in insane 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. 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 4:8-9

Paul basically tells us two simple yet profound things here. He says essentially to guard our thought life, not so much here by what we don’t take in, though that’s important, but what we actually do think about and reflect on. And Paul tells us to live as he did. That should be a check on us, on how we often live and act, or react to things.

This is a challenge because Christians are not to turn a blind eye to what is wrong, impure, ugly, shameful, and deserving of rebuke and censure. That’s always to be found, and people are thankfully metaphorically, but still sadly nearly at each other’s throats nowadays. It is a maddening time.

But what’s a Christian to do? Do what Paul tells us here, a part of God’s written word. Settle down and settle in to what is better. In doing so, maybe then we can be helpful to influence what is not. In and through Jesus.

keep your eyes on God

A psalm of David.

I call to you, Lord, come quickly to me;
hear me when I call to you.
May my prayer be set before you like incense;
may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.

Set a guard over my mouth, Lord;
keep watch over the door of my lips.
Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil
so that I take part in wicked deeds
along with those who are evildoers;
do not let me eat their delicacies.

Let a righteous man strike me—that is a kindness;
let him rebuke me—that is oil on my head.
My head will not refuse it,
for my prayer will still be against the deeds of evildoers.

Their rulers will be thrown down from the cliffs,
and the wicked will learn that my words were well spoken.
They will say, “As one plows and breaks up the earth,
so our bones have been scattered at the mouth of the grave.”

But my eyes are fixed on you, Sovereign Lord;
in you I take refuge—do not give me over to death.
Keep me safe from the traps set by evildoers,
from the snares they have laid for me.
Let the wicked fall into their own nets,
while I pass by in safety.

Psalm 141

We live during a most difficult time given the pandemic which has hit us, and the division that is exacerbated because of it. And we all have our unique challenges to face.

Like the psalmist here, we don’t want to bury our heads in the sand and pretend like nothing is happening. Nor do we want to lose sight of the big picture. The psalmist does neither, as they address God in prayer and with their own thoughts, inspired or not.

And surely the key in the midst of the mess is to fix one’s eyes on God. This takes resolution and discipline, as we face the ongoing trouble, and lift our hearts and troubles to God. In and through Jesus.

soaking in the word

We were once part of a Christian fellowship in which there were times when some people would practice “soaking in the Spirit.” It was what today is called “charismatic” and I believe God was moving and helping people during such times.

What I myself try to practice on a daily basis is more like what I would call soaking in the word, God’s written word of Scripture. In that word we find light and life, and ultimately the Word himself, Jesus.

There are plenty of ups and downs in life. Disappointments along the way, along with difficulties. But we can get our bearings and much more if we stay in God’s word day and night. That is frankly a challenge, a discipline that as disciples of Christ we need to undergo. But the alternative is worse, left to ourselves and our own thinking and devices. Instead we need to be “thinking God’s thoughts after him.”

We must beware of the idea that as we’re doing so we’ve arrived, or something of the sort. The word itself will help us from that foolishness, having plenty that will challenge us and help us see that we need God’s direction anew and afresh in our lives.

All of this given to us in and through Jesus.

self-control, or self in control

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

It’s important to consider context. What precedes has some significance to this passage, but what follows seems to have more bearing: warnings from Israel’s past in failing: testing God, idolatry, and sexual immorality. We downplay the importance of all of Scripture to our own hurt. Paul certainly makes that clear here, as well as in other places.

Part of being faithful in following Christ is to exert self-discipline even in a ruthless, non-compromising way. Sometimes people who emphasize God’s grace, as all of us Christians should, make much out of how we’re not to do anything, but just rest. Yes, we’re to learn to rest in faith for sure, but grace does not at all exclude effort on our part. We’re even told in Hebrews to make every effort to enter into God’s rest. Paul is certainly talking about effort here.

Sometimes it seems for one reason or another, maybe for many reasons there’s not a thing we can do, that we’re past the end of our rope, and there’s no use even trying. We’re in danger then of crashing, or more likely, gradually drifting before the crash comes. Those are the times when we especially need to take heed and discipline ourselves in the way of the Lord, and to fulfill God’s calling for our life. Our goal must be to make this self-discipline a part of who we are. With the goal in the end of somehow by God’s grace hearing Christ’s affirmation: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

But what if we’ve already failed? Of course it all depends on the specifics and to what degree. But take the worse case scenario. Of course consequences will follow. Certainly people have to wrestle through what they otherwise would have avoided. Confession of sin, repentance, where need be- restitution, change of life over a period of time, and reconciliation as much as possible. And all of this within the fellowship and oversight of the church, led by wise leadership.

