go together. But I was wrong. You can be honest - and at the same time you can be positive. You can be loving. You can be tactful.

Proverbs 16:21 says, "Gracious words add to one's reputation" (The Message). Nagging doesn't work. Nagging has never once improved a relationship. It destroys; it doesn't build up. Criticism only makes you defensive. Most people already feel guilty. You don't have to make them feel guiltier. Whatever you say, say positively. Always speak with a humble, loving attitude. Apply the truth-telling skills of the Bible.

4. ASK GOD FOR HELP

In Psalm 141:3, David prayed, "Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips." If the tongue is so powerful, we do well to ask God to guard what we say.

One of our prayers every day should be, "God, please help me control my mouth. Help me to tame my tongue." Our words have power, and we need to ask God to help us use that power appropriately. David prayed in Psalm 19:14, "May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer."

The Bible says, "Do not lie." In a culture which is filled to the brim with lies, we are called to improve our relationships by being truthful. We're called to pray with the proverb-writer, who said, "O God...help me never to tell a lie" (Proverbs 30:8).

Let's pray.

You may be here thinking, "I've blown it. I've been dishonest. It's been hurting my relationships. There are some tough steps that I need to take in coming clean. It's going to be hard."

The first step toward honesty is to admit your dishonesty. You need to come to God and say, "God, I'm a liar. Sometimes I don't always tell the truth. Sometimes I tell half-truths. I need your help. I need you to forgive me."

We've all lied. We've all blown it in this area. But we can all receive forgiveness. You can pray to ask God to forgive you, to give you the power to change, and to ask him to give you a new heart. Pray these words: "Father, forgive me. I want you to change me. I know it will take time, but I want to put you in charge of my life. I want to receive a new heart and receive a fresh start."

Father, give us the foresight to anticipate the temptation to be dishonest. Give us the commitment to accept your Word as our standard of truthfulness. Give us the humility and the love that we need to speak truth. And we pray, most of all, that you would give us your power to live God's way. May our families and our lives be different, because we dare to follow your command, "Do not lie." In Jesus' name, Amen.

Prospering with Integrity (Exodus 20:15)

As you know, today is Father's Day. I thought that some of you may need help in finding an appropriate Father's Day present, so I've been keeping my eyes open for the past few weeks to help you find a really good Father's Day present.

For those of you that are cheap, I notice that Shoppers Drug Mart has a Mach 3 blade with an all-in-one gadget gizmo inside at a special price of $8.99. In fact, I just happen to have one here with me - for illustration purposes, of course.

I've found a number of suggestions this week for Father's Day. Here's just a sampling. Amazon.com's top-selling Father's Day gift is the DVD version of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. That's not too expensive, but don't forget that some of us fathers don't have a DVD player. Those are conveniently priced starting at $249.99.

Here are some other gifts I've seen advertised for Father's Day: digital cameras, a folding chair with a built-in footrest, Global Positioning Satellite modules, Palm organizers, digital compasses, and Smokey Joe's Tuck-n-Carry Grill. I have to say that it's a lot more exciting than what they offer at Mother's Day - at least for me. I have more fun thinking about all this stuff than I would get from owning all of it.

I have a problem - it's a disease called consumerism. Consumerism is the attitude that values acquiring more stuff. Consumerism makes you want to buy more than what you can afford, because what you already have isn't good enough or because there's something else that's more up to date. Playwright Arthur Miller says, "Years ago a person, he was unhappy, didn't know what to do with himself-he'd go to church, start a revolution-something. Today you're unhappy? Can't figure it out? What is the salvation? Go shopping."

We're at the point in our series on the Ten Commandments that God gives us a value of how to accumulate possessions properly. It's one that's so important that God gives us two commandments on this topic. We spend a lot of time accumulating stuff and thinking about accumulating stuff. What does the Bible have to say about accumulating things his way?

Exodus 20:15 says, "Do not steal." It's amazing the number of ways that we steal. I looked up the word steal and came up with twelve synonyms. It's amazing the ways that we can think of ripping other people off to get ahead ourselves. According to the Bible, there are more ways to steal than to just shoplift (Leviticus 6:1-7). I've listed seven ways that we do this, and there are many more.

1. DECEIVING CUSTOMERS

This has been a problem for many years. Amos 8:5 says, "You measure out your grain in false measures and weigh it out on dishonest scales." Have you ever been deceived when you've bought something? When you make a repair that isn't necessary, when you conveniently neglect to mention some items in the fine print, when you sell a car but don't tell them what's wrong with it, that's called stealing. It happens all the time.

