In Defense of Truth

Five years ago, I wrote an essay In Defense of Truth. I decided to revisit and update it a bit in preparation for my blog series, Testify to the Truth.

One of my nephews once wrote that Buddhism “teachings are far more modern and applicable to life than any other religion” and that it isn’t fair to have to choose a religion “because most religions are fragments of stories and ideas passed down from other cultures anyway.” I did not comment on his statements for a couple of reasons. One, I didn’t have a defense of my own religious beliefs ready. Two, I tend to worry too much about offending when I should have the courage to stand in my truth.

Relative Truth

My nephew’s thinking reflects the ideas of Postmodernism, a philosophy based on the idea that truth is subjective, a matter of personal preference or point of view. Postmodernists believe that there is no objective reality. They believe that our sense of morality is shaped by our culture, thus the casual dismissal of Biblical teachings passed down for thousands of years.

The Postmodern religious philosophy trivializes the distinctions between religions. Choosing a religion is not like choosing a flavor of ice cream. Jesus Christ is very different from Buddha, Joseph Smith, L. Ron Hubbard, Mohamed, and the leader of every other religion.

To the postmodernist, the individual defines his or her reality. This a dangerous way to think. Not everything is a matter of personal interpretation. It is important to be able to discern what is real and true based on objective fact.

Objective Truth

What is truth? If a statement is true, it conforms to fact or reality. Because truth is based on facts, evidence and reality, it is objective. It is not dependent on personal feelings and opinions. Truth exists outside the self; it is independent of the human mind. 

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

John Adams

We can resist facing the truth. We can deny the truth. We can suppress the truth. We can hide the truth. We can bend and distort the truth. But truth is immutable. We cannot change facts to suit our own desires. 

Objective truth matters. Truth holds humanity accountable to facts, to reality, to the consequences of our words and our actions.

Trust

Not all truths are knowable with the same degree of certainty and not all truths are provable. Sometimes a personal relationship is enough to give you confidence that what someone tells you is true. You believe what they say even it you can’t prove it to be true. This is the trust I have in my friend Jesus.

That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

2 Timothy 1:12 (NIV)

I know that the teachings of Jesus Christ are right and true because I’ve tested and tried them. Love your neighbor as yourself. Be merciful. Forgive. Focus on your own sins and let God be the judge of others. Don’t be a hypocrite.

Jesus made extraordinary claims about himself that I cannot prove. He said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He claimed to be able to forgive sins and promised everlasting life to those who believed in Him. He equated himself with God yet lived humbly as a servant.

Prophets predicted the life and death of the Messiah. I take as “gospel truth” the testimonies of his life and resurrection from those who were there even though I can not prove the veracity of their accounts. Yes, the stories were written and passed down long ago, but truth stands the test of time.

The Law of Noncontradiction

Aristotle’s law of noncontradiction is a principle used in logic that means that a statement cannot be both true and not true at the same time in the same context. Truth cannot contradict itself.

C.S. Lewis and others have made the “trilemma” argument that Jesus was either a liar, lunatic, or the Lord.  Jesus was either telling the truth when he said he was the son of God or he was a liar or he was insane. 

Jesus could not be the good, moral teacher he was shown to be and at the same time be the greatest conman of all time. He spoke this truth: A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 

Truth is on trial

When Jesus stood trial before Pilate, he said “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Truth is on trial, standing firmly against the dark side of deception. It may not seem fair to have to choose which side you are on but you do have to choose.  If you choose to stand on the side of truth, be prepared to stand your ground with the full armor of God. 

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Ephesians 6:13-17 (NIV)

 

Worship in the Spirit and in Truth

The inspiration for my blog title, Innermost Being, was Psalm 51:6 (NASB):  Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. I am naturally inclined to self-reflection; my innermost being is my comfort zone. I believe that I grow spiritually by being honest with myself about my sinfulness and by seeking God’s wisdom. Truth is more important to me now than it ever has been. Truth isn’t just a quality I desire in myself; I seek God’s truth and truth is the lens through which I see and evaluate the world around me.

