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.

being with people

One of the best decisions I think I’ve ever made would seem to be on the surface, trivial, and probably counterintuitive to people like me. In the past during lunch at work I would sit with my Bible open, reading my daily portion from the psalms. That was good, and I probably did it for years. But I more or less am in scripture all day, insofar as that’s possible. And while I can well converse with others, the nature of my job, not to mention my own naure, is given to being more than less on the job, not having time to talk much, or listen to others.

I decided to change my routine, one of my realizations being that at least one friend I work with on the team was nearing retirement. This was a fun table, active in conversation, but I suppose not necessarily along the lines I would talk about, if there were a bunch of me-s, or people just like me there, which thankfully there are not. I tend to be rather quiet a lot of the time, anyhow. I won’t forget this table, two guys now recently retired, who I grew to love.

For me the take home lesson, even life changing, has been that we need to simply spend time with others. “Spend time,” a way we put it which makes you think. But God speaks to us through scripture, nature, experience, the gospel, the church, and through people. Scripture itself tells us that, and life will verify it.

And so I developed a bond in a way that I don’t think would have been possible, otherwise. The people came to realize that for me, being with them during lunch was a priority, a new habit, simply what I do. I didn’t just do it now and then, although my memory could possibly be a bit faulty here. But I think I plunged into the change completely.

Being with others is underrated. Good leaders will spend time with the people. The best pastors will pray, read, study, and prepare well for their next message. But they will also spend time with the people of the church. They will regularly hang out with them, and learn to simply be with them over time, not necessarily in any “ministry” context. To simply be with each other can amount to something of the ministry we are called to as Christ’s body, the church, in scripture.

I think too of leaders in other places, like at work. Some are not given to being with their team members. But a little bit of that regularly can go a long way. And with those one might not share much affinity with, and may even want to avoid. A good leader ought to touch base with such regularly, preferably daily, to see how they’re doing, just to make human contact. And simply be with them insofar as that’s possible given time constraints and other responsibilities.

For myself this thought has changed me forever. Both in terms of its impact on me during the last maybe couple years since I made the change and how I want to practice life from now on. Instead of reading with classical music on, which I still love, I would just as soon be with a friend over coffee, or better yet with the grandchildren anywhere, like on a nice warm day out on the playground. I have my little Psalms/Proverbs/New Testament in hand to glance at the next verse with metal clip as a marker. But I want to be fully attentive to them, to be there to watch over them, and help them have fun. Particularly a daring little toddler who makes her way up challenging steps or bars, and needs her grandpa’s help.

To be with others, to simply be there to listen. To not think one has to speak at all for that to be valuable. In fact as a rule it might be better to remain silent, especially on controversial issues like politics. Simply being present. That is underrated, but much needed both for others, and for ourselves. In and through Jesus.

trying to understand different perspectives

Among the greatest needs in the United States on a social, as well as spiritual level is the importance of listening to others, to differing points of view. Politics, and issues which are put into that category is especially volatile, and the real war from all appearance seems to be waged on that front. Some moral issues which have other factors are part of that, along with the need for all sides to have their say. But it seems we’re nearing a tipping point, where there will be no compromise.

There is surely much to say about all of that, but that’s not my concern in this post. My point is simple: the need to learn to listen well to different perpsectives, with no agenda to correct or impose one’s own point of view. And in that process to better understand not only where they’re coming from, but what merits there possibly are, what truth actually lies there. So that we’re open to their perspective actually impacting our own.

In our culture today, such an attitude would seem rare at best. Part of that comes from what appears to be a largely nonnegotiable stance right from the top, meaning from the president, even though his administration appears to be more flexible. There needs to be a mature group which learns to listen well for the sake of the United States, yet which, even in the midst of differences: liberal or progressive, conservative, and whatever else, will hold feet to the fire with reference to the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the Amendments of the Constitution.

