UnComfortable: Port Authority

Exploring topics that we’d rather not.

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Last week we began a new series entitled “UnComfortable.” The goal of this series is simply to discuss topics that we’d rather not. On each topic we will find varying viewpoints. Topics like Human Sexuality, Abortion, Government’s role in our lives, Self-Defense, Racism & Slavery, Killing vs. Murder, and perhaps even Angels and Demons. These are topics we might avoid around a table at Thanksgiving.

The illustration I shared last week was that of a couch, worn out over time. Springs are loose, stuffing hanging out. It hurts your back to sit on that uncomfortable couch…but by ignoring those topics rather than addressing and dealing with them, that is exactly what we are doing. It’s time to deal with the UnComfortable topics in life. 

Before we can go further into these topics, we’ve got to get our bearings. What is our anchor, our horizon line, our north star? That is a question that must be addressed before dealing with uncomfortable topics: What is truth?


What is Truth?

Pontious Pilate, who oversaw the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, had this interchange with Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of John 18:33-38 (NIV)

33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

38 What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.

John 18:33-38 NIV

Pilate asks a question many Greek philosophers would become famous for giving possibilities and assertions for this question: “What is Truth?” After he ponders out loud, Pilate tries to get Jesus off the hook. In Matthew 27, Pilate’s own wife steps in to identify Jesus’ innocence. 

19 While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”

Matt 27:19 NIV

The reality of Jesus’ innocence was spiritually bothering Pilate’s wife. But it still did not play a part in Jesus’ legal proceeding. He was innocent.

And good leadership can stand up to the will of a mob

But Pilate’s question, “What is truth” implies the question we will examine next, “Why does it matter?” You see, if Pilate was truly convinced of Jesus’ innocence and he believed in the way the legal system of his time functioned, then he would set Jesus free regardless of what the mob wanted. But understanding truth means clarifying “What is your baseline?” By what do you measure or judge?

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What is your baseline? 

For Example:

I’m going to decide that the length of my shoe = 1 Foot, because ya know it’s 1 foot. One of my feet at least.

This is not a standard that everyone can measure by. Some people have smaller feet and others, longer feet. If we determined the length of our church sanctuary using that form of measurement, using our own feet as the measurement for “1 foot,” we’d all come up with something different.

This is an illustration of our world today. For many people, Truth is not absolute. There is no standard. No consistent measurement. And this is the problem. It was Pilate’s problem. 

If Truth is relative, it has no weight or meaning

If truth is relative: I can’t tell if the newspaper article I’m reading is a factual account of an event in recent, local history OR an article from the Opinion section. Unfortunately…

We live in a culture in which absolute truth is not absolutely acknowledged. 

There is no consistent baseline.

If that’s today, what about back in the day? Here are some famous thoughts on Truth:

[The following quote sourced from: https://www.azquotes.com/quotes/topics/truth.html ]

“The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.” ~ James A. Garfield (Former President of USA)

“Truth without love is brutality, and love without truth is hypocrisy.” ~ Warren W. Wiersbe (Preacher & Author)

“It takes two to speak the truth: one to speak, and another to hear.” ~ Henry David Thoreau (Author)

“Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.” ~ Winston Churchill

Are all of those quotes in line with one another? Do they have to be in order to be correct? I’m not sure I know the answer. But I do know that one of the most famous quotes in the bible about Truth comes from John 8:31-32

Jesus on Truth

31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:31-32 NIV

We looked at this scripture last week, focusing on the disciples’ side of things. But today, we look at this verse from Jesus’ perspective. He is saying Hold – Are – Know – Set. The 4 verbs in these verses.

“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (Emphasis added)

  • Hold to the teachings. Believe, live by. Words and actions.
  • Are disciples.” A state of being. Affirmation of reality. Are disciples is directly connected with holding or keeping to His teachings.
  • Know the truth. The truth is not discernable without the previous things. Holding to teaching. Being disciples. Knowing is a result of the first which leads to being Set free.
  • Set Free. This is tricky. Because for someone to be set free, the first need to understand that they are not free

What I see from these intentionally used words is this: A Person must take action. Holding and knowing leads to being (are) and being set free.

If you read on in this passage you’ll find that Jesus’ audience was not receptive to the offer of freedom. “We’ve never been slaves” they hollered. They missed the point.

Why does it matter? 

To talk about these topics with any kind of meaning, truth cannot be relative. Someone’s “truth” can’t be authoritative.

12 inches equal a foot. Not 10 ½ “. Not 13 ¾”. 12” = 1 FT

There is Truth and there is Opinion. There are FACTS and there are Feelings. In case no one has ever told you, Facts don’t care about your feelings.

