“What is truth?” – a very, very good question  

Poor old Pontius Pilate, at the top of his game, having clawed his way up the Roman ladder to become a Governor, but here he is, faced with this Jewish upstart telling him, “Everyone who cares for truth, who has any feeling for the truth, listens to me,” John 18:37.

Pilate’s reply, “What is truth?” in verse 38, is quite surprising, because being a seasoned politician he’d pushed the Roman narrative as truth. What other truth was there, other than Roman truth? So surely Pilate didn’t need to ask what truth was; he already knew. 

So why did he ask what truth was? Was it to get people all through the ages recalling his question, and maybe asking themselves what truth is too? In which case, thanks to Pilate, what IS truth, then?

The Greek word for truth in those verses is alētheia (ar-laith-ee-ah), which meant “corresponding to reality.” It ties in nicely with our modern definition of truth too, as “in accordance with fact or reality.” So truth is whatever corresponds to fact and reality.

Pilate was now being told, then, that anyone who cares for fact or reality, or anyone who has any feeling for fact and reality, or who wants to live in reality, listens to Jesus. But what is it that sets Jesus aside as the source of truth? 

Jesus makes his claim in at least two ways: first of all, that he “speaks the words of God,” John 3:34; and, secondly, if anyone doubts that, then “believe on the evidence,” John 14:11.The evidence being, that when we “know the truth, the truth will set you free,” John 8:31-32

But free in what way? It’s free of all the hang-ups that an evil-deceived society got stuck in our heads, like fear, timidity, worry, anxiousness, insecurity, poor self-image, a feeling of failure and guilt, prejudice, hypocrisy, narcissism, dishonesty, arrogance, jealousy, striking out at people who make us feel inferior, or ignoring those who need us, and chasing the seductive but empty delusions of celebrities and so-called experts. 

It all presses down on us like an endless weight we can’t shift. But Jesus says, “You come to me and I’ll lift all those burdens off you,” Matthew 11:28. So now we can live a life that corresponds to reality, the reality he intended us to live in, from the start. 

To ask “What is truth,” then, is a very, very good question, because Jesus has an answer that we can actually experience as fact and reality personally.

God rested – a hint, perhaps?

For years, a Friday sunset to Saturday sunset “sabbath rest” was sacrosanct in our household. It wasn’t much of a rest, though, because most of the daytime part of it was taken up with getting ready for church, travelling to church, spending several hours at church, and then the trip back from church, arriving home – well, ready for a rest.    

So Sunday became our family “day off,” where we dropped all the routine stuff we did all week and on “church” day, and did something different. It wasn’t necessarily restful, in the sense of snoozing the day away, but it was a consciously chosen change of pace. 

I’ve read many articles since by health experts that taking one day a week off is essential for our physical, mental, and emotional well being. But when you’re healthy, busy, or stuck in a lifestyle where taking any time off is nearly impossible, to suggest taking a day off on any day is almost an insult. 

But to some it’s not an insult at all; to them it is a vital part of their lives, based on God himself resting on the 7th day of creation. So, why not copy him and take the 7th day off too? And copy what he did on the 7th day as well, by not doing any of the work that filled the other days of the week. And since “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy” (Genesis 2:3), then make one’s 7th day rest “holy time” as well.  

For others, Sunday is the day for all that, based on the decision made many centuries ago that Jesus was resurrected on Sunday.  

Each to his own, of course, but common to all is recognizing God made us physical. And in his physical creation he created a seven day week, and by example set aside a day in the week to rest. He set that in motion right from the start, continued it with Israel, and used it as an example for us now to rest in him (Hebrews 4). 

Resting to God, then, is very important, primarily trusting our lives to him as our source of rest every day, but also taking into account he made us physical – and noting that Jesus made sure his disciples rested physically too (Mark 6:31). 

