worldliness or transformation

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2

From this passage of Scripture, it seems like we’re either conformed to this world, or transformed by the renewing of our minds. There’s nothing in between.

There’s myriads of ways to be conformed to this world, actually no end to it. Anything apart from God’s will is of this world, meaning a world system set as a substitute for God. I wish it was as simple as that. Something of God’s will can break through into the world, but by and large sin is like a gravitational pull, which eventually seems to win out. Not to say good isn’t found. But goodness only flourishes in the transformation spoken of here.

We need nothing less than the renewing of our minds. Unless we are receiving that, then in one way or another we’re being conformed “to the pattern of this world.” The world again is happy to get along as well as it can apart from God and God’s will. We shouldn’t expect much better, except where the light and truth in Jesus make a difference through God’s believing, faithful people. Who themselves are being transformed to know that “good, pleasing and perfect will.” In and through Jesus.

 

what is most basic to us?

I am writing to you, dear children,
because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.

1 John 2:12

It seems like in this day and age, or surely any day and age for that matter, but maybe more so now in some ways, we Christians can forget and come to neglect and even rather think light of basics which are central to our lives as believers and followers of Christ. Perhaps a good example is the passage cited above. We might come to take for granted that our sins are forgiven, and even hardly think of that at all since we’re so caught up in other things.

Right now in the United States Christians are often very much caught up in politics, or maybe something of the culture war, or whatever cause it might be. Some of that might be good in its place (maybe some of it not), but we need to get past the “ho-hum” attitude we often have about what we might call “first things,” and what is beyond that.

We need to live in the world of Scripture, the story that God portrays. And then see everything from that light. And not let the world direct us as to what’s important. And if there’s some overlap between what we think and what others might be thinking, all well and good. But our hearts and lives are on a different course entirely. As we dwell on the basics and go deeper. And refuse to consider basic to ourselves anything else, at least not in comparison. In and through Jesus.

the emptiness of mere earthly/worldly success and glory

Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to heed a warning. The youth may have come from prison to the kingship, or he may have been born in poverty within his kingdom. I saw that all who lived and walked under the sun followed the youth, the king’s successor. There was no end to all the people who were before them. But those who came later were not pleased with the successor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Ecclesiastes 4:13-16

I hear of famous people who die and wonder what kind of legacy they left other than their name in the headlines for this or that reason. And it’s the nature of things to be concerned only about what is happening now.

For something to matter in the present, it should have important ramifications for the future. I think in American history of two great figures among others, probably the two that most come to mind: Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. What they did during their times set important precedent for future generations, for the nation itself. Every person sends out ripples for good or not, or sometimes sadly enough for no good at all, and maybe even evil. One good question to ask could be what one is remembered for. It’s good to have the full picture, warts and all. And in that picture, there’s hopefully some redeeming features which override what inevitable weaknesses there are.

Eternity is not isolated, or like some escape. The present is meant to impact the future (and actually, the future/eternity, the present). If we’re simply set on the present with no thought of the future, then we’re on a bad course. We may even want to be remembered for something great, preferably just good. That can have meaning not only for the present, but beyond, even an eternal impact. Possible for everyone by the redemption in and through Jesus.

 

 

the blessing of being insignificant and worse

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you! For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.

I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.

1 Corinthians 4:8-17

The Apostle Paul’s words to the Corinthian church are remarkable. Those believers were wowed by leaders infiltrating the church who were impressive in worldly ways. And they even compared the true Christian leaders, lining up with this or that one, indicating they were spiritually immature.

I find it a blessing to settle into the notion, indeed reality, that “in Christ” we are quite insignificant as far as the world is concerned. And insofar as the spirit of the age, and worldliness is still a part of us, we can find what we do and are about, quite insignificant.

We might well imagine and think: Of course, Paul was on a special, not to mention, quite dangerous mission. Naturally he was going to be despised. But even that account alone is kind of a head-scratcher. He along with his team were brutally mistreated, hungry and thirsty, in rags, homeless. Wow. The health and wealth gospel surely just took a hit. Paul was indeed the example of what sacrifice is involved in being on mission as Christ’s servant for the gospel. But his word to the Corinthian Christians is that they were to imitate him.

It is a different day and age, but God’s kingdom and the world, as in the world’s system is at heart the same. We may think what we have to do is relatively insignificant, and often not appreciated. And we may struggle ourselves in accepting it, let alone appreciating it. But if that’s the case, then we’re in good company, with no less than the Apostle Paul in his following of Christ.

What if we do have success in the eyes of the world? Does that exclude us from the possibility of imitating Paul’s following of Christ? Not at all. It may be in some ways more challenging, but when we do take any stand for Christ and for righteousness and justice, we can be sure to encounter trouble. We are in a position of blessing those who are putting their lives on the line for the gospel. And there’s no reason why in doing so, that we can’t put our lives on the line for Christ, as well.