In my first job - I think I was 15 - I worked at an ice cream shop. The boss tried to teach me how to scoop ice cream hollow. The scoops would be huge, but there would be nothing inside.

We do this too in real estate. You know the language. "Starter home" means one bedroom, no bath. "A real challenge" means that the place was hit by a bomb. "Handyman's dream" means you may as well tear the place down and start all over. A fixer-upper means a total wreck.

Proverbs 20:23 says, "The LORD despises double standards; he is not pleased by dishonest scales." We're not to deceive customers.

2. DISREGARDING COPYRIGHTS

This is a new one. When we disregard copyrights - when we copy music, use unlicensed software, when we plagiarize, we're stealing.

Many of us have unlicensed software. Experts estimate that 33% of the software out there is being used by people who didn't pay for it. We look at the CD, and we think, "This won't hurt Microsoft." We'd never think of stealing from a store, but we steal when we use software on our computers that we haven't paid for.

We also steal when we disregard the copyright on media - music and movies. You can go on the Internet and download entire movies that are playing in the theatre right now. You can play music of CDs that other people bought. With today's computers, you can easily duplicate CDs and DVDs. It's easy to copy these things - but it's also immoral. It's stealing. But we usually find a way to tell ourselves it's okay.

I've been in churches where this happens. They're photocopying copyrighted music or books because they don't want to buy more copies. It's too expensive. The irony is they're using it to worship God or to teach others about the Bible. This is called stealing. Don't disregard copyrights. In fact, some of us may need to go and remove some of this material from our homes. You can pull out your Palms and do it right now. Don't steal by disregarding copyrights.

3. DEFRAUDING EMPLOYERS

48% of employers admit to stealing from their employers. A man was being interviewed for a new job. "Why were you discharged from your last position?" The reply: "I was overly ambitious. I wanted to take work home with me." The next question: "What was your last employer?" "First National Bank." There are a lot of people who take work home with them - literally.

I'm not just talking about taking office supplies or tools home, or padding your expense account. There are subtle ways of stealing from your employer too. We can steal from our employers by coming in late, leaving early, and taking a long lunch. God says that's stealing. Don't steal from your employer.

4. DELAYING PAYMENTS

Leviticus 19:13 says, "Always pay your hired workers promptly." That's another way we end up stealing. We delay payments. We say, "The check's in the mail." It's saying "Payment due upon receipt" and then not paying your bills for 6 months. When you do that, you're using other people's capital for your own benefit. It's stealing. Don't do it.

There's another, more personal way that we can end up stealing:

5. DEFAULTING ON LOANS

This is very common. Many people default on their loans. One in six Ontario Student Loans were in default last year. Personal bankruptcies in Canada have soared from about 20,000 in 1980 to 75,000 today. A lot of people borrow with no intention of paying back. Others use bankruptcy as an easy way to get out of debt. Psalm 37:21 says, "The wicked borrow and never repay, but the godly are generous givers." It's stealing if you decide to default on your loans.

This applies to more than just money. Anybody here ever borrow garden tools from a neighbor? What's in your garage or your basement that you need to return to somebody? Long-term borrowing is a form of stealing.

6. DECEIVING THE GOVERNMENT

Deceiving the government is a form of stealing. Romans 13 says:

Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid so they can keep on doing the work God intended them to do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and import duties, and give respect and honor to all to whom it is due. (Romans 13:6-7)

There's a big difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion. Tax avoidance means that we don't pay more tax than legally required. It means that we take advantage of legal ways to reduce our tax bill, such as charitable contributions and pension plans. There's no reason why you shouldn't do that. But tax evasion is stealing. It's when you don't report all the income you've earned. It's when you pay or accept money under the table. Tax evasion is illegal. It's called stealing. The Bible says, don't do that.

There's one more way to steal:

7. DEFRAUDING THE LORD

Malachi 3:8 says, "Should people cheat God? Yet you have cheated me! But you ask, 'What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?' You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me." The Bible say s that we're stealing when we don't honor the Lord by giving him the first and the best part of our income. God says that if you pay your bills before you pay God, you're stealing from him. You're taking money that belongs to God and using it for something else. That's stealing.

A pastor was preaching through the Ten Commandments. A guy in his church came up after the service and said, "You're really preaching the Word in this series. It's great." He said this each commandment, each week, until "Don't steal," and the guy came up and said "Now you've quit preaching and started meddling."

