Currency, Reputation, and Fake News

One of the best classes I ever took in college was World Religions.  As a seemingly confident Christian, I sat in the front row with my other Christian friends, ready to defend whatever attack this professor was going to bring, but instead of victory I found myself unexpectedly whittled and sharpened.  Throughout the class, whenever I made a statement about my faith, I was challenged by the professor to back up my beliefs.  I could no longer just point to the Bible as my evidence, suggesting that it’s true because the Bible says it is, but was forced to fully explain why I believed what I believed, citing history, hard evidence, archaeology, and science for the supports to my faith.  To just suggest that it was true because I felt it wasn’t enough: I had to justify it with facts.  Going into the class I knew what I believed; coming out of the class, I knew why I believed.

When it comes to being a Christian, truth is our currency.  We deal in truth in all things when it comes to our faith and in making strides for our own spiritual journeys along with advancing His kingdom.  Jesus claimed that there is freedom to be found in knowing what is true.  When Christ speaks in John 8.32, He claims that if we adhere to His teachings, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” while in 14.6, Jesus says that, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”  Without truth, we have nothing but a handful of lies along with a destroyed reputation.  To speak truth and know what is true is to have the power to be free.  So, in all things, we must know the complete and absolute truth behind what we do and what we say, or like the prisoners in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, who viewed nothing but projected shadows on a blank wall and believed them to be their reality, we run the risk of believing a false reality, and nothing says false reality more so lately, than fake news.

To be clear, fake news is the (mostly) online existence of sensationalist and exaggerated news stories whose sole purpose is to spread misinformation for reasons that include, more often than not, financial or political gain, usually through social media.  These stories are usually not backed up by legitimate factual sources and are based in rumor, speculation, and falsehood.  You would think that truth usually rises to the top in these instances, but few check the background of these stories for sources and to confirm what is claimed to be true in these scenarios, as we post them to our social media accounts with the intent to shock and outrage those who read.  That’s one of the main draws of fake news and what makes it so appealing: it initially makes us seem informed and grants us the attention we so often crave.

Yet, if we are actually dealers in truth, we must look beyond the sensationalist nature of these stories and see what truth, if any, lies in them instead of blindly reposting them for our friends and family, wielding them wildly like a rusty sword that divides and infects our relationships with false rhetoric and illogical conclusions.  And when the real truth comes out, reputations are ruined, and no one wants to believe what we have to say any more.  Our truth has become tainted and our message soiled.  Our currency is worthless.

So how do we handle truth in the era of fake news?  Test it, repeatedly.  Don’t just accept news, but put it through a wringer.  Research it, and get to the bottom until you are absolutely sure of its validity.  Find your evidence and know why it’s true, or not.  Then, if it’s not true, reject it.  If you’re unsure, keep it to yourself.  Abraham Lincoln once said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”  If we are serious about Christ and His truth, we cannot risk being caught with anything less than the truth.  Our testimony is our most useful tool, and without truth and a reputation for honesty, we are hobbled as warriors for Him.  Nothing destroys a witness like the smallest bit of falsehood, enclosing him or her within the impenetrable walls of an inescapable prison.  Remember that only truth will set you free.  Amen.

Feeble Attempts Past our Expiration Date

With the now warm weather and springtime growth comes a host of fresh vegetables and fruits.  While visiting our local fruit stand, our eyes go wide with the deliciousness that nature presents, yet often our eyes are bigger than our appetites, and we end up buying more than we need.  Now normally, that purchase isn’t a problem, but with all of what we are buying being local produce, the shelf life on a lot of these items isn’t very long.  The amount of purchases that must thrown out to the animals can be heartbreaking, but at least someone is enjoying them.