Let me give you a very practical example of why clarifying what is “Truth” is so important to our “UnComfortable” conversations we are having. 

Have you ever been talking with someone, sharing an experience, listening to theirs, thinking you are talking about the same thing…but somewhere down the line you discover you are talking about two totally different things? 

Person 1 – “Are you a fan of mustangs?” 

Person 2 – “Sure, why wouldn’t I be? They are beautiful and so fast at that!”

What’s your favorite color of mustang? Mine is shiny and red!

That’s interesting. I really like the kind that have brown and white spots on them.

Spots?

Shiny red?

What you talking about? I thought we were talking about…Cars

Horses (at same time as cars.)

That explains it.


Let me be forthright with you. On each of these topics that we will discuss over the next month and a half, the authority will be The Bible. If the bible says something about the topic, it gets the last and most important word.

“But what if the bible doesn’t say anything about that topic?”

This is unlikely. There are topics that are not covered explicitly by Jesus himself. But as we will discover, Jesus didn’t grow up in a bubble. His belief system wasn’t developed in the Void. He knew his Torah. He asked good, thought provoking questions of the leaders of his day. 

We can’t then cherry-pick scriptures that only agree with our originally stated positions on topics. 

“If the Bible is the last word, shouldn’t it be the only word?”

I hear you. But these are topics of discussion and disagreement that we have to not only know What the bible teaches, why it teaches what it teaches, how those beliefs have shaped the very Christianity we are a part of today. Also opposing views – so as to better understand how to talk with others on this topic. Especially others whose authority does not come from the bible.

We need The Bible, right teaching about God. We also need an understanding of world views outside of ours. Not to conform us, but to enable us to better discuss these topics with others.

Does that make sense? Would you like Thanksgiving to actually be a place where not only you can talk around the table with your extended family but gain and share knowledge on certain topics?

Far too often we take these UnComfortable topics and say, “These are off limits.” But if we aren’t willing to discuss these topics, how will we ever be confirmed to the Truth of the Bible? 

We will become people whose beliefs align with what they think the bible teaches rather than what it actually teaches.

Is there a middle ground? Cooperation?

On each and every topic…

 There is only one middle ground. It is the foot of the cross.

  1. When Jesus hung on the cross, dying, he had an interchange with two people with two differences of opinion. The thieves on either side of him. Here is is from Luke 23:39-43.
    1. 39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
    2. 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
    3. 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[a]”
    4. 43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:39-43 NIV

The second thief humbly speaks the truth and Jesus responds to him with grace

  1. The only way we can have discussions about UnComfortable topics and come out for the better is by HUMBLING ourselves.
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When you don’t know something, don’t say, “It’s in the bible somewhere…” 

Say, “I think this, but let me check the scripture for sure.” 

Or “I believe this because the bible clearly states in…” then quote or read the verse and give the reference

Sidenote: I think the way the bible has shifted over time to include section markers such as chapter and verse - that has been a good thing for biblical literacy and discourse. People can identify where they got their belief from; why they believe it is true. This is a starting point to the discussion, not the PERIOD, MIC drop moment. Because there is context to consider. There is the whole breadth of scripture, Christian understanding and application of that scripture since it was written - Christian history and tradition

Christian understanding and application of that scripture since it was written – Christian history and tradition

There is the living and active Holy Spirit that can alight on you as you look at that passage together with your friend and discover something new about it. Maybe discover something about yourself that you didn’t realize.

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” John 16:13 ESV

Truth is not relative. If it is, it has no meaning or weight. 

We can approach uncomfortable topics with humility and confidence.

The Holy spirit can give us the insight and the power to speak and to listen.

Port Authority

Do you know what a Port Authority is? Besides the title of this message, it’s the organization that sets standards and practices for the comings and goings of people at ports. Airports, ship ports, bridges and tunnels. All have to do with moving people and goods in and out of places. You can even see movements of ships all around the world down to the minute at Marinetraffic.com as they check in and out of ports and give eta from various locations. It’s fascinating. 

In case you missed the parallel let me be clear. Christians, our Port Authority is the Word of God. The written Word, the way Christianity has understood and lived it out, and the Holy Spirit – The spirit of Truth – who speaks to us as we humbly come to Jesus’ feet. Laying down any authority we have for discipleship to His authority. He can guide us where we need to go, if only we’d listen to Him. 

So let’s deal with the UnComfortable couch. But not by ignoring it. Not by saying “Well that’s someone else’s problem.” By addressing them head on, having faith that God’s word is the authority of our lives and his Holy Spirit directs, empowers and teaches us on the matters of Truth.

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