Discerning Right from Almost Right

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“All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition… making the Word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down.” Mark 7:9/13

Traditions – beliefs, activities, etc. that are passed down and repeated. I’m a huge fan of traditions. Everyone has them, some make no sense at all other than that’s the way it’s always been done. Our biggest ones revolve around food. Whatever that says about us, I don’t know. But come Christmastime, you’d better believe the same recipes are going to be made in the same way on the same day as every other year. It’s tradition.

Jesus is challenging the Pharisees. He’s pointing out to them that they value their oral traditions and laws more than God’s commandments. They are putting something secondary in first place and negating what is most important, essentially voiding the power of God in their lives.

This has started me thinking about things we do that may be hindering our right relationship with Jesus. I’m never ever interested in tearing someone down or criticizing just for the sake of it. There’s way too much of that going around. But I AM all about recognizing truth and addressing those little ‘red flags’ that pop up from time to time in our lives.

Here’s the vague story – I’m keeping it vague because I believe it’s more important to focus on God’s intentions and desires for us than get bogged down in man’s opinions. Anyways… a marvelously popular Christian with a huge following recommends a book. Ten zillion people respond gleefully and announce, “I’m on my way to the bookstore now!” and “Downloading it now!” within minutes on social media. They know nothing of this book, it looks interesting and it must be great if so and so is recommending it, yes?

Here’s where things get weird. I’ve read this book. And it has some pretty big issues. Someone writes what I’m thinking in my head all along. “Umm… I’ve read this book and would like to say that it isn’t really Biblical. There’s a lot in here that doesn’t match up with God’s Word, so please be careful.”

DUCK AND COVER.

This poor thing was raked over the coals. The usual catchphrases came out about “who are you to judge” and “no wonder people leave the church” (I’m not joking, someone said that). Quite a few more dissenters came out and tactfully pointed out some huge problems with this book and received the same treatment. It was a fascinating, not in a good way. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Usually, I don’t engage in stuff like this, it’s like going down a rathole. But this time – it was too absurd to ignore.

Here are some things I’m taking away from this little debacle.

  • It’s good to stand up for the truth, as long as we do so in love. If something strikes you as off, or doesn’t match up with God’s Word, speak up! Nobody is correct 100% of the time. Not my favorite author and not yours. We are human. God’s Word has to be our measuring stick, not the opinions of others. People really freak out at this and pull out the “judging” card. Discernment and judgment are not the same. I Thessalonians tells us to “test all things, examine all things” (5:21). Without discernment, we are “tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14).
  • People are thirsty and desperate to hear from God. I’m not being hard on people who seek out answers in the latest Christian book or fad. They are hungry for God and seeking after Him. But in that desire to grow and change, we fall for things we shouldn’t. We may be in a desperate time in our lives where we’ll try anything to get our answer. There is always room for improvement in our prayer lives for example, but are we going to God or do we seek out a method? Our thirst needs to take us to His Word first. Books are great for filling in little areas and mixing things up, but we need to be motivated by what HE says above others.
  • When someone claims to have a “new and improved” way of praying or just doing life with Jesus or claims to have cornered some area of the Christian life… hoist up that red flag and hold it high. I’m not saying we don’t all receive revelation, we do. It comes from the Spirit and God’s word and through people and circumstances. All good things. But the Bible tells us that we already have an anointing from God and we know all things (I John 2:20), meaning what was true hundreds of years ago is still true. The pioneers didn’t have Lifeway Christian Store and they did just fine with their Bibles. God didn’t give us 21st century people new ways of hearing Him that didn’t exist for someone else. Believers have the very MIND of Christ (I Corinthians 2:16). We need not be confused or on the lookout for some magic formula to get closer to God. We already have what we need.
  • I realize that most of these writers have good hearts and want to encourage people and help them. But there is such a danger in putting our traditions and methods above what God has already provided for us. Just as the Pharisees did as they clung to their stories and fables. The particular book that started all this was drawn entirely from a story from the Jewish Talmud. The main character is never mentioned in the Bible at all. The author implicitly says that you can’t just read the Bible. It gets very murky from there, but his whole premise is about drawing circles (actual, physical circles) around yourself and praying inside them until God answers. I circle and underline promises in my Bible, but this is different. There’s more to it, and I believe his heart is good, so I’m not meaning to attack here, I’m just saying this is dangerous as it leads us away from the person we are praying TO and makes us rely on a method that is found nowhere in the Bible. A woman who had never even heard of the book replied that she was going to go sit in a hula hoop on her floor and pray for her answer. Ugh. God doesn’t care if you’re in your hula hoop or your car… He hears us when we pray. And we must pray with a pure heart, not out of a ritual.

