Chris Thayer, our Zoar Campus Pastor, gave yesterday’s message as we wound up the Comeback series. I “hosted” at Zoar itself and that community got to see “their” pastor on the big screen.
He was terrific.
Check it out:
When the ball dropped on 2019 I was excited. I was excited for brand new year. I really enjoy to run, but due to some issues I was having in my feet I reached a point where I couldn’t run without a lot of pain. In order to correct that, I had surgery on each of my feet. And the end of 2019 was full of the pain and rehab that comes after something like that. When 2020 arrived, I was ready to literally hit the ground running.
But then 2020 actually came and 2019 is looking pretty good by comparison…surgery and all.
2020. This has been a crazy year for all of us, hasn’t it? It’s brought so many challenges. It’s forced us to grapple with serious issues. Racial injustice, a contentious presidential race, supreme court nomination, out of control wild fires, hurricane after hurricane after hurricane, and….oh yeah…the first pandemic for us in over 100 years. And THAT has brought us face to face with all kinds of problems such as job loss or job insecurity, school at home, loneliness, depression, anxiety, no toilet paper, WAY more time around our families than we ever thought possible or healthy, debates on masks. And – not only all that craziness, but how wild is it that in October of 2020 I can say the word epidemiology and just about everybody hearing this message can not only define that word but can name one or more of the top epidemiologists in this country. Who ever thought THAT would have happened when the ball dropped in 2019?? Crazy year indeed.
If you’re anything like me, you want to crawl into bed, pull the covers over your head and say “wake up in 2021. I’m tired. I’m done with it.” But, but, but…if we choose to go around the trial and difficulty that is this entire year instead of walking through it, I’m convinced we’ll miss out on something that God wants us to see that we wouldn’t have our eyes open to otherwise. That God wants to grow us not only for our own benefit – but also so we can bring hope to the world around us. A world that, in case you’ve missed it, desperately needs hope and has nowhere to find it if not in Jesus.
Struggle, trials, and difficulty are an accelerant of change because they have a way of revealing what’s underneath the surface. They have a way of uncovering what we otherwise wouldn’t see.
When we were in quarantine at the beginning of this year and couldn’t go anywhere, BEFORE I had 18 million house projects to start and try to finish, I was looking on Netflix for shows to watch to keep busy. I stumbled on this show called “The Repair Shop” that’s all about this little shop in Great Britain. That shop is made up of all kinds of experts at repairing old antique items. There’s a guy who repairs toys and clocks, a lady who repairs paintings that have been torn or faded over time, a couple of ladies who repair old teddy bears and stuffed animals (I didn’t even know that was a thing!), but my favorite person on the show is the master carpenter. He’s incredible at restoring furniture or anything that’s made out of wood to its former beauty.
The first thing the master carpenter does when he receives a new piece of furniture to repair is he needs to determine what’s underneath the surface. What’s under all of the paint, stain, lacquer? What’s underneath all of the years of abuse and neglect? How are the bones of the furniture? Is there a section that’s rotten that he needs to cut out and splice in a new section lest it fall apart shortly after the client receives the furniture back? Or is it really beautiful underneath the surface and he just needs to remove all of the abuse and neglect that has covered up that beauty. To do this, he gets a piece of sandpaper and gently takes off the top layers so he can see what’s underneath the surface.
That’s what trials, pain, and difficulty are like for us. That’s what 2020 has done for us. It’s acted like sandpaper and removed the layers that have covered up what’s really underneath the surface in our lives.
This is why, for instance, families have either grown closer together or struggled immensely this year. It’s not because of the pandemic…instead the circumstances of the pandemic revealed what was always underneath the surface. It either unearthed healthy relationships that have been covered by all of the busyness of life…OR it revealed the unhealthy marriage or bad relationships with children that had been hidden by all that busyness.
It’s why addictions have gotten worse or started at an alarming rate in the last 7 months. The pandemic didn’t cause the addictions, but instead offered an opportunity for what was already under the surface to come to life. It’s also why I fully expect over the next several years to have a lot more men in my office sharing things they thought they had control over but learned they were the ones being controlled.
And when I step back and look at our world and our lives as followers of Jesus – and I wonder why…why is so much under the surface that is breaking us and breaking apart our families? Why is so much breaking apart our communities and our culture? Why have we been treating one another the way we have this year? And I can’t help but see one of the root causes of all of this brokenness: we have a tenuous relationship with TRUTH. On one hand we try desperately to find it: What do politicians really believe? What are their actual goals? We wondered if we needed to worry about COVID-19 when the pandemic was just starting. Then we wondered would it come to the United States? We struggled to know how deadly is COVID-19 really is. Do we need to wear gloves and disinfect our groceries? Do masks work? Just like that old commercial: how many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie pop??? And like the narrator at the end of that commercial we’ve thrown our hands up and said “The world may never know.”
