Tag Archives: argue

Is it discernment, or is it judgment?

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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 3:17-18)

Fundamentalist Christians must be aware that they sound judgmental. I’ve always wondered how they can square that with the Bible: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1) However, they continue to make judgments on others, in and out the church, and argue that they are not being judgmental. Recently, I heard someone say, “I’m not judging; I’m discerning.” He was involved in an online argument over (what else?) gay rights. I want to understand the Bible, so I don’t make snap decisions. I prayed, and I did a quick study on discernment. This is a portion of what I found. I included some context here (because context is important).

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. James 1:5

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For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12).

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The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:14-16)

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Paul and Timothy to all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi … “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:10).

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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)

None of these passages say we should “discern” others. In fact, they indicate that it’s pointless, because discernment comes from God Himself and from the Holy Spirit.

According to the dictionary, Christian discernment (anakrino) is perception in the absence of judgment with a view to obtaining spiritual direction and understanding. It is related to wisdom. The passages here lead me to believe that I am to use discernment regarding my own walk with God and my relationships with fellow Christians; I found nothing here requiring me to go out into the world and “discern” other people’s sins. I urge anyone who is interested in discernment (and who thinks they’re required to “discern” other people’s sins) to read these chapters in full.

Certainly, discernment is important. But I continue to believe that nearly all of us should be the best example of Jesus’ gracious love that we can be, practice discernment only within the church (Matthew 18:15-17, Galatians 6:1), and leave judgment to God.

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Freedom of Speech and Respect for Authority

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Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. 1 Peter 2:13-17

I am really glad we live in a democracy. It’s not perfect, but we no longer have to deal with slavery or other barbaric practices, and we can vote—something the writers of the Bible couldn’t do. (And best of all, we don’t have an emperor.)

And yes, we have freedom of speech. But have we taken that freedom too far? For the last few years, I’ve seen and heard incredible disrespect coming from all sorts of people, including Christians. Especially Christians.

Think the system is unjust? It is, as is every human-made system. (Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Colossians 3:22) I don’t believe the Bible ever condoned slavery; I believe God wants us to do the right thing even in an unfair world. (Fortunately for us, we have rights that allow us to change what is wrong, albeit slowly.)

In my country, we can say practically anything we want. We can insult other people, even our leaders, without fear of being thrown in jail. Sadly, discussions in social media usually turn into insult-swaps. Apparently the person who comes up with the most colorful (and often disgusting) affront declares him or herself the winner when the other backs down (or gets tired of it). Hence, everyone is talking but no one is listening. The “contenders” in an on-line conversation are always thinking of their next put-down.

How lucky we are to be able to say almost anything without fear. But by exercising their right to free speech in this way, I think people are ruining it–we’re a nation of self-styled satirists. How many problems are solved by one person calling another a “dipshit” for believing as they do? (Do you really think the insulted person will change their mind?) Next time you’re in an escalating insult-swap, think of that.

Here’s an alternative:  1 Peter 2:12 says “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” Let’s educate ourselves before we vote, then accept and respect our authorities, even if they’re not the ones we voted for. If we want change, let’s bring about change. Respectfully.

Discussion, yes… Satire, okay… Insults, no. It’s just not Christian.

Against Such Things There is No Law

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But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

What about contempt, anger, discord, impatience, ridicule, meanness, dishonesty, rudeness and sarcasm? Where do they fit into a Christian’s life?

What about judgement? What about HATE?

Do these words fit your “witness” in any way? Sometimes they fit mine. I get so frustrated, and I think of some really clever comeback, and BOOM, out it comes. The perfect way to “heap coals on the enemy’s head” right? And I gloat for a few seconds, (until the person I’m sparring with comes up with an equally withering remark). And we keep going, an endless back-and-forth of clever comebacks.

That’s not from God. That’s the devil. That’s me, filled with pride.

I’ve heard people say, many times, “It’s not hate; it’s honesty.” Oh, come on. If it involves an escalation of anger and name-calling, it’s hate. At best, it’s honest hate.

But kindness… “Against such things there is no law.” God will not strike you down for talking kindly to a nonbeliever, or to someone who believes differently than you do. You have an opportunity to gently guide them toward God. And He forgives them, even as they sin.

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. Luke 23:34

Before you open your mouth (or commit your words to a comment box), pray. Ask God to put kind thoughts in your soul, so only kind words will come out. Remember, He died for the person you’re arguing with.

Is it Okay Not to Know Everything?

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I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them. Isaiah 42:16

Isn’t this beautiful? I feel such joy when I read this.

But so much of religion is about judgment and hell, who will be judged and for what and why, what a word means in Greek, which translation is the only “accurate” translation, or how exactly did Christ’s death save us. When I listen to the arguments, sometimes I get tired of it and I want to quit.

I’m told that it’s important, not just to believe, but to believe right. (And that seems to involve believing what pundits say on the television. Really? Since when did a news station become part of the Christian canon?) By trying to explain God, to tell other people exactly what and how to believe, aren’t we setting ourselves up as gods?

I read the Bible every day, but I still have lots of questions, mostly “why” questions: Why did my friend die of cancer? Why are there good atheists? Why did God allow me to be abused as a child, before I could form an image of a loving father? I’ve heard a few answers, such as “God doesn’t want us to be puppets,” but they don’t exactly fit the questions.