With spring produce and warm weather also comes spring cleaning, when we go through our pantry and refrigerator, looking for things that have found their way to the back and as such have become neglected and lost.  More often than most, these items are well past their expiration dates, and despite looking just fine, have gone bad on some level.  Moving on to our medicine cabinet in this cleaning frenzy, we traditionally find a multitude of no-longer used medicines that have also migrated past their expiration dates, and are now not as effective as they once were, or just aren’t healthy to consume.  The power of time takes its toll on all things, apparently.

Time seems to be the enemy of us all.  Most things of this world don’t age well and have a point where the rising tide of time overtakes what is best in all things.  Even wine, despite getting better with age, reaches a point where it turns to vinegar.  When I walk the hallways of high school and spot young couples in love, by measuring the flames of passion that radiate, I can usually judge with a decent amount of certainty how quickly those flame will extinguish and the relationship will expire.  And despite our best efforts, our bodies don’t escape the ravages of time.  Most scientists and physicians suggest that, given the proper diet and treatment, the human body can work perfectly for the first 40-50 years before it starts to break down on its own, and that’s if we treat it well.  Founding father William Penn said that, “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”  Time is a commodity, but we often don’t trade well with it.

Like our bodies and things of this world, each of us have an expiration date, too.  At some point, death will be the great expiration collector and will come for us.  What makes us different, though, is that often there is no telling as to when that expiration date is.  The Bible and other pieces of literature are filled with warnings about the fleeting nature of life, about how we must seize every moment of every day, or about how we don’t know how long we have.  Proverbs 90.12 give us this advice: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”  If we realize that our time is limited, then we will most likely use our time wisely, and the biggest concern should be where we are headed after our expiration date.

A great deal of the population, when considering the afterlife, feels that it’s not something they need to think about at this point.  They’ve got time.  Yet if we live with this foolish notion, like rotted fruit, we will find ourselves out of time before we know it.  We need to live wisely while we still have time, and for many, that means committing our lives to Him as soon as possible.  With no knowledge of how much time is left, as even tomorrow may be our last day, we must firmly stand on the promises of His kingdom, and not the possible failing promises of a long life.  Assurance is found in what we know for sure, not in what we think may be.  If we live knowing that any day might be our last, then our decisions, especially those about the afterlife and what we are truly living for, will be handled with grace and wisdom, and our future will be secured.  Amen.

Withdrawal, Disengagement, and Peace

For better or worse, it’s’ very easy to get caught up in the moment.  When emotions are running high and all of the events around us start to swirl together, we tend to fall prey to our feelings as our mind becomes less of a priority, fading into the background of influences.  Oftentimes, once that moment passes, our senses start to come back to us, and we realize how rash we’ve acted.

A short time ago, a student was missing from my study hall.  I had seen him earlier, so I knew he was in the building, but for some reason, he was not where he was supposed to be.  I fumed as I quickly filled out a behavioral referral, emailing an administrator and his mother.  When he returned, I launched into a tirade about responsibility.  He innocently told me that he was in the cafeteria because he needed to eat something.  I blindly continued my rant, suggesting that it was irresponsible.

Later that day, his mother emailed me back, mentioning that she was surprised and asking if he had ever exhibited behaviors like this one before.  I sheepishly replied that he hadn’t, and meekly explained where he had been.  She replied that although she was sorry for his absence, perhaps I had been too ‘hasty’ in my discipline and that a firm word or two would have sufficed.  After some reflection, I realized she was right.  If I had just taken a deep breath, collected my thoughts, and put a lid on my emotions, I would have handled the situation very differently.  I acknowledged my clouded judgement to her and withdrew the referral.

There is great strength in withdrawing from our lives for a time to recollect our thoughts and get our heads straight.  For years, presidents have logged vacations and golf outings so that they could have time to themselves, recharge their proverbial batteries, and return with a refreshed attitude and mindset.  Marriage requires the same approach, especially where children are involved.  Similarly, I frequently warn my students away from emotional responses in social media, reminding them that although it feels great in the moment, that moment is the only reward: the rest is filled with regret and consequence.  If they just take a moment to withdraw from the screen and allow their minds to reengage above their hearts, they will quickly realize the negative impact their actions could have.  Time away helps us to get ourselves together so that we can avoid ourselves at our worst, thus being our best selves for others when we return.

