Thinking Out Loud

June 20, 2014

Gauging the Spirituality of Others by Superficialities

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you read The Message, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.
  (I Timothy 4:12, somewhat altered)

Good News bibleYesterday I had a conversation with an elderly woman who told me quite plainly that her Christian friends look down on her because she reads and memorizes verses in the Good News Bible (aka Today’s English Version).

This should raise all kinds of red flags.

First of all, it denigrates the translation itself. As BibleGateway.com‘s writeup states, “The GNT is a highly trusted version.” The American Bible Society continues to support the translation with fresh printings and formats.

But more important, it concerns me that her “friends” feel the need to implement correction in terms of her Bible reading choice. In other words, there is an attitude of superiority here, either in terms of their knowledge of what is the best Bible for her, or in terms of their own personal piety or spiritual maturity.  In Romans 14 we read:

4Who are you to judge the servants of someone else? It is their own Master who will decide whether they succeed or fail. And they will succeed, because the Lord is able to make them succeed.

(Quoted, just for good measure, from the Good News Translation.)

There are so many things one’s choice of translation doesn’t tell us about the person. How often to they read it? How much time do they spend in the Word in each reading? How are they allowing the seed of God’s Word to take root in their life?

Good News for Modern ManWhy do we judge?

Why do we sometimes seem to want to judge?

Honestly, we don’t know the heart of another. Even our closest friends. I Samuel 16 offers us a verse we know but tend not to practice:

7b…I do not judge as people judge. They look at the outward appearance, but I look at the heart.”

The Louis Segund translation renders it this way:

…l’homme regarde à ce qui frappe les yeux, mais l’Éternel regarde au coeur.

In English, it would read that man looks at what “strikes the eyes;” in other words first impressions and superficial indicators.

But God is concerned with the heart.

I got the impression that her “friends” wanted to present a caring attitude, but were perhaps looking for a vulnerability or a weakness because they possibly see her as more spiritual than they are, and by knocking her down a peg or two, they were elevating themselves.

Still, in a “NIV versus ESV” Evangelical environment, it was nice to see someone voting for the Good News Bible.

 

March 23, 2014

“We are the final arbiters of what God can use.”

Yesterday I made the mistake of wading in to the comment section of a blog which was very dismissive of a recently-released Christian film. The movie takes on a rather difficult subject and involves some doctrinal positions on which all might not agree. But ultimately, it’s a story of a young man’s courage in the face of spiritual opposition and his willingness to attempt to rise to the challenge and defend his faith in God’s existence.

The blog in question was agreeing with another blog that had totally dismissed the film. Completely. No redeeming qualities. Nothing of worth. I wrote,

…I can easily imagine a demographic who would be greatly encouraged by it, especially pre-university students.  It is, after all, the stuff youth group movies are made of.

And in that sense, this particular picture follows a long line of similar films. Not perfect. Definitely flawed. Scenes we would have written differently. Characters that might have been more developed. A plot line that seems contrived.

But isn’t that the basis of all Christian fiction? Doesn’t each novel begin with a plot contrivance that moves the story along? Aren’t all Christian novels and movies likely candidates for debate as to their spirituality?

I then wrote,

This type of review is simply all too-dismissive, and that’s where credibility is lost. Apparently there is absolutely nothing redeeming in this film. I totally get the reviewers concerns — perhaps the script is indeed rather lame in several places — but within the range of English communication there’s got to be a way to express those caveats that is less dogmatic, less damning.

And then I got attacked.

I should say that I have seen a couple of different previews of the film, so my remarks were not made in a vacuum, but I made the mistake of conceding I had not seen the full production, and that only provided a further opening.

And then I just felt sad.

I should never have commented on this particular blog. I am clearly an outsider. I am an outsider because I don’t go along with the party line, I don’t add my “like” the established consensus.

I think for myself.

I covered a lot of this fifteen months ago in a piece called Protect the Brand at all Costs. I guess I just needed a reminder of what I wrote at that time:

What I have issues with is … bloggers who only read their own authors, only quote their own leaders, only attend their own conventions, basically now only use their own Bible translation, and — this is actually happening — only sing their own songs.  I have written before how a previous generation longed to see a coming together of The Body of Christ in unity and now we are seeing increased fragmentation. And this fragmentation even extends to exclusivity, which is a mark of cult faith. And the printed and online output by Calvinists is so out of proportion to their actual numbers that they tend to dominate everyone’s lists of best books and best blogs.  Basically, a doctrinal preference has become a fortress wall.

There was a link to a review of the movie that raises the serious concern that the apologetics used in the film are weak and won’t withstand criticism in the real world. I can see that only because I see that happening in all our apologetic attempts. Some of our best books and many of our best arguments do have vulernabilities. That’s why someone so correctly observed that ‘it’s not any one argument that wins over skeptics, seekers, atheists and agnostics, it’s all the arguments combined.’

But to dismiss another person’s offering of their best to God in the form of what was no doubt a costly and time-consuming project is to me even more dangerous. As I learned in church this morning, there is a difference between judging and passing judgment. (Matt. 7:1-5, Romans 2:1)

The latter reference reads this way in The Message Bible:

1-2 Those people are on a dark spiral downward. But if you think that leaves you on the high ground where you can point your finger at others, think again. Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. But God isn’t so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you’ve done.

Defend your own brand if you feel you must. But don’t call another man’s work trash.

March 16, 2014

When Did Jesus Experience Grace?

coffee time

A conversation joined in progress…

“…she never brings anything to a potluck dinner, they just show up. He never comes to a church work day. They don’t attend Bible studies or prayer meetings.”

“But what’s that to you?”

“I think we’d all like to know if they’re all in.”

“Why do you need to know that?”

