Friday, December 21, 2012

The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment- Review

(A few friends and I are reading this book together. Each week we are reading one chapter. On Fridays, I am posting my comments, then giving them the opportunity to add their thoughts as well. If you would like to join us or simply find out more about the book, you can read about it here.)

After finishing the book last week, I decided that this week I would review my posts and pick out five things about which this book has challenged me.  I hope you guys will share your thoughts as well.  In no particular order:

1. The nature of discernment: it can be developed
- I used to see discernment as a prepackaged gift that a person either had or didn't have.  I realize now it is something that can be cultivated and developed.  It is more like a set of Legos than a Matchbox car.

2. The results of discernment: actions
- True discernment is not simply coming to the correct thinking- it is following that thinking with actions.  We need discernment to think/do right ourselves, to stand up for truth, and to serve others by sharing truth with them.

3. The basis of discernment: God's Word
- Discernment is a possibility because absolute truth is a fact.  Absolute truth is found in the Bible, making God's Word indispensable in our pursuit of discernment.  The more we know of God's Word, the easier and more quickly we will see error.  Though we want discernment, our focus should not be on that end, but on God and His Word.

4. The responsibility of discernment: personal
- Truth is constant, error is constantly changing.  Satan, a deceiver, uses error as possibly his greatest tool.  While error may be subtle, it is always deadly.  We are personally responsible for what we believe.  Because of that, I must take ownership of what I believe and make sure it follows Scripture.

5. The practice of discernment: outlined
- His outline for discernment in the last chapter was a good step by step way to examine things.  I still have some questions about how we can "test" certain things without "trying" them.  I will want to think about that question some more and come to a conclusion.

I have been helped by this book, and I have been encouraged by your participation and comments.  I am taking a break over the holidays, but plan to propose another reading project after the first of the year.  I'll email you with details.

I've had my say, what say you?

Discussion on Chapter 10

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Hughes News #41

"Tie your shoes and pray for the Hughes"

Dear Friends,                                                                                                  
In our last update, I mentioned a meeting with the president of the Baptist group that has helped us get our living permits.  The meeting was quite helpful as I learned more about the group.  Brother Ion also confirmed some of the information another missionary and I had learned about needy areas in Moldova.  It seems the Lord is narrowing it down for our future place of service.
We are happy to announce that our applications for two year residency permits were approved.  It is a blessing having that behind us!
We each had a chance to minister in our church recently.  Due to the lack of time between when she was asked and when she needed to speak, Viola spoke in English with a translator.  She challenged the ladies about the theme of the meeting: “Rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep.”  I had the opportunity to preach in Russian Sunday night.  I am still tied to my notes to the point I am basically reading my sermon, but I know these beginning steps are necessary.  (I also learned to not choose a passage in the Old Testament with lots of names- they are difficult in English and even more difficult in Russian!)
Soon Christmas will be here.  We plan to take a few days off from language lessons to rest and recharge.  We will be making some long-range plans and would appreciate your prayers as we seek the Lord’s guidance.

In His service,
Jacob and Viola Hughes

For Prayer:
1. Russian and Romanian study
2. Another family with whom to team up
3. Planning for the upcoming year

For Praise:
1. Recent opportunities for us to minister
2. Living permits for the next two years
3. An upcoming break from language study over the holidays

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment- Chapter 10

(A few friends and I are reading this book together. Each week we are reading one chapter. On Fridays, I am posting my comments, then giving them the opportunity to add their thoughts as well. If you would like to join us or simply find out more about the book, you can read about it here.)

Chapter 10: The Practice of Discernment
- I think he gave a lot of good thoughts in this final chapter, but I'll have to admit, his layout really confused me for awhile.  I finally realized (the second time through) that he was explaining a step and then relating it to the test case of self-forgiveness.  Still, it seemed like some things were out of order or that he repeated himself.  The way things were laid out just put a slight damper on the last chapter for me.  Anyone else think think the same thing?

- I read through the end of the book and looked at the study questions.  When reading through the questions for this chapter, it confused me because he asked, "What are the five steps of testing a doctrine?"  I looked back through the chapter and tried to identify which five he was specifically talking about.  I think I may have found them, but I'm still not sure.

- I'll list the actions he explained:
1. Verify: write down the statement you need to verify
2. Clarify: write down your understanding of the issue and the opposing thoughts you have come across
3. Assess the issues: ask what is at stake in the discussion
- In the testing stage he said this (going back to the currency illustration): "He can return to the standard and compare one to the other [bills].  In the same way, we can compare any teaching to the standard of Scripture and see how they compare." (Page 167)  
4. Pray
5. Asses your instinct: write down your first instinct and why you think that way
6. Asses your conscience: write down what your conscience is saying
- "Scripture is the perfect and holy standard, and it is here that we will be able to gauge whether our instinct and conscience are right."  (Page 169)
7. Search the Scriptures: make a list of relevant passages
- Loved the quote from Martin Luther: "First I shake the whole tree, that the ripest may fall.  Then I climb the tree and shake each limb, and then each branch and then each twig, and then I look under each leaf."  (Page 170-171)  May we be ever so diligent!
8. Observe the Scriptures: singularly, carefully, thoroughly, systematically, intimately; write a few words for each passage
9. Compare and Contrast: compare unclear passages to clear ones
10. Research: see what others have said about the passages
11. Summarize: write a sentence or two what each one means
12. Expand your research: look for information from other resources
13. Conclude: write down what I have concluded
14. Make a list: write down how the idea lines up from Scripture
15. Judge: write down at what point the doctrine leaves Scripture
- I thought his comment on abstaining from the appearance of evil of those things that are actually evil was said in an interesting way.  I would need to take more time to figure out why, but I thought I'd throw it out here and see if it struck you as well.
16. Hold fast: write down what you will abstain from
17. Apply: write down what you will do and what you will hold fast to
- I was convicted by the discussion of seeing truth, shrugging our shoulders, and walking away.  I am afraid I do that too often.  May the Lord help me to incorporate his truth in my life- not just my mind!

