thinking needed during difficult times

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

Right now in the United States and across the world we’re facing a pandemic. This naturally intensifies stress, and is affecting all of life. So why would I point myself, and all of us to this word from Paul, and actually this Scripture, God’s written word?

First of all, it’s always good practice, something not just recommended, but prescribed for us Christians. And when you turn the pages of Scripture, you’ll find plenty of good in the midst of reality. Scripture is not couched in an alternative, imaginative, make-believe world, but in the all too real world, the world in which we live. Of course across different cultures and time, to be sure. But much of what we see there, we see here. And Paul’s word here actually refers to good found anywhere, all a part of God’s common grace given to humankind.

To be sure, we practically have to turn our faces, or ignore so much right in front of our faces that is less than good, and too often is bad, or even evil. We don’t ignore such things. To focus on what is true is probably more in the sense of what is true in a good sense. But what is true, noble and right includes taking seriously that which is not. To engage in this process requires discernment. It’s all too easy at least for me to descend into something that is less than good in reaction to what’s not good.

During this crisis, we will do well to find what is good in the sense of fitting and helpful. And to have discernment to see what is not. Paul’s words here necessarily mean that we’re going to want to be constructive in our critiques, beginning first with ourselves, if we’re going to help others with the kind of help that’s needed.

May God help us to think thoughts which impact us in ways that are uplifting in the sense of edifying, so that others too may be helped. And especially that we might all look to the one who can lift us beyond what we can imagine, or experience ourselves. In and through Jesus.

 

think, think some more, and don’t quit thinking

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

The Apostle Paul uses terminology and actually says something here which makes it clear that we draw truth and what is good from various sources, from anywhere they might come from. Of course he would say that we have to test everything in terms of what God has revealed in Scripture, but so much is not contradictory to that. For example today we take much of medical science for granted, at least on some scale. And I completely accept the idea of mental illness and psychology along with medications which can help alleviate or at least deal with that. And then I’ll go to the arts: painting, music, etc. Much of beauty and what is good found there, and much of it from non-Christians.

When it comes to the faith itself, there is a rich tradition of deep theological thought and reflection on Scripture and life. I lament because it seems like much of that is set aside as less than lame, more like dead. But if one seriously reads through all of Scripture themselves, they’ll come to realize that such is not the case. The depth found in Scripture is something to remain in and explore the rest of our lives, in prayer and in life.

Of course we need discernment. Not everything out there is good. There is the cunning deceptive work of the enemy, the devil. We have to have discernment from God to see through anything that is contradictory to the main point of Scripture: the gospel. And we weigh what is good and not so good, along with rejecting what is false. If we don’t learn to think, pray and live deeply, we will fail to discern what is good, and might fall for what is not.

There at least needs to be a broad agreement on what Paul says here. Certainly Christians won’t see eye to eye on everything; we all bring a different perspective. But we should at least have the bigger picture in view, fulfilled in Jesus, so that we question many things, and remain true to the big picture found in Scripture along with the details, that of God’s grace and kingdom come and being fulfilled in and through Jesus.

the danger of extra-biblical teaching

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.

2 Timothy 2:15-18

The Spirit guides the church through Scripture. There is always danger from those who claim to have something the church doesn’t have, something more. What that actually amounts to is something more than Scripture, or even a better take on what Scripture actually says, maybe they would call it more spiritual, deeper, closer to the heart of God.

Where churches might actually disagree on interpretation of Scripture is secondary, and not at all what is meant here. Such discussions must be grounded in Scripture itself, and over time be accepted as a viable possibility by the church at large. What is mentioned here goes beyond that, beyond what Scripture actually says. It might seem harmless at first, and even good, but when it becomes divisive and actually cuts other churches and believers off, then we have more than yellow flags up, but we see red.

Beware of all such. And keep a discerning eye open, because they pop up here and there, and will continue to do so throughout this time before our Lord returns. We have to warn them, and warn others who may be influenced by them, which means everyone, and especially those who may be under their influence. The Passion Translation is sadly an example of this. You certainly find it in other places, as well.

What we need to come back to and remain in is the teaching of the word, and yes, what the Spirit has taught the churches even over the centuries as to the meaning and truth of that. If we paid attention to what Scripture actually says, yes, some things indeed hard to understand, but others pretty straightforward, we would be at that all of our lives, growing in the truth that is found in Scripture and fulfilled in Jesus. Part of that, and what the church is called to, especially church leadership is discernment between truth and error. Stay away from people who claim to have something more. What they say should be exposed and summarily rejected.

Not pleasant, but essential, and part of the church’s calling. In and through Jesus.

when Christians disagree

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Philippians 4:2-3

It’s inevitable that no two people who think very long at all are going to think exactly alike. We all bring a different intellectual and moral calculus to our deliberations in making judgments on life. Certainly our experiences factor in as well, as does a whole host of other matters, so that it may seem at least on the surface that we disagree with each other. It can be a case of talking past each other in misunderstanding, but there are times when we do disagree. Or for whatever reason we might even be disagreeable simply because we don’t easily get along with someone else.

