in what are our thoughts steeped, and what follows?

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

We steep teabags in water (I, strangely enough, in coffee water) to let the leaves soak in the heat for the brew. Day in and day out, what do we soak our thoughts in?

This passage written by the Apostle Paul tells us to be occupied with that which is good and helpful. It clearly seems to include good from any source, though one has to be discerning, and separate the good from the bad. Of course the emphasis would be on God’s special revelation in scripture, while certainly including God’s general revelation which might well include a Greek philosopher like Plato, and any number of writers or people, not Christians themselves. Again, we need discernment. There is actually much good to gather in from sources which are not explicitly Christian.

I think we know the difference from what is good and what is not. Though sometimes we might become somewhat numb to that distinction. There is much that passes for entertainment and information which at best is questionable and at worst is unhelpful and downright demoralizing. What is especially challenging, though, is that which is couched as good, yet would not fit into any of the categories in Paul’s list above. It is one thing to expose the fruitless deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5). But it is quite another thing to fight fire with fire, to essentially enter into that darkness, ourselves. We can become immune to that which is objectionable, and even begin to participate in it ourselves.

Interestingly, Paul follows up the list of what we are to reflect on with the instruction to do not only as he said, but as he did. His example in his life day in and day out was seen by some who were recipients of this letter which we entitle Philippians. Maybe he was seen by all the believers there, and surely especially so by the leaders of the church. That example is passed down from generation to generation, hopefully, and at any rate, the same Spirit who helped Paul and others to live in the Jesus way, is present to help us in becoming followers of our Lord.

So our thoughts, what we dwell on impacts how we live. Not that this passage is actually saying that, though we know from other passages and in life that this is true. What is fundamental for us includes both what we occupy ourselves with, and what examples we follow. Something we need to concern ourselves with as we seek to live with others and in the world in the full will of God.

where is our place as God’s people in King Jesus in the political process of this world?

Jesus is Lord. Neither Caesar, nor the current world power, the United States is. But since we live in a democracy which in theory is a government of “we the people,” normally we at least enter into the conversation on what is happening on the American political front. But we too often align ourselves on one side or the other, so that we’re known as Christians- not as those devoted to the politics of Jesus and God’s grace and kingdom come in him, but instead to the politics of the right, or the left (or even the center) of the world.

There are all kinds of problems in this, but first and foremost is our failure to grasp that the gospel itself is political, because the good news of God in Jesus is about a Messiah who is King of kings, and Lord of lords, and who reigns somehow in and through the church (Ephesians 1). This reign is destined to take over the earth only when he returns, but nevertheless is present now in a people who are to be marked as followers of the Way in the way of Jesus, the way of the cross, and who live by the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) in the grace and kingdom of God. That may seem like a tall, indeed impossible order, but it is possible by God’s grace, in fact that is to what we are called.

I for one hold not only a certain respect, but also appreciation for the United States of which I am a citizen. Yes, it has its faults as has always been the case, and some of them are quite serious. But in a fallen world, there is much to be thankful for when one can worship in freedom, and have the opportunities granted here. Yes, for some it’s much harder, no doubt. And we have to be careful not to idolize any state, so that we end up making Caesar Lord, instead of giving him the deference due under the Lordship of Christ.

We in Jesus will line up in every way possible on the American political spectrum, surely mostly due to our take on and evaluation of the issues. What we must not lose sight of is what’s most important of all, in fact what we in Jesus are called to live by as his followers and witnesses in this world. In doing so, we can help the kingdoms of this world the way the Jewish exiles of old were to pray for the good of the kingdom where they lived, so that in its prosperity, they too would prosper, of course through the blessing and mercy of God.

We care, but we are different. Read the Sermon on the Mount again (Matthew 5-7) if you doubt that. And read the entire New (Final) Testament, and keep reading it. Of course keep reading the Old (First) Testament as well. The more we do this, the better for our witness to Jesus and the gospel, the good news in him. And the better for the nation where we live. We are citizens of heaven, first and foremost, the heaven that is destined to come down to earth in Jesus, and is lived out now in the way of Jesus. A way counter to, yet for the actual good of the present order of this world. So that we hope for the good of the nation in which we live, as well as the good of all other nations. But live as those whose one Lord is Jesus.

summary of my life (what might be inscribed on my tombstone)

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
    a light on my path.

