Category: Culture

The broken commandment that causes most of our problems

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Most people think that the 9th commandment states, “Thou shalt not lie.” And while that is a simplification of the command, the actual directive is, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” The actual wording of the commandment lifts the standard from a prohibition of speaking falsehoods, to a prohibition of validating stories you don’t know to be true. Let me share what I mean.

Several years ago, I was working as the news director for a local radio station when I received a visit from a listener of the station. Through casual conversation, she told me that HEB had agreed to build a grocery store in our community.

Now, over the years I had worked in media in Brownwood and Early, Tex., the biggest desire of the residents was a new, trendy grocery store. HEB has become one of Texas’ folk-hero companies, so they were at the top of the list. The news that HEB would be coming to town would be our top headline, if true.

I asked the lady where she heard the news, she told me that a friend had told her. I asked the friend’s name, got contact info, and contacted the friend to verify. The friend told me that she had heard the local economic development director make the announcement on our competitor.

That was a slap in the face. As news director, I had allowed my department to become the PR wing of the local economic development corporation, expecting to be first in line with such news. For them to give a breaking story like that to my competitor was highly disturbing.

My competitor would not be willing to verify the story, and the economic development director had left town to attend a series of meetings. Meanwhile, social media buzz began to build about the coming of HEB. Everybody heard from somebody that the city had announced the coming of HEB.

I called the local chamber of commerce (which worked hand in hand with the economic development corporation). The director told me that the city has worked to recruit new grocery stores, but no agreement had been made yet, and if it had, my department would be the first to know.

She allowed me to interview her for a story to dispel the rumor that HEB was coming. (I often ran stories to clarify or dispel rumors). The story ran.

After the story ran, I received a call from the economic development director, who asked where all this came from. I told him, someone heard from a friend who heard from a friend that the announcement was made on my competitor. (The competitor denied an announcement was made, and I believe them).

The economic development director was upset, but civil. He explained that rumors being spread like that can cause agreements to bring new retailers to town to fall apart. He explained such had happened in the past.

Little did anyone know, the economic development director was in talks to bring a major grocer to town, and a few short weeks later, the announcement of a new United Supermarket was made. A deal almost lost because someone heard from a friend that something was going to happen.

We think of lying as blatantly trying to deceive, but bearing false witness is also deceptive, and destructive. The reason the commandment was given was that witness testimony was solid evidence in Old Testament courts, and a false witness who was just repeating gossip could cost another man his life.

Today, people aren’t executed over gossip and false witness. However, reputations, careers, businesses, marriages, homes, families and churches are destroyed every day by false witness.

Are you passing along information, something you heard, which may or may not be true? Are you presenting information as being first hand when you really have no direct knowledge? If so, you may be breaking the 9th commandment, and “bearing false witness.”

Chan: Forget it, I’m out!

In his final address to the students at Azusa Pacific University, former megachurch pastor Francis Chan announced that he is leaving the United States to pursue ministry in Asia.

In his message to the students, Chan noted that the people of Asia are open to the Gospel and cleaving to the Lord. He compared his ministry in the United States to fishing in a fishing hole that was over-fished, such that the fish no longer bit the lures. As part of his message, Chan expressed frustration at the way scripture is being de-emphasized and how more people are building beliefs on what feels good rather than the truth of the Bible.

“We only believe what we want to believe!” Chan said. “Name one thing in the Bible that you believe that you don’t want to believe.”

He went on to say that there is absolute truth, and that truth can be found in the scriptures.

Chan exhorted students to take the Bible at its word, and not to try to twist its meaning through endless word studies. He criticized the way the current generation (as all generations have) rejects prior wisdom, believing they have found their own wisdom.

“Are you ready to surrender to the Word?” Chan asked. “Let God be true and every man a liar. If your thoughts contradict this book, then you need to come under this book and change your way of thinking.”

The entire message is posted above.

What the Elwood Superintendent’s Decision Reveals about Societal Values

11156384_10206298906337374_6382280851986253488_nThere are two words I was never allowed to say when I was in school, “Yeah, but….”

The words, “Yeah, but…” usually accompanied an excuse I had for a misbehavior, a bad decision, or a reasoning for why the other kid should be in worse trouble than me. In fact, in my mind, the other kid’s behavior was often so much worse than mine, that my infraction should be excused.

“Leland, did you just throw that paper ball at Billy?”

“Yeah, but…”

“No ‘buts.’ Out in the hall!”

I never got the opportunity to explain that I threw the paper ball at Billy because he made faces at me, pushed me into the dirt on the playground, or drew an ugly picture of me on manilla paper during art class. Nope. In this instance, the only thing that mattered was that I had violated class rules by throwing the paper ball at Billy, and so I had to face the consequence. Had I followed the correct course of action before throwing the paper ball, like telling the teacher that Billy was bullying me, then I would not be in trouble.

For what it’s worth, my story about Billy is a summary of several elementary school experiences rolled into one with a pseudonym of Billy as my adversary. I digress.

Public discourse today, whether social or political, is largely driven by the concept of “yeah, but.” For example:

  • Donald Trump bragged about groping women. “Yeah, but, Bill Clinton was a predator, too.”
  • “The Republicans expanded the size of the Federal Government and centralized power within it.” “Yeah, but the Democrats are worse.”
  • “Tom Brady cheated by deflating footballs.” “Yeah, but everybody cheats. Tom just got caught.”

Lost in all the “Yeah, buts…” is the truth. There is a standard of morality, a standard of behavior that we are right to expect from one another, especially when one’s actions affect the livelihood and well-being of another. However, the tribalization of America has led to a mentality of “winners and losers” where we feel the need for our side to be the winners, no matter the effect on everyone else. And this is what will ultimately pull our country apart.