- "Some Christians immerse themselves in the philosophy, entertainment, and culture of society.  They feel such a strategy will strengthen their witness to unbelievers. . . . But the emphasis of that strategy is all wrong.  Our focus should be on knowing the truth." (Page 179, quoting MacArthur)

- Now that I've worked back through this, I really appreciate this model he has given us.  Certainly, we can tailor it to our own use, but I think he has a lot of good insight for examining a doctrine.

I've had my say, what say you?

Discussion on Chapter 9
Discussion on Conclusion

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment- Chapter 9

A few friends and I are reading this book together. Each week we are reading one chapter. On Fridays, I am posting my comments, then giving them the opportunity to add their thoughts as well. If you would like to join us or simply find out more about the book, you can read about it here.)

Chapter 9: Developing Discernment
- [This was the shortest chapter, and I'm three days late in writing about it!]

- I liked that he pointed out that discernment is tied to other Christian disciplines.  In other words, one cannot develop discernment by itself- it comes as we practice other disciplines.

- He gave the commitments that will allow us to have and display discernment.  They are pretty straightforward, so I'll just list them without comment.
1. Pursue Discernment
2. Desire Discernment
3. Pray for Discernment
4. Seek Discernment

- He used Asaph's Psalm 73 as an example of the role of discernment in the church.  This isn't the worst illustration I have read, but I wish he would have differentiated between the temple and the church (and then possibly extended the application).

- He shared Mark Dever's five reasons for Christians to join a church.  I wasn't wowed, but they were good thoughts.  Since they were fairly simple, I'll again just list them (with one comment):
1. For assurance
2. To evangelize the world
3. To expose false gospels
*I  liked this thought: "The more we see of genuine Christianity, the more the counterfeits will be exposed."  (Page 157)
4. To edify the church
5. To glorify God

- Although the author of the following quote is one I don't often cite, I did think his statement was accurate and thought-provoking: he said Christians "are drunk with the false opinion of our own insight and are thus extremely reluctant to admit that it is utterly blind and stupid in divine matters." (Page 159)

- The author stated that we need help from others in order to grow in discernment.  Is assistance of others absolutely necessary?  I would not say it is, because to me that would minimize the sufficiency of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.  That being said, I would also not advocate for someone ignoring the potential assistance of those around him.

- I thought it was he made a good point that the confirmation of one's discernment is not found in what they say, but in what they do.  Obedience to God's Word is confirmation of discernment.

- "We become discerning Christians not by focusing on discernment as an end in itself, but by focusing on the person of God and the character of God."  (Page 161) This is good!  And how do we focus on God's person and character?  The Bible!  Again, we this theme is reemphasized to us.

I've had my say, what say you?

Discussion on Chapter 8
Discussion on Chapter 10

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment- Chapter 8


A few friends and I are reading this book together. Each week we are reading one chapter. On Fridays, I am posting my comments, then giving them the opportunity to add their thoughts as well. If you would like to join us or simply find out more about the book, you can read about it here.)

Chapter 8: The Dangers of Discernment
- Maybe it is splitting hairs, but I did not like the title of the chapter.  I know he was trying to make it fit with the other chapters, but I do not feel true discernment brings dangers.  Later he said, "We'll look at ten of the potential dangers that seem to afflict those who emphasize discernment."  (Page 143)  I thought this statement was much better than his chapter title.  In the "Key Thought" section, he said, "Discernment is a practice that can lead to many dangers."  (Page 151)  I personally don't feel that discernment leads people into these other things- their sinful nature does.  I know what he is saying, but I think it could have been worded better.

- In his opening illustration about the counterfeit money, he talked about the importance of becoming familiar with the truth.  The more you know about currency, the easier it will be for you to find a fake bill.  In the same way, the more we know truth, the easier it will be for us to discern other areas.  We may not be facing a difficult decision now, but if we are growing in our knowledge of the truth, a decision down the road will be more clear.

- He brought up the fact that error is changing.  It does come in different forms and heresies/false doctrines seems to come and go in cycles, but being anchored in the truth of God's Word will allow us to meet those as they come.

- Again a little thing, but I thought some of his "dangers" were poorly named.  The first one was "Innocent as to What is Evil."  In my opinion, this is what we need to be.  The opposite is the danger.