I wish he was here to do that for me, because putting the brakes on when I’m on a roll is hard, just as it was for the disciples in Mark 6. Interesting, then, that the author of Hebrews wrote: “let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest” in Hebrews 4:11. Seems like he understood how hard it is to rest too. No wonder we drink gallons of coffee….     

The Holy Spirit “deposit”  

Paul describes the Holy Spirit as a “deposit” In Ephesians 1:14, a trading term in the Greek world of his day for securing a contract. Put down a deposit and it guaranteed full ownership. You could now enjoy whatever you’d bought, despite not having paid for it in full yet.  

And that was the picture Paul gave us to help us understand what we’ve been given in the “promised Holy Spirit” (verse 13). It was the deposit God put down on us to secure us as his, just like we would put a deposit down on a car to secure it as ours. And having secured it with our deposit, we can jump into the car and start enjoying it right away. 

And now that God has secured us as his with the Holy Spirit deposit, he can start enjoying us right away too. And it really does mean “enjoy,” because it was “according to his good pleasure,” Ephesians 1:9, that he signed the contract and put down a deposit to make us his.  

But how exactly does he enjoy us? Well, Paul tells us back in verse 3, that the Father “has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” That’s the Father’s goal, to fill us up on everything he has to offer us from his world. That’s the full payment he has waiting for us, that he put the deposit down on us for. He’s not paying in full all at once, and not all in this lifetime of ours now either. But he does promise us a real taste of those blessings – “the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age” now, Hebrews 6:4-5 – so that we know what awaits us in full payment of those blessings on a much grander scale later. 

What God enjoys doing now, then, is giving us a taste of those blessings, and real enough in our experience that we know something special is being given to us. And it keeps on coming too, in the most surprising ways as well, when we realize we’re not the same people we were. List off the fruits of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, and compare them to “the acts of the sinful nature” in verses 19-21, and it’s obvious we’re growing.     

It’s like the pleasant surprise we get when the bank sends us a statement on the interest we received on a deposit we made. Our money just grew, without us doing anything too. And God has the same pleasure, sending us a statement once in a while showing us how much we’ve grown, to prove the Holy Spirit deposit he put down on us is paying interest too. 

And that gives him great pleasure. Imagine his pleasure, then, when he can release all the spiritual blessings he has in mind for us.  

Stories from the Old Testament for coping with 2023 

Part 3, King Ahaz, Isaiah 7 (part 2 was on Jan 13)

Ahaz, the twenty year old king of Judah, is scared out of his wits because two other kings have decided to severely punish him for not going along with their narrative. They even “plotted his ruin, saying ‘Let us invade Judah; let us tear apart and divide it among ourselves and set up our own king instead’” (Isaiah 7:6).

God, meanwhile, assures Ahaz he has nothing to worry about, but it depends on Ahaz believing him (verses 7-9). To give Ahaz’s faith a boost God says to him. “Ask the Lord God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.” It’s like handing Ahaz an Aladdin’s lamp, and saying, “Go on, whatever you wish for, it’s yours.”

Well, I can think of three wishes I’d ask God for if I was Ahaz: First, nail those two pompous half wits to the wall. Second, don’t let any more of my people die at their murderous hands. And third, give me your strength and wisdom to lead your people your way. 

But Ahaz puts on a noble face and in a pious voice he says, “Oooo, no, no, no – I’m not going to do that, because I could never make demands like that on God.” 

Now, let’s see if I can get my mind round that….er….no, I can’t. And neither could Isaiah, because he yells at Ahaz, “Then listen to this, government of David! It’s bad enough that you make people tired with your pious hypocrisies, but now you’re making God tired too.”

I wonder if our governments could learn a lesson from that, since these stories were written as “warnings” for us as well (1 Corinthians 10:11). Because Isaiah – speaking for God – puts the entire blame for this awful display of arrogant stupidity and slushy piousness on the government

It really was arrogant stupidity too, because Ahaz was being offered a wonderful no risk solution that would keep both himself and his people safe. But he turned God down – censored him, if you please – in preference for a great show of his own sense of importance and piousness, and sugar coating his idiocy by sounding all humble and righteous.

