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.

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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.

 

mature thought

Enthusiasm without knowledge is no good;
    haste makes mistakes.

Proverbs 19:2 (NLT)

One of the mistakes I’ve made along the way over the years is to at times jump to conclusions, or adopt a new way of thinking, or talk about something before I’ve thought it through efficiently enough, which includes carefully weighing the source, along with the thoughts of others. Something may seem either promising or good, but upon further examination and deliberation, it might well fall by the wayside.

We don’t like problems unresolved. We at least want to have a patchwork solution in place. All of this instead of being committed to the hard work of trying to come to a better understanding of the issue. And as another proverb says:

The first to speak in court sounds right—
    until the cross-examination begins.

Proverbs 18:17 (NLT)

We have to learn to wait and weigh things, and in that process, listen to others. Some things won’t matter as much as others, and may require a decision on our part before we really feel well enough prepared. But those are the kind of things where some trial and error are part of the equation. There are other matters that in their nature are too sensitive and consequential for us to experiment with. We will make some mistakes along the way, even in such matters, but we do well to take our time, and then own the degree to which we hold to any proposition. Pointing out what needs to be qualified as for example having an opinion based on the expertise of others.

At any rate, this is one area that I would have done better to follow more closely over the course of my life. Something I’m working on, so that I’ll reflect a more mature thought in days to come with the wisdom God gives us in and through Jesus.

friends

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
    but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Proverbs 18:24

They say women are better than men at relationships and specifically– friendship, and I partly believe it. To think through friendship a little, it might be good to give some definitions or descriptions.

Relationship is how we relate to each other, what kind of communion or fellowship there might be in that. Friendship is a bond people have in which they have something in common, and just seem to get along well with each other.

To be friendly is what ought to characterize people everywhere, though in this broken world one has to be on guard, particularly for children. Maybe we get so used to the guarded reserve around us, we carry that too much everywhere we go. Many of us too are introverts, so that we would just as soon remain to ourselves in quiet and peace.

It is interesting how some of us have a special bond in which our personalities seem to mesh well. A word here to those who are married: Whatever special bond you do have will be tested simply because of the fact that both of you are sinners. You’ll have to work through your problems, be sorry and work on change when you hurt each other, and be committed in that way to each other. Other friends don’t have the weight of living with the other 24/7.

There is no doubt that we need friends. Maybe that’s in part why people are on social media all the time, which actually does not lend itself well to being friends, and actually hurts real friendship in the process. Do I need to mention people together wherever, looking at their cell phones?

Loyalty through thick and thin is what will characterize a true friend. They are there regardless, and you are there for them regardless of what they might be going through.

God made us for communion and fellowship, yes, even friendship with God, and with each other. We need not despise or set aside a friendship which seems weak and lacks depth. Maybe it will grow. People need friends, and a little bit of friendship can go a long way at times. There are those friendships which seem special, with a depth to them to which there seems to be no end. Just a glimpse of what in large part we were made for, and what will be completely fulfilled someday in and through Jesus.

trying to catch one’s breath

Sometimes life comes at us hard from several directions, rather than the steady hum we may have become accustomed to. Or perhaps it is just crazy from one source. There is no question that life can become hectic at times for a number of reasons.

Recently I was driving through an area I’m not used to, and had to stop behind a school bus. Afterward I went forward to get to the light, which I don’t think was that far away. But I had failed to notice the yellow flashers on, and was picked up for doing 40 miles per hour in a 25 mile per hour school zone. That was a pretty hefty fine, relatively speaking, although the police officer did reduce it to a charge of doing 30 miles per hour, which helped. I thanked him for doing his job, and know it’s important for him to protect the person helping direct pedestrians (I take it) in that zone at specific times. But it made me adopt a new practice of staying in the right hand side and making sure I don’t go over the speed limit, which is a novel idea, since it’s commonly thought that they give you a certain amount over. Though technically they can ticket you for being one mile an hour over the speed limit.

Maybe that will be a helpful event in my life, since it reminds me to slow down, something a friend who was over me at work once encouraged me to do a few years back, so that I to some extent took his advice. And yet some pressure to get things done will inevitably put us in a position in which we have to move at a faster pace than we ordinarily would. One axiom that has helped me is to simply do one thing at a time, and then the next, and the next. And also to try to minimize the hectic, so that one can act purposeful, work hard, yet not be in a hurry. A popular term nowadays is “Don’t work hard; work smart.” Being a bit more old school, I have a hard time with that, because it seems like the application of that sometimes is to not work at all. And yet there’s plenty of truth in it. I often think about how to do what we’re doing in an easier way, because it will likely often be hard, regardless. But to make it easier for more efficient work.

All of that to say, I really don’t have any one good answer on just how we can catch our breath. I do believe we need some good down times of quiet and being in prayer before the heavenly Father. And where we can, it is good to avoid having being in a hurry, planning and thinking ahead so that we can be as efficient as possible. But not being rushed in spirit. That can be a challenge for sure, at times.

Where we can, we need to take the time for needed rest. And for simply being present. A rest which is about knowing others, and especially the One who made and loves us: God. Something I haven’t been all that good at in my lifetime, though knowing God comes by simple faith. So a rest from our own hard labor, and a rest in God, which scripture talks about at various places. But I leave us with our Lord’s words:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

following God’s peace

There are times when we would like to work at resolving issues in a way which seems strongly reasoned and fair. And we are full of words. And actually there might be plenty of truth in what we’re saying.

But if we can look beneath the surface and have some discernment beyond what is obvious, we might find out that there’s more to be thought and said. We need to look for other possibilities as to what is happening and why. At the same time being careful not to put the worst case scenario with reference to ourselves in that case, although being open to any sin of ours which either might be clouding our thoughts (such as pride), or factors into what we’re concerned about.

And above all, we need to seek God’s peace. What might God have us do, as well as not do in the given situation is a good question. Where God’s peace lies, is another important consideration here.

This is all together, since deliberation in search for discernment is ordinarily part of the process that God wants of us as his children, and as such, as those who are responsible and in a certain sense, adults. There are exceptions to the rule when we might not be able to put our finger on why, but we just have the strong sense that God’s peace lies in a certain direction, but not in another.

By God’s peace here, I mean an inner feeling and sense that would be considered mystical. But through Christ by the Spirit, through faith, we can indeed experience this, at times quite strong, at other times, simply present. Ideally it is experienced with others in Jesus. But often enough, it will be experienced only by ourselves. If it’s of God, it should be persistent and prevailing.

This can be especially important at certain junctures of life, when change is in the air, and decisions are being made. We should expect a kind of general peace along the way from God, but I refer here to something stronger to help us either avoid what is wrong, or go in a better direction. In and through Jesus.