Subscribe to the Gospel Reformation blog by Email

gospel

Is It True That Grass Is Green And The Sky Is Blue?

What is truth?

That was the question Pilate (I believe rhetorically) asked Jesus on the morning he was crucified. While Pilate was trying to ascertain guilt enough to warrant a death sentence, Jesus said, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate answered with a question of his own, a question philosophers had been asking long before this day of Jesus’ trial — and people have been asking in every generation since. “What is truth?”

Is 2+2=4 true? Is it true that grass is green and the sky is blue? Is it true that I sound like Dr. Seuss, even though I’m not trying to?

The truth is, yes 2+2=4 — every time, in every culture, everywhere, on every day of the week. That truth is objectively true based on fixed laws of math; there is never a situation where you will not get 4 if you add 2 plus 2. And the green grass and blue sky? Yes, sometimes, and no, not really. Grass is green, unless it’s dead — then it’s brown. And it’s true the sky looks blue because we see blue light from the sun scattered through our atmosphere most of the time, but at dawn and dusk we see more red and orange light — so technically the sky doesn’t have a color because it depends on the time of day, light, and angle of viewing the sun. Our statement then, the grass is green and the sky is blue, is true upon conditions. It can be true, but it can also be not true. Head spinning yet?

One more. “There is no such thing as absolute truth — truth that’s true for everyone all the time.” Is that true? Of course not; in order for that statement to be true, it must be true for everyone all the time! No such thing as absolute truth? It sounds absurd, but people assert it, and as far as doubting truth goes, many believe seventeenth century French philosopher René Descartes to be the founding father.

Personal truth as the only truth, has inevitably grown out of Descartes’ foundational proposition cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am.” After all, that’s the only truth any person can be 100% sure of—his own existence. Right? Stay with me for one more minute. Because if that’s the case and I can’t be absolutely certain that anything else is objectively true, it follows that I am the maker of my own reality and the only truth for me is what I perceive to be real based on my experiences.

But do you see the problem? The wrong I Am is at the foundation.

Truth is a person; Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

When Moses asked God his name, God answered, “I Am” (Exodus 3:14). He is the only one who measures truth by his very existence, because he is Truth. And when we start the search for truth with ourselves instead of its author, we end up with nonsense like, “what’s true for you doesn’t have to be true for me.” There’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what truth is, but why wouldn't there be for people who don’t know Jesus? Truth is a person; Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6), and “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37). When we don't recognize Jesus as the truth, everything else becomes distorted.

Pilate wondered, “What is truth,” with Truth standing right in front of him (John 18:38). The answer to his question, the thing he was after, was right in front of his face — and he missed it. Today, let’s not miss it. Look into the face of Jesus and find the Truth.

Pilate wondered, “What is truth,” with Truth standing right in front of him — and he missed it. Look into the face of Jesus and don’t miss the Truth!

 

REFLECTION

What kind of problems are created if everyone is able to define their own “truth”?

What “truths” have you created, that need to be measured against what Jesus said or taught?

For further reflection, read John 8:31-38. How can/does the truth set you free?

Becoming Like The Holy Spirit -- By Pointing To Jesus

"It is to your advantage that I go away..."

Can you imagine the disciples’ thoughts as Jesus spoke these words? How could it be to their advantage for him to go away? For a couple of years now they’d seen a man do the impossible. Heal the sick, walk on water, even raise people from the dead. He spoke like no one else ever had. This man, Jesus, claimed to be divine—and he had the miracles to prove it. 

What could possibly be gained if Jesus was not with them? His followers needed him to establish a new kingdom, to overthrow Rome and restore Israel. They needed him to teach them about the law and the prophets, to continue unfolding the Torah in ways that revealed its true intent. They needed him to be with them; he was their teacher, their rabbi, their Messiah.

Jesus did what was best for his people.

So why did Jesus have to go away? Because it was to their advantage — and ours. Jesus did what was best for his people. Bodily remaining with some of his followers would have been great, we can be sure. But sending the Helper so his ministry could continue in all of his followers everywhere, was best.

By going away, the Son would send the Holy Spirit to declare the truth about the world. That without believing in Jesus, the guilt of sin remains. That Jesus was righteous because he ascended back to the Father. That the ruler of this world is judged, his reign temporary, and one day sin’s power will have no hold on us. The Holy Spirit came to be a guide for all believers, to lead God’s people into truth, and to glorify Jesus by declaring what belongs to him. (John 16:8-14)

Maybe it’s almost appropriate that the Holy Spirit is often overlooked as the third person of the Trinity. Even while being divine himself, the ministry of the Holy Spirit is unique because it’s not about him—it’s about Jesus! The Holy Spirit’s ministry is to help us keep the commands of Jesus (John 14:15-17), to bring to remembrance the things Jesus taught (John 14:26), and to convict the world about its relationship to Jesus (John 16:8-11).

