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.

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truth will prevail

If truth does prevail, then what about God’s judgment? Of course we do well to shudder (Romans 2 and 3), since we indeed are all sinners. But without God’s judgment, how will justice, and yes, truth prevail? That is part of God’s atoning work in Christ, to take the judgment of sin upon himself in his death. So that all can be forgiven and given new life, justified in the sense of given status in God’s covenant family and thus made right, and reconciled to God and to each other in Christ. The final judgment is the purging of evil from the world to bring in the final and full salvation.

In the meantime we often find in this present life untruth and evil having a heyday. Untruth and evil do seem to go together against truth and goodness. It seems like the universe is wired, or at least ought to be wired for truth and goodness. Without a doubt we’re all in need of God’s grace in Jesus. If truth prevails, again, we’re all in trouble, since we have been and can be full of falsehood and the evil that accompanies that. And again, a big part of the good news in Jesus is that God took that evil upon himself on the cross in the Person of his Son, Jesus. The result of that is that by faith we’re forgiven, and given a passion for truth in the Truth himself, Jesus.

We have a passion for truth, while at the same time always and forever, along with the rest of the world being in great need of nothing less than the Truth himself. In the Truth, truth will prevail even here and now in the grace of God in that Truth himself. And we find out again and again that God does not condemn us in Jesus, but in and by Jesus- the Truth, God helps us to look for and see, even if seemingly only by faith, a better day, the day when all truth prevails, and to experience a true measure of that even in this present evil age when truth seems irrelevant to so many, and all but lost.

And so that is where we in Jesus hang our hats, not in a supposed progressive order in which the world is getting better and better on its own. But only in Jesus, the Truth himself, which should and can give us heart in the promise of God for the future beginning even in the present- in the here and now, in and through Jesus.

goodness precedes knowledge in Christianity/ in the faith

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind,forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

2 Peter 1

Most Bible scholars/ commentators insist that the order in 2 Peter is unimportant, that what the writer says we’re to add to is beside the point, that we’re simply to have all of those things. I beg to differ, but even if they’re correct, the Bible not only supports but comports (makes sense) in the truth that goodness precedes knowledge.

Of course in our society, even our liberal democracy, for all the good in that, this is turned around. They insist that knowledge is the key to goodness. Yes, there is much one can learn to help one do good, and do better. But I would argue that knowledge alone insures nothing. And that even in “real life,” as some people might want to put it, goodness can make the difference needed, so that the knowledge which follows will be put to good use.

In the story in Genesis of Adam and Eve in the garden, we know the fall occurred when Eve took of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and ate from it in defiance of God’s command. In that case, the serpent suggested that knowledge had priority:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Genesis 3

Eve was deceived, as she acknowledges in this narrative. She wasn’t careful to take God at his word, and it is evident that she doubted God’s goodness. God had not told her she couldn’t touch the forbidden tree; maybe she had added that to keep her from the danger of eating it. And the serpent seems to clearly suggest that God is withholding what is good, and is thus less than good himself, in forbidding what the serpent seems to argue would be good. Deception, for sure.

The ultimate good scripture points to is of course in God and the good news in Jesus for a broken world. The good we bring on our own ends up harming us, because all good comes from God. Our insistence that we can handle it puts us in the place of God, something we’re incapable of fulfilling either pre or post-fall (Genesis 1-2, or 3 and after). We are made in God’s image, but God alone is God. And what goodness we have is all a gift from him in both creation and new creation.

The Peter text quoted above suggests that goodness comes from faith, that is, it’s a gift from God. And after goodness comes knowledge. Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 8 that knowledge puffs up, brings conceit, whereas love builds others up, for their true good. And he suggests that no one knows as they ought to know apart from such love, such goodness.

The goodness we need is found in Jesus and the gospel, and we’re also helped to that goodness by the Spirit ironically through God’s word, meant to be spoken or read out loud, so that faith is formed and awakened. All is a gift. If we think we can go to scripture, and simply by knowing it, arrive, we are only kidding ourselves. We need faith to receive the gift from believing God’s word, which puts us on the track of goodness in and through Jesus, and through which we can begin to understand and live in God’s good will for us in him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

heavenly-minded to be the greatest earthly good

Scot McKnight points out in his stimulating book, The Heaven Promise: Engaging the Bible’s Truth About Life to Come, that many of the most engaged, active Christians in this world were also the most heavenly-minded saints. The two mindsets are not necessarily mutually exclusive at all, in fact the more vivid the vision cast in one’s mind of the promised world to come, the more longing for “God’s will to be done” even now “on earth as it is in heaven.”

I’ve been listening again to Michael Card’s wonderful album on the book of the Revelation: Unveiled Hope, and am encouraged that something much better, indeed the fulfillment of all that is good is coming when heaven and earth become one at King Jesus’s return, what Scot McKnight calls “Heaven” (the word, capitalized). When we look at the world now, listening or watching the news, we can easily be tempted to despair. What progress we do find is tainted with failure, yes with sin, with wrong doing out of untoward motivation coming both from systemic evil as well as wicked hearts. I use the word, wicked, warily. There is clear wickedness at work in our world today, which any of us wouldn’t have any trouble identifying, but there is also the wickedness or evil in our own hearts, which can violate the first and greatest command to love God with all our being and doing, and the second like it, to love our neighbor as ourselves. So that the only love left is love for one’s self and for the idol, be it money, or something else.