Unfortunately that seems an exception to the rule. People ordinarily end up on their own, the church doing little or nothing to help them. Surely if such happens after people are ordained into ministry, it’s different, but too often there doesn’t seem to be sufficient means in place for restoration. So people are on their own. This is another subject, and a good reminder of part of why it’s vitally important to avoid all of this in the first place.

At any rate, regardless, this should be our goal: to follow Christ faithfully to the end, a part of that self-control over our bodily passions, so that we might avoid great transgression (Psalm 51), and fulfill the calling God gives us, to be faithful witnesses in word, deed, and especially life of God’s good news in Jesus.

 

the danger of relying on feelings

Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.

Proverbs 4:24

The Hebrew word translated “heart” here refers to both thinking and feelings, to the entire inner person. We’re told here to guard it above all else. This seems to me to suggest a discipline that refuses to let up. I notice two extremes in my life which I would like to avoid. One is when all seems well and from that I can go off on this or that, getting carried away in ways which aren’t well enough controlled. The other extreme is probably more what I’ve been accustomed to: being dead or overcome with negative feelings, then choosing to ignore them and rely on rational thought with the danger of running roughshod over anything and everything. The self-control that comes from the Holy Spirit can help us navigate and find good throughout all the fluctuations of our inner life.

To much of the world, “if it feels good, do it.” You do whatever comes naturally, whatever that is. That really doesn’t work well unfortunately, because we’re amiss or at least easily led astray even by what in itself is alright and good. This passage suggests that we’re to discipline ourselves in watching over our thoughts and emotions. What we do comes from what we are inside. God’s Spirit helps us both in our thoughts and feelings. It’s not at all like they’re unimportant. And we’re involved in the process. We aren’t just carried around as automatons, but we are completely involved in this walk of life. And part of that is to guard ourselves inwardly so that outwardly we might live lives pleasing to God for the good of others. In and through Jesus.

avoiding consequences

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
Fear the Lord, you his holy people,
for those who fear him lack nothing.
The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Whoever of you loves life
and desires to see many good days,
keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from telling lies.
Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.

Psalm 34:8-14

Some people may think it’s less than holy to abstain from bad behavior out of fear of the consequences. But scripture doesn’t seem to agree with that objection. Yes, we want high motives, above all love for God and for people. But it is wise to simply avoid impulses to respond one way or another, as we trust in God, and let God vindicate what is good. Otherwise we’re in for some rough sledding, if nothing more, God’s loving disciplining hand.

A big one we practice is being passive aggressive. We react to perceived slights, maybe even obvious enough. It is better for us to hold back. Make no reaction, but bring such to God in prayer. To turn such occasions into times of talking with God. And refusing to respond in kind, and especially avoiding the deceptive evil of being passive aggressive which really is the same heart as being actively aggressive. Maybe it’s more subtle, but consequences, even if seemingly subtle, will come.

As the passage above tells us, we’re to turn from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it. This requires discipline on our part, but especially faith, we could say a disciplined faith. We do our best to do what we’re called to do, and entrust ourselves to God. We refuse to act or react out of fear. We trust in God, and continue to do good. Believing in God’s vindication, and that God is at work for good. In and through Jesus.

not neglecting God’s word

ב Beth

How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
By living according to your word.
I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
Praise be to you, Lord;
teach me your decrees.
With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.

Psalm 119:9-16

If there’s one thing that has stood out to me over the decades of being a Christian, it is the importance of scripture: God’s written word. Of course I’m referring to the “Bible.” If one reads the Bible and takes it to heart, they’ll come to realize that the Bible alone is not enough, because it points us to what else God provides for us in Christ, not least of which is the church. But we can say that scripture is foundational for life, for understanding God’s will, as well as God’s grace and salvation.

And scripture is important in helping us have an interactive relationship with God. Scripture is the primary means through which God speaks to us, at least being, again, foundational in that. We take our cues from scripture, God speaking to us both directly and indirectly through it.

It is easy to neglect God’s word, which is in part why I suppose the psalmist states that they will not neglect it. It takes commitment and effort on our part. And a willingness to simplify our lives around what is informative, formative, and vital for our Christian life. And we learn from those who are gifted and who study scripture to teach it week after week, as well as those who do the same in writing books.

We need to take this to heart and to life and keep doing so, in and through Jesus.

not crossing certain lines

…train yourself to be godly.

1 Timothy 4:7

I think one of the most important things even we older Christians can do today is to train ourselves to be godly. What godliness means might to some extent be up for grabs, since different theological schools will emphasize different things. Really godliness is beyond us, both in really understanding it, and certainly in applying it. We have the Spirit along with scripture, the word, and the church, particularly those who are examples to us in this. Only God can give us light in both helping us see, and be changed, as we are enabled to walk, or live in the light in Jesus as found in scripture.

