Hold Tight

I’ve tuned into this station before.

We have thoughts. We should pay attention to our thoughts. But not every thought is true, or good, or beautiful, or worth a second thought.

2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Colossians 3:1-4 says, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

We have feelings and thoughts. Thoughts can lead to feelings, and feelings can lead to thoughts. The wise person is aware of what they are thinking and feeling. And then they evaluate every thought, every feeling, in light of Christ, who is our life.

Philippians 4:8 says, “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.”

We have control over what we meditate on, what we ruminate on. We may not always have control over what thoughts come, but we do have control over what thoughts we hold on to.

Romans 12:9 says, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” 1Thessalonians 5:19-22 says, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.”

If the thought is false, let it drift off into the ether. But if the thought is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy, or good, if it is of Christ, who is your life, hold tight.

Limited Perception

1 Samuel 16:7 says, “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’”

Jeremiah 17:10 says, “I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.”

Proverbs 21:2 says, “All deeds are right in the sight of the doer, but the Lord weighs the heart.”

In Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus says, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”

The fourth citation is often misunderstood as an exhortation not to offer judgements at all. But if that what true, why does Jesus tell us to “first take the log out of your own eye?” The statements which follows implies that this first action then enables the person to be of true help. Dallas Willard, I think rightly, says that it is wrong for us to condemn but it is not wrong for us to offer a judgment, so long as a judgment is offered prayerfully and humbly, from a posture of love. Our confusion regarding what Jesus says here stems from a mix up: condemnation and judgment are not the same thing.

This bit of artwork has helped me, in that I’m reminded that I am limited in what I see. God, however, does see.

Don’t rush to judgment. Pray. Ask God for wisdom. Remove the log from your own eye. Ask God to help you help, and be humble. God sees more than you do.

“Kneeling Theologians”

Photo by Joshua Eckstein on Unsplash

“[W]hat can perhaps be most fruitfully taken from his work is not so much a set of doctrinal positions as an example of the integration of theological reflection with the life of faith. The Dominican theologian Cornelius Ernst once remarked that theology is, properly understood, ‘engaged contemplation’ (Multiple Echo (London, 1979) 151). Part of the persuasiveness of von Balthasar’s theological writing lies in the fact that it is not primarily critical but contemplative. To describe his work in these terms is not to suggest that it is the fruit of private mystical experience rather than the public self-manifestation of God; nor is it to envisage the theologian’s task as necessitating withdrawal. What is meant is rather that as contemplative theology it is born of a fundamentally receptive attitude of spirit and mind towards God’s self-disclosure. Its origin is not critical inquiry but rapture; its most characteristic attitude is that of being utterly overwhelmed by the splendour of God. It is for these reasons that there is for von Balthasar the closest possible correlation between theological reflection and the life of prayer, and that he has called for more ‘kneeling theologians’ (Verbum Caro (Einsiedeln, 1960) 224). If orthodox theology is not infrequently both unintelligent and unimaginative, it may well be that the fault lies not so much in a defective grasp of the truth as in a defective spirituality.”

John Webster, here, via Ken Myers, “Why Theologians Should Be on Their Knees

I like this idea. But I am among those who believe that the work of theology is first a work of prayer and second a task of service. Theologians do not firstly serve the academy, though they are found there in official capacities, but rather theologians dedicate themselves to a discipline of inquiry that is intended for service to the Lord and, by extension, to the people of God, the church.

Not all understand the discipline in this way.

A Legion of Quiet Heroes

Pastor’s Study, FBC Valley Mills

There is a passage from the Bible that came to mind this week while I worked around my place, trying to survive the winter storm. It is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:9-11. This is what it says:

Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

Paul begins with an affirmation, commending the Thessalonians for their acts of love. But he adds an exhortation: lead a quiet life.

A quite life differs from a private or reclusive life. After all, Paul says that living a quiet life, minding one’s own business and working with one’s hands, can result in Christians gaining the respect of outsiders. Self-reliance can result from this kind of life, but not necessarily withdrawal or isolation. Paul writes that the quiet life in Christ can be part of daily life, a life marked by love, peace, and productivity.

