what is good? dwell on that

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.

Philippians 4:8

Paul wrote with what has been pointed out to be Hellenistic terms here. In other words the whatever means whatever. And the terms need to be taken all together: what’s true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy. Something might be good, but not praiseworthy, for example a person might be quite good at something which in itself is not morally good. That of course is excluded from what we’re to dwell on, according to Paul.

Unfortunately not everything is comfortable or easy. Christians are concerned for the common good through common grace, as well as the gospel. It would be nice if everything could be black and white, but reality requires discernment. We have to sort out the good from the bad in our judgments. And we need to do so humbly, even shaking a bit in our boots, so to speak, knowing that it begins with us.

I have to be in the word every day, regularly throughout the day. And in prayer. And I don’t want to dwell on what doesn’t fit Paul’s list above. Such as media on any side which is riddled with attitudes and words which sadly are anything but good. Maybe one can spend a bit of time in that (I don’t), but one has to be careful. It reminds me of a group of people who had to consider pornography by actually observing it. I remember one person saying how difficult that was. Not!

I personally love to listen to classical music, my favorite being Bach (right now, violin concertos). Anything good, we’re to fill our minds and hearts with. Then we’ll be able to see readily through what is not good, and address that in an appropriate manner, even as we remain committed to keeping our focus on what is good, ultimately our focus on the Lord himself, and the good news in him.

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the church’s baptism of the Spirit

“I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Mark 1:8

For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

1 Corinthians 12:13

There is something key that we “in Christ” have, that the church, Christ’s body- both local and universal has that the world does not. In the language of scripture, it is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Christ poured out the gift of the Spirit after his ascension at Pentecost (see Acts 1 and 2).

We are baptized by, with or in the Holy Spirit, which in context speaks to our oneness in Christ, and in the larger context of scripture would seem to refer to the spiritual dynamic, or better put, filling of the Spirit given to the church, to all who are in Christ. This certainly becomes a reality for each person at conversion, and is gift that all of us in and through Christ have been given.

Often when this has been spoken about in recent times, it is referring to something like “a second work of grace,” or something more than what we receive at salvation. A tradition or interpreter might be able to make some sort of case for that from scripture. But essentially, it seems to me, along with the traditions I’ve been a part of at least for the most part, that this is all completely received at conversion. We are indeed blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1), we’re told in Ephesians. Yet in that same letter, we’re also told to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5). We have the gift of the Spirit, and therefore, we’re to live in the Spirit, edify each other in Christ by the Spirit, and be a witness to the world of the reality and truth of Christ and the gospel by the Spirit.

Our existence is “in Christ,” and the Spirit is the reality of that for us. We are humans, and yet taken up into the very life and mission of Christ. Both as individuals, and together as the church. That’s the difference maker for us, and really through us for the world in which we are to live and serve in love. In and through Jesus.

 

 

the opportunity the church has at the present moment

The too rough and tumble of US politics, departing from the ideal of friendly opposition in working through differences has indeed taken a nasty turn in recent years, beginning in recent decades. And the sad fact of the matter is that many of us Christians have joined in on both sides. I’ve also noticed those who have a certain clear cut view, yet remain relatively silent, not entering into the war of words.

A good number of us have seen the nation as on the edge of violence. Fortunately there are no clear boundaries for this, even with the red and blue states. But unfortunately that means the stark divisions are everywhere.

It is hard to know what to do. Clearly enough, part of Satan’s tactic right now is to set the bait for Christians to react, period. And it doesn’t even matter so much how we react, but just the fact that we’re doing so. Maybe with strong words in opposition to something, or defending what is questionable at best, and from whatever side.

Somehow the church must remain nonpartisan when it comes to the politics of this world. And let’s start at the most basic level: the church is never national in terms of any nation on earth, but it is of the kingdom of God in Christ. Now even this part is tricky because it’s not as if the church shouldn’t care about the nation in which it resides. But in the words of Stanley Hauerwas, Christians are indeed “resident aliens.”

Yes, we must somehow be above the fray, even if a few of us speak out against evils of this time: bigotry, violence beginning with words, blatant disrespect of others, little to no regard for truth telling, etc. We as Christians must come out from all of this, and be separate. We are indeed in the world, but not of it. Regardless of how we vote, whether we choose to or not, or whatever, we must be present to all in God’s love in Christ, each of us playing our small part. Committed completely only to Christ and the gospel, everything else in its place, but being secondary and subservient to that. In and through Jesus.

2 Corinthians 5:1-10

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him,whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

2 Corinthians 5:1-10

continuing on in the faith

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:14-17

These are troubling times. So much strife. It would be bad enough if this was confined to the world, but what makes it far worse is that we Christians are involved in it on all sides, with differing views. And often with a certainty as if we are the voice of God.

