What Is Truth?

We are inundated with questions on every conceivable subject, and with each question there are just as many answers. This leads to confusion, and with a great deal of frustration we ask, What is truth?

This is not a new question. It was the question the Roman governor Pontius Pilate asked Jesus early one morning. Likely Pilate was an educated man and had read the philosophers’ answers to the question. So when Jesus said to him, “I came into this world to bear witness to the truth,” he got Pilate’s attention.

The religious leaders of Judaism were anxious to have Jesus gone. They were convinced that Jesus had to die, so they took him to Pilate. The governor asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?” Quickly they replied, “He is a criminal, and we want you to sentence him to death.”

This was a serious request, and Pilate had to know more about Jesus. Alone with Jesus, Pilate asked, “What is it you have done to anger these people?”

Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews.”

Pilate replied, “You are a king, then?” Jesus answered, “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.”

Could it not have been possible that Jesus and Pilate discussed this matter of truth further and Pilate concluded that Jesus was not a bad person, though he was a bit fanatical? His thoughts of building a kingdom were beyond reason, and certainly not realistic. But he had to quiet Jesus’ enemies. They thought he was dangerous and wanted him crucified. So, for political reasons, Pilate condemned Christ to die on the cross.

This is a very sad conclusion, but so is our culture’s response to the question of what is truth. Today’s emphasis is on the idea that truth is relative. There is little objective truth in the rights and wrongs of life.

To accept Jesus’ state Ð Everyone on the side of truth listens to me Ð you must know him personally. Here is a part of the truth that Jesus taught. Truths such as these drove the Pharisees wild and made Pilate believe Jesus was a bit disorientated.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

This one statement of Jesus spells out your eternal salvation. This is how you come to know the Lord personally. You do not work your way to heaven; it is a gift.

“I came that you might have life and have it abundantly.”

Unless you know Jesus as your Savior, this teaching does not make sense. It is not money, social prestige, great learning, and popularity that makes life worth living, but the joy of the Lord living in your heart.

“If you forgive men when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

How practical is this advice? Will people not take advantage of you if you forgive them so freely?

Jesus says, “Everyone who is on the side of truth listens to me.” Our culture’s response to this statement seems to be to take the parts of Jesus’ teachings that people will accept and leave the rest for the theologians to write books and argue about. “Who listens to them anyway?”

The question the Christian must answer is this: How will we be seen in today’s culture if we seriously follow the truths Jesus teaches us?

Some will pity you. “You are a fine person, but out of step with reality.” They will say something like this: “I know what you believe is correct, but people are not ready for this. If you begin to push your point, they will reject you, and that is not the way you want to live. Life is too short. Maybe some day they will agree with you, and then presenting what Jesus taught will be accepted. Be patient!”

Others will be angry with you. “Who are you to say the Christian way is right? My son-in-law has nothing to do with Christianity, and he is a very nice person Ð much better than some who sit in church every Sunday and confess their faith in Christ.” In love let people know that the mission of the church is to reach people for Christ, who is the only way to heaven. You will experience stares of disgust, which are asking how you can be so prejudiced.

I can’t help but believe that Pilate never forgot his audience with Jesus and the Lord’s words: “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Pray to God that these words will guide us in what we believe and how we live.

On a Trip With Jesus Beside You

A friend described a trip she and her husband had taken through Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont one October when the leaves were changing color. “It was unbelievable and undescribable. How could you ever leave that beautiful part of our country?” she asked me, knowing that I once lived in Maine. What if she had been alone and had nobody with whom she could share her excitement as those gorgeous colors blinded her eyes? She would have no one to talk to about what she was experiencing.

Traveling alone is not much fun. In fact, living alone, for me, would not be much fun. I used to kid my wife that if she died early in our marriage, she could count on me remarrying. She simply replied, “How do you know anyone would want you?”

Let me share another thought with you. Not all trips are pleasure trips. Some trips we would rather not take, but life sooner or later puts us on one of these journeys. If it is not pleasant to be on a pleasure trip alone, how terrible to be on a trip that brings fear and suffering.

Today in our series of call-up verses, Janet, the director of Christian Crusaders, shares a trip that she has been on for several years and how important these verses from Romans are for her.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

Janet writes, “At some point as an adult, I remembered thinking how I’d had it pretty easy all my life. I grew up in a pastor’s family, where I always felt loved and accepted. I went to college, got married, moved to the country, had two children – a boy and a girl – good friends and a church home. I’d never lost anyone in my family or had anyone I was close to have a serious illness or any major problem. Overall, things had gone pretty much as I’d wanted.”

This was a smooth ride. They were great days for Janet, pretty much free from hardship.

