Archive for September, 2011

What is truth?

Monday, September 26th, 2011

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 18:37-38

I conclude that the whole world has gone absolutely mad. Just as Pilate did, the whole world is staring into the eyes of Truth and asking “What is truth?” The church is doing the same.

“Postmodernism… is a tendency in contemporary culture characterized by the problem of objective truth… it holds realities to be plural and relative, and dependent on who the interested parties are and what their interests consist of.”
Wikipedia on Postmodernism 
Read also: Christianity Today’s take & Postmodern Christianity

Gone are the days when we could read the bible (or any other book) and take some objective truth from it. These days we are told that all truth is relative. Don’t take someone else’s word for anything, we need to find out for ourselves and formulate our own understanding of the truth.

Most of us have a diacotomous perspective, while we accept some things as having absolute truth, others are entirely relative. That is pretty normal. But isn’t it convenient that we can make pretty much anything relative? Sexual orientation is relative to upbringing and cultural pressures. Loving your enemies is relative to defining love and seperating love from like. This same view can be every Sunday to justify bone picking the sermon. Take what applies to you as truth (or what you like) and throw out the bones. None of them yucky bits. Afterall, what the pastor says might not apply to you as truth.

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.
Acts 17:11-12

What happens when we approach the bible the same way? Or when we approach God the same way? Or when we approach our understanding (and the collective understanding) of God the same way? Well, hopefully we get what get something similar to what the Bereans have – a legendary nobility.

But do we? Since all truth is relative, it is not a matter of whose truth is more true, but whose truth is more applicable to me. Unfortunately, no one else knows me like me. No one else judges quite correctly for me but me – which is why we are told to “see it with your own eyes”. Absolute truth no longer has any weight. We are the judges of truth. We no longer submit to truth. Truth submits to us.

We are told that the persecution upon the Berean church was heavy, so heavy that Paul had to be sent away. Leaving Silas and Timothy in Berea, Paul fled to Athens (Acts 17:14). Now, the Bereans examined the scriptures with eagerness and “many of them believed”. They did not just take the truth and judge it as true, they submitted themselves under the Truth. They placed their lives under it. Accepting the Gospel as truth wasn’t as simple as saying a sinners prayer, accepting a small booklet to read and taking a bag of lollies home, it meant so much more.

It still does. It means getting rid of high and mighty person, me. It means subjecting myself to the Truth. It means not bone picking on what is clear in the bible. The bible is full of treasures, some declared as undeniable and unquestionable truths, others have leeway for ambiguity. To distinguish the two is a true gift.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching…”
Acts 2:42

It doesn’t mean I leave my brains at the church door, but I must acknowledge that the God I serve has placed in my life different people with influence/authority. Mentors, pastors, parents, authors, song writers, friends – they all put something into my life. Some for one reason, others for another. Paul had Barnabas, and Timothy had Paul, and they did very different things for different reasons.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
John 14:6

God states decisively that there is absolute truth. Jesus is absolute truth. His words are absolute truth.

I recognise that I bone pick every sermon I hear, almost every book/article I read. I do not consider myself more intelligent, more godly or wiser than others. I do not consider myself to be able to do a better job in writing the book or preaching the word. But it is part of my processing. It is part of internalising what I have heard, seen, read or experienced.

It is perhaps a problem that I have. Is it because I am high and mighty and the judge and ruler of truth? I guess it is something I have to struggle with.

Fire and brimstone

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

H. Richard Niebuhr wrote 75 years ago, too often we want “a God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross,” (Kingdom of God in America [1937], p. 193).

That was an excerpt from Justin Taylor’s blog about Rob Bell’s latest book. And how true that is 75 years later. In the chase to magnify God’s grace, I hear little about His holiness.

Fire and brimstone

I am not about to say that we should bring back fire and brimstone preaching about the holiness of God. Certainly not. But we must remember that Jesus did some of that in his time too. He did say a number of things that would instill fear into any hearer (and rightfully so).

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Matthew 10:28

I must admit that I have recently been disappointed that our pulpits sound more and more like topical motivational speaking. It would be unfair to generalise all churches, perhaps I am speaking only about my church here. Gone are the days where preachers honed the ability to deliver good expository preaching. The delivery method of choice these days seem to prefer being relational to the hearer over being responsible to the Word. In this age of relativism, creating discussion is more important than cementing truth.

Am I asking too much of the pulpit? Perhaps I am being all high and mighty? Maybe I am insensitive to younger believers? I don’t know. Perhaps some sort of internal balance needs to be sought.

To live

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.
Philippians 1:18-26 (NIV)

“Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death” – What a view of life and death! There is so much to grasp from Paul’s words. In a short passage, he models a view of life and death that offers life even in death.