Right after Christ had fed the five thousand with loaves and fishes, a tremendous miracle, He decided to escape the excitement and be alone.  “After He had dismissed (the disciples), He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray.  Later that night, He was there alone” (Matthew 14.23).  The feeding was more than likely incredibly emotional, moving, and taxing, taking a toll on Him as it simultaneously swept Him up in all the excitement and thrill of the moment.  So, Christ recognized the need to withdraw, get His emotions in check, and recharge Himself so that He could be at His best for His disciples.  A short time away from the thunderous hum of life allowed Him to get back into a more peaceful state, allowing for a closer walk with God, His father.

Withdrawing from the world when emotions run high not only prevents us from potential emotional mistakes, but also resets our priorities and brings us closer to Him through the peace that comes with a silencing of the world.  This week, take time to retreat from the world so that your mind is not clouded by your emotions, and allow God to refresh you in the peace of that retirement.  Amen.

Varied Measurements of Effort

My son was so excited to bring his “Splat Ball” home to play with around the house.  Throw it at any surface and it will stick, smoosh outward, then reform into a ball.  Seemingly endless fun.  He paid a few dollars for it, and after a few hours of tossing it around, it broke.  We reassured him that nothing lasts forever, but in our minds, we were thinking, you get what you pay for.

I recently heard a speaker who was discussing his long history in the martial arts.  He explained to the students that there was no getting around it: what you put in is what you get out.  If the students were expecting to advance through the ranks with only the occasional practice session, some studying, and a handful of determination, they would be sorely disappointed with how far they would get in their training.  He explained that in martial arts, as in many other areas, there is a connection between effort and success.  There are no shortcuts: you must be willing to put in the time and effort towards success, sometimes doing tasks that aren’t always enjoyable, but result in strong outcomes.  He concluded with the idea that with maximum effort comes maximum result.  Should the students put their all into their practice, they will achieve the maximum amount of success.

Just last week, I reinforced a similar concept with my students.  Halfway through the year, a handful were still not studying, reading, or completing homework.  They would observe classmates academically passing them by, getting great grades and achieving all types of success, as they remained behind, baffled as to why they weren’t doing better than they were.  To pep talk them into a greater effort the night before a big assignment, I jokingly let them know that several studies have shown a proven connection between success in school and success at obtaining a decent earning job later in life.  Although my attitude was tongue-in-cheek, the concept still holds true.  If they study and work hard, the chances of them earning a decent living significantly increase as they grow.  It’s not a mystery.

In all three of these instances, the concept remains the same: what you put in is what you get out.  If you choose to do very little, your results will match the effort, and vice versa.  Christ also preached this concept, that if we put effort into our faith, we will receive blessings in return.  When asked what the greatest commandment was, His first response was, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22.37).  He knew that if we put in all our heart, mind, and soul, that God’s plan would be made fully manifest in us, much more so than if we just put in a little effort.  If we choose to work on our faith, the results will reflect that effort.

Too many of us stagnantly sit around in our faith, wondering where God is and why He isn’t helping, but we don’t examine the effort that we’re putting in for our own walk.  We forget the connection between maximum effort and maximum results, that what you put into it is what you get out of it.  We need to remember that even though God is there for us, we still need to continuously work on our relationship with Him instead of waiting for Him to come to us.  If you want a rewarding spiritual life, you have to work on it.  This week, take some steps towards putting your entire being into loving Him, and await His blessings in return.  With your great effort, God promises mighty results.  Amen.

