Truth Has Stumbled

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Last night I was able to see Abdu Murray and Ravi Zacharias speak at the University of Michigan. It was a wonderful evening. I particularly appreciated the question and answer session after the talks. Multiple students, students who in no way agreed with Murray and Zacharias, thanked the University for allowing these men to speak.

Why would students say such a thing? This is a university, is it not? Is this not the purpose of a university to bring multiple view points to the table?

Near the end of the evening Zacharias told a story about a man he met in Russia recently. The man told him that America was the last great hope for the world. The man went on to say that he is distressed because it appears that America has lost its ability to think well.

“America has lost its ability to think well.”

Let that sink in. Do you agree? I do. I think this is an insightful statement. Particularly in light of what we have been seeing in the recent political and cultural milieu. “Post-truth” is a thing now. “Fake News” is a thing now (it’s always been a thing but now it’s a different sort of thing).

We have by and large lost our willingness to discern truth.

The prophet Isaiah wrote these words,

Justice is turned back,
and righteousness stands far away;
for truth has stumbled in the public squares,
and uprightness cannot enter.
Truth is lacking,
and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.
The LORD saw it, and it displeased him
that there was no justice. (Isaiah 59:14-15, ESV)

These words cut to the quick of our current situation do they not?

Questions of justice and injustice are at the top of people’s worries and concern. It seems that justice is not something that we can find or discover. Justice seems to be an unattainable goal for anyone in our culture today.

Why?

“Truth has stumbled in the public squares.” 

Think about that for a moment. “Truth has stumbled in the public squares.” What a statement for our times. The public squares for most of us exist in the context of social media. Truth has little place on Facebook or Twitter.

What matters most to people is that they are “right” and what has taken a back seat is “getting it right.”

Consider a small interaction I had recently. I stated that a tariff and a tax were fundamentally different. A friend argued that they are a distinction without difference. Why? Because to call a tariff a tax fit the narrative that he wanted to embrace. Or the statements yesterday after the DeVos nomination was passed by the Senate regarding that there were no Republicans with a spine. Yet, the vote ended in a 50-50 tie which meant that two Republicans broke ties with their party. This fact doesn’t matter because it doesn’t fit a narrative.

“Truth has stumbled in the public squares.”

Because truth has stumbled injustice is on the rise. Justice cannot be brought about apart from truth. When every person does what is right in their own eyes then justice is nonsense. Why? Because each individual determines what is just for themselves.

If we want to be serious about the pursuit of justice then we must recognize that there is a truth outside of ourselves. A truth that is real regardless of whether we want to believe it or not.

Until that time, we will continue to see the results of “truth lacking.” What are those results? “He who departs from evil makes himself a prey.”

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Our Kids, Our Responsibility

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I see so much hand-wringing about the future generations. People are deeply concerned for their kids and grand-kids. They take to social media and whine or complain. They mock kids today and their work ethic.

Folks in the Church are almost apoplectic about the numbers of kids who walk away from the faith. There are studies done. There are books written. New and shinier programs are developed.

What if I told you that the Bible actually gave us an answer to the problem?

It does. It’s right there, for anyone and everyone to read. I’m not even kidding. Thankfully, it doesn’t make mention of this guy…

Psalm 78 gives us some insight,

He established a testimony in Jacob
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
to teach to their children,
that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
so that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments;
and that they should not be like their fathers,
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
whose spirit was not faithful to God. (Psalm 78:5-8, ESV)

It turns out the answer has been right in front of us. No seriously, if you’re a parent or grandparent go find a mirror. Do you see that person? That person is the answer to the decline of future generations in the Church. That person is the answer to the “terrible state” of the current generation.

There is nobody else.
We are the answer. If the emerging generations are walking away from the faith it’s because we have not been faithful. It isn’t because of a program at church. It isn’t because of a youth pastor or the lack of a youth pastor. It’s because of us.

We, parents, are responsible for teaching our kids about the faith. We are responsible to pass on to them the works of God. We are the ones who are supposed model an abiding faith.

I am most caught up by this phrase, “that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.” What blows me away is that there is in this a trajectory of greater faithfulness from generation to generation. The emerging generations ought to be progressing in faith. They should be more faithful. They should be more steadfast in their faith.

Yet, they walk away? Why?

We have not lived lives that honor God. We have not modeled faith. We have not taught them about the great works of God.