She continues, “I also remember thinking this wasn’t going to last forever. I began to worry about what would happen when things changed – when something bad finally happened. I wasted many hours worrying about my family, my health, and the insignificant things in life. I even worried about worrying, for I believed in Jesus as my Savior, and I felt guilty about not trusting Him enough to let go.” This is when the road through life began to get a little bit bumpy.

She goes on, “Of course, things did change. My father died suddenly, and a year later, my mother passed away from cancer. That was tough, but they had a strong faith in their Lord and Savior. So, although I missed them very much, my grief quickly turned to feeling blessed to have had them as my parents for so many years.”

Then the trip really got rough. She writes, “A couple of years later, things changed again. This time, it was a diagnosis of cancer for me, something I had feared would happen. I put on a good face for my children, for I didn’t want my health to affect their lives. But inside, I was terribly afraid I was going to have to suffer, and perhaps even die. I had watched my mother die from cancer, and I saw the strength she had shown even through her suffering. But I didn’t know if I could do it. And I was right. I couldn’t. I was weak, fearful, and anxious.”

Through all of these rough spots in her life, Janet was blessed by a supportive husband and children, other members of the family, and wonderful friends. All this meant much to her, but she needed more. She realized she need to let go – to rely on God to give her the strength to face what was before her.

Her testimony continues, “I learned that the promises of God are there for the taking. The strength that my mother showed through her suffering was God-given, and He gave it to me as well. Through the surgery, the chemo, the radiation, and the fear of the unknown, I learned much about the gift of faith and the peace that can be ours through Christ. I survived. But I had a lot more to understand about suffering.

A year and a half later, more tests and another cancer diagnosis. This one was harder, more painful, and the recovery was slower. But this was when the Holy Spirit helped me understand what Paul meant when he said, ‘We rejoice in our sufferings.’

“I had a couple of months before they finally decided they would operate. So I had a lot of time for the Holy Spirit to turn my fear into something more constructive. The verse from Romans 5 was foreign at first, but eventually, God helped me get it. I hated the pain and the worry my illness caused my family, but the rewards for me have been many. Experiencing the “peace that passes all understanding,” the unconditional love of God, and the assurance of a place in eternity with our heavenly Father, has allowed me to not only empathize with others who suffer, but to share with them the hope that is ours through Christ Jesus. For a Christian, there is no better reason to rejoice.

“Do I fear having the disease again? Do I still worry about my loved ones? Sometimes I do. But now I have an understanding of how God’s love is ours through the Holy Spirit living within us, so no matter what awaits us, His love will be enough.”

Let’s look at that text again. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

It all begins with a personal relationship with God. The suffering of Jesus at the cross has paid the price for our sins. Jesus ushers us into the presence of God where we find our Father guiding us on our trip through life. He gives us strength, direction, kindness, forgiveness, and a host of other blessings.

We are introduced to God’s grace, a whole new concept, meaning unearned merit. This grace grants us unlimited forgiveness and strength to face each new day. Paul says it so well: “His grace is sufficient for us.” Janet has this experience, which enables her to glory even in her troubles, and become stronger each day in her relationship with Him.

Why not add these verses from Romans 5:1-5 to your call-up verses? They will give you the assurance that, as you travel through life, your Lord sits with you, no matter how smooth or rough the road may be.

When the Burden Is Lifted

During the last five months I have been preaching on some Scripture verses that have special meaning in my life. The emphasis has been on the importance of having call-up verses, which come to mind when we need special guidance and encouragement in our difficult hours. Today I am using a verse that is very dear to Crystal, who works in our Christian Crusaders’ office. Crystal writes,

“The Bible verse that most often comes to my mind, my daily reference is Psalm 32, especially verses one and two, which read, ‘Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him.’ But I love the entire psalm, because I have long had a tendency to believe that the Lord’s hand is heavy upon me.

“This is, I think, a result of being abandoned as a child by my biological father, who left my mother with three small children. I was the oldest, and for some reason felt responsible for the marital breakup. The Lord was punishing me for my misdeeds, by making me not good enough to have a father who loved me. And I kept these feelings to myself.

“Then, I later believed that I experienced the Lord’s anger again. God gave me a wonderful stepfather and a loving family! We were a happy group, and I had the privilege to continue my education to become a parish worker in the church. This school was only fifty miles from home, and I saw my family often. However, in our studies we were taught that the Lord would give us an opportunity to serve him in some unknown place. This would be a call from God and should be taken seriously. My call came from Iowa, several hundred miles away from my home and loving family. I obediently accepted this call, but was dreadfully homesick. Again I felt God was showing his anger with me.

“It was during that time that I surrendered my life to Him, and I found my peace in the words of this psalm.