Here in the United States, we live in a precarious time. Much division and even some hate seems to more and more embed itself and even mark our culture. And we Christians are not above being taken into it and yes, becoming a part of it. It is hard, because there are certain issues that we feel strongly about. Abortion, and then depending on our views, other matters as well. We need to apply scripture and the gospel to critique our views. There are some matters that people will end up disagreeing on, including Christians with each other.

What we need today is the discipline to stay on track, and not get off onto rabbit trails which end up not helping anyone at all. Addressing certain matters such as injustice, and being “pro-life,” along with other contentious issues like environmental stewardship, even government, the church and state, etc. We also need to determine that there are certain lines we simply won’t cross, along with the discernment to know what those lines are.

More often than not the best wisdom is simply to remain silent (Proverbs 17:28). To listen, to gather our own thoughts, and above all, to seek God’s wisdom with others. And to keep doing that. To learn to be reticent to speak. Then God can help us to know better just when we should and must speak out. But our emphasis must always be on Christ and the gospel and never on anything less.

a new calling; a new discipline

A new calling is a bit of a stretch for this post, even a new discipline as well, but there’s some truth in it for me.

I am a Bible person. I always have been, and surely always will be. I have bought plenty of NIV‘s over the years, the kind you carry in your pocket. I’ve listened to the Bible many times over the years. That is what seems to awaken faith in me, and stretch and challenge me in my faith.

What I will be about, is what I more or less have been doing for quite some time. Except there will be hopefully an added twist. I want to apply faith more intentionally, and make it more personal between God and I, as well. That has always been more or less present, except, being a mind person like me, I can too easily just get caught up in thinking, like in an academic way, which may have little bearing on life. Though I really want no part of what really doesn’t in some way or another ultimately contribute to faith.

For me this is vital in the midst of all the other things I have to do. As I get older, it seems like on some levels life is more challenging. There are always plenty of things to do. And my job is that way, as well. I need the word in the midst of it all.

But I also need the word in the midst of rest or play. There’s not a time when we’re not to meditate on God’s word, as the psalmist says, “day and night.” That has been a weakness in my life, and a new calling, and especially discipline, might especially apply to that. Although I think it is okay to have periods of simple rest or enjoyment, and doing nothing more. But one should not stay away from the word for long. We certainly must not neglect the word.

To read it, and let it soak in. I like to read or listen to both large chunks, maybe whole books, as well as plod through the text slowly. Both. The Bible is rich in all kinds of ways, no end to the education you can get by simply being in it over time. And letting it activate your faith, since it’s God’s word. Along with the change that comes with that over time, in and through Jesus.

training for godliness

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

1 Timothy 4:7-8

The Bible teaches us that we are born in sin. And that therefore it is just natural to us that something is wrong, and that we are wrong ourselves. Although given the entire story of scripture, it is not naturally human, but tends toward being inhumane. Our humanity recovered in and through the one true human of creation, in whose image we’re remade in the new creation: Jesus.

It is true that when we’re older, what we are has been developed through many days, months, years, even piling into decades of choices. Amidst that there  are hopefully adjustments along the way for needed change, which by the way in themselves are not snap of the finger creations. Usually it takes us awhile to slide into bad habits, and only good habits practiced awhile will get us out of them. A change of heart is always involved, so that we end up in the long run having a new desire entirely, and don’t want to do what we wanted to do before. But before we get there, we likely will have to engage ourselves in some rigorous training, which will involve disciplining ourselves to do what we are not prone to do, and to avoid what we would do, left to ourselves. The self-control which is part of the Holy Spirit’s fruit in our lives, the heart of which is love, and is actually relational (see Galatians 5) figures in prominently here.

I believe it all begins with God’s word, scripture, and with the gospel. We meditate on that, and take it to heart and life. And we make no compromises with sin. And when we do sin, we confess it, and hold on in faith to get God’s help and victory over it. And we make repentance and change of life an ongoing part of our faith, and of growing up together with others toward full maturity in Christ, and therefore full Christian maturity.

We have to be intentional about this, and remember it’s all in the context of love for God and for others. It’s not meant to be lived in a vacuum, and yet there is the aspect of it that is between ourselves and God. But it never ends there. God insists that it is also between ourselves and others. And in the context of the passage quoted above, a pastoral letter, it is about Timothy’s relationship to his congregation of believers and followers of Christ, and how he is to lead them as a pastor. He is to be an example himself, so that they not only learn from his words, but also from his life. And part of that example is the pastor’s commitment to train for godliness, to be in that process. Not having arrived in the sense of God’s work being finished, but stable in a number of ways in the change that God brings in and through Christ.