“My Truth” and The Truth

Over the last few years, the phrase “my truth” has become very commonplace, especially among celebrities of one kind or another. Every time I hear or read it, I have a rather visceral reaction, which had caused me to question why that is.

In January of 2018, at the Golden Globes Awards ceremony, Oprah said, “Speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.” That seems to be the moment when the phrase “my truth” went viral. Here are some other examples:

  • “Remember, all the answers you need are inside of you; you only have to become quiet enough to hear them.” (Debbie Ford, author (deceased)) I include this quote (written in 1998) because the idea of the answers being “inside you” seems to me to be somewhat of a precursor to “my truth.”
  • “As a comedian, I am obligated to tell you the truth, my truth. To share with you my beliefs, my perspective.” (Dane Cook, comedian) Cook says very explicitly that his truth means his perspective, or beliefs.
  • “Adults who loved and knew me, on many occasions sat me down and told me that I was black. As you could imagine, this had a profound impact on me and soon became my truth.” (Shaun King, author) King’s truth is found in his racial identity.
  • “My truth is I am gay and out, and if I can’t do that in my music, then I don’t need it.” (Billy Porter, singer) Porter’s truth is found in his sexual identity.
  • “This is your life; live it by your truth.” (Mikaela’s husband talking to her on TV series Manifest, final season) Truth here is in reference to Mikaela’s lived experience and perspective.
  • “Briana didn’t tell Trevor her truth because she thought that she would lose him if she did.”  (Kemi to C. Hemingway (pathologist) on TV series Alert) Here “her truth” means “her story.”
  • “I wouldn’t be surprised, Rusty, if you haven’t lied yet.  At least as you understand the truth.” (Tommy Molto to Rusty Sabich in Scott Turow’s Innocent) The phrase “my truth” is not explicitly used, but “the truth” refers to one man’s perspective about what he believes to have happened.
  • Liberation from meaning leaves us skeptical of truth itself, comfortable only to acknowledge ‘your truth’ and ‘my truth,’ confident only in the reality of subjective feeling rather than objective fact.” (Michael J. Knowles, media host) This quote reveals a man of wisdom; Knowles understands the phrase “my truth” to be so often rooted in a person’s subjective feeling rather than objective fact.
  • “I’ve always been someone who’s believed in truth. I believe truth exists. I don’t believe in relativism, a ‘your truth, my truth’ kind of a thing. However, I also believe that the truth must always be spoken in love – and that grace and truth are found in Jesus Christ.” (Jonathan Jackson, actor) Jackson also shows wisdom in his understanding of “my truth” as being rooted in relativism. He also speaks of the truth and where it is found.

In summarizing these quotes, “my truth” most often means a person’s opinions/feelings or lived experience/”story.” In one case, it refers specifically to a man’s racial identity, and in another, his sexual identity. Thankfully, we have words of wisdom from Michael J. Knowles, Jonathan Jackson, and many others. However, the concept of absolute truth has largely gone by the wayside in our pluralistic, postmodern society, and in its place we have extreme relativism, where so many define “truth” according to themselves. Furthermore, as others have noted, “my truth” is non-negotiable, which means you are not allowed to question it. This explains the visceral reaction which I noted at the outset of this post.

With Good Friday/Easter weekend just two weeks away, I thought of Jesus’ exchange with Pilate, the Roman governor, on Good Friday morning in John 18:37-38: “You are a king, then?” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” “What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.” However, Pilate gave in to pressure from the crowd and had Jesus crucified. Much has been written about Pilate’s question: “What is truth?” Some have been rather sympathetic to Pilate, but I think it’s clear that Pilate was a scoffer when it came to the truth, and he was motivated by fear.

A few chapters earlier, in John 14:6, Jesus tells us very clearly what, and especially Who, the Truth is: “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” Yes, Jesus Himself is the absolute Truth, and the Bible reveals Him in His earthly humility as well as His heavenly glory. For anyone reading this who is not a follower of Jesus Christ, my prayer is that this is the time you will put your faith in Him.

Why I Give Money, but Never Lend It

You have probably had friends or family members ask if you can lend them money. When that happens, how do you respond? This post is about how and why I have chosen to do so. It should also be clear from the title that this post is not about giving to charitable organizations, but to individuals. I will illustrate my rationale with four stories.