“Psalm 32 is not a lesson on cheap grace: Live like you want to – just say you’re sorry and think the Lord has forgiven you. It is not a feel-good-then excuse-all-my-sin-simply-because-God-loves-me-and-is-a-good-guy sentiment. We must confess our sins and receive His forgiveness. Though I know now as an adult that my guilt in this situation as a young Christian was misplaced, this martyrdom carries over to other parts of my life even today. However, Psalm 32 has given me the answer to my sins and lets me know that, when I do sin and the Lord is angry with me, He is also the Father who has promised to forgive me. He has promised to rescue me from the deep waters that rise around me. In fact, he is our hiding place and surrounds us with songs of deliverance!!! But we must bare our souls to the Lord, confess those sins, and surrender ourselves to his will first.

“The last part of this psalm tells me that I must surrender my will to the Lord after he has forgiven me and rescued me from evil. He will lead us and guide us in the way of understanding. It even has a bit of humor as it warns us not to be like the horse or mule who must be controlled by bit and bridle. The last verse says, ‘All you who are upright, rejoice! Rejoice and praise the Lord!’ This obviously is a celebration.

“Psalm 32 contains law, gospel, and sanctification. To me it sums up the message of the entire Bible, and has a wonderful relevance to my life. My opinion of this chapter is that the Lord wrote it with me specifically in mind. It is His special gift to me!”

Crystal’s comments on this psalm teach us many things. Let me mention three points.

Until we forgive others, there can be no peace in our souls. Crystal felt the burden of unconfessed sin (vs. 3, 4). However, long before she talked about this, none other than King David had much to say. You remember he had committed sin with Bathsheba and had her husband, Uriah, killed. This was weighing heavy on his soul. He says, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgression to the Lord’ – and you forgave the guilt of my sin” (vs. 3 – 5).

When she was a little girl, Crystal felt she had some responsibility for her parents’ marital breakup. Obviously this was false guilt. But she also says, “I could not forgive my father for leaving us.” This was a natural response, but she did need to forgive him for her own peace. Her Christian counselor said to her, “Crystal, before there is peace, you have to forgive him.”

This does not mean that we have to like that person or condone what he did. It simply means that, in spite of all that he has done, the Lord, who could forgive him, is also asking me to forgive him. If unconfessed sin continues in our lives, there is no peace and joy.

Is this where some of us are today? Crystal describes the feeling so well, “The Lord’s hand is heavy upon me.” Carrying around unconfessed sin is wrong. It is easy for us to rationalize why we cannot forgive what others have done to us, but unconfessed sin cannot bring peace and joy.

Crystal makes it clear that God is loving, but he can also be an angry God. We sometimes frown on this teaching, because humans do not like the thought of an angry God. So be it. That is how He presents himself to us in the Scriptures, and it is where we have to stand if we want God to bless us!

When God had convicted Crystal of her sin, she experienced the joy and peace of his forgiveness. She writes, “Psalm 32 has given me the answer to my sins, and it lets me know that, when I do sin and the Lord is angry with me, he has promised to forgive me.” So, then,

Peace comes when we learn what it is to be forgiven. It comes when we have been restored into fellowship with our Heavenly Father and the person with whom we have been in conflict. Then we can look to our Heavenly Father and say, “Thank you for erasing that sin from my life.” We can even sit down and drink a cup of coffee with the person who at one time we practically hated and see if the Holy Spirit leads us closer to one another, but we will force it. I do not believe God expects us to like everyone. However, we are not to have any hatred toward them.

Crystal experiences this particular spirit daily. It lights up her life, and I watch her light up many lives with the Gospel as she talks with people who call our office and as she visits with them in her office. She joins many others in the church who have tasted of God’s love and are reaching out with the Gospel.

As God’s forgiven children, we have a love for the Lord and want to serve him. Now we are to take that gift and share it with others. The Christian witness that counts today is not one that gives everyone advice and a hundred new rules. It is the Gospel that has been touched by Jesus Christ. We are anxious to go out and share it with the people in this world who still live in darkness. To share the Gospel and lead others to Jesus Christ is our purpose. Here again, listen to the Psalmist: “I will instruct you, and I will teach you in the way that you should go. I will counsel you, and I will watch over you.” That is the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

This is sanctification! Sanctification is the life we live after we have been redeemed by Jesus Christ. Could it be, friend, that one reason we have not witnessed to many of these people who need Christ so badly is that we really don’t have much to share? We don’t have a peace within our own heart. Come to Christ, and he will grant you forgiveness. He will direct you, guide you, and lead you to where he wants you to go and what you should do.