The ministry of the Holy Spirit is unique because it’s not about him—it’s about Jesus!

So why is it to our advantage that Jesus went away? Because he sent us another in his place to help us, comfort us, and point us back to him. And now Jesus can be present with all believers everywhere through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who, in a sense, does what we all should do: glorify God by declaring the truth according to God’s word, and pointing to the work of Jesus

 

REFLECTION

Why is it important to note the Holy Spirit’s role of pointing away from himself, illuminating the word and work of Jesus instead? What happens if we begin to focus an unbalanced amount of attention on the work of the Spirit?

Are you seeking the help of the Helper to experience Jesus’ presence in your life? What could be different with more of the Spirit’s work of revealing Jesus to you?

 

For further reflection, read John 16:4-15.

Baptism: A One-Time Event And A Constant Reminder

Buried with Christ in death; raised to walk in newness of life.

Many of us have either had this familiar mantra spoken directly to us, or have been around church (especially Baptist churches) long enough to hear it spoken over others. But unfortunately, time and familiarity can erode the effect such a powerful truth can have on our hearts.

As children we’re wired to remember everything; our minds are like sponges that soak in every detail — but somewhere along the way that sponge begins to leak. The information begins to seep out, and all of a sudden one day we can’t remember what we ate for lunch the day before. (I had two chicken sandwiches, by the way, so I’m not quite there yet.)

That’s why God built reminders into our faith — so that our minds don’t grow dull with the memory of his work in our lives, and our affections never get bored of sensing his glory.

However, the good thing for all of us is that it’s not important to remember what you ate yesterday. But it is of utmost value to remember spiritual truths and realities, especially when they have personal and practical implications. And God knows that our minds easily forget. That’s why he’s built reminders into our faith — so that our minds don’t grow dull with the memory of his work in our lives, and our affections never get bored of sensing his glory.

Baptism is one such reminder, but how? Getting baptized is the first step of a Christian’s obedience. In the New Testament and much of the history of the church, baptism immediately followed (or even initially proclaimed) a new believer’s faith. But unlike communion, which is regularly practiced, baptism is a one-time event. So how is baptism given to us as a constant reminder of the truth of Romans 6:3-4? That all of us who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into his death, and just as Jesus was raised from the dead, we too are raised to walk in newness of life.

In our own baptism we proclaim to everyone, “That’s happened to me!” There’s usually excitement and celebration and a shot of spiritual adrenaline that accompanies our baptism. But over time that energy fades. We always remember our own baptism, but many of us don't get excited about it anymore. It doesn’t have to be that way though.

More than a little has been preached and written and shared about getting baptized if you never have been. But Christian, when was the last time you were exhorted to celebrate others being baptized and let it call to your remembrance your own baptism and its significance? In regular practice, the baptism of others should call back to our minds the reality that each of us has also participated in that same death and resurrection, that same cleansing from our sin, and all the joy and excitement that come with it. As we look on we should reflect on our own faith, and let the initial gratitude and zeal for God come rushing back.

This is why my faith is not just about me and God, and your faith is not just about you and God. Faith is a personal thing, but it’s not meant to be private. I need to be reminded of the joy I felt the day I got baptized. We all do, and every time we witness a baptism let’s remember our own, join in the celebration, and be reminded that we were dead and now we’re alive!  

 

REFLECTION

What do you remember about your own baptism? When you think about it, does it energize you?

If the power of baptism is not in the water or the act of being dunked, but in the truth it represents — why is it so important for Christians to participate in the actual event of being baptized?

If you’ve never been baptized, what’s stopping you?

If you have, what aspect of your faith can you celebrate as you remember your own public profession? Freedom from sin? New life? Eternal security? Something else?

For further reflection, read Romans 6:1-14.

Black, White, and Red All Over

"You should be ashamed of yourself."

At one point or another, we've all heard those words. Typically not after accidents or making mistakes; an accident means we couldn't control the circumstances, and a mistake means we didn't know any better. No, these words are usually reserved precisely for that moment when we've done something dumb -- but could have controlled the circumstances. Or did know better.

So, America: You should be ashamed of yourself. Yes, you reading this. And me, writing it. We should be ashamed of ourselves.

