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?