- I see the "Guilt by Association" and "Honor by Association" as being one.  In both cases, the observer makes a judgment on a person based on another human and not the Word of God.  If I take anything from this book, it will be a reminder to go to God's Word and let it show what is right or wrong. 

- I found it interesting that he mentioned fundamentalism in a negative light in the same breath with liberalism.  I am not going to take the time to delve into this topic- I just wanted to note his perspective.

- He talked about the fundamentalists raising "third-order doctrines" to the level of "first-order doctrines" and wrongly dividing.  While I do agree that there are Biblical doctrines essential to the faith and doctrines about which true believers disagree, I want to point out that the 1st, 2nd, 3rd orders is a man-made system.  We can only take it so far.  Also, I wish he would've given examples of how fundamentalists do what he claims.  I would like to know more of his perspective.

- I don't know if you guys consider yourselves Fundamentalists or not.  However, most people would lump you into that.  My point is not to debate whether we should be or whether others should call us that.  I think negative statements said about "us" should cause us to look at "us" objectively.  We may not agree with his renunciation of fundamentalism, but what has our movement done wrong, what have our leaders done wrong that has led to this perception.  Have we done the right thing in the wrong spirit?  Have we followed man's word and not God's?  I'm not trying to point us to a particular answer- I just believe we should stop and consider . . . even if we disagree.

- He discussed "Witch Hunting" or seeking to just point out the wrong in other.  My simple suggestion: Seek truth.  Blast error when it pops up.

- He mentioned cause discord and destroy unity.  My question: if discord comes because one renounces another believer who is going astray and thereby causing discord, is that wrong?

- I think many preachers in our circles (the ones we put ourselves in and the ones others put us in) are guilty of just lumping people together into the "good" and "bad" categories.  It is easier to do that rather than examining what someone has to say.  Certainly, if I agree with someone 90% of the time and they have a track record of following the Bible, I am not going to be as cautious when I read after them.  On the other hand, if I disagree with someone 50% of the time, I am going to take that into account.  However, my desire is to give each person/book a chance and judge/discern it by itself.  If we only read after people we agree with 100% of the time, our reading stack is going to be about two testaments thin.  I do not advocate just reading everything, but just like with plants, too much seclusion hinders growth.  (I am trying to get through the chapter.  If these comments seem too shaky, I'll be glad to elaborate.)

- "Those who emphasize discernment seem to be particularly prone to the sin of pride."  (Page 149)  I feel that those people are more prone to look down on the lifestyle/convictions of others than they are to simply want recognition for their discernment.  Have you guys seen differently?

- His call to the heart was good.  May we seek discernment 1) to know God's truth for ourselves, 2) to stand up for truth against the onslaught of error, and 3) to serve others by sharing the truth with them.

- I liked the words of John Stott he quoted: "Truth becomes hard if it is not softened by love; love becomes soft if it is not strengthened by truth." (Page 151)

I've had my say, what say you?


