A Silhouette of Truth

61336241Like many other sports fans across the USA, my TV has been dominated by ESPN and college basketball. As I was watching to see where and when KU and WSU would play, I remembered a quote by John Wooden: “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

Wooden’s words remind me of the self-portrait Paul painted in Philippians:  “If it were right to have such confidence, I could certainly have it, and if any of these men thinks he has grounds for such confidence I can assure him I have more. I was born a true Jew, I was circumcised on the eighth day, I was a member of the tribe of Benjamin, I was in fact a full-blooded Jew. As far as keeping the Law is concerned I was a Pharisee, and you can judge my enthusiasm for the Jewish faith by my active persecution of the Church. As far as the Law’s righteousness is concerned, I don’t think anyone could have found fault with me (Philippians 3:4-6).”

As a Pharisee Paul thought he knew it all, but when he met Jesus he underwent a radical change:  “But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith.  My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead (Philippians 3:7-11).”

Let me paraphrase the verses above in just a few words:  “I got rid of my worthless-self-righteous-know-it-all attitude, so I could know Jesus.”

Stephen Covey said that, “In the last analysis, what we are communicates far more eloquently than anything we say or do.”  The “what-we-are” communication of Paul, was the harsh restrictive, and punitive mindset of the Old Testament.  Paul knew the nitty-gritty essence of what it took to be a Pharisee, but he didn’t have an itty-bitty speck of “what-we-are” grace. Paul was a know-it-all theologian, and at his core, he would abhor the grace-themed principles of Christianity.

Paul’s pace was slowed on the Damascus Road, when he had a personal encounter with Jesus. Up to this point in his life, Paul had tried to find fullness in a silhouette of truth. When he met the Way, the Truth, and the Life, Paul couldn’t ignore His majestic mercy and the grace galore that Jesus offers.

The arrogance of what Paul was, was quickly overshadowed by the eloquence of what he became. He became a Christian of significance because he was not content to just talk-it-up.  He knew he needed to live-it-out.

The Covey quote I shared earlier seems to be based on the teaching of John: “Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”  If “what we are” determines the effectiveness of what we say, how influential is your life?

Brian Williams: Truth or Consequences

While at a funeral this past week, I met a lady who is a psychiatrist at the VA in Oklahoma City.  When I learned where she is employed, I said:  I receive most of my healthcare at the VA in Wichita.  She asked me:  “Did you serve during Viet Nam?”

I never give just a “yes” or “no” answer when I am asked this question.  My standard reply is:  “I served during Viet Nam, but not in Viet Nam.”

I am careful to make this distinction because of something called “stolen valor.”  This is unethical behavior that makes false claims about a person’s military service or the wearing of unauthorized and unearned medals.

Stolen valor has been in the news because of false claims made by Brian Williams who claimed fan RPG hit the helicopter he was in while in Iraq in 2003. Not only did Williams tell this lie, he has stayed true to it.  His fraudulent claim has raised the dandruff of Tom Brokaw who has called on NBC to fire Williams.

Mr. Williams’ quest for fame has left him labeled as a mythomane. This lie has tarnished all the truths he has told and questioned the essence of his integrity. The problem with lies, even the white ones, is that they eventually leave you blind to the brilliant colors of truth.

People who perpetuate a lie remind me of what Solomon said in the Proverbs:  “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.”

The tall tales told by Brian Williams may dock the tail of his career.

Just 5 Words

New-Birth-missionary-baptiiThe sentence consisted of five brief words.  They were common words and each by itself was powerless; however when the five were woven together in a sentence, they communicated an extraordinary truth.

To someone who was as religious as he was the words were startling.  He most likely had excelled at his bar mitzvah.  If his rabbi had graded him, he probably was at the head of the class and an A+ student.

But Nicodemus had the rug pulled out from under him when Jesus said these five words:  “You must be born again.”  Even though he was a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin, and a religious person, Jesus said Nicodemus still needed to experience the new birth.

The new birth is much like your physical birth:  Whatever you need is provided, the pain of the process is felt by another, and someone else does the work.

There is one major difference.  When you were born the first time, you had no choice in the matter; however, the choice is yours when you think of your second birth.

The power, the effort, and the pain of your second birth are not yours, but the choice is:  “For whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10:13).”

Your new birth is by God’s power, according to God’s plan, and for God’s purpose.  Notice how John expresses this: “To us, the greatest demonstration of God’s love for us has been his sending his only Son into the world to give us life through him. We see real love, not in that fact that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to make personal atonement for our sins. If God loved us as much as that, surely we, in our turn, should love each other (I John 4:9-11)!”

Let me leave you with three questions to keep you thinking:

  • Have you experienced the real love of God?
  • Do people see it you?
  • Do you share it with others?

Fool’s Gold

As we well-know, all that glitters is not gold.  The history of mankind is a long list of newly discovered theories that have had the promise of gold.  Every time a new ism or ology comes along, we are promised a new age of peace and prosperity—but, it is just fool’s gold.

The problem with this line of reasoning is a little 3 letter word, and it is man.  Before you ladies start shouting with joy, let me say I am using man to mean humanity as a whole.

Mankind has swallowed the advice of Jiminy Cricket, hook, line, and sinker:  Let your conscience be your guide.  While the conscience can be helpful at times, there are other times that it is little more than a blind guide.