1. Many years ago, when my family and I were part of a large church, one of my friends there asked me if he could borrow $50 to buy his wife something “nice” for Valentine’s Day. I said that I would give him the money and that he wouldn’t have to pay me back. He didn’t like that response, so we went back and forth, with him saying he would pay me back and me saying that I wouldn’t accept repayment. Finally, because of his insistence, I gave in; he thanked me and said that he would pay me back the following week. Two weeks later, I saw him, and he said that he wasn’t able to repay me just yet, but that he would do it “soon.” A few weeks later, the same thing happened; even though I didn’t bring up the matter of the $50, he did. However, he was clearly uncomfortable talking with me. After some time, he and his family left our church, but I eventually ran into him at a store. We greeted each other and exchanged polite conversation, but no mention was made of the $50.

2. A few years after that, another friend shared in our men’s group at church that over a period of time, he had lent someone more than $3000. My friend was visibly upset as he shared that his friend had promised to pay him back, but so far, he had received nothing. He wanted counsel, so after asking him some questions, the rest of us advised him to talk with the borrower and work out a specific repayment plan. Thankfully, he did just that, and a few weeks later, he shared with us that his friend had begun to repay him.

3. One day around that same time when I got home from work, my wife told me that the husband of her good friend had called and in desperation asked if we could lend him $1000 because their utilities were about to be shut off. My wife said we couldn’t do that because we were rather financially tight that summer, which was true. What my wife didn’t add in her conversation with him was that we wouldn’t have either given or lent him anything anyway because he was irresponsible with money; it was always feast or famine with him. We found out a short time later that he had found another way to avoid having his family’s utilities shut off.

4. A few years after that, yet another friend talked to me and my wife about his brother, whose wife needed professional psychiatric care at a facility. He asked us if we would be willing to help with the cost of that. After clarifying some things, we said that we would be willing to help, but we made it clear that we would be giving the money, not lending it. The only thing we asked was that he keep us updated on his sister-in-law’s condition and situation; he very gratefully accepted our help.

The first two stories illustrate that when you lend money to an individual, it can put a severe strain on the relationship if that borrower doesn’t repay you. The third story simply illustrates that my wife and I don’t give to someone that we know is irresponsible with money. I should add that my wife didn’t even have to ask me about it because she already knew what my response would be, and she was in agreement with it. The fourth story illustrates the blessing that we received when we gave, with no strings attached. I suppose some might say that asking our friend to keep us updated on his sister-in-law’s condition and situation was a “string,” but I disagree, especially since we gave more later.

Somewhat related to this matter of giving vs. lending is cosigning a loan, which means that if the original borrower is unable to pay it back, then you as the cosigner become responsible for repayment. In cosigning, then, you take two risks: One is that if you also become unable to pay back the loan, you’ll be in financial trouble; the other is that your relationship with the original borrower will be negatively affected. My wife and I decided that we would never cosign for anyone, even an immediate family member; what we have done, however, is to give money to help with school expenses or a down payment.

I should add that the Bible does not forbid lending money, either in the Old Testament or the New Testament. However, here is a proverb that has influenced me in my thinking: “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.” (Proverbs 22:7) I certainly don’t want to be anyone’s “servant,” meaning to be indebted to anyone. However, I don’t want anyone else to be my “servant,” either.

To be clear, if you lend to an individual friend or family member, I’m not saying that you are doing anything wrong. Neither am I saying that my way is the only way or even the best way. I’m simply saying that lending has the potential to put a strain on the relationship. In my experience, giving has not put a strain on my relationships.

Spiritual Highs and the Ordinary Life

By now, you’ve probably heard about what happened at Asbury University for nearly two weeks; secular as well as Christian news outlets have been talking and writing about it. Some have called it a revival, while some prefer the term “outpouring;” others are skeptical, at best. This movement, regardless of what you want to call it, has spread to at least six other universities as well.

My purpose in this post is not to decide which term best fits what has happened at Asbury University; it is, to start with, to examine what people who were actually a part of it have been saying about it. The event began on February 8, when ~20 students and the worship team decided to stay past the end of the regular chapel service. One student began to confess his sins, which I was very encouraged to read about. Here’s what Alexandra Presta, a senior, wrote on that first night: “To confess, reconcile, heal and allow prayers to be spoken over us — He knew what we needed to do and helped us do it.” More on confession later. There was lots of singing and praying (including some in tongues) throughout the 13 days; there was an instance (caught on video) of what may or may not have been a demon being cast out of someone; and there was some preaching. Many students have talked about the spiritual and accompanying emotional high of being a part of it.

