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A GOOD QUESTION

BY STEVE DUNN

“What is truth?”

This is the poignant question posed by Pontius Pilate as deliberated the fate of Jesus.

“Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in Him. “But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover; do you wish then that I release for you the King of the Jews?”…

People are often puzzled by this exchange.  Jesus pointedly says “The truth is that I am indeed a king.  I appear in this setting to be the poor abject subject of this so-called legal system  And if you really could handle the truth, you would not need to ask.”

Remember another famous posing of the question, “What is the truth?”  It comes from the movie, “A Few Good Men.”  When challenged by Tom Cruise, the defense attorney to tell the truth, Colonel Jessup responds, “The truth, you can’t handle the truth!”

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Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson) arrogantly believes that has a duty to hide the truth because the world cannot handle the ugly truth of what he has to do to defend America from its ruthless enemies. But behind that version of the truth is just another self-justification of his arrogant use of power.

Pilate throws Jesus’ truth statement back into his face by his question, a question that is a defensive attempt to escape the responsibility of courageously defending Jesus.  He blatantly questions whether there is any absolute truth.  The truth is that Jesus is an innocent man,and is do, probably truly the king he professes to be.  But such a truth would threaten Pilate’ position itself, so he conveniently dismisses the truth that is standing before him.

When truth is inconvenient, or demanding–when it calls into question the lies and half-truths that we have chosen to live by, we often chose to deny that there is any truth at all. For to admit  the truth requires us to change,  Or we resort to the favorite co-opt of the postmodern mind, “Well, it’s all right for you, it’s just not right for me.”

Truth, as Christians understand it, is not situational nor subjective.  Truth is not a moving target or a Wikipedia definition to be updated by the next so-called expert.  Truth is an objective reality and it is rooted in something very concrete–the person of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel of John records this set of declarations from Jesus: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8.32Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:36

Truth is a person and that person is Jesus Christ.  What he says and what he represents is the truth upon which all the created universe is grounded and upon which depends.

When we finally submit our lives to that Truth we will indeed be free and our world will have that hope that it most desperately needs.

© 2017 by Stephen L. Dunn. Permission is given to repost or quote provided this copyright notice is included and a link provided to this blogsite. The courtesy of an email with a link to its reposting or a copy of the work it is quoted in would be appreciated.

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BY STEVE DUNN

The opinion that many people have of Christians is that they are self-righteous and judgmental, claiming a perfection that really is impossible to achieve. Although there are Christians for whom that is indeed true, let me set the record straight.

To the Christian, the goal of righteousness requires a right relationship with God. It is our heart’s desire to be the person God created us to be and for whom Christ died that we could become. People think that righteousness comes from going to church, reading your Bible, living a squeaky clean life–but righteousness (or holiness) is a gift from God to people who choose to let God live in and through them.

Ironically, that righteousness comes from having a heart after God’s own heart. Dr. Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision, used to pray this prayer: “O God, break my heart with the things that break your heart.” Christians who are truly righteous (not self-righteous) would pray this prayer daily. They would pray it not merely devotionally but out of earnest desire.

I once read that there were things required for a right relationship with God: SURRENDER, BROKENNESS, and REPENTANCE.

Righteousness comes from surrendering our lives to the will and purposes of God. Surrender becomes really when we are broken, when we come to the end of our self pride and humbly admit our need for God. Repentance comes from recognizing living apart from God is sin–and more than that, keeps us from lives of obedience to God Who created us and saved us.

Righteousness is not a false sense of perfection but a genuine dependence on forgiveness. As we turn our imperfect, broken, prideful lives over to God – we finally connect with His blessing and become the blessed He has blessed us to be. Genuine Christians pray this prayer, penned long ago by a man of incredible imperfection and public sin, King David:

“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” – Psalm 51:17

I hope this sets the record straight.

God-calls

BY STEVE DUNN

“It’s okay, Mayans. We all make mistakes. It’s not the end of the world.” -someone on Facebook

Today is December 23rd. Two days after the world was supposed to end–at least that’s what some ancient Mayans tried to tell us. It’s ironic. Most of us would not have known of the world’s impending doom if someone hadn’t unearthed a prophecy that had long been forgotten. The ancient Mayans were; well, anicent and don’t have too many spokespersons left on this planet. In fact, the only reason most 21st century non-Mayans even knew of this prophecy is someone’s marketng scheme.Olin Yolotzin is spiritual master, who leads the Aztec ritual dance group Cuauatli, is quoted on December 21st as saying: “The world was never going to end, this was an invention of the mass media.” Somehow most of us knew that. Yolotzin’s take on the so-called explosive end of the world:. “It is going to be a good era. … We are going to be better.”