My small group has just started to study The Truth Project, a Focus on the Family study led by Del Tackett. As the only progressive Christian in my group, I see the world differently than everyone else. I am not interested in engaging in the culture wars of our time. I have seen the casualties of this war – wounded souls who miss out on the grace of God because too many Christians put moral law above God’s grace.

Instead, I am interested in holding to the teaching of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Del Tackett says that Truth is at the heart of the Cosmic Battle – the battle between God’s truth and the lies of the world. I have long sensed that there is a cosmic battle between good and evil. Truth is good; lies are evil. I believe that God is the Father of Truth and Satan is the father of lies.

In the first lesson of The Truth Project, the intriguing question Tackett asked was this: why did Jesus come into the world? Most of us think that he came to the world to save it, which is true. But when he appeared before Pilate he said, “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 (John 18:37).” 

As I dive into this study, I am on guard against being pulled into a culture war. That sort of battle allows a bitter root to grow in the inmost being. But my mind and heart are open to the Word of God, to the Spirit of Truth. I will listen to Jesus and hold to his teaching.

There is no better time than now to seek Truth. The world distorts truth. The world rejects the truth. The world exchanges truth for a lie. The time has come for true worshipers to worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth.

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  – John 4:23

Become an everyday vessel for God to use

For the past five months, I have been studying a list of steps my pastor gave the congregation of my church to help us go deeper in our faith. His last piece of advice is: “Become an everyday vessel for God to use.” A vessel is a hollow container, a pitcher or vase, for example, that is used to hold something. How do we become a container that is useful to God?

Become like clay in the hand of the potter

The people of Judah turned their hearts away from God, just as people do now. God told the prophet Jeremiah to go to the potter’s house where he would receive God’s message (Jeremiah 18:1-6).

So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel…” 

We are the clay and God is the potter. Those who are fully committed to God, who have given their hearts to the Lord, are like clay in his hands. The clay is marred. It is not the finest material for the potter to work with. Yet God can shape and transform the most imperfect materials into something beautiful and useful.

To become like clay in God’s hands, you must submit yourself to his handiwork. Give yourself fully to the work of his hands. Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always (Psalm 105:4).

In God is the Potter – We are the Clay, Michael Bradley points out that the potter can only work with the clay if enough water is added to the clay to make it soft and pliable. Bradley explains that water symbolizes the Word of God (Ephesians 5:26). If you really want God to shape you into the person He wants you to be, you must spend time reading the Word of God.

When I see Word capitalized, I think Jesus. Jesus is the Word. If you want to know what God wants you to become, look no further than Jesus. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1).

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. – Hebrews 4:12

Painted in mercy’s hue

The potter and the clay is a great analogy for God’s transforming work; a painter and canvas are another. Danny Gokey’s song, Masterpiece, reminds me of a few powerful truths. God is moving in ways that I cannot see. What I will become is not known. It takes time to create a real work of art.

Heart trusts you for certain
Head says it’s not working
I’m stuck here still hurting
But you tell me
You’re making a masterpiece
You’re shaping the soul in me
You’re moving where I can’t see
And all I am is in your hands
You’re taking me all apart
Like it was your plan from the start
To finish your work of art for all to see
you’re making a masterpiece
Guess I’m your canvas
Beautiful black and blue
Painted in mercy’s hue
I don’t see past this
You see me now
Who I’ll be then
There at the end
Standing there as

Your Masterpiece

God is the painter and we are the canvas. God paints us in mercy’s hue – the color of love. He sees the potential in the ordinary canvas. With every stroke of his loving hands, he adds something beautiful to our hearts.

Fill me up, Lord

In the introduction to Falling Upward, a Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Richard Rohr wrote that the first task of life “is to build a strong “container” or identity; the second task is to find the contents the container is meant to hold.” Many people, even religious people, never figure out what the container is supposed to hold.