At least one student says that there was consistent preaching of the Gospel, but other students have contradicted that claim. Samuel Sey, an op-ed contributor for the Christian Post, says that he has watched hundreds of video clips of the event and has yet to see a clear presentation of the Gospel; he admits that doesn’t mean people weren’t preaching the Gospel there. However, what one unnamed student said is troubling: “Unfortunately, I have first-account experience and conversations with people who are attending and speaking on the ‘greatness’ of revival who are actively living in sin (to be blunt).” This gets at the heart of the issue: true revival results in, among other things, confession of sin and repentance from it, meaning that people will then live in increasing obedience to Scripture, which they will also have a greater hunger for. One would not expect everyone who was part of the Asbury event to repent, but certainly one would expect even more stories as time goes on of attendees repenting from sin. While I certainly can and do understand the strong emotional component of such an event, emotion in and of itself means next to nothing if it’s not accompanied by life change. For some, that could be very noticeable change, especially if they have just come to faith in Christ, while for others who were already Christians, the changes might be less noticeable, but no less significant.

Over Christmas, my wife received a book called A Theology of the Ordinary from a long-time friend. Julie Canlis, the author, writes about “a theology that values slow growth over dramatic change and the ‘ordinary’ as essential to our spiritual maturity.” Canlis quotes Michael Horton, who writes in his book Ordinary, “My concern is that the activist impulse at the heart of evangelicalism can put an enormous burden on people to do big things when what we need most right now is to do the ordinary things better.” Canlis goes on to write, “These modern conferences and movements give people an expectation that growth happens only when we are away from our local church, away from the people whom God has placed in our lives.” And here’s another quote from Samuel Sey, the writer for the Christian Post: “It’s concerning, however, that so many of us are seemingly bored by ordinary worship at a local church that produces an extraordinary change in one’s soul.”

In 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, the apostle Paul writes, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” Have you heard that at any conferences recently? Back in the late 1990s, most of what the Promise Keepers men’s movement encouraged men to do was very much in line with these two verses. However, many contemporary Christian conferences (especially ones geared toward youth) use fog machines, lights, and other special effects to supposedly heighten the attendees’ experience in large-group settings. In fact, at a church that my family and I used to be a part of, after a good-sized youthful contingent had attended such a conference, the church leadership decided to incorporate “fog” into the services. Essentially, the church was trying to duplicate the experience of those who had attended the conference. However, I am reminded here of John 3:8, where Jesus tells Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” Thankfully, the use of fog did not last more than a few months.

When my son was 13 and my daughter 10, my wife and I took them to a Third World country for seven weeks during the summer. I had a short-term teaching contract, while my family was along “for the ride.” Our first Sunday there, we attended a small, informal gathering/service of American believers in a place that I suppose many Americans would consider dingy; it was not a church building, either. Our son told us later that he had really experienced the presence of the Lord then and there. My daughter had cried before we left the U.S. because she was going to miss the first month of the school year (she was in a year-round school), but as we were preparing to return to the U.S., she asked if we could stay there (in the Third World country) forever. Both of them practically begged us to go back there, so three summers later, we did it again. The Lord does not need services in “church buildings,” and certainly not fog machines, to do His work in human hearts. “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)

Here’s a question we all need to ask ourselves: When we attend Christian conferences or similar events, what happens when we return home? Do we come away from them refreshed, even more ready to live in loving obedience to the Lord through serving others in “ordinary” daily life, or do we focus more on the admittedly wonderful experience, already looking ahead to the next one? For the Asbury students (and others) who were part of the 13-day event, will their lives change? Will some stop “living in sin?” Will others rededicate themselves to living for the Lord in more “ordinary” ways? If so, then the Lord will have done His work in the hearts of at least some of the attendees–some would say because of the event, while others would say in spite of it.

The Intelligent Designer

Throughout my life, much of what I have read indicates that many people seem to think Christianity and science are in opposition to each other. However, many big-picture scientific findings have strengthened my faith immeasurably. With Question Evolution Day (QED, on February 12, which is Charles Darwin’s birthday) almost here, I’ve been thinking about intelligent design recently. Never heard of QED? I hadn’t either until a year ago; thank you, Creation Cowboy Bob Sorensen!