We haven't made mistakes. We haven't caused accidents. We've done dumb things. White people have. Black people have. Police officers have. Friendly people who live quietly in the suburbs have. My ancestors have. Your ancestors have. Because that's what sinners do. No one is innocent. Maybe we've never shot anyone, but have we been angry? (Matthew 5.21-22) Maybe we're not out spewing hate at a protest, but have we loved our enemies and prayed for them? (Matthew 5.43-45) Maybe we haven't been obnoxious about why "they" are wrong, but are we sure we're not wrong, too? (Matthew 7.3-5) 

We all think the whole world should experience what I do every day. If they did, everyone would chill out and we'd all get along. And if they don't -- they're wrong. It's a complex problem, but it's not only a problem of race (although that's a factor some of the time). It's not only a problem of abuse of power (although that's a factor some of the time). The bottom line is just simply not that black and white -- but somewhere at the bottom of it all, there is selfishness -- and selfishness comes in every color. My experience is the standard for the universe. No one understands things the way I do. You can't know what it's like to be me, so your opinion is invalid. I think you're overreacting, so you must be wrong. IIImememe. Maybe we haven't stopped thinking about ourselves long enough to actually treat other people the way we want to be treated. (Matthew 7.12)

The bottom line is just simply not that black and white — but somewhere at the bottom of it all, there is selfishness — and selfishness comes in every color.

I'm guilty of it and you are too. Reading through Facebook or Twitter, rolling our eyes at some comment that seems unspeakably ignorant. "What an idiot," we think to ourselves as we keep scrolling. "If they only knew what I know."

Then for a few, it goes beyond heart-level arrogance and selfishness. Regrettable actions take place. It turns into hate and murder. Pull the pin on that out-of-context statistic and lob it out there on the interwebs. Cops use more force than necessary. Then the protests and retaliation. Name calling. Accusations. And at the end of the day, all we've done is lost husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters -- while millions of iPhone judge-jury-executioners confidently pronounce their verdict, but only after examining all the evidence in the 23 seconds it took the event to transpire and the video get a #trendinghashtag. 

We should be ashamed. Embarrassed. Red all over.

There is One Who Understands

There is One, though, who knows what it's like to have power and use it appropriately. There is One who understands what it's like to be falsely accused -- and not only accused, but beaten, tortured, ultimately murdered unjustly like many have over the past few days. He was red all over. Not from embarrassment; he had done nothing wrong. Not from shame; he volunteered. He was red all over because his blood was poured out to cover our selfishness, arrogance, prejudice, hate, anger, slander, all the dumb things we do, every reason we have to be ashamed of ourselves. (Isaiah 53)

Jesus came to cover our shame. And there is no healing, no reconciliation, no understanding until we seek him. Yes, we have a problem with racism. Yes, we have a problem with pride. But Jesus began his ministry with the word, "Repent" -- which is the first step when you have a sin problem. (Matthew 4.17) Turn away from ourselves and turn to him. We can't fix it with conversation, movements, protests, or laws.

We need Jesus. We need to repent.

Renovate: A Helpful, Practical, Timely Book About Renewal

the right words + the right time = CHANGE

That's the formula that undergirds Léonce Crump, Jr's Renovate: Changing Who You Are By Loving Where You Are. In this new book about cultural renewal, the author has the right words--about the gospel, race, social justice, and a "theology of place." But this book also comes at just the right time; issues of race and reconciliation dominate the news, social media, and conversation perhaps now more than they have in at least a generation or two. And if enough people digest the right words at such a ripe time as this, that's a recipe for the type of renewal the author is seeking.

However, this book is not only about race. At the bottom, this is a book about reflecting the glory of God, and how Christians and churches achieve that--especially through the actions of intentional Christians investing in their communities. In what I thought was the best part of the book, before giving six very practical and helpful ways to seek change, Léonce Crump, Jr, explains clearly--and practically--how cultures change:

through community, not heroic individuals. Renovation happens through networks of people who think critically about culture and seek out ways in which the gospel can be applied to their work or creativity, creatively. (p. 127)

Renovate has many strengths, and I would recommend it to anyone--especially other pastors who wish for their people to embrace their "sent-ness." By itself Chapter 4, "A Theology of Place," is worth the price of the book. The author has a clear passion for being intentional in the place to which you've been sent, as well as a pastoral concern to see Christians and churches take on the task of renewing their cities to the extent that race relations, politics, education, and all other areas are affected -- and that's a message we all need right now.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging For Books, in exchange for an honest review.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging For Books, in exchange for an honest review.