He was an Iraqi soldier laying in a hospital bed at Air Base Balad, Iraq.
I visited him a couple of times, but he was not aware of my presence, or of the presence of anyone else.
He had recently attended a wedding with other soldiers, and a part of the celebration was to shoot rifles up into the air.
One bullet found its way back down into his head, permanently damaging his brain.
I tell that disturbing story to make an important point.
What matters the most is what is true, not what we want, hope, or demand to be true.
What is true is that there are laws of gravity, and physics, and human anatomy that are not impacted by human desires or demands but by the facts.
If you shoot a bullet up, it will come down…and it could have devastating consequences.
Gravity doesn’t care if you had good intentions or weren’t trying to cause harm.
So far, most people would not dispute me…but on the next point many people would disagree.
The same absolute nature of facts is as true in the realm of religion, faith, human beliefs, and behaviors as is true in physics and anatomy.
Back in May, we were in the book of 2 Timothy, Paul challenged his protegee to…
” 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.” 2 Tim. 2:15
Paul was casting vision for Timothy to be a blue-collar truth worker.
Buckle down and know and teach and do what is true…because you can and you must know and handle the truth well.
Jim Lewis, enlisted Trevor Sites to design some hats with that saying on it.
There is something good about the desire to work hard at the truth.
Truth must be handled correctly but it can be mishandled.
I’m standing under steel beams that are holding up a wall of bricks and the roof.
If Neil, who designed the steel beam, got his math wrong, it would be bad.
If the steel workers who put up the beam got the truth of steel beam installation wrong, it would be bad.
Neil didn’t seek “his truth” on steel beams, he calculated “the truth”
The workers who installed the beam didn’t ask how each other “felt today” about the law of gravity, or what was their truth regarding steel beams.
They looked at specs and installed the beam according to THE truth of steel beams and brick walls.
Deut 29:29: The secret things belong to God, the things revealed belong to us…to obey (live them) and to teach them to the next generation.
We are looking, this month, at the History and Mystery of the incarnation: God became flesh and dwelt among us.
To say that we must handle the truth correctly is not to say that we can ever have exhaustive knowledge of truth…but exhaustive knowledge is not necessary to live in the truth.
We have adequate (enough truth) and accurate (true, truth) of God.
Neil and the steel workers don’t know everything there is to know about steel and gravity…they know enough to build a safe wall.
What God has revealed is enough to be saved and to be sanctified (to train to become like Christ).
We must not divide the world into “true truth”(steel truth) and “my truth”(Mushy truth).
Steel truth is important, we think, for actual steel beams.
Mushy truth is helpful for Church, super church, what I want to do or become, or just stuff I want to believe is true.
My truth doesn’t apply broadly to everyone, everywhere, all the time…it’s mushy.
When it comes to their lives…what they believe, value, and certain behaviors…many people believe, there is no steel truth…they believe they can “tinker” with reality in that realm…they can have “my truth” vs. “your truth”
This delusion persists, partly, because the consequences of living outside reality in the realm of steel beams and bricks walls can be immediate.
Get the math wrong…and the wall falls.
However, in the realm of personal beliefs…shaping values…shaping peronsal behaviors…those consequences may not be immediate, in fact, they may unfold over an entire lifetime and even beyond this life.
I was reading this week about the criminal Whitey Bulger, who was at one time, the FBI’s second most wanted man, right beyond Osama Bin Laden.
Bulger was a terrible, murderous, human being…who went for decades without, it seems…the wall falling on him.
But down it came…in horrific fashion…the murderer was murdered in prison.
If the actual wall comes the down…the impact is immediate…”wow, okay, that didn’t work…got that steel beam truth wrong.”
Live outside of God’s will, if live your own truth…sometimes the consequences are so slow that we don’t connect the cause and effect…”Hey, nothing bad is happening, I feel okay so far, no walls falling on me…I guess it doesn’t matter.”
Psalm 73 is a good example of a guy trying to make sense out of what he was seeing in the world in this regard. He was living in God’s truth and others were not and it seemed like they were “getting away with it.”
I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked…they have no struggles, their bodies are healthy and strong.
You would almost think he was on social media….”their lives are perfect, unlike mine.”
I watched a documentary about the rise of anxiety in society…one mental health expert said that if you are on social media…you are going to have more anxiety.
-She wasn’t saying you shouldn’t be on it, but just know…if you are, it will increase your anxiety
-First, you are being exposed to too much bad news…more than we are designed to handle.
-Second, you are getting imaginary views of the lives of others that you compare to your own actual life.
Anyway, the Psalmist knows that others have struggles…but in his confused state of mind, it didn’t seem like they did.
They are burden free, full of pride and getting away with it…they are not putting steel beams up and yet the wall is not falling on them.
They have their own truth…and it is working for them!
They even mock God…and say “See, no walls falling on me!”
He struggles deeply with this…
13 Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.
14All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning. 16When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me.
Some of you students feel this way…your friends, people you see in the classroom or on social media…they are having sex with whoever, having fun, living their own truth, denying that God’s has truth…they are not struggling to stay pure, or follow God…they are fine, more than fine!
They are doing better than you are…or so you think.