This is where it gets personal. It's easy to talk about other people's sins. But many of us have been stealing. You may have been stealing, and you weren't even aware of it. You may have some difficult steps you need to take as a result of this verse.

Proverbs 16:8 gives us an important principle. This verse says, "It is better to be poor and godly than rich and dishonest." This verse tells us that you're better off to be poor and godly than to be rich because you've stolen. You're really better off without whatever it is you have that you shouldn't. The Bible says you're better off with lower profits, or paying more taxes, or taking the trouble to pay off all your loans, or without those programs on your computer. You're better off when you give your best and first to the Lord. Why? Because you'll have your integrity. Your integrity is worth much more than anything that you could ever steal.

You may be thinking, "It's no big deal. You're making it sound like I robbed a Brink's truck. It's really no big deal." The Bible says that it is a big deal. The little things are more important than you could ever realize. Jesus said in Luke 16:10, "Unless you are faithful in small matters, you won't be faithful in large ones. If you cheat even a little, you won't be honest with greater responsibilities." There's no such thing as a small theft. How you handle the small stuff is exactly how you'll handle the big stuff. There's really no difference.

This is a big deal. It's a big deal to your family. Why should I be honest? Why should I go to the trouble of being completely above board? The Bible tells us there are four reasons why we need to be honest:

1. STEALING DISPLEASES GOD

Deuteronomy 25:16 says, "Those who cheat with dishonest weights and measures are detestable to the LORD your God." That's pretty strong language. Whenever you're dishonest in your dealings, you're displeasing God. Job 34:21 says, "For God carefully watches the way people live; he sees everything they do." God is watching the way we live. God knows whether or not we're being honest in all of our dealings. If we want God to bless our lives, and bless our families, we can't steal.

It's amazing to me how we get this wrong. We say, "God, bless my finances." Meanwhile, we're not giving to him. We're padding our expense report. We're not reporting income. We say, "God, give me enough money to live." We expect God to bless our finances even though we're not following any of God's principles. We expect God to bless us despite the fact that we're stealing. Stealing displeases God.

We say to God, "Lord, bless my business." Meanwhile, we're taking money under the table, delaying payments, and taking money out of the till once in a while without reporting it as income. God would say, "Run your business my way, and then you can come and ask me to bless it."

Proverbs 11:1 tells us, "The LORD hates cheating, but he delights in honesty." Do you want to delight God? Then don't steal. That's the first reason that we need to be honest. Anything else displeases God.

2. STEALING DAMAGES MYSELF AND MY FAMILY

Whenever we are less than honest, we're doing incalculable damage to ourselves. Proverbs 1:19 says, "Such is the fate of all who are greedy for gain. It ends up robbing them of life." Proverbs 10:2 tells us, "Ill-gotten gain has no lasting value, but right living can save your life."

This doesn't just affect you. It affects your entire family. If you're not honest, you end up damaging your kids, your spouse. Listen to Proverbs 15:27: "Dishonest money brings grief to the whole family." You don't want to do that to your family. You're damaging yourself, but you're also damaging those around you. The Bible says, don't do that.

How does it end up damaging you and those around you? The Bible gives a principle that you've probably heard many times. It's found in Galatians 6:7-9: "You will always reap what you sow! Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful desires will harvest the consequences of decay and death. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit." This is a principle. It doesn't say sometimes. It says, "You will always reap what you sow." If you cheat other people, you're going to reap the rewards. If you are not honest, there will be a consequence. A lack of honesty always carries a high price.

There's another reason why we shouldn't steal:

3. THE BENEFITS OF STEALING DON'T LAST

Sure, you get ahead in the short term if you steal. But the benefits of stealing never last. Proverbs 21:6 reads, "Wealth created by lying is a vanishing mist and a deadly trap." Proverbs 13:22 says, "Ill-gotten wealth ends up with good people" (The Message).

It really doesn't pay to be dishonest in the long run. It's really like all sin. It's fun up front, but the consequences just aren't worth it. You'll be much better off if you choose to live God's way.

One more reason why you should be honest:

4. STEALING DISRESPECTS OTHERS

Romans 13:9-10 says:

For the commandments against adultery and murder and stealing and coveting-and any other commandment-are all summed up in this one commandment: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to anyone, so love satisfies all of God's requirements.

All of God's commandments can be summarized by these two: love God and love others. Whenever we steal, we're getting at the root problem of what's wrong with our souls. The real problem isn't that we steal. That's the symptom. The real problem is that we have a heart condition. The real problem is that our heart is bad. We love ourselves more than we love God, more than we love our neighbors.