I suspect that for many of us, a “quiet life” hasn’t been a goal. We want applause, acclaim, success, fame. Or we want to party, and all the corresponding pleasures. Or we want power, maybe so we can mind the business of others and tell them what to do.

A quiet life isn’t an obvious choice for us, not in our culture, not in this age. We know, at the deepest level, that we were made for a life of meaning and significance. And we think the only way to satisfy that drive is to live loudly. We think we need to draw attention to ourselves in order to be significant.

But once you know that the lives we lead are known and noticed by God, we do not need to live loudly. We already have meaning. We already are significant. We already have the attention of the only being who, in the end, matters. We’re significant because we’re made in the divine image. We’re significant because we’ve been redeemed by Christ. We have meaning because we were made to live according to God’s purposes, for God’s glory. We’re freed to be faithful, to live the life that God has called us to live before God alone, even as our life brings us into contact with others both inside and outside of the community of faith.

We could use a legion of quiet heroes, people who commit themselves to serving God and loving others, who don’t concerning themselves with the thoughts and opinions of others, and who wholeheartedly devote themselves to the good work that is theirs alone to do.

Congregations would be blessed by pastors who understood their vocation as one of quiet service, prayer, and ministry of the Word, rather than as a vehicle for influence, notoriety, or fame.

Communities would be blessed if followers of Christ conducted their work (in the marketplace and at home) in a quiet manner, confident that God not only sees the work but the heart of the worker and honors those who seek to please the Lord.

Christ followers would be motivated to pursue excellence in all things and inspired to do all things to the glory of God. They would quit worrying so much about what other people think. There’s freedom in living before an audience of One.

The days ahead, and the years for that matter, hold countless opportunities to do quiet work as part of a quiet life in service to a God who sees and who sends us into the world to bless others, all for the eternal glory of the kingdom of God.

Christian Perspectives on Politics

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Rick Berry has written an article called “In Search of Christian Political Theology: Dominionism, Kuyperianism, and Christian Realism,” and it is a nice overview of three major perspectives. I’ve been influenced to some degree by all three approaches.

The Anabaptist tradition has also shaped my thinking. John D. Roth says it well: “Anabaptist Christians embrace their political responsibilities – not primarily as citizens, or as representatives of political parties, or as a lobby group shouting to be heard, but as ambassadors of the Prince of Peace who came as a servant, welcomed children and foreigners into his circle, and taught us to love our enemies.”

This perspective can and has led to separatism. That’s why I’m cautious toward the Anabaptist tradition. But I find it compelling because it takes the kingdom of God seriously. Anabaptists are also wary of worldly centers of power. Roth writes:

The most powerful seduction of political engagement, particularly in democracies, is the illusion that true power is in Washington or Ottawa or Asunción or Tehran. Yet Christians believe that history is carried forward by the church, not the state. How would you see the world differently if your primary source of global news came from church leaders around the world or from Christian relief and service workers in other countries rather than from Fox, CNN, or the echo chambers of social media?

That’s a powerful question.

Anyway, people ask me from time to time how Christians think about politics. My answer: “Lots of ways.” Familiarity with various perspectives helps us remain humble, clarifies the perspective best defining our viewpoint, and enables to better understand what we expect from the church and the surrounding political culture. Knowing the perspectives helps us better understand what we champion, why, and how as a Christian, what our goals are, and where the dangers lie.

I’ll return to Rick Berry. He writes:

Our political ideologies are the product of people who simultaneously reflect and distort God’s glory—and no creation is greater than the people who created it. Our goal in the public square therefore should not be merely to champion our political tribes, because that would mean working to empower their sin as much as it would mean empowering their glory. Instead, we should seek to witness to our political tribes, even critiquing our own groups when necessary, and we often must do that by contrasting ourselves against them.

Stated differently, even if we do develop a sound and well grounded approach to politics as Christians, we should never turn our particular viewpoint into an idol, and we must never lose our prophetic voice.