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.

gently leading others

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.

Isaiah 40

Isaiah 40 is truly one of the great passages of scripture, like Romans 8. I hesitate to say that, because I believe we should consider every part important, even the most obscure passages that we might not understand well, if at all. But this passage comforts God’s people both with God’s immense greatness and immeasurable goodness and in terms of God’s great salvation.

What seems especially helpful is the idea of God’s gentle leading. Oftentimes when people, when any of us think of God, we think of an extension of our experience with authority figures, which too often has not been encouraging, but quite the opposite. Or perhaps for some of us, those people were largely absent from our lives. The picture of God given to us in scripture is that God is beyond everything and yet nearer than the breath we breathe. That God is just as much intimate as God is transcendent. That means that the God who is not overwhelmed in the least enters into the picture for humankind, for the world, yes, for us. And God cares for us.

I love the imagery quoted above (see NRSV in link, “[God] will gently lead the mother sheep.”) That God leads the sheep, us, gently. We need that. And in turn, that is how we’re to help the young among us. Not pushing them, or being gruff with them. But gently leading. In fact, we can take that as the cue on how we’re to influence each other. Not that we’re in life to manipulate, but instead we want to learn to follow God’s leading, and hopefully help others to do the same, since we know that is best, and in fact is wonderful.

When one looks at the entire Story in scripture, one also sees that God leads out of weakness, that actually God’s weakness is strength. It is the way of the cross, the way of suffering love for us and for the world. And a part of our salvation for us now in this world, is to learn in and through Jesus to take that same road for others in our commitment to Christ and the gospel.

Let’s pay attention to those who gently lead, and especially to our Lord God, and then learn to follow in those steps. In and through Jesus.

avoiding hate (and hurt)- politics

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show itby their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambitionin your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

James 3

There are few things more troubling than Facebook posts (and probably Twitter is just as bad). A majority of them are about US politics, and specifically about the President and his policies. With some blows against the last President (along with a few praises). If anyone thinks this is better and easier in real life, face to face, they sadly should think again. It seems like the politics of this world is inhabited by a spirit which is malevolent and dark indeed. And certainly not by the Spirit of Christ.

Of course there may be elected officials who keep a steady course which is honoring to God, but it seems to me that they would be an exception to the rule. There seems to be a pull that at least evokes heat rather than light. People most definitely take their politics personally. There is certainly good reason to take it seriously. There is surely evil to be found on every side. Even if we might see most of the evil on the other sides, and we do, we do well to step back and ask ourselves if engaging in such talk is either profitable to ourselves or others. One side hardly ever changes the other. And actually the best polemic questions both sides in the name of the one Lord of lords, and King of kings, and kingdom present in him.

There surely are times to speak out, but we want to make our appeal in a way which is helpful to all, a tall order, indeed. We more or less think there are issues now that we need to be aware of, and then tell others. Living in a democracy certainly lends itself to that kind of thinking. Apart from threatening others, we’re allowed to speak our minds here, with no lawful basis for retaliation.

The hard part is that there is a time to speak, and to do so will result in persecution, usually in being disliked. Hopefully a persecution for righteousness, as Jesus said. Although what I’m referring to here is not persecution at all, compared with what others have to go through, in other place. And Christians need to look beyond such differences by grace, embracing each other in spite of our disagreements.

We need to consider the entire chapter of James 3 on the tongue, just as I’ve posted before (click the link below and above). And I can’t do better than once again quote the above passage, this time in a different version:

Who in your community is understanding and wise? Let his example, which is marked by wisdom and gentleness, blaze a trail for others. If your heart is one that bleeds dark streams of jealousy and selfishness, do not be so proud that you ignore your depraved state. The wisdom of this world should never be mistaken for heavenly wisdom; it originates below in the earthly realms, with the demons. Any place where you find jealousy and selfish ambition, you will discover chaos and evil thriving under its rule. Heavenly wisdom centers on purity, peace, gentleness, deference, mercy, and other good fruits untainted by hypocrisy. The seed that flowers into righteousness will always be planted in peace by those who embrace peace.

James 3 (VOICE)

the problem with politics: the tongue

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by humankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

James 3

There is good reason why at many dinnertables of the past, the discussion of politics (and religion, I might add) was forbidden. The heat in such discourses most often blocks whatever light might be present. It becomes a personal struggle, but it seems even more than that.

Let’s say a discussion, either a dialog, or more likely a lot of monolog goes on in regard to politics among adults who think they’re mature enough to handle it. Before long, at least in my experience, something quite disparaging, and actually judgmental of people’s characters is usually sooner than later said. And most of the time the others not only passively take this in, but noddingly agree.

Would that there could be some genuine political discussion. The world needs it both in terms of style and substance. Instead it normally becomes a diatribe against a party or politician. What is most awful is how others who might deviate from such talk are frowned or scoffed at, and if persisting looked down upon. I wonder why that’s so.

I think in a fundamental sense scripturally, that world government and the politics that is a part of it is a domain of what scripture calls the world, the flesh and the devil. Yes, God is sovereign in control, in that sovereignty allowing nations and leaders a certain kind of free will, but ruling and overruling, raising up one government official and putting down another one. Even raising up governments and putting other governments down. In ways we actually can’t trace or understand well, if at all.