That's why the Bible is clear that thieves won't have a part in God's kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). The problem goes deeper than stealing. The problem is one that the Bible calls sin.

Do you remember the story of Zacchaeus? Zacchaeus was that short guy who climbed a tree to see Jesus. He was a tax collector. In the Roman tax system, tax collectors weren't paid, but they could skim off the top whatever they could collect. They were the wealthiest people in town, and the most hated.

In Luke 19, Jesus told Zacchaeus, "I must be a guest in your home today" (Luke 19:5). That was quite a scandal. Jesus was going to the home of the most dishonest person in town. People wondered why Jesus would ever choose to do such a thing.

When Jesus made it to his house, Zacchaeus realized that what he had been doing was wrong. Listen to what he said: "I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have overcharged people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!" (Luke 19:8) That's called restitution. Zacchaeus realized that what he had done was wrong, and he was willing to take steps to correct the situation. Jesus said in response, "Salvation has come to this home today...I, the Son of Man, have come to seek and save those like him who are lost" (Luke 19:9-10).

We're going to continue to observe the Lord's Table in a few minutes. You and I are in the same position as Zacchaeus. Jesus has chosen to dine with us. That's what the Lord's Table is. It's having a meal with Jesus to remember his death.

I believe that the Spirit has prompted some of us today to realize, "I haven't been completely honest. There have been some shortcuts that I've taken. It may be accept able in other people's eyes, but I believe that God sees it as stealing. I've got to take steps to get it right."

If that's you today, there are steps that you can take. The Bible says, "Do not steal." What can I do if I've stolen?

The first thing you can do is to GET RIGHT WITH GOD. You can come to God today and say, "God, forgive me. I've done wrong. I need your forgiveness. I need you to fix my heart problem." We're going to pray in a few minutes, and I'm going to give you an opportunity to do just that.

The second step you can take is to GET RIGHT WITH OTHERS. Maybe you need to go home and return some items. You need to repay some debts. You need to contact Canada Customs and Revenue and let them know about some income that you haven't reported.

If we think hard enough, I'm sure we can all remember times that we've taken advantage of others and we've never made amends. It might have been an employer. It may have been your kid sister when you were in school. Whatever. Make amends. How do you do this? The Bible calls this restitution. Sign a note and say, "I'm a follower of Jesus Christ. I want to apologize for not being honest with you. I'm returning the money that I owe you. Please forgive me."

One man said, "I could never do that. They would think less of me as a Christian." He did anyway, and his boss told him that he had a lot more respect now. Whatever it takes, get right with others. Return what you've taken.

The third step that you can take is to GIVE GOD HIS DUE. That means that beginning today, you give to God before you pay your bills. Don't give God what's his after you see what you have left. Give God your first and your best. Give God what is his.

Finally, MAKE A LIVING HONESTLY. This may involve a career change. It may be that you can't work where you do right now because there's so much dishonesty. It may mean changing the way your company operates. It may mean finding a job because you're not working right now. Ephesians 4:28 says, "If you are a thief, stop stealing. Begin using your hands for honest work, and then give generously to others in need." Proverbs 28:20 says, "Hard workers have plenty of food; playing around brings poverty."

Jesus said to Zacchaeus, "Salvation has come to this home today." We all need what Zacchaeus received. We all need forgiveness. As we come to celebrate the Lord's Table, let's experience the rewards of living God's way. Let's get right with him, and say, "From now on, I'm going to do it God's way."

Let's pray.

Father, this has been hard. Many of us came into this message thinking we were okay on this one. But we've realized in the last little while that we aren't so clean. We've taken what's yours, we've taken what's others. We've maybe justified it by saying it was a small thing, but know that Jesus said:

Unless you are faithful in small matters, you won't be faithful in large ones. If you cheat even a little, you won't be honest with greater responsibilities. And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? (Luke 16:10-11)

So today we ask for your forgiveness. We want to get right with you. Help us to go home today and take steps to get right with others, too. Whether it's repaying someone else or changing our business practices, or paying taxes that we owe, we're going to do it. Help provide for our needs as we take that step. And we're going to put you first in our finances too.

If you would like to receive forgiveness for the first time today, would you pray:

Father, I'm coming to you because I need a new heart. I pray that you would take out my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh. Give me a fresh start. I trust Jesus as my Savior, so I'm making him the Lord, the manager of my life. Accept me today, I pray in Jesus' name, Amen.