Before Jesus washed Peter’s feet, he said, You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” (John 13:7) So, like Peter, I figure I’ll just accept Jesus’ lessons as he shows me, and I’ll try to do what He asks me to do. He will turn the darkness into light just before my feet. Enough for me to walk forward, step by step, but not enough to see everything at once. It would probably be too much for me to understand anyway.

When I do–when I simply trust God–I glimpse the wild and wonderful beauty of His creation. I realize that He is far bigger, and far more complicated, than I can imagine. He’s also more intimate and more loving than I can conceive. I just have to accept it. When I do, He turns the darkness into light and makes the rough places smooth and I follow after Him… and that’s enough.

Do You Have to “Believe Right” to be a Christian?

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Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Jonah 1:17

[Jesus] answered … For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. … and now something greater than Jonah is here. Matthew 12:39-41

How old is the earth? How many animals fit in an ark? How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Did Adam have a belly button? Can a fish swallow a man?

Hermeneutics. Substitutionary atonement. Dispensationalism. Supersessionism. Orthogenesis.

Does God love gay people? What about homeless people? Single moms? Does God love me if I love gay people, homeless people, and single moms?

 

These are the things my friends discuss, and they talk as if it’s very important to their salvation.

If I know the right answers, will I get into heaven? If I don’t, will I be turned away at the gates?

I’ve heard of Biblical inerrancy, infallibility, integrity, and literalism. Sometimes it leaves me scratching my head. Which do I believe? A little of each, maybe? According to Wikipedia, “‘inerrant’ means there are no errors and ‘infallible’ means there can be no errors.” *sigh*

I lean toward allegorical interpretations of the Old Testament stories, as opposed to literal. (In the story of Jonah, there was no fish: the story is an allegory, the fish is a literary device; maybe the story was a vision or a dream. Maybe Jonah was a real man, and his story was embellished (in much the same way Santa Claus—who may have been a real person—gained a supernatural ability to circle the earth in a flying sleigh), or… for all I know, there was no Jonah at all.

Here’s my confession: I’m just not sure.

Thankfully, my faith is not in Jonah, or Noah, or Adam. It’s in Jesus. For the time being, I choose to believe that Jesus really did die on the cross for my sins, but I don’t know whether to call it “substitutionary atonement” or not. I just believe. Yes, I “believe” science. And yes, I know coming alive after three days is not explained by science. Call it “willing suspension of disbelief,” if you like. Science explains a lot, but it doesn’t explain everything, and I still leave room for miracles.

What science doesn’t explain is the inner working of the soul. That, to me, is where God fills in the gaps. Sometimes I have a flash of understanding. I usually can’t put it into words: it’s (sort of) a feeling that everything is alright and God is in control (but that is far from adequate). This, I believe, is the Holy Spirit (God) speaking directly to my soul. Words would only muddle it up.

There is one thing about God that can move me to tears. Sometimes, when I strip away all the theology, when I think of Jesus allowing Himself to be executed by His own people; His choice to go through that kind of pain—for me—knowing that I don’t deserve anything like that at all…

Then I just believe.

Who Am I Supposed to Hate?

Progressive 13“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.” 2 Timothy 3:1-5

Boy, I see a lot of finger-pointing. If you watch the news, you know there’s a fundamentalist watchlist: the people to avoid seem to be gays, Muslims, scientists, liberals, and poor people. (I’m sure I missed some. Gun haters? Tree huggers?) Liberals, on the other hand, mostly single out Fundamentalists and Creationists (as well as pro-birthers and climate deniers–notice how the language reflects an opinion). But neither of these exactly fit the list above. (And too few people examine their own selves when looking at this kind of verse.)

So, who should I avoid? I read the Bible, and I pray, and I listen to the Holy Spirit. And I keep my distance from people described in the passage above, even if they’re good “believers.” My friends and mentors are kind, honest people, even those who don’t see eye-to-eye with me politically.

As for the finger-pointers? They seem to be overrepresented in these verses. I’m not hanging around with the finger-pointers.

Can You Argue Someone Into Heaven?

progressive 10“A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.” Proverbs 15:18

It seems to me that today’s Christians are very good at arguing. The verses that they depend upon are often the “clobber passages”: short, pithy, and mean. These verses tend to have words in them such as abomination, evil, and wicked. (And sometimes they lack all context… literal and cultural.) I also see Christians trying to impress people with their vast Biblical knowledge, and the fact that they are “not ashamed” of the gospel. (Yeah, we get that.)

But is that really the way to proclaim the Good News?

Jesus didn’t argue. He answered the argumentative Pharisees (sometimes turning their nasty comments back on them), knowing that they only wanted to trip him up.

“The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.” Mark 8:11-12

Sometimes His silence spoke louder than any argument:

“So again Pilate asked him, ‘Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.’ But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.” Mark 15: 4-5

He spoke plainly to those who wanted to listen, and He didn’t waste His time on those who didn’t. And most importantly, His example—toward those who the “good” religious folks wouldn’t approve of—was always one of love and acceptance. That’s the example I choose to follow.

So. Does arguing bring people closer to God? Maybe. Sometimes. If a person is almost ready to commit, and if they have some question that’s bothering them, and if you say just the right thing…

Or…

It just pushes them farther away.