avoiding a destructive divisiveness

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.

Titus 3:9-11

Just open your mouth nowadays and you’ll be controversial. There’s not much room for discussion or taking into account the complexity of anything. It’s black or white; you’re either for or against. And that actually does push people into a corner to have to decide that way, when so many issues are complicated and open to different interpretations.

It’s hard to know when to speak out, and when not to. The church as a whole does well to stick to the gospel and avoid divisive matters such as politics, while being willing to address moral issues, but in a way which does not support one political party or another. And that takes plenty of wisdom, but it’s worth the effort.

I wonder, and am inclined to think that some Christians can and should speak out in ways which might tip their hand as to how they think politically, even though there should be no doubt as to where their prime allegiance lies. There were prophets in the Bible, and I’m especially thinking of the Old Testament, who decried what was happening in society, especially the evil being done by God’s covenant people against the poor and downtrodden.

One thing for sure: We need to avoid a divisiveness which detracts from the gospel. What we are about and here for is to see the gospel impact people’s lives, and hopefully the world at large. And the gospel itself is the power of God for salvation to all who believe. Any stands we take publicly as Christians, and especially as the church should be for the faith of the gospel. Anything less than that is detrimental to the gospel. For the gospel might include work done to influence or even undermine what is being done politically. But we should aim at it being a gospel work, not something that merely we ourselves do.

Much wisdom required; more than we ourselves have. But given to us preferably together by the Spirit in and through Jesus.

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the upside to being down

Job is a book that is hard to figure out, unless one reads it superficially. You might just pass over it, shrug your shoulders, and go on, which I think to some extent I did for years. But that changed when we had an in depth group Bible study at a church some years back. I had a different view and understanding of it after that.

I take it as a wisdom story, which whether just a story told, or something which actually happened (and I don’t think the rest of the Bible, including Jesus’s words determine that) rings true in ways that mirror the complexity, indeed consternation of life. There are no two ways about it: Life often makes little or no sense to us so that in the end, we have to trust all into the Creator’s hands, while realizing that we aren’t capable of tracing God’s paths or fully understanding his ways.

I love the book of Job, because there’s a unique wisdom to be drawn from it, not readily apparent or received by us, which actually requires the work of a lifetime. Of course the other wisdom books have their unique contributions they bring as well: Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, and we can include Song of Songs, and even the Psalms.

Job was as down as a human can get, with the exception of our Lord in his partaking of the cup of suffering. I think those of us who are older can appreciate the aspect of the story that really when all is said and done, it can’t be happily ever after this side of heaven. Impossible. And that’s after Job’s suffering when a new family was given which really could not replace the family he had lost, but was still just as great a blessing as the first family.

Job certainly had a new appreciation of God, and of himself as well. It was a new humility in view of God’s revelation of his greatness in creation, so vast and quite beyond humans, so that Job realizes he is required to simply trust, both in God’s greatness, and as we see from the end of the story, in God’s goodness as well. And surely it speaks to the limits of this life, and the hope of the life to come.

Job probably reminds me of a favorite biblical book of mine, Ecclesiastes, since it is not an easy book to pin down, indeed its meaning to some extent can allude us. And that means that if we’re wise, we keep coming back for more.

One basic I think I understand now from Job is that there’s an upside to being down and out, to being at a complete loss. That is when we can find what we otherwise never would: a trust and hope in God which goes well beyond anything we can understand and comprehend in this life, and perhaps even in the next. We simply know in the end that all will be well. And that we’re to work at understanding what we can, and leave the rest to God. A part of what faith in God involves in an existence in which all of our questions might only expose our lack of understanding. The answer in which we by faith now begin to live, in and through Jesus.

needed wisdom for the times in which we live

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

James 3:13-18

If there was ever a time more fractious in my lifetime, it might have possibly been in the 1960s when there were protests, riots and cities burning. But my vote for the most troubled times in our society is right now. And I would like to say that not a few of us are on the edge, and easily pushed over in our unguarded moments.

There are no easy, simple answers to the impasse in our society right now. It took quite a while and incrementally to get where it is today. For any lasting change for the better, it will take time and plenty of work.

We can argue the merits or demerits of the present division all day, and it probably will do little or nothing to help. There are actually some of both. Dangerous, yet remaining problems which are out in the open. What is needed more than ever is wisdom, pure and simple. The wisdom James speaks of here.

There is plenty to be upset over, and neither side in the debate today is without fault. And we Christians have been drawn into it, with vehement words spoken on both sides. Many white evangelicals almost invariably vote a certain way for biblical and political reasons. Then a few vote the other way for biblical and political reasons, as well.

What is needed today, perhaps as much as ever, are people who actually embody the wisdom James speaks of here. It’s not a matter of seeking wisdom and then getting it, although that certainly is important as well (James 1). But it’s a matter of actually being wise. And that requires commitment over time. But in the meantime, we can work at being as wise as possible, drawing from God’s wisdom in scripture (see Proverbs) and in Jesus.

Let’s pay close attention to what James is saying and getting at. Memorizing it would be good for the purpose of prayerful meditation over it.