In regard to intelligent design, let’s begin, briefly, with the origin of the universe. Without getting technical, let’s just say that it is now widely accepted that the universe had a beginning; this is true regardless of whether people believe in a “young” earth or an “ancient” one. Why is this important? Because if the universe had a definite beginning, it begs the question of what preceded it and what caused it. For a Christian like myself, this is not a difficult question to answer.

A second type of origin is that of life. Perhaps you’ve heard of the famous experiment in 1953 by Stanley Miller; supposedly, he was able to create at least some of the 20 amino acids that are essential for life. However, about half of his acids were “left-handed,” and half were “right-handed.” The problem is that life is made up of only left-handed amino acids. What Miller “created” in his controlled experiment was actually poisonous to life. (Thanks to Michael Earl Riemer for reminding me of this poison in his book Reindeer Don’t Fly.) Sidney Fox did a follow-up experiment in 1958 to “connect” amino acids into protein-like structures, but his “proteins” weren’t proteins at all; the amino acids in his structures were scrambled, random sequences which are useless for life.

What these two “origin-of-life” experiments actually showed us, then, is that life cannot spontaneously appear on its own. Fred Hoyle, a great astronomer, once said this: “The probability of life arising by chance is the same probability as throwing a six on a dice five million consecutive times.” Hoyle’s solution to the origin of life was panspermia, which is the theory that life on earth originated from microorganisms or chemical precursors of life in outer space; they found a “home” here on earth and started life. This “theory” is science-fiction, not science! Again, for a Christian, the answer to the origin of life is not problematic.

There is another aspect of intelligent design that is called the finely-tuned universe. This means that the universe is specifically designed for intelligent life to exist; in other words, if certain features of the universe were slightly different, life could not exist.  (Don’t worry; I won’t get too technical.) There are certain constants (in a mathematical sense) in nature which are remarkably finely tuned with the universe. Take the fine-structure constant, which governs atomic interactions. It is equal to 0.0073: a very small number! If it were slightly different, equal to 0.0072 or 0.0074, for example, the stars (including our sun) would either have burned out very rapidly or forever remained cold and dark, respectively; in neither case would life in the universe be possible.

A second example of our finely-tuned universe has to do with the expansion rate of the universe. (It is well established that the universe is expanding.) If the early expansion rate had been larger, galaxies would not have formed, thus making star formation very difficult; if it had been smaller, the universe would have collapsed prior to star formation. In neither case would life be possible.

My third and final example of our finely-tuned universe is the so-called “Goldilocks zone.” This refers to the distance a planet needs to be from its “parent” star (in our case, the sun) in order for liquid water to exist; without water, of course, life as we know it is not possible. The planet Mars is barely within this zone and used to have liquid water; regardless, its atmosphere is too thin to support life. Our planet, on the other hand, is situated “just right,” in the words of Goldilocks!

When we look at the evidence for the origin of the universe, the origin of life, and examples of the finely-tuned universe (there are so many more than the three I’ve mentioned), the evidence for a Creator is, frankly, overwhelming. In addition, the evidence for evolution is, well, very underwhelming, to put it mildly; click here if you’re interested in reading something I wrote about it: https://keithpetersenblog.com/2020/09/16/is-evolution-a-viable-theory/ Earlier, I mentioned Bob Sorensen. Here is the link to Bob’s site, full of articles questioning evolution: https://www.piltdownsuperman.com/; be sure to check out his “Question Evolution Day” link near the top of the page. There are also many books that have been written questioning evolution; I heartily recommend Phillip Johnson’s Darwin on Trial.

As I have talked with Christians over the years, I have found again and again that many parents are afraid that as their kids study science, they will “lose” their faith in God. That is understandable given our public-school system’s strong bias against Christianity and for naturalism, which seeks to explain everything without God. As I mentioned at the outset of this post, however, big-picture scientific findings regarding origins, our finely-tuned universe, and evolution have strengthened my faith in the Lord God immeasurably. I believe the same can be true for you.

Four Types of Answers to Prayer

Over the years, I’ve often read and heard things like “God didn’t hear my prayer,” or “God didn’t answer my prayer.” These statements betray a singular focus on one aspect of prayer, that being requests. There is so much more to prayer than requests, including confession, praise/adoration, and thanksgiving.