Friday, November 16, 2012

The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment- Chapter 7

A few friends and I are reading this book together. Each week we are reading one chapter. On Fridays, I am posting my comments, then giving them the opportunity to add their thoughts as well. If you would like to join us or simply find out more about the book, you can read about it here.)
Chapter 7: The Gift of Discernment
- While a battle rages over the understanding of spiritual gifts, the author points out that people on both sides of the issue will agree that in our day God gives a gift of discernment (Page 127).  The author then discusses that gift.  Here are my thoughts:
- Using the story of his youth group and the ball of yarn, he illustrated the strength that the spiritual gifts should give to a local church.  I was reminded that a spiritual gift is not to help the "possessor" only (the way he said it: they are not "self-serving" [Page 126]), but is to help and strengthen the believers around him.  Later he stated, "The variety is not meant to disrupt the church but to unify it through diversity."  (Page 125)  It seems to me that individuality or variety in our culture is used more to make a person stand out from the crown, not to help unify the crowd.  I appreciated this explanation of the relationship between variety and unity.
- He takes the position that the list of the gifts of the Spirit in Scripture is not exhaustive, but representative.  I did not have/take the time to examine this by the Word.  If any of you had time, I would appreciate your thoughts.
- I appreciated his emphasis on the fact that God is not looking for us to serve in our area of "expertise" (our spiritual gift) only.  We are not to neglect other areas of service just because it is not our spiritual gift.
- After my rant a few chapters back, did you catch the reference to Acts 17:11?  I agree with one of his correlating statements: "In doing this [examining the Scriptures] they modeled the task of all believers."  (Page 129)  That is the task of believers.  However, the ones setting the example were not yet believers.  Mini-rant over.
- His statement following the one above is great: "Christians are ultimately responsible for what they choose to believe, no matter whether or not they have been gifted with the spiritual gift of discernment."  (Page 129)
- He is careful to point out that if the Spirit gifts someone with discernment, that individual then has a responsibility to use it.  It is not a gift like a Christmas sweater from Aunt Mabel that a believer can choose to use or not. 
- "Deeds, no matter how extraordinary and how beneficial they appear, must be examined and compared to the Word of God."  (Page 130)  This is especially needful because so many people rely on experience or pragmatism to evaluate things.  I don't know how it is in Charlotte or Iqaluit, but I know it is quite common in Moldova.  (This is a little off the topic, but a believer here told us that she knew she was to marry her husband because she had a dream of Jesus.  In the dream Jesus told her to marry the man that was interested in her, so she did.  I couldn't believe it when I heard it.)
- One of the thoughts that has often come to my mind reading this book is that we need discernment because of who our enemy is.  Satan's biggest weapon is deception.  He wants us to view right as wrong and wrong as right.  He wants dangerous things to appear healthy.  Having discernment will allow me to see God's true perspective about things, and see through how Satan wants wants things to appear.
- I had not thought before that God might give a believer a particular gift because of a particular need in his church at that time.  It is a simple thought- why would God give a gift that is essentially not needed?
- Earlier in the chapter, he spoke against simply looking to a person's personality to determine a spiritual gift.  When discussing how to find how a person is gifted, he talked about what makes him feel passionate.  I could not see how he distinguished between a person's natural personality and a person's natural or God-given passion.  Maybe one of you caught something I didn't.
- I liked his suggestion that believers at least try serving in different ways in the church.  It made me think of what I could do to try to create an environment in which people can learn how to minister in different ways without dumping on them the entire responsibility if they do not continue. 
- In my mind, I thought a spiritual gift was a person's "til death do them part."  He pointed out that the Bible doesn't state that nor does it say a person has just one, nor does it say that all spiritual gifts are given at moment of salvation.  Again, I have not looked at the Scripture passages concerning this yet, but I was intrigued by his statements.
- Since we fit in the description of a time in which "Christianity is considered acceptable in society," (Page 133) the gift of discernment is greatly needed today!
- Evangelism= offensive gift to take ground; discernment= defensive gift to keep ground.
- While discussion how the gift of discernment may be used, he said, "Many Christians, and especially young Christians, confuse carnality for godliness, man-made rules for God-ordained holiness."  (Page 135)  Again, I agree with this assessment- one can readily see these two "ditches" into which many fall.
- "Christians with the gift of discernment should place particular emphasis on protecting the young and the immature believers."  (Page 136) The four of us who are reading this together are all church-planters- one is working at it now, the other three will be soon.  Lord-willing, we will be dealing with many young believers in the near future.  It will be important for us to be able to discern and to help these young believers learn to as well.
I've had my say, what say you?

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment- Chapter 6


A few friends and I are reading this book together. Each week we are reading one chapter. On Fridays, I am posting my comments, then giving them the opportunity to add their thoughts as well. If you would like to join us or simply find out more about the book, you can read about it here.)
Chapter 6: The Will and Discernment
- This is a quote from later in the chapter, but I thought it was a good summary: "Discerning God's will . . . is the skill of understanding and applying God's Word with the purpose of separating right from wrong."  (Page 117)
- When he started talking about two kinds of will, I was not anticipating what was coming.  I was expecting the difference between His general will (for all) and His specific will (for an individual).  Definitely the author's Reformed Theology comes out strongly in this chapter.
- I think we all would disagree with it, but I want to be careful to say that I disagree with some of his explanation of God's "secret will."  He said, "It is the will through which God has decreed all that will happen." (Page 110)  About this: (1) I do believe that everything God says will happen will happen. (2) I do not believe God has decreed all that will happen- He knows all that will happen, but He has not decreed it to be.  If, by "decree," he just meant that God says what will happen, that would be one thing.  However, it seems clear that he is saying God decrees it and causes it to happen.  I do not believe tht is true about everything. (3) I find it interesting that throughout the book he has pointed us to God's Word, but after making this statement, he referenced the Westminster Shorter Catechism. (4) He did also quote Isaiah 46:9-11, part of which states, "I am God and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning."  My perspective is that God know what the end is from the beginning and that He will bring that end to pass.  However, I do not think it implies that God has decreed every little thing from beginning to end. (5) I do not believe God's sovereignty is  limited by my explanation.  God is sovereign, but that does not mean that He makes everything happen that happens. (6) Saying that Jesus was slain before the foundation of the world and saying that "He [God] does decree that evil will take place" (Page 111) are worlds apart in my mind. 
- After all that disagreement, I do agree with the thought that part of what God does or allows is off limits to our speculations.  I think we often try to figure that out when we should be working on living what is clearly revealed as His will in His Word.
- He lists three specific things that are definitely God's will- the more I look at them, the more humbling they are: 1) Be filled with the Spirit, 2) Be sanctified, 3) Be thankful.
- "Today it [God's will] is given to us in its full and final measure in the Bible the Word of God." (Page 113) Amen!!  I also like the following quote on the same page: "The life of discernment is, therefore, a Word-focused  and Word-directed life, which develops a Word-saturated mind."  May we all long for and work towards having a "Word-saturated" mind!
- He talks about the need for discernment especially in the areas where the Bible does not speak explicitly.  I agree wholeheartedly.  It seems to me that one of the problems with our modern-day Evangelicalism (broad view which includes us) is that so many come to these areas requiring discernment and use their own thinking or the thinking of another man instead of seeking out God's mind and applying truth from His Word to the situation.  (I feel like this has been said multiple times in the previous chapters, but I think we must keep this in mind that most people, yea, most believers are using this kind of reasoning.  We must confront them with the Scriptures and exhort them to search them out themselves.)
- His statement "when we are living in God's will, obeying his will as it has been revealed to us, there are no right and wrong decisions" was a little definite for me.  (Not saying I think it is definitely wrong, just made me cringe a little.)  However, the older I am the more I see there are certain decisions like this in life.  We knew God wanted us to come to Moldova.  We believe he would have us pick a missions agency to help us and our church.  We came down to two- we agreed with both in doctrine and philosophy.  We needed to make a decision.  We told the Lord just that and went with All Points.  We are very happy with our agency, but I cannot look back and say that to choose the other one would have been "wrong" or "against God's will."  Maybe the statement above seems too definite because so many would use this reasoning for things that are clearly outside of God's will based on the principles of His Word.
- I did appreciate his step-by-step approach to get to this discussion of God's will.  He first covered that truth and error are delineated in the Bible.  In this chapter, he is showing that and understanding and application of that truth to the situations in our lives helps us to see what God's will is.
- I'm glad that he pointed out that while everything is not mentioned directly by the Bible, everything does tie into God's plan for His people, and therefore is dealt with in Scripture.
- Despite reservations from elsewhere in the chapter, I really appreciated something he said near the end: "Our spontaneous thoughts and actions are a sure measure of our spiritual growth, our spiritual maturity, and our spiritual discernment."  (Page 120)  When I look at my spontaneous thoughts especially, I see that there is much room for growth.  I don't believe the Lord would have us continually beat ourselves up over those flaws, but simply use them as a reminder of His great grace in our lives and as teachable moments to grow in Him.
I've had my say, what say you?