Well, God wasn’t having any of it. Which is jolly encouraging, because we have leaders like Ahaz in our governments today too, who are just as tiresome with their platitudes, hypocrisy, false humility, and virtue signalling. 

It’s good to know, then, that God’s fed up with them as well, so I look forward to reading what God does next with Ahaz….(part 4 next Friday, Jan 27)      

By grace and good fortune

I got the title above from Dr. John Campbell, whom I’ve watched on Youtube since the pandemic began, as one among many Doctors and medical experts I sought advice from to help me get through the confusion and make right and informed choices.  

It was his recent comment in the title above, though, that really caught my attention, because it suggested that God may have had something to do with how this pandemic is evolving. Because it could have been really nasty, as it was in the beginning, when it killed a lot of people. 

As the virus evolved it stayed nasty too, as anyone hit with the Delta wave knows, myself being one of them. I fainted three times, the first putting 11 stitches in my face, and the second two landing me in Emergency, with a throat so sore I hated swallowing, and a cough I couldn’t stop. I was so cold I slept in bed several nights fully dressed. 

So why didn’t the virus become even more virulent in its evolution? It could have. Respiratory viruses are notorious for becoming highly aggressive, like the Spanish flu at the end of World War 1. But Delta gave way to lesser variants, that gained in transmissibility but declined in virulence. So being infected by the virus became far less dangerous, enabling natural immunity to grow, rather than it being overwhelmed. 

Fear, unfortunately, is still doing the rounds, but more now from vaccination injury than the virus. The virus, meanwhile, has become so mild a reasonably healthy person can be infected by it several times, and each time contributing to the building of natural immunity, which in turn lessens the spread communally. And to Dr. Campbell, that’s wonderful. Despite all the frantic measures taken to stop the virus, including some really harmful ones, here we are now with the virus doing most people more good than harm, as it triggers our amazing God-designed immune system to do its stuff for us.

So, except for obvious high risk people, many nations and medical professionals are saying vaccinations for Covid are no longer necessary. What a blessing, when it means avoiding the risk that all drugs, and especially experimental ones, carry. To Dr. Campbell it is “by grace and good fortune” this has happened. Another way of saying, perhaps, “Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways (and thank you).”    

Face reality, but face it with Scripture   

With so many problems in the world right now, and not knowing who’s telling the truth about them either, I’ve often thought, “Why bother trying to keep up?” And why get myself in a dither about things I cannot change? So at times I feel like tuning out, and just letting the world go by, doing what it has to do. 

But Jesus did say in Luke 21:36, “Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen.” So, be aware of what’s going on, because, verse 34, it could “close on you unexpectedly like a trap.” So he was warning the Jews of his day to keep an eye on what dangers were developing so that “you may be able to stand before the Son of Man,” verse 36

Facing reality, then, was very much on Jesus’ mind. But it had its dangers too, because Jesus also said, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down,” verse 34. So, in trying to keep up with what’s going on in the world it can also become so overwhelming it drives you to drink, or constantly worrying about survival (verse 34).

Somewhere in this dilemma, then, there has to be a balance, so that we’re not overstating the fear, but not understating the dangers. 

On the one hand, we can’t ignore Paul, Peter and Jude, who were all well aware of the powerful influences of their culture and how Christians could fall prey to them, so they didn’t hold back in their warnings. 

But while reading what Paul wrote to Timothy about “the terrible times in the last days” in 2 Timothy 3:1-9, I noticed what Paul wrote a few verses later in verse 13. He warned openly of “evil men and imposters going from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived,” so he faced up to the reality of the world they were in, and he faced Timothy up to it too – “BUT,” he writes in verse 14, “as for you (Timothy), continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of.” 

Paul was referring, of course, to “the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus,” verse 15.

In other words, Timothy, face reality, but face it with Scripture

Can church be compared to processed food?

