Archive for May 2016
This is Part 6 of a series What If Truth Went Viral? Check it out.
Jesus stood accused before the Roman governor, who had the power of judge, jury, and executioner. Pontius Pilate was accountable to no one on earth but Caesar himself, and his singular thought was how to handle this thorny local issue in such a way as to please Caesar and advance his own cause. Pilate was a typical Roman politician–skilled, devious, educated, and thoroughly cynical in his approach to life, not unlike today’s politicians and administrative state officials. Pilate was likely feeling a little grumpy, because this time of year was always a tense one for every Roman ruler of Judea. Jerusalem was viewed by the Romans as a miserable, grimy city full of trouble and troublesome people and the Passover forced Pilate to leave his comfortable residence in Caesarea. The Jews were gathering for one of their interminable religious festivals where they worshiped their strange oriental God, their uniquely solitary deity who was so jealous that He wouldn’t even let them make an image of Himself. Passover was the center of their feasts, so Pilate was in Jerusalem, where he did not want to be, and he had been awakened very early in the morning at the summons of the Jewish religious leaders, to handle the case of this prisoner, Jesus. Pilate had tried to avoid making the decision by sending Jesus to the appointed king Herod, but that wily old fox had deftly sidestepped the issue and landed it back in Pilate’s lap. So here they stood, an inscrutable Jewish prophet and the Roman governor.
So Pilate went back into the governor’s residence, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
Jesus replied, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or have others told you about me?”
Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own people and your chief priests handed you over to me.What have you done?”
Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my servants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish authorities. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
Then Pilate said, “So you are a king!”
Jesus replied, “You say that I am a king. For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world – to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Pilate asked, “What is truth?” (John 18:33-38 – NET)
We know the rest of the story. Pilate didn’t really have anything against this solitary prophet and he’d been warned by his wife to avoid making a decision, so he tried to worm out of the situation, but when faced with a political threat to himself, “. . . If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar.” (John 19:12), he turned Jesus over to the executioners. Pilate’s words to Jesus, however, ring in our ears, because they sound so current, so “now.”
“What is Truth?”
Pilate, the cynical politician, probably had no idea of the answer to his own question–he most likely wasn’t sure there was such a thing as truth. He wasn’t very different from those in our own society. We live in a civilization that will admit the existence of “little truths,” and technological facts:
- 2+2 = 4
- elements have certain chemical and physical properties
- bodies in motion behave in a predictable way
However, our civilization officially denies the existence of ultimate Truth–the concept that Francis Schaeffer called “true truth.” For the Christian, however, Truth exists, and it is ultimate, rational, and real.
Your first step in developing and using a Christian worldview is to realize “your word is truth. ” (John 17:17).
As believers, we are blessed by God with such a glorious gift. While the rest of human gropes in the dark for answers about the most basic questions of life, we have them all bound up in one book–the Bible. We can know where mankind came from, how we got to be where we are today, and what the future holds for us. For the cost of some hours of reading, you can discover principles and laws that will tell you what is right and what is wrong. If you want to know Who God is, what He is like, and what He wants from you, you can find that out in the Bible–the Bible can even guide your steps in getting to know Him personally. The history of God’s dealing with mankind is founded in literal, historical events–they really happened, and they are recorded for us in the Bible.
You can know the truth and the truth can set you free … if you will let it.
My US friends have chosen how they spend Memorial Day as the topic this week. Being from the UK, we do not have Memorial Day here, but I am told I can write a tribute to somebody I know who has passed instead, so here goes…
John, my father was born in September 1927, the second child of my East End grandparents Frank and Nell, and the only one of their three children to inherit the luxuriant black curly hair from a Spanish ancestor. Thankfully Nell had had some experience of motherhood by then with Tom, her eldest son, and so Dad was spared the saveloy and pease pudding incident that one month old Tom had suffered, necessitating a trip to Bethnal Green hospital.
Nell had 14 sisters and 2 brothers who all lived nearby with their families, and John could not go anywhere or do anything without one of his aunts noticing and reporting…
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This is Part 5 of a series on Christian truth and the truth claims of Jesus. Check it out.
