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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Ideas Have Consequences

Everyone has presuppositions. Presuppositions are the core truth claims we accept as absolutely true and from which we accept or reject all other truth claims. We call these core presuppositions, our worldview. Unfortunately, we all accept some truth claims as true without examining their validity. In fact, most of us have accepted some opposing truth claims as true, simply absorbing them from our culture (everyone “knows” that …). I sometimes find it disheartening that so many believers who claim to believe that God’s Word is true and inerrant, have so many presuppositions inconsistent with that belief.

As a Christian, what should be your core presuppositions? The most foundational of all is God – that He exists, that He is Who He says He is: the Creator of the universe, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, that He is good, all knowing, eternal, unchanging, love, sovereign, just, Savior, righteous, and so on. Second to who God is would be believing God’s Word is true and inerrant. Creation, fall, redemption are essential truths of a biblical worldview. If we really believe these truths, if these are our presuppositions, then we should examine every other truth claim against these truths and reject any that compete with it.

For example, if the world says that people are basically good but God’s Word says everyone is fallen, sinful from birth (Psalm 51:5, Romans 3:23), we have to reject the idea that people are basically good and realize that without Christ, they are naturally sinful. Since the world holds the supposition that children are basically good, when children sin, the world assumes something in their environment caused this since it could not have come from within, so the world tries to control the environment. Of course, the reality is that it doesn’t work because their presuppositions are faulty. Romans 7:18a says, “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.”  So from a biblical worldview, I am not surprised when someone sins and I know that it can come from their own desires (James 1:14-15) rather than an external influence.

Why is it important to discuss this heady stuff? For two reasons. One is so that we can be more intentional about examining our presuppositions so that we can live consistent with what we believe to be true. Ideas have consequences. What you accept as true affects your decisions, actions, words.

Several years ago, before I became principal, I was a lead teacher. I was sent in to observe another teacher because of some concerns that had been raised about that teacher. While I was observing the class, I found the teacher’s class management very different from my own and I kept thinking, “They should sit down and be quiet.” As the teacher was teaching, the conversation was noisy. Students weren’t raising their hand to get permission to speak. It was more chaotic than what I was used to. Still, after the interaction, students got busy and they were working and learning. As they were working I noticed a student standing at his desk near the front of the class. I waited for the teacher to tell him to sit down. She didn’t. I watched. Maybe she didn’t realize he was standing. She did but didn’t say anything. That’s when my presupposition was challenged. I thought about that student (a previous teacher would complain that he won’t sit down and be quiet) and about that teacher (known to be ADHD herself) and it occurred to me that maybe an ADHD teacher knows best what to do with an ADHD student. Until that moment, it had never occurred to me that it might be okay to allow a student to stand to do his work. Why not? Because my whole life teachers always said, “sit down.” It’s just the way we “do school”. It was a presupposition I had absorbed along the way that had never been challenged. Is it more righteous to sit than to stand? Of course not! The reason for having students sit is that it is less distracting for the students and the teacher, and most students perform better sitting at a desk. But for some, like this student, being allowed to stand transformed his ability to focus and function at school.

If we are going to “buy the truth and not sell it” we are going to be open to examining the presuppositions that we are working with and adjusting them when we find they do not line up with truth.

The second reason it is important to understand worldviews is because it helps us understand and give grace to the world we live in. There have been a lot of changes in our American culture in the last few years. Things that used to be “wrong” are now considered “right”. This is possible when there is “no absolute truth”. Some Christians are outraged with each step the country takes away from a biblical view of reality and other Christians have accepted without question or with compromise some of these changes. While I understand the outrage, should we be surprised? In a world that believes evolution is true, that rejects God, and believes that everyone creates their own “truth” we should, at some level, anticipate the path our country is taking or the events that play out in our society. When we teach our children that they are just evolved animals and there is no absolute truth or right and wrong, then why not kill the people you don’t like? If they are animals and not image bearers, what’s the big deal? There is no intrinsic worth. It’s the survival of the fittest (unless of course we or our loved ones are not in the “fittest” category). Why not lie or cheat to get what you want? When Christians try to engage in debate it frequently backfires because we are starting with fundamentally different worldviews, We are arguing from two very different places.

Romans 1:21-25 explains, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.” Our culture has rejected God and put themselves in His place – each as their own little reference point, measuring everything against their own desires and beliefs. We have very different perspectives based on what we hold to be true!

But we have truth on our side. Although our culture has a slippery moral compass, they still have a sense of right and wrong that betrays their worldview, but it is distorted and self-centered. Romans 2:15 says, “They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.” They have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, but since it is a lie, it doesn’t fit with reality and in many ways they have to live contrary to what they purport to be true. They are tragically lost, deceived.

What would happen if Christians, instead of debating with the lost, lived a life more consistent with what they claim to be true? What if we were more intentional about living lives of righteousness and integrity, loving our neighbor as ourselves, loving God, overcoming evil with good (Romans 12:21), and devouring and applying His word so that in every way we could live blameless lives in the midst of a “crooked and perverse generation”? Then maybe we would shine among them like starts in the sky (Philippians 2:15). That is my prayer.