Should Christians Be More Truth-Focused or More Love-Focused? #282 + What Do We Do When We are Desperate?
Happy Sunday, friends! This week at our church gathering, Sunday morning at 11AM, we are remembering one of the most singular saints of God that I have ever met in over 25 years of ministry. Our church lost a spiritual giant this week in Ms. Eulyne Fulton, and we are going to talk about her life today, and how God leads us forward when we lose a spiritual giant in our midst. Join us on the VBC Salinas livestream 11AM today for a message called, “Moses My Servant is Dead.” Our Scriptures today include 1 Kings 7, Psalms 87-88, Ezekiel 38 and Ephesians 4, which is our focus passage. We’re talking about truth in love today, but I want to briefly discuss Psalms 87 first, because that Psalm in particular resonates with me so much. 28 years ago yesterday, my friend Bradford and I skipped our 9AM English class in college and headed out to do some spelunking – caving. We didn’t just go to a simple cave either, but a very long and not fully explored cave. We pushed it to the bottom, climbing down walls with ropes, squeezing through holes and that sort of thing. We were young, but I was a member of the Birmingham Speleological Society, and had been in many caves before. It was an amazing cave, with a creek in the bottom, and huge vaulted rooms. Unfortunately, when trying to climb out of the cave, there was a small rockslide that caused the rocks I was climbing on to fall out from under me, and I dislocated my shoulder because all of my weight was suddenly on my right arm, which was clamped onto a rock ledge above me. I fell to the bottom and my arm dislocated six more times when trying to climb back out (sliding back into socket after each try. We were in a pickle, and we didn’t have enough rope and equipment to rig something together to get me out. My friend tried to find the way out, but he came back after 30 minutes of not being able to when his light started flickering – reckoning it would be better to be together when our lights went out than to be alone. We waited about 12 hours in that cave for rescue, and they were agonizing – some of the most desperate of my life. I’ll never forget hearing the cave rescue team coming down to get us, and the joy of seeing them. We were in the pit of the earth, in a terrible and hopeless place and we got rescued. How did the team find us? Once we heard them coming, we began hollering at the top of our lungs. What do you do when you are in a desperate place spiritually? CRY OUT TO GOD, says Psalm 88. Let’s read it quickly:
Lord, God of my salvation,
I cry out before you day and night.
2 May my prayer reach your presence;
listen to my cry. 3 For I have had enough troubles, and my life is near Sheol. 4 I am counted among those going down to the Pit. I am like a man without strength, 5 abandoned among the dead. I am like the slain lying in the grave, whom you no longer remember, and who are cut off from your care. 6 You have put me in the lowest part of the Pit, in the darkest places, in the depths.
There is no shame in crying out to God when you are desperate, so don’t let your pride hold you back – seek Him as earnestly as possible when the world is breaking apart all around you!
The first book I ever wrote was called UnShackled, and was all about the runaway bestselling religious novel called ‘The Shack.’ It started out as a blog-post review of the book, and grew into a 125-150 page book over the course of two weeks. I believe the Shack is a powerful and well-written book that tells a good story, but unfortunately, it is absolutely loaded with principles that are contrary to the Word of God, and is a very spiritually dangerous book. The book was a best-seller though, and millions bought and read it.
What can church leaders and pastors learn from the runaway success of The Shack? Two major things, one positive and one negative. 1. Positively, we can learn that Christians are desperately hungry for emotional comfort when suffering. This should inform our preaching, our writing, etc. Paul, in Ephesians, says that we should speak the truth IN LOVE. The Shack is short on truth, but it resonates with readers in a way that many perceive as loving. Pastors and teachers should remember that truth devoid of love is simply cold orthodoxy. Truth without love can sometimes seem helpful, but feels harsh and brutal to those on its receiving end. Jesus NEVER spoke truth without love. He also never loved somebody in an untruthful way. 2nd. We can learn that the longing for comfort may drive some Christians to take off their discernment glasses and accept things with a lower level of purity than perhaps they should accept. When you are well sated, you won’t drink water out of a dirty cup; a person dying of thirst, however, would eagerly drink cloudy water with some mud in it. Pastors and teachers: don’t let your listeners get to a dying of thirst place! Constantly water/teach them the Loving and truthful Word of God in a way that points them to Jesus’ love AND His truth. There is NO either/or when it comes to being a people of truth or a people of love – WE MUST BE BOTH. In the same way that humans can’t choose between water and air, neither can we choose between truth and love – they are both necessary in following Jesus.
Perhaps the best example I’ve ever read of truth in love was a letter that John “Amazing Grace’ Newton wrote to a friend of his that was about to get involved in a theological dispute. Here it is, slightly modernized:
“As you are likely to be engaged in controversy, and your love of truth is joined with a natural warmth of temper, my friendship makes me eager to help on your behalf. You are of the strongest side; for truth is great, and must prevail; so that even a person of abilities inferior to yours might take the field with a confidence of victory. I am not therefore anxious for the outcome of the battle; but I would have you MORE THAN a conqueror, and to triumph, not only over your adversary, but over yourself. If your sin prideful self cannot be vanquished, you may be wounded. To preserve you from such wounds as might give you cause of weeping over your victories, I would present you with some considerations, which, if you will listen and follow, will do you the service of a great coat of armor, so fitting that you will need not complain, as David did of Saul’s, that it will be more cumbersome than useful; for you will easily perceive it is taken from that great warehouse provided for the Christian soldier, the Word of God.…. It seems worthy of praise for you to defend the faith once delivered to the saints; we are commanded to contend earnestly for it…. If ever such defenses were needed, they appear to be so in our own day, when errors abound on all sides and every truth of the gospel is either directly denied or grossly misrepresented.
And yet we find but very few writers of controversy who have not been manifestly hurt by it. Either they grow in a sense of their own importance, or imbibe an angry, contentious spirit, or they insensibly withdraw their attention from those things which are the food and immediate support of the life of faith, and spend their time and strength upon matters which are at most but of a secondary value. This shows, that if the service is honorable, it is dangerous. What will it profit a man if he gains his cause and silences his adversary, if at the same time he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of his presence is made?
Your aim, I doubt not, is good; but you have need to watch and pray for you will find Satan at your right hand to resist you; he will try to debase your views; and though you set out in defense of the cause of God, if you are not continually looking to the Lord to keep you, it may become your own cause, and awaken in you those tempers which are inconsistent with true peace of mind, and will surely obstruct communion with God.
Be upon your guard against admitting anything personal into the debate. If you think you have been ill treated, you will have an opportunity of showing that you are a disciple of Jesus, who “when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not.” This is our pattern, thus we are to speak and write for God, “not rendering verbal attack for verbal attack, but in contrast, we give blessing when attacked; knowing that we are called to such behavior:” The wisdom that is from above is not only pure, but peaceable and gentle; and the lack of these qualifications, like the dead fly in the pot of ointment, will spoil the flavor and effectiveness of our work
If we act in a wrong spirit, we shall bring little glory to God, do little good to our fellow creatures, and procure neither honor nor comfort to ourselves. If you can be content with showing your wit, and gaining the laugh on your side, you have an easy task; but I hope you have a far nobler aim, and that, sensible of the solemn importance of gospel truths, and the compassion due to the souls of men, you would rather be a means of removing prejudices against God’s people in a single instance, than to obtain the empty applause of thousands. Go forth, therefore, in the name and strength of the Lord of hosts, speaking the truth in love; and may he give you a witness in many hearts that you are taught of God, and favored with the unction of his Holy Spirit.”