Psalm 119:105

On our tombstone, my part might have this verse inscribed with a cross, to summarize my life. Not sure what my wife Deb would have inscribed to summarize her life, though the depiction of a horse might be included. And it would be nice to have a verse or something which summarizes Deb and I together. What’s inscribed on a tombstone is really not all that important compared to what is true in our hearts and lives while we are alive.

All I can say is that probably beyond everything else, I’ve been a word person the now more than 40 years of being a Christian. For many of those years I listed to the Bible being read. Now I try to be in the word (scripture/Bible) all throughout the day. In fact I find it to be my lifeline to keep me on track, of course that being the case through the gospel, through Jesus, and scripture itself meant to keep us on track with reference to the gospel, that our lives might be lived in and according to that.

I don’t know what details in specifics will continue to unfold in whatever days I have left in this life. But what has happened in recent years, and even more so now, confirms this track I am on. I am most at home where the word is central and the faith that comes from that word is proclaimed and taught with the goal of living it out.

It isn’t easy, but the alternative is worse. I either continue in the word with the goal of being a disciple of Jesus along with others in the church, or I veer off into my own way of coping with things, which is a dead end just like everyone else’s own way (Isaiah 53:6). And in reality, as I continue in the word, there I find life, the true and eternal life that is in Jesus Christ our Lord.

And so I continue on, plodding away, with others in Jesus. Knowing that our salvation and place is found in him, and that the word in all its challenge and wonder can keep us on track. As we continue in this path in and through Jesus.

what does God bless, and what is the way of Jesus concerning fleeing refugees?

“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”

Exodus 22:21

Yes, the United States is a nation of laws, but any pretense of being a Christian nation should be dismissed on the grounds of refusing to take in the refugees escaping from war torn ravaged countries such as Syria. The issue is compassion and not just for a safe haven, but an assimilation over time into a new country and place, immigration laws in place to expedite that.

If many in this nation believe in a God who blesses those who do good and do his will, and are thinking about the blessing of this nation, then we would do well to have policies and laws in place to show mercy to those who are here, even if illegal, and to come up with a just, merciful plan. When all a nation can do is think about itself, should such a nation expect to receive any of God’s blessing?

There are a number of other issues that many Christians in the tradition I’m in are concerned about and there’s no doubt that such issues need to be addressed. And there are plenty of differences among those who think about what this nation actually is and should be, which can make all the difference in what kind of laws should be in place. But there shouldn’t be any doubt that a nation which has a strong Christian element should be influenced by the gospel accounts of Jesus and the mercy and compassion he brings. One story of his that comes to mind is the Parable of the Good Samaritan, who unlike the Jewish priest and Levi, helped the beaten, dying man on the road.

The church must take the lead in this, in fact that is the one place and entity in which we should expect no less than compassion for the refugees. This should go without saying, but we can all too easily be isolated and insulated from perceived possible dangers, or any thing for that matter, which takes us out of our comfort zone. But we’re called to deny ourselves, and be willing to lose our lives for Jesus and for the gospel. And the gospel of reconciliation is a welcoming gospel, inviting people to Jesus in the offering of salvation to everyone.

This shouldn’t be a political matter; it shouldn’t boil down to the politics of this world. Though in actuality it is about what is aptly called the politics of Jesus. It is rather a moral and spiritual matter. We do good to those in great need; we don’t just leave them for dead. That is costly, but might it not cost any nation much more which turns its back on such? Do we believe in a God who sees and blesses and judges?

But for us in Jesus, and for the church this should not be an issue at all. We do good to those in need, we support them in what ways we can, pray for them, and share the good news of God in Jesus. And we continue to love and help them with no strings attached. That is the way of Jesus, the way that we should take. Even as we pray not just for our nation, but for the rest of the world, and for God’s kingdom in Jesus to at last come with the needed judgment for justice and salvation.

the one politic we in Jesus are to embrace

We might be registered Republicans, or Democrats, or Independents. Or maybe we’re among those Christians like the Amish who don’t vote at all, and therefore don’t need voter registration cards. How we might participate in a national election, and in the politics of this world is not a given, one way or another. It’s not like one has to vote Democratic or Republican or some other party or candidate or even at all to be a true follower of Christ. The one necessity is that we follow the politics of Jesus in God’s kingdom come in him, which means for us the way of the cross in judgment against all the idolatrous pretensions of any nation state. See for a most helpful explanation of that, Politics of the Nations vs. the Politics of the Cross, by Allan R. Bevere.