This is an encouragement for me, because I see myself precisely as one in a corner, whose life little matters. But that’s a lie of Satan. It does matter, in and because of Christ. Not because of myself, or who I am, but only because of him. Christ makes all the difference. Just as he did in Paul’s life and ministry. In our’s as well, yes, in the lowly, unnoticed, and under appreciated places.

 

let Christians be Christians

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

James 4:1-12

James is a great go-to book for the present day. We have to be careful when we do, about making applications to any present day situation. First of all, as James says elsewhere, we have to keep looking at ourselves squarely in the mirror of God’s word, and keep looking, instead of thinking we have some sort of great application for everyone else.

That said, I think we can together acknowledge our need and our propensity to depend on and be devoted to the world rather than on God. And even find our identity somewhere in the world system, when through Jesus, our identity is in him and God’s kingdom come in him.

I take it that “friend of the world” from James doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make friends with people of the world, nor does it mean we’re not present and active in doing good works. What it does looks like will differ among us depending on our gifts and calling, and our understanding of the nature and extent in which we can be involved. For some Christians, they will be involved in the political process, some even running for political office. Other Christians will not even vote, but will try to be good neighbors, and help in ways they can. And everything in between.

The call here is that we as Christians must simply be Christians. If we’re anything else, all those things must be secondary. For example as a citizen of the United States I would like to understand so as better appreciate the founding of this nation from the ground up in its early decades and beyond. But when it’s all said and done, and I know better than to think that’s not an ongoing endeavor, but always and in the end, the bottom line is that we who name the name of Christ as our Lord, are above and beyond anything else, simply Christians.

That should mark our thinking, words and actions. If the first thing that comes to mind when people think of us is that we’re Republicans, Democrats, progressives, conservatives, or even moderates, whatever, then we should well wonder just what kind of witness in the world we have. And to the extent we’re part of this world order, we’ll partake of its fruit. Note the passage above. Cutting others down who don’t see the light that we think we have is a sad example.

This is difficult, and it’s not like any of us is perfect in it. But this should be our goal. To be Christian, to let our light shine before others, that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. 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.

the culture war and what’s come of it

Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him.

Acts 24:24-26

Usually this blog doesn’t touch on anything political in the worldly, partisan sense, and I have no intent that this post will be an exception. And if it does, then I hope not to tip my hand as to where I might be in what essentially is a spectrum in which good, intelligent people differ.

I am a “baby boomer” and I remember well the rise of Moral Majority. I think in large part it was a response to the Supreme Court ruling of Roe v Wade, a stand against abortion, but also a stand against immorality, particularly against the rise of open homosexuality.

It is my opinion that the church involved in such pursuits as Moral Majority, largely lost its way to the extent it was involved in this. I am thinking of the conservative part of the church, evangelical, in which I was raised. There is the liberal or progressive wing of organized church, which lines up on the opposing side. And the Roman Catholic Church as a whole, on the conservative side, particularly against abortion, though many of its adherents depart from the church on issues such as birth control and homosexuality.

I believe the part of the church which has gone on this path, the path of the culture wars, regardless which side (though, like Christ’s letter to the seven churches in Revelation, there are numerous ways the church can become unfaithful to Christ), has frankly gone off on a side path, and in doing so stumbled, at least as far as its witness goes. We are present for one reason and one reason only: Christ and the gospel. When we give something like supreme allegiance to anything less, then we not only endanger our souls in the process, but the souls of those we are to be a witness to of the gospel.

Paul lived in a different time. No representative democratic republic such as we live in here in the United States. Roman rule was essentially totalitarian, and the Christian message was a direct affront to it, though the gospel had no intention of a rule like that which God has actually ordained in the world. It is a rule based on Christ, and the good news in him, someday to take over the earth in the new earth, but present now by the Spirit in the church.

But Paul cared about one thing, and that was his calling, and by extension, ours today as well: the proclamation and witness by word and deed and life, of the good news in Jesus. Of the world’s need of that good news. And what it means for everyone today. Including all who serve in government.

Interestingly, Paul’s message did impact people in government, and even members of the emperor Caesar’s household. And the impact of the church’s witness was exponential growth, God’s hand in it. Not, I would argue, what we’ve seen in my lifetime.

