the mistake of relevancy

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 18:36-38a

To want to be relevant is not necessarily a mistake at all. Paul sought to be all things to all people that by all possible means he might win as many as possible to Christ through the gospel (1 Corinthians 9). But often it is. The problem is one of truth. We want to reach people where they’re at, but never at the expense of truth.

Jesus made no sense to Pilate. Yes he was a king, but not in a way that mattered to Pilate. The governor was accountable to Rome, and that’s what mattered to him. Whatever “truth” might be, that was irrelevant to Pilate.

Truth telling, and more precisely, testifying to the truth was what Jesus was all about. We read in the same book that Jesus called himself “the truth”, along with “the way and the life” (John 14:6). So Jesus’s testimony necessarily pointed people to himself.

That doesn’t seem relevant to the world at large. What goes on in Washington and elsewhere matters, and little else. But if Jesus were here today, he would make the same appeal. Yes, we have to live in the world, in nations under governments, and for many, that’s where all truth and justice are found. And the power to implement such. Jesus lived in Roman occupied territory, but he did not base his life on such. It was all about his identity, who he was and what he had come to do.

What about us today? As Christians, where do we find truth? What do we think is relevant? Or is any of this much of a concern to us? Do we simply fall into line with the status quo, with what others, maybe even other Christians are doing and thinking?

We need to find for ourselves what we can then offer to others, hopefully by our example in searching and the change that brings. Yes, truth is something we search out and find, find and search out. That never ends.

Jesus is a king, and his kingdom is not from this world, but is indeed for living in the world. But not attune to the world. It would never become a part of the Roman empire, so that it would be irrelevant to them. Though later, the Roman Empire would become “Christian” simply as a way of uniting the empire, since Christianity was so widespread. In many ways not unlike what people mean when they call the United States a Christian nation. But Jesus’s word goes on. And it’s not about was is relevant to how we’re getting on with life, or what any nation is doing. But in terms of what is truly and in the end eternally relevant for this life and the next.

So let’s be in our Bibles, in prayer, in church, regardless of how irrelevant that oftentimes might seem. And stay in that. Finding the truth in Jesus, down to earth, even while not of this world and its ways. In and through him.

the Bible: real people, the real world

I heard or read that a Christian leader of the past wanted his biography to include warts and all. I appreciate that. And that’s exactly what the Bible does. Read the list of names in Hebrews 11 for example. David is a prime example of what I’m talking about. Real people who made mistakes, some glaring ones, old fashioned sin, yet repented, and found their way in God.

And the Bible refers to a real world, not some make believe existence which really is not present, except on TV or something make believe. But also the Bible awakens us to the world as God conceived and created it to be, the beginning of which is found in Christ in the new creation. The church is the integral part of that, through faith in the good news in Jesus, in scripture, and baptism. It is already a God-centered world, not man-centered. And someday that will all be not only evident to all, but really the “air” everyone breathes, when heaven and earth become one in Jesus.

I like that, because I’m a real person who struggles just like everyone else, and has not done as well as I should have at certain parts of my life. But has also repented, and continues to repent, as needed. What we need is truth, and all of it. Truth exposes us, but it also leads us to what we were made for in the first place. We have to be open to it, to other possibilities other than the myths we’ve grown up with. The true myth, since myth itself does not necessarily mean what isn’t true. It is a representation of what actually is real in a world that embraces what’s really not. Truth is found in the one who claimed that he himself is the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6).

Again, that’s why I much prefer the Bible. It tells the truth about ourselves, but it also shows us what God wants. Beginning in this life, and fulfilled completely in the next, in and through Jesus.

truth will prevail

If truth does prevail, then what about God’s judgment? Of course we do well to shudder (Romans 2 and 3), since we indeed are all sinners. But without God’s judgment, how will justice, and yes, truth prevail? That is part of God’s atoning work in Christ, to take the judgment of sin upon himself in his death. So that all can be forgiven and given new life, justified in the sense of given status in God’s covenant family and thus made right, and reconciled to God and to each other in Christ. The final judgment is the purging of evil from the world to bring in the final and full salvation.

In the meantime we often find in this present life untruth and evil having a heyday. Untruth and evil do seem to go together against truth and goodness. It seems like the universe is wired, or at least ought to be wired for truth and goodness. Without a doubt we’re all in need of God’s grace in Jesus. If truth prevails, again, we’re all in trouble, since we have been and can be full of falsehood and the evil that accompanies that. And again, a big part of the good news in Jesus is that God took that evil upon himself on the cross in the Person of his Son, Jesus. The result of that is that by faith we’re forgiven, and given a passion for truth in the Truth himself, Jesus.

