“What is truth?”

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

John 18:33-38a

The ongoing reality that truth is under attack seems especially prominent in our thinking today in the United States. And it doesn’t matter which political side you might be on, or your political thinking in general, it does seem indeed that “truth is on the scaffold.”

I for one accept truth gathered from science as part of God’s general revelation to us, hopefully that, not sloppy thinking. Always a work in progress, but not to be disregarded as a result. Most all of the advances we’ve gained in medicine and technology are due to science. And there is truth in the sense of integrity in people trying to pool knowledge as to what is good and right and helpful for humans individually and in community. That I would take as a part of what theologians call “common grace,” God’s gift to all humanity.

The truth Jesus was getting at is different in that it goes beyond what humans can actually measure and tell, even if there’s a sense that something like this exists. There is a certain knowing that goes beyond what humans can test and verify in any scientific way. We might well be learning more and more about what the universe consists of, mysteries in that, and its origin. But can we really venture an answer scientifically as to why this is so? I don’t think so. I remember a few decades back there seemed to be a movement to try to figure out that puzzle scientifically, maybe in a modernist optimism. But it seems to me that has long since been abandoned perhaps influenced by a postmodern realization that the good found in modernism has its limits.

Jesus comes and gives us the sense that there is something found in his mission, even in him which gets us to the reality of what truth is at its center, and heart, without disregarding the truth humans come up with, however so limited. In this case there is no limit, but its our own blindness and limitation due to our finiteness as humans, and brokenness which keeps us from seeing it, indeed, even taking it seriously. Maybe we can see that in Pilate who seems to me to be skeptical of it.

All I can say for myself is that I try to see everything in the light of what I would call this ultimate truth found in Jesus, who himself said elsewhere:

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6

That is where I rest, and what I am assured of. But given by God, not something we humans can come up with ourselves. Yet something we have to be open to receive by faith. In and through Jesus.

in this rubble

We heard of the terrible, heart breaking tragedy of a young mother who struggled with mental illness, first shooting her children, an eight year old girl who was a good reader, a rambunctious six year old girl, and a two year old boy who was a smiler, before taking her own life. A year ago she had sought help for mental illness.

We live in a world of heart breaking tragedy. It usually happens on less dramatic levels, but telling in lasting ways for those involved. I can make no sense out of it. There is a part of me which wants to question God like the prophets of old, and other places we find in Scripture such as the Psalms and Job.

It is a sad fact of the matter that we live in a world in which there is insanity with unspeakably horrific consequences. There’s no escape from that. Common grace, called such because God gives it to all humanity keeps it from being worse.

I can only lament over such tragedy. And at the same time believe that God is somehow present through it all.

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

C. S. Lewis

I can only go back to God and to the cross of Christ as the hope through which I carry on and live. That somehow in the end God will sort through this mess. That even now God is at work in redeeming what is in bondage, putting together what is broken, bringing beauty into the ugliness of this world.

We need to keep reminding ourselves that it’s our own sin and yes, evil, that brings in a world of hurt. But that God stepped into this world, fully taking that hurt on himself on the cross. With the promise of resurrection. In and through Jesus.

why I’m not much worried about the election, or upcoming elections

I will participate in the election tomorrow, and I do have opinions, some of them strong. And I have expressed concern over the incivility nationally on both sides, beginning in the White House. And not good in many places.

I think what the founding fathers of the United States struggled to put in place is strong enough to withstand the problems today, as long as citizens, and particularly those in governmental leadership continue that struggle. There is a good overview, well worth the time, on that. Although the subject matter may not seem to be directly applicable, I think it does get to the heart of what the American democratic republic is, never tried before in the separation of church and state: First Freedom: The Fight for Religious Liberty.

I do share a concern over the United States, but my own biggest concern by far is the witness of the church in all of this. Yes, for the good of the nation, but above and beyond that, in view of God’s kingdom present in Jesus through the gospel. The church, and Christians should not be seen as either Republicans or Democrats. We are Christians and follow one Lord, Jesus. Because of that we’re going to run counter to prevailing thinking on a number of issues nowadays. And maybe considering the big picture, on some issues which likely won’t ever change. Though over time some may. And even Christians will disagree at times. One example: I’m for government mandated healthcare for all, but others are not. At the heart of that is the role of government, a debatable issue in itself. Christians are certainly not opposed to healthcare for all, the question is how to get there.

Whether we agree with what is in place or not, we’re to be in submission to such (Romans 13), and even to honor the office I take it, even if the one in place is not entirely honorable. We are to pray for all those who are in authority (1 Timothy 2). We may have to make appeals to such, and because of the democracy which the United States is, we can participate by lobbying for change, and voting.