What is needed today and any day is God’s work in drawing people to Christ to become his disciples, no less. It’s not so much the preservation of society, though that’s important in its place as well. What’s at stake is not only our witness, but both the temporal and especially eternal good of others. And God being glorified and made known through Christ. So that this time is an opportunity by faith to see God at work for good, and especially to see people drawn to Christ to become his followers. In and through him.

continuing on in the faith

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:14-17

These are troubling times. So much strife. It would be bad enough if this was confined to the world, but what makes it far worse is that we Christians are involved in it on all sides, with differing views. And often with a certainty as if we are the voice of God.

I have my own opinions and convictions, as well. But there’s a lot that I don’t know. The older I get, the more I realize that. I think one of the best answers to many questions is one that Eugene Peterson was said to have been accustomed to give: “I don’t know.”

But what we do know by faith, we hold on to, namely, the truth of the gospel, and veracity of God’s word. We don’t pretend to have all the correct interpretation, nor do we equate our theology with God’s word, at the same time believing in the faithfulness of God through the Spirit to teach the entire church the essence of the good news in Christ.

We continue on in what we’re convinced of. Even while we seek prayerfully to apply the truth of the gospel to all of life, and wisdom from the word, even for the hard questions that remain. And we do that best together in and through Jesus.

the serpent or the dove?

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

James 3:13-18

Sometimes I wonder if it’s the serpent or the dove that’s influencing my thoughts, which can then impact my actions. Actually it’s not that hard to tell. Beginning with just the effect it’s having on me, whether thoughts filled with what’s good, or dark despondent despairing, or something else not good.

It doesn’t matter at all what we say if our lives don’t back up our words. In fact our lives need to be in order first, really, before whatever we might say means anything. This passage in James follows Jame’s stern, relatively drawn out words on the danger of the tongue.

It is the person we’re becoming by God’s grace and the Spirit through Christ that is important. Little else matters besides. That will make the difference needed in our lives, and through our lives into the lives of others. In and through Jesus.

the Bible and the news

John R. W. Stott is one of the favorite evangelical writers during my lifetime for good reason. And one of his books, Between Two Worlds, speaks of holding the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other, so to speak. He used to go with friends to films and afterwards discuss them together. The idea is that we need to keep in touch with the world, really try to understand it, even in a sense be immersed in that, while remaining in God’s word day in and day out.

I think this is probably more challenging today, given the polarized world in which we live, in which media outlets give entirely different takes on the same story. It’s not easy to find outlets which give someone a basic understanding of what’s happening without interpretations which add meaning beyond what might really be present. Editorials to give insight have their place. But basic, straightforward reporting, and allowing divergent voices to have their say is essential.

And that’s especially important for me, given my limited time. I rule out medias which shout or sensationalize. I want civil conversation, and discussion of issues, indeed dialog. That is challenging nowadays, since it seems like people gravitate toward the former, and seem bored with the latter. Nevertheless, that is the track especially we Christians should insist on. As we try to sort out what is really going on, and discern what underlies that, and what stakes are involved.

When one remains in the word, and keeps reading all the way through it, one will see that what happens in society is indeed important to God. The Bible isn’t just about me and God, period. But it’s about God and us, me included, God and the world.

So I try to keep tabs on something of what’s going on, and sometimes offer my thoughts on it, though not on this blog, as a rule. From listening and reading myself, and from considering the thoughts and wisdom of others. While all the time wanting to major on God’s word, remaining in that. Knowing that God is at work in my life, in our lives together, and in the life of the world. In and through Jesus.

 

not crossing certain lines

…train yourself to be godly.

1 Timothy 4:7

I think one of the most important things even we older Christians can do today is to train ourselves to be godly. What godliness means might to some extent be up for grabs, since different theological schools will emphasize different things. Really godliness is beyond us, both in really understanding it, and certainly in applying it. We have the Spirit along with scripture, the word, and the church, particularly those who are examples to us in this. Only God can give us light in both helping us see, and be changed, as we are enabled to walk, or live in the light in Jesus as found in scripture.

Here in the United States, we live in a precarious time. Much division and even some hate seems to more and more embed itself and even mark our culture. And we Christians are not above being taken into it and yes, becoming a part of it. It is hard, because there are certain issues that we feel strongly about. Abortion, and then depending on our views, other matters as well. We need to apply scripture and the gospel to critique our views. There are some matters that people will end up disagreeing on, including Christians with each other.

What we need today is the discipline to stay on track, and not get off onto rabbit trails which end up not helping anyone at all. Addressing certain matters such as injustice, and being “pro-life,” along with other contentious issues like environmental stewardship, even government, the church and state, etc. We also need to determine that there are certain lines we simply won’t cross, along with the discernment to know what those lines are.

More often than not the best wisdom is simply to remain silent (Proverbs 17:28). To listen, to gather our own thoughts, and above all, to seek God’s wisdom with others. And to keep doing that. To learn to be reticent to speak. Then God can help us to know better just when we should and must speak out. But our emphasis must always be on Christ and the gospel and never on anything less.