But we haven’t just left it there have we? We haven’t simply said the facts are hard to discern so let’s keep searching. Instead, we’ve said the truth is hard to find out there, so let’s define it in here. Let’s define it in ourselves. We’d rather live out the cultural adages of the day: What’s true for you is true for you and what’s true for me is true for me. Live your truth. You do you and I’ll do me. We have access to more information than at any other time in history, but instead of helping us find the truth, all of this data has served to help us hide it. Want to believe that masks work? Here’s your news station, political party, study, and talking points. Don’t want to wear one? Here’s YOUR news station, political party, study, and talking points. And truth? Truth becomes a reflection of our desires more than a picture of reality.
It’s not only truth “out there” that we define, but it’s also truth closer to home that we define. It’s why you can’t post a photo on social without running it through a filter first. It’s why you only share your highlight reel instead of how things really are when somebody close to you asks how you’re holding up.
It’s why we believe that the problems in our marriages, families, communities, and country has to do with everybody else and we ignore our contribution – which is ironically the only thing we can change.
And in ALL this, we go from LOOKING for truth to becoming DEFINERS of truth. Truth is no longer something to direct our actions and instead becomes a weapon in our hands to shape the world according to OUR wants, OUR needs, OUR desires. And when mankind becomes the final authority on all things – we lose our humanity. Is there a better way to describe the way we treat one-another in 2020 than that? We have lost our humanity.
But as is always the case, we’re not the first to struggle with truth. The Gospel of John shows us how a group of people wrestled with truth. And the conclusion isn’t what they expected…and it’s not what we’d expect. But it speaks into our lives 2,000 years later in a profound way.
The Gospel of John is an absolutely stunning book in the library we call the Bible. Matthew, Mark, and Luke focus on Jesus in what we would consider to be a typical biography. Who were Jesus’s family members? How was he born? What were the DETAILS of His life? John, though, instead of focusing on the DETAILS of His life, focuses on the COSMIC ORIGINS and significance of Jesus’ identity. Matthew and Luke focus, for instance, on the lineage of Jesus highlighting Abraham and Adam respectively. But John…that’s not enough for John…he shares with his readers that: In the Beginning Jesus (the Word) was with God and Jesus was God. And everything that was made was made through Him. So, John explains the cosmic significance of Jesus right from the start. And in THAT reality, John explains right at the start that Jesus is the embodiment of truth. John 1:17 says “For the law was given through Moses; grace and TRUTH came through Jesus Christ.” And John takes this thread, the reality of Jesus bringing TRUTH and embodying TRUTH through his entire Gospel. And that thread reaches one of its highpoints in John 14:6 where he proclaims Jesus’s declaration: “I am the way the TRUTH and the life. No one comes to the Father accept through me.”
John says to his readers…whatever else you know about Jesus, I want you to see His majesty. I want you to see His divinity. I want you to know that not only does Jesus testify to the truth, but He is the embodiment of TRUTH. Our God is a God of truth and all truth is sourced and found in Him. He ordered the universe. He created the foundations of the world. He taught us how to live and defines what it means to be good. He IS truth.
So often people believe that Christianity and science are at cross purposes. But this couldn’t be further than the truth. Science actually started off as a largely Christian endeavor because the earliest scientists understood that pursuit of all truth is a holy and good pursuit. It’s a pursuit ultimately of the God of this universe. All truth is God’s truth. Pursuing truth, whether in physics and biology – or Justice and morality…all truth is found in the person of Jesus. John couldn’t have made a more bold and profound claim about Jesus than this. TRUTH. IS. A. PERSON.
And as John carries this thread throughout his book, he brings it to its climax in John 18 & 19. When we pick up our story today, Jesus has been arrested. The religious authorities who were threatened and angry at Jesus plotted to have Him murdered. But so they didn’t get their hands dirty, they gave Him to the Roman authority: Pontius Pilate. And Pilate is interviewing Jesus to see if He deserves to be crucified. Pilate proceeds the way he does because at this time because his charge was to keep the peace. Nothing was more important for Rome inside of their borders than keeping the peace. If Pilate didn’t keep the peace he not only lost his job but also would lose his life. So, Pilate had a pretty tough job – just as today, 2,000 years later: the middle east was a powder keg of violence waiting to explode. And the quickest way for it to explode? For there to be a rival king. Somebody who would start a civil war to try to overthrow Rome and set up their own kingdom. Because of THAT, Pilate asks Jesus in 18:33b “Are you the king of the Jews?” and Jesus, as He often does, responds to Pilate’s question with a question of His own: [READ John 18:34-36]. Jesus lets Pilate know, yes, I am King – but my kingdom is not of the same type you think of. It’s something different. Not something that concerns you or Caesar. If it did, then my followers would have stopped me from being arrested and started the war you’re so afraid of.
