hard topics (and the tongue)

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

Politics and religion can be quite dicey topics fraught with potential fallout for relationships. The heat can be turned up pretty high when topics surrounding either are being discussed. Discussion and conversation is soon lost into heated argument, if we’re not careful. Perhaps it’s better to avoid such altogether. Probably one of the most helpful attitudes is to acknowledge how much we don’t know, rather than what we think we know.

In Paul’s small but great letter to the Philippians, we find an apt exhortation near its end which can help us in this. First of all, referring to values that were esteemed in the culture of that day, Paul directs the church and by extension us, to ponder what is true, good, beautiful, and praiseworthy. And then he reminds them to live as he did in following Christ. When you consider the letter of Philippians alone, that is indeed a tall order. But one within our grasp to grow into in Christ.

Back to difficult, controversial issues. It might be best to avoid them altogether when we know we might differ with a fellow believer on this or that. It can be good to discuss differences, provided there is a listening ear and openness to learn on both sides. And to those who are not believers, we should major on simply loving, and sharing the good news in Jesus.

Above all, we need to inculcate love between us, especially when what could divide us is simply a few words away. And we can’t take that for granted with anyone. If we do touch on the difficult issues, we need to be quick to draw back and make room for the other person, and their viewpoint. Out of love for them, and for the Lord. All of this in and through Jesus.

pleasing people versus faithfulness to Christ

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Galatians 1:10

Like most everything in life, this subject is complicated. Paul, quoted above also said in another place that he sought to please everyone in every way in not offending them over disputable, secondary matters, and in becoming what they were so as to win as many as possible to Christ through the gospel (1 Corinthians 9).

My point with this post this morning is that I really prefer to be liked by everyone, but since I realize it’s a given that I’m not, it seems like I have nothing to lose by making a controversial statement or two. Instead I would prefer to find common ground, and dwell there, and say nothing controversial at all. And if I do challenge anything, simply to ask questions rather than make assertions, so as to keep the door open with the other person, and actually learn from them, since no one’s perspective or knowledege is complete.

But when it comes to the gospel, even though we know in part, that is where we live by faith. And there’s no compromise with reference to the gospel and the truth as it is in Jesus. So that we gently, lovingly, and prayerfully should be witnesses not to how we’ve got everything together, or even how our lives have been changed, but witnesses to the truth of the gospel itself. Yes, in sharing the difference that good news has made in our lives, but first and foremost talking to others about Jesus, who is the good news along with all the truth about him, and that surrounds him.

Paul, in the passage above (click to see context) was taking a strong stand, willing to offend at that moment, because the very gospel was at stake. The faith of believers, of a church was being undermined, in danger of becoming null and void. And so Paul was pulling the fire alarm, pulling out the stops, but doing so wisely, in that great book, Galatians.

Where he does seek to please everyone in every way in 1 Corinthians is a different context altogether, as he’s beginning to defend his apostleship, and more fundamentally the gospel he was set apart for and sent to proclaim. Both are about the gospel.

May I suggest that we as Christians ought to tread more lightly on other things, and take our stand for the gospel, the good news in Jesus. Anything that is tied to God’s will in scripture is important or worthy in the proper place, time, and way to take a stand for. But the one thing we should live and if need be die for is the good news, the gospel of God in and through Jesus. With the goal of winning others to Jesus through this good news, and helping them become established so as to grow in their faith in that.

not tossed about (on hot button issues)

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.

Change seems to be in the wind today. If you are like me I want to study every side so as to best understand the positions, to put the best case construction on all, but not simply to think that I must treat each argument as equally worthy. Perhaps the leading hot button issue today, certainly one of them is same sex relationships. In the past decade the United States has experienced a sea change in public opinion now accepting of gay marriage. And a number of evangelical pastors and scholars have come out in support of “gay covenant unions,” believing that such a position is compatible with scripture.

Christian scholars of course don’t just go to their translations of the Bible but necessarily to original sources. Even Bible translations are dependent on this kind of study. Most of us can’t do much if any of the scholarly work due to limitations in academic training and time. We are necessarily dependent on others, on professional scholars to do that work for us. And we including our scholars must trust that God through the Holy Spirit is guiding the church, even and we can well say especially through the hard places.