We have a passion for truth, while at the same time always and forever, along with the rest of the world being in great need of nothing less than the Truth himself. In the Truth, truth will prevail even here and now in the grace of God in that Truth himself. And we find out again and again that God does not condemn us in Jesus, but in and by Jesus- the Truth, God helps us to look for and see, even if seemingly only by faith, a better day, the day when all truth prevails, and to experience a true measure of that even in this present evil age when truth seems irrelevant to so many, and all but lost.

And so that is where we in Jesus hang our hats, not in a supposed progressive order in which the world is getting better and better on its own. But only in Jesus, the Truth himself, which should and can give us heart in the promise of God for the future beginning even in the present- in the here and now, in and through Jesus.

who sets the agenda?

Some people are excited over the new president of the United States. Others might be excited about this or that, so that their thoughts and lives end up being preoccupied with that. There are a host of factors which influence what we do, and the bottom line seems to be somehow securing some sort of happiness. Is that wrong? I think not. I believe God created us for a life that is abundant in realizing the fulfillment of our humanity, or what it means to be human. The question ends up being, just who determines that, and why does that matter?

The freedom that seems to be in vogue now is simply to fulfill whatever desires and dreams one has. A self-fulfillment which has nothing to do with any notion of truth, but everything to do with a freedom which is determined simply in how one feels, their desires. And from that people say that what is true for you, might not be true for me, in other words it may not work for me in realizing my self-fulfillment, or simply in letting me be and do what I want.

For us in Jesus there is only one who sets the agenda: God the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit: the Triune God. Jesus is Lord, period. And all other authorities have their authority only under him, under God. What they say, and their values are not determinative for us, even if they might have legitimacy in their place.

The one who sets our agenda is the Lord, King Jesus, by his person, teaching and work, through the gospel, the good news, which really is Jesus, and is actually all throughout the Final/New Testament. That is where we find the truth for life, the true humanity fulfilled in him, and from that, real, neverending freedom. But that freedom is a byproduct. We follow and submit to God in Jesus no matter what. God is the one who sets our agenda.

truth in life

I’ve read that Dietrich Bonhoeffer formulated theology not just from scripture, and the church tradition connected to that, but out of life itself. It was personal, communal, societal, and surely global as well. The gospel of our Lord Jesus touches every aspect of creation, either now in Jesus, or at his return when heaven and earth become one in him.

We have to try to not only speak truth to power, but truth to ourselves, as well. Scripture, and the gospel of our Lord which is the heart of it, is about life, real life in the here and now, in the nitty gritty, dark and dirty and difficult places of life, as well as in the good times, and in every place in between.

God speaks truth to us in scripture in and through Jesus. This is in large part why we need to remain in scripture all the time. We want to understand, and get into the flow of God’s revelation to us, to the world in Christ, of the Spirit, and of God’s grace (unfailing love and undeserved, unmerited favor) in him. Scripture certainly reflects real life, and therefore speaks into our lives with nothing less than a word from God for us in and through Christ.

The life, the eternal life took upon himself our life, created life, that we might take hold of the eternal life that is in him. When the Word became flesh/human, there was the ultimate truth in life in Jesus. A truth not just about head knowledge, as good and important in its place as that is. But about reality, so that we can rest in faith and in the grace of God present, which began uniquely in that little baby boy in a manger in Bethlehem, who is the truth for all of life, even the life of the world.

living in a post-truth time

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

Roger Olson’s thoughts (better read than here, if you’re short on time, from a seasoned theologian and thinker: What Living in a Post-Truth Culture Means) on living in a post-truth time got me to thinking. I too think we’ve been watering down truth in too many Christian churches and places in order to be relevant to society around us. Seems like the Jesus of the gospels shared no such concern at all. Read them from Matthew through John and see what you think.

Olson says he’s a critical realist, which I fancy myself to be, as well. He says truth is simply what is, regardless of our ability to perceive and understand it. When I heard someone say a couple decades back that theology is in a flux, and changes were coming, they were so right, and really none of us had a clue, it seems, just how true that was, and the changes that would come with it. Some of that is surely legitimate (and study church history), and some not, all depending.