The premise of Rohr’s book is that we grow spiritually by stumbling and falling. “Until we are led to the limits of our present game plan, and find it to be insufficient, we will not search out or find the real source, the deep well, or the constantly flowing stream.”

I have found that Jesus, the Lamb of God, is the real source. He said, “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them (John 7:38).” The Lamb will guide them to springs of living water (Revelation 7:17).

When you recognize your own sinfulness and need for redemption and throw yourself on God’s mercy, he fills you with living water, the Spirit. The Holy Spirit infuses the believer with grace. God’s grace gives you the power to become the person he wants you to be.

A work in progress

I know what it is to be painted with mercy’s hue. I have been forgiven for falling and stumbling and making a mess of things, over and over again. I know what my container is meant to hold – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I have been filled with God’s grace and want to extend it to others.

And yet, God is not finished with me. I am not a masterpiece. The words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart are not always pleasing to God. Sometimes, I want to hide my imperfections or to retreat in shame. But I think that having the courage to be real is one way to be an everyday, ordinary vessel that God can use.

Reading List

Psalm 105:4
Jeremiah 18:1-10
2 Chronicles 16:9
Matthew 5:16
Acts 13:36
Romans 12:11
1 Corinthians 15:58
Ephesians 2:8-10
2 Timothy 2:20-21
1 John 2:1-2; 3:1-2
*****
Photo Credit – By Creator: Euphiletos Painter – This file was donated to Wikimedia Commons as part of a project by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. See the Image and Data Resources Open Access Policy, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57852656
Per Wikipedia, the image is a “Panathenaic ampora,” a large ceramic vessel showing runners, awarded to a victor in one of the Panathenaic Games, c. 530 BC. This vessel would have been filled with oil from the sacred olive groves in Attica.
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Cultivate thankfulness, generosity and kindness

My pastor’s advice to believers who want to go deeper in their faith is to cultivate thankfulness, generosity, and kindness. Of course, you don’t have to believe in God to be thankful, generous, and kind. But if you have been touched by the grace of God, there should be evidence that you have been changed.

The Vine and the Branches

To “cultivate” means to develop a quality or sentiment or to prepare the soil for a crop or garden. The second meaning reminds me of the parable of the vine and the branches. Jesus is the vine and the Father is the gardener. Followers of Jesus are the branches. The branches do not bear fruit alone; they only bear fruit if they remain attached to the vine. We remain in the vine when we keep the words of Jesus in our hearts and keep his command to love each other as he loves us.

Jesus wanted his followers to cultivate fruit of the spirit, qualities like kindness and compassion, that flourish when you are deeply rooted in love. When we cultivate good fruit, we “spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere (2 Corinthians 2:14).”

Thankfulness

In a letter to the Colossians (2:7), the apostle Paul wrote, “continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”

Why do those who have been redeemed by Jesus overflow with thankfulness? Because he touched us and made us whole. Because we were once lost, but now we’re found. Because we were blind, but now we see! Because we have been promised a kingdom that will not be shaken!

As I know too well, it is easy to forget to give thanks when you’re going through something difficult. Paul reminds us to be thankful in all circumstances. No matter how bad things are, do not be anxious. The Lord is always near.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:4-7

Generosity

As a child, I was taught that what you give comes back to you. This is the wisdom of Proverbs 11:25: a person who blesses others will be abundantly blessed. Jesus said, “For if you give, you will get! Your gift will return to you in full and overflowing measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use to give—large or small—will be used to measure what is given back to you (Luke 6:38, Living Bible).”

Even if you are poor and have little to give, God will bless you for giving. Jesus promised that God will provide whatever you need. If you have the means to give and you have no pity on people in need, how can the love of God be in you?

Kindness

Kindness is underrated. A simple act of kindness or a kind word can mean the world to the person who receives it. Kindness is a gift that every person can afford to give. To be kind is to be gentle, caring, considerate, helpful, generous, gracious, merciful and forgiving. Kindness is uplifting and encouraging.

