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And the truth shall set you free . . . IF

Truth th
In John 18:38 Pontius Pilate asks Jesus, “What is truth?” It seems humanity has struggled throughout the ages to discern truth. Yet in the movie A Few Good Men, Colonel Jessep, played by Jack Nicholson, uttered those famous lines, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!!” While ruminating on the nature of truth I began to wonder if we Christians are a people who want the truth, not matter how grotesque it might seem because it flies in the face of the ideologies we create to live by. If so, then why are Christians so politically divided in America?

In John 8:31-32 Jesus tells the Jews, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus then engages some of the Jews in a lengthy argument about the veracity of his claim that he is the Son of God and the Jews claim that they were sons of Abraham (which in their minds was their ticket to heaven). You see the Jews had cobbled together a religious system, made up in part of customs and traditions, that they believed with all their heart was the path to heaven. And here this upstart Jesus comes along and tells them that their “truth” was actually a lie from their real father the devil. This was simply too much for many of them to bear. Jesus offered them a paradigm shift that would put them on the path of truth and eternal life free from bondage, but they rejected it.

To this day, people tragically look the truth in the eye and deny it. For example, Carol (not her real name) has been a political progressive all her adult life. She believed with all her heart that the Affordable Care Act (aka Obama Care) was a wonderful program that would make healthcare affordable for everyone in America. The Affordable Care Act was a perfect fit within her worldview ideology. But recently her son and daughter-in-law found themselves unemployed and without healthcare insurance. When her son and daughter-in-law attempted to enroll in the Obama Care program, they were told their premiums would be $800 a month. Obamacare considers $800 a month for an unemployed married couple with no income to be “affordable.” When Carol’s son and daughter-in-law shared this with her, she found it difficult to accept the truth and became angry. Oh the irony of the unaffordable Affordable Care Act.

Now before you blast me for using a program cherished by lefties as an example, allow me to offend my brethren right-wingers. My gut tells me that before all is said and done, conservatives may have to eat crow on the issue of climate change. My point is still valid: many on the right will deny the truth of climate change even if the proof becomes indisputable.

As Christians, we must be the ONE group that enthusiastically pursues and venerates truth wherever it is found. But in order to find truth we can’t indulge the tragic luxury of worshipping and living by flawed human ideologies we create to give us purpose, or to feel morally superior, or to feed bitterness and resentments, or to justify our lifestyle, or to grow our little kingdoms, or even to help others. Truth alone is purpose. And Christ embodies truth. Without Christ living in a person’s life, it is impossible to know truth consistently. Even with Christ living in our life, our sinful human nature has a powerful urge to cling tenaciously to those old ideologies we created to make us comfortable. Yes we can know truth, IF we are willing to find it with God’s guidance and embrace it even though it initially rubs us the wrong way.

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Vote for . . .

Polling_StationThe legions of recent political ads on TV have inspired me . . . to order TiVo. Too many political ads flood the airwaves in the weeks leading to Election Day. I shan’t bore you with a trite plea to get out and vote as your civic duty to end the insanity. In reality, the candidates and ballot propositions are often difficult to evaluate because politics have become so tortuous it is hard for a fair-minded person to sift through the muck and find clarity. Political ads too often contain lies and half-truths. That does not mean a good Christian should give up and shun the polls. Yet followers of Christ would do well to reject shallow loyalties to a political party and familial ideologies. In other words, it is a copout for anyone to be a Democrat or a Republican just because everyone in their family was a Democrat or a Republican. I am not suggesting all Christians need to belong to the Independent Party. I’m suggesting that Christians educate themselves and commit to uncovering truth wherever we find it, even if it flies in the face of some of our cherished political leanings. We are too easily allured by superficial issues that distract us. The biggest problems facing America are not gay football players or the debate over Renee Zellweger’s new face (I thought she was brilliant in Cold Mountain).

As Christians and citizens who must care more about real life than what’s on TV or trending on Twitter, we have a precious voice in our vote. Granted, it is not much of a voice when at odds with big money and powerful special interests. But it is a voice, nonetheless. I still get goose bumps when entering a voting booth because I know what has been sacrificed by courageous men and women for me to engage in that sacred act of contributing to the voice of the people.