Let There Be Life (Exodus 20:13)

We're midway through our series called Ten Values to Build Strong Families. We've been looking at the ten values that form the foundation of a strong family, and a blessed life. Today we're looking at the shortest of the Ten Commandments. In the original language, it's only two words. Exodus 20:13 says, "Do not murder."

A criminologist at the University of Toronto says that Toronto is "one of the safest cities in the world." Toronto's murder rate has been in decline since the 1970s. It is the lowest of any large Canadian city. If you moved from Toronto to Washington D.C., your chances of being murdered would increase by a factor of thirty-five. If you moved to Vancouver B.C. your chances of being murdered would double. We live in a very safe city.

But that doesn't mean that murders aren't taking place. The family is the place in which we all begin life. Families are also where the most murders take place. The first murder happened in a family. Cain killed his brother. In fact, most violent crimes and most murders occur between family members. An estimated 1.2 million people suffered some sort of domestic violence between 1994 and 1999 in Canada. That's about 8% of women and 7% of men. But murder of another kind is also taking place in our families. Proverbs 18:21 says, "The tongue can kill or nourish life." There's more than one way to kill a person. You can kill someone with a gun. You can kill someone with a knife or with your hands. But you can also kill a person with your words. We're going to look at what the Bible says about preserving life in the family today.

Before we look at how to do this, it's important to understand what this verse doesn't prohibit. The word murder is a specific one. The language in which this was written - Hebrew - had seven words for killing. The one that's recorded here is one carries the idea of intent and premeditation. This verse isn't about capital punishment - although there are other verses that cover that topic. This verse isn't about most types of war. It's not about killing animals. It's not about defending your home from night-time burglars. It is about using violence intentionally to murder. It's a verse that applies to self-murder, or suicide, to murder itself, as well as to being an accessory to murder. It's a verse that has implications for all of us.

This verse isn't just about killing someone. It's also about our attitudes. Clarence Darrow once said, "I haven't killed anybody, but I've read a whole lot of obituaries with glee." I'm like that. We don't actually kill people externally, but we're not exactly said when bad things happen to them. Murder isn't just an action. It's an attitude.

How can I preserve life within the family? How can I fulfill the sixth commandment in my family? Three ways:

1. ENCOURAGE OTHERS BECAUSE THEY'RE VALUABLE

If we're going to preserve life within the family, this is where it begins. It begins with encouraging those around us because they are valuable. Emphasize the value of human life.

Thousands of years ago, when God gave this command, human life was cheap and disposable. Human sacrifice was common. Parents would even sacrifice their own children. Slaves were commonplace. In many cultures, slaves would receive only a minimal amount of food and medical attention. Humans were viewed by many as a renewable resource.

Into this kind of world, God introduced the idea that human life is valuable. Human life is significant. You are different from the animals. That's why God tells us not to murder. Genesis 9:6 says, "Yes, you must execute anyone who murders another person, for to kill a person is to kill a living being made in God's image." Genesis 1:27 says, "God created people in his own image; God patterned them after himself." You were made in God's image. You are immensely valuable.

When God created everything else, including all the animals, he said, "Let there be." When God created humans, he became personal. He said, "Let us make." The Bible says that God created you with some similarities to God. You are valuable to God.

Somebody has asked, "Where would you go to view the church's most beautiful works of art?" I guess you could answer the Louvre. You could view the famous paintings and works of the Renaissance. You could answer the Vatican. Some of you have had your breath taken away by the works of Michelangelo. You've been wowed by the Sistine Chapel. But those places aren't where God's best works of art can be located. God's best works of art are located in your home. You are God's work of art. Your children are masterpieces. Ephesians 2:10 says, "We are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago." You are God's masterpiece.

C.S. Lewis once wrote:

It is a serious thing, to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations...There are no 'ordinary' people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

C.S. Lewis said, "Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses." Do you want to fulfill this command to preserve life? Then emphasize the value of people. Recognize their worth. Recognize their value to people.

This means that we should never demean others. Every time we call someone by a name, every time we show racial prejudice, every time we demean someone because of their gender or any other factor, we're diminishing the value of human life. It's impossible to diminish others without diminishing yourself. What's more, it's impossible to diminish others without destroying your relationship with God.

Within the family, it means that we always speak the best of each other. One of the challenges of family life is that we see each other at our worst. Do you ever see a family portrait? Everyone is smiling. The hair is all combed. People are hugging and touching each other. In the family, we see each other when our hair is a mess, when our breath is bad. We're with each other when we're overtired and stressed. We end up treating each other with less respect than we really should.