We live in a society in which truth and facts don’t matter. Winning is all that counts and on nothing less than our own terms. It is a difficult time indeed, for those who hold to the truth no matter what, or attempt to do so.

For us as Christians, “all truth is God’s truth” (from Francis Schaeffer, I think, see Olson’s post, linked above), and Jesus is the Truth. The gospel is the heart of this revelation, which we in Jesus are to give our lives to. The thought that all truth is God’s truth opens up what is called general revelation, as given to all in creation, the truth as it is in Jesus, special revelation offered to all through the gospel.

We don’t need to apologize or back down from our commitment to truth. At the same time we ought to hold to that with the utmost humility. Truth is powerful, not only explaining the way things really are, but exposing us, as well. It is not relegated to the human intellect, but as big as all of life in all its components. The “wild card” in that being a Creator whose creation indicates his power and glory, us humans mirroring something of the Person of God, even the essence of it. Restored to us fully in the one perfect human, Christ, God-in-the-flesh, whose first coming we celebrate during this season.

full attention to King Jesus the Lord

Nowadays we are being bombarded on the news here in the United States about the upcoming election. Full attention is given to it night and day, and if we’re not careful, we can be easily sucked into that vortex. It’s even harder to get out of it than it was easy to get in.

May I suggest that for the follower of Jesus, that attention is misplaced? I believe it is, because come what may in the election in November, not only will the world carry on, but much more importantly, Jesus will remain on the throne, as the King of kings and Lord of Lords.

Does that mean we’re to pay no attention to the news, to what’s going on in this world, to its politics? I think we do well to give it some attention, but never our full attention in the sense of it being the thing that matters the most. What matters, compared to which nothing else matters at all is that Jesus is King and God is at work in and through him through the gospel in and out from the church. If we lose sight of that, then we’ve lost sight of the true kingdom work of God. Not to say that other good is not taking place elsewhere. It simply does not have the signature of God in Jesus by the Spirit through the gospel in and out from the church.

The world wants us to give it our full attention, and ultimately our heart allegiance. And both the Christian religious left and right more or less have seemed to do so, and many within their ranks continue. But in so doing, we need to ask ourselves the hard question whether this is our calling in the world. Some would insist yes, as if the Lordship of Jesus includes practically a co-regency or sharing of rule with the nation states of this world. Quite to the contrary, if one takes the witness of scripture seriously. Such are under Jesus’s reign and indeed subject to his judgment.

And so we do well to give our full attention between now and November and beyond to one King, and one politic in him: King Jesus, and God’s grace and kingdom come in him; the good news proclaimed and witnessed to by the church. The real mover and shaker in the reality of the light and truth that is in Jesus.

to tell the truth

To Tell the Truth was a popular American television show which featured three people all claiming to be a certain person, of course only one of them being that person. It was interesting how hard it was for the contestants along with the television audience to guess who the real ___ ___ was. Truth telling, as Scot McKnight points out in at least one of his books, is so very basic to following Christ, and is surely underrated. Not that we don’t think it’s important, but that we don’t think much about it, maybe because we rather take it for granted, and maybe also because we rationalize some of it away at times.

Somewhere recently I read that if something seems too good to be true, that’s because it is. In our society we’re meant to present ourselves in public, a good example of that, when one has a job interview. They are supposed to “sell themselves,” giving all the appearance of having it all together. Not that there can’t be positive job interviews in which one presents just why they might do well in the job they’re applying for. And then look at our political campaigns. What if there would be an election between candidates who were really honest and simply running as public servants? Maybe it would be quite boring to many, but it would have the potential of having substance, and the style would surely be much better, because these candidates could be real.

It’s interesting to me how impressed people might at least act toward me when they first meet me (“first impressions”), and later become disillusioned when they get to know the real me. Which is why I don’t care at all any more about first impressions I might make on others, except that I don’t want to be a stumbling block, but rather, a witness for the gospel. They want some ideal, but when they get to know the real Ted Gossard, they end up disillusioned, and rightfully so, because their image has been broken.

