September 21, 2018 -Trust…but Verify, Potiphar’s Wife, and the Eighth Commandment – Acts 17:10-11, Genesis 39:6-20, Exodus 20:16

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Ronald Reagan used to quote an old Russian proverb: Trust, but verify. Long before Ronald Reagan, some of the earliest Christian believers in Berea were commended for being discerning regarding what Paul and other preachers taught.

The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue.  Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Acts 17:10-11 (ESV)

As we study the Bible we are called to be discerning. Our faith is not a blind or an uninformed faith, but a faith handed down to us through the word of God.  If we want to hear from God, Scripture is where He speaks to us.  We need to look for evidence to corroborate what we are told, and to learn for ourselves what the Bible says.  This not only applies to our study of Scripture, but the insistence on truth should be paramount in how we live our lives together with others as people of God.

There is a movement in politics and culture known as #metoo to which the sounding cry is “Believe Women!” It is true that women have been sexually harassed and abused by men in power in the workplace.  It is true that women have suffered the effects of domestic violence in the home.  It is also true that many women have been intimidated or coerced into remaining silent and not reporting abuse.  Many women who have truly been abused have been ignored when they tried to tell their stories. Many women live in fear of their abusers. Many women live with abuse for years, in silence, for economic or other reasons.  Some become so paralyzed by fear that they convince themselves that they either deserve the abuse, or that it is somehow “normal.”

These acts of harassment, abuse and violence against women are illegal as well as being morally reprehensible and sinful. When these acts occur, they should be reported and investigated. When a person is proven guilty of perpetrating such acts, that person should be punished to the full extent of the law.  There should be no tolerance in our society for sexual harassment and abuse.  However, women who exploit and malign innocent men for their own personal revenge or gain must also be called out.  A woman should not get a free pass for using false testimony to incriminate or tarnish the reputation of an innocent man. Not every woman who cries “wolf” is telling the truth.

When anyone’s testimony about abuse could be tied to destroying the credibility of another for political expediency (both political “sides” have been guilty of this- think Monica Lewinsky or Anita Hill) or in one way or another can be levied to his or her own personal gain, or used to preserve one’s hide (to cover for a consensual affair, for instance), that testimony should invite heavy scrutiny.  The proverb, Trust, but verify, certainly should be in play.

We learn in the story of Joseph that not everyone’s testimony- even a woman’s- should be taken at face value.

Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge.  He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.

But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house.  And as soon as she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled out of the house, she called to the men of her household and said to them, “See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice.  And as soon as he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled and got out of the house.” Then she laid up his garment by her until his master came home, and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me. But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me and fled out of the house.”

As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, “This is the way your servant treated me,” his anger was kindled.   And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. Genesis 39:6-20 (ESV)

We should take the story of Potiphar’s wife as a cautionary tale. Accusations of misconduct or abuse should be taken seriously, but there should also be a burden of proof beyond the circular argument of “he said-she said.”  It is just as much of an error to dismiss an honest witness as it is to believe a groundless witness without proof.

Humanity was good at breaking the Ten Commandments even before God handed down the tablets of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. Breaking the Eighth Commandment seems to be just as rampant in today’s society and in the media as it was back in Joseph’s time.

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Exodus 20:16 (ESV)

Don Henley mentioned in the 1985 song, “Dirty Laundry,” that we all love dirty laundry. Even though we might try to avoid the more salacious stories in the news, we still find ourselves gravitated to “the bubble headed bleach blonde that comes on at five,” and we all ask ourselves, “Is the head dead yet?”

Humans love a tasty piece of gossip.  Some people also crave the attention that comes from being portrayed as a victim.  Not every claim can be taken at face value as true.

We must take the time to listen to each other- and to investigate the facts before we make decisions that will affect another’s life or reputation. Gossip has the capacity to destroy others’ reputations and cause them undeserved suffering and harm.

As Christian people we are called to look at our lives through the lens of how our actions affect our neighbors. Many women who come forward with testimonies of harassment and abuse are telling the truth. Those who have truly suffered from harassment and abuse should be heard and civil justice must be sought whenever possible.  The reality is though, that some women are false accusers such as Potiphar’s wife. Her false testimony landed Joseph in prison even though he committed no crime against her, her husband or God.

