what would Jesus do? Jesus is with us by the Spirit

WWJD bracelets used to be worn by quite a few Christians, standing for “What would Jesus do?” That is not a bad question. And in order to try to understand at all what Jesus might do in a given situation, we must certainly be in scripture, particularly in the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And in prayer.

But something that can be missed in this endeavor is the reality that our Lord is indeed with us by the Spirit, that God is present in Jesus. As we seek to hear our Lord’s voice, we should refrain from raising our own voices, or depending on the voices of others. That certainly doesn’t mean that we don’t listen to others, and try to take everything into consideration. But it does mean along with that that we pray and seek the Lord’s voice so that we can somehow grasp something of the Lord’s mind and heart on any given situation.

As Christians, believers and followers of Christ, we are said to have the mind of Christ. But it’s another thing to live by that. Too often we’re moved by our own minds that have been shaped by others who are not necessarily being shaped or moved by God to know God’s will.

Even when we do think we may have something of the mind of Christ, we need to be humble, and realize that we probably don’t have all of it for a given matter. We know in part; we prophesy in part (1 Corinthians 13). Our part might indeed be an important contribution to knowing and sharing in the mind of Christ. We may be getting the heart of the matter completely right. But we need the contribution of others with their different gifts and experiences to contribute to the whole in that.

Something for all of us in Christ and a part of how we’re blessed to be a blessing.

Modernist Enlightenment priorities

At the heart of the American experiment, the United States of America, is the influence of the great Modernist Enlightenment which was sweeping the world just prior to the nation’s founding. It was a break from established authority such as the church into the new world of great human achievement. In a sense, it wasn’t new, having come on the shoulders of the Renaissance and not without some impulse from the Protestant Reformation. Although the Reformation itself may have had some, at least backing, from this wave. One can’t include the Reformation as part of Modernism or the Enlightenment, though the world can influence the church for ill, as has been seen beginning in the 19th century with Mainline Protestantism.

The goal of this post is not to talk about the Modernist Enlightenment of which my own knowledge is limited, but to mention some of the basic tenants of it, which I think have infiltrated our thinking and priorities even as Bible believing Christians, quite apart from the people and churches in Mainline Protestantism who practically deny the truth of the Bible itself, and thus the truth of the gospel.

Autonomy is at the heart of a value we’ve imbibed from the world. It is rooted in certain human/humanistic ideals, to be sure, often more or less universally accepted like the rule of some kind of law based on an accepted form of morality, not far afield from the obligations to humanity in the Ten Commandments, which through general revelation can be more or less found in other moral codes of the ancient world.

Autonomy here means an emphasis on the individual, and on freedom, on individual liberty. Every person theoretically is taken seriously within the accepted framework, and has certain rights grounded in what is called natural law. The idea of individual rights is so pervasive in our society, that it has impacted our worldview as Christians, and affects even how we understand and fail to understand the faith.

Jesus’s ethic, and thus the ethic for Christ followers and Christians is grounded in the call to love God with one’s entire being and doing: the call to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. No longer is one operating from merely individual freedom and rights. Instead one’s considerations our shaped by the necessity, indeed imperative to love one’s neighbor as themselves. It is a community consideration, rather than a mere individual one. It’s not about what I want, what I like, or what I choose to do. It’s grounded in God’s will, what God wants, God’s calling- all in Jesus.

So we do well to step back, stop and think about what drives our thinking and corresponding actions. Are we conformed to this world, the spirit of the age, or are we being transformed by the renewing of our minds into the image of God in Jesus? Whatever that difference might look like in civic life is secondary to what it is to be steeped in: the life of the church in making disciples through the gospel. Something we both become and are becoming, as well as being a light in the world to help others into this same life. A life that is about loving God and one’s neighbor, and laying down all of our rights in the way of Jesus.

the art of critical thinking

There is something somehow in which I think I’m lacking, and that’s the art of critical thinking. Maybe I do think critically, but I tend to do so only when certain buttons are pushed. Critical thinking I would define in a simple way as challenging assumptions by asking questions. It is actually part and parcel of a learning process which is likely rooted to some extent in our western, modern mindset, finding precedent perhaps in Socrates, the Socratic method, from Plato. But the Bible itself is not without something of this method. Job may well be a good case in point, and I think of Ecclesiastes, as well. In the former, God and God’s ways are the focus, while in the latter the focus is life on earth, “under the sun.”