You have a worldview. Some people deny that they have a worldview, but everyone has one.Many of you might deny that you have a worldview, but you have one. If you say, “Hey, all I want to do is party, I don’t have a worldview, and don’t need one,” then that hedonism is your worldview. The Bible describes that way of thinking as “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die.” Philosophers would probably call such a view of life “hedonistic nihilism,” which is a fancy way of saying “have a good time and don’t care about anything.”
Your worldview might have been shaped by what you learned at Mommy’s knee as a child, or from Sesame Street or Mister Rogers, from religious belief and tradition, by occultism and superstition, by humanism and rationalism, or wht you view this week on “Dr. Phil” and “Oprah.”
You have a worldview that can either be clearly thought out or almost totally subconscious, it may be brutish or noble, it may be sensible or weird, but you have a worldview and, whether you know it or not, it is very important to you. It governs the way you think and live and guides your decisions about everything you do.
If you are a professing Christian, you have an obligation to think out your worldview. You are pledged by your covenant with the God of the Bible to learn His ways and to follow Him (John 10:27). If you are going to follow Christ, then you need to be aware of how God wants you to view the world, and you need to learn to live by His worldview.
Historically, the Christian Worldview has been determined by the answers to two questions:
- What is Truth?
- Why are we alive?
These two most basic questions focus on what it means to be human and what is the nature of reality. Of course, for us to even ask these questions flies in the face of the common modern worldview which denies the existence of truth, purpose, and direction in the universe. In fact, if we think it makes sense to ask these questions, it is evidence that Christ lives within us.
This was a difficult topic for me to tackle because I think I have a non-traditional view of Memorial Day.
I have to admit that when I was a little kid, we celebrated Memorial Day, but not as a day commemorating soldiers. Apparently, when my mother was young (Great Depression), people used to focus much more on remembering all folks who had died rather than just soldiers. My dad, who was a bit of a anti-war guy, used to help with the annual clean up of the cemetery on or about Memorial Day. I’m thinking Dad was not commemorating soldiers since he didn’t think of them as heroes.
It really wasn’t until it became a national Monday holiday in 1972 that I became aware of it as a military-themed holiday.
The practice of decorating soldiers’ graves with flowers is an ancient custom that was observed in the US before and during the American Civil War.
Following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865, there were a variety of events of commemoration. More than 600,000 died in the Civil War, so the sheer number of soldiers on both sides meant that burial and memorialization took on new cultural significance. The first widely publicized observance of a Memorial Day-type observance after the Civil War was in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 1, 1865. During the war, Union prisoners of war had been held in Charleston. At least 257 Union prisoners died and were hastily buried in unmarked graves. Teachers, missionaries, and black residents of Charleston organized a May Day ceremony in 1865, which was covered by several national papers. The freedmen cleaned up and landscaped the burial ground, building an enclosure and an arch labeled “Martyrs of the Race Course”. Nearly 10,000 people, mostly freedmen, gathered on May 1 to commemorate the Union war dead.
Memorial Day speeches became an occasion for veterans, politicians, and ministers to commemorate the War and, at first, to rehash the “atrocities” of the enemy. They mixed religion and celebratory nationalism and provided a means for the people to make sense of their history in terms of sacrifice for a better nation. People of all religious beliefs joined together and the point was often made that the German and Irish soldiers had become true Americans in the “baptism of blood” on the battlefield.
The day of observance varied, especially in the South, and it was traditionally known as “Decoration Day” until after World War II. In 1968, Congress the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved four holidays from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May. The law took effect at the federal level in 1971. My parents were highly irritated by this move, feeling that memorializing the war dead was something that should be voluntary and private. After some initial confusion and unwillingness to comply, all 50 states adopted Congress’ change of date within a few years.
Perhaps because of the tenure of the times (Vietnam era), Memorial Day quickly devolved into a “beginning of summer” holiday. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) advocates returning to the original date. The VFW stated in a 2002 Memorial Day Address:
Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed a lot to the general public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.
From 1987 until his death in 2012, Hawaii’s Senator Daniel Inouye, a World War II veteran, annually introduced a measure to return Memorial Day to its traditional date.