We need to get back to the basics. Yes, as US citizens we can and should, to whatever extent we’re led, participate in the political process. But we must not compromise our identity in Christ and what that means for the world. In terms of the good news in Jesus which can only begin to be fully understood and appreciated through the pages of all of scripture.

pure religion

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Religion and relationship in scripture actually go together. From the time when people started to invoke or call on the name of the Lord (Genesis 4:26), right up to the present time when we gather in buildings, and partake of Holy Communion, we participate in a kind of religious service led by someone with a liturgy all its own, even if not liturgical in its emphasis. And we’re told in the Old/First Testament that to know God means to help those in need, perhaps getting more precisely in line with the point James is making here:

“Does it make you a king
    to have more and more cedar?
Did not your father have food and drink?
    He did what was right and just,
    so all went well with him.
He defended the cause of the poor and needy,
    and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?”
    declares the Lord.
“But your eyes and your heart
    are set only on dishonest gain,
on shedding innocent blood
    and on oppression and extortion.”

Jeremiah 22:15-17

James echoes something of both the Old Testament wisdom, and here, of the prophets. To know God is to begin to know something of the heart of God. And God’s heart goes out to the poor and displaced. Those who profess to know and worship God must begin to have the same heart for others. Otherwise their profession of faith is empty. Specifically here in caring for widows and orphans in their distress, which can include and group in the same category today.

James, as he does in this short letter, especially in our chapter 3, really focuses on the tongue, our speech, and learning to hold it in check. If anyone considers themselves religious, James says, but fails to keep a tight rein on their tongue, their religion is suspect at best, in fact in God’s eyes, worthless. And they deceive themselves. We often can say all the right things, but fail to follow through with action. And James will get to that in this letter. But that’s not the point here. Rather it’s about a loose tongue which more often than not is quite destructive. And the rest of the letter, particularly chapter 3 informs what James is referring to here.

We should be known as Christians for what we do in helping those in need, not in what we’re saying, particularly when it comes to issues which can end up being critical and disrespectful of others. And make no mistake, such speech can be right on the tip of our tongues. That’s why James says here that we’re to keep a tight rein on our tongues. We have to bridle as in controlling our tongues, and not let them have their way in words which ultimately will be helpful to no one. And even deceptive to us, perhaps in the sense of putting us on the wrong track when we think we’re in the right, though often we should know better.

And to keep ourselves from being unstained or unpolluted by the world. We have to be aware and beware in this regard. We need to develop a humble ability to see through what the world holds dear, mostly by developing a stronger commitment to keep a single eye and heart on what God holds as important for us, individually and together. In and through Jesus.

being willing to take second fiddle and serve

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Luke 22

I have never seen this connection before, and I like how the NIV in its paragraph divisions, brings all of this together in one paragraph. During the Last Supper, of all places, after Jesus told them that one of them was about to betray him, they began to argue with each other over which of them was considered to be greatest.

Jesus pointed to himself as the one who took the place assigned to servants; the more important, or considered greater people, sitting at the tables, being served. But that, because they had stood by him in his trials, he would give them a kingdom in which they’ll sit down and eat and drink, as well as sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

The ways of the world easily rub off on us. We need to take care that we neither lord it over others, or expect them to serve us. Instead we need to appeal to them, and serve them. We especially need to be sensitive to those who have been hurt, and who might easily misunderstand our actions and words. But we also need to be open to the need for rough edges to be taken off of us.

I’m afraid that the world sometimes rubs off more on us, than our way in Christ rubbing off on the people of the world. We end up imitating what we admire. We need to learn to see the beauty of Jesus, and come to value that. And then see everything else in that light. Certainly that’s the way of humility and service. And in God’s grace by the Spirit, Jesus himself can live in us and help us. In fact, because of that, we can become more like him.

That is the key, but at the same time we need to be aware, and when need be repent and become like the little children of the Father in the kingdom, loving and serving each other, and the world, in God’s love, in and through Jesus.

comparing one’s self with others

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.

2 Corinthians 10

2 Corinthians 10-13 was an expose by the Apostle Paul, of false teachers, false apostles. Paul himself did not measure up to their standards. For one thing, he was weak, when they were strong. Paul’s refute of them is classic, and more than memorable words. We must take them to heart.

I don’t have enough patience with those who put down this or that servant of God as not measuring up to their standard. Usually such people have a propensity to look down on others, as if they themselves are above them. They need to humble themselves.

Paul went right after them, not mincing words. The gospel was surely at stake, since these false apostles were attacking the messenger, Paul. But also what was at stake is what it means to follow Christ, and be a true servant of Christ.

A true servant of Christ helps others to focus on Christ and the gospel, and not on themselves, or how great they are. We are servants of Christ, and of God’s word, and through that, of others (2 Corinthians 4).

The right focus is to celebrate the Lord’s working in everyone who belongs to him in whatever form that might take. The most ordinary may be more imbued with the Lord’s voice and power, than the one who has a celebrity status. Our focus needs to be on Christ and the gospel, and on God’s word. And out of that, be thankful for the many gifts God gives. Real spiritual, Spirit-directed discernment will often find the Lord’s voice, presence and power in people who don’t measure up according to worldly standards.

In so doing, we seek to be true followers of Christ Jesus. In and through him, and the gospel.