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.

Advertisements

Billy Graham: a faithful servant of Christ

Christianity Today has an excellent issue on the life of Billy Graham. I consider it a must read even if you’re just into US history, because of his often intimate relationship with twelve US presidents. And all the more so if you’re a Christian, especially with spiritual roots in God’s working through Billy’s ministry.

Between my mother’s witness and prayers, and the preaching of Billy Graham, the Holy Spirit brought deep conviction of sin and conversion of life through the new birth. And I am indebted to the ministry of the Mennonite church I was raised in, as well. I used to not want to hear Billy’s preaching, and yet I was captivated by it. I came to Christ, committing my life to God because of his death on the cross on that October afternoon in the milk bottle wash room at the dairy. And I more or less knew then, and know even more now the powerful impact of Billy’s preaching of the gospel on my life through the work of the Holy Spirit.

If Billy was active in ministry today, as he was for decades, you can be sure that he would not be known as either a Republican or  Democrat, liberal or conservative. And fundamentalist churches of varying degrees refused to participate in his campaigns because he would partner with Catholic and mainline Protestant churches. I remember all of that well. I believe Billy was right, and we have good fruit from that, as well as other roots contributing to God’s work in that, I think of the writings of Karl Barth, and the Second Vatican Council.

I am thankful to God for the life and ministry of Billy Graham. And I look forward to meeting him someday. Until then, we want to press on by the same Holy Spirit, and be faithful to Christ and to the gospel, to the very end. In and through Jesus.

thinking God’s thoughts after him

I was merely thinking God’s thoughts after him. Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it benefits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God.

Johannes Kepler

I love this thought attributed to this German mathematician and astronomer, even theologian, “a key figure in the 17th-century scientific revolution” (see Wikipedia article). Here is what he wrote where the above quote might have come from, although I don’t think that lessens its thought:

Those laws [of nature] are within the grasp of the human mind; God wanted us to recognize them by creating us after his own image so that we could share in his own thoughts.

Kepler’s Christianity

I know for myself, I can easily become confused in my own thoughts, although I have long since abandoned any belief in their benefit, except insofar as they are latching onto, and derived from God’s thoughts. And where can we find his thoughts except both in the book of nature (general revelation) and in the book of scripture, called God’s written word (special revelation). Not to say that we can’t find something of them even in humans who don’t acknowledge or know God, since they are created in God’s image. But we want to go to the source. So I seek to think something of God’s thoughts after him.

That is my only hope to get through and past what amounts to the confusion within the labyrinth of life, and the deceptive lies of the enemy, which we as fallen, broken humans are all too susceptible to. And so I make it my aim to be in the word as much as possible, throughout my days (and nights), as well as taking in God’s beauty in nature/creation, which I have not done nearly enough in my lifetime. Sleeping Bear Dunes is just one place in Michigan where we live, which helps one do that. I receive a lot of this general revelation through listening to classical music which gives us something of that through humans created in God’s image. And for me again, it’s a necessity for me to try to find and get immersed into God’s thoughts, rather than get literally lost in my own.

Psalm 19 is a beautiful encapsulation of all of this:

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring forever.
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
and all of them are righteous.

They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the honeycomb.
By them your servant is warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 19

 

humility and truth

Under our Modernist Enlightenment influence, we view truth as something verifiable, but rather open ended, and with both the objective and subjective sides. But it’s something we can more or less measure in terms of human observation. And there’s a grain of truth in that through creation. The Postmodern emphasis is on the subjective, and what we can’t really know, and how we really have no moorings except what might well be “true” for ourselves. And there’s actually some truth in that, as well.

The Biblical take is in a sense to equate humility and truth. Pilate asked Jesus skeptically, “What is truth?” Jesus had told Pilate that all who are on the side of truth listen to Jesus. We can say for our purposes here that truth is that which corresponds to reality, in other words, truth is that which is true. And humility is the acceptance of reality. But there’s more. At the heart of this in the Biblical take is the acceptance of God as the truth, Jesus and the gospel being the truth, and that truth revealing the truth about all else, especially ourselves, and our own need. We are exposed in that light of truth, and either in humility accept that verdict against ourselves, or in pride resist and reject it.

Both humility and truth are something we should seek (Zephaniah 2:3). We find it through the gospel, the good news of Jesus. And this is ongoing. It’s not just a one time entry point, when we find it and have arrived. No, we have to keep after it all the rest of our lives in and through Jesus and the gospel, because we are ever so prone to wander into pride and the subtle (and not so subtle) lies that accompany that.

looking at the old world with the vision of the new world

I was listening to N. T. Wright, thoroughly enjoying his talk entitled, Speaking of God in a Confused World. It makes me wonder just how and why we Christians see things in the present the way we do. And we’re all over the place on that. What I like about N. T. Wright’s critique is that he helps everyone see the much larger picture, so that the scuffles we are in appear to be not as significant as we make them. Or so that we can see better to understand just where our own blind spots might be.

Right now, with another mass school shooting, many Christians are crying out for government action with rebuttals from other Christians citing abortion as the great evil. Ready access to semi-automatic guns has a cult following here in the United States, but arguably is appreciated by those who just like guns, and certainly are not dangerous themselves. But it seems apparent that the more the guns, and the more ready access to them, the more gun deaths there are. And the insistence that Christians need ready access to them to defend their loved ones and others, as well as themselves, seems to fly in the face of what Jesus taught and lived out. At the same time abortion has to be seen as an evil itself. The best way to approach it in the United States might be to work at reducing its underlying causes toward the day when abortions would be no more. And having such a groundswell of grassroots support for overturning Roe v Wade, that eventually that day will come. These are only two evils of the day, another being how African Americans continue to face discrimination and marginalization on a large scale. There you have my own opinion, and there are numerous other things for us to sort through if we have the time and believe it to be helpful to do so.

