Tag Archives: Truth

The Book Every Christian Should Read

When you read my title, you probably think I am going to say that every Christian should read the Bible. Instead I am saying that every Christian should read How to Defeat Religion in 10 Easy Steps. Every Christian must read the Bible, because the Bible is our bread of life. The Bible is God’s Word, and Jesus said that our natural food is every word out of the mouth of God. However, Satan is becoming increasingly aggressive against all of us, and the best way to learn how he plans to attack is to read How to Defeat Religion in 10 Easy Steps. Every Christian should read it.

The subtitle is “a toolkit for secular activists,” and the method proposed by the author Ryan T. Cragun is clearly outlined in the Table of Contents:

  1. Promote and Defend Secular Education
  2. Empower Gender, Sexual, and Racial Minorities
  3. Provide “This Life” Security
  4. Encourage Sexual Liberation for Everyone
  5. Stop Subsidizing Religion and Deregulate It
  6. Encourage Regulated Capitalism
  7. Support Education, Art, and Science
  8. Syncretize Holidays and Rituals
  9. Change Society to Value Critical Thinking and Scientific Inquiry
  10. Teach Humanist Ethics in School

If you think that most of these elements of the “toolkit” sound innocuous, you need to recognize a fundamental element of the battle being launched by secular activism: redefinition. The battle for the life of humankind is being fought on the battleground of Truth, and a universal weapon against Truth is redefinition of words. Think, for example, about the word equality. Until recently, every American citizen would have said that the statement “all men are created equal” meant that each of us has equal standing in the law of the land and equal opportunity to thrive. The limits to our accomplishment and happiness are whatever limits we set on ourselves. We all are born equal in God’s eyes, and we are all equally loved by God.

The word equality took on a new meaning, however, when secular activists, the individuals who are the target audience for How to Defeat Religion, appropriated the word and coupled it with the word marriage. The first time I heard the phrase marriage equality, I could not imagine what the phrase could possibly mean. Who couldn’t get married? The answer: homosexuals. Why? Because everyone in the world understood that marriage was the union of a man and a woman. Whether people looked in the Bible for guidance or they simply looked at world history, one thing was obvious: humankind considered the union of a man and a woman to be a marriage. No other union of humans was considered a marriage. LGBTQ activists created the phrase marriage equality in order to avoid the discussion of the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Activists leaped past that definition by coupling the word marriage with the word equality. In so doing, they embarked on a discussion that did not even make sense unless the definition of marriage was scrapped. By forcing the discussion to the word equality  they avoided needing to argue for a redefinition of marriage. They successfully pushed the discussion past the definition of marriage and made it about a redefined concept of equality. The cultural whiplash dumbfounded many persons who wanted to keep the argument on the real subject, but activists acted as if marriage had always been a civil right protected by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, and that is the argument that was successfully sold to the Supreme Court. The court did not address whether it is legitimate to call a union of two men or two women a marriage. The court simply said that nobody could be denied the “right” to marry. Any definition of the word marriage ceased to exist.

In the light of that experience, a Christian should read the book How to Defeat Religion in 10 Easy Steps with a wary eye. The author is writing for secular activists, not for Christians. He uses words as defined in the worldview of secular activism. The historic usage and definitions of words must be set aside when reading How to Defeat Religion in order for the reality of its plan of action to be clear. For example, in the title of chapter 9 you see the words, “Change Society to Value Critical Thinking and Scientific Inquiry.” You understand those words in their historic, common sense definitions, and you wonder what could be the problem this “change” would solve. However, if you read the chapter attentively, you will see that in the hands of secular activists, those words have very different meanings, and a serious problem emerges from the redefinitions.

Why should a Christian read such a book? The answer is simple. It is the old adage, “Know thine enemy.” Luke, writing in the gospel that bears his name, says that after Jesus rejected all of Satan’s temptations in the wilderness, Satan backed away and waited for a more opportune moment. When Satan saw the empty character of Judas, he entered in and engineered Christ’s crucifixion. Even though Christ’s death and resurrection actually worked the defeat of Satan in eternity, the Evil One still lurks in time and space waiting for opportunities in the hearts of human beings who have the same emptiness of character as Judas. The book How to Defeat Religion tells us some of the lines of attack Satan uses to invade humans, even many who claim the name of Christ.