If you read through the Book of Hosea you find the Lord lambasting the Israelites for the flagrant immorality in their culture, religion, and politics. And every now and then in Hosea the Lord says “None of them calls upon me.” God was angry and hurt that the people didn’t bother to pray to Him for help. Prayers for elections matter. That said, Christians who vote are morally obliged to vote in line with Biblical values, or as close to Biblical values as the candidates and issues allow. It does no good to pray for an election of leaders then go out and vote for candidates or propositions almost entirely at odds with God’s values. Instead, Christians must read the Bible and get familiar with its broad context, which means they must read more than a smattering of verses in the Gospels and Paul’s letters. Prayer, Bible literacy, and astute understanding of the issues are excellent voting guides. (It’s either that or ask Willie Robertson who he endorses for political office . . . which might not be a bad idea.) It’s also imperative to have at least a basic understanding of the history of America’s founding. I strongly recommend that all voters know the history of William Bradford and the issue of “common course,” a form of agrarian communism that failed miserably and led to private agriculture. I am not advocating for a survival of the fittest society in America, but I do believe every voter must have an understanding of the ideologies that formed America.

One last thought: Do not vote expecting politicians and government to make all your dreams come true. That’s up to you and God and must be done without neglecting the Biblical value of loving our neighbors. This may become an increasingly impossible task given the current unholy marriage between politics and crony capitalism. Hopefully the American people are ingenious enough to continue to prosper and take care of each other despite the failings of government and big commerce. If not, our system will flounder and eventually collapse. And I pray the church and the next generation are prepared to rebuild when it happens. Until then, if you want greater meaning in life—go deeper than the superficial politics seen in political ads and vote wisely and in truth.

Blind Faith

MH900427668What should I do if my Border Collie assures me that he will stop stealing bags of potato chips from the kitchen counter when I am out of the house . . . besides ask my doctor to adjust my medication? Should I blindly trust my innocent-looking quadruped? Sure, Border Collies have a reputation as an intelligent breed, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be shifty. In this case, blind faith in my canine friend’s self-control would probably lead to disappointment.

An article titled “Why Partisans Can’t Kick the Hypocrisy Habit,” by Alan Greenblatt, says:

“Although many people like to describe themselves as independent, partisanship has become an important aspect of identity. Some are more loyal to their partisan leanings than their own church, says University of Notre Dame political scientist David Campbell.”

Campbell’s statement about the unholy union between personal identity and partisan ideology is fascinating and disconcerting. By allowing partisanship to become too much a part of our identity we run the risk of being blind to truth. Such blind loyalty can also happen in the church. It used to be that many churchgoers were doggedly committed to their denomination. Some were committed to a particular denomination because multiple generations in their family had been members of the denomination. I’ve known Catholics who strongly identify with Catholicism because their parents and grandparents were Catholic. The same undaunted loyalty occurs in other denominations, as well. Sometimes the basis for the loyalty lies along justifiable criteria such as doctrine or statements of faith. Still, there is an interesting thing happening in the modern church: I see more and more people strongly identifying themselves with independent churches. Of course here is nothing inherently wrong with independent churches. Many of the current denominations were probably independent churches at one point. But many Christians can’t articulate WHY they identify so strongly with independent churches. The truth is there are positive and negative aspects of both independent and denominational churches. But I digress (apparently I’ve allowed ecclesiology to become part of my identity).

The point is that we have a potent, and not always healthy, tendency to let church become part of our identity. I know steadfast Christians who continue to attend ailing churches because those churches are members of their preferred denomination. If they switched to another denomination it would be akin to tearing out part of their personality. A good many Christians attend churches because they strongly identify with the city or neighborhood in which their church is embedded; this is usually a good thing, but not always as we can become shortsighted. But my question is this: At what point does our commitment to a church become blind faith?

Don’t get me wrong, most of the time commitment is a good thing, especially given the church hopping that goes on these days (guilty). But it seems wise to always retain at least a small measure of skepticism when it comes to the church structures and styles we hold dear. Otherwise we run the risk of becoming the dreaded “H” word–Hypocrites. How so? Answer: If we allow too much of our identity to become connected to our local church or denomination we run the risk of blinding ourselves to institutional fails and the flip flopping of our values. After all, church leaders come and go. Styles change. Doctrines and statements of faith can be subject to the whims of new leaders.