The Christian answer for the Republican or Democratic or any other party is not the “opposite,” not libertarian, nor anything else at all except for the good news in Jesus which involves not only the cross of Jesus in his death and resurrection for salvation, but by that same cross walking in the footsteps of our Lord. Instead of finding our identity in any politic of this world, our identity already is in Jesus, which means in the most basic sense the Democratic, Republican, or any other party of this world is strictly speaking alien to us. We might tend to vote one way or another based on a number of factors, or again even not at all. What we must beware of and have no part of is to be subsumed into a politic of this world which at its heart cannot and actually is not identified with Jesus. That is in significant part because the way of the world always without exception is going to run against the way of Jesus, and God’s grace and kingdom come in him. The way of the cross in Jesus, as the above link clearly and from scripture points out is not the way of the world. The one is the way of death and resurrection not only in salvation, but in all of life in following Jesus, and brings life. The other is inevitably the way of death in that it is allied to a power that is of this world, and therefore inevitably allied or tied to what scripture calls the world, the flesh and the devil.

Our one answer to the world as Christians and professed followers of Christ is not an affiliation with one political party or another, never. Instead it should be our complete allegiance to God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus. We are at home only there, finding our true identity in this world. Not as “Progressives,” “Conservatives,” “Libertarians,” or anything else. Because the gospel is not just about one’s personal salvation, but about all of life, and it is the one politic with the end of being for God’s kingdom present in and through the grace of God found in Jesus and lived out in and through the church in the world, and in a sense for the world, but never of this world.

faith continues to move on in God’s will

Of course there is a time to be still and know that God is God, to wait on and learn to be responsive to God. Solitude, stillness and silence have their place. And this surely includes the community of the faithful, as well as individual believers. But by and by we must continue to move on in God’s will, what we perceive of it, regardless of how we feel, or what we may be up against. Faith continues to move on in God’s will, come what may, in all its weakness, struggle, and yes, even doubt. We try to get all the help we can along the way: the prayers of friends, breakthroughs in our own lives through the impasse. But when it seems nothing has changed, we must continue on.

Jesus knew his end with the new beginning was near. It wasn’t easy, as we read in the gospels, what he went through on Holy Week. It was nothing less than the way of the cross, the way of suffering and death in God’s will. Of course through that came the glorious resurrection life, full of joy and peace in the love of God. We in Jesus, partakers of the resurrection life even here and now, but unlike him, not yet glorified, are called to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Jesus, by the Spirit to follow his example. Right through the jaws of the enemy, not that we don’t seek to be wise in the face of danger. But of course our battle is spiritual. So that we can’t let the worst of that stop us from simply continuing on. God will help us; all is dependent on God’s grace in Jesus anyhow.

It’s not a matter of God’s grace and human effort, but of God’s grace alone through which humans can make the effort needed. There are times when we have to count on that grace and move on. Yes, in the face of not only the enemy, but of personal defeat and sin. God’s grace knows no bounds. God is not only ready to forgive, but to cleasnse, as we confess our sin to him, and help us go on in his will. Even as Jesus did to the very end, for our salvation and the salvation of the world.

the way of weakness and humility

Amidst all the glitz and glamor of the American popular scene comes the way of Jesus. Completely and totally different. The way of the world, in this case, the American culture, is the way of strength and show, certainly the way of pride. “I’m better than you are, and I’ll prove it.” Counter to that, the way of God in Jesus: the way of weakness and humility. Completely unimpressive to the world, in fact not only weak, but foolish, as well (1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5).

A big emphasis in America is on presentation, on selling one’s self, making one’s self look good and compelling. The way of Jesus is the way of the cross, unmasking one’s self, acknowledging one’s guilt and lack of goodness, and lostness. What it means to be human, to live well is at stake here.

The new humanity found and being restored in Jesus is actually what humankind was created to be in the first place as male and female made in God’s image, and as such God’s representatives, caretakers, and rulers under God in this world. That humanity is being restored in Jesus into something even more in the way of love, the love of the Trinity: no less than the way of the cross, the way of self-sacrificial love even for one’s enemies, even as God in Jesus sacrificed God’s self for us who in our sin are in enmity against God.

The way of Jesus won’t get much traction in the world, and it’s not meant to. The wisdom and strength God gives is in and through Jesus, and comes through the acknowledgement that we are foolish and weak in ourselves, broken in our humanity as sinners. In Jesus through his death and resurrection we find our way to God and toward what it means to be human. In the community of those in Jesus, the church, and out from that in the mission of the good news in Jesus to the world, as we live out together the life which alone is truly life, the eternal life in Jesus our Lord.