On Memorial Day, the US flag is supposed to be briskly raised to the top of the staff and then solemnly lowered to the half-staff position, where it remains only until noon. It is then supposed be raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day.
The half-staff position remembers the more than one million men and women who gave their lives in service of their country. At noon, their memory is raised by the living, who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and justice for all.
For many Americans, the central event is attending one of the thousands of parades held on Memorial Day in large and small cities all over the country. Most of these feature marching bands and an overall military theme with the National Guard and other servicemen participating along with veterans and military vehicles from various wars. In 2000, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act, asking people to stop and remember at 3:00 P.M. This has been so successful that I didn’t know it existed until I started researching Memorial Day to write this column.
Growing up, my only clear memory of Memorial Day was that poppies. In 1915, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a physician with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, wrote the poem, “In Flanders Fields“. Its opening lines refer to the fields of poppies that grew among the soldiers’ graves in Flanders.In 1918, inspired by the poem, Moina Michael attended a YWCA Overseas War Secretaries’ conference wearing a silk poppy pinned to her coat and distributed over two dozen more to others present. In 1920, the National American Legion adopted it as their official symbol of remembrance.
Maybe it’s because I have a deep Christian faith, but I agree with scholars, like sociologist Robert Bellah who argue that the United States has a secular “civil religion” – one with no association with any religious denomination or viewpoint – that has incorporated Memorial Day as a sacred event. With the Civil War, a new theme of death, sacrifice and rebirth entered the civil religion. Memorial Day gave ritual expression to these themes, integrating the local community into a sense of nationalism. Americans borrowed from different religious traditions so that the average American sees no conflict between the two, and deep levels of personal motivation are aligned with attaining national goals.
As a Christian, I object to this sort of co-opting of faith in the interest of nationalism. I don’t generally celebrate Memorial Day specifically as a commemoration of the war dead. Fairbanks doesn’t have a militaristic parade (with a short summer, we save our energy for the Golden Days Parade in July) and Brad won’t go to the town picnic. For many years, we planted our garden on Memorial Day, but my nephew was killed in a car accident on Memorial Day weekend more than 20 years ago, so we are usually reminded of that on this weekend. We have an annual family bike ride we do to visit the three local cemeteries. Mom and nephew Mike are at one. It’s really more of a commemoration that the local bike paths are clean of snow and traction pebbles. I tell a funny story about Mom or Mike so our kids know something about them and then we move on.
My father’s ashes were interred at another cemetery. Several years ago, the City relocated those urns out to a field with markers. Dad would not be happy that we visit annually (it’s Brad’s fault that we care about your mortal remains at all, Dad — I know how you felt about that), but he would LOVE that the only flowers ever on his grave is the wild rose bush that happily grows there. The City has asked a couple of times if we want “the weed” removed. Our answer is always “NO!” It’s exactly the sort of benign neglect my dad wanted for eternity. I usually commemorate that stop with one of Dad’s anti-war Merchant Marine stories. I think he’d be very honored by that.
We complete our 20-mile bike ride by stopping at the historic cemetery where all the old pioneers are buried. We follow my parents’ long-time tradition of having a picnic in honor of the volunteers who keep the cemetery neat. Some years, the caretaker joins us. I knew a few of the people who are buried there. I think the kids are growing weary of my Eva McGown stories.
I know some people might be upset by my ambivalence toward a secular “religious-like” holiday, but I’m just not convinced that God would approve of many of the wars we become involved in. I’m not certain that those who die while dealing death (often against populations that don’t have equivalent technology to the US) are going to be welcomed with open arms by the God that gave us the command “Don’t kill.” I’m not a pacifist. There are times when violence is the only appropriate and effective response. I also believe that God forgives those who approach Him with a contrite heart.
So, ambivalent … but I do take a pause to think about these things and that pause comes most clearly when I watch my fellow Americans commemorating the war dead without ever taking that pause themselves.
Just my thoughts on the topic. I invite you to think on that topic today.
We’re looking at Memorial Day this week. Join us —
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