is our focus uplifting?

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 4:4-9

Taken in context, Paul’s words here call us to a mindset that is uplifting, turning our attention to what in itself is wholesome and good. This has nothing at all to do with “the power of positive thinking,” or even “possibility thinking.” Nor does it have to do with shining our light into the darkness of this world. That will more or less naturally happen wherever we go as the light of the world in Christ. But yes, inevitably as we see the better way, we’ll see that the less better ways, or what we once thought to be good, or good enough must go. So it’s not like one has their head in the sand, either.

Sometimes Christians along with others see it as their moral duty to focus on all that’s wrong, the mess of the world with the goal of exposing and rooting it out, or at least taking a stand against it. There is surely a time to speak and a time to keep silent (Ecclesiastes 3:7b). But one can become completely absorbed in that, totally occupied with it, so that there’s no time to do what we’re called to do in the passage above. I liked what I heard Dallas Willard say online in a talk, that only after one has worked hard all day, and is collapsing should they turn their attention to the news. That might be an overstatement to make a point. It’s not like we’re to ignore what’s unpleasant. But neither should that be our focus. Instead we’re to concentrate on what’s uplifting and helpful to us. Then hopefully that same spirit and practice can help others as we continue to be helped. In and through Jesus.

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what’s our condition?

“The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet:

“‘Go to this people and say,
“You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.”
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’

Acts 28:25b-27

It’s a scary thought, but we’re not above developing a hard heart or seared conscience (1 Timothy 4:2). When darkness seems light, and what is bad seems good (Isaiah 5:20). I think we’re there to a large extent in our society and world today, although it’s surely nothing new except in the forms it is taking. There does seem to be a sea change in terms of morality. A popular idea is that as long as it doesn’t hurt someone else, whatever one does is fine. But that fails to take into account the truth that sin harms us, and through that harm, ends up harming others. Of course nowadays sin is thought to be an outdated concept, just like good and evil. God is not in all our thoughts (Psalm 10:4), and that explains the condition we’re in.

Christians are not exempt. We’re told that we’re to hold on to faith and a good conscience, otherwise our faith might be shipwrecked (1 Timothy 1:19).

There is recovery of sight for the blind, and hearing for the deaf through Christ. He can open our eyes and ears, so that we might hear his voice and follow. And have a spiritual aptitude we can develop and grow in through the Spirit and the word. Christians need to show the way, and we do so in love for God and our neighbor, and in faithfulness to the gospel in our own lives, so that what we do and say can help others. As we are helped ourselves in and through Jesus.

 

the moral fabric of society and the Christian witness

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.

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 2:14-16a; 4:8-9

Philippians is a great (short) book to read and meditate on. Interestingly, Philippi was a Roman military outpost, so at least in that respect, it was quite what we would call today, nationalistic. It surely had the normalcy of cities with city life and its own culture. Paul’s letter is written in that backdrop.

Fast-forward to today, and while we see stark differences, I think we can find more similarities than not. For Christians to live in a kind of exile on earth as ultimately citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20-21) had its precedent in Jeremiah 29 where the people of God were to settle down and live as witnesses of God, hopeful for the true good of the nation where they lived.

Paul’s words on what we’re to think on involve terms that were quite embedded in the culture of his day. What is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, yes- excellent or praiseworthy. Our thoughts are to be on such things. If we embrace politicians and systems that violate these ideals, are we really adhering to what Paul is getting at here? I would argue that we’re not.

Christians can advocate for the unborn, for the protection of minorities, etc., while not lining up with what is untruthful and ugly. We should never have any part in that, or at least hold it at arm’s length. Someone once told me something we all more or less take for granted: “Politics is dirty.” Okay. But that doesn’t mean Christians should get in that dirt, nor look the other way, thus unwittingly participating in it.

And that gets to Paul’s words quoted above, that we’re to conduct ourselves in keeping with being God’s children: in a manner, first with our tongues, in which we’re blameless and pure, without fault in a warped and crooked generation, as we hold on to the word of life: the gospel or good news of Christ, and Scripture in that context. That we’re to be witnesses of the light of the world, Jesus, and not dim the light we are in him is central to what Paul is getting at.