One of the best gifts we could give others in our family is to recognize their worth. Look at your spouse and think, "They are God's masterpiece. They are God's creation." Look at your mother-in-law and say, "Wow! Imagine how much God loves her." See the value in your children. Our value doesn't come from what we do. It comes from how we're created. We've been created in God's image.

How can we preserve life? There's a second step:

2. EMBRACE OTHERS EVEN WHEN IT'S COSTLY

The second step is to embrace others even when it's costly. Why? Because everyone is valuable. The Bible calls us to value those who look the most worthless - those that society says are worthless - because they're valuable to God.

Deuteronomy 10:18-19 says, "He gives justice to orphans and widows. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. You, too, must show love to foreigners." James 1:27 says, "Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles." If we want to preserve life, it means that we care for those who are the most vulnerable. We build this value into our families.

What are some of the groups that we should embrace?

One such group is UNBORN CHILDREN. This is one of the most vulnerable groups today. Your chances of your being killed by terrorists overseas: 1 in 650,000. Your chances of your being killed by Americans in Baltimore: 1 in 4,000. Your chances of your being aborted if you are in the womb of an American woman: 1 in 4. Over a hundred thousand abortions take place every year in Canada. More have been killed by abortion in North America than in all the wars put together.
But this isn't just an issue out there. This is an issue that affects many of us. There are some of us who just don't want more children. Or it may be a medical test that says things don't look so good for the baby. Until recently, the church has been almost unanimous in agreeing that the unborn child is a human being deserving protection. Psalm 139:13-16 says:

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother's womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvellous-and how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.

There's really no such thing as an unwanted child. God says that all your days were numbered before you were even born. God has a purpose for every child even when we don't. God says a fetus isn't a tissue; it's a life that he's planned. We need to embrace the unborn child in our families.

We can't keep the sixth commandment if we don't embrace unborn children. When Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize, she said, "I think that today peace is threatened by abortion, too, which is a true war, a direct killing of a child by its own mother...Today, abortion is the worst evil, and the greatest enemy of peace...Because if a mother can kill her own child, what will prevent us from killing ourselves, or one another? Nothing." We're called to embrace the unborn child.

You may have been through an abortion. If you did, God's not down on you. That's the message of grace. God can forgive you no matter what you've been through. It doesn't matter so much what you've done. It matters where you go from here. It matters that you allow Christ to forgive you. We all need forgiveness. You can receive that forgiveness today. We need to embrace unborn children because they're valuable to God.

We also need to embrace those who are SICK AND WHO ARE DYING. Many are predicting that the issue of euthanasia, or mercy killing, is going to be one that we confront more and more. I'm talking about causing the death of someone because of deformity, old age, or an incurable disease. I'm not talking about allowing natural causes to run their course, or not artificially supporting life. I'm talking about causing the death of someone because they're inconvenient, or because we don't think their life is worth living anymore.

Why should we embrace those who are sick and dying? Because they're valuable to God. Because God loves them. We're called to embrace them even when they're vulnerable - even when it's costly.

In seminary, I took a course on Biblical ethics. The textbook was written by a guy who addressed a lot of these issues: suicide, abortion, euthanasia. A few years after he wrote the textbook, his wife came down with Alzheimer's. He resigned his position at the Bible college and stayed home to care for his wife. He did it because he promised to love her for richer for poorer, for better and for worse, in sickness and in health. It's one thing to write a textbook. It's another thing to make costly decisions when it's your wife. It's your family.

Embrace the vulnerable. Embrace them even when it costs you. Henri Nouwen was a man who was trained in Holland as a psychologist and a theologian. He spent his early years achieving. He taught at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard, averaged more than a book a year, and traveled widely as a conference speaker. He had a résumé to die for-which was the problem, exactly. The pressing schedule and relentless competition suffocated his own spiritual life.

At the peak of his career, Nouwen made a drastic change. He gave up his positions, moved to Toronto, and agreed to become priest in residence at a community for the severely disabled. The community was called Daybreak. It was here that Nouwen spent his last ten years.

Nouwen lived in small room, which had in it a single bed, one bookshelf, and a few pieces of Shaker-style furniture. The walls were unadorned except for a print of a Van Gogh painting and a few religious symbols. There was no fax machine, no computer, no Daytimer calendar posted on the wall.