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So days have passed and we’re still here. We’re still planted on an aging planet that is being warmed ever more seriously by things like greenhouse gases. We still live in societies that ignore God and pursue selfish aims making life on this planet at times dark and troubling.

A middle schooler I know named Hannah was engaged in a classroom discussion about this whole Mayan Calendar episode. During a discussion about the Mayan calendar and end of the world, Hannah spoke up said “I am a Christian and I believe the Bible and the Bible teaches that no one knows the time or day of the “end of things.” And that is exactly what the Bible says. We cannot know the time and need not add to our anxiety by obsessing about it.

Actually, I was never worried. Christians do not believe that the world will end in a cataclysmic event. God has told us through the Bible that instead of destroying the planet, that at the end of time as we understand it, He will simply make a new heaven and a new earth.

Don’t get me wrong. Christians believe in natural disasters and human tragedy. Quite often natural disasters which follow the intricate workings on nature itself are made more disastrous by the sinful and unwise way we humans treat Creation. And human tragedy is a direct outcome of mankind’s inherent sinful nature which quite often victimizes others.

As Christians, we are taught that we are to treat this planet with care. We are stewards of what God has created. We are to see that it is used wisely because this planet is the resource that God has given to sustain human life until He comes to make that New Earth. We are taught to work on helping people find healing and hope by being reconciled to the God Who has created them and desires to redeem them.

We believe that we sin when we treat this planet as something to be ravaged and abused because it is God’s gift to us. We do not worship Creation. We worship the Creator. And we believe that we prepare people for living at the end of all history by preparing them to meet God Himself. For we believe that there will not be a place in that New Heaven and New Earth for people who didn’t have a place for God in the Old Earth. The worst part of the human condition is that we make creation and creature man more important than the Creator, and we systematically push Him out of the picture and naively neglect to honor His purposes for the world and for us.

The “end of the world” is not a matter of disaster-proof shelters or religious ceremonies to invoke some unnamed help or comfort us as life as we know comes to an end. The end of the world, which will not come with a bang but as a surprise, is the reason why we call people to turn to God so that time will be something to celebrate, not fear.

(C) 2012 by Stephen L Dunn

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This post is part of a thread called Brian’s Questions. It began with a Facebook message from a young man and I first outlined this thread in a post on September 17, 2010. Yesterday I responded to Brian’s first question which is about Lilith, a popular figure in Jewish mystical literature. It got me thinking about the reason for such a question, which led me to the question, “Why is mysticism so attractive, especially in 21st century spirituality?”

From the earliest days of Christianity, there have been persons who have chosen the path of a mystical religion. That mystical impulse has shaped the way they looked at the Bible and the person of Jesus Christ. Basically Christian mysticism can be defined as the pursuit of union or communion with God through direct experience, insight and intuition. This a desire and a quest to step beyond words and ideas and even history to have an encounter or experience with God in the here and now in a deeper way. This approach generally focuses on prayer and meditation. Generally Christian practice is concerned with applying God’s truth and living God’s truth (incarnation of truth) in our daily (ordinary) existence. Mysticism desires a deep union with God that goes beyond existence, an experience that actually makes our daily experiences and lives as merely something we do as we work to be united with Christ and raised above existence.

Basically, the Jesus who came in the flesh and lived among us is a nice introduction to God. But rather than staying in the world living by his example, we need to pursue the real Jesus, that spirit that we do not yet know. When we find that Jesus, we will find God.

Other streams of mysticism seem to have this same above or beyond existence focus. Life in the flesh is something that can be endured or even escaped by a deep union with the Divine.

Why is this so appealing? The scriptural record of Jesus is that he went about the daily business of his ministry and at the same time was in deep communion with His Father. That deep communion was not a way of stepping out of his everyday existence but his everyday existence and how he conducted himself was an expression of his deep union and the place where that deep union was lived out. You did not step away from your calling to live for God, you grew closer to God by living out your calling.

On the one hand, mysticism has a great motivation, to stop seeing through a glass darkly and finally to know God as He really is. But it can also be an inward focus that forgets that Jesus was a man for others. He existed to serve, ultimately to serve humanity through his sacrifice. Mysticism can make detachment so important that our spiritual quest becomes self-serving, with no real responsibility for the world around us. Mysticism can easily become escape instead of engagement.