While that is important, there is something more important still, a matter which can be addressed only by the church and believers: the gospel, the good news in Jesus, and all the good of that out of God’s love for the world. We believers who live here in the United States and likely citizens of this nation do well to be concerned for the preservation of what is good in the ideals of this nation. But our most basic calling is to live lives completely devoted to Jesus and the gospel. In doing so, one of the first fundamental things we need to do is listen, listen, and listen some more, and say nothing (yet), at least be slow to speak, and simply love. And when we speak, talk about Jesus.

The goal is to win others to Jesus, and help them grow in their faith. Out of that hopefully will come real benefits for the United States, or any other nation in which the church is, but the outcome is in terms of God’s kingdom. As hard a statement as this is, I think it needs to be said: What God is doing with the nations, including the United States is rather beside the point. This is probably especially hard for us, since we’re a democracy, and either legitimately or not, we often have much invested in this nation. But our lives are to be lost for the sake of Jesus and the gospel (Mark 8). Christ is building his church, not nation states. And actually ruling the nations in some way through the church (Ephesians 1).

All of that more difficult stuff aside: We need to simply listen well, and be known as those who listen and love, even as we as witnesses hold firmly to God’s word in Jesus and in the gospel. Together in and through Jesus.

who sets the agenda of our lives?

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

There are many things we could be doing today, probably many we could well say that we should be doing. There is no shortage of the imposed demands and oughts of life, indeed largely a part of our lifestyle as Americans, more or less shared in many other places of relative affluence.

In the story above, the two sisters are often compared: one doing well, and the other not so well. And there is truth in that. But if one backs up and looks at the bigger picture, one finds that the Martha who didn’t do so well, ends up with a faith as strong, one might think even stronger than her sister Mary, in the end. Although only the Lord can sort such things out. Our personalities, gifts from God, and circumstances, and precisely what the Lord is doing in our lives at a specific time, all factor in. So we must beware of thinking we know. For Martha’s faith during the time of their brother Lazarus’s death in a remarkable account, see John 11.

Don’t underestimate the place of rest and quiet, and seeking to listen to the Lord. Busyness and activity seem to be the default of our day, especially work related, things that need to get done. Fun shouldn’t be overlooked, either. But we need to be careful, lest we substitute what God might want to do, and maybe wants us to do (or not do), with our own agendas.

In all of this, we can look for and trust in God’s help in directing us. Especially through the pages of scripture, through the church, and over time in changing us from certain tendencies, to something better. All of this, in and through Jesus.

a simple word

I appreciate people who listen well, and try to say something encouraging and helpful in a given situation. The listening well part comes first, after which they might say nothing, except perhaps pray, or say they will pray. After that, some informative, constructive word can be uplifting, at least checking what might be a bit of a downward descent, giving us hope to not give up, perhaps find the silver lining, or move on and let it go, as well as seek to learn from it.

We need each other, certainly an ecomony in place within Christ’s body the church. We’re very much interdependent; we’re not meant to go it alone. And of course, we are completely dependent on God.

All of this is true, whether we recognize it or not. But it is to our loss when we fail to either recognize and acknowledge that. We need to put it into practice.

Above all, for me, I need to hear a word from God. And what I mean by that is something from scripture, from my daily, even hourly perusal or time spent in meditating on scripture.

Sadly, we oftentimes deny by our actions God’s word, and by that, fail to help anyone else. We need both God’s word to us, and we need to reinforce that word to each other. The book of Hebrews tells us that we’re to regularly, even daily encourage each other. Of course to do that, we must be encouraged ourselves with the encouragement that comes from God through his word to us found in scripture and through Christ.

A faith giving us a hope that enables us to carry on in love, in God’s will in Jesus.

the prayer of examen during difficult times

For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

1 Peter 4

I have been frankly unhappy with the continued tacit and even open endorsement of the Republican nominee’s candidacy for the US Presidency by some Christian leaders. And I’ve accepted as prudent to prayerfully consider recommendations from other Christian leaders to vote for the candidate of the Democratic Party. And Facebook and the media has been caught up in a firestorm.