When I reviewed the book on Amazon, I gave it five stars, because this book does exactly what it promises to do, but in my review, I point out that this strategy will only work if religion is what the book says it is: the will to believe a myth as if it were reality.

The thinly disguised fact underlying the book is that its target is not religion in general. I did not see any real evidence that the writer had a problem with Hinduism or Buddhism or Shinto. It seemed quite clear that the target is Christianity. That is fine with me, because Hinduism, Buddhism and Shinto, like all the other religions, are not about Truth. They are, in fact, myths, and many of their adherents do not have a problem with treating their religions as myths. Cragun, however, is not battling windmills; he is battling Christ. We who claim the name of Christ are not battling windmills, either. We are battling “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). The author of How to Defeat Religion reveals where we will fight many of the battles that make up this war.

The power that will defeat those who follow the path outlined in How to Defeat Religion works in the life of a person who lives in an active relationship with Christ. Cragun’s strategy will work only if there is nothing beyond the time/space continuum. Inside that limited universe, Satan runs rampant. The only force that can resist and defeat him is a life fully committed to Christ. The strategies outlined in How to Defeat Religion are powerless against a life traveled on The Way, filled with The Truth, and energized by The Life that never ends. We in whom the Holy Spirit dwells carry around in our bodies living temples that the strategies in this book cannot touch. No matter how many churches are regulated out of existence, Christ’s church will thrive in the lives of his followers. No matter how many homosexuals marry, or how many new genders are discovered, Christ’s followers will live in obedience to Christ, filled with joy according to Christ’s Truth revealed in the Bible.

We need to know what secular activists are doing if we are to be salt and light in the culture. Hiding from the reality of their agenda will only make it harder for us to shine our light in the world around us. Satan has sensed an opportune time to attack Christ and his followers. We must know our enemy and act in the power of Christ to defeat his assaults. How convenient that the Enemy’s current strategy is so clearly outlined in How to Defeat Religion.

 

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Are We Even Sure What Truth Is?

People who try to be Christ-like in a world that despises Christ face a never-ending challenge. The first challenge is that secular thinkers reject the idea of anything spiritual. They only believe in things science can probe – weigh, measure, count, and so forth. This attitude means that the idea of a spirit, holy or otherwise, is anathema to them. They make fun of Christians for having imaginary friends. They believe that prayer is talking to one’s self. They think that Christians hear voices in their heads.

The second challenge is that secular thinkers want people who believe in any religion to keep their religion inside their houses of worship. Secularists do not want to see anything in the public forum if it is even vaguely related to a spiritual idea. They believe it is abusive for Christians to live their faith or speak of their faith in public. This attitude leads them to object to displays of things like the Ten Commandments or a manger scene in public. This is why they don’t want Christians praying at public events such as football games or graduation exercises.

The third problem is probably the most difficult to face with a Christ-like spirit. It is the scorn. It is one thing to need to put into words an explanation of your reasons for faith in God. It is quite another to be told that you are irrelevant, deluded and silly because of your faith.

Despite all these issues, Christians in the USA have always believed that the norm in public discourse is for all participants to speak with respectful courtesy to one another, and even about one another. This is the attitude at the heart of debate societies. Young people are educated to recognize that there are many points of view and all are welcome to the table. In discussions of public policy, Muslims may explain why they believe sharia is valid for domestic disagreements in Muslim families, atheists may explain why the law must be completely neutral with no preference for any religious view, and Christians may advocate for the culture to accept the moral value of life even if it rejects Christian definition.

However, public discourse is increasingly taking on a new flavor.  Polite respect for all viewpoints is processed through a flattening lens, the lens that says that truth is always relative. There is a mounting cultural unwillingness to allow anyone to believe that any truth might be absolute. Truth is only what seems like truth to any given individual, and people who want to engage in the conversation must not assert anything as absolute truth.