“Because it would be nice to have a conversation with them that wasn’t superficial; that wasn’t just all about the weather and the school their kids go to. It would be nice to know where they stand.”

“Why don’t you just ask them? Say, ‘So what’s God been doing in your life lately?’ Or, ‘What’s God been teaching you lately?”

“You can’t just start a conversation cold like that.”

“Maybe not at the grocery store, or with a relative stranger, but this is church, you sit in the row behind them every single week.”

“It would be awkward.”

“So here’s a question for you: Was Jesus ever the recipient of grace?”

“Wait. What?”

“Was Jesus ever the recipient of grace?”

“That’s just wrong.”

“Did Jesus ever experience grace?”

“Grace is for sinners. Jesus was without sin.”

“Are you a sinner?”

“I was a sinner; but now I’ve passed from death into life.”

“Have you ever sinned since? Maybe even this week?”

“Yes. Absolutely. So have you.”

“Does the grace of God meet you in that place?”

“Yes. But that’s different; second Corinthians 5:21 says, ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ He had no sin, or some translations say he knew no sin.”

“You just happen to know that verse?”

“It was on a Christian radio on Friday while I was driving to work.”

“And you memorized the reference?”

“My sister’s birthday is 5/21 so that helped. So when did Jesus experience the grace of God?”

“What is grace?”

“Grace is unmerited favor with God.”

“So the answer is, ‘At his baptism.’ A voice from heaven, the voice of God, says, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.'”1

“And…”

“He experienced the favor of God even though he hadn’t done anything yet. This was the outset2 of his public ministry. He hadn’t taught anything, he hadn’t called disciples, he hadn’t healed anyone. It was unmerited in the sense that he hadn’t commenced his spiritual work.”

“But he had been alive for 30 years at that point. He always had the favor of God. Luke 2:52 says, ‘Jesus grew…in favor with God and man,’ so this was something he had earned over time.”

“But the people at the Jordan River didn’t know all that. To them, he was simply one of many being baptized for the forgiveness of sin and then God says he is ‘well pleased’ with him. We tend to think of that as more of an end-of-life pronouncement from God, as in ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ 3 In other words, he has already been made a recipient of the favor of God.”

“But that has nothing to do with works, he was well-pleasing to God because of who he was, not according to anything he did. It’s the same with us, like that verse that says, ‘Not by works of righteousness that we have done…but because of his mercy.’4 There’s nothing that we do that ultimately earns us the grace of God. It’s who we are not what we do.”

“Exactly. So maybe it wasn’t grace in the sense of being freed from punishment because Jesus was, as you said, without sin. But it was a favor with God that preceded everything he was about to do over the next three years.”

“Okay. You could think of that way I suppose, but how did we get on this topic again?”

“The family that sits the row in front of you at church…”

“…Oh…yeah…”

“Could it be the grace of God is working and operative in their lives in ways you just don’t realize?”

“…Hmm…Maybe we need to get to know them a little better…”


1 Matthew 3:17

2Harmonization of the Life of Jesus

3Matthew 25:23

4 Titus 3:5

March 2, 2012

So, You Think You Know That Person?

Years ago, just before an annual meeting at a local church where I was serving, a woman went to the pastor quite distraught over an article I had written in the local newspaper on some municipal issue that she didn’t think was appropriate for someone on church staff.

The pastor let her rant for awhile, and then said, “Well, say what you will, but I know his heart.”

While I appreciated his coming to my defense, I also have tried to adopt a similar attitude toward others. I need to either (a) admit I don’t know people fully, and certainly not as God does; or (b) try to get to them better, not just superficially, but get to know their heart.

So as soon as I saw this at Barry Simmons’ blog yesterday, I knew I had to share it with you.

Danger of Assuming Knowledge of Someone’s Heart

Jesus said “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1). However, contrary to secular society’s assumption, he was not saying that moral evaluations are off limits.  In the same Sermon on the Mount he talked about knowing someone by the fruit of their lives. What I believe He was saying is that we must be careful to apply to ourselves the same standards we apply to others, and with the same severity.  We should give others the same level of mercy and understanding that we want for ourselves.

He was also saying that we should not be quick to presume we know someone’s’ heart or the facts of their situation. Here’s a thought provoking list from Kevin DeYoung of things not to assume (prejudge):

Don’t assume you know all the facts after hearing one side of the story.
Don’t assume the person is guilty just because strong charges are made against him.
Don’t assume you understand a blogger’s heart after reading one post.
Don’t assume that famous author, preacher, athlete, politician, or local celebrity won’t read what you write and don’t assume they won’t care what you say.
Don’t assume the divorced person is to blame for the divorce.
Don’t assume the single mom isn’t following Jesus.
Don’t assume the guy from the mission is less of a man or less of a Christian.
Don’t assume the pastor looking for work is a bad pastor.
Don’t assume the church that struggles or fails is a bad church.
Don’t assume you’d be a better mom.
Don’t assume bad kids are the result of bad parents.
Don’t assume your parents are clueless.
Don’t assume everyone should drop everything to attend to your needs, and don’t assume no one will.
Don’t assume the rich are ungenerous.
Don’t assume the poor are lazy.
Don’t assume you know what they’re all like after meeting one or two of their kind.
Don’t assume you should read between the lines.
Don’t assume you have interpreted the emotions of the email correctly.
Don’t assume everyone has forgotten about you.
Don’t assume they meant to leave you off the list.
Don’t assume everyone else has a charmed life.
Don’t assume a bad day makes her a bad friend.
Don’t assume the repentance isn’t genuine.
Don’t assume the forgiveness isn’t sincere.
Don’t assume God can’t change you.
Don’t assume God can’t love you.
Don’t assume God can’t love them.

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