When someone suggested to me that church could be compared to processed food, it was a bit of a jolt – but it also struck a chord.  

It struck a chord because all through my childhood and into my teenage, “Church” mostly meant going to a rather cold stone building for a church service, finding one’s seat in a pew, waiting in hushed silence for the service to begin, and only whispering if talking was needed. 

And when the service itself started, it followed the same prepared pattern of hymns, prayers, Bible readings, the choir singing a song or two perhaps, and a brief homily or sermon by the resident vicar. Our only involvement in the proceedings was to follow along. 

Which is where the comparison with processed food came in. Because in pre-packaged processed food all the work has been done already too. It’s all been prepared ahead of time and put in a container, and all you have to do – as your part in the process – is follow the instructions on the package. 

So, yes, I suppose church can be compared to processed food, when it’s a pre-packaged denominational set of beliefs you just go along with, and you sit in a service with a pre-packaged format each week, and you’re accepting the pre-packaged rituals, traditions and interpretations of Scripture handed down from the fourth century, or the Reformation, or from whoever leads or founded one’s church.  

But I never questioned it, because it was comforting. If I faithfully followed the routine and requirements of my church, I felt I was on firm ground. A tad boring some of it could be but I’d done my church bit, so I didn’t need to do anything else, like think for myself, or worry if something didn’t make sense. Just “do the package” and all would be well.  

I’ve realized since, however, that church, like science, evolves. It discards the out-of-date, the meaningless and irrelevant, and invites critical thinking, as in Paul’s advice to Timothy: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, as a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth,” 2 Timothy 2:15

In other words, do some thinking for ourselves too. Pre-packaged processed food has its good side, like having something tucked away to fall back on when too tired to prepare a meal from scratch. But doesn’t the joy of cooking come from putting something really good and healthy together from what you’ve studied and learnt about food yourself?    

The Berean spirit, thank God, is still alive

How I got through the pandemic and the decisions I made along the way call for a big “thank you” from me to those who went behind the narrative to seek truth. They’re like my heroes the Bereans in Acts 17:11, who, when hit with a novel interpretation of Scripture by Paul, did not dismiss it as misinformation. Instead they went to work and “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

“Every day” they did that, and they did it “eagerly” too. They relished the thought of studying into new information to get to the heart of it. And Paul wasn’t miffed that they were checking him out. He didn’t try to censor them or shut them down for daring to challenge him. Instead, as Luke wrote, “the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians.”  

And Paul would have heartily agreed with Luke, because in a letter to his young protege, Timothy, he wrote in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” Or as The Message phrases that last bit, “laying out the truth plain and simple.” So God approves of those who, in a true Berean spirit, do their homework.  

But why was that so important for Timothy to do? Because the social media machine was at full throttle in his day too. Paul’s term for it was “godless chatter,” verse 16, a surprisingly accurate description of much of social media today, including Paul’s prediction that the chattering nonsense “will become more and more ungodly,” verse 16, and it “will spread like gangrene,” verse 17

It was important, therefore, that Timothy was aware of that, because, as Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 4:1-2, “The Spirit makes it clear that as time goes on, some are going to give up on the faith and chase after demonic illusions put forth by professional liars. These liars have lied so well and for so long that they’ve lost their capacity for truth.” 

Such a world makes seeking truth difficult, as I imagine many investigative journalists found out as they came up against the ineptitude, corruption, propaganda and authoritarian leanings of government, politics, big tech, medicine, and academia during the  pandemic.    

But Jesus did warn in Matthew 24:24, that “false Christs and fake prophets will appear…to deceive even the elect – if that were possible.”  I am deeply thankful, therefore, for the dogged determination of investigative journalists during the pandemic to separate truth from lies. The Berean spirit, thank God, is still alive.

“To the glory of God” – meaning?