Thinking which is good is beyond the “ivory tower,” and tied to life, to living. We live thoughtfully, or think in terms of life. As followers of Jesus we want our minds to be renewed in God’s image. It has been said: to think God’s thoughts after him. Scripture does say we have the mind of Christ. By the Spirit we all have something to contribute as humans, and part of that contribution comes from the mind. But it will be as different as each of us is different.

It seems that a weakness in some forms of education is the expectation that all adhere to one standard, when the standard itself may not take into account all the gifts which make up humanity. While seeing value in establishing some standard of evaluating education and learning, I am rather skeptical of the outcome. No doubt many do benefit, but many others who I see as equally gifted seem to fall through the cracks. One of the priorities which education ought to set is an emphasis which takes better into account the full range of giftedness in humanity. Just because someone doesn’t like college doesn’t mean that they don’t have an equally good gift which can contribute well to society.  Getting back to scripture, it points to thinking in terms of God’s will in life. One might say the mind or psyche is what drives us, what drives our bodies, how we do this and that, how we live day to day and over the course of a lifetime.

Back to critical thinking. Probably a good philosophy in my book through which to engage the world is something like what is called “critical realism.” It is both mind and life oriented. It takes into account reason and experience, along with tradition passed on from generations gone by. We test words and life itself both in what we receive and observe in others, and by our own experience. This philosophy seems to have inherent in it a healthy acceptance of both the strengths and weaknesses, or limitations of human thinking. How we both can’t see everything that should be taken into account, and how that puts into question to some extent what we actually do see. We have to think and arrive to any conclusions with utmost humility.

We are called to love God with all our being and doing, including with our minds, in other words it is relational at its core. Good thinking in the way of Christ is not mere intellect or high intellectual acumen, or something like high “IQ.” It is no less than a gift from God to be known within the gifts given to the church for living out God’s will in this world, a part of what it means to be Spirit-filled. It is completely dependent on Christ, the way of love in humble service, yes, even the way of the cross.

 

thinking well

While it is true that western thought makes thinking rightly a premium ahead of acting rightly, or with the idea that solving the world’s problems will simply mean a better education, or in essence educating the mind—there is no doubt that thinking well is important in scripture.

But how do we think in a way that is good? It is a mindset toward acclimating one’s self to the will of God for all of life. It is a thinking toward faith and obedience. What one might call pious thinking, or thinking on how to be godly in and through Jesus.

It is prayerful and faith-oriented. Indeed “by faith we understand.” How we think is related to our reflection and meditation on truth for life. Rooted in God’s revelation in Jesus and found in scripture.

Good thinking according to scripture can never be divorced from life. Though within God’s general revelation there is much thinking and pondering to be done which can only leave us in awe of the Creator. Thinking well in this way is to be grounded in God’s general revelation which itself is a large spectrum. All sorts of disciplines can be included in this. “All truth is God’s truth.” So to think well we are open to God’s revelation in general terms related to “common grace” given to all. That does not mean we accept everything purported to be truth. Discernment is needed, again a part of thinking well. Sometimes we will do best simply in acknowledging that we don’t know.

While it’s important that we don’t leave general revelation behind, our chief orientation will be in God’s special revelation which is gospel oriented and leads us to Christ. Our primary focus must be there, and in down to earth terms. Yes, for our lives to be sure, but also in terms of the world and all creation. Found in scripture, and dependent on God’s working in Christ within the church.