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment- Chapter 5

(A few friends and I are reading this book together. Each week we are reading one chapter. On Fridays, I am posting my comments, then giving them the opportunity to add their thoughts as well. If you would like to join us or simply find out more about the book, you can read about it here.)

Chapter 5: Truth and Discernment
- The author said, "In this chapter we will examine the existence of truth and show that discernment can only exist where truth is affirmed."  (Page 92)  I thought it was a good summary.  Here are my thoughts:
- He pointed out that for a counterfeit to exist there must be something real that exists.  A few years back I heard a preacher point out that people will use hypocritical Christians as a reason they don't live for God.  He noted that the presence of hypocrites means that there is the real thing.  This has stuck with me and helped me.
- I had not thought much about the relationship between absolute truth and discernment.  He pointed out that the practice of discernment is founded on the notion that there is absolute truth and that there is error.  Before a person can discern, he must acknowledge that those two exist.  To me, it seems that many people cannot bring themselves to say that something is wrong because they do not believe there is a standard- there is absolute truth.  Thanks to the author, I now see that relationship.
- I think his "while God is truth, truth does not equal God" (Page 94) is important for our day.  I'm sure other words could be substituted, but I think many need to see the word "love" in this equation.  People put too much of an emphasis on "love," then equate love with God, and in the end I think they distort the character of God, because it is based on their derived view of Him based on their understanding of love.
- As preachers, we must echo his bold proclamation that "we know the Bible is true because it is the revelation of God, who is true and who is unable to lie." (Page 95)  I appreciate his confidence in the Word of God!
- He mentioned the book The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer.  It is a powerful book- one that I plan to read once a year for the rest of my days.  If you have not read it, I would encourage you to do so!  (It is only $2.99 on Amazon.  If you want, that can be my Christmas present to you!)
- I think he mentioned it in earlier chapters, but he brought out the fact that the first area in which we need to exercise discernment is our thoughts of God.  We cannot conduct our lives properly if we do not believe properly.
- He equated worldliness (worldly thinking) as the direct opposite of correct thinking about God.  I had not thought of them in that way before, but I think it is accurate.  He showed that thinking rightly about God will lead us to Jesus Christ and thinking wrongly about God will always lead us to ourselves.  I would say it leads us to ourselves or to the words of another man- still, we are either looking to God's Word or man's.
- We probably all have heard the statement that we best know what is wrong by first knowing what is right.  He later said, "The relationship of truth to error is such that we can best know error by knowing truth.  The opposite is not true."  (Page 101)  Again, he is right on- studying error may turn up some truth here and there, but it will not establish what is truth and what is error.  However, studying truth will establish what it is, and, by extension, what error is.
- The better we know the truth, the more easily we will recognize error.
- "Error may be subtle, but it is always deadly."  (Page 103)  I know that in my mind, I see some errors as dangerous and others as not so bad.  This sentence helped me remember that all is, as he said, deadly!
- The Hensel twins are easy to find on the internet if you are interested in reading more.
- He said that areas are gray because of the Fall.  I am reminded of what my brother-in-law Paul J. says (probably not original with him, but I'll give him the credit for it), "Sin always complicates things."  When a person follows God's design, it is easier to make a decision in a situation.  The more entrapped in sin one becomes, the more difficult it is to see how to extricate from those situations.
- I think he is correct in saying that we often start from the obscure and work back to what is clear instead of the other way around.  However, after a little bit of thinking, I could not think of a good example when we do this.  Can you guys?
- I appreciated his emphasis on the conscience while showing its subservience to and dependence on Scripture.
- Again in this chapter, he mentioned that discernment is making "binary distinctions."  I don't know much about computers, but I know they are based on the processing of a series of 1s and 0s.  He is pointing out that discernment is seeing there are two options- one is right and one is wrong.  He very much narrows things down, but I very much appreciate it.
- Congratulations!  We are halfway through the book!!
- Sorry about the limit for comments that messed a couple of you up last week.  I'll see if I can change that.
I've had my say, what say you?

