The Truth Principal

Buy the truth and do not sell it; get wisdom, discipline, and understanding. Proverbs 23:23

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The Importance of Context

Today, on my way to school, I was thinking about a writing program that I would like one of my grade levels to consider for the future. It would be a bit “out of the box” for some of the teachers because, instead of studying writing, grammar, spelling, and vocabulary all as separate subjects, it teaches them in one – writing. Grammar is learned alongside the writing assignments, in context. Spelling is learned alongside their writing, in context, and so on. That’s what got me thinking about the importance of context.

I remember years ago listening to a sermon and feeling very frustrated because I couldn’t figure out where the preacher was headed or what the sermon was about. He had provided no context. The preacher seemed to want to keep it a mystery until the end – maybe for some grand finale. The problem was, without context, nothing made sense. It was as if he was arguing his point, but you had no idea what the argument was about. By the time the point of the sermon was finally revealed, much of the value of what had been said had been lost.

There is a commercial currently on TV for a phone service. The young man hears that his parents are going to “have a kid” before the line goes dead due to a dropped call. He imagines all kinds of things about a new little brother before his parents are able to reconnect to let him know that they are going to “have a kid mow the lawn.” Context is everything!

Teachers know that our students learn best when we tell them what they are going to learn about before we teach them. Students learn and understand everything better in the context of how it fits with the world around them. Context provides us with background knowledge to connect with new information. It adds depth to our understanding.

Context is critical in the Kingdom of God, too. I think one of the most important examples is the Old Testament. Reading through the Old Testament is so neglected in our daily devotions, except for maybe Psalms and Proverbs, which we find more agreeable, perhaps. But reading completely through the Old Testament gives you a much bigger picture and understanding, both about who God is, but also who we are. Time and time again, the people God has made turn against Him – they break His laws, worship false gods, and do whatever their flawed, sinful hearts suggest. Yes, they do get judged. Should that surprise us, given their actions? What should surprise us more is God’s readiness, even eagerness, to forgive and restore this broken people to the status of His beloved, chosen, blessed people. The Old Testament foreshadows the need for and coming of a Savior. Without the Old Testament, the New Testament loses context and depth of meaning. The Old Testament provides context for the New.

God’s Word gives us context for everything in our lives.  God’s Word helps us understand how everything fits together. It gives us truth that we can live by because it IS true. It teaches us why there is evil in the world, it teaches us right and wrong, how to treat each other, how to please God. It teaches us who we are – image bearers, yet fallen and damaged. It teaches us how to be made new and be reconciled to God. It gives us hope. The more we know and understand God’s Word, the more consistently we can live our lives. Having a biblical worldview is essentially living in the context of God’s truth. Sadly, we often live inconsistent with what we say we believe or know to be true.

Do you teach your children to obey rules, yet they witness you breaking them? Do you teach your children not to lie, but they hear you lie to your spouse or your boss or a friend? Do you teach your children to trust God, but they see you worry and fuss and try to solve things yourself? Do you teach your children to apologize and ask for forgiveness when they do wrong, but they never experience you doing the same? Whenever I see a parent choose not to honor a school policy while they are on campus, usually because it is inconvenient, I cringe to think what they are unwittingly teaching their child who is watching. We are providing context for our children. What are your children learning from the context you provide?

All your words are true;
    all your righteous laws are eternal.

Psalm 119:160



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The Troublesome Commandment

As you already know, my theme with my students this school year is obedience. In the next couple of months, I will be talking to them about the Ten Commandments. I think we would all agree that keeping the Ten Commandments is God’s requirement of all of us. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus took the commands a step further as He pointed out that obedience was not just a matter of action but also the heart. While we are not saved by keeping the commands, keeping them demonstrates our love for God and teaches us how to treat Him and each other in a way that honors Him.

A few months ago, Relevant magazine posted an article about “The Most Ignored Commandment”. You can read the article here. I knew what it was before I read it – the 4th commandment about keeping the Sabbath. Exodus 20:8-11 says:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work,  but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.  For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

When I was a little girl, this commandment was still taken seriously. Are you old enough to remember blue laws?  They prohibited certain businesses from being open on Sundays. We still had a culture that respected all of God’s Ten Commandments. This is no longer the case today as our society has become increasingly secular and hostile toward God. We don’t need to rely on cultural laws to keep God’s commands. He has already required it of us. It is up to each of us individually to obey His commands.

Even from the beginning there have been many interpretations of how this commandment is to be obeyed even though, if you read the command, it seems straight forward. The Pharisees and teachers of the law had many rules to ensure the Sabbath was kept, yet Jesus made it clear when they accused Him of breaking the Sabbath, their legalism was completely missing the mark.  “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) The Sabbath is for our good!

In my family growing up, we always went to church, but keeping the Sabbath didn’t end there. We usually took a nap after lunch and then we spent time together as a family. We were not allowed to play with neighbor kids on Sunday. My parents thought the day should be different from other days – filled with church, rest, and family activities. I didn’t really like the rule of not playing with neighbor kids, but we were allowed to play with each other and, looking back, I appreciate what a blessing our family times were together and I’m thankful they taught us to respect the Sabbath.

When the girls were little, I adopted a tradition from my mom’s Mennonite background. I would bake Zwieback (little rolls) on Saturdays to serve on Sunday so I wouldn’t have to cook on Sunday. Doing this not only made it possible to work less on Sunday, but it also created an eager anticipation about the Sabbath and made Sundays extra special in our family. We also tried to ensure all homework was done before Sunday arrived. It was a way for the children to rest from their work and set the example for them later in life.

Now the kids are grown and gone. Because I work full time and then spend my weekends trying to do laundry, shopping, and cleaning, I find this a troublesome command. I haven’t quite figured out what keeping this command looks like in my season of life. I know I am not alone in this. Many Christians, if they think about this command at all, are confused about how to obey it in their present circumstances, whatever they may be. We have let meaningless activities crowd out what is really important and our children have quickly discovered that God is not our priority; we haven’t shown them by our example that He has preeminence in our lives.

I am not sure what keeping the Sabbath should look like for me, but I am sure that it should look better than what I am currently doing. So I am asking God to show me what I need to do to keep the Sabbath.

This is my challenge to myself for this new year:

“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
    and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
    and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
    and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
 then you will find your joy in the Lord,
    and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
    and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Isaiah 58:13-14