Non-Christian mysticism has the same tendency. In many of the religions of the East and mystical cults of the west, the pursuit of deep knowledge of God can become an excuse for giving little concern for how we live as a neighbor. Someone else becomes responsible for salt and light, we’re too busy trying to find the light for ourselves.

We don’t need secrets or ceremonies or higher consciousness, we just need a relationship with Jesus Christ and a life in obedience to his commands to love God and the people God loves. That’s how we get close to God.

(C) 2010 by Stephen Dunn

Addendum in December 2012: When I first posted this response, it was in response to some comments I had received on the post about Lilith where persons felt I had given mysticism a bad rap. Again, please understand that I am commenting about any approach to spirituality that encourages us to disengage from our need to be engaged daily in the second Great Commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – STEVE

With this post we renew one of our foundational reasons for LIFE MATTERS, answers to good questions about God, the Bible, Christianity, and spiritual things. It is in response to a question asked of me lately by a Christian who was constantly being challenged about his statements regarding God, ‘HOW DO I KNOW SOMETHING IS TRUE?” There is more to come. – STEVE

In the battles over faith people have often made strident statements, filled with emotion and passion. On the surface those statements seem to be “faith-filled,” but are often more humanistic than biblical.

You have heard the phrase, “GOD said it. I believe it. That settles it.” It’s great rhetoric but lousy theology. This “corrected” billboard is far more accurate. It is true because God said it. It’s truth doesn’t not depend upon your experience of it or your agreement with it.

“To come to faith on the basis of experience alone is unwise, though not so foolish as to reject faith altogether because of lack of experience … the quality of a Christian’s experience depends on the quality of his faith, just as the quality of his faith depends in turn on the quality of his understanding of God’s truth.” ― Os Guinness

In our postmodern world, experience has become the validation for truth. It is true only when I have experienced it for myself. More particularly, I will submit to its truth if my experience has taught me that it is good for me or good for my friends. That’s why something can be true for one person and not true for another, and the person who has not experienced it as true can discount its authoritativeness.

There is objective truth. That is truth that has a reality of its own. It is not dependent upon conditions or perceptions or adherents. Mount Kiliminjaro is a mountain. Some clever person might say, “I can make Mount Kiliminjaro, but in reality, even their best engineering genius can only make replica of Mount Kiliminjaro. There is only one such entity, one such reality.

That is objective truth.

Someone might say, “I don’t live in the neighborhood and therefore, Mt. Kiliminjaro is of little meaning to me.” That is a subjective statement. Subjective statements strain at rising to the level of truth. Trust me, if Mt. Kiliminjaro would explode tonight in a great cataclysmic event–it would affect weather patterns, the earth’s gravitational pull, and may even kill your brother-in-law with a piece of debris as his plane flies in the western Pacific. Choosing to believe that it is not a mountain would not change it’s impact upon you.

Christians build their lives, or should, upon objective truth. Truth like– God is God and not like men. God is good. God is faithful. When they base their lives on objective truth and do not try to validate its reliability by how they feel about it, they are on solid ground.

And so God’s Word makes objective statements (not the writer’s opinion) based on the objective nature of God. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8.28) is not suspended because some things that happen to us are bad or because we can’t see what He has done for us lately. Romans 8.28 becomes foundational for us because it is based on the objective reality that God is good.

Deuteronomy 7.9 speaks an objective reality upon which realities like Romans 8.28 are given even further validity. “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.”

Beware of believing that truth – objective truth – reality, can be dismissed by subjective experience.

Earlier this year popular preacher and teacher Rob Bell stirred considerable controversy with a new book called Love Wins. (Just for clarification, I have purchased the book but not yet read it. I believe no one should comment on a book if they have not read it thoroughly and reflected upon it honestly. I intend to read it in the next month.

I have unfortunately or fortunately read an avalanche of comments about the book and its supposed premise. I have noted that very few commentators have actually yet to read Love Wins either, just what other commentators have said about it. To those who have charged Rob with universalism, others have responded with a question, “How does belief in free will (which Rob believes) co-exist with universalism (everyone will come to God)?”  One of my Facebook friends wrote in response to some of my questions, “It seemed more a calling out of Calvism that anything.” (He, by the way, had read the book.)

My purpose in all of this is not to comment on Rob’s book. I still have not read it.  And because many of his writings and videos have been extremely helpful to me as a biblical Christian, I intend to give him the respect of reading and reflecting upon it with honesty.  My intent is to note something far more at issue here.