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment- Chapter 4

(A few friends and I are reading this book together. Each week we are reading one chapter. On Fridays, I am posting my comments, then giving them the opportunity to add their thoughts as well. If you would like to join us or simply find out more about the book, you can read about it here.)
Chapter 4
In this chapter, the author discusses how discernment touches judging.  He explained what we are not to judge and what we are to judge.  He explained what it means to "prove all things" and gave examples of areas we must prove.  Here are some things that stood out to me:

- "We live in a culture that values autonomy to the point of irrationality."  He pegged it!

- He pointed out that if God is the author of the Bible, and if God only speaks truth, then the Bible never truly contradicts itself.  Just because I may not be able to understand something does not make it a contradiction.

- "We may judge doctrine and behavior by the objective standards of right and wrong that are given to us in Scripture."  I think most people would agree with this statement.  However, because people interpret things different and apply principles differently, it can be frustrating.  For instance, there are plenty of principles I would use to come to the conclusion that going to a PG-13 movie (just picking a rating) would be wrong.  However, I know many believers who would not see it as a problem.  We both would say we can judge by what the Bible says.  I would say Bible principles forbid it.  They would say the Bible does not condemn it.  My point: I agree with his statement, but people will often only listen if it is explicitly stated in Scripture, and will not if it is a principle applied to a situation/decision.  Do you guys agree?

- Maybe another way to say what I was trying to express above is this: there are things that, if we apply principles, we see as clearly wrong.  However, others think they are simply matters of "Conscience" (the 2nd area he gave in which we aren't supposed to judge) and get upset if we speak against those things- again because we have applied clear principles to things not specifically stated in Scripture.

- I liked his illustration of an individual's responsibility once they have accepted a counterfeit bill and once they have accepted false doctrine.  

- The idea of testing things resonated with me.  In my short life, I have come to really dislike when a preacher will blast something but will not give his Biblical reasoning.  When they do that, I am left only with man's opinion as to why it is wrong.  I want to know why an idea/person does not line up with Scripture.  If we just immediately reject an idea and don't test it by Scripture, we are asking others to follow our opinion.  If I test it long enough to see where it deviates from Scripture, then I can give others a Scriptural reason to avoid it.

- He said that it is the right and responsibility of both churches and individuals to test all things.  I would submit that a church will test things to the extent the members of the church are testing things individually. 

- "To some extent, everything relates to life and faith!"  Amen!

- I appreciated his illustration with his son, showing that we are to test everything, but not necessarily try everything once.  However it did make me wonder: How can I accurately test things?  To be able to test it, I need information about it.  How do I go about getting that information?  For instance, I have never been to a movie theater.  If I am going to preach against going to a movie theater, how can I gather accurate information about it in order to compare it to God's Word?  I do not want to preach against something just because someone else has preached against it.  I think in areas like this we can be creative in our information gathering (visit the theater and ask manager questions, as an example).  We can test without trying.  Any other thoughts/suggestions on how to information gather without trying?

- [Another Lord of the Rings reference will always bring a smile to my face!]

- [Personal pet peeve: the people commended for their searching the Scriptures in Acts 17:11 were not Christians. They were unbelieving Jews. If you don't believe me, check it out. Verse 12 says that they believed. Maybe it is just me, but I think belief comes before salvation.  I know they are still commended as "more noble" for searching the Scriptures, and we can still apply the passage to others who search (whether believers or unbelievers).  It doesn't make a ton of difference, but since I have noticed this, it bothers me when people explain it incorrectly.  It is like after you learn there is an arrow in the Fed-Ex logo, you always see it after that.] - He said we are to test leaders.  It got me thinking: Paul told Titus that he was to ordain elders that had the qualities that Paul then laid out.  They were not only to live up to that standard, but also to be meeting it already.  If that is the case, are these qualities just for preachers, or are they truly for every man in a church?  I would say they are for every man. - He gave Al Mohler's three levels of issues.  Many evangelicals would say that we should just focus on the Gospel and not bring up the "third-level" issues.  I would slightly change that.  I think we should bring those up, but too often we become so consumed with the "third-level" issues that we completely ignore the "first-level" issues.  That is when I think we are out of balance.
I've had my say, what say you?