It takes special character, indeed special anointing of grace from God to traverse such circles and do well in them. I can’t help but think of Daniel. But when we see his interaction in the kingdoms he served as a servant of God, we see plenty of trouble coming his way, and the way of others who so served with him.

And so we shouldn’t be surprised at the heat which comes out of our own hearts and onto our lips out of our mouth, in words which too often have more heat than light, straight from the pit of hell. We are playing with fire. We do better to step back, take note of this, speak less, listen more, pray, and consider this an opportunity to grow in the grace of humility and meekness, knowing that our total devotion and unconditional allegiance is to the King of kings, and Lord of lords, Jesus. Even as we pray for those in governmental positions, and seek to be a witness to the nation in which we live of the good news of the kingdom which is outside of Satan’s domain, and destined to crush his rule once for all and forever.

meekness, not a valued virtue in America or the world

Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.

Matthew 5:5

Meekness is not easy to define, but it is essentially the commitment stamped in one’s character to trust in God so that under pressure, one refuses to take matters into one’s own hands. Instead one presses on to do the will of God in Jesus, which means taking the way of the cross.

A strength of meekness is both gentleness and humility. One is willing to give deference to others and is reluctant to act when it may contradict what another wants. And when one does act, they seek to do so with the utmost wisdom out of love.

Meekness is not a virtue that is admired by the world, including America. It has been denigrated and even villified, partly due to misunderstanding it, and also due to a value system that is not only different than that of God’s kingdom come in Jesus, but is in actual opposition to it. Power is strength in the world’s eyes, while weakness is strength in God’s eyes. Why? Because one is dependent on God in the way of the cross.

Meekness is misunderstood in that it is thought that one does not resist evil unless they use force against those who may be victimizing them. Instead the way of Jesus is the way of resisting evil with love, and the faith which trusts God for the outcome even in the face of evil. Wisdom may be to flee. For example no woman should put up with a physically abusive husband (or vice versa), and should not have to live or even remain married to such, if there is no change. And with that abandonment I think there are grounds for divorce and remarriage.

Meekness is not considered practical in the world, but actually may prove effective up to a point. But it can be completely practiced only in the context and reality of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus. It is in Christ and in his body the church that the gospel is known and lived in and lived out in the world, a fruit of which is meekness.

And so we follow on in the way of the Crucified Resurrected Lord in the way of meekness with each other and in the world. Confident of the full victory of God in Jesus to come, a victory which will be marked by love in overcoming evil in terms of judgment and salvation.

gentleness (especially given the politial culture of our day)

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.

Titus 3

 In the culture of our day in America, if you can call it that, it seems like political speak has reached new lows. That really may not be the case though, if one notes American history. What might be a new low is the degree to which Christians have bought into the culture. It may not be in the volume with which it is said (although it can be), but more in the words that are used.

I don’t think much of what some Christian leaders have said (though thankfully many have done well in this) which either is part of the problem in what is said, or does not wisely take into account this problem, and feeds the frenzy. We don’t have to agree with public officials, but we do need to avoid slandering them (see text quoted above) and we need to express our differences with gentleness. With appeals and well thought out arguments designed to persuade. That is not really what the context of the passage above is about, but this application I think can be derived from it.

If we are to be gentle people, or as the above text says, “gentle toward everyone,” that should start at home, where we are most fully ourselves. We need to take the edge off of our words, and learn to disagree with others in a way that honors them, that does not despise their thoughts or weaknesses. “What goes around, comes around,” and we need plenty of grace ourselves. We need to think and above all pray before we speak. To sit on it for an hour or more, or better yet, overnight, is a good practice. We may find that what was burning in our hearts to say now seems better off left unsaid. But if we do speak, let us labor to do so with gentleness and an ear always to listen.

handling differences

If some thought evangelicalism was in a theological flux a couple of decades or so ago, we could say that is all the more so now. Over periphery matters to be sure, but issues which can well undermine the gospel and our reading of scripture, if we don’t take care.

How do we handle our differences? From my perspective I face those who affirm ordination of those practicing same sex intercourse, of course as long as they’re faithful to one partner, and with that gay marriage. On the other hand I face those who see “Creation Science” as being true to the Genesis account, and my acceptance of evolution as contradictory to that. Just two examples that are hot right now.

Everyone needs to be heard out, that is everyone should have their say. Let everyone make their very best argument, and then hold on to that. In other words try to put the very best construction on both intentions and what is actually said. We help neither ourselves or anyone else by not letting people have their full say as we attempt to understand them as fully and accurately as possible.

Perhaps two words come to the fore now, as I think about our spirit in handling differences, especially among us who are in the family of faith, but beyond that, as well. Forebearance and gentleness. Firmness too, in that, but those two should always be characteristic of us in our disagreements. The NIV 2011 in the Galatians 5 fruit of the Spirit passage interestingly substitutes forebearance for patience. I think that is apt since the patience that is called for is relational in that context. Along with that, gentleness is on the list as well. In Paul’s charge to Timothy (1 Timothy 6) this is evident as well; in conflict or spiritual battle he is to be gentle.

We likely won’t win an argument. But we may well be able to plant the seeds which will reap a harvest of righteousness later. And we need that input from each other. In our disagreements and in all of life.