The danger of being led by conscience is seen in the life of Samson. His conscience had been conditioned more by society and less by the principles of God.  This redneck judge from the pages of the Old Testament could whip anything that came his way, except his own desires.

Samson is a life-lesson on what happens when a person becomes his own standard of truth.  This lesson can be summarized in a phrase of 3 C’s:  Culture Conditions Conscience.

In Samson’s case, it was the Philistine culture that had influenced his conscience.  He was enticed by the lure of their seemingly advanced lifestyle and by their ladies in general and Delilah in particular.  He thought he could toy with this teasing culture without becoming its captive.

He was wrong!  Before he knew it, Samson was in over his head; and,  he was drowning in a tidal wave of untruth.

There is a truth from physics that says that water will not rise above its own level.  This same truth can be applied to the case of Samson and culture as a whole:  It is incapable of rising above its own level.  Culture has become a ship with no compass:  It is drifting aimlessly into the abyss.

If it is going to improve, culture needs something from the outside to change it.  It was Archimedes who said:  Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.  The lever and fulcrum that culture needs is a return to the principles of absolute truth.

This is a return that can lead to a reawakening of the moral law contained in Scripture.  It can bring back the almost forgotten truth known as the Golden Rule:  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

The key to the Golden Rule is what I call the Godly Rule, and Jesus stated it in the same section of Scripture: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and spirit.

What has been ruling your life?  The fool’s gold of culture or the Golden Rule of God?

Keep Your Eye On The Ball

Before the advent of the personal computer, summer days were spent at Graham Park, Skelly School, or some other ball diamond.  Those were days when baseball was undisputed as Amercia’s favorite game.

I enjoyed the games of “work up,” homerun derby, or whatever as long as it had a bat and a ball.  The many years I spent coaching my son through his little  league years were time consuming but very enjoyable.

As Papa, I am now watching my granchildren, and my advice to them is the same as it was to my children:  Keep your eye on the ball!  I had to remind a grandson of this a couple of weeks ago when a basketball rebounded off of his eye.  “Carson,” I said, “that is not what I meant when I said keep your eye on the ball.”

Over the years I’ve talked to some of the better hitters about technique.   Almost without fail, they have said the secret to getting consistent hits is vision:  You have to see the ball.

Seeing the ball means focusing on the seams of the ball and recognizing the spin.  Pitches can be identified by recognizing the rotation.  To help explain this, you can see a graph at this link.

One way to learn how to identify the curve ball is to stand behind a batting cage and watch a pitcher throw fastballs.  This may sound strange, but identifying what it isn’t helps you learn to identify what it is.

This is the technique Paul used when he was warning the Christians at Galatia.  They had been given the standard of truth, and Paul said they were to measure the “different” gospel against the pure doctrine.  They were to study and recognize the fastball theology they had been taught, so they would not be led astray by the strange spin of a curveball.

A comment by Joe Garagiola can serve as a thought to keep you thinking:  Nolan Ryan is pitching much better now that he has his curveball straightened out.  Was Joe putting a spin on his words or was he just stating a fact?

A Slip of the Tongue

It was Benjamin Franklin who said:  A slip of the foot you may soon recover, but a slip of the tongue you may never get over.

Slip of the tongue moments can be rather funny.  About a month ago, I listened to a grandmother proudly tell of her granddaughter’s academic pursuits:  My granddaughter is getting involved in ocean pornography.  I laughed, knowing that she meant oceanography.

I remember a slip of the tongue moment from about 18 years ago.  Frank Marley misspoke and I laughed and then teased him a little.  Frank’s reply is something that has stuck with me:  Don’t take a man for what he says—take him for what he means.

Frank died in 1994, and I still have fond memories of him.  What I remember most is not his willingness to help around the church, but the way he communicated his values by living them.

These were values that were formed through the fire of the depression years and character born out of the turmoil of the world wars.  Tom Brokaw has described Frank and his peers as the greatest generation.

The values that defined this generation are the moral fiber of those that have followed.  Scottish minister Thomas Guthrie once said:   Religion is the mortar that binds society together; the granite pedestal of liberty; the strong backbone of the social system.

Just as crumbling mortar is a threat to the integrity of a building, anemic values weaken our social structure.  A position paper by the Institute for American Values has issued a warning:  as our social morality deteriorates, life becomes harsher and less civil for everyone, social problems multiply, and we lose the confidence that we as Americans are united by shared values.

The Institute says the symptoms of this decline are manifested in several ways:

• a spreading abdication of adult responsibility and an increasing acceptance of the adult as a perpetual adolescent;

• an increased tolerance for self-centered and selfish behavior in all spheres of life;

• a growing belief that success should be measured by how much money we have and how much we can buy;

• a dramatic undermining of the distinction between right and wrong; and

• the loss of confidence in the possibility of public moral truth.

The Institute proposes a strategy for renewal and express it in several goals.  The most important, they say, is to revitalize a shared civic story informed by moral truth. Regarding our civic faith, our main challenge is to rediscover the democratic bonds that, amidst and because of our differences, unite us as one people. Regarding our public moral philosophy, our main challenge is to rediscover the existence of transmittable moral truth.

Solomon rarely committed a slip of the tongue, and people took him for what he said and for what he meant.  If society would heed his advice, the need would be met.  He said, a commitment to godly principles is essential if we are to walk the right path in life.

I hope this thought keeps you thinking.