So what are we to make of such issues and all the clamoring around them, even of the divisions among Christians themselves and questions that we with certainty can’t answer? We should consider carefully just where the differences lie and as much as possible try to discern what factors are involved that are influencing and effecting the call for change. And above all we shouldn’t think that we can figure it out for ourselves. None of us is foolproof; we all have blind spots and we all err. What we need to look for and desire is a consensus of the churches and among the faithful. Burden of proof for change should lie with its advocates (C. S . Lewis). Such challenges might lead to some kind of change even if only a refining of a traditional position. We need not disregard our own inclination, but we do need to treat it with suspicion as we seek to submit ourselves to Christ through our submission to the church and the church’s interpretation of scripture.

What does this mean for us practically speaking? It means we need not get hung up on or unsettled over the latest controversy. We can and therefore should be rest assured that the Lord will guide his church. We should continue on in the truth in Jesus as we have come to understand it. With all humility in dependence on the Lord in the communion of his church.

keeping the peace

There is much controversy today within Christian circles, I’m thinking of evangelical Christian circles. I’m sure the same is true in other Christian places, but it seems more apparent and pronounced in evangelical places, maybe so for me, since that is where I live.

In the midst of all of this, how do we keep the peace? And what kind of peace is it that we’re trying to keep? Do we let everyone go their separate ways due to irreconcilable differences which seem to strike at the heart of our unity in Christ? Or do we try to mediate, and find common ground? Is there a time to simply agree to disagree and go on?

There are first principles (one might say) in the story* which are essential to the faith. That Jesus is the God-Human who in becoming flesh/human fulfilled God’s calling to Israel for the world in his life, mission, death and resurrection; that this fulfillment in its result continues through his ascension, and the pouring out of the Spirit on the church in mission to the world, all of this is at the heart of the gospel, the good news of King Jesus, which is the heart of Christianity. Of course we need to mention the first and greatest commandment, along with the second like it: to love God with all our being and doing, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. That is the peace in which we must live.

Naturally there will be concerns that that peace is being undermined, if not immediately lost in Christians taking different views, for example in regard to origins with reference to the Genesis account in scripture. Or with regard to same sex relations. These are two issues especially hot right now, but when they cool down, there will be others to take their place.

It is my contention that Christians need to have the freedom in love to debate these issues among themselves, even vigorously, but when all is said and done, to continue to love one another. Hopefully there is an openness on all sides to learn from each other, without compromising what is essential to the faith. Not easy, and not something we will be able to do on our own. We need God’s help to do this. As we search the scriptures and pray. All of us in Jesus together in this for the world.

*Story meaning the telling or account of something that is true.

controversy (again)

I always want to have second thoughts on this issue which seems to be in our face, and from which we can’t escape. Controversy seems to follow some of us wherever we go. That could mean a character defect problem, to be sure. Paul warned against those who are given to quarrels and divisiveness. And to part company with them-  it seems to me in the context to exclude them from the church. The question might well be are we those with views that are controversial, or are we given to controversy, ourselves?

There is no way I can escape controversy with my views on a number of issues, beginning with the gospel itself: I believe not only being about one’s personal relationship with God through Jesus, but being kingdom and earth oriented, in a heavenly way to be sure, so that even the politics of this world are directly related to this gospel. And of course, trying to sort out what all of that means, an ongoing project to be sure. Actually for me, rooted and steeped in the church, and not about our direct participation in the political process. That’s a front, hot burner issue. But not far behind are other contrary positions I take with regard to science.

Now what is anyone to do, because we all have issues of disagreement? My wife and I disagree on some things, though we’re in basic agreement on life, overall. What about in the church? There’s bound to be plenty of disagreement there, as well.

I think we have to underscore and live in what unites us, for us in Jesus, it’s being “in Jesus,” or “in Christ.” And the love that comes out of that.  We need to listen well to each other, so that we can learn. That at least ought to put a check on our certainty in everything. The other may have a point which, while I may not end up expressing it the way they do, I may well need to take account, or much better account of, in my thinking. I find that to be the case. As to those issues where there is nothing except complete disagreement, it’s probably best if the other person wants to talk about it, to listen to them, if they allow, to present one’s case, and then to drop it altogether. To avoid quarreling. Just to be guided by love.