Again, thinking back to that piece (can’t recall it): If something is too good to be true, that’s because it is. What is ultimately needed is not for others to know the real me, and it would be better to spare anyone of that. I don’t even know the real me, entirely. Although truth telling remains paramount, and would include one being forthright about one’s weaknesses when that might be appropriate, along with their strengths, hopefully working on the former and thanking God for the gift of the latter. But what is really needed is a focus on the Truth, on Jesus himself. It is not about us, after all, but only about him. God made known in Jesus by the Spirit, the one Truth that is worth believing in entirely, and can change our lives forever.

remembering the love

We live in a time in which love is disdained and dissed, or is sentimental and not grounded in either reality or truth. And we have our own difficult worlds to maneuver in, which at times will test our love.

What we need is not just love, but the love so to speak: the love which is grounded in the truth which ultimately is the Truth himself, Jesus. A love which can look past the faults and sins of others, “love covers over a multitude of sins.” And when necessary, but with a reticence ready to reconsider, and great care taken if proceding holds the other accountable, but does so always in a way in which they know we have their best interests at heart, and that we’re on their side.

Sometimes we’re in situations which do affect us, their action or inaction making our life more difficult. That is when we might need to hold them accountable, but we don’t let what might even possibly be an actual personal affront get to us, we don’t let them “get under our skin.” One key way which has helped me time and again is to recite the Jesus Creed (Scot McKnight) over and over:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.

Mark 12

I will repeat that over and over as a discipline, a necessary reminder to me of what the heartbeat of my life is to be no matter what. And keep doing that until it begins to sink into my heart. And with that, I’ll include “the Lord’s prayer” here and there (Matthew 6:9-13).

Even as God in and through Jesus loves us, we need to love each other, and others. And while our love will fall short of God’s love, nevertheless we drink from that stream of love by the Spirit, so that we receive and impart something of it to others. And we choose to love, when all of our own inclinations might go the other way.

Yes, we must remember the love, the true love, the love of God in Jesus which has been given to us not only to know for ourselves, but to begin to practice on others. Loving them even as Jesus has loved us: sacrificially and to the end.

the unity the gospel brings with reference to challenges of our day

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

1 Corinthians 12:27

One of the most powerful arguments for the truth, power and reality of the gospel is the unity it brings to people who otherwise would not be united, and in fact might not get along at all, and even worse. This is because our unity is in Jesus Christ, through whom we are brought together into the unity of the Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

We are created with differences, and the new creation, as we can see from the passage above (clicking the link shows the immediate context) is just as rich in diversity. Those differences are a good thing. What is challenging for us in this present existence in which we “see through a glass darkly,” and “know in part,” (1 Corinthians 13; KJV) are the many differences we have which we may hold to be nearly first order truths (like the gospel, which is definitely first order), or which we consider important enough to be nonnegotiable. Sexual ethics is a prime example today. Some hold to the orthodox, traditional view of marriage, while others believe in covenant faithfulness in marriage, but believe scripture does not exclude opening up the door to same sex marriage.

First of all, truth is important across the board. I don’t believe in “eternal security,” though many people I know, do. It is important in its place, but as long as we know we have security through faith in Christ, and that we are dependent on God’s gift to us in Christ, and that we are not to live careless lives in this life of grace given to us by God in Jesus, then the question of whether or not one can lose their salvation is rather beside the point to me anyhow. The whole issue becomes just where we draw the lines.

Back to the question on sexual ethics. That’s probably in large part the issue: where we draw the lines and why. The fact of the matter is everyone does so. Not just anything goes for anyone, even if on sexual ethics, it might. We need to make room for some differences, agree to disagree on some things, but somehow still be united in and through Christ and the gospel.

Back to what I consider, more or less gray areas. We can and therefore should live together well with differences of thought concerning the politics of this world. Partly I think, and I would argue that this ought to be the weightiest reason: Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not. The government of this world still has its place, and is even ordained as well as judged by God. But how that is to be worked out in a given society and era is not something I would consider black and white, even while many issues such as the life of the unborn, and medical care for all, are.

This unity that is ours in Jesus is something we’re to keep working at in this life (Ephesians 4:3). Otherwise, we may well lose it, at least in our witness and testimony to the world. To break away in denial of this unity is a sign that possibly the division is exposing a faith which isn’t genuine. At least it’s an indicator that someone, perhaps both parties in the division, are somehow off track in their following of Christ.

The unity that the gospel brings is not some cookie cutter agreement, but rather a healthy unity which includes differences. But remains steadfast in the oneness of God in Christ, awaiting the time when all that divides us will be gone. And looking for more ways we can agree to live with the differences we have now, while also looking for a unity that is based on a faith which is committed to truth in and through the Truth himself, Jesus (John 14:6).