If we care about society, then we can’t accept something less than that. Our main concern by far is our witness, and being faithful to Christ. We hope and pray for the best in this world, and acknowledge its limitations, while pressing for better. And we realize that the one true life is found only in the church through the one good news in and through Jesus.

our politics is hurting our witness (mine included)

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

John 18:36-38a

I’m not sure what to make of the posts I see from Christian friends on both sides of the political spectrum. Often at best there’s a mix of morality and politics. At worst it seems like there’s more adherence to the political party line than there is to truth. Of course that’s my judgment. But when I see Christians line up either on the religious right as conservatives, or the religious left as progressives, I don’t see just an unblinking, uncompromising commitment to unmitigated truth. Maybe they’ve weighed everything and decided on one side or position, or another, something we may often have to do when we vote. And too often then they’ll try to line up with their party’s agenda or platform completely, on every issue. I suppose thinking that the underlying philosophy mirrors their own.

I was raised Republican in an area with an understanding that voting that way was being faithful to Scripture, voting any other way, especially Democrat is not. What I think anyone is going to find is that the politics of this world just can’t be endorsed without compromising something of morality and truth. I find over and over again on every side that when one political party takes a stand against something that’s wrong, while the other party seems to either endorse that wrong, or be blind to it, the party doing well in that is invariably not doing so well on other matters which are of equal importance, or at least matters of justice and mercy. Even if you think your party is doing basically well on everything, that doesn’t mean you should march in lockstep with them. As a follower of Christ, you’re going to have to be willing to take unpopular stands if you’re going to be faithful and a true witness to the Truth and the gospel.

The decisions made in such places are often not black and white to be sure; they’ll have complexity and accompanying uncertainty. In those positions, Christian officials will have to pray and seek God’s counsel and wisdom, listen well, and make the best decision possible. And of course all of us need to pray for everyone in positions of government authority (1 Timothy 2).

Jesus before Pilate makes it clear that his politics are above this world, his kingdom not being of this world since it’s not from it, but directly from God, no less than God’s kingdom come to earth. But as such it’s not of this world which I think is a good rendering since Jesus makes the point that that is why his servants wouldn’t fight to prevent or end his arrest. Instead Jesus said that he was present to testify to the truth and that everyone on the side of truth would listen to him. Pilate in what one can see as up to date right to the present time, lifts his eyebrows, shakes his head- so to speak, and almost protests: “What is truth?”

If we Christians don’t wake up then our witness is going to be entirely lost, or at least significantly diminished. We must speak out with the truth in regard to abortion, racism, helping the poor and dispossessed, violence, caring for earth, and a whole host of other issues. We must be known as followers of Christ, not of any political party or ideology of this world. Bearing witness to the good news in him, not to anything less. And humbly participating as we’re led, in the affairs of this world.

God’s kingdom come in Jesus is not of or from this world, but it is definitely for this world. People need to see the difference in us for one reason only: we are followers of Christ. We inevitably will have different understandings of issues, and how to address them. But that should be secondary to our commitment together of Christ and the gospel. Alas, all too often it’s not. That needs to change. Again we as Christians should not be known as Progressives, Democrats, Conservatives, Republicans, or whatever else, regardless of how we’re registered, or how we vote. Rather we must be known as Christians, true followers of Christ, witnesses to the one and only good news for the world in him.

get blunt

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Matthew 16:23

Peter had just made the God-received pronouncement that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Son of God, and Jesus had just declared that Peter’s name, rock would be figurative for the rock on which Jesus would build his church, in some ways Peter and the apostles, but directly the message of the gospel of Jesus which they proclaimed. Jesus then tells his disciples just what he as Messiah must do: suffer and die. Peter rebukes the Lord. Then the Lord roundly rebukes Peter. Notice that this is not some outsider whom Jesus is seeking to win. Yet at the same time when I read the gospels you really don’t have to read between the lines much if at all to know what Jesus is getting at. Jesus is characteristically direct and clear, although it’s certainly always in love.