Sore Throats and Hard Hearts

This past week has been a rough one for my health, as I just can’t shake this horrible cough.  It’s been keeping me up at nights, haunting me throughout my day, and tearing up my throat something fierce.  Blindly convinced that the problem lies solely within my throat, I’ve been guzzling honey and cough syrup in an attempt to get rid of it, but all to no avail.  Since my cough has been the most prevalent aspect of my illness, I’ve been focused solely on correcting that part, fixated on the one part that bothered me the most.  My exploration for a cause and cure has been narrow at best since the solution must be found within the symptoms of my cough, right?  However, what I soon found out was that I was neglecting congestion, which through negligence then allowed for an infection to set in, which was the cause of my throat being sore, thus triggering my cough.  In light of this new discovery, a little Mucenix was added and the infection and cough began to clear up.  If I had just taken a minute to expand my outlook beyond the cough and find what was truly at the root of my illness, I might have tackled it sooner before the infection had set in.  It wasn’t until I began to look beyond the coughing (the aspect of my illness that I was allowing to define my health) that I was able to see other aspects.  I just couldn’t look beyond the cough and see the larger picture.

The same can be said about how we view some people in our lives.  I have friends who have so much hatred for a particular person because of something he did years ago, that they now allow that action to define everything he currently does and is as a person.  There is an old adage that suggests that when you hate someone, everything they do is offensive.  Similarly, these friends can’t see beyond his past action, so now everything he does is tainted by that past choice.  Because they allow everything he does to filter through his unforgiveable past, they incorrectly see these well-intentioned current actions as an offensive affront and attack.  They have allowed an infection to set into their minds as they have refused to budge on their opinion of him, whereas if they could just see beyond this initial, seemingly defining aspect of him, they might see him for his current ideas, good choices, and insight.  By neglecting forgiveness, they have allowed for an infected mind and a hardening of their hearts to settle in.

We become so blinded by our own ignorance when we refuse to forgive others, that everything they do is infected in our eyes.  Ephesians 4.17-18 explains the dangers of blinded thinking: “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.”  When we choose to not forgive for past transgressions, minor or not, we harm ourselves and our walk, hardening our hearts in the process.  Then, we miss out on His blessings, and an infection of the mind takes a hold of us.  If we see past that issue and forgive, we allow for His work to be done in us, but it is only through willing introspection and prayer that we can avoid a hardening of our hearts.  This week, find those people in your life that you’ve defined by their one or two wrong actions from long ago.  The time has come to unburden your hardened heart and allow His healing to lift the infection that you’ve allowed to settle into your mind.  Amen.

Allowing for Examination Reversal

My students are in for a surprise, and not necessarily one that they will enjoy.  I just finished grading their first paper, and oh boy did I have a lot to say.  It’s a harsh lesson for them to learn, with that much correction being in one paper, but in the long run, that correction will pay off for them should they decide to heed it.  What was most disconcerting was just how many corrections, suggestions, and instructions I had to write on each of those papers, with many of them rooted in two areas:  paying attention more closely to what was covered in class and fixing skills that should have been polished years ago.  I came to those two conclusions after spending a long time scrutinizing and analyzing their work with a close eye, paying close attention to trends in their work and what was truly at the heart of their mistakes.  Now, it would be easy to stop there, however, what I need to take into mind is what their failings says about me as a teacher and my methodology.  As I examine their work, I need their work to examine me.  Their mistakes speak volumes about what I thought I effectively covered in the first five weeks of class, and how I need to alter my instruction to fit their needs.  Also, in reading their papers, their responses acted as a commentary on the clarity (or lack thereof) of my assignment, and how I should alter the wording.  Similarly, when we study the Bible, to just get at the heart of what the word is saying and means is one thing, but how often do we let God’s word look at us under the microscope?  When we study His word, do we allow His word to study us?  Scripture was built that way, as Hebrews 4.12 tells us about the nature of His word and the role it can play: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  For as often as we examine and study God’s word, we need it to study us right back.  Yes, we might spend time investigating what a verse or passage means in our lives, and how we can change or be encouraged as a result of reading it, but how often do we really allow the scripture to strip us bare and expose us for our flaws and insecurities?  As a living being, God’s word has the ability to take our lives, examine them with a careful eye, rebuke us and tear us apart, only to put us back together again through His watchful instruction and love.  Allowing our lives to be examined by truth is vital if we desire a closer walk with Him.  So we know how to examine the Bible, but how do we allow ourselves to be examined by His word?  Silencing the world around us from distraction begins to create in us a heart willing to listen.  Inviting quiet, inner peace and focus when we delve into His word also opens us up to instruction.  Finally, humbling ourselves before Him, casting all our desires and trophies at His feet will bring us to a point where anything the word has to say to us will be heard and internalized.  With a quiet and prepared heart ready to listen and learn, we then allow God’s word to examine us with a love and care that exceeds any and all personal attempts to interpret scripture through our own efforts.  Instead of deciding what the word says to you, quiet yourself and listen. Let it speak to your life.  In our own silence, His words will speak volumes.  Amen.