Though God gives humans responsibility, God is ultimately in control (Psalm 75, etc.). We can and should participate insofar as our conscience dictates. But we should not be alarmists, nor should we think the world is on the line. At the same time, we need to be sensitive to real life issues out there, which are impacted by government, where perhaps laws are needed for the common good, and particularly for those who are marginalized. And we need to avoid readily taking on some kind of martyr complex, even if a political party or ideology is trying to force their will against us in a way which violates religious liberty. We should press for freedom in the public square for all, those religious as well as those who are non religious. In the midst of all of this, our final appeal is to God. As Christians and the church we live as Christians who happen to be American, along with those who are British, Pakistani, Chinese, Korean, etc., etc., etc.

And we need to remember that the power of God for salvation is only through the gospel, never through politics. The change needed will come only when people’s hearts are changed through the gospel, and by common grace. So that there’s a new standard in place for people of the world, including everyone. Christianity through the centuries, along with grave errors at times, has brought a world of good, such as hospitals, stands against slave trade and racism, protection for the unborn, etc.

I will vote, and will lose no sleep over the outcome. God is God. Our trust is in him, not in any president, any government, nor in ourselves.

 

 

wisdom has its reward, but lacking wisdom has its consequences

32 “Now then, my children, listen to me;
    blessed are those who keep my ways.
33 Listen to my instruction and be wise;
    do not disregard it.
34 Blessed are those who listen to me,
    watching daily at my doors,
    waiting at my doorway.
35 For those who find me find life
    and receive favor from the LORD.
36 But those who fail to find me harm themselves;
    all who hate me love death.”

Proverbs 8

In Proverbs 8, wisdom is personified as a woman who has been called Lady Wisdom. Proverbs is perhaps the book for application of wisdom to life. In fact wisdom in part, from that book, means or involves skillful living.

But to ignore wisdom is to be foolish, to descend into foolishness. There seems to be both a special wisdom which comes with the fear of God (reverence and awe) at its beginning, as well as a general wisdom given to all humankind. Both as gifts from God. And both can be spurned. Sin can move people in that direction, but there’s also a common grace which can help humans, who are made in God’s image live more by wisdom.

Wisdom calls out to us our entire lives, helping us avoid our own foolish propensities, which we think will save us, but actually are quite destructive. And again Proverbs is the book to go to, to read (or listen to), and it’s good to read it slowly, and all the way through. And not only read it, but be committed to live by the wisdom God gives us, in and through Jesus.

 

God’s measuring line

It’s that more or less dreaded time of the year for job reviews, which in the case where I work end up being rather routine and relatively short, after which we might chat a bit about something else to not end our session too soon. Still, this is not my favorite exercise except that it can be a time of both encouragement and vision in terms of development. For me, I’m getting closer and closer to the end of my work days, even if to some extent I never plan to quit working altogether, as long as I’m able.

I think too of the assessment of others, either in terms of once accepting and even appreciating, but in time completely (so it seems) writing one off, or in terms of praise received. These can be both discouraging, as well as encouraging. What ends up being the bottom line for me is that I am simply a servant with significant limitations for sure, but one who offers the little I have to the Master who can take the five loaves and two small fishes and feed them to a multitude. This is certainly true for each and every one of us, in and through Jesus.

The evaluation which counts is the Lord’s evalution of ourselves, of our works. Everything is of grace for sure, we don’t do anything that is of God apart from God. There may be good humans do which moves God, as was true in the case of Cornelius the Roman centurion in the book of Acts, who feared God, gave to the poor, and helped the Jews in their religious setting. Prevenient grace, the teaching that God’s grace precedes so that only by that grace sinners can repent and believe and do well in God’s sight, as well as the common grace God gives to all by which mothers self-sacrificially care for their young, along with a whole host of other human activities we find good and even at times inspiring, these are all in the mix, when we consider the evaluation of our lives and what we do (and don’t do).

So for me, while I really do appreciate encouragement, and can see that as from the Lord, even when given by another human, perhaps helping overcome despair, the one evaluation which for me in the end matters, is exactly what our Lord will say on that Day, the day when our lives and works are evaluated.

One of the keys is to prepare well now. And a very necessary part of that is to judge ourselves, with the help of the Lord. In a certain sense, we can’t do that at all. God is the Judge, and only God sees everything as it truly is. But in a different yet related sense, we do need to judge ourselves, depending on God to give us discernment to do so, primarily in terms of confession of sin, and change in getting rid of whatever sin we might be dealing with since we have the promise of cleansing in this life, in the progressive sanctification for holiness that is ours in our Lord.