For example, Christians who believe the Bible is God’s revealed guide for faith and life, believe that the Bible teaches non-negotiable truth. The truth that life is sacred is not a negotiable truth. The truth that homosexuality is sin is not negotiable.

Secular thinkers who hold the view that all truth is relative believe that life has value relative to certain other values; a fetus may be technically “alive” but the life of the fetus has a lesser value than the life of the adult woman who is, relatively speaking, the “host” to the fetus. When weighing the relative values, things such as the “host” woman’s preferences and convenience are all part of the value of her life, and if the fetus has negative value in that context, the fetus may be discarded with no compunctions. Pure relativists and pure absolutists cannot easily discuss any issue.

Secular thinkers who say that truth is what makes a person happy, and that “happy” means whatever that person says it means, readily advocate for homosexual couples to marry and acquire children by adoptions, while Christians living by the absolute truth that homosexuality is sin cannot even imagine placing children in a household headed by a homosexual couple.

The change of tone in public discourse has already manifested itself in an internal DOJ document titled: “LGBT Inclusion at Work: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Managers.” It was emailed to DOJ managers in advance of “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month.” It contained the guidelines for showing respect to the LGBT community during their “pride” month. Among other directives, employees were told, “Don’t judge or remain silent. Silence will be interpreted as disapproval.” This statement is the voice of a demand that everyone acknowledge that truth is relative to the individual. If it is true for you, then I am obligated to accept it as your truth. I have no right to my opinion or even to my religious convictions, if my convictions reject your truth.

The problem with this way of talking about truth is that unless everybody agrees to a definition for “truth” along with all the other definitions needed for any discussion of differences, no disagreement can ever be concluded. A discussion which excludes revealed truth by definition cannot invite Christians (or Muslims, either) to the table. If they don’t come to the table, no “resolution” of cultural differences can ever be achieved.

This is a new sort of truth. This is a new definition for “tolerance,” a definition that is as unlike most people’s understanding of the word as “gay marriage” is unlike most people’s understanding of marriage. Christians must be aware of this new development in the public forum. If people do not push back against this way of thinking, then people who advocate this view will be able to appropriate the language of tolerance and use it to completely suppress Christian views or any other religious view based on absolute revealed truth. That would be the end of religious liberty in the USA.

Truth, the First Weapon

The major reason that the events at Benghazi in 2012, now nearly nine months ago are still headline news is a deficit of truth. Many people feel betrayed and disappointed, even alarmed, by administration speakers who avoid giving the facts about Benghazi to the citizens. Some people believe that misinformation provided by individuals speaking for the administration was deliberate, and the specter of uncovering lies by senior officials raises other horrifying images, including the moment when Richard Nixon resigned from the presidency in disgrace.

We all want truth and expect truth and even normally assume truth when someone speaks. That fact actually makes it easy to deceive us. Salesmen have a bad reputation because they often find ways to speak the truth in words that lead a prospective buyer to the wrong conclusion. If a sales representative says to a prospective customer, “This price won’t be available next week,” the customer assumes that the price will be higher next week. The words sound like a friendly, helpful warning that to hesitate is to lose, and the customer may rush into a poorly-considered purchase, only to discover that when next week comes, the price is lower. The salesman did not lie, but he certainly deceived.

People don’t like to be deceived. Even though people play little games with their own minds by claiming there is a difference between a “white lie” and a “black lie,” nobody likes the moment when unpleasant truth shines through a web of deception. If, for example, someone provided incontrovertible evidence that the President of the United States knowingly and deliberately withheld military assistance from the beleaguered Americans in Benghazi, the deceptive words that have hid that truth would only make the discovery of the truth more disturbing. A failure to speak truth is at the root of many broken relationships and broken nations.