When Keeping It Inside is Just as Bad

I found myself getting increasing frustrated the longer I sat next to them in the parking lot.  When I pulled in and turned off my car, I found myself waiting for what seemed like an eternity while a mother got out and struggled with her child in the back seat, oblivious to the fact that she was blocking my door, and that I was waiting for her to move.  The grandmother was sitting in the front seat, and clearly saw my impatience, but said nothing and did nothing to hurry the process.  I wasn’t in any great hurry, but I don’t like my time to be wasted.  I opened my door a little to let the mother know that I was waiting, but still nothing hurried her along.  After forever and a day, she moved, and I was able to get out of my car.  I swiftly walked past them in an effort to parade my level of intolerance to their situation.  When I went back to my car, I noticed that they had left their car unlocked and unattended.  A million schemes flooded my brain as I thought about exacting some sort of small revenge.  Nothing big, but enough to gain the upper hand.  However, I then decided I’d be the bigger person and just walk away.  I proudly drove down the hill, thinking I’d been such a good person and Christian because I could have done something but decided to do nothing to someone who I felt had wronged me.  Most Christians would look at that situation and my resulting decision and congratulate me on walking away and doing nothing.  Many would see how I looked my enemy almost directly in the face, and instead of attacking I choose to forgive them.  Yet, these people would be sorely mistaken about my cleanliness, as much as I was, in that moment.  Many of us seem to think that there is great merit and holiness in holding our tongue or resisting the urge to strike out at others when we are justified in doing so, but holding back in times of conflict is nothing more than a whitewashing of tombs, a cleaning of the outside.  1Samuel 16.7 reveals the varying views that man and God have of ourselves: “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  Although man sees me turning the other cheek and choosing not to act, the Lord sees the heart and mind where my planned but un-carried out schemes lie, an individual no better than a typical Pharisee, one who strictly observes the law but inwardly feels superior because he or she has observed it despite what was felt.  In our relationships, we pat ourselves on the back when others do or say something that vexes us, but in our heart, we push down what we really want to say.  When we do this act, only two things result: a feeling of superiority to, and a resentment of, the other person.  It’s great that we don’t act, but that we have the desire to act is where the sin truly lies.  So, what do we do when another wrongs us and we can feel the hatred start to boil?  First, realize that we are a sinful, broken people, and that it is our nature to respond sinfully.  After establishing a level of humility and admitting helplessness, ask for God to intervene and cover those feelings with His love.  When you ask for His intervention and help, the opportunity for feeling superior doesn’t come into play, and instead of lifting up ourselves to the world, we are lifted away from the situation and to Him.  It’s then that God’s love breaks through and shines brighter instead of our own “good” deeds.  Amen.

