To and Fro, Belonging to the Truth

You wouldn’t believe it! You’d have to see it. Four o’clock in the morning with folks by the hundreds lined up at the stores for those Day-after-Thanksgiving holiday specials. 30, 40, 60% off. Oh, I confess I would hardly believe it myself. That’s ‘cause I was still in bed, fast asleep, exhausted from my Thanksgiving prayers. “Thank you, Lord, there’s nothing I need or want that would prompt me to stand in line at 4 AM!” But I was out and about by 10, this being my traditional one-day-available for Christmas shopping. Wow! ‘Folks hurrying and scurrying about, trotting to and fro in search of the truest bargains and best buys. It was a religious experience! I know that because I kept saying to myself, “Holy smoke, where’d all these people come from? And how come they’re all in line in front of me?!” (A handy shopping tip this season. Buy in a store with a tire department! They have the shortest lines. But they do feel a little awkward checking out your Christmas cards.)

Keep this image in mind, won’t you? Trotting to and fro. ‘Searching out the truest and the best. Maybe the mall will not be the best place to find either one. We celebrate Christ our King today. Tradition bids us remember and rejoice that Jesus is ruler of our lives, now and forever, amen! It’s a tweener kinda Sunday, today. The church stands between two great messages. First, there’s the great good news that Christ is Lord, here and now, the reason for which he was once borne into this world. And we stand ready-to-make-ready-to-watch for his coming again. Advent starts next Sunday. It is not just the wind-up before we wind up at Bethlehem; it is the wait for Christ’s return to where you are and I am! Despite our having birthed this season as believers, God knows we find ourselves on the edge of to and fro. All around us the message will ring out: come here for the best, come here for the most, come here for the truest… from parties, to presents, spectacles to spectaculars. And we go running every which way. We’ll be told to deep six our depressions and griefs, to feel obligated to be merry (like it or not). Family, work, friends, traditions and new adventures compete for our hearts. Mercy, me!

GOOD NEWS! To and fro are not new! God has seen this before. And God has given us a way to understand and overcome! There are wonderful insights at the ready for us in the Holy Book. Check it out. The Book of Job gives great instruction. There’s a kind of how-to, unexpectedly positioned at the start of this sprawling account. It can serve us well in the coming weeks. Only once in all scripture does this phrase, to and fro appear. And it applies… to Satan, the Tempter, the Tester, the Evil One. (There’s a lesson in this fact alone!) It seems that he’s been scouring the earth looking for at least one soul who is entirely of God. And you can bet that Ole Scratch has been up to no good and leaving mischief, and yes, sin in his wake, all along the way. And prime among his messages, “Do as I do. Be busy. Look for the best deal for yourself. The Big Bargain. Not just in the mall, but in your everyday. Cut corners. Bend the commandments, at the very least. Don’t settle for what you’ve got. Want more. Consider yourself entitled. Teach your kids to keep up by taking up all they can. Accept no limits, or as few as possible.” Wonder of wonders, flying to and fro, that devil can find no one who is fixed on God, righteous toward Heaven. To and fro does not work well toward God, and the Lord knows it. So the Lord Himself tells Satan to look to Job. He will even allow that Job be put to extraordinary (though not mortal) risk, just so all of us can see what it takes to be true, meaning: fearing God (in awe of the Holy), and turning away from evil.

How to… be true… for Heaven’s sake, according to Job. (You may wanna take notes!) #1 Job refuses to lose focus… he remains intent upon God. We’d simply say he keeps the main thing the main thing. Even when he loses all he possesses… even his family, he neither sins nor “charges God with wrong.” Job has learned grand lessons that can help us through challenging times. And he witnesses to us by living what he’s learned. He refuses to believe anything that contradicts the truth that God is good! (He will not blame reversals, disappointment or loss on Heaven. Do we? He will not believe that God has somehow turned against him. Do we? He will not substitute his judgment for God’s. Can you think of times you’ve done that? I know I have.) #2 Job continually, continuously honors God and himself with steadfast honesty. He will not accept others’ opinions of his life and faith. (Beware comforters.) Nor will he hide his questions for God. How honest are we? #3 Job communicates with God utterly openly. This communication is forever two-way. He will pray truthfully, telling God exactly what he really feels, complete with his deepest-worst. He trusts God with all of it. In a holiday season of intense highs and often hidden lows, these are good lessons to learn. Taken together, these three spare us from holiday to and fro. In a holy season, the way to maintain holiness is by valuing nothing and no one more than God. It is a check against unwarranted want. (May our kids never declare like the little girl in the TV ad, “I believe… in cashmere.”) An honesty with God and ourselves can spare us buying out of guilt (no, you don’t have to buy that for your little one), and gifting as a substitute for loving (what your loves really want is you). A real prayer-life will comfort grief, soothe even old angers, and chase away the goal of “the perfect Christmas” in favor of a holy life.

Enter Jesus. Not just the baby Jesus, but the savior Jesus. Christ himself makes clear the only perfection, the only truth that counts. It’s near the end of his life. It’s a time of consummate trial. Something (the law of the day) and someone (Pilate) wants power over him. Granted, we don’t stand before Pilate, you and I, but we surely know what it’s like to feel our life’s in some other’s hands. This is how Jesus responds. “You say I’m a king. For this I was born, and for this I’ve come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who belongs to the truth hears my voice.” Pilate, who presumes himself the wise one here, the one with the power of life and death, is reduced to a question. It’s all he has. Here’s his question. “Truth? What is truth?” He cannot see that all-the-truth-he-really-needs-to-know is standing right in front of him. Jesus is the truth. The only way to belong to the truth is to belong to Jesus.

The only way to avoid a life of to and fro is to belong to a life that belongs to the truth. And the only way to belong to the truth is to belong to Jesus. We could give you another list here. ‘Stuff to do and not, to belong to Christ. ‘Stuff to believe, in order to hold fast to him. Or we could paint a picture, tell a little story. Let’s do that. Jim called Wednesday. ‘None of these, another real, live Jim. (Name changed.) He pictures himself a member, but never joined, rarely attends. He grew up in a troubled home, trying to please. No matter what, or how hard, his pillar-to-post efforts never suited. His working days the same. He got and lost a spouse, a house and all the trimmings. Unlike Job, he even learned for a while how to curse God. Drivenness gave way to emotional, then mental illness. Bouts with docs, depressions and distresses followed. Trying to get well, he hops from church to church. When he called this week, it was to say he’s life-threateningly, cataclysmically ill. But he called to ask for a prayer… of thanks! He said this, “Reverend, I’ve spent 50+ years chasing true love. It’s taken this to show me I’ve been loved all along. It’s been Jesus. It’s the truth. I wanna belong to him ‘cause he belongs to me. No matter what comes next, he comes first… and last. Thank God!”

Now… a truth like this is worth sayin’ and dancin’ and singin’. No more toin’ and froin’. Here is the truth of belonging, if only we will belong to the truth. And not just for a season, but for eternity. Here’s a King yet-to-come, who has already come to claim his own.

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