Here’s an example from the world of politics. I recall how multitudes of political progressives were vehemently antiwar during the Bush administration. Many of those same progressive partisans are now silent or openly supportive when President Obama gives orders to take military actions. On the other hand, many political conservatives (formerly hawkish) sound almost like antiwar protesters now that President Obama is giving the orders. If we are not on guard, this type of blind faith leading to the compromise of our values can also occur in the church. Don’t be blind. Connecting our identity to Christ is a safer way. Christ doesn’t change.

A Bad Person

MC900388892I recently watched a video where random people were being interviewed on the street. The questions focused on personal vices and sins. The responses of one young woman caught my attention. When asked if she had ever lied she replied, “Yes, but that doesn’t make me a bad person.” When asked if she had ever stolen she replied, “Yes, but that doesn’t make me a bad person.” When asked if she had ever lusted she replied, “Yes, but that doesn’t make me a bad person.”

We all have a tendency to look the truth in the eye and deny it. We also have a natural tendency to grade ourselves on a moral curve. We whisper to our innermost selves: “I’m basically a good person. Other people have done worse things.” The sobering truth is that God is not swayed by our comparisons to others.

Tragically, many people get seduced into a false sense of moral health when compared to everyone else. (I compare myself to Simon Cowell when I need to feel better about me.) But comparing ourselves to others obscures the accuracy of our inward gaze. In the Beatitude of Matthew 5:3, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

This Beatitude about poverty in spirit is another way of describing the epiphany we have when we finally see ourselves as we really are—morally bankrupt and unable to avoid judgment despite the fact that there are many people in the world who are more reprehensible than us. It is that “aha!” moment when we realize that God does not grade on a cosmic curve when judging our life. It is the first step towards redemption and comes after we gaze inward, without rationalizations or comparisons to others, at our sins and shortcomings.

Ironically, we move further from God when we insist on maintaining the illusion that we are not a bad person. As soon as we admit the truth about ourselves, the heart of God melts and we can move closer to him. I’m not suggesting that we need to toss our value and self-esteem out the window. I am, however, suggesting that the best self-esteem and understanding of our value comes from God’s love and mercy expressed through Christ rather than from our perception of our self-worth compared to others.

Thomas the Sincere

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio

Easter gets treated like a second-class holiday. A time for chocolate bunnies, colored eggs, and gorging on ham and all the trimmings. Easter marks the end of Lent and is linked to the Jewish Passover. I could bore you with a lengthy parade of historical facts and customs about Easter. But I won’t. Instead, let’s go directly to the heart of Easter: It’s about the resurrection of Christ from the dead. I have been a Christian for decades and every now and then a tiny doubt enters my noggin. The resurrection of Christ happened so long ago that it can occasionally seem like a fable, even to a dyed-in-the-wool believer like me. After all, rising from the dead can seem preposterous to those of us living in the modern world where the laws of nature and physics dominate our lives. Those with more scientific minds sometimes accuse us of magical thinking or superstition when we talk about Christ rising from the dead. I understand that not everybody can get their head around a resurrected Savior. And yet I feel guilty when I have an occasional doubt about Christ’s resurrection. I tell myself it’s only natural for me—two thousand years after the event—to wonder if it really happened. But I can’t doubt the unmistakable hand of God in my life. And that God is Christ.

Still, I like to think of Thomas when those irksome doubts appear. History has given Thomas a nickname: Doubting Thomas. Here’s the amazing thing about Thomas—He was one of Christ’s disciples and witnessed many of the miracles Christ performed. Thomas spent years with Christ before the resurrection. And Thomas still had doubts. Here’s the post-resurrection scripture that marked Thomas as a doubter:

John 20:24-27, “One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (who was called Didymus), was not with the others when Jesus came. They told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he replied, ‘I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.’
Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. ‘Peace be with you,’ he said. Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!’”

Thomas was indeed a doubter, but he sincerely wanted to know the truth. God has done enough to satisfy those who really want to know. As for those who really don’t want to know; I doubt (pardon the pun) they would believe even if they saw Christ walk out of the tomb and touched the wounds in his hands and feet. They would say it’s an illusion or that he wasn’t really dead. But for those who really want to know, God has done enough to satisfy our doubts. He performed documented miracles. He taught with power and authority in a completely new way. He impacted lives then and now. He changed the course of human history.

Thomas has already gone before us and demanded hard evidence that he could directly feel and experience. The rest is up to us—to believe. If you sincerely want to know the truth, the truth will reveal itself to you.