Discussion on Chapter 3
Discussion on Chapter 5

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment- Chapter 3

(A few friends and I are reading this book together. Each week we are reading one chapter. On Fridays, I am posting my comments, then giving them the opportunity to add their thoughts as well. If you would like to join us or simply find out more about the book, you can read about it here.)
Chapter 3
In chapter 3, the author went about the task of definining the term "discernment."  Here is what stood out to me:

- Throughout the chapter he pointed out that at the root of discernment is knowledge of God's Word.  Without that root, one cannot have discernment.  In some ways, it seems obvious to me, but I am glad for His emphasis on the Word of God. 

- Similarly, he noted that few people "understand that to know God's will we must first know God's truth."  This is needed- people throw around the phrase "God's will" yet they often do things directly contrary to God's will.  We must live and teach that God's will must align with His Word.

- He made the case that wisdom is knowledge with a moral and ethical dimension to it.  I appreciated this- it helped me separate them in my mind.  In the same way, showing that discernment is the application of wisdom to a real-life situation helped me delineate those two.

- "Discernment is thinking in black-and-white terms, drawing clear lines between what is truth and error, what is good and evil."  (Page 59)  Being able to rightly discern is so important in our world because so much is seen as gray and so many people look down on those who will dare to speak out the truth of God's word and call things white or black.

- I think he defined the word really well: "Discernment is the skill of understanding and applying God's Word with the purpose of separating truth from error and right from wrong."  (Page 60)

- The illustration that the skill of discernment is like reading or public speaking (learned) and not breathing or chewing (inherent) was helpful to me.

- I think John mentioned something about this concerning the last chapter, but it stood out to me here.  The author said, "We can only worship and glorify God on the basis of what we know of him."  The older I get, the more I am realizing that people are basing their view of God not on what is revealed in His Word, but from something/someone else.  We both say we are worshiping God, but there is such a difference in our understanding because there we have learned from different sources.  This compels me to study His Word so I can know, worship, and glorify Him correctly.

- He explained that God's Word helps the light appear lighter and the dark appear darker.  This captured it for me.  A familiarity with God's Word will allow us to point out why something is right or wrong instead of just having an intuition that it is the case.

- For awhile, I was failing to understand the difference he was making between right/wrong and truth/error.  I finally got it that truth/error referenced doctrine (what we believe) while right/wrong referenced the practical application (how we live).

- "Any method [of discernment] that points anywhere but Scripture implicitly points away from Scripture." (Page 68)  This helped me with another quote I heard recently: "A man with an experience is not at the mercy of a man with an opinion."  I realize now why this quote bothered me: it is putting too much value on experience.  In some instances, this quote could be correct (experience with money as opposed to a mere opinion), but since the quote is not always correct, I find it misleading.
- He again emphasized that discernment is work.  It takes time and effort.  Too often I want the easy way- I want a "proof text" instead of rolling up my sleeves and doing the work to discern the mind of God based on the principles He has put in His Word.  May we be men who embrace the challenge and not shy away from it!
I've had my say, what say you?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Why Proclaim God's Word?- Part 2

Proclaiming God's Word to others is not just an activity for pastors, evangelists, and missionaries. It is the responsibility and privilege of everyone who has been saved by the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

In II Timothy 4:2, Paul instructs Timothy to preach or proclaim the word. In the surrounding verses, I find several compelling reasons we must do this as well.

1. We must proclaim God's Word because it makes us wise unto salvation. 3:15
2. We must proclaim God's Word because God gave it. 3:16a
3. We must proclaim God's Word because it is beneficial to man. 3:16b-17
(I explained these in a previous post.)

4. We must proclaim God's Word because God has commanded that we do it. 4:1a,2
- In verse 1, Paul wrote that he was giving a charge to Timothy.  The idea of charging is "to order or instruct somebody formally to do something."  The actual charge is found in verse two.  Paul used imperative verbs to charge Timothy to preach, be instant, reprove, rebuke and exhort.  Just as Paul was not merely suggesting that Timothy do these things, God has not suggested we share His Word with others.  He has given it as a responsibility, as a command to His disciples.  We cannot imagine a soldier disobeying the commands of his drill instructor, yet we often have the audacity to disobey the commands of God Almighty for His church.

5. We must proclaim God's Word because Jesus Christ will judge us. 4:1b
- Paul made his charge to Timothy before God and before Jesus Christ.  By bringing up the fact that Jesus Christ will judge in the future, it seems natural that this was to be a motivation for Timothy to preach the Word.  When I think of Christ as judge, my mind goes first to a judge in a courtroom.  While I don't see this as incorrect, in this passage I tend to think of Him as a judge of an art contest.  Right now, we each have the opportunity to prepare our "entry"- our life.  When I present it to Him for His judgment, I want Him to look on it favorably.  Keeping that future event in mind is motivation for me to give my best at proclaiming God's Word.  I want Him to be pleased with how I shared His Word with others.

6. We must proclaim God's Word because people naturally gravitate to error. 4:3-4
- People do not naturally gravitate to God's truth.  If they did, we would see people flooding truth-preaching churches all over the world.  Instead, people's tendency is to follow error.  Paul told Timothy that people would not put up with sound doctrine, that they will follow teachers who tell them what they want to hear, and that they will turn away from the truth and turn to fables- lies.  Believing some lies won't bring significant consequences.  For instance, as a Chicago Cubs fan, I believe each year that we can win the World Series.  Believing that lie does not really affect my life.  However, rejecting the truth of God and believing the lies of the devil bring devastating eternal consequences.  Since people don't naturally wander towards truth, we must be intentional in taking the truth to them!