Let’s not allow traditions and methods to get in the way of Jesus and the living Word. May we not be sidetracked by superficial things that are just empty promises based on performance. Lots of people have lots of things to say – good and bad. We are made to build one another up and encourage each other in the Word. Let’s go to that first and be discerning about what we let into our hearts and minds.

Know the Genuine from the Counterfeit

This past week I have been all aflutter with the news that the very prominent megachurch duo Joel and Victoria Osteen made some “questionable at best, blasphemous at worst” kind of remarks and, thanks to social media, are being called out on it. For whatever reason, nothing rolls my socks as much as false and fraudulent Christianity. Taking God’s word and tweaking it for our own purposes. Making it up as we go, whatever feels comfy and cozy Christianity. Yuck. So… being in agreement that things like this need to be exposed, I was happy to read the articles and blog posts. Admittedly, I kind of lost it when people commented saying things like this:

“You shouldn’t be so harsh and mean… who are we to judge?”

“I don’t think you should be attacking fellow believers this way… it’s not very Christian-like.”

“We need to just love more. He is helping people and we shouldn’t stand in the way of that.”

I never comment on big Facebook threads, but this put me over the edge. Not that I wanted to stick it to these people, because I didn’t. It’s not my argument to win or lose. God’s word is what it is and can defend itself. But I passionately desired to speak the truth in a way that would hopefully make them think about what they were saying. Ephesians 4:15 reminds us to “speak the truth in love”.  So I put my two cents in. Most agreed, some didn’t. It became like a giant rabbit hole, I found myself wanting to defend every point and counter-point. “If they could just understand what God’s Word REALLY says! They would never think this way!” It was exhausting because I was trying to address every single false argument some of these people put up. 

Then it became clear. The TRUE gospel is inherently offensive to the world and it always will be. It isn’t politically correct. It’s super fashionable right now for people (Christians included) to embrace the “don’t judge” mentality.  It sounds nice and inclusive and justifies everything, so when discernment shows up, they freak out and scream about judgment. I could (and did) speak the truth in the most loving, kind way possible and I still got chastised for “judging.” It’s truly mind boggling. 

I could go on forever about the specific arguments, but I wanted to focus instead on what God revealed to me after all of this. 

“Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.

…But I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil.” Romans 16:17-19

The New Testament makes it abundantly clear that doctrine is going to be altered and people will come who twist the truth. It’s always happened in the church and it always will. I noticed the use of the word ‘simple’ twice:

1) teachers coming along and deceiving the hearts of the simple

2) a call to make ourselves simple concerning evil

They seem to be at odds. If a simple person is one who is deceived, why in the world would we want to then make ourselves simple???

So I studied it a little and learned that while we have one word (simple), the Greeks used two separate words with two separate meanings. 

-The first use means “gullible or ignorant, lacking discernment.” (Bad!)

-The second means “unmixed, pure”. (Good!)

It’s here where I wish the English language (or Bible translators) would have done a better job. So, we need to become LESS gullible and MORE pure. Or as the English would have it, “less simple and more simple…”

God certainly doesn’t want us to walk in ignorance. Unless we move to a cave, we are aware of what is happening in the world and it’s a lot of evil. I believe God is saying don’t indulge in evil. This is different for different people, but for me this means I don’t need to constantly expose myself to the world and all its happenings. I can know what is going on without watching the news 24/7. I don’t have to read ALL the comments on a contentious story. I don’t even always need to get involved in it. We need to know our boundaries and our limits. 

It is good to be informed and to speak truth. I got informed about something this past week that troubled my heart, and I spoke up about it. Christians need to do that. But we also must find balance. Instead of spending all our time studying the “fake”, we need to make ourselves more familiar with the “real”. 

Theres a scene in the movie “The Thomas Crown Affair” where the art experts demonstrate how they determine a real Monet from a counterfeit one. They photograph the borders of the genuine painting and then frame it. Whenever a fake comes along, they compare it to the photos of the real one. So – we don’t need to spend all our time focusing on and studying the “counterfeit”. There’s just too much counterfeit out there to keep up with. If, however, we are able to recognize the genuine when we see it – God’s truth, not watered down or altered – then we are truly being “wise concerning what is good”. 

It’s good to take a look at the counterfeit and call it out for what it is. What happened this week isn’t a bad thing. It makes people aware that there may be a problem. But we can’t camp out there. We can’t keep going back and forth arguing because eventually it’s going to lead down a wrong path. We have to get our focus back on the REAL thing. We can argue against things all day long, but there comes a point when we need to focus on what we are for as well. 

When the dust settles, the false stuff will fall away. Whats true is what lasts. That’s where our focus needs to shift to. May we be “simple” when it comes to the discussions and distractions of this world, knowing when to speak up and when to leave it alone. May we also be “wise” in all the genuine, real things of God, knowing that the best way to counter the fake is to make ourselves totally familiar with the genuine.