For too long we have outsourced our kids faith development to the youth pastor. Youth pastors are amazing servants of God. They are being used by God to change lives and impact future generations. But they are to augment what the parents are teaching and modeling for their kids, not to replace.

It turns out that our kids are our responsibility. Own that responsibility. Teach them the great works of God and show them your life lived in faith.

What Matters Most? Outside or Inside?

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Sadly, many Jesus followers struggle with guilt and shame. It’s an epidemic that needs to be addressed and dealt with. For pastors like myself, we need to speak into this issue and challenge the legalism of the new pietism that has developed in many of our circles. 

Paul writes in Galatians 6, 

It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. (Galatians 6:12-15, ESV)

It struck me today in a conversation that while on the one hand this can play out in cultural syncretism, it also plays out within the Christian subculture through pietism. There is this movement of folks who are creating a culture of external piety that is meant to show who is passionately following Jesus. 

While we don’t have the demands for circumcision that Paul had to deal with, we do see things like:

  • Quiet Times (bonus points for morning ones)
  • Family devotions (bonus points for using a guitar and singing the Getty’s catalog)
  • Your kids “court” and don’t “date.” (bonus points if this leads immediately to marriage)
  • You pray daily with your spouse out loud. (bonus points if it’s in the morning, double bonus points if you’re on your knees)
  • Your family eats dinner together every day. (bonus points if there’s a devotion as part of dinner followed by your regular family devotion)
  • You watch Christian movies, only.
  • You don’t have TV
  • Etc…etc…etc…

These are just a few. For the people who don’t do these things there is guilt and shame. There is a feeling of failure, that somehow they are less than Christian. Many people begin to try and do these things so they look good in the flesh to avoid those sideways looks from other people at church. 

Paul hits on these kinds of things in his letter to the church at Colosse, 

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23, ESV)

Self-made religion has an appearance of wisdom but ultimately is useless. 

In the midst of this, we must not set aside the practice of spiritual disciplines or seeking to be holy. We don’t embrace a license that excuses us from pursuing a relationship with God. What it does mean is that we don’t have to try so hard by doing things that have “worked” for other people. These aspects of self-made religion ultimately have no value. 

What is required of us? I’ll let Paul speak for himself, 

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:1-17, ESV)

How we do this will look differently for each one of us. What matters most is that we are seeking the things that are above, putting off the old self and putting on the new. Because what matters most is “a new creation.”

To Be Broadly Liked

A good friend of mine once said, “To follow Jesus is to be loved or hated, not to be broadly liked.”  I think about that often. Particularly in these days and times when everyone has a platform and if you speak truth to power or people you will offend someone.

As I was reading the closing verses of Galatians the Apostle Paul wrote, 

It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. (Galatians 6:12, ESV)

In our age I have to wonder what is our “circumcision” issue that draws us into making a “good showing in the flesh” so that we “may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ”? 

I am coming to the conclusion that we experience this in how we engage with culture. There are many hot button topics that “trigger” folks and so we try and either avoid speaking about them or we try to be as palatable as possible. Cultural syncretism, I think, is our new circumcision. 

This cultural syncretism cuts both ways between conservative culture and progressive culture. Typically we want to be broadly liked in one or the other. Yet, for the follower of Jesus we will often find ourselves cutting a new path, one that challenges both ends of the cultural spectrum. 

What makes this so hard is that it really does place us in a position where we will be loved or hated. We will lose the capacity to be broadly liked. In an age of social media to be broadly liked is an unstated goal. When we speak gospel truth it will often lend itself to folks being made uncomfortable. 

To be clear, we speak the truth in love. So offense ought not to be generated by our being rude, uncaring, or mean. 

Our challenge is to follow Jesus into our culture without worry of making a good showing in the flesh to avoid persecution. No, we follow him in truth with the knowledge that we will be loved or hated and not broadly liked. 

You Salty?

It’s funny how language changes over time. Words and phrases come to mean very different things as cultures change and progress. When I was a kid, “bad” meant “good” and “sweet” had nothing to do with flavor. A new phrase that my kids drop is, “you feeling salty?” They use it when a friend is whining or complaining about something. 

It didn’t always mean that. 

Back in Jesus’ day salt was important for a couple of reasons. First, it was helpful to store food. The other thing it was useful for was flavoring (funny how some things don’t change after 2,000 or so years). 