I have my own opinions and convictions, as well. But there’s a lot that I don’t know. The older I get, the more I realize that. I think one of the best answers to many questions is one that Eugene Peterson was said to have been accustomed to give: “I don’t know.”

But what we do know by faith, we hold on to, namely, the truth of the gospel, and veracity of God’s word. We don’t pretend to have all the correct interpretation, nor do we equate our theology with God’s word, at the same time believing in the faithfulness of God through the Spirit to teach the entire church the essence of the good news in Christ.

We continue on in what we’re convinced of. Even while we seek prayerfully to apply the truth of the gospel to all of life, and wisdom from the word, even for the hard questions that remain. And we do that best together in and through Jesus.

Jesus has won, but for now we still remain in out and out war

And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.

Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

And don’t forget to pray for me. Pray that I’ll know what to say and have the courage to say it at the right time, telling the mystery to one and all, the Message that I, jailbird preacher that I am, am responsible for getting out.

Ephesians 6:10-20

In Christ we are above all children of God as well as servants of Christ, and we’re also soldiers in spiritual warfare. There’s no question that on the cross, by his death, Christ won and vanquished the host of Satan (Colossians 2:13-15). But for whatever reason, the result of that victory in finality is future, and in Christ is also present. We can stand and resist, but only through Christ and Christ’s work. We certainly are no match for the devil ourselves. Yes, I am referring to angelic beings who are fallen, in rebellion against God. In case we haven’t noticed, we’re in an out and out war. A decent analogy is World War 2, when after the Normandy Invasion, which came at such a horrific cost of human life, the war was all but over. Unfortunately serious fighting continued. My father was in a tank in Germany, and was definitely in harm’s way. In the same way, but spiritually, not physically, we in Christ must face it: we’re in out and out war. I like the way Eugene Peterson phrases it in the Message: “a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.”

There are countless ways that we can acknowledge this. Anything at all which gets our focus off Christ and the gospel is a sign. And whatever violates love for God, and for our neighbor as ourselves, including even love for our enemies, as Jesus taught us, is also equally a sign that we’re off track.

It’s important for us to realize the nature of what we’re in. God will give us the strength we need, as well as the resources through the gospel, just as Peterson’s rendering of this passage above, makes clear. We have to realize what we’re in for. It is no Sunday School picnic. Expect the worst. But then brace yourself. Again, God will give the needed strength, along with all we need through Christ and the gospel, and from God’s word. That is a given, but we must take it. We must be ready. If we have the attitude of wanting to avoid such, we’ll be in trouble. This is plain and simple reality. And the answer is nothing fancy, but is indeed profound. And makes the needed difference. In and through Jesus.

when it comes to the election and politics, first things first

I am thankful to live in the United States, a nation which in spite of all its problems (and you can’t escape serious difficulties in this world) does allow people to worship as they please. There is no question that there are serious issues which very much engage the public. And to list them would not be hard for anyone who pays any attention at all to the news.

I think it’s fine for Christians to be involved in speaking out on political issues, and especially to participate in voting, if they so choose. But of first importance always is to be faithful to the gospel, both in one’s personal life, and out from that, into the lives of others. Jesus called his disciples to make more disciples of all nations to the end of the age, with the promise of his presence. That is our calling, regardless of what happens in the political world.

I think it’s essential for Christians to take care in the political choices they make, particularly when it comes to alliances with any party or candidate. In a sense we should be for all the parties and candidates, and those in office, because we wish for the good of all, and for the good of the nation in which we live. Even when we stand in opposition to them on certain issues.

Regardless of what happens in the upcoming election, and elections elsewhere in the world, Christ is the one who reigns, and God is sovereign over all. Christians where they can, can express their views, but we must get back to first things first. It is the gospel, the good news in Christ which is the power of salvation for all who believe. And we are to be disciples of our Lord, following him in all of life. Everything else is secondary to that.

We must beware of getting caught up into the political wind to the extent that it marks what we are all about, our identity, either in supporting or opposing this or that. I’m referring to Christians in general, not to those who are actually in the process as candidates themselves.

Following Christ as believers and as the church might well involve some public stands. But I wonder if it might be different if we avoid following either the conservative or progressive line. We can and probably should consider what people are saying from every angle. That is important, since as people of God it is good for us to understand our times, if we’re to know what to do (1 Chronicles 12:32). But what we do, including what we say and don’t say, how we act should all be dependent on one thing only: Christ, and God’s will in him, or the truth as it is in Jesus.

Let’s not lose the sense of who we are because of the strong opinions which we or others hold. We will be concerned about the unborn, immigrants, the environment, and other matters, and will have our views. What must not be lost in the shuffle is how first and foremost, beyond anything else, we are disciples of Christ, servants of the gospel. Our lives marked by that, come what may.