Pilate continues in 18:37 [READ]
Then Pilate asks a question that is ironic since truth is embodied in front of him, a question that as one of my favorite authors and speakers loved to say “humanity has been asking since,” the question we find ourselves asking 2,000 years later: [READ 18:38-40]. So, Pilate is presented with an option. See truth and allow it to change him OR fashion truth in his own desires (keeping his job and his life). And what does he do? [READ 19:1-3]
Instead of following truth, he waffles. He bends it. He doesn’t believe Jesus did wrong, but doesn’t believe it enough to change Himself and defend truth. And the weapon Pilate allows to form from his blindness to the truth and his fear is then fully constructed in the hands of the religious leaders. [READ John 19:4-12].
Pilate is blind to the truth, the Jewish leaders manipulate it, all of them form it into a weapon to meet THEIR desires, THEIR goals, THEIR safety. And in all of their manipulation of the truth – they miss the irony that truth, ultimate and supreme truth, is embodied in the person of Jesus standing in front of them.
When I take THAT with Jesus warning in John 19:11 [READ] – this is where it lands us today: WHEN TRUTH BECOMES A WEAPON WE WIELD INSTEAD OF A PEROSN WE FOLLOW, WE ARE THE CASUALTY. And it’s as true for us today as it was for them 2,000 years ago. WHEN TRUTH BECOMES A WEAPON WE WIELD INSTEAD OF A PEROSN WE FOLLOW, WE ARE THE CASUALTY
As popular as the sayings are, there’s no such thing as “my truth,” “living YOUR truth,” or “You doing YOU.” There’s only truth found in and flowing out of the God of this universe, revealed in Jesus. Everything else is lies from the pits of hell. As good as it sounds, as good as our intentions are, our truth only brings death and destruction. It removes God from his throne and replaces Him with ourselves. We have replaced the one true God, the one source of truth with 330 million pretenders to the throne in this country alone. And what has it brought us? Pain. Heartache. Destruction. Death. WHEN TRUTH BECOMES A WEAPON WE WIELD INSTEAD OF A PEROSN WE FOLLOW, WE ARE THE CASUALTY
We’ve turned truth into a weapon to fill our goals, our desires – and it’s the cause of hate, greed, envy, bitterness, and a loss of hope. Words that do a pretty good job of describing 2020. WHEN TRUTH BECOMES A WEAPON WE WIELD INSTEAD OF A PEROSN WE FOLLOW, WE ARE THE CASUALTY
But here’s the thing. When we flip that around, when we follow Jesus, it puts the world back in order. No longer do we reduce somebody made in the image of God to their political choices, we love them and care for them. No longer do we hoard our groceries (yes…even toilet paper) but we share them freely with our neighbor when they’re in need. No longer do we focus on what our spouse did wrong, but we learn how “I” can change and be a better spouse for THEM. No longer do we focus on our children’s short comings and failures, but encourage them and celebrate their successes. No longer do we assume (my white friends) that we know the experiences of our black and brown friends, but we spend time learning, listening, and weeping with our brothers and sisters who are every bit as made in the image of God as we are and we change how we have contributed to the reality they experience. No longer do we assume (my black and brown friends) that even when somebody acts out of ignorance or hate that they are now beyond the reach of the God of this universe who came to love & change their hearts just as much as he loves and changed yours. And as we look ahead to November elections, a time when, let’s be honest: ½ of our country is going to lose their minds…when we remember that truth isn’t a weapon to wield but a person we follow: Your neighbors (and honestly all of us), whether red, blue, independent, libertarian, or any other affiliation NEEDS to hear that the presidency of the United States of America does NOT determine whether or not we have hope. Hope for our country isn’t found in Trump. Hope for our country isn’t found in Biden. Hope for the people of our land and the entire world is found in Jesus Christ. ALONE. He doesn’t share that throne. Hope is only found in Jesus – the one through whom and for whom all things were made. The one who came to earth, lived a sinless life, died on a cross, was resurrected on the third day defeating death, and the one by whom ALL THINGS – Viruses, racism, broken relationships, addictions, and even political fighting…will be made right when He returns. WHEN TRUTH BECOMES A WEAPON WE WIELD INSTEAD OF A PEROSN WE FOLLOW, WE ARE THE CASUALTY
Don’t give into the lie that hope is found in anything other than Jesus Christ. As the great hymn says:
In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My comforter, my all in all
Here in the love of Christ I stand.