Which of these reasons to share God's Word do you find the most compelling?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Hughes News #40

"Tie your shoes and pray for the Hughes"
Dear Friends,

The time has come for us to renew our residency permits. At the end of September we gathered the required documents and our lawyer submitted them to the government. We are thankful that our part was much smoother this year. Lord-willing, we should get our two-year permits in a few weeks.

We are trying to diligently occupy ourselves so that we can inch closer to fluency in Russian. We have our lessons with our teacher and the accompanying textbooks. We have grammar books we can read. We have news podcasts in Russian. We have the Rosetta Stone software. We have the Russian audio Bible that we can read along with. We have friends to talk to. We have Ken Ham DVDs in Russian as well as materials to read. We thank the Lord for the many resources He has provided for us to help in our study.

On Thursday another missionary and I are meeting with the president of the Baptist group which has helped us register in the country. The primary purpose of the meeting is to learn about specific cities and/or regions of Moldova that are without Gospel-preaching Baptist churches. The information we gather should help us as we seek God’s will for our future ministry. We would appreciate your prayers for this meeting.

In His service,
Jacob and Viola Hughes
For Prayer:
1. Meeting on Thursday with Brother Ion
2. Paperwork for our two-year residency permits
3. Russian and Romanian study

For Praise:
1. Requirements for medical certificate were less intrusive
2. Specific insights into the history and culture
3. Progress in the ever-present language study

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment- Chapter 2

(A few friends and I are reading this book together. Each week we are reading one chapter. On Fridays, I am posting my comments, then giving them the opportunity to add their thoughts as well. If you would like to join us or simply find out more about the book, you can read about it here.)

Chapter 2
In chapter 2, the author brought out reasons "why discernment is a particularly difficult skill to exercise in our day and our culture."  Here are thoughts that stood out to me:

- He said many Christians wish they could live in a "bubble" that would protect them from false teaching.  I think he is right- we want something easy that will take the difficulty, the WORK out of things.  It is easier to just follow someone else's rules rather than digging into the Bible and seeing what God says on an issue. 

- If discernment were just an intellectual exercise, it would be easier.  However, he brought out that division naturally follows discernment.  Often that division will put us at odds with other people.  I was reminded that working to be discerning means that not everyone will agree with/be pleased with my decisions.

- When an author mentions The Lord of the Rings series, he gets points in my book.  When an author mentions The Chronicles of Narnia series, he gets points in my book.  When an author references both in the same chapter, I am definitely on his bandwagon!!

- He used the Jehovah's Witnesses translation of John 1:1 to talk about how Satan can use little things to deceive.  He said, "It is the difference between beautiful truth and gross error."  In my mind, beautiful truth is at one end of the spectrum and gross error is on the other end.  His statement made me rethink and I realized that just a slight deviation from the truth can be gross error.  By it being "close" to truth, it seems harmless.  By being something other than truth, it is very dangerous!

-He gave four cultural hinderances to discernment: secular worldview, low view of Scripture, low view of Theology, and low view of God.  To me, they tie into each other so much.  For example: if a person has a high view of Scripture, it will change his worldview, his view of theology, and his view of God!

- He said that the worldview around us "refuses to delineate an antithesis between good and evil."  I am willing to go a step farther.  The secular worldview in many instances call good evil and evil good. 

- In thinking about the section on worldview, I thought again about how easy it is just to go with the flow.  Unless we are consciously seeking God, we will naturally adapt the thinking of the people around us.  May God help us to see where we have assimilated the world's thinking and to think Biblically!  (I guess I'm saying, may God give us discernment!)

- In regards to people's view of Scripture, it seems he was describing a type of dichotomy that exists.  We reverence the Bible in regards to theological concepts, but we essentially deny its sufficiency for practical lives.  We don't allow God's Word to affect us where the rubber meets the road.

- "Theology is increasingly portrayed as the realm of fundamentalists- dangerous adherents to Christianity whose fanaticism makes others suspicious and distrustful."  This is completely off his point, but stay with me.  I don't know if you guys would classify yourselves as fundamentalists, but I think most evangelicals would put us in that category (whether we want to be or not).  It is sad to me how we are viewed, but I realize there have been enough problems in our type of groups that the individuals (us) are judged by the perception of the group.  We can't change the whole perception of a group, but may we do our part!

- One thing I disagreed with how it was stated: "We cannot have right theology if we are not systematic."  I agree that studying theology systematically helps us to thoroughly examine each topic and the relationships between topics.  However, I think a person can have a correct theology without necessarily studying it "systematically."

- "God's holiness lies at the very heart of the need for discernment."  If my view of God is low, I see less of a difference between Him and me, and therefore less of a problem with the wrong in my life.  I appreciated his connecting discernment and God's holiness.    

I've had my say, what say you?

Discussion on Chapter 1
Discussion on Chapter 3