The big question might be just how we look at this old world destined for judgment in light of the new world to come, and already present in Jesus within and out from the church. When you break it down, that is not nearly as easy as it might look. There are the Reinhold Niebuhr realists all the way to the Anabaptist (with others) Sermon on the Mount followers of Jesus. And within those two camps, there’s some variance, and certainly variety in between. Trying to break it down in this matter is a human construct for sure. We need to keep going back to scripture again and again, and ask the difficult questions in the real world, not thinking we have to come up with hard, fast answers.

Perhaps the best way to approach this is to recognize that there’s both a division as well as overlap between the two worlds. We can think of that in terms of creation, now fallen and broken, and new creation, present already in Jesus, but not yet in its final state when heaven and earth become one at his return. The question for believers and followers of Jesus becomes just what our role in the midst of this is, both in general, and specifically in terms of what we might be able to do, as well as what we shouldn’t do. That is where the debate would lie, and where Christians, even within the same church might vary. But it’s a problem and issue we can’t avoid, unless we see the gospel and scripture as not really addressing any of it. We have to use our God-given minds for understanding and wisdom, and keep working at it. But with an emphasis always on our primary calling as God’s people: devotion to Christ and the gospel. Which is for the world’s salvation, but never a part of this world in terms of its origin. But hopefully helpful for the old world. With the hope always lying in a better world to come when Jesus returns, the beginnings of which are already present through the gospel and in the church, in and through Jesus.

difficult changes

Sometimes different plans and policies are put in place which are difficult one way or another. Change is hard. We may be so used to a certain pattern or way of doing things over the years, that all the sudden to have to drop some key element for whatever reason, even when the change had little or no direct bearing on what that was, is a challenge. Both in terms of actually doing it, and most especially in our attitude concerning it.

That’s when we should look for the silver lining, for whatever good might come out of it, some of that probably unforeseen by us. Not being in a gloom and doom mode, but rather, being upbeat about it. Even if that’s only because we’re committing it to the Lord. Sometimes God has a way of breaking in, which makes little or no sense at the time, but might be more understandable later. Or maybe not.

Just the same, we need to accept everything as from God, since nothing happens in life apart from God’s sovereign hand, either directing the change, or permitting it. We should be looking for the good that can come out of it, instead of dwelling on what we’re missing or have lost because of the change.

Of course I’m not referring to any call for change which contradicts God’s known will for us as given to us in scripture and from the gospel. Then we should make our appeal, be patient in prayer, and if turned down, seek for the discernment needed to know what to do, and what not to do. And never compromise our faith in the process.

Admittedly difficult, but all part of the call to faith that we have in Jesus.

becoming aware and remaining silent

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.

Job 2:11-13

Good start, but bad ending for Job’s three friends. Actually a good ending, considering that God had Job pray for them in the end. The fact that they sat with him in silence for seven whole days is exemplary. But what we can see from the rest of the book is that likely during those seven days their hearts and minds were stirred with thoughts for their words, essentially diatribes against Job, which followed.

Of course we wouldn’t have what turns out to be a long wisdom book without their sayings, and Job’s reply to them. It’s almost as if that dialog becomes what’s important, and especially God’s answer in the end. Not really giving Job an explanation, but instead, what Job really needed. But at the same time exonerating Job, while rebuking Job’s three friends. Interestingly, the young man who said something before Job spoke, is not corrected by God, unless one might say that he kind of anticipates God’s answer, yet even if he thinks he’s above Job’s friends, does seem to faintly echo them.

Job is actually a great book, even if puzzling and troubling on a certain level. My favorite group Bible study was one we had going through Job. It is more like an exercise in humility, rather than finding answers to help us through life. But that’s the point. We need to be silent and still before God, not just in regard to ourselves, but also concerning others. Rather than think we have all the answers based on our theology and understanding.

Does that mean we don’t try to understand the plight of others? I don’t think so. It might mean that in doing so, we try not to lean to our own understanding of even what we believe from scripture, but instead, actively lean on God. Much in our understanding might be true, as was the case with Job’s three friends, but like them, misapplied. We need to be in prayer, ask questions, and investigate. And never think we arrived to the final answer.

Of course the final answer in scripture is the gospel: God in Christ reconciling the world to himself and his good will and purpose. And that applying to every situation in some way, believe it or not. But still holding everyone accountable to accept in faith God’s word to us in Jesus, and specifically in Jesus’s incarnation, life, teachings, death and resurrection, along with his ascension, the pouring out of the Spirit, with the promise of his return. That is God’s answer to everything, which in itself is not simplistic, but points toward the completeness of the gospel itself.

So although Job’s friends did have a lot of knowledge in the way of theology, they lacked wisdom in applying it. Just the same, it is the inspired word of God, and is a case in point of how the parts as in the responses of Job’s friends need to be seen within the whole, and help us at least begin to appreciate what otherwise we never would. Job answers his friends who don’t let go, but answer back for awhile. And then God answers. All of it is instructive and important in its place.

This is a wisdom book, and unfolds in such a way as to simply make us aware of our need of God rather than some textbook answer which we can write down, and then carry out. Not that there isn’t instruction throughout, and especially in what God tells Job in the end, which really amounts to helping Job see that when it’s all said and done, Job can’t understand what only God can. And his friends failed to speak the truth about God, unlike Job, who at least was seriously wrestling with God over his disaster and the dilemma that followed. And in faith received God’s word. All of this now for us, in and through Jesus.