Nowhere can this be better illustrated than the case of Elwood School Superintendent Casey Smitherman, whose decision to seek medical treatment for a student while filing it on her insurance led to her facing criminal charges and ultimately led to her resigning her position with the school.

According to the Herald Bulletin of Anderson, Ind., Smitherman:

  • She didn’t get permission from the boy’s guardian or parents to take him from the house, cart him around town and seek medical care for him.
  • The superintendent was alone with the teen in a car, a major no-no for school staff and administrators.
  • She committed fraud by claiming that the boy was her son so that she could use her health insurance to defray the $233 bill for the clinic’s care and antibiotics.
  • She didn’t report her suspicion that the boy was suffering from neglect. School staff and others who come into contact with youth through their jobs are required by state law to report such suspicion.

These are very serious infractions, not only on a technical level, but on a moral level as well. Yet, the internet is reacting to her actions by lauding her as a hero, and criticizing “big insurance,” Trump, Congress and the Republican Party for what happened.

Instead of looking at the entirety of the case, most of the internet is focusing on the fact that she took a kid to the doctor… and who wouldn’t want to see a kid taken care of? Therefore, she should be a hero.

However, the morality of Smitherman’s benevolence went out the window the second she shifted the cost of her humanitarianism to others, that is, those who pay premiums to her insurance company. When you consider that the cost of the care could have counted against her annual deductible and/or out of pocket expenses, you might even be able to make the case that her actions were a little self-serving.

If Smitherman wanted to provide healthcare for a student and did so out of her own pocket, then I can understand the admiration. However, lying about her relationship to the student to get the insurance company to pick up the tab is insurance fraud, and is not true benevolence.

That action can have widespread consequences to others, such as increased premium costs to other policy holders. Think about it. If it were moral and legal to file a claim on your health insurance by lying about your relationship to the patient, then few of us would need to buy insurance. We could simply find a friend with insurance, and mooch off their policy, the same way many people mooch off of each other’s Netflix accounts. Fewer people paying premiums with more claims means higher premiums, which will drive others off insurance. This is not a good situation.

Again, this is a serious infraction. Yet, many in our society are praising her. “Yeah, she committed insurance fraud, but we should’ve had universal healthcare in the first place.”

“Yeah, she committed insurance fraud, but Congress has failed the American people and should all resign.”

“Yeah, she committed insurance fraud, but at least she stuck it to a greedy corporation.”

I could go on. The “yeah, buts” are in plentiful supply.

Smitherman has since apologized for her actions, citing a lapse in judgment. I’m willing to forgive and move on. Sometimes decisions do sound good when made, and only after do you realize the full ramifications. However, to justify this behavior by pointing out the flaws elsewhere in our system with a series of “yeah, buts” is to concede that we are to remain on a trail of constant injustice until our whole moral fabric is completely unraveled.

Bad decisions cannot bring about good. Immoral decisions can not bring about morality. Darkness cannot drive out light. And sinful attitudes will not bring about revival.

Be understanding. Be forgiving. But be truthful.

The Ballad of Thomas Ryman

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There are many reasons why people think that the Ryman Auditorium is called “the Mother Church of Country Music.” First, it looks like a church. Notice the arched windows and doorways, the American Gothic architecture, and the wooden pews inside.

Then, there’s the devoted, religious following of the Grand Ole Opry, which still closes most of its performances with a Gospel tune.

Finally, there’s the notion that you haven’t really arrived in Country Music until the “Mother Church” gives you her blessing, and you are invited to play the Opry (even if most of the performances are now held at the Opryland Resort.)

But how many realize that the Ryman Auditorium, the Mother Church of Country Music, was actually a church?

In 1885, Riverboat operator and saloon owner Thomas Ryman noticed that the ongoing Christian revival across Tennessee is cutting into his business. Looking to preserve his business ventures, Ryman decided to go to a revival meeting held by the great Evangelist Samuel Porter Jones for the purpose of disrupting and heckling the service.

Instead of stopping the revival, Ryman himself wound up converting to Christianity. So moved by the preaching of Jones, and his own redemption, Ryman endeavored to make sure everyone could hear the Gospel as spoken by Jones’ voice. So, he invested $100,000 ($2.7 million in today’s cash) to build the “Union Gospel Tabernacle,” a 6,000 seat chapel where Jones would be able to preach to multitudes.

Worship services were held, and Jones held many revivals in the facility. The tabernacle was renamed the “Ryman Auditorium” in 1904 by Jones as he preached Ryman’s funeral.

The Ryman Auditorium closed in the 1930s, and fell into disrepair before being taken over by WSM-AM in the 1960s to become the site of the Grand Ole Opry.

I read this story several years ago, and it continues to impress me that a hardened sinner was so moved with gratitude for his salvation, and concern for the eternal destiny of his fellow man, that he put his fortune to the test to build a place where everyone could come, hear the Gospel, and be saved.

When I think about this, I wonder what I have done to show my gratitude to God for my salvation. I also wonder what would happen if I did more. Furthermore, what if we had more Thomas Rymans in the world, hardened sinners broken and redeemed by the power of Christ who turned around and did everything in their power to reach those around them? If this happened, what kind of revival would we see in our country?

Right now, the entertainment industry politicizes everything, thinking that to legitimize their fame and popularity, they have to adopt a cause or message to change the world. Politicians legislate to leave their mark on the world. Athletes endorse ideas and causes.

The rest of the world uses its platform to advance a secular agenda. Isn’t it time that Christians use their platform to advance the Kingdom of God?

May God grant you the boldness to live out your faith and reach others with the Gospel.