Truth is at the root of the name of God, given to Moses at the burning bush. You may remember that God had a very tough job for Moses after he got Moses to pay attention. Moses recognized right away how impossible this job was, because he knew the pharaoh of Egypt personally, having grown up in Pharaoh’s household. Moses tried repeatedly to weasel out of the assignment, but God would not relent. Moses’ life story would not make him very credible to the Israelites, and he knew it. They would want to know why they should believe that God had sent him. They had every reason to believe he was a spy for the pharaoh, even though they knew that Moses had left Egypt as a fugitive from Pharaoh. Why should they believe that Moses had actually escaped justice at Pharaoh’s hand and committed himself to help them escape as well? Moses demanded of God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13)

God’s answer to Moses was “I am who I am.” (Exodus 3:14) In other words, God said, “I am exactly who you think I am, I am the One I appear to be. You were stopped in your tracks by a miraculous phenomenon – a bush on fire that did not burn up. Who do you think can do that?” Jesus, God in the flesh, later said the same thing in words that clarify the meaning of God’s words to Moses. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Bottom line: God is Truth. You can trust God. You can trust God’s words and God’s messages and God’s promises. If God says, “I am with you,” he will be there, because he doesn’t just speak truth; God is truth.

Maybe this is why Paul listed the “belt of truth” first when he was naming the weapons and protective armor God has given us for our lifework of combat with evil. If Paul had been standing behind Moses at the burning bush, listening to the call of God to an impossible job, Paul would certainly have recognized the experience. God did the same thing to him. After Paul’s amazing experience with Christ near Damascus, a man named Ananias came with a message. The message God gave to Ananias for Paul was this: “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:16) That is not the kind of message people like to receive. They would rather hear, “Your dreams are about to come true. Dream it and do it. You can get rich, because God wants you to be rich while you have a good time.” That is not the message God gave to either Moses or Paul. They were both asked to march onto a battlefield where evil was lying in wait for them, and both of them were told to speak and live the truth.

If Paul had been standing behind Moses when Moses received his call, Paul might have immediately told Moses what he told the Ephesians who were engaged in the same battle. Paul wrote, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) Moses was headed to Egypt to lead a battle with Pharaoh, who thought he was a god. Paul traveled over much of the Roman empire battling what might have appeared to be political and cultural pressures, but they were all headed up by an emperor who thought he was a god.

Paul would have told Moses that his first weapon in confronting Pharaoh was truth. The truth God spoke when he said, “I am who I am.”  When Paul wrote to the Ephesians, he said, “Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth.” (Ephesians 6:14) That is ultimately what won the day against Pharaoh. The Egyptian pharaoh actually thought he was the son of one of the gods in the Egyptian pantheon. Paul would have told Moses, “Just tell the truth about God who is Truth, and all those false gods will be defeated.”  Ultimately, after Moses stood firm and spoke truth, Pharaoh died along with his army, demonstrating the ultimate truth that he was not a god. God, Truth, repelled the lie of Egypt’s gods and the lie that Pharaoh was a god. With that truth established, Israel could see the real truth and move forward in God’s plan.

Paul died at the order of the Roman emperor, who still thought he was a god. Yet two thousand years later, the Roman Empire is history, while God’s church, those who believe and speak God’s truth, outnumber any other religion on the face of the earth, and growing daily.

God has provided Christians with many weapons in the war against evil. Probably the most undervalued weapon of all is truth.

What faith challenge or cultural challenge faces you today? How could you use truth as a weapon in this conflict? Add your comment to the conversation and share your thoughts with others.

What is Truth?

What is truth? Deutsch: Was ist Wahrheit? Fran...
What is truth? Deutsch: Was ist Wahrheit? Français : “Qu’est-ce que la vérité ?” Le Christ et Pilate. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Readings:  Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14     Psalm 93     Revelation 1:4b-8     John 18:33-37

 

Is Jesus a king? After Jesus had been betrayed and handed over to the religious leaders, they held a mock trial and sentenced him to death. Forbidden by Rome to execute anyone, the religious leaders handed Jesus over to Pilate for execution. Challenged by Pilate in a last-ditch effort to avoid execution, the leaders shouted, “We have no king but Caesar!” and watched Jesus handed over to his executioners.