If you have been encouraged by Christ, if you have received any comfort from his love, if you have been touched by his tenderness and compassion, then be like-minded. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (Philippians 2:3-4).”

Kindness is more than just being nice or pleasant. The essence of kindness is the ability to look to the interests of others, to treat other people the way you want to be treated. Let someone else go first. Let someone else have something that you wanted for yourself. Bear with each other. Forgive others for not being perfect just as you are not perfect.

Paul describes the spiritual attire of a person who is dearly loved by God and shows how grateful they are by being kind, compassionate, humble, gentle, forgiving and patient:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. – Colossians 3:12-17

Pay it forward

The phrase “pay it forward” is credited to Lily Hardy Hammond who wrote (The garden of delight, 1916), “You don’t pay love back; you pay it forward.” Long before she coined this phrase, Jesus showed us how to pay his love forward. Be Jesus-minded. Be kind. Be merciful. Be forgiving. See to it that no one misses out on the grace of God.

Reading List
Leviticus 27:30
Proverbs 11:25
Mark 12:41-44
Luke 6:38
Acts 2:46
2 Corinthians 2:14, 9:11
Galatians 6:20
Ephesians 4:32
Philippians 2:1-4; 4:6
Colossians 2:6-7; 3:12-17
1 Thessalonians 5:18
Hebrews 12:28
James 1:7
1 Peter 3:9
1 John 3:17

Choose the right path each day

This summer, after completing a sermon series called “Living Deep,” my pastor gave the congregation a list of practical steps to help us go deeper in our faith. He called step twelve, “Choose a new direction, and start on it again each day.” I like the idea that every day is another chance to change your life. But instead of choosing a new direction, I prefer the path metaphor that appears so often in scripture.

In Robert Frost’s famous poem, The Road Not Taken, he wrote about the choice he made between two roads in a wood. “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” We all get to choose between completely different paths in life. Our choices make all the difference.

Joshua told the people of Israel to fear the Lord and follow him faithfully. “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…” God doesn’t force anyone to follow him; we get to choose. Moses told the people of Israel, “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses..” In other words, you have a choice between two very different paths. Listen to the Lord. Choose life.

Jesus said that there is a wide road that many people follow. Unfortunately, the wide, well-traveled road leads to destruction. Fewer people find the narrow road that leads to life.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” – Matthew 7:13-14

One day when I was hiking with a group, two of us went the wrong way at a trail junction. There were signs that we weren’t going the right way; the trail wasn’t as worn or maintained as the trail we had been on. A large tree had fallen across the path. We should have turned around but we continued on even though it didn’t seem right. The path we were on did eventually take us to a trail head but we went miles out of our way, ran out of water, and worried the other hikers.

It is not always easy to follow a path in the wilderness. I have been led astray by other hikers – people who confidently went the wrong way. I’ve relied on my own faulty sense of direction and had to backtrack when I realized my mistake. When the trail is not clearly marked, it is easy to miss a switch back or lose sight of the trail completely. Every year, I hear about someone getting lost and not being as fortunate as I was.

Jesus is the new direction. If you want to find the narrow road that leads to life, you have to follow him. He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Following Jesus isn’t a walk in the park. People will ridicule you for believing in him. People will automatically assume that you are a hypocrite because they have seen so many “Christians” talk the talk without walking the walk.

If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. –  1 John 1:6-7

The word of God is the trail map to living a deeper life of faith. Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path (Psalm 119:105). Show me your ways Lord, teach me your paths (Psalms 25:4). Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).

Let God be your compass. Walk with him faithfully each day. He will make your paths straight. He will keep your feet from stumbling. He will guide you along the right paths. Even when you walk through the darkest valleys, he will walk beside you.

Reading List

Deuteronomy 30:19-20
Joshua 24:15
Psalm 18:2; 28:7; 118:24; 119:11
Proverbs 3:5
Romans 8:31-31; 12:1-2
Acts 17:28
2 Corinthians 5:16-20
Ephesians 1:11; 2:10
1 John 3:1-10; 5:1-4