Thursday, August 28, 2008

What Is Truth?

Recently I have been reading Paul's letters to his young associates, Timothy and Titus. One of the watch words of instruction is to guard, or to be careful of. We might paraphrase it this way, "Be on your toes. Be careful." Two passages in particular drew my attention. 1 Timothy 6:20-21, which states: Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith. The second passage is 2 Timothy 1:14 - Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you - guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

We live in a world where belief-systems, especially those of a fundamental, conservative, biblical faith are being attacked. Some have dared even to proclaim that there is no absolute truth upon which we can and should base our lives. Others have stated that truth is merely a relative matter. What I consider to be truth may be something that you don't acknowledge is truth. Is it little wonder that the world seems to approach insanity these days. Is there not something or someone upon which I can rest secure in the belief that an anchor has been found? Must I spend my life asking the question Pilate asked of Jesus - What is truth? What troubles me more greatly is that many Christians today have bought into that philosophy of questioning just what is truth.

Maybe I get more simplistic the older I get. But it seems to me that the Bible clearly states what truth is. It is found in the person of Jesus Christ who made this claim for Himself: I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me (John 14:6). It was this very same Jesus who told His disciples: If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31-32). Notice Jesus did not say, "You will know some truth," or "You will know a truth," or even "You will know about truth." He said, very plainly, "You will know the truth." Either that means that there is a truth that you and I can know absolutely, or Jesus Christ was lying. There can be no middle road.

How can we know what to guard carefully, as Paul instructed Timothy? I believe those truths are communicated to us through the Word of God. Paul would declare to Timothy that all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). He also instructs Timothy to preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction (2 Timothy 4:2).

Friends, I believe it is high time that, as Christians, we diligently get back into the Scriptures. Not for the purpose of proving this or that theory, or for gaining approval for this or that practice. But to seek the truth. To anchor our souls, once again, upon the Rock Jesus Christ. Yes, there is an absolute truth. His name is Jesus Christ. And He has chosen to reveal His absolute truth to us through the Word. It is time that we truly begin to dig into His Word and to listen to His voice proclaiming those truths upon which we can confidently build our lives.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Olympic Lessons

Every four years the nations of the world send their very best athletes for Olympic competition. As you know, this year those games were held in Beijing, China. We have watched the precision and grace of the gymnasts, the speed of the sprinters, and the power and endurance of the swimmers. We watched with baited breath as Michael Phelps snatched victory from defeat by the slimmest of margins, then only to have the tables turned as the American swimmer Dara Torres lost her race by that same slim margin. We have witnessed the pageantry of the games. And we have observed the pride of each athlete as he or she stood upon that medal podium and heard the national anthem of his or her country being played. For a few days every four years the world comes together, often forgetting the politics and turmoil of the times, and celebrates in a spirit of good competition.

But the success of the Olympics is not the events themselves, but the stories of those who are competing. Some athletes come to the Olympics knowing that there is no possible chance for a medal. Their national anthem will never be heard. Yet they come. Why? Because these are the Olympic games and it is an honor to represent your country, even if but for one moment. Yet, there is always that remote as it might seem...when the favorites will stumble and the door will be opened for an unknown face to rise to the top.

What makes for a successful Olympic athlete? First, there is the vision or dream which propels them forward. Each athlete, years before, envisions themselves competing with an exclusive group known as Olympians. This vision then produces a hunger and a desire to do whatever is necessary in order to enter that stadium on opening night dressed in the colors of his or her country. Every day, year after year, there remains this vision. Through the times of disappointment and heartbreak, there still is this vision. Through the gruelling hours of training and the strains of discipline, there is this vision. These athletes are driven by their vision. Second, there is the commitment to the training, the discipline, the denials, the hardships, and the sacrifices to accomplish that vision. A person does not suddenly awaken one morning and say, "I think I will compete in the Olympics this year." Most of these athletes have trained and strained and trained some more year after year after year.

As I have watched these athletes and have heard many of their stories, I have observed some truths for the Church today. The key to success is that vision, that dream. Sadly many churches today have only a vision of survival. What happened to dreaming big dreams? I had dinner with a pastoral colleague last evening and he shared with me that the leaders in his church are believing that their church could attain a membership of 500 in the next ten years...this within a community of 1200 people. Is it attainable? I don't know, but I applauded this pastor and his people for dreaming big dreams. Solomon wrote these words: where there is no vision, the people perish. May I paraphrase: Where there is no vision, churches falter and die. I like to challenge church leaders with this question: What will your church be like five years from now? If you cannot answer that question, then I doubt your church will succeed. And I also need to respond to that question as the leader of the Village Schools ministry.