It’s a familiar phrase, isn’t it, that what we do is to “God’s glory.” It was to Jesus too, as in John 14:13, when he said, “I will do whatever you ask in my name so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” And in John 17:4, when praying to his Father, “I have brought you glory on earth.” 

And the purpose for us being “the first to hope in Christ,” Ephesians 1:12, is “for the praise of the Father’s glory” too. We get the point, that what the Father accomplished for us humans in his Son makes him justifiably glorious. “To the praise of his glorious grace” in verse 6, summarizes our existence as humans and Christians perfectly. 

But is “glory” only defined by God’s greatness and grace? Or is there another meaning to the word “glory”?

Yes, there is, in English too, because when we “glory” in something, like a child’s first steps or first words, or the growth of our kids into strapping, powerful men, or into beautiful, skilled women – there’s something else we mean, isn’t there? It means we’re “getting huge pleasure” out of something, like rousing music, or learning a skill, or being fit, or overcoming a bad habit. 

Apply that meaning, then, to “God’s glory,” and it comes out as doing what we do for his pleasure. And it’s spot on biblically too, because Ephesians 1:4 tells us he adopted us as his children “in accordance with his pleasure,” and in verse 9, “he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure” too. God does things for us because it gives him great pleasure doing so. 

So, what if what we do is for the same reason – knowing that what we’re doing, thinking and saying, gives him great pleasure? We have that power, so to speak, to make God extremely happy. I love the bit in the movie, Chariots of Fire, when Eric Liddle is thundering round the 400 metres final in the 1924 Olympic Games, arms flailing, head back, and we hear his voice saying, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.”

I bet Jesus felt his Father’s pleasure too, when he heard a voice saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” in Matthew 3:17. Can we “hear” him saying the same thing of us, then? Yes, we jolly well can, because in Jesus’ words, “He who loves me will be loved by my Father,” John 14:21. When we’re obeying anything Jesus taught, the Father’s doing cartwheels.  

Stories from the Old Testament for coping with 2023 

Part 2, King Ahaz, Isaiah 7 (part 1 was on Jan 9)

Since the stories of Israel in the Old Testament are examples for us now (1 Corinthians 10:11), what’s in the story of Ahaz for us? 

Ahaz, for instance, was in much the same situation we found ourselves in at the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020. People were dying and panic set in, so politicians worked frantically to dispel our fears by promising the rapid deployment of a novel medical intervention.

And intervention for Ahaz came in a novel form too, in the prophet Isaiah and his son dropping by with a message from God contained in the boy’s name. How the boy ended up with a name that meant a remnant will return is unknown, but it was designed to have the same impact on Ahaz as the arrival of the promised medical intervention in late 2020: to dispel our fear with trust. Ahaz needed to trust God to remove his fear, just as we were called on to “trust the science” to remove our fear.   

But trust for Ahaz was a tough call, because he’s young and he has no  experience to fall back on that God will step in and save them. And many people found trusting the science a tough call in the pandemic too, when faced with a novel medication that had no record to fall back on that it would save lives either. Politicians, media, doctors, and the companies producing the medication all said it was perfectly safe and nothing to worry about, but like Ahaz, in the real world of human emotion, diving into the unknown can be truly daunting.  

But God was sympathetic to Ahaz’s hesitancy. He offered Ahaz a “sign,” and of his own choosing too, and with no limits either. It could be anything “in the deepest depths or in the highest heights” (verse 11). To God, then, it didn’t matter how extreme Ahaz’s request was, so long as the lad ended up being fully convinced and comforted

So this was how God dealt with a hesitant, doubting young man. And how different it was to what we’ve witnessed our leaders doing during the pandemic. God, for instance, didn’t unleash a string of disparaging, humiliating names for Ahaz because of his hesitancy. Nor did he try to coerce Ahaz into doing something he wasn’t ready for. 

It’s a great insight into God and how he works with us often frightened and doubting humans. And it’s a great example as well, because imagine how different our world would be if we had leaders who treated us like that too (more in part 3, next Friday).