This never negates our need for further confession and cleansing, sanctification in being set apart to God to be holy, a life-long process. But other than never getting beyond temptation to sin in this life, we should be making progress, so that what might have been characteristic of us years ago, is now either unthinkable, or at least an exception to the rule, or at the very least we are ultra sensitive to the danger of such, so that we want to do our best to distance ourselves from it.

All of this to say that in the end it is God’s measuring line which counts. And that standard is Jesus himself. We are not only believers in Jesus, but followers of him, as well. So that our lives are to be taking on more and more of his likeness. So that even if in complying to the standards imposed on us elsewhere, we know we do so only because they are required of us in that context, of course as long as they don’t violate God’s will for us in Jesus, we want in everything to be pleasing to God which we know is always completely from and because of God’s grace, and to God’s glory.

Jesus is the measuring line for us all, and the Spirit helps us see just what that means for us in the course of a day, with reference to the demands placed on us, and concerning the issues which face us, especially in living and working with others, some of which might rub us the wrong way. The question for us remains, what does God want of us, even as we seek to comply with what humans expect from us.

We know it is the Lord’s evaluation which matters in the end. We want to encourage each other, but above all, pray for each other, for God’s greatest good, God’s best in each life. Knowing the Lord is able to make us stand in his grace, and go on, with the goal of hopefully being more and more formed into his likeness.

thinking well

While it is true that western thought makes thinking rightly a premium ahead of acting rightly, or with the idea that solving the world’s problems will simply mean a better education, or in essence educating the mind—there is no doubt that thinking well is important in scripture.

But how do we think in a way that is good? It is a mindset toward acclimating one’s self to the will of God for all of life. It is a thinking toward faith and obedience. What one might call pious thinking, or thinking on how to be godly in and through Jesus.

It is prayerful and faith-oriented. Indeed “by faith we understand.” How we think is related to our reflection and meditation on truth for life. Rooted in God’s revelation in Jesus and found in scripture.

Good thinking according to scripture can never be divorced from life. Though within God’s general revelation there is much thinking and pondering to be done which can only leave us in awe of the Creator. Thinking well in this way is to be grounded in God’s general revelation which itself is a large spectrum. All sorts of disciplines can be included in this. “All truth is God’s truth.” So to think well we are open to God’s revelation in general terms related to “common grace” given to all. That does not mean we accept everything purported to be truth. Discernment is needed, again a part of thinking well. Sometimes we will do best simply in acknowledging that we don’t know.

While it’s important that we don’t leave general revelation behind, our chief orientation will be in God’s special revelation which is gospel oriented and leads us to Christ. Our primary focus must be there, and in down to earth terms. Yes, for our lives to be sure, but also in terms of the world and all creation. Found in scripture, and dependent on God’s working in Christ within the church.

Scripture, tradition, reason and experience—what has been called the Wesleyan quadrilateral. I think not in terms of sola scriptura, but scriptura primera. In other words scripture does indeed come first, but what tradition as in the church has said about its reading is indeed important, if not infallible. And reason is important. While I would include experience, related to the words: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

May God help us to think well, even if others around us are not. And to be of the same mind in Christ Jesus in accord with the gospel, even when we will differ in other matters. We need to remember that we now “see through a glass darkly” (KJV) and “we know in part.” This means all our thinking must be tempered with humility. Even as we seek ongoing transformation by the renewing of our mind in understanding and doing the will of God. Together in Jesus for the world.

second thoughts on human categories

I have long been suspicious of human categorizations, especially in trying to understand humans themselves, made no less than in the image of God. I wonder if such thinking can take into account all that any human being is. As well as the dynamic of the Spirit of God in any human’s life.

Yet at the same time I can see some value in it. It was a relief to me to realize for the first time in my fifty plus years, not long ago, that I am indeed an introvert. I would have never guessed that, nor would my wife, who as a rule is more quiet than I. This helped me relax in not trying to be someone I am not. The idea that introverts can talk on and on was a new one for me.

God did have Adam name the animals, so there must be some value in human categorization. A danger for me lies in unwittingly seeing myself in some human category, rather than, or perhaps more than what God calls me in Jesus, a child of God, his son through Jesus, indeed Jesus’ brother and a sibling to all who are in Jesus. As well as one with all humans on earth, at least related as human beings made by the same Creator, in the image of that Creator, broken though we are.

While we can appreciate the insight and wisdom humans can indeed have through “general revelation” (truth given to all from God), we must not allow such to become the primary way in which we see ourselves. While at the same time accepting all the insight available. There is truth in the saying, “All truth is God’s truth.”