In Matthew 5 Jesus is in the midst of his magisterial Sermon on Mount, and he says, 

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16, ESV)

He is reminding his disciples who they are and what they are called to do. Jesus wants them to understand their new identity. They are to be a people who allow others to “see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” 

Jesus compares his disciples to salt and a city on a hill. Salt is amazing because you don’t need much to give great flavor to food. Just a little goes a long way. It’s purpose is to give flavor, if it loses its purpose then it just gets thrown out. A city on a hill cannot hide. Where Jesus was teaching from the disciples could see Tiberias, a city on a hill. At night it would be lit up and you could see it from any shore of the Sea of Galilee. 

We are to live this way. 

The followers of Jesus are to be a people who through their lives show the world the Father. Our lives are to be salt and light. We are to bring flavor to our relationships and show the people in our lives the beauty of the Father. 

Jesus wants to know, “You feeling salty?” 

On Integrity

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A few years ago I was thinking about integrity. Integrity is a concept that people talk much about but don’t really live out. I’m often surprised by the lack of integrity most people have. 

Some say that integrity is understood to be “what you do when nobody’s looking.” Still others define it as “standing by your word.” I think that both of those ideas are pieces to the puzzle but they aren’t the whole story.

I am finding that true integrity is found in people whose lives are not disintegrated.

What do I mean by disintegrated? What I mean is that the person with integrity is one who has a life that is consistent across all the spheres within which they live. That is, the Facebook version is the same as the Office version is the same as the Family version is the same as the Church version is the same as the Bar version is the same as the…

You get the idea.

A person with integrity is the same wherever they are. Their is fully integrated. For good or ill. I think one of the highest compliments you can give a person is that they live with integrity. That their life is consistent.

Even if you disagree with the way they live their life.

Recently, I have had some conversations with other church leaders and I have discovered that they play a lot of politics. I have also interacted with them socially and the experience was night and day. I’m not saying that they have done anything unethical or morally corrupt, just that they have little integrity. Their lives are disintegrated.

The social version is very different from the office version. That is disintegration, that is lack of integrity.

The person of integrity is the same wherever they are. The disintegrated person changes like the chameleon. This isn’t a moral or ethical failing, it simply removes trust.

You can’t trust someone who lives without integrity (disintegrated).

You can’t trust them because you never know where you stand.

When I look at my closest friends, I’m thankful. I’m thankful because they are all people of integrity. We don’t always agree on everything. We fight. But you always know where you stand.

Take some inventory over the next 40 days. Ask those closest to you if your life is integrated or disintegrated. Because if you’re like me then you want to live a life of integrity. But sometimes we miss it without intending to.

We Are In This Together

Photo by Cristian Newman

If you’re like me you don’t like cognitive dissonance. You try really hard to deal with it and eliminate it. This means that I have this general posture toward creating binary perspectives when reality dictates a nuanced approach.

As a pastor I regularly enter into situations where people need help. A conversation that is ongoing withing myself and with my fellow Elders is “How best do we help?” Over the years there is a growing distinction between “blessing” and “helping.” Blessing is paying a bill for someone who needs to keep their light on. Helping is teaching someone how to budget so that they have an understanding of how to have enough money to pay their bills.

I was reading in Galatians 6 and this passage about bearing burdens stood out to me. Take a moment,

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load. (Galatians 6:1–5, ESV)

There is this fascinating both/and in this passage. We are to watch out for one another’s sins and also our own. We are to bear one another’s burdens and yet carry our own load.

This is the both/and of living in Christian community.

Paul holds this tension throughout his writing and teaching. There is a constant sense of being in it together and taking self-responsibility.

The way of Christ calls us into deep and abiding community. We need one another desperately. Yet, we also need to take clear responsibility for ourselves. We must learn to stand on our own two feet, we must learn to come alongside others, and we must learn to let others help us.

I think this is part of the beauty of being a part of the body of Christ. I think the hardest thing for some of us is learning to be helped. When others come alongside us we feel shame. We have such a strong ethic of independence that we have missed the need for interdependence.

Ultimately, this is rooted in the loss of our understanding that God is saving for himself a people and not ultimately individuals. This is why the body metaphor that Paul uses extensively elsewhere is so powerful. We can get along without certain body parts but we do so at great disadvantage. We need the whole body to be most healthy. Every part of our body needs to be working interdependently with the others.

Will you take responsibility for yourself? Will you learn to care for others? Will you learn to let others care for you? For this is the way of Christ.

We Are In This Together was originally published in The Rev on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.