But I will keep coming back to this subject, because it seems unavoidable, you will be criticized for ducking issues altogether. We need to learn how to deal with controversy well, for God, others, and ourselves.  Maybe it’s the Love who is God in which we must learn to be immersed and to live in more and more that matters most. That will make the difference in our witness, yes in the hopefully few controversial stands we believe we need to take. Together in Jesus for the world.

theological squabbles

There are some things worth contending for, and other things not. Of course that doesn’t mean people can’t have a pleasant exchange on a lesser matter, such as whether or not one holds to the teaching of eternal security, or how one might see end time scenarios (I think I hold to a post-tribulation position, but I”m so rusty on all of that, I’m not sure I could engage in a good conversation on it).

At the end of Thomas Aquinas’ life he had a kind of revelatory visitation, or revelation from God which made him think that all the amazing words he had written were of little or no value. Of course that was not the case, but our evaluation of life should change as we grow older and more experienced, hopefully walking faithfully with the Lord, or growing in that, over time.

It isn’t having differences–which is inevitable–that break us, but how we handle that. And learning to sort out what is more important, what matters most. For example while I do have strong thinking against popular eschatological books–on end times–I do believe it is essential to hold in faith that Jesus will return, that God will complete making all things new in him. In so many other matters, I would like to find mediating ground. In fact with any of God’s people, though we may disagree over more serious matters, such as whether a follower of Jesus can fight in a war, or take a life, we still need to appreciate why we hold to our positions, and realize that God in his grace and by the Spirit is at work in all of his people everywhere, to make us more like Jesus.

I don’t look down on those engaged in theological discussion. In fact I think that’s wonderful. Some have a calling to engage and write on those things. It is the manner in which we do it, or decide to abstain, which is important. Do we do so out of love, and a desire to follow Jesus more closely and faithfully? Is it because we want to better understand God’s revelation to us in Jesus found in scripture, and the story we find there?

Avoiding theological squabbles as in trying to win an argument, is part of following Jesus in this life. Even as in love we seek to understand God’s revelation and will in Jesus better, so that we can grow in living that out more fully together in and for the world.

a baptism of love

Being a part of a DeColores weekend, a Christian spiritual renewal movement held at a church we once we’re a part of, Southside Vineyard, which is active on the “charismatic” side, has led me to think some on the baptism of love God pours out on his people by the Spirit through Jesus.

Of course the grass always looks greener on the other side, and it’s not. And groups which emphasize the work of the Spirit–I think often put it in a more proper place–they have their issues too, and sometimes divide. But I have noticed that where the Spirit is poured out, there is not only an increasing in giftings in God’s people, but also of love.

I am amazed and chagrined over how God’s people readily divide over politics, or matters of faith and science, etc. There are powerful reasons for this. But what should overshadow and overpower all is the baptism of love we receive from God in Jesus.

At the same time, let me add that the picture is much more complex than all of this. There are churches which would be known for love if they were known, which are not “charismatic.” And there are churches which are “charismatic” which would not be known for love, struggling over divisions as the early “charismatic” Corinthian church did.

The point of this post is that we need a baptism of love, and we need to live in that love, and live it out among ourselves so that whatever differences we have are secondary to that love. So that we can discuss and think through our differences.

I am inclined to take stands which seem at variance with many around me. I’ve noticed in places where the baptism of love is more evident, either people avoid controversy, or tread through it more gently.

Perfect love drives out fear. That is true among us in Jesus, not only in our personal lives before God through Jesus. There should be no sense of ridicule or rejection just because we don’t agree on politics, etc. Or are we merely a mirror of our culture?

This baptism of love is worked out in all kinds of practical ways. And it is often in spite of us, not because of us. But we in Jesus need to grow in this, so that it is more and more mutual. And not just bound to our group, but drawing people to the center which is God’s love in Jesus, a love that is already present as a gift to be received by everyone and anyone in and through Jesus.