When it comes to God and our desire to understand His truth, are there no “off limits” questions? This is no small question for those of us engaged in apologetics with persons who have no Christian roots and no biblical reference points in their life experience.  More often than not, the very fact that I am willing to say, “There are no off limits questions, just questions for which you do not yet have answer” has been the springboard to genuine dialogue that God used to reconcile people to Him.  Actually, the questioning usually begins with, “This is probably a stupid question …” meaning a whole lot of their self-esteem is about to be invested in this investigation of the truth and they want to be sure that their quest will be respected by those who claim to know the Way.

I find it hard to believe that God, Who is Truth in Person, is offended by questions since it is He who embedded in us a hunger for the Truth when He created us in His image.  And God does not cease to God simply because we are rebellious in our motives for asking questions.  God can handle the Truth because He is Truth.  And in the end it is not reason that convicts of our inescapable need for God, it is the Holy Spirit who is more than human answers and theologies and systems.

There are too many Christians that are offended by any questions, except softball ones.  Perhaps they are offended because they don’t have all the answers and secretly believe that their salvation is dependent upon being able to pass some kind of biblical intelligence test.  That still smells of salvation by works, and for that we have the Apostle Paul’s clear admonition, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (Colossians 2:4) and ” “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” (Ephesians 2.8-9)

Questions are the way that truth is revealed and appropriated.  Asking questions was at the heart of Jesus’ teaching method.  God is not someone Who needs protected from the skeptics and defended against the atheists.  He is the One who through open hearts grants us new minds which are ultimately what is required to understand the truth and live the truth.

Every time we launch an assault on someone who asks questions we say that Truth is fragile.  God, Who moves the mountains and holds the universe in His hands is anything but.

I received this very good question the other day following a sermon on John 8, “Jesus and the Woman Caught in Adultery.”  What is the difference between judging people and judgement? They were referring to the fact that we are admonished not to judge people and also the popular belief that we cannot make judgements about people’s behaviors and choices. Here is my answer.

The very concept of judgement  (and justice) infers that there is a right and a wrong – a standard against which our behaviors need to be measured.  In John 8, a group of Pharisees and religious teachers were using a very severe law handed down through Moses (capital punishment for a woman’s adultery) to trap Jesus into contradicting or denouncing the Mosaic Law.  Jesus refused to cooperate with their manipulative question because it had to do with their jealousy of him, not is idea of justice.  It is a reminder that laws and standards are lived out not in a vacuum but in life and must take into account the spirit as well as the letter of a law.

When Jesus sent his critics packing he was still left with a woman who had done something wrong – who had committed a sin. That sin was adultery.  In fact, the purpose of the law was to remind her and all of her nation that choices have consequences, and that some choices lead to sin – i.e., living contrary to God’s will and vision for us.  At the end he asks where her accusers are. By that he is asking, “Where are the guys who want to kill you?”  She says they are gone.  He responds, “Then neither do I condemn you …”  But his answer doesn’t end there although popularly it does and we seem to see this as condoning her adultery or saying it’s no big deal.  No, his response is … “go and leave your life of sin.”  There is a judgement expressed here, a judgement that clearly implies her responsibility while receiving mercy where the law required death to stop doing the thing that makes her guilty before God.

Which brings us to the next step in this discussion. The passage that comes into view here are words from Jesus in Matthew 7.1-2.“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  This verse goes directly to our sinful tendency to judge or measure others against a standard that often we do not even live up. To presume spiritual or moral superiority in one area of life while ignoring sinfulness in another part. That’s why verses 3 and following continue: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  

Judgement has to do with being accountable to a standard that is beyond ourselves.  In the case of God’s Word, to understand that we live under God’s sovereignty and authority.  Because we acknowledge that we are accountable to the perfect Judge, we are mindful of our imperfect ability to perform the same function.  We are careful about exacting judgment towards others and particularly careful about assuming that our judgment equates with God’s justice. And we would never assume that others are guiltier than we of violating the standards of a Holy God.

God indeed judges us as he should (and has the right to do).  But the Judge of All the Universe knows the powerlessness of the guilty and includes in his justice the provision to receive mercy.  Our judging of others almost never focuses on transformation but retribution–nor is it about forgiveness but pronouncement of guilt.

Sometimes people throw the “you shouldn’t judge me” comment in our face because they don’t want to be accountable to anyone but themselves. But whether anyone of us desires it or not, we are not masters of our soul; God is. We cannot escape accountability.  And if we acknowledge it, we are more willing to confess, “I am a forgiven sinner.”

(C) 2011 by Stephen L Dunn