Well, there is much more going on and about to go on that is readily apparent to you.
Our confused Psalm writer went to church, his turned his mind towards the “steel truth” of God and suddenly he saw that the “mushy truth” of those around him was not true, and the brick wall was coming down, it was just falling in super slow motion.
But then when it does fall, the consequences are sudden and devastating.
17till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!
It was clear to him now…”I had lost my mind”…but now I’m back in reality.
The truth is…You are always with me; you hold me by my right hand…you guide me in life and after this life you will take me into glory.
What was I thinking?
Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Something else that is important to remember as we read between the lines of this Psalm.
The Psalmist only thought those around him were carefree…he was only seeing their outsides.
They were not doing as well as it looked like they were from his perspective.
Neither are the people you see around you or online.
Many, most of them…are not doing as well as you think they are.
Many of you, have followed Christ for years and have become used to peace and true friends and perspective shaping worship, walking with God in your everyday life…you are used to God’s peace and truth in your life.
You don’t realize that others around you have not had a minute of what you have enjoyed for years…it’s become common for you.
*Last week I went to the hospital because Robert Garner called and said that Earnest might die soon.
He had suffered massive blood loss, from an internal bleed and when I arrived, he was shaking and was groaning… it not well with his body, but it was well with his soul.
I stood behind him and held his head and prayed in his ears…as his body recovered, he began to speak to me…telling me what to say to various people after he was gone.
How to lead his funeral service…to put his ashes around the oak tree out front…Okay, I said.
Occasionally he would say something, and I would lean down and say, “What?”
He would repeat himself.
One time he spoke, and I asked, “What did you say?”
He said, “I wasn’t talking to you, I was talking to Jesus.”
Then he said, “If this is the valley of the shadow of death, it isn’t that bad.”
I said, “Well, that’s because you have a shepherd leading you in the valley.”
If you have been a believer for a while, you may have become accustomed to the Lord’s peace.
I don’t mean that you are never worried or anxious, or that you always feel good…or that your physical self doesn’t cause you pains and problems at times…but you have a peace with God this is always with you.
This peace is not religious mush…it is not “your peace”… it is the steel truth of God.
We must be grateful for the truth, but we mustn’t get cocky…we would have no truth of God if he had not revealed it to us.
We can learn truth about the world God has made…through observation and experimentation.
But we cannot learn the truth about why he made it, or us…or how we can have relationship with him without truth revealed.
When we consider that God has given us true truth.
Our response should be humility, gratitude, compassion for others who are trying to live without steel beams with brick walls hanging over their heads.
Let’s go to Luke’s gospel…let’s see how he seamlessly writes of history and mystery.
Luke 1:1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
There were many people who were writing about Jesus…his life had gone viral at this time.
God has seen fit to give us four, inspired, fully accurate accountings out of the many that were written…Luke’s is one of them.
Notice he writes not of the things that “happened” but of the things that were “fulfilled”.
This is not bare history…not mere news…this is the news of the revelation of God in history.
What has happened is a “fulfillment” of a long-awaited promise.
All of history is under God’s sovereign control…but in the coming of Christ…God showed up in human history.
Luke was very interested in writing down God’s actions in human history in his gospel.
Luke was a traveling companion of Paul.
As he walked the Roman roads and sailed the Mediterranean, he had lots of time to pick the brains of Paul, and Peter, and other eyewitnesses he encountered along the way.
I imagine he interviewed Mary, Martha, formerly demon possessed people, people who had been healed of paralysis, those who had seen Jesus crucified and those had seen him raised from the dead.
He continued to see the power of the gospel around him…that this was not mere past history…it was God’s Kingdom come.
So, he went on to write a companion volume to Luke…we call it the book of Acts.
Acts 1:1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.
Luke’s gospel is a research news story…he is giving actual, well informed facts.
In book Luke and Acts he is writing to some guy named Theophilus.
His name means “lover of God”…it’s possible that Theophilus was putting up the money to publish Luke’s gospel.
That would mean covering the costs of manual duplication (no printing presses) and distribution.
Luke intended his audience to be much larger than this single guy.
Look at how he writes in his introduction:
1. Facts handed down by eyewitnesses
2. Carefully investigated
3. Write an orderly account
4. So you might know the truth of Christ with certainty.
Then he gives detail, things you would expect from a historian doing careful research…more of a news reporter than historian…because the eyewitnesses were still alive.
Let’s hear this together as a news account, not a religious story.
It was news, good news, but news…it was steel news not mushy news.
It was not an op-ed…it was actual factual news.
Imagine yourself as a first century reader of the news…and a copy of Luke’s gospel finds its way to you.
You would be holding a document made of papyrus, an aquatic plant turned into a sort of paper.
So, you are holding this hand copied news article…we call the gospel of Luke.
You had heard of Jesus, everyone had by then…and you were curious, so you dive in…
Luke 2:1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (YEAH, I REMEMBER THAT) 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to his own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. 8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God, and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
Luke seamlessly blends history and mystery.
He seamlessly blends what moderns would call facts with what they would call fiction.
Fact: In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.
Fiction: Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God
But Dr. Luke is telling us about his carefully researched facts, there is no fiction here.
