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.

rooting out bitterness

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

Hebrews 12

We have all been hurt, sometimes in life-altering ways. And too often in ways we learn to live with in not such a good way. I think of those molested in childhood, others who have suffered physical or emotional abuse. Words inflict injury as well. James tells us that the tongue is a world of evil. Like a serpent, full of deadly poison (James 3). We carry around with us wounds, which hopefully are largely healed, or in the process of healing. But if not, can perpetuate a cycle of harm. “Hurt people hurt people.”

Oftentimes it seems that this root called bitterness plays out in people finding something wrong, something amiss and off, quick to judge others. And even when such judgments might be either largely or partially true, there is a poison in the air, which inflicts those around them. I think of what should be called gossip, or perhaps better, not putting the best construction on what’s being said or done. And unless we refuse to participate in such, we are taken in, and the problem can grow. It is sad when we can see that is where some people live. And yet we can have more of that in ourselves than we might imagine.

The text above tells us not just to look after ourselves, although that is surely where it must start. But we in Jesus, in the church need to look out for each other, as well. That means we have to guard our tongues to be sure, and work at guarding our hearts. We have to love others, including those who seem on a one track existence due to their bitterness. We all need help along the way, sometimes special help. The goal would be to root out the bitterness, get rid of that poisonous root. Otherwise it is sure to defile others, perhaps many.

Basics like prayer and loving counsel and repentance, and continuing to work against this, seem to be essential. And what is needed in all of this is an emphasis on grace (again, note the text above), no less than an air of grace in which we are careful to consider our actions, words, and what underlies that, our thoughts and attitudes. There is no other way of together following the way of Jesus.

 

concentrating on what is at hand, on one’s calling

Life is full, busy, and actually good, but has its challenging aspects as well. And we see the bigger picture around us, as best we can. There are so many things we can get involved in, and many of them might be good. It is not bad, and actually commendable I think to work at understanding the basics of difficult topics in the world and the discussion and debate surrounding them.

I remember one much respected pastor and Bible teacher who said something like we in Jesus should say: “This one thing I do,” instead of, “These many things I dabble in.” I think we need to prayerfully endeavor to do well at what is in front of us, at the task at hand, and actually guard that. If we spread ourselves too thin, we won’t do as well. But more importantly, we might be taking our eyes off the calling God has for us.

That said, we still need to be open to new things, new directions the Lord might be taking us. At the same time making our priority what God has called us to now, what we are called to love and nurture. As we watch ourselves and keep trying to grow up together with others in Jesus.

the Bible for the real world as it is and our experience in it

Experience can be downplayed by ivory tower thinkers who don’t seem to live in a real world (though they do), but it is where we live. On the other hand, experience can become overplayed, so that it is our one focus, and even somehow mysteriously determines ethics.

The Bible strikes a wonderful balance in taking in all of life just as it is. The material, intellectual, social, even psychological, and yes, spiritual spheres. There’s room in the Bible for all kinds of people, really every kind you can think of, and with all the problems we each carry with us, some with quite special and at times even vexing issues, at least to some.

The Bible is a complex book because it is about real life, life where we live, even the life of the entire world. It was written in a different time and setting, but carries over into every time and setting with some work, and at least prayer and thought.

The Bible was written for experience no less, for real life, for life where we live. It is about the life God created, and the new eternal life which God offers in Jesus. The light which lightens every person coming into the world, even if they haven’t heard of Jesus (John 1). The light for life, for living in the real world, in and through Jesus.

The Bible is written for a real world, and for all of us right where we live. God speaks to us through it, and in other ways as well, as we will see when we begin to turn its pages. Don’t read it hastily, let it sink in. The whole book is important, but if you’ve never read it before, you might want to begin in the gospel according to Mark, and then John’s gospel account. It’s good to read both testaments at the same time, the First/Old Testament beginning with Genesis, and the Final/New Testament beginning with Matthew.

To keep myself on track in the way of Jesus certainly by God’s grace, I am in the word, in scripture, in the Bible daily and throughout the day. I try to read (or one can listen to) larger portions, and chew on, as in meditate or ponder on smaller bits. And it’s important to converse with others about it, like Discover the Word so aptly and helpfully does. And we need the church in its proclamation, teaching and witness to scripture, which ultimately testifies to Jesus himself, and the good news in him.

Life was meant for living in a real world, and the Bible is meant to help us find our way in the Way himself, Jesus, in the way we were created to live. Don’t miss it. Don’t miss out.

feet on the ground, experiencing God

Thomas Aquinas who surely had many wonderful things to say, his writings still benchmarks, late in life had a kind of vision of God, or more precisely an experience which led him to think of all of the writing as of no value at all. He had glimpsed, and had been taken in to something of the reality of God in which words seem to fail. Just the opposite is true though, about what he had written. His ability to think and put his thinking reflecting on philosophy and theology into words was a gift from God, surely a great gift, and end up amounting to helping others in the way of the Lord, and in catching a glimpse of the Divine in this life.