What a joy when we see God, not as an impersonal deity who is a God of wrath – who would say to a little eight-year-old girl, “The reason your father and mother divorced is because of you!” No. He is instead a loving Father who is firm. And when he saw that little girl grow up and still hold bitterness in her heart, He said to her in His Word and through others, “Crystal, you have to forgive. You need to have your soul unburdened. Come with your sins to me.” Then He empowered her to do it.

God’s children are anxious to forgive others when they come to him in repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus. Psalm 32 is a part of the Bible we all need to recall on a daily basis.

How Vain Are We?

It is sad to learn that 50 percent of our marriages are falling apart, and children often do not know their fathers. It is sad when we read in our newspapers of a milk truck driver who shot twelve Amish girls, killing seven of them, and then committed suicide.

It is disheartening when we learn that Mark Farley is the fourth member of the U.S. House of Representatives forced out of office by ethical problems of the past year. Randy Duke Cunningham resigned in November after pleading guilty to accepting $2.4 million in bribes. Former majority leader Tom Delay of Texas was indicted on state campaign finance violations and resigned in June. Representative Bob Ney of Ohio has agreed to plead guilty to charges of corruption and is not seeking reelection.

All of this was reported in USA Today Monday, October 2, 2006.

Do the words, “One nation under God,” really describe us? How seriously do we take God’s Word?

Is our vanity killing us? Are we so arrogant that we refuse to give thought to the words of Solomon, “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain” (Psalm 127:1)?

On Tuesday, November 7, we have the God-given right and responsibility to go to the polls and cast our vote for those who we wish to lead. Are our candidates living in a personal relationship with the Lord, or is that too much to expect? Are the successful candidates going to be those who can raise the most money, or who have promised to deliver the most benefits to their constituents?

How vain are we? So that we are on the same wave length, I use the definition that vanity is inflated pride in oneself Ð that humans have all the answers, for all practical purposes. We act and think as though God’s Word belongs to another generation.

Our text talks about building the house. This leads to a very practical question: Whom should I marry? The Bible says, “Do not be yoked with unbelievers. What fellowship can light have with darkness?” (II Corinthians 6:14). Have we given this serious consideration when the children are getting married? We talk about interracial marriages, marked differences in education and social status. These are all worthy of much thought, but none are as important as the person’s relationship with God. After all, we are promising to spend the rest of our lives with each other.

Experience has taught me in marriage counseling that we dare not push this matter of oneness with Christ too hard or the people will rebel. I have had more than one person say, “We are going to get married, and you can’t stop us. Our question to you is, ÔWill you marry us or not?’ If you chose not to marry us, we will find someone else who will perform the ceremony.” Then comes the counsel from the father of the bride. “You better not push it much further or you will lose her, and the whole family will leave the church.”

Let’s pursue this matter of building the home a bit further. How do you handle disputes in your marriage? We all have them. God’s Word says, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” This means not to go to sleep while angry with the person with whom you have a disagreement. Those negative feelings should never get more than one day old. Are we too vain to let God give us answers in these moments of anger?

What do you mean when you say to your spouse, child, or sibling that you love them? Does this love include patience and kindness, or are you more apt to include envy and keeping a record of wrongs?

Without Christ at the center of your home, your marriage has a 50/50 chance of failure in our culture. Is our arrogance setting us up for failure in marriage? The Lord will build your home into something beautiful if you will give his Word serious consideration.

Our text continues, “Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.” Does our vanity tell us that humans have the answers to our national and international problems, if any answers exist?

God is calling us to place God-fearing men and women into power who will bend their knees and bow their heads asking forgiveness for where they have failed and guidance to lead them in the future. I know we have some very capable people in the Congress on both sides of the aisle. Senator Charles Grassley has been my friend for many years. We have shared the faith together. He lives in a personal relationship with God. The late Senator Paul Simon was a close college friend. He was a spiritual leader on our campus and has carried the faith to the Congress. Chaplains such as Richard Halvorson and Lloyd Ogilvie tell interesting stories of their encounters with many of these leaders who seek out God’s answers for solutions to serious problems. Yet many others live with their arrogance and believe the solutions to the world’s problems come from their well-educated brain, and God’s Word is not relevant.

It is an understatement to say we are in trouble knowing how to handle our international difficulties. “Unless the Lord watches the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain,” are beautiful words of poetry, but of little practical value when dealing with godless people such as Saddam. We must remember that the great empires of the past crumbled and fell when their own wisdom was not adequate for the day. Could it happen to us?

What kind of people do we need in places of leadership? Would we agree that they must be competent leaders, intelligent, clear thinkers who walk daily with the Lord Jesus Christ?

Well, another sermon has been preached. Much of what has been said does not make sense unless you know Christ. He is our only hope in our individual lives, our homes, our state, and our nation.

Have we grown so vain that in word and action we say we do not need God? It often seems that we have.