The Uphill Struggle of Contentment – Part I: Times of Plenty

When I ask my students how much money they want to earn in life, the answer is surprisingly not millions. Most wish to have just enough to do what they want to do in life.  They want money to the point that they don’t have to worry about money.  What they seek, and many of us do, is contentment, or the desire to be satisfied with what one has.  If we can reach contentment, then we will never want more than what we have.  However, what few fail to realize is that if you are not content with what you currently have, you will never be content.  I was recently speaking to someone about a friend who is trying to pursue her dreams, has so many of the pieces set up, but no matter where she goes or what she achieves, she is never content.  She has so much going for her, but she cannot be satisfied with what she has.  I mentioned that if she isn’t content no matter the circumstance, she will never be content.  Contentment is something that is achieved despite your current situation.   As an example, Paul in Philippians 4.11-13 describes his ability to achieve contentment despite being shipwrecked, imprisoned, tortured, and rejected: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”  Paul’s contentment came from above, not from around him.  Whether he was successful or unfortunate, he was content because of his relationship with God.  So how do you know if you are content?  How can you measure and test it?  Well, it’s not in our surroundings, as it’s easy to feel contentment when things are going your way.  And outward events often mask the true inward nature.  Having everything doesn’t equal contentment; we feel content, but that feeling isn’t necessarily a reflection of actual contentment.  Instead, during times of plenty, the contented person is thankful and humble, praising God for all great things, attributing his or her riches to Him.  The discontented person during these times of blessing doesn’t attribute these events to God, as the sinful nature produces pride and arrogance, wanting to take credit for these events often through bouts of self-righteousness.  Our eyes turn away from God and instead turn to ourselves.  Discontented people puff themselves up with their accomplishment, out to prove to the world and themselves that these great events are happening because of who they are, not because of who God is.  Additionally, lack of contentment in times of plenty produces jealousy, with jealousy being the idea that you have some but want what others have in order to increase what you have.  Jealousy means that the amount you have is not enough and you are willing to take from others to increase what you have.  During a time of plenty, should jealousy, pride, or arrogance arise, maybe we are not as content as we thought.  If we look deep enough into our hearts, we soon realize that it’s a standard none of us can achieve.  In truth, only one was so content in this life that He died for our sake, so as broken people, we should forgo outward appeasement and seek inner gratification.  Only through a close personal relationship with Christ can true contentment be found, so ignore your surroundings and look to Him.  Although we can never be completely content, like Paul, we can strive for contentment through a closer walk with Him.  Amen.

The Hostile, Gnarled Claws of Resentment

A friend recently showed me a humorous cartoon of a sweet-faced, innocent-looking elementary school girl eating lunch while others look on and comment.  The message to the cartoon: “Once you hate someone, everything they do is offensive,” with the onlookers’ comment being “Look at this jerk eating those crackers like she owns the place.”  Obviously, the girl is just eating lunch, but the message is clear: when there’s someone we don’t like, his or her every action is questionable, every word is judged wrong, and every motive must be devious.  At one of my locales, we’ve reached a standoff between a couple of regulars, where they hate each other so much that everything they do is deemed belligerent and aggressive, despite that fact that it probably isn’t.  However, these people have such a deep-seeded aversion towards each other that they refuse to resolve it.  Watching this hostility occur, and attempting to mediate it, I found myself wondering from where this hatred came.  Unable to find it’s root cause, I continued to search and found from all involved parties that none of them had ever approached the other to confront, but instead harbored resentment and then continued onward.  One of those involved has often quoted to me this adage: “silence breeds monsters.” When we have issues with another person and merely move forward in anger without confrontation, that anger usually doesn’t go away, but instead sinks its talons into us in the form of resentment, which is what seemed to have happened here.  Just the other day, I became angry at one of these involved individuals for personal reasons.  I sat at home steaming, building him up in my mind to be a tremendous fiend.  I sought advice from someone who suggested I merely confront him.  Hesitantly (and somewhat fearfully), I called him and started off with a direct question about the matter.  What followed was an often-engaging and very satisfactory half-hour conversation where we both hung up with a better understanding of each other and the situation.  With my anger dissipated and an understanding on both sides, he worked to resolve it, complimenting me on my directness and initiative.  As such, our relationship is now stronger, as he knows that when there is an issue, I will bring it to him.  Ephesians 4.26 states: “In your anger do not sin: do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”  As an often used maxim for married couples, many interpret this verse to be that they shouldn’t go to bed angry.  More than likely, the verse means that we should deal with our anger before it is too late to deal with it: the point where anger turns to resentment.  Then, we begin to despise the other person instead of not liking what it is that he or she has done or said.  When we allow that process to happen, marriages sour, friendships spoil, and coworkers turn despite the fact that these are people who will be in our lives well after the offense.  Like pouring salt onto fertile land, long-held anger poisons the relationship, and nothing can grow as a result.  Additionally, the sin then becomes doubled, as it includes not just the individual who committed the wrong, but also the wronged person, who now harbors sin against that other person.  When we are wronged or offended by another’s actions or words, nothing can be gained from holding onto that anger, and the best approach to letting it go may be to confront, as you will most likely gain an empathetic understanding of the moment in question.  By letting go of our anger through respectful confrontation, the long term gains won’t involve contempt and resentment.  Amen.

