in what are our thoughts steeped, and what follows?

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4

We steep teabags in water (I, strangely enough, in coffee water) to let the leaves soak in the heat for the brew. Day in and day out, what do we soak our thoughts in?

This passage written by the Apostle Paul tells us to be occupied with that which is good and helpful. It clearly seems to include good from any source, though one has to be discerning, and separate the good from the bad. Of course the emphasis would be on God’s special revelation in scripture, while certainly including God’s general revelation which might well include a Greek philosopher like Plato, and any number of writers or people, not Christians themselves. Again, we need discernment. There is actually much good to gather in from sources which are not explicitly Christian.

I think we know the difference from what is good and what is not. Though sometimes we might become somewhat numb to that distinction. There is much that passes for entertainment and information which at best is questionable and at worst is unhelpful and downright demoralizing. What is especially challenging, though, is that which is couched as good, yet would not fit into any of the categories in Paul’s list above. It is one thing to expose the fruitless deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5). But it is quite another thing to fight fire with fire, to essentially enter into that darkness, ourselves. We can become immune to that which is objectionable, and even begin to participate in it ourselves.

Interestingly, Paul follows up the list of what we are to reflect on with the instruction to do not only as he said, but as he did. His example in his life day in and day out was seen by some who were recipients of this letter which we entitle Philippians. Maybe he was seen by all the believers there, and surely especially so by the leaders of the church. That example is passed down from generation to generation, hopefully, and at any rate, the same Spirit who helped Paul and others to live in the Jesus way, is present to help us in becoming followers of our Lord.

So our thoughts, what we dwell on impacts how we live. Not that this passage is actually saying that, though we know from other passages and in life that this is true. What is fundamental for us includes both what we occupy ourselves with, and what examples we follow. Something we need to concern ourselves with as we seek to live with others and in the world in the full will of God.

black history month, why it’s important, and what our witness ought to be

February in the United States and Canada is designated Black History Month (October in the United Kingdom). It is important to remember the history of African-Americans, whose recent ancestors were stolen, enslaved, and all too often killed. It is a great error to see this as being “politically correct.” We need to recognize the achievements of those in our family who are African in their origin, as well as the difficulties and evils they encountered, more or less front and center at one time, but now often much more hidden, yet just as real. An example of what is especially a hidden, subtle form of racism is the part of the story in the film Hidden Figures, which wasn’t told.

At the heart of the outcome of the gospel is the destruction of all divisions within humanity, while celebrating the differences through God’s creation (see the book of Revelation, in which every tribe and nation in all their diversity worship God together). The fact that the church seems to make either little or nothing of this at all seems to me to be a grave mistake which needs prayer and correction. The good news of God in Jesus and through his death means a completely open access to God, and also to each other in the sense of living out our oneness as one family in him. There is only one human race, and the difference in ethnicities among us enhance humanity. We need each other, every part of the whole of the one family of humanity.

This should be fulfilled in Jesus, in which through the new birth and new creation, we are all one in him, in all our differences. The best witness of a church in that regard is to include different ethnicities on the staff, particularly in positions of leadership, certainly including the pastoral. The world needs that witness, and we actually need this as well, to break down the sin of racism, which is the hidden elephant in still too many places. When we overlook the hidden, or not so hidden racism among those around us, we can inadvertently make a place for it in our hearts, while never wanting to. We excuse something for which there is no excuse, and which brings grave harm to humanity, and is an affront to God, and above all grieves the heart of God.

So let’s do something if we haven’t yet, before this month ends, to both remember and celebrate our black brothers and sisters. And let’s pray that this can somehow be worked into our lives on a practical level so that we can enter more fully into the salvation which is ours through the good news in Jesus our Lord.

prayer for the last Sunday after Epiphany

O God, who before the passion of your only begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

avoiding our own agendas

“This…is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.’

Matthew 6

The prayer the Lord taught us ought to guide us not only in our praying, but also in what agendas we take up and promote in this world. As well as what we see as important in this world, from what is not as important, and might even be idolatrous, or maybe a waste of time.

And above all, we in Jesus need to be people of prayer. If we are praying about something, then we are at best, entering into a stance of interactivity with God, which means that more often than not, we will be involved in some way in God’s answer. At least we’re to be open to that.

And we do all of this with God’s agenda of the gospel in Jesus in heart, mind, and deed. The good news is of God’s grace, as well as kingdom in Jesus, and so is political, but not of the politics of this world. It might impact this world’s political systems, but it remains separate from them.

What is shocking to me is the notion that politics and the gospel have nothing in common. The good news in Jesus involves one’s salvation and personal relationship with God, yes. But that gospel is as big as all of life, with a promise which involves everything, and in the end, forever.

But concerning the politics of this world, we do well to have the attitude that regardless of how we vote and our own tendencies in regard to that, that God’s answer to it is as we find in Joshua, “Neither. But as Captain of the LORD of hosts, I have come to you.” In other words, we hope for the best for our nation and the world. But we are first and foremost, and in a certain sense exclusively on the Lord’s side. On King Jesus’s side. As we continue to pray, and begin to live out the prayer he taught us.

trying to understand different perspectives

Among the greatest needs in the United States on a social, as well as spiritual level is the importance of listening to others, to differing points of view. Politics, and issues which are put into that category is especially volatile, and the real war from all appearance seems to be waged on that front. Some moral issues which have other factors are part of that, along with the need for all sides to have their say. But it seems we’re nearing a tipping point, where there will be no compromise.