The scene with Pilate is famous because of a ridiculous question Pilate asked in order to avoid responsibility for what he was about to do. Pilate asked Jesus some questions which Jesus answered, and then Jesus said, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice,” to which Pilate responded, “What is truth?” He didn’t ask because he wanted to know the answer; he asked, because he did not have the courage to deal with the answer.

The truth was that he could clearly see that Jesus was no criminal. Pilate could see truth and grace and even power in Jesus, but Pilate could also see that the population of Jerusalem was likely to explode if Jesus were allowed to live. Pilate’s problem was that he could not handle the truth.

Lots of people cannot handle that truth.

People who go to church and hear the gospel preached Sunday after Sunday often claim that that they “didn’t get anything out of it.” They try to put the blame for their unwillingness to put Christ first in their lives on preachers who never entertained them enough to keep their attention. If they don’t like church and can’t identify with Jesus, then it is due to poor customer service by Christian leaders. They can’t handle the truth, so they blame the messengers.

People who believe and are baptized claim their faith with eagerness, but at some point, they see a pastor who cheats on his wife, or they discover that a church treasurer has absconded with the offering. They ask a pastor to pray for a sick child, but the child doesn’t get well. A neighbor who sits beside them in the pew on Sunday lies about them to other neighbors on Monday. People fail them, and they decide that the “religion thing” is a complete hoax. Churches are full of hypocrites, and they don’t want to be around people like that. They look out and see sinners; they look inward and see only the wounds to their own egos. They can’t handle the truth, so they blame their fellow-travelers.

The things some people say make it sound as if everything they ever heard about God, the Bible or Christ himself made less of an impression than Cinderella. Everything about religion, they say, is like a ghost story, and they don’t want to have to listen to any more ghost stories. They can’t handle the truth, so they re-characterize the truth to diminish its substance to that of a vapor.

The truth that slapped Pilate in the face that day was that Jesus actually was a king. Pilate was so busy protecting his job that he did not dare acknowledge who Jesus was, but everything he did betrayed his desperation to finesse this problem and simply make it all disappear. He knew that the religious leaders were duplicitous thugs. He knew that if they wanted Jesus dead it was not due to their excess of piety. Yet he also knew that these religious leaders would have no qualms about inciting a riot if Pilate failed to do their will. He represented the most powerful nation on earth, and he commanded a cohort of soldiers who were willing to kill women and children without compunction at the order of a superior officer. Yet Pilate’s behavior tells the reader that he was afraid of powers that could do him harm.

Pilate’s words and deeds that day reveal the fear that engulfed him as he sat on the horns of a real dilemma. If he did nothing, he knew the Jews would riot. If he killed this kingly man who had already suffered unjustly, he knew that it would haunt his conscience. He knew the truth, and when he required the executing officer to post over Jesus’ head a sign that said, “The king of the Jews,” he knew what he was doing.

 At first glance that sign sounds political, of course, and certainly shames the leaders who instigated this outrage, but Pilate was trying to work through his recognition that Jesus really was a king, and that his kingdom was not of this world. Pilate could not handle the truth. On that day, the only person who ever dealt with the truth was the centurion who cried out at the moment of Jesus’ death, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”

The world is full of people who cannot handle the truth of Jesus’ kingship. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is currently engaged in yet another battle to take down a cross outside San Diego, because the Foundation cannot handle the truth. The truth about Christ is so powerful and so compelling that people cannot simply ignore it and get on with their lives. The truth about Christ demands that they make a choice – submit to his kingship or really and truly reject him. The Freedom From Religion Foundation rejects him over and over and over. Pilate tried to avoid making that choice, but it was forced upon him. Neither the religious leaders nor Christ would simply disappear. Pilate washed his hands in a vain attempt to reject the necessity of being part of the assault on Jesus, but none of his efforts to take himself out of the picture worked. For two thousand years, Christians have named him and his complicity in the murder of God’s Son every time they recite the Apostle’s Creed. For that long, every culture touched by the Bible has found some way to speak of the abdication of responsibility by a phrase about “washing your hands.” For that long, Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” has been a way of describing a situation in which a harsh truth has consequences even for those who ignore it.