The second observation is that of focus and commitment. Friends, ministry does not come easily. In fact, Jesus told us it would be difficult. Ministry is borne upon the altars of sacrifice, more sacrifice, and even more sacrifice. I remember a lady who served in our church while I was pastoring in Chicago. Her name was Ruth. She was already a grandmother. And her ministry was the kindergarten children. That was her focus. She was careful not to let other ministry opportunities - as good as they were - to cause her to lose that focus. Each of those children was loved as if they were her own grandchildren. Each was treated as if they were the only children in the church. And she was heart-broken when she had to miss a Sunday - which rarely happened. Where is our commitment to ministry today?

Why should we care? Have you seen the faces of those who mount that medal stand? There is a glow that surrounds them. Their dreams have been fulfilled. They hear the words of their coaches saying, "Well done. Good job." Friends, the day is coming when you and I will stand before our Savior anxiously hoping to hear similar words: "Well done, good and faithful servant. Go and enjoy what I have prepared for you." Will I then receive a gold medal? A silver one? Or a bronze one? I want to be like the Apostle Paul who told the Corinthians that he wanted to run to win. I want to represent Jesus Christ well. How about you?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Israel: Leadership Change Coming Soon

When I first began writing back in January, I shared with you that, from time to time, I would focus upon what was happening in Israel and the Middle East, especially as it might relate to prophetic times. This week I want to bring you up to date.

Last week Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced his intentions to resign following the mid-September primaries within the Kadima Party. The Prime Minister has been under a cloud of suspicion since the failed 2006 Second Lebanon War. He has been able to maintain his party's coalition government because the leaders of others within that coalition have only given threats to unravel the government. But recently Olmert was accused of fraud and other improprieties with regard to receiving money while he served as Mayor of Jerusalem. This seemed to be the straw that would "break the camel's back."

Now, like here in the United States, Israel has a lame-duck leader resulting in even greater uncertainty about the future of the Middle East, especially regarding President Bush's "Road Map" plan for peace. Who will be the new leader in Israel? That answer is as uncertain as who will be the new president in America? But let me share with you some possible scenarios.

Presently the Kadima Party holds a slim majority of seats within the Israeli Knesset, thus they hold the reigns of power. There are two individuals who will vie for the leadership of that party during the primaries in September. Tzipi Livni serves as the Foreign Minister. She is a bright, intelligent, and upcoming personality within Israeli politics. She also served with the Mossaud, the Israeli CIA. Many see her as more of a centrist in her thinking. Shaul Mofaz is the Minister of Transportation. He is an Iranian born Jew who came to Israel when he was nine. He has held several positions within the Israeli government in the past. He is considered to be more hawkish in his approach to dealings with the Palestinians. Right now polling has these two running neck to neck. Whoever will win the primary will then be given 52 days in which to form a coalition government, thus keeping the Kadima Party in power.

But - don't you just love that word - lurking in the background are two other individuals who must be taken seriously. One is Ehud Barak, the head of the Labor Party and the Defense Minister within the Cabinet. Barak served as Prime Minister during those tumultuous days in the early part of this century when Israel pulled out of Lebanon. He is a man with powerful influence and would love to be Prime Minister once again. There is much speculation as to whether he would be willing to keep the Labor Party as a coalition member under a new Kadima leadership. The other person is Benjamim Netanyahu, leader of the Likud Party, who also served as Prime Minister in the late 1990's. Mr. Netanyahu has been an outspoken critic of the Olmert government, especially in its handling of the Palestinian questions.

Should the new leader of the Kadima Party fail to create a coalition government, then the Knesset will be dissolved and new national elections will be called - probably after the first of the year. That would certainly make for an interesting race.

Now I know what you might be saying to yourself: Why should I really care about Israeli politics? Let me tell you why. The challenges the world is facing today have as their epicenter the clash between two people groups and two religions that are facing off in a country known as Israel. Friends, what happens in Jerusalem matters to those of us living in Minnesota or Iowa or Colorado. The relationships that will be established between our new President and the new leadership in Israel will matter to you. So, I will keep you posted because I want you to know.