I don’t think we have picked up much of that needed air. Yes, all we do needs to be marked by God’s grace. We’re as much in need of God’s mercy and help as anyone else. So we don’t at all think or if necessary speak from any position of superiority. We’re all on the same level at the cross. We need to be as gentle as possible. And it can depend on the person who we’re trying to help.

Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

Jude 1:22-23

We certainly don’t want to alienate others. Of course there are those to whom we can’t appeal at all. They may not be ready to receive it, or they may set themselves up in opposition to God and therefore against themselves. Such blunt language should be reserved only for those who can receive it.

Some would say that this is a case of reading scripture and identifying with Jesus instead of the disciples. It should be and/both. We can’t identify with Jesus all the way, but we should be able to fully do so as those who are seeking to follow him all the way.

In any case I believe the lives of many would have been much better served if pastors and churches, those who are spiritual would have had the wisdom to be blunt when needed. To warn others in no uncertain terms about the path they are on or considering.

Read the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, and Luke especially, along with John, and you’ll find that Jesus didn’t mince words with those who were following him. We are blessed if we can both receive such words into our own lives, and then in grace pass them on to others. But bluntly at the right time, not harshly but gently, but with the force and emphasis needed to help the hearer wake up and change course in their thinking and action. In and through Jesus.

fighting the good fight of the faith

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6:12

One of the basic tenets of the Christian life is that we’re in a fight, a spiritual one. It doesn’t take long to learn that, and especially if you’ve lived long enough as a Christian, to be reminded of it. The enemy will challenge us in any way at every turn, though usually in more subtle ways, now and then, here and there, with the intent of crushing us, or getting us to veer off path.

They do this according to our weak points. Basically challenging God’s goodness and promises, and whether or not God loves us, and loves others. They are always challenging that, just like the serpent lied in such suggestions to Eve in the garden.

It doesn’t matter what seems so real to us at the moment if it’s questioning God’s goodness and greatness as in God’s ability to see us through along with God’s willingness. Such a suggestion is patently false, a plain bald faced lie.

God is good, God’s plan for the world is good, and God has shown that in his Son, whom he sent into the world, that we might live through him. And the only way we overcome in this world, and even overcome the world is by faith. We have to believe God’s promises and trust in him. We do that through prayer, earnest prayer, as well as remaining in God’s word. Holding on to faith. So that in the end we might be able to say with Paul, the same one who told Timothy to fight the good fight of the faith:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:7-8

In and through Jesus.

in a world of competing narratives and ideas

All your words are true;
all your righteous laws are eternal.

Psalm 119:160

It is amazing, the diversity in thought more readily apparent nowadays due to the internet. I’m referring to “movers and shakers”, confining that to those with credentials. And even within the Christian world there is enough divergence, which might not seem that great at first, but can make a big difference.

It is probably good for people to engage all of this, and especially Christians. We all have our niche and calling. But we especially need to major on what we know to be true, the truth as it is in Jesus as found throughout scripture. And especially its fulfillment in the gospels along with the rest of the New Testament.

Of course we must be ready to speak out where need be, even when we know that inevitably we’re not going to see the whole or everything clearly, at least not as much as God does. And that we will make mistakes along the way. Surely even Paul didn’t get everything right. Though what he did write in scripture has God’s breath on it, so that it is absolutely true, along with the rest of scripture.

All of scripture is true to the point for which it is given and written: the gospel of God, the good news in Christ. That is what the Bible is: God’s written word pointing humankind to God’s final Word: Jesus. The fulfillment of all of God’s promises and truth are in Jesus.

That is where I go back to again and again. That does soundly critique all else; it’s not as if it’s on a plane where what it says has nothing to do with the supposed real world. The Bible actually uncovers reality. Even within its own culturally set place, a word for all cultures.

Where I start and must finish. In and through Jesus.