There, Henri Nouwen cared for a young man named Adam. Unable to talk, walk, or dress himself, profoundly retarded, Adam gave no sign of comprehension. He seemed to recognize, at least, that his family had come. He drooled and grunted. It took Nouwen nearly two hours to prepare Adam each day. Bathing and shaving him, brushing his teeth, combing his hair, guiding his hand as he tried to eat breakfast-these simple, repetitive acts had become for him almost like an hour of meditation.

Why did Nouwen waste his time caring for someone like Adam? Because Nouwen knew that to embrace life is to embrace those who are the most valuable in life. He knew the value of embracing others even when it's costly. Jesus said, "I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!" (Matthew 25:40) When we embrace the unborn, the sick, the dying, those that society has discarded, we're affirming life because all human life is valuable to God.

One day a man asked Nouwen if caring for Adam was really the best use of his time. Nouwen responded that the man had completely misinterpreted him. "I am not giving up anything," he insisted. "It is I, not Adam, who gets the main benefit from our friendship." Ultimately, Nouwen concluded that "the goal of education and formation for the ministry is continually to recognize the Lord's voice, his face, and his touch in every person we meet." How can we preserve life? How can we follow the sixth commandment? We can embrace others even when it's costly. We can not only encourage others because they're valuable, but we can pay the cost when that encouragement has a price.

There's one more way to preserve life and follow the sixth commandment:

3. ELIMINATE ANGER FROM YOUR RELATIONSHIPS

The family is the place where a lot of anger is exhibited. If there's a place where people show more anger, I don't know where it is. The statistics are mind-boggling. Nearly sixty percent of all the murders in America are between people who know each other and don't know how to manage their anger. In 1998 four million women were beaten by their husbands who would supposedly profess to love these women more than anybody else. More than ten million children were abused by parents who didn't know how to control their anger. That's not to mention the millions of people whose souls have been scarred with words spoken in anger within the family.

Jesus said some shocking words about this commandment. In Matthew 5:21, Jesus said, "You have heard that the law of Moses says, 'Do not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.' But I say, if you are angry with someone, you are subject to judgment!"

In Jesus' day people thought of anger as being no big deal. They understood that murder was a big deal, but they didn't think of anger as being too important. They couldn't see the connection between anger and murder. Jesus said that anger is just as dangerous as murder. Once we begin to get angry, we're already partway down the road to destructive behavior. We need to eliminate anger from our lives. Not all anger is wrong, but anger that is directed at people, anger that endangers relationships - that is destructive to not only our souls but also those around us.

Jesus said that God isn't just concerned with murders and wars . He's concerned with our anger. He's concerned about the way that we view other people. In fact, Jesus is so concerned about it that he says, "If you are angry with someone, you are subject to judgment!" He makes our anger as much as a spiritual issue as murder. We've got to change the way that we think about anger.

Sociologists and psychiatrists report that hatred brings a person closer to murder than any other emotion. And hatred is an extension of anger. Anger leads to hatred, and hatred leads to murder - if not in action, at least in the heart.

Every time we are angry, we are partway down the road to escalating our sins. We're partway down the road to hatred, murder, divorce, or bitterness. We're on the way to violence, emotional hurt, increased mental stress, and spiritual damage. Anger keeps us from developing a spirit pleasing to God. Ephesians 4:31-32 says, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of malicious behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you."

We tell ourselves lies. We tell ourselves, "My anger is something I can't control." You can control it. Do you know how I know? When the phone rings, and you're angry, all of a sudden your voice changes. You pick up the phone and say the nicest things. You're angry until you see someone you want to impress. All of a sudden you're not angry anymore. You need to eliminate anger from your relationships.

How can I do this? How can I get rid of anger? How can I prevent anger from destroying my family life? Three suggestions:

REFLECT ON THE COST OF ANGER. Anger always has a cost - to ourselves and to those around us. And the more that we think about the cost of our anger, the less likely we are to be angry with those around us.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:22, "But I say, if you are angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the high council. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell."

Anger has consequences. When we are angry, we become subject to judgment. This might be judgment in our relationships. It may mean more than that. Our anger may cause us to get fired or even in trouble with the law. It ultimately will get us in trouble with God. Ephesians 4:26-27 says, "Don't sin by letting anger gain control over you...for anger gives a mighty foothold to the Devil."

