Thursday, May 30, 2013

Middle-Ground Moderation

The idea for this blog post came from a discussion on women and the church with my daughter, Allie.  She had been reading some interesting Christian articles on, "gender roles in the church," by various present-day writers and theologians, and we hashed-out a great many things from those articles.  It was a good discussion.  The one thing that kept resonating to me throughout our talk was the idea of, "moderation."  I believe we have to use a great deal of moderation when discussing the Bible and seeking meaning from it.  We must keep ourselves firmly grounded in the center of God's complete Word, and therefore, in the middle of His will for our lives.  I believe when we waiver to any extreme in our interpretation of God's Word, that is when we falter in our understanding, beliefs, and thus, our actions with regard to God and His desires for us.

It is commonly known that a person can take a verse from the Bible and spin it to state whatever they want.  If you've got an issue, you can find a Scripture to defend or refute it.  This is even more true when taking a verse out of context and reading it as a, "stand-alone" verse.   I could pull out Proverbs 20:1, which states, "Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise," and use it for a strong defense that Godly people (or people, in general) should not drink.  But then a few chapters later, I could whip out Proverbs 31:6, "Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts," and give a totally opposing and reasonable defense that at times, drinking is not only appropriate and allowed by God, but encouraged and useful!  It can become confusing and difficult to balance and moderate all the seemingly paradoxical Scriptures in God's Word.  But God is not a God of contradiction.  He meant for His Word to be read in its entirety and interpreted literally as a whole unit.  I would hate for anyone to pull one sentence from one of my lame blog posts and make an out-of-context issue out of it (it would be even less intelligent than it is now, hard as that may be to believe)!  But you get the idea.

Last night on Facebook, the idea for this blog post was solidified.  Now...I am on Facebook about as little as anyone.  Let's just say I'm not a fan.  But I received a notification for one of my bands and by chance, saw a post on my news feed by a dear friend that dealt with this very topic.  He posted a link to a dispute between two current-day Christian authors and speakers, Rachel Held Evans and John Piper--two of the Christian theologians whose articles Allie and I had discussed weeks ago when we talked.  The dispute had to do with the idea of, "deserved tragedy."  Apparently, John Piper believes that the recent tornado in OK was God's way of judging us for our sins--that we deserved it, and we actually deserve much worse.  Rachel Held Evans believes that because we live in a fallen world, we have suffering and hardship--and it doesn't need much more explanation than that.  She believes that using such fundamental theology, as to say that suffering people "deserve" their hardship, is harmful to those who are hurting and that if God is love, as His Word states, we shouldn't view Him as merely wrathful and ready to angrily hurl us into misery for our sins.   Instead, we should view Him as a merciful God Who does not like to see suffering any more than we do, and Who grieves along with us at this fallen world. 

Fact of the matter is, I believe they are both right in their core beliefs.  Sadly and ironically, this is typically how arguments in the church occur--two people who are both right decide to argue a point that doesn't even need to be argued!  It comes down to moderation and looking at the entire Word of God.  Yes, God IS love (1 John 4:8), and yes, He is full of mercy (Eph. 2:4, John 3:17).  But He is also a jealous God who, at times, is angered (Deut. 6:15), and Who chastises those He loves (Hebrews 12:6).  His Word says both.  Do I believe John Piper should go around telling people they are being punished?  Heavens no--and if that is what his intentions are, then he is sinning in so doing.  It isn't his job to play the Holy Spirit in any one's life, and according to God's Word, he is supposed to be more concerned about his own imperfections than those of others, as we are told by Christ in Matthew 7:5 ("You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." Matt. 7:5).   The way I see it, the "removal of planks" from one's own eyes is a never-ending process, otherwise we would arrive at perfection and finally be worthy of pointing out others' planks!  We are only called to rebuke others when there is a clearly defined, outward sin being presented that is harmful to the body of Christ or that could lead others away from the Gospel--and there are pretty specific details as to how that is supposed to "go down," if you will, in Timothy, as well as in several other passages of Scripture.  There are clearly laid-out plans for who is in line to give the rebuke and under what terms.  But that is another blog post.  As for matters of the heart, personal imperfections, and inward sins, we have no business judging and "rebuking" others, or claiming they "deserve" what came to them.  God's Word says in 1 Cor. 2:11, "For who knows a person's thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God."  Furthermore in Romans 2:1, it is stated, "You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things." Therefore, stating that someone "deserved" the hardship they have been handed is a pretty bold and prideful move.  In Proverbs 16:18, it is stated, "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall."  We should never look down on other believers (or nonbelievers, for that matter) thinking they are beneath us or deserving of God's wrath.  God's Word says we ALL deserve His wrath (Eph. 2:3), that we ALL sin--even after coming to a belief in Christ (Ro. 3:10), and that we are ALL invited to partake of His love and His free gift of eternal salvation (John 3:16).  