The Insincere Sacrifice of Honesty

In the beginning of a relationship, sometimes couples aren’t as honest with one another or their families for the main reason that we want to be liked so much so that we suppress our true feelings.  When my parents were newly married, my mother’s aunt once made a dish for Christmas called squid in black ink (yes, it’s just like what you’re picturing right now),  and offered it to my father.  He of course couldn’t say no, as he wanted his new family to like him, so he ate and told her how much he liked it.  Assuming that he was telling her the truth, she returned to that recipe for him each Christmas along with sending an extra portion of it home to him in a jar.  When she visited for the holidays, she would gift him this delectable dish every year for the next twenty years, where he would pretend to be thrilled, but I would end up seeing it sit in our fridge with a red bow on top, untouched for the next month, until he could finally bring himself to throw it out.  The burden of her generosity haunted him for years, unable to tell her what he really thought for the sake of her feelings, as it remained not really a blemish on their relationship but just a mere uncomfortableness.  Although a minor example of maintaining dishonesty for the sake of a relationship, it serves as an example as to how dishonesty can prolong itself over time, where people have things they want to say to each other, but instead keep it buried deep where it often turns to anger and bitterness.  Many of our workplaces are filled with these relationships, where people enter meetings carrying the enormous sack of unsaid items with them, passively refusing to listen to other people’s contributions merely as a means of enacting silent revenge for the things that they feel but cannot bring themselves to say.  Proverbs 28.23 (NLT) says that “in the end, people appreciate honest criticism far more than flattery,” because a hard message is better than no message at all.  Silently fuming around unknowing others, to their faces we are all smiles and compliments, but that approach causes more harm in the long run than that initial, sometimes difficult, confrontation.  I recently heard a pastor talk of giving a sermon while his pants’ zipper was down.  Many in the congregation wanted to say something, but smiled and listened instead, most likely more fixated on the zipper than his message.  His wife was finally the one to tell him, but the pastor wished someone had said something sooner.  The initial confrontation of telling him might have been embarrassing, but the pastor would have appreciated that confrontation more so than insincere flattery.  Also, the longer insincerity takes hold, like a cancer it grows if untreated, and can turn into resentment especially in a long term relationship.  Some marriages are filled more with what is unsaid rather than what is said, as spouses hide their true feelings about certain subjects and situations for the sake of the relationship, fearful of how the other may react.  We’ve hidden our real feelings for so long that we are embarrassed to confront, yet that person would prefer the honesty, even if it hurts.  When confronting in love, although frightening at first, those actions can prevent further infliction of pain and misery.  If the two really, truly care about one another, the relationship will survive and thrive.  When we give honest criticism, we are giving information to our loved ones about how they can love us even more.  Present in that way, and the recipient, although possibly hurt at first, will appreciate your honesty and love you more for it.  Amen.