There is surely much to say about all of that, but that’s not my concern in this post. My point is simple: the need to learn to listen well to different perpsectives, with no agenda to correct or impose one’s own point of view. And in that process to better understand not only where they’re coming from, but what merits there possibly are, what truth actually lies there. So that we’re open to their perspective actually impacting our own.

In our culture today, such an attitude would seem rare at best. Part of that comes from what appears to be a largely nonnegotiable stance right from the top, meaning from the president, even though his administration appears to be more flexible. There needs to be a mature group which learns to listen well for the sake of the United States, yet which, even in the midst of differences: liberal or progressive, conservative, and whatever else, will hold feet to the fire with reference to the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the Amendments of the Constitution.

While that is important, there is something more important still, a matter which can be addressed only by the church and believers: the gospel, the good news in Jesus, and all the good of that out of God’s love for the world. We believers who live here in the United States and likely citizens of this nation do well to be concerned for the preservation of what is good in the ideals of this nation. But our most basic calling is to live lives completely devoted to Jesus and the gospel. In doing so, one of the first fundamental things we need to do is listen, listen, and listen some more, and say nothing (yet), at least be slow to speak, and simply love. And when we speak, talk about Jesus.

The goal is to win others to Jesus, and help them grow in their faith. Out of that hopefully will come real benefits for the United States, or any other nation in which the church is, but the outcome is in terms of God’s kingdom. As hard a statement as this is, I think it needs to be said: What God is doing with the nations, including the United States is rather beside the point. This is probably especially hard for us, since we’re a democracy, and either legitimately or not, we often have much invested in this nation. But our lives are to be lost for the sake of Jesus and the gospel (Mark 8). Christ is building his church, not nation states. And actually ruling the nations in some way through the church (Ephesians 1).

All of that more difficult stuff aside: We need to simply listen well, and be known as those who listen and love, even as we as witnesses hold firmly to God’s word in Jesus and in the gospel. Together in and through Jesus.

experience or the word, or both?

Sometimes we rightly are critical of an emphasis on experience which is not grounded in God’s word, scripture, and in the gospel, the heart of that. We can make all too much of experience. How we feel, or how it’s going, or if we have a sense of wellness is considered more important than anything else.

On the other hand, as we see from scripture, it’s not like experience isn’t important. We find the psalmists over and over appealing to God for a better experience, for escape from distress, sorrow, and death through deliverance into God’s salvation which involves rejoicing, and even singing and dancing.

We need to be grounded in scripture, and the heart of that, which is the gospel. Scripture takes seriously and addresses all experience. It is not counter or in opposition to experience at all, but about real life, where we live.

So in the end, it’s not really a case of either/or, but from being grounded in scripture, building our lives on that which is solid, through Jesus. So that whatever we are experiencing in life, we can more and more by faith rest in God’s promise in Jesus both for the present life and the life to come. In and through Jesus.

a new (for me) thought on dealing with anxiety (worry)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4

As much as anything, and probably more, I’ve struggled with a low grade (sometimes high) anxiety most all of my life. If it’s the right kind minus obsessive compulsive tendencies, so as to take care of details on a job, that’s one thing. But when it amounts to thinking and acting as if life and its outcome depends on me rather than God, then that’s quite another, the latter not good at all.

I’ve had kind of inklings of this thought before, but not as plain as day like this: What if instead of first becoming anxious (or worrying; see NRSV in above link), I would immediately, as soon as something, or some thought occurs which will threaten my peace and result in anxiety, what if I would immediately bring that before God just as the passage quoted above says? After all, it doesn’t tell us not to be anxious after we have become anxious, and strictly speaking, it’s not about dealing with anxiety at all, although that’s the way I’ve used this passage in my life. It’s really about avoiding anxiety and worry in the first place.

Realistically, I say, it is hard to avoid anxiety in this life. It seems nearly like an automatic part of life for me. Of course there surely is a healthy anxiety which is different than the anxiety referred to here. That kind can comport with a faith in God, total dependency on him, and interdependency on others. But the anxiety we’re to avoid amounts to a lack of faith in God, somehow not believing God’s word, and thinking and acting as if all depends on us.

Of course we need to do exactly as this passage in Philippians 4 says. But the above link will make it clear that it’s in the context of rejoicing in the Lord always. And reading the entire book of Philippians will put it in the context of a life that is Christ, and is bent on moving toward the goal of conformity to him, and God’s calling in him. And beyond that, though the book of Philippians is definitely the place to start, we actually need the entire Bible to help us in providing needed context for not being anxious, or worrying by keeping the instructions here.

It is radical and abrupt, and surely not something we will simply step into unerringly, since we’re so used to being anxious and worrying in a way which at least weakens faith. We need to take it little by little, and learn a new way, so that over time, we can learn a new habit, and more and more avoid anxiety, yes completely in some measure in this life.

A new thought to me, one I look forward to working on in whatever days the Lord has left for me in this life.