It was a historical fact that Caesar decreed that a census should be taken.
It was a historical fact that Angels appeared to some shepherds.
I’m confidence that Luke tracked these shepherds down, interviewed them.
Palestine is not a large country, and these shepherds would have been telling this story to everyone at every pub and shepherd hangout you could imagine.
I mean, people will talk about a KSU field goal for years to come…imagine how long some mostly bored, mostly ignored shepherds would talk about seeing angels…and the Messiah.
It would have been easy for Luke to verify this story…some of these guys were around…it would have been easy for people to refute the story, but they couldn’t…it was true
Luke wrote the news, printed, and published it for dissemination.
It was the most important news ever written…it was Good News of great joy for all people.
Why have humans divided life into “steel” and “mush” when it comes to what is real and true?
Why do we believe there is universal truth for up holding walls, but there is my truth for holding up my life?
1. Humans are sinful.
-Even nice humans are sinful humans
-Even nice humans, left to themselves, want to be their own bosses…we don’t want to submit to God, especially when we don’t like what he wants for us.
In my experience, people want accountability…they want true truth…until they really need it.
Until the truth conflicts with desire.
A friend once asked me, after going through a terrible life experience, to make sure and tell them if I ever thought they were heading in the wrong direction again.
Several years later, as requested, I told my friend they were in fact heading in the wrong direction.
This friend became furious with me.
We want accountability, until we really need it…and we really need it, when what we really want what we want…often what we should not pursue.
So, humans, apart from the work of God in their hearts…are going go to looking for confirmation for what they want to be true…their truth.
This, in essence explains what you see around you, read, hear.
People trying to live their own truth…but the walls are going to come down…if they are not held up by “the truth”
To support this wall, they had to put up massive temporary supports, then permanent ones, then remove the temporary ones and repair where the holes from the temp supports had been…lot of careful, skillful work to correctly handle the truth.
Real life requires living inside the parameters of the world as God has made it…regarding both brick walls and personal choices.
People look at the mess and effort of “steel truth” in their personal lives and opt for “mush truth”…they believe that want they want to be true, or demand to be true…will be enough.
It isn’t…truth is truth…whether it is about steel and bricks…or your own personal choices.
Second reason for this false division between “steel truth” and “mush truth” is that…
2. Humans are foolish (A subcategory of being sinful)
We traded wisdom (living in God’s will and ways) for folly when we rebelled against God.
Now in our folly we believe that we are, on our own…wise.
We think that we are smarter than God.
I know I can’t hold up a brick wall by what I feel…I want steel up there.
But when it comes to my life, my choices, who I become, what I believe, what I treasure and give my life for…I don’t think that I need steel, I believe I can put whatever I want there.
The wall will hold because I need it to, or want it to, or demand it to…but it will not hold if the steel truth of God is not there.
By steel truth, I don’t mean mean God’s truth is hard and cold.
By steel I mean, it real…it will hold, sustain…God Truth is warmth, it is life…and it is solid so it will sustain our lives.
Now, and through the valley of the shadow of death…and beyond.
Let’s finish by shifting our examples…from truth as a steel beam to the truth of the gsopel as a rock foundation.
Let’s go to Luke chapter 6, called the sermon on the plain as opposed to Matthew’s sermon on the mount.
Some have been puzzled by the differences between the Sermon on the Mount and the sermon on the plain…as if there is some mistake or confusion…between Matthew and Luke
But people are puzzled about this for no good reason…
Jesus preached many times, at least one was on a hill, and one a flat plain…of course the content was was different to a degree.
That can be true for me between the two services on the same Sunday morning.
The Lord knew his audiences and had his purposes for what he preached and when he preached it.
Let’s read and make our final application:
Luke 6:47 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?
He is concluding his sermon and gives a direct challenge…you call me Lord? Then why don’t you yield to me?
Why do you still believe yourself?
Then he gives the two approaches to life that every person takes.
47 I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. 48 He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49 But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed, and its destruction was complete.”
The one who hears and believes and applies the gospel has a foundation that goes to bedrock and survives a flood.
The one who hears but does not believe and apply has “their own truth”…”mushy truth”…a life without a foundation…it will survive the storm.
If you have believed the gospel, and you seeking to do what Jesus wants done…your foundation is secure.
It is important to continue to trust in the steel truth of the gospel…regardless of what you feel or what you think you are seeing around you.
If you have not believed the gospel, then I assume you are investigating the claims of Jesus or it is unlikely you would be here.
I encourage you in your investigation…but remember this…there is only one reason to believe the gospel…not because it might make you feel better, not because your friend believes.
You should believe the gospel because it is true.
This is mystery…how God’s spirit enters us, and we are born again.
But the gospel content is history…In space and time, Christ the Savior has come.
To enter the good Kingdom of God, we must follow the good king, Jesus.
We must believe him, and we must do what he says…this is bedrock for our lives.
1. Share gospel: invite to Christ
2. Repent of following your own truth, commit anew to living in the truth of the gospel.
3. Pray for those who are living without steel truth, who are in danger in time and eternity of devastation…ask God to give you courage and opportunity to share the good news of Christ.