For the most part in my own life, I plod along with words. I am a word person. I can remember when we were part of what is called a charismatic church, we had a great group of quite artistic, creative people. They were kind of known as Spirit people I suppose, while I was considered a word person. I try to constantly be in my Bible, in a lot of places with a small New Testament/ Psalms and Proverbs. With that and my coffee, I feel pretty much okay, even at home, at least grounded, or attempting to be.

In the Great Tradition, the beatific vision, and theosis are held in high esteem, the former realized in the life to come, the latter beginning in this life. And actually both correlate to what scripture teaches, even if some of the descriptions given from church fathers might lend themselves to some misunderstanding. The point for us here is that we look forward to living in God, in the vision of God in the life to come, but in the meantime, we begin to experience something of that in this life through the word and the sacraments, so that we become more and more like God, by becoming more like Jesus through the Spirit, all of this in and through Jesus.

In this life we seek the Lord, we even seek his face (see the Psalms), while at the same time, we keep our feet on the ground, regardless of what we are, or are not experiencing. So much of life involves a groundedness in the midst of, and often in spite of the many details of life: the ins and outs, and ups and downs which come our way.

So for the most part, I’m quite happy to be plodding along, trying to understand, trying to follow. But to have those refreshing seasons when the water is turned into wine so to speak, and I have a strong sense of the divine, is quite helpful. But I am probably wary of receiving too much of that, because most of where life is lived will not be there. Life can seem not only austere, but even troubling, and difficult at best, one just trying to hold on.

That is why we need scripture, and to simply keep on keeping on. Thankful for the glimpses and experiences of divine glory, but not looking for that. Rather, hoping something of that more and more pervades our normal down to earth, feet on the ground experience, day after day, together with others, in and through Jesus.

hidden Christianity

I remember an interview Johnny Cash had on Fresh Air, as well as another interview about him on that program. There was one thing for sure about Johnny, along with his musical gift. His faith was just a natural part of who he was, so that if you wanted to get to know Johnny or interview him, you would know that his faith in God, and the grace of God in Jesus would be at the forefront, and would be a big part of what you heard. I hear that Hollywood or media outlets want to screen that out. But in order to understand us at all, who name the name of Christ, and seek to follow him, they’ll have to include that.

In some places people either keep their faith to themselves, or suffer the consequences. Martin Scorsese’s film Silence is a powerful reminder of that, but the same problem exists in not a few places today where it is actually against the law to be a Christian.

There are so many things that Christians and nonChristians have in common. It’s not like we can’t enjoy each other’s company and learn from each other, and be friends for life. It’s only that the most important thing about us as followers of Christ will not be so with them. But we can share in each other’s humanity, which in itself is quite good enough. Of course we want to share much more, being of the belief that humanity is being fully restored in and through Jesus in the one people of God.

We don’t do well to live in fear, nor do we proceed without much thought and prayer. But for us who name the name of Christ, it needs to be clear to all that it is Christ who is our life, what life is all about to us (Philippians). Of course we don’t share our faith in a way that will only ailienate others. But our faith is something to be lived, defining us, who we are, through and through. God’s grace in Jesus being the difference for the faith, hope and love we have. Something we want to share with others, as we hope that they see Jesus in us.

Presidents, politics, even nations (empires) come and go. Jesus is Lord.

Scot McKnight has an interesting piece on what the world needs most, precisely, What America’s Culture Wars Need Most, and I agree. Looking at what’s best for the United States, it would surely be a people whose expectations for the United States, or for any government or political entity or leader are tempered by their belief in one transcendent that deserves full allegiance and trust: King Jesus, and God’s grace and kingdom come in him.

This thought may not be easy for anyone, so great is the divide in the United States today. And it’s not like the politics of the nation state doesn’t matter, nor carry with it serious consequences. But it is a question of just where our ultimate confidence lies, and if we even unwittingly place that kind of trust in a political party or ideology of this earth, rather than in God. It is one thing to think this way or that about whatever issue we’re considering. It’s quite another to assume that the answer for the world lies in lining up one certain way or another. How such matters turn out may indeed make a world of difference, but what difference, or we might say kind of difference are we as followers of Jesus, as the church to make through the gospel?

The gospel, the good news in Jesus, is in some ways oblivious to the world and its ways. It matters not who’s in charge in Washington or elsewhere, the church through the gospel continues on with the same humanity coming out of the same life regardless. The church stands as the witness to the one good news which remains constant, and ought to be a light which often brings a rebuke to the nation state.

We must beware of putting our confidence not only in elected officials, but in ourselves as well, thinking that through grass roots effort, we can effect the change needed for the world. Again, it’s not like such things never matter. It’s just that there’s one thing which will stick and effect a change which will go beyond whatever changes occur within the world system. The good news of God’s grace and kingdom come in King Jesus by the Spirit experienced and lived out within the church, and to which the church is a witness is the one reality that will last.

We hope and pray for the good of the United States, and for the good of all nations. But our full confidence is in God’s promise in Jesus, no less. And never in any nation state.