The good news for all of us is that in our fallen world Jesus forgives us when we confess our sins to Him and ask Him for forgiveness. We are free to call on the Holy Spirit for help to love our neighbor- to care for those who have truly been damaged by sexual misconduct, abuse, or domestic violence, and to be discerning when people slander others for their own personal gain.

August 7, 2017- The Truth Doesn’t Make Us Popular- Acts 17:10-15

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That very night the believers sent Paul and Silas off to Berea; and when they arrived, they went to the Jewish synagogue.  These Jews were more receptive than those in Thessalonica, for they welcomed the message very eagerly and examined the scriptures every day to see whether these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, including not a few Greek women and men of high standing.  But when the Jews of Thessalonica learned that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Berea as well, they came there too, to stir up and incite the crowds. Then the believers immediately sent Paul away to the coast, but Silas and Timothy remained behind. Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and after receiving instructions to have Silas and Timothy join him as soon as possible, they left him. – Acts 17:10-15 (NRSV)

The apostle Paul commended the Bereans for examining the Scriptures and not just blindly believing the message he brought to them. The Russian people have a proverb: “Trust, but verify.” People of faith should ask questions. An informed faith is a strong faith and a valid faith.  Jesus taught that we should build our house on a solid foundation and not on sand. Our faith has a solid foundation- Jesus Himself. We learn of Him all throughout the Bible, and we encounter Him in the world and through other people as we go out and do what He taught. This is the reason why worship and prayer and study and service all go together- our faith is not intended to be a blind faith, but a practical, dynamic and growing faith.

The difficult thing about telling the truth is that telling the truth doesn’t always make one popular. Usually truth telling has quite the opposite effect.  Throughout Scripture God’s prophets were treated rather nastily for telling the truth.  Jeremiah was consigned to a dirty cistern (Jeremiah 37:11-16) as a prison.  Daniel was thrown in the lion’s den to be eaten by lions (Daniel 6:10-20) for refusing to pray to an earthly king.  John the Baptist ended up with his head on a platter as a gift for Herod.  Going against the current ruler or saying bad things about the king wasn’t an activity to engage in, if you valued your hide.  Telling the truth and speaking out for what is right is not always a safe thing to do, even today.  Anyone who doubts that can test the theory. Agree with a woman when she comments that she has put on a few pounds, and watch the sparks fly.

Paul was no less popular to the old school Jews and Pharisees, who did not understand and did not want to believe Who Jesus was. They didn’t want to be told He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophets and of the Law.  The Pharisees and other old school Jews were looking for a grand military style king like David who would defeat the Romans and restore the Jewish state as their Messiah, not the Suffering Servant that Isaiah had foretold.

Paul himself had once been the Pharisee Saul, who was behind the persecution and killing of Christians until Jesus paid him a visit on the Damascus road. So it was likely that the Pharisees were even more incensed with Paul because they saw him not just as a heretic, but also as a traitor.

The truth is a threat to those in power, especially if their power is built on sustaining a lie. To admit that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah meant that there was no longer any reason to submit to the religious authorities.  To admit that Jesus was God Himself and that God had revealed Himself to the whole of humanity and not just the Jewish people, was more than the Jewish leaders of the day could stand.

The Jewish leaders of Paul’s time couldn’t stand the thought of the truth that God is God of all- and that because of Jesus they could no longer assert an exclusive claim on God. God’s people were not just the direct descendants of Abraham, but all people are God’s people- the door had been opened.

Perhaps we have to face some unpopular truths today. Sometimes the truth revealed in Scripture can be hard to take, such as when we are called to forgive, or we are called to take a path we know is difficult and that we would rather not be on.

What parts of God’s truth are hard for us to accept? That He loves the unlovable?  That He calls us to sacrifice?  That sometimes the answer to our prayers is no?

God is Lord of all. No matter how we may be challenged, or how we might suffer, Jesus is walking with us.  He knows our disappointment, our pain, and our sorrows as well as our love and our joy.  In Him we can be confident when we tell the truth, even when it doesn’t contribute to our popularity.