So maybe after my initial second thoughts, I will with respect and thanksgiving to God receive what human insight there is as a gift from God. As well as accepting as primary what God calls us in Jesus, for myself. And above all seeking to live in that good will of God in the dynamic of life. Together with others in Jesus for the world.

being thankful

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States.  There is much to be thankful for, even in this sad world of ours. Although for some people it is a losing battle for survival. It is remarkable how often those who have the least are thankful the most for what they do have.

Perhaps I’ve been more thankful than what I think, but as I’ve grown older I think I am much more thankful for the good of life. There is so much in life that is indeed good. In God’s good creation and provision. Family and friends. The church- brothers and sisters in Jesus. Jesus himself by the Spirit and through him the Father. The hope that the salvation in Jesus has brought for us and for the world.

We do have much to thank God for. I want to be more and more aware of all the blessings God daily pours on us. There is so much good. And in Jesus the best is always yet to come. And yet that should not diminish in the least for us the good now present with us. As we learn to appreciate the good now present with us, we’ll appreciate as well all the good to come.

God is good. We thank him through Jesus our Lord.

who is right?

It is amazing today the degree of certainty people have over matters which are surely debatable, myself included. And yet case is closed on so many of these subjects for many.

We all have positions on nearly everything, even if it’s an admission of not knowing, all the way to a reasoned position. Of course we approach everything from a paradigm, or worldview, and take in factors, before coming to our own, I would say in most cases hopefully tentative position.

Scripture is not so much an answer book, as a book to help us grow up in maturity in Christ, so that we can think and act as spiritually adult children of God. That means certain priorities in Jesus come to the fore: love, community, mission–among them. While acknowledging that it is never right to commit adultery, to steal, etc.

In the end it is God who is always right on everything. We are not entirely right on anything, but right enough on many things, such as the need for salvation, and Jesus as Savior, etc. Whatever rightness we have is a gift from God.

This does not mean that we in Jesus don’t know, or have no sense of being somehow in what is right. That is all a gift of God’s grace through our faith. By faith we are justified in and through Jesus. By faith we understand that God’s word is true.

We need to hold rightness in a much humbler place than our culture does. It is dependent on God, and is much less certain in so many areas in which humans take positions and draw up battle lines.

That being said, there are of course hard areas in which good, intelligent people are going to disagree. Including devoted Christians. When this occurs we need to listen all the more, and move toward a respectful dialog which accepts differences which may remain.

And we need to keep working at growing in thinking well, loving God with all our minds. Humility being certainly a most important characteristic of that. It is so true that the more people actually do know, the more they realize just how complex life is. Along with knowing that the salvation in Jesus is full in large as well as small ways.

Who is right? In the end only God. And any rightness we ever have, including those who don’t know God, is a gift from him in and through Jesus.

living with knowledge

We are limited in what we know, to be sure. And we know nothing at all with total insight and perspective. Even collectively humankind can’t, though that collective knowledge can help in many matters. That place would be reserved only for God. But we do have certain kinds of real knowledge that we can bank on day after day. After all, we do live as if that’s true. We live according to what we understand and have learned and are learning.

In fact knowledge, while in itself not enough, is essential for life, or at least for good living. Proverbs makes it clear that we can live as if we have no knowledge, or against knowledge, with less than good consequences. Proverbs would seem to incorporate in itself something God gives the human race in the realm of common grace: what we call “common sense”. People live by it all the time, or suffer the consequences for not doing so.

And then there is the knowledge God gives us in his word, in scripture. Looking back on my life, I often would live with a kind of faint attitude which might say something like this: “Yes, I know that that is true, but for me this works, and this is what I want to do.” Or likely the thought might be more subtle, or any thought at all muted out, since that was what I did. And since I did many other things according to scripture, the exceptions to that rule were not so bad. The idea here is rationalization, or something of the sort which would make me think that I was basically in the clear. Though at times I knew better.

Psychology can be helpful, and I don’t doubt that, but it will be unhelpful, even disruptive (perhaps destructive, though I stop short of using that term), if it displaces the voice of God’s word. That is part of our problem. The enemy’s voice comes to us in so many different ways from everywhere. God’s voice in scripture through Jesus can be all but drowned out.

I came to repent of my ways, and finally to begin toward living according to the truth in God’s word which I had known all along, but which I had not humbly accepted in my heart so that it would bear fruit in my life. Not that we arrive in this life. But a difference should be taking place as we seek every day to live according to the knowledge we have from God’s word.

We will fall short and sin. We then confess our sin to God, and if need be to anyone we may have offended, and seek to do better, through God’s grace. And we don’t despise our imperfections in how and what we are doing. God in his grace looks at our intent and our goal, which actually he is at work to perfect. And helps us understand and address our mixed motives, as we acknowledge and confess them to him. So that we can become more and more holy through his gracious working in us through Jesus.