You always lose when you lose your temper. You lose the respect of other people. You may lose the love of people you love most. You may lose the love of your children if you get angry at them too often. You may lose the love of your husband or your wife. You may lose your job due to an uncontrolled temper. Certainly if you mishandle anger, you can lose your health. When you say, "That person is a pain," you're probably right. When you stuff your anger it can cause headaches, stomach aches, backaches, neck aches, and all kinds and variety of problems. You always lose when you lose your temper.

Nothing destroys a relationship faster than unrestrained anger. Listen to what the Proverbs say about anger. Proverbs 29:22 says, "A hot tempered man gets into all kinds of trouble." I'm sure we could hear some pretty funny stories about how we get into trouble with our anger. We need to reflect on the cost of anger.

RESPOND TO ANGER PROPERLY. This will vary for all of us. For some of us, we need to stop hanging around other hotheads. Seriously, we're angry because we hang around angry people. Proverbs 22:24-25 says, "Keep away from angry, short-tempered people, or you will learn to be like them and endanger your soul." Did you know that anger is contagious? If you get around angry people you will tend to become an angry person. Stop hanging around other people.

Another way to handle anger is to listen instead of speaking. James 1:19 says, "Dear brothers and sisters, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry." I've found that I can actually control my reactions. In fact, if you follow James' advice and be quick to listen and slow to speak, the slow to angry comes automatically. A lot of times we get angry because we're too quick to speak. We're too slow to listen. We don't understand where the other person is coming from. We prejudge them and then we lash out. The result is always bad. As someone has said, "Speak when you're angry and you'll make the best speech you'll ever regret." You'll be giving someone a piece of your mind that you can't afford to lose.

One of the best ways to control your anger is this one: RELY ON GOD'S POWER. Let's face it. You're not going to be able to handle your anger without God's help. You need divine power if you're going to have success in this area of your life.

Colossians 3:15 says, "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts." This is the real secret. God's power to change is when you get the peace of Christ in your heart to replace the anger in your heart. Your relationship to Christ will determine how patient you are in life. If you have a very close relationship with Christ and he carries his power into every area of your life, then you will be a very patient person. If you just kind of have a casual relationship to Christ - you're a fringe Christian - Christ is in your life but he just has a part of your life, then that leaves all the rest of your life open to anger and impatience. The more he controls your life, the more patient you're going to be. You can change if you want to. You can change with God's help.

The best news that I can give you this morning is that you can accept the free gift of forgiveness by receiving it. All you have to do is come to God and say, "I need you. I've tried living life my own way. I'm coming to you as a sinner, asking for your forgiveness, through what Jesus did on the cross."

Once you have your relationship with God straightened out, it will affect every other relationship. God will give you the fruit of the Spirit - which includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Do you think that will help your anger? That's the best way to improve your relationships.

Matthew 12:34 says, "For whatever is in your heart determines what you say." The best way to change what you say is to change your heart. And the best way to change your heart is to come to Christ. He will deal with the root issues of your heart.

God wants the family to be a place where life is produced - not just when someone is born, but throughout the entire life of the family. God wants the family to be a place where we encourage each other because we're all valuable. God wants the family to be a place where we love others even when it's costly. Even when there's a price. God wants the family to be a place where we eliminate anger. God wants the family to be a place of life.

You may have come today thinking that this is one commandment you've kept. The reality is that we've all broken this commandment. We've all failed to recognize the image of God in others. We've all looked at the cost of loving others, and thought that the cost was too high. We've all been guilty of demonstrating anger in our relationships.

I'm going to close today by praying. I'm going to pray for you and your situation - that you would be cleansed today, and that you would have the power to preserve and encourage the life that you see in others around you. Let's pray.

Father, we come to you as fathers, mothers, children, friends, husbands, wives. We come today recognizing the awesome power of relationships. We want to give life. We don't want to be guilty of murder - not just the physical act of murder, but the act of murder by attitudes and by our neglect.

Father, help us to recognize your image in others. I pray that we would do this even when that image is marred, even when there's not a lot to love in another person. Help us to se e your image even in the most vulnerable - even when recognizing that image is going to be costly for us. Help us to take the steps of loving others even when it's hard.

Father, help us with our anger. Left to ourselves we can easily drift into unhealthy patterns of relating to others. Thank you for the freedom you give us to experience healing in our relationships. Thank you for the alternatives that you give us to anger.

If you would like to receive the gift of forgiveness and hope today, would you pray these words:

"Father, I open up every area, every crevice of my life to you today. Please come into every part of my life and save me and change me and make the changes that only you can make. I need you to rescue me. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen."