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

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Why Proclaim God's Word?- Part 1

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
- Knowing how to be saved from his sin is the single most important piece of knowledge a person can have.  This knowledge can be gained in a number of books.  However, every book that shares this knowledge has the same source- the Bible.  Paul said that the Scriptures made Timothy "wise unto salvation."  Since God's Word is our source of information about the salvation of souls, we must be sharing it, the Word, with others.  In the 21st century, people have a lot of sources of information: television, the internet, magazines, movies, radio, books, other people.  Most of these sources do not present God's Word.  Will we do our part in sharing it with them and thereby allow them to hear the truth about salvation?

2. We must proclaim God's Word because God gave it. 3:16a
- When we hear some information that sounds dubious, we often will say, "Consider the source."  The accuracy of information is often measured by the validity of the source.  In the passage, Paul states that Scripture is given by inspiration of God.  The source of the Bible is not the human authors who penned the words.  The source of the Bible is Almighty God himself.  I know that my God is without flaw, therefore I am confident that the Word that He has given is completely reliable.  As we talk to others about salvation or any other spiritual topic, our validity is only as good as our source.  If God's Word is our source, we can confidently proclaim the truth knowing it is God's Word, not ours.

3. We must proclaim God's Word because it is beneficial to man. 3:16b-17
- I believe God's primary purpose in giving His Word was to reveal Himself to us, not simply to help man live his life.  However, the accompanying truths are unquestionably a benefit.  Paul wrote that the Scripture is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness.  He said that God's Word applied to a man's life will result in that man being complete and prepared for good works.  I think everyone would agree that doing something for someone else is very rewarding.  We enjoy sharing helpful information and doing helpful things.  By instructing about salvation and giving principles about every aspect of life, God's Word has the potential to aid others, yet noone will be benefited unless they hear it.  The only way they will hear it is if we will proclaim it.

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

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment- Chapter 1

(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.)

Note to my fellow readers: By this being the first time I've done something like this, I have no idea whether I will follow some kind of pattern or if I will organize my posts differently from week to week.  As of right now, I simply plan to share what was a challenge to me and add a few simple comments.  I look forward to whatever input you may have as well.

- I thought the opening story about the counterfeit money was fascinating . . . even if I didn't think it tied in with his introduction very well!

- "In this book I hope to show that discernment is a discipline."  This helped me to think of discernment as something that I can grow in, something to be developed, and not just something I either have or don't have.

- "[This book] is written for all those who believe that it is the duty of every Christian to think biblically about all areas of life so that they might act biblically in all areas of life."  I think we often don't act biblically because of the work it takes to think through things and see how God's Word applies to the situation.  I want to be the type of man that does things because of a biblical reason!

- "We may learn to discern truth from error, good from bad, better from best."  He is right- discernment touches a variety of types of decisions.  I hadn't thought of it that way before.

Chapter 1
- He discusses Solomon's recognition of his need for discernment.  While reading this section, I thought of you guys, my friends.  I know I need discernment in the decisions I face.  However, I recognize that each of you has areas of responsibility that I do not have and challenges that I do not face.  It is my desire that the Lord use this book to help each of us to discern the mind of the Lord in the responsibilities He has given us.

- I thought he nailed it: "An age when many consider spiritual immaturity a mark of authenticity, and when people associate doubt with humility and assurance with pride."  I feel he has his fingers on the pulse of many believers.

- When discussing spiritual immaturity being a reason for lack of discernment, he used the illustration of children- how they will put anything into their mouth when they are little.  He said, "Only with maturity will children learn that what looks good may not truly be good. . . . immature believers are prone to sample anything."  For us as men, as believers, as preachers of the Gospel- there are a lot of things out there that look good.  May God give us the wisdom to look past appearances and to understand what is good and what is not.  A "sample" of one bad thing may not kill us, but we will not grow if we have that habit of "sampling" things that are unhealthy.

- The thought that lack of discernment is characteristic of an unbeliever was a challenge to me.  It should be true of them, for they do not have Christ.  It should NOT be true of me, one who has been bought by the precious blood of Christ.

- He quoted J. C. Ryle on the ways that the Gospel can be spoiled- by substitution, addition, interposition, disproportion, and confused and contradictory directions.  He then wrote, "Discernment, then, is not an end in itself.  Rather, discernment is the means to a far greater and nobler end."  This helped me see my need for discernment as I attempt to share the Gospel.  Moldova, Canada, and the United States have their share of those spoiling the Gospel- may the Lord help us not add to it!

- I thought his "Key Thought" section at the end was a very good summary of the chapter.  It condensed what he said in the preceding paragraphs and gave a good review.  I hope he continues it throughout the book.

I've had my say, what say you?

Discussion on Chapter 2