All of this has given me pause. I’m left wondering, not so much just what we’re caught up in, and where it is going, though considerations over such matters are good, but where my heart and mind is in all of this. Is Jesus really central in this deliberation and exercise of mine? And just what does my reactions to what is going on in the American political scene reveal about me that is not altogether good?

I can’t dig this up myself, even though I need to be attentive to it. I need God’s help, indeed his light to shine on my darkness, so as to reveal what needs confessed, forgiven and cleansed. Of course this is not a once for all exercise, but ongoing. And we need to remember that God’s revelation to us of our darkness is always ultimately uplifting to us, for our good, and to help us be his witnesses.

This is not to put myself or anyone else on some guilt trip. But it provides an occasion and pushes us to come before God in prayer, and ask him to reveal to us anything that is offensive and not pleasing to him. In the tradition of the church what has been called the prayer of examen. And that is always a good thing.

And so that is what I’m hoping to do, as I meditate on scripture and go about my work today (and beyond). Better yet would be to spend some time alone in quietness before God, with this petition and question on our hearts and lips. In the words of the psalmist:

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24

interacting with God

I know this post title sounds incredibly pretentious to many. Even many of us in the church can roll up our eyes and shake our heads over some of the claims our fellow Christians make. Yes, we can imagine God’s voice from our own imagination, even if God can speak to us through the imagination.

What I am getting at here is our need as those in Jesus to regularly interact with God. To keep the lines of interaction, even communication open. It is said that God is always speaking and wants to be heard. The problem is not with God, but with us, with our own blindness and stubborness of heart, or just our own condition and habit of not being in tune in heart and mind.

The good news from that, though, is that our very need and lack can become the means by which God’s grace is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit through Jesus. As we pray to God, even cry out to him about the needs we are concerned about, and there are plenty in this life, God will meet us, if in faith we pray to him and listen. Of course that includes the ongoing need for us to confess our sins to God (1 John 1:5-2:2).

This requires a commitment on our part. We’re naturally wired as human beings to see reality in terms of our experience now. So that unless we have the sense of God now, we feel completely lost. Like the difference between standing in the sun, or being in the shade, or a cloudy day and a sunny day. That analogy actually is apt in more ways than one: God’s presence still a difference maker, just like the sun, in either case. Felt presence, the difference here.

Jesus seemed to live his life on earth consciously in the presence of the Father. He often would get away in early morning hours to commune in prayer with the Father. Then in the course of a day, he would be doing this and that, often preaching the word and healing, along with teaching the disciples, so that he was busy. Of course in his case, though he was tempted to sin, and on the cross even felt abandoned by God (many say, because he was, although I don’t think so), he didn’t have the problem of sin which we still struggle with, and at times fall into, and in a sense live, though God’s grace in Jesus makes it in a way as if we do not.

Yet even that sense of our falling short or great need, including our actual sins themselves can help drive us to God. In the words of the tax-collector: “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” Our great need can work like the thirst the psalmist described as those in a hot, barren land, a thirst for God, to meet God, yes to experience God (Psalm 63).

I know that I am in great need all of the time. I need God, and I need to interact with God, which I do by remaining in God’s word, in scripture. And from that, I pray. Of course we can pray, and it’s good to pray first, but I find that God’s word helps me to respond to God in prayer. And besides that, it’s good just to be silent before God, and especially so, as we continue to meditate on God’s word.

And so yes, I try to remain in a place of interactivity with God. Ironically enough in the rough and tumble of life, I realize my need more for this. Whereas when resting, and having some time to enjoy this or that, especially so during a vacation, it can be more of a challenge to continue this. But when one sees that this is where we in Jesus are to live, that this is real life, such interactivity surely enhances all of life.

And so my goal today, this Saturday, with this and that I need to do, as well as a time of relaxation which hopefully follows is to remain in that interactivity with God, through the word and prayer in and through Jesus.