Whatever the case may have been, Euodia and Syntyche, two ladies who contended at Paul’s side for the gospel were at odds with each other. For one reason or another, they weren’t getting along. On some level, evidently they weren’t seeing eye to eye. And there was division between them. This was not something tolerable to Paul, certainly understandable when you consider this entire letter.

Paul counsels them to be of the same mind “in the Lord.” I consider “in the Lord” key, because that can make all the difference in the world when there is honest disagreement. We might be helped to see that the other person might have a point, that we might possibly be missing something. Or at least that our disagreement is not to be compared with our agreement in the power and truth of the gospel. So that even if we’re not in agreement on something lesser, we can at least recognize that it is indeed not as important as what we agree on. The problem sometimes is when one or the other, or both simply won’t let go of the disagreement instead of agreeing to major on what they do agree on, perhaps finding ways their agreement in the gospel, in Christ addresses their problem.

Oftentimes we develop an attitude, at least of weariness or of thinking that we can’t escape the issue being front and center. This is a problem in this day and age when we find a polarization in society, which is seen within the church, as well. How can we live together well with such differences? The answer is surely in our commitment to, not to mention our dependence on the gospel.

Paul counsels the church to help these women. It had become such an issue, that the church needed to step in, not to judge them, but to help them find their way to peace so that they could live well together in the reconciliation that is in Christ. And in so doing, they could become a model for others in how to live in the unity of the Spirit in their oneness in Christ through the gospel, in spite of what differences they had, or may have still had. Something we need to aspire to today, in a day when lesser things can impede and imperil what is first and foremost: our commitment to Christ and the gospel, and our unity in that. All of this possible in and through Jesus.

during difficult times

ע Ayin

I have done what is righteous and just;
do not leave me to my oppressors.
Ensure your servant’s well-being;
do not let the arrogant oppress me.
My eyes fail, looking for your salvation,
looking for your righteous promise.
Deal with your servant according to your love
and teach me your decrees.
I am your servant; give me discernment
that I may understand your statutes.
It is time for you to act, LORD;
your law is being broken.
Because I love your commands
more than gold, more than pure gold,
and because I consider all your precepts right,
I hate every wrong path.

Psalm 119:121-128

I sometimes hear/read something like all we need to know is that God is love, that love is what it’s all about, and we need nothing more. This passage is one example among many of why we need all of Scripture. I too would like to live in the sense of God’s love for me and for everyone else. But life hits me along the way from many different angles, and there’s no escape from spiritual warfare for us Christians, as much as we would like to avoid it.

The psalmist here certainly doesn’t have it altogether. He/she is at a loss, and feels lost. We’ve all been there when we feel threatened or for some reason or another ill at ease. When we’re simply not resting in God’s unchangeable love for us, or we’re not able to experience that love at the moment.

How the psalmist engages God during such a time for them is helpful for us. We look to God, and we are set on obedience to God come what may. Our faith and commitment is not dependent on our circumstances. At the same time we also realize our complete dependence on God. To give us discernment and yes, to bring deliverance from our struggle. The only path for us. In and through Jesus.

“preach the word”

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

2 Timothy 4:1-2

We need the simple word of God, period. Whenever I hear something other than that from a Christian teacher or preacher, I completely shut down. We don’t need anything fancy or new, in fact we should run from all such. And we especially need to beware of applications of God’s word, which really have nothing to do with it. Alas, many hear such and equate it with God’s word, God’s truth.

Does God’s word, Scripture have enough, or do we have to add more? We know the answer, but our thoughts and actions often betray us. We want more. Oftentimes the reason we want more is because we haven’t got into the word ourselves, so that we don’t appreciate its fullness and power.

Of course the written word leads us to the Word himself, Jesus. But that shouldn’t minimize the importance of Scripture. It is more than just a guide, certainly not just another guide. It is God’s word written. We best take full heed of it. In and through Jesus.

listen up

The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

And the LORD said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle.

1 Samuel 3:10-11

One of the essentials if we’re to truly be followers of the Lord is to develop a keen awareness of his voice. We need to listen and we need the discernment that comes from the Spirit of God to understand. In fact of course we need God to open our ears in the first place.

The boy Samuel needed the priest Eli’s help to set himself to listen for God’s voice, or in this case discern since Samuel had earlier heard the voice calling him. I think we best hear God’s voice in the midst of life as we remain in God’s word, Scripture. God speaks to us through the Book and directly.

Our regular hearing should improve dramatically when we take the attitude of a servant. We aspire as those who would be the Lord’s servant. Our goal is obedience to God. But even more basic is our desire to commune and thus to know and walk faithfully with God.

God’s grace is key in all of this. We may think God will no longer speak to us when we either mess up or have attitudes that are wrong or at least questionable. In reality I think it’s accurate to say the Lord is always speaking. But whether we’re keen to listen is the question. In and through Jesus.