In today’s gospel, Christ does not look like a king to earthly eyes, but the gospel writer clearly sees Christ the King elevated on his throne, the cross, bearing the sins of the world and washing them away in his own blood. In today’s gospel, Pilate tries to sidestep the truth about Jesus and act as if he is just another bandit processed by blind justice. Pilate does not succeed in avoiding the truth about Jesus, and neither do we. How do you attempt to diminish Christ’s claim on you? What are your strategies for avoiding his call to deny self and die with him? Are you asking “What is truth?” or are you living in truth?

Holy Troublemakers

Readings for Sunday, July 15, 2012
Amos 7:7-15     Psalm 85:8-13     Ephesians 1:3-14     Mark 6_14-29

 Has anyone ever told you something true that you wished you did not know? It is a common problem. A wife hears the truth that her husband prefers another woman. A father hears that his son has been killed in an auto accident. A young girl discovers that her best friend has begun dating the boy she dreams of. A mother is told that her baby was stillborn.

Most of us try to live by the principle of telling the truth, but we don’t always like the truth.

Some people avoid the truth by pretending it is not so. Some enforce their willful ignorance of the truth by abusing other people who refuse to play along. The prophet Amos and John the Baptist both faced that problem. They spoke the truth as God instructed them to do. People who preferred lies forcefully rejected them.

Amos, a Judean, showed up in Israel and began to preach that God was mad at neighboring countries. The Israelites were glad to hear that God was angry with their enemies. That truth sounded good, and they were eager to hear more of the same. However, when Amos announced that God thought Israel was out of line, not true when measured by a plumb line, the people of the northern kingdom took offense. They told him to go prophesy in Judah, and never to come back to Israel, because they did not like the kind of truth Amos told. Amos accused them of selfishness and greed and addiction to personal pleasure. He said God thought their sacrifices, offerings and worship activities were completely dishonest shams. He accused them of not actually worshiping God, no matter how good things looked. Amos was made persona non grata in Israel, because he was a loudmouth troublemaker.

John the Baptist offended a lot of people, too. He called the religious leaders vipers and he accused the king of adultery. Unlike Amos who was simply run out of town, John was actually arrested. Ultimately he was beheaded, because he, too, was a loudmouth troublemaker.

When standing for truth might cost someone power or celebrity status, many people reject the truth and pretend it isn’t so. When Jesus was on trial before Pontius Pilate, Jesus said, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice,” to which Pilate responded, “What is truth?” Pilate knew that Jesus was speaking truth, and Pilate knew that the religious leaders and their mob were speaking lies, but Pilate did not want to deal with the truth. His job was to keep riots down. In his worldview, Jesus, the itinerant rabbi that had the whole world in an uproar, was nothing but another loudmouth troublemaker. Jesus was executed, because Pilate could not accept truth.

As Christians we, too, are called to be troublemakers. We are to be little Christs, sprinkled around in the culture like salt sprinkled on a stew. We are supposed to be busy telling the truth all the time. The truth about God. The truth about Christ. The truth about our life in relationship with Christ. We are to reject lies and live truth, and if we do that some people will hate us. If we say that an unborn baby is a living human being, we might be hated, even though we speak truth. If we say that a human embryo is a living human being, we might be even more hated, even though we speak truth. If we say that God does not create people with a genetic identity that runs counter to God’s own model for family structures, then we will be hated, even though we speak truth. If we say that we cannot show kindness to anyone without doing it in the name of Christ, and that therefore, we cannot ever perform completely secular service, we will be scorned, if not hated, and we may suffer some social and legal consequences.

Nevertheless, we are called to be troublemakers. Loving, peaceful, kind, truthful little Christlike troublemakers. We must expect the consequences the culture visits on troublemakers.