Regarding sin and confession, here’s what Psalm 66:18-19 says: “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer.” These two verses get at something that may often be missing in our prayers: confession. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Regarding thanksgiving, here’s what Philippians 4:6 says: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (emphasis mine)

First of all, then, let us examine ourselves to see if there is sin we are “cherishing” (loving, holding on to, protecting). Then let’s make our requests to the Lord with thanksgiving. We can be sure that He will hear and answer us. We also need to pray according to His will, just as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane in Luke 22:42: “Not my will, but yours be done.” The question then becomes: What will the Lord’s answer be?

This week, we had a guest speaker at my church: Dr. Ravi Jayakaran, President of Medical Ambassadors International. He gave a powerful message about prayer, including four types of answers to prayer. (The following examples from Scripture are different from those he mentioned.)

  1. Direct. This is when the Lord gives us a direct “yes” answer to prayer. The Bible is full of such examples. In 2 Chronicles 20:5-12, godly King Jehoshaphat asks the Lord to judge three enemy armies that have risen up against Israel. Here’s what happened a few verses later, in 2 Chronicles 20:21-23: “After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying:  “Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.”  As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.  The men of Ammon and Moab rose up against the men from Mount Seir to destroy and annihilate them. After they finished slaughtering the men from Seir, they helped to destroy one another.” (emphasis mine) In my own life, I can think of times when the Lord has given me a very direct answer; for example, we used to have various neighbors who sometimes had late-night parties. Without fail, every time I went outside to talk to them, they quickly toned it down, without any expression of anger on either side.
  2. Delayed. Sometimes the Lord gives us what we have asked for, but not immediately. In 1 Samuel 1, for example, you can read how year after year, Hannah would go to the house of the Lord to worship, sacrifice, and ask the Lord for a son. Eventually, the Lord did just that; her son became the godly prophet Samuel. Then in 1 Samuel 2:21, we read, “And the Lord was gracious to Hannah; she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters.” These five children were in addition to Samuel, who Hannah had dedicated to serve at the house of the Lord! One very significant example in my own life that comes to mind is my father-in-law, who came to faith in the Lord at the age of 91; my wife and I, as well as others, had prayed for him for many years. I should add that in the parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge in Luke 18, we are told that the Lord is not like the unjust judge, who gets tired of the widow bothering him and thus responds to her request for justice. Instead, the Lord will see that His chosen ones “get justice, and quickly.” (verse 8) From our perspective, it sometimes doesn’t seem quickly, but that’s because we’re impatient and can’t see the big picture.
  3. Denied. This is a hard answer to hear to a prayer request, but we have examples in the Bible to help and encourage us. Earlier, I referred to Jesus Himself, who asked the Father to keep Him from having to be crucified, but the Father denied Jesus’ request. That answer to prayer is our salvation! Another example is the Apostle Paul, who had “a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9) When I graduated from college, I had planned to combine my love of astronomy and the English language to be a writer and/or copy-editor at an astronomy magazine. I had two interviews, but the answer was No. (More about this below.)
  4. Different. Sometimes the Lord gives a different answer than we expect or hope for. In the Bible, I think of the Jews of Jesus’ time, being crushed under the heel of the Roman empire. Much has been written about how the Jews were expecting a political Savior who would liberate them from their oppressors. While I suppose this expectation was understandable, it was in spite of Biblical passages like Isaiah 53, which speaks of the Messiah as One who will be “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” (verse 3) God’s plan was to give all people who believed from all countries, for all time, salvation from sin. In my own life, it took me over a year of floundering a bit regarding my career hopes, but one day I saw a poster for a nascent organization which had started to send teachers to a Third World country that had recently “opened.” Somehow I knew immediately that was for me. It took me a year and a half to get my M.A. in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages); along the way, I met the beautiful, godly woman who was to become my wife; and I spent 32 years (the first five overseas) teaching ESL. I still love astronomy, but it’s easy to see now that the Lord had something very different–and much better!–for me.

In my own life, I have learned that whether answers to my prayer requests are direct, delayed, denied, or different, my heavenly Father always knows what’s best. If you are one of God’s people, you can rest assured that He knows what’s best for you as well; if you are not, that can change today!