Scripture, tradition, reason and experience—what has been called the Wesleyan quadrilateral. I think not in terms of sola scriptura, but scriptura primera. In other words scripture does indeed come first, but what tradition as in the church has said about its reading is indeed important, if not infallible. And reason is important. While I would include experience, related to the words: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

May God help us to think well, even if others around us are not. And to be of the same mind in Christ Jesus in accord with the gospel, even when we will differ in other matters. We need to remember that we now “see through a glass darkly” (KJV) and “we know in part.” This means all our thinking must be tempered with humility. Even as we seek ongoing transformation by the renewing of our mind in understanding and doing the will of God. Together in Jesus for the world.

remembering

Recently in our team devotions at work we were reminded of the importance of remembering, from Peter’s words in 2 Peter. Proverbs speaks to this as well, the importance of taking wisdom to heart and life. We find in Jesus’ words, and in scripture, repetition, surely in part for this very reason.

I am amazed at how I can experience, every once in a while, a kind of life-changing moment through a realization which God seems to be giving me, into nothing less than a breakthrough of sorts. Just as amazing, however, is how a few weeks, perhaps even days later, it seems like I need to learn at least something of that lesson all over again. Somehow I had not kept it in memory and practice. Or else there is the need for further growth and development in that very area.

I think part of the problem is the very nature of who we are as human beings. We are forgetful, and we tend to gravitate back to something of what we were before. Faith tends to stretch us at certain points, and that’s an important aspect of it. But another aspect of faith is the importance of finding a daily rhythm in which we live, and continuing in that day after day. In what we might call a new default position. All the while being open to change, even radical change.

It is interesting how change involves the renewing of one’s mind. We’re not to be conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of our minds. We need to endeavor to grow in our understanding, and indeed to hold on to that understanding. Although it is God who gives us understanding, we need to apply ourselves for this to happen. We’re acted on by God, but we act as well. Along with passivity pronounced at times in our actively waiting on God, seeking God, praying for change.

Maybe a big part of remembering is in how we listen. Jesus mentioned that. He tells us to be careful how we listen. With hearing comes responsibility. It is not a luxury item given to us for our enjoyment, but part and parcel in our growth, in following Jesus together in and for the world.

feeding our thoughts

A friend recently gave me some wise advice in regard to a specific matter which troubled me. They told me that I shouldn’t feed my thoughts. What was meant at that time was that I should not dwell on the wrong that I had perceived had been done against me.

Their advice was sound. But what I needed to do was not only stop the flow of troubling thoughts, but I needed to think my way through to good thoughts even related to that matter. That possibility is set before us, and more than that, is prescribed in Jesus. We know that God works in all things for the good of those who love him. And we also are called to think the best of others. Not to pass any kind of ultimate judgment on them, since God alone can do that. Oh yes, we do have responsibility to hold people accountable to the point that those who profess faith in Jesus yet live in a different way are to be lovingly confronted, and if not responding to personal appeal, and then the appeal of others, are to be disciplined as no longer those who are part of the community of believers, of those who follow Jesus. But in regard to matters like I was wrestling with, only God knows the hearts, and what is truly right or wrong in the matter.

So I chose to remember the good, and also to reject my own assumptions and understanding. As well as choosing to forgive unequivocally all I perceived to be wrong, the person who from my perspective had wronged me.

Paul wrote for us what is key for me in this from God’s word:

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.

Philippians 4:8

And we must not forget the description Paul gives of the love which if lacking, makes everything else empty:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

And we need to learn to think more and more in terms of God’s Story in Jesus, the Story we gather from all of scripture, in all its complexity and wonder. Which means we must continue to work on that. Knowing that the God who is love, and who has demonstrated that love in Jesus, calls us to live in the same love. Even beginning in this life, with all the difficulties and challenges that brings. Not the least being what we bring to the table in our sin and lack of understanding.

That we might more and more by God’s grace live out the mind of Christ together for each other, and for the world.