Paul could afford to rejoice because he was entirely confident of his deliverance. This is because Christ was the source and reason for his deliverance. He would be delivered with “prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (v19, See also: 2 Corinthians 5:5) so that “Christ will be exalted in his body” (v20). Although he didn’t mention what deliverance means we know that he was not deluded in reality; Paul understood that the prospect of death was just as real as the chance of his release. Even in the face of this harsh reality, he stood with “confident hope” that he would have “complete boldness” (v20) for Christ to be exalted. That was how he has always lived and that is what he desires even in the face of death. He wasn’t fussed that he had to give up this mortal body. Paul’s view of his body (and perhaps time on earth) was that it was just a tool for exalting Christ. In the use and disposal of this body, what is most important is that Christ is exalted. (See also 2 Corinthians 4, “treasure in jars of clay”)

Paul then exposes something of himself, he says “I don’t know which I prefer: I feel torn between the two.” (v22-23) Not suprising, his personal choice would have been to be with Christ, “which is better by far”. He is so confident of being with Christ and the joy that will bring (See also, 2 Corinthians 5:1-3,8) that he yearns for it. He has no fear of death like most do, instead he looks forward to that day of deliverance. But his priority  and agenda was not himself, but “for the sake of” (v23,25) the church. Being sure that there is still “productive work” (v22) waiting for him, he is certain that release is coming his way. His release did not just mean life for himself, but faith and confidence for the church. Paul’s living and walking testimony of life builds such faith, joy and confidence in Christ!

Paul sums up his life well, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain” (v21). Christ was so all encompassing in his life that living IS Christ. Christ isn’t just the reason, Christ defined his entire life for as long as he was to stay alive. To him, Jesus was the source, the sustenance, the agenda, the goal all the way to the end of life. Paul lived the reality of Jesus as his way, truth and life (John 14:6). So much so that being in prison and facing death didn’t phase him much at all!

What a view of life and surety of life after death! What an ability to lay aside his mortal body and personal agenda for Christ our Lord! And all that in such dire circumstance!

This passage wasn’t just about sharing his view and life. It was about modelling it for the Philippians. They were facing persecuting as well (v30) and Paul was revealing his secret to facing persecution and opposition with a smile. What an example for all of us to follow!

Fuel for the flame

Friday, September 9th, 2011

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.
Philippians 1:12-14

Paul’s experience of being in chains has been brewing in my head for some time. Here are some observations:

“Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.”
Paul starts off without a hint of complaining or whining, even though he is in chains. His concern is solely for the advancement of the gospel (Philippians 1:18). In that respect, he has succeeded. Paul being in prison did not slow down the spread of the gospel. It did not even come to a halt. In fact, the gospel was advanced because he was in prison. Him being in prison is the reason for the advancement. It seems that his readers (affectionately called brothers and sisters) would have thought otherwise.

“As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.”
Being in prison did not impede him from spreading the message. With his chains, he found a preaching avenue where his listeners would have no choice but to listen. He gleefully accepted the job of being the prison chaplain. Although he was physically constrained, his influence soared far beyond his physical movements. Where he couldn’t go, his story could. So he became the message. The tables seemed to have turned, it looks like the gospel was getting free publicity while the guards were in chains to Paul.

“And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.”
His chains did not just have an effect to unbelievers, it had a secondary effect on believers as well. The first thing to note here is that they became confident in the Lord. Paul effectively proved that chains do not hinder the message of the gospel and instead pushes the gospel out. He has proved what they have known all along – that God is God even in prison; the gospel is the gospel even in prison. Christians hearing of his experience now know without a doubt that the God who commands the gospel to be preached (Matthew 28:16-20) advances the gospel even while we are in chains. Indeed being in chains is not a hinderance, it is an opportunity! With that confidence, we have no more fear in speaking the Word. If chains spread the gospel, what more can freedom do!

I think I need a new perspective about evangalism. I need to put aside my petty worries about being restrained or persecuted and look at the God who uses every and any opportunity to save the lost to Himself. In a land where prayer is taken out of schools and Christian chaplains struggle to present the gospel, I want my story to go where my voice cannot be heard. I want my story to be synonymous with His message.

Big things in small packages

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

Things have been a little bit messy and I haven’t found the time to do any serious bible study. But God keeps me going in small ways. These are just some Facebook status updates from my try-to-be-daily bible reading in the morning.

If we don’t live for the hope of a better future, at least live as a testimony of our glorious past in Christ.
Philippians 3:16 “Only let us live up to what we have already attained.”

Every persecuted witness fuels a thousand more fearless witnesses.
Philippians 1:14 “Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.”

We’re satisfied too easily when we say that life is good.
Psalm 16:2 “I said to the Lord, You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.”

There is always time for a little big revelation.