This idea of moderation and keeping ourselves "in the middle" of God's Word and will for our lives filters over to everything really.  If you eat too little, you become unhealthy and can cause severe complications to your organs due to lack of nutrition.  But if you eat too much, the same occurs.  We are called to be generous with our money in God's Word (2 Cor. 9:7).  But we are also supposed to prepare for the future--to store up (or save) and be good stewards of what God has given to us (Prov. 6:6).  It's a balance and it requires constant monitoring and God's help to manage it all properly.  We never get it down perfectly, and even if we have moments where we come close, it doesn't take long before something slips and is out of whack again.  Personally speaking, I feel like when I am doing well with my personal health, I notice my housework falls behind.  If I spend a great deal of time keeping up the house, then perhaps I'm not in my Bible as much as I should be.  When I spend an immense amount of time with God, I find that I tend to ignore my friendships and family.  It is always something.  I feel like I can never get it all right.  There's always some nagging area where I feel my Father telling me, "Okay, how 'bout over here, Steph. We need some attention over here."  Tweaking our lives for good stewardship in all these things is a daily deal--and we'll never get it perfectly right. With God's help, we can only try.

Moderation also rings true in our interactions and reactions with others.  We shouldn't become overly concerned with what others are doing or comparing ourselves or our lives to theirs.  We need to keep ourselves in the middle of our own pasture, so to speak.  I love the quote, "If you think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, you're standing too close to the fence," (quote given to by my son in-law, Kale--thanks son)!   Anytime we're jealous, comparative, critical, or desirous of another's life, we need to get ourselves back to our own pasture and spend some time watering it.  This would follow suit in the theological debate aforementioned--if we're seriously calling others out on their "sins" and wishing or declaring God's destruction on them, we are spending too much time worrying about others and not nearly enough time working on perfecting ourselves in our own walk with God.  For every finger I point at others, there are three pointing back at me (and boy, do I deserve them)!  I know that when I awake with a heart full of love for God, and a mind desiring to praise and please Him, I do not have a time for comparison, criticism, or a haughty spirit.  There is just no place or room for it.  You can't immerse yourself in God's presence and be very concerned with the flaws of others.  He makes your own pretty apparent, and His great love wraps you up in joy and delight in Him and in those He has also created in His image.

Entire cults have been born out of pulling one verse or passage out of God's Word and making it a major issue.  2 Timothy 2:14 states, "Keep reminding God's people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen."  If you want to end or ruin a friendship, destroy unity in the body of Christ, or defeat another believer faster than anything, argue senselessly and needlessly with them about some minor issue in God's Word.  There are things that are worth fighting about and things that just aren't.  Clearly, we are called to love each other.  You will find way more Scriptures supporting that notion than you will ever find on rebuking and judging.  God must have known what we'd need to hear more often.  Even in Kindergarten we are constantly told to stop "tattle-telling."  Pointing fingers at others is an innate, sinful trait that we all have.  It started in the garden--Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent (Gen. 3)!  We come out of the womb pretty darn good at it.  Instead, we are called to have mercy and weep with the victims of the storm in Oklahoma--not make harsh declarations about their situation or generalize the wrath of God in a way that brings added pain.  Besides, our day may be coming!  Quarreling, harsh ridicule, judgment, false accusation, and condemnation are not part of love, mercy, and unity.

1 Corinthians 13 tells us clearly what love is.  Rachel Held Evans concluded her post in this debate with it, and I think it is a great way to conclude here.  The best way to keep ourselves balanced in the "middle" or "center" of God's Word and His will for us, is to love.  Love God first and foremost (and with a vengeance), love your spouse, love your kids, love your family, love your friends, love your church, and love yourself. When love is at the root, the fruit is vast and sweet, and the motivation to keep things balanced, centered, and in the middle never runs out. When love is key, finding the middle-ground with those in the body of Christ also becomes quite easy.  Praise God for His great love to us.

1 Corinthians 13, "If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.  When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."