Christianity’s goal certainly isn’t eventual non-existence through loss of passion. Nor is it escape from this life even through an apocapalyptic ending, as in the end of the world as we know it. We do long for the return of King Jesus when the full salvation comes, yes, through necessary evil being rooted out of this world. Any Armagedon is actual judgment on humans in letting them do battle in what will amount to a terrible debacle. The new order to come in will be nothing short of new creation in the kingdom of God to come in King Jesus.

In the meantime, even as we look forward with longing for Jesus’s return, we seek to do the works of God now, which will somehow be carried over into the new world to come, but which begin even here and now. The new creation is present in its beginning and heart in and through Jesus, through the gospel and the church.

And so, we’re not going to be satisfied with any constitution or government of this world, even of that which we might think may be ideal for the present time. We long for more, for much more. And we long to see its beginning more and more implemented in this life, to help the poor, and to bring in salvation for all, a salvation which is as pervasive in its scope as the God who gives it.

the futility of pursuing paradise in this present life

This post will easily be misunderstood if it is thought to mean that every effort shouldn’t be made to help the poor across the world to a sustainable life, or help the poor to get on their feet in this country. Of course we want to see policies in place which help the poor, nor do I think that such efforts are futile.

What I’m getting at in this post is the notion of achieving a more than less ideal existence in this life, the ideal possibly being good health and plenty of wealth in a well ordered society, and here comes the key point: free of trouble. Trouble is endemic to this life and of course it takes multiple forms. It seems that this life is not meant to be free from trouble, not the least of which is the aging process, which while it may include good health (but usually with some challenges along the way in regard to that), inevitably ends in death. There’s no escape from death in this life, as we all know, even if our culture helps us avoid that thought in large part.

Part of the problem in pursuing the best possible life in this present existence is the fact that not everyone will agree just what that life should be. A simple example: many people think there’s nothing better than a fire pit where wood can be burned in a nice family or friendly gathering. While there’s the science, not necessarily real hard and established well yet, which insists that the smoke from wood fire especially from wood insufficiently dried out of the sap and substances in it, is quite toxic to humans, especially those who may suffer from chronic conditions (like asthma) already, as well as a danger to the healthy in the long term. That is just one of many more examples.

But the fact of the matter is, simply by living in this world, even natural causes like underground radon, present everywhere, but especially strong in some areas could contribute to our death. And we live in an existence in which evil is present due to the choices or lack thereof of people. So that much harm can take place. The latter is especially something society needs to focus on without neglecting the former. In fact the former can impact the latter such as the problem of climate change due to the greenhouse gases the human enterprise has spewed into the air since the beginning of the industrial age.

There can be no such thing as a trouble free existence in this life, free from all toxins and all dangers. Not that we shouldn’t do our best to mitigate such things. But as followers of Jesus, we should do our best to lay down our lives for Jesus and the gospel. And in terms of the gospel, seeing God’s saving message in King Jesus and God’s grace and kingdom come to him make its way to the poor as well as to the rich and to everyone else. And to see something of the promise of that gospel, that good news begin to be fulfilled, yes, even in this present life. While at the same time we realize that the perfection for which we hope will not come until our Lord returns. So that we’ll always be praying the prayer the Lord taught us which includes the petition: “Deliver us from evil.”

And so our hope is not for some idyllic paradise in the here and now, although we want to see society moved more and more in that direction. But knowing that sin and death in this life will inevitably undermine and to some extent overthrow such good attempts. So that the salvation we await is in our Savior, the Lord Jesus, a salvation not only for us, but for the entire world.

“add to your faith goodness”

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

From our modernist heritage we put the emphasis not on virtue, but on knowledge. One would think by now that we would understand that knowledge alone does not make one better, or the world better. It is of course what we do with that knowledge which counts.

I am one who likes to know as in learning as much as I can and there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that. Notice the passage itself lists adding knowledge right after goodness. It is important and sometimes despised in reaction to our Modernist, Enlightenment world. Of course knowledge needs to be couched in the right context. Here it is couched in the context of of God’s divine call and enabling in and through Christ. The entire list is instructive for us. In fact rather ironically to read and consider such a list is toward knowledge, or an intellectual understanding of the same. But that does little good unless goodness accompanies it.

The heart of the matter in the life in Jesus is to live a life of love, of course in terms of our calling in Jesus. The world won’t necessary see all that we do and say with reference to that calling as good. For example Jesus is our king, and earthly masters have no total absolute authority over us. That’s not going to sit well in many places. And our confession that Jesus is Lord and the way to God along with the confession that there is one God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is not going to be tolerated in some places. While there is indeed significant overlap in the goodness referred to here which Christians are to live out, there are some significant differences as well. What is crucial is that our lives are pleasing to God and that people have nothing justly bad to say about us.

We don’t stop at goodness of course (and the list is not strictly speaking sequential, though I find the order in some ways possibly suggestive), but we add the rest of what is on this list to our faith as well. And so we in Jesus should be known for our goodness in and through him.

 

doing what is right and good regardless

What about the hurt and the difficulties we face? Sometimes we could easily withdraw or fly off the handle maybe by a word not in season.

No matter how we feel and how we express that to God (see the psalms) we do well to do what is right and good regardless. Yes, even in all of our weakness.

Sometimes the needed sense of grace and well being that accompanies that seems absent. It may be that we are simply overwhelmed with this or that emotion. We do well to lay low and reach out to others in love. To humbly take the low place. And to guard what we say. Especially reactions. Certainly we will need to guard our thoughts. Better, to ask God to guard our thoughts and our ways. That we may be pleasing to him in and through Jesus.