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The Fault in our Discernment

Today I want to teach on a word that seems to be sorely lacking in the Christian walk. Discernment. 

When it comes to making decisions we basically use two facets of our God given faculties; the thinking part and the feeling part. Generally we refer to these as the head and the heart.  

A person who is all head and no heart makes intelligent choices, but they are about as personally intriguing as a slug. Head without heart decisions come across cold, perhaps even selfish. They generally lack empathy.  Head statements are extremely factual, but they come across as bazookas to the souls of people who actually have a heart.

The alternative extreme is heart with no head.  Here I give you a range of characters from the daredevil to the hopeless romantic.  I know it is hard to think of Romeo and Evel Kenievel as being closely related, but on either side of the scale, heart people usually end up with lots of broken things or perhaps even emotionally dead.  Heart decisions are not very smart ones, but they felt great.  It seems SO right, but there is little investigation of the facts or thought of the consequences.  

Enter discernment.  Discernment is the wondrous merger of these decision making faculties.  Discernment is allowing something to play the strings of your heart, but then stepping away to think about it before you make a judgment call.  Discernment is the ability to see the facts, but to think about a way to phrase things so that the Romeos in the room are not left breathless, flopping around in the floor at your statement.  

Add to discernment the Bible and we have an even more powerful equation, Biblical discernment.  Biblical discernment is to do what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:5 and “take every thought captive to obey Christ.”  I challenged my readers to exercise this capacity when it came to the recent backlash over the movie Noah.  I was intrigued by much of the Christian community protest of the film, so I asked a simple question, “How Biblical are your other movies?”

Case in point, here we are with A Fault in Our Stars and as an onlooker I am seeing also a fault in our discernment.  It seems that we are throwing our heart into this film, but leaving our heads, and most importantly our Bibles, behind.

I have not seen the film, but from the previews I can pretty much give you the plot.  Two terminally ill teenagers fall in love in the last days of their lives.  As they struggle with the idea of fate and the question of “why” love trumps all and I’m sure sex is a major part of the equation.  Right?

Admittedly, in seeing the preview I too was intrigued that this is a film with an interesting premise.  Will I watch it?  Probably not.  There is an element that seems to rise above traditional chick flick that is interesting to me, but I do tend to enjoy a little more muscle in my movies.  

Whether or not I see the film, I can tell you something I will not be doing.  I will not be taking my daughters to see it (at least not without some serious conversation for which I need to be majorly, Biblically prepared).  I certainly will not be uncritically celebrating it.  Why?  1) Because I am a Christian parent and 2) because it is what I thought it was.  It is a film that has some redemptive ideas, but in the end is a distortion of Biblical truth (what we believe) and Biblical ethics (how we behave).

If you are not familiar with this tool, allow me to introduce you to a valuable one.  It is PluggedIn.com.  It is a movie review site offered by Focus on the Family.  Before I take anyone in my family to a movie, myself, my wife, or my daughters, to PluggedIn.com first we will go.  The site offers a fair review of films with solid Biblical discernment - head, heart, and Bible in hand.  Each review is broken down into the succinct categories, Positive Elements, Spiritual Content, Sexual Content, Violent Content, Crude or Profane Language, Drug and Alcohol Content, Other Negative Elements, and then a very insightful, Biblically discerning Conclusion. 

Here are the concluding remarks from PluggedIn’s review of Fault in Our Stars.  Notice the involvement of the head, the heart, and the Bible.

"You don't get to choose if you get hurt in this world," Hazel says. "but you do get to choose who hurts you." That's a strangely powerful statement, I think.

Sadly, one fault Hazel and Gus share is that they don't always make the wisest of choices. They sleep together. And they prefer to see themselves as pawns of the stars, not beloved by those stars' Creator.
This isn't an anti-Christian film, exactly—just spiritually uncertain. Nor is it saturated in sex or depravity. This isn't a bad movie, really. In many ways, it's quite good.
But here's the thing: Because it is quite good—a persuasive, emotional story with strong, positive messages about sacrifice, hard truths and true love—the bad stuff can come off as more persuasive than usual. It's harder to see a loving God yourself when the characters you grow to care about can't, or won't. It's harder to object to premarital sex while weepily watching Hazel and Gus—teens who might never get the chance to ever have sex again—get so much pleasure and fulfillment from it.

The Fault in Our Stars is, I suppose, a little like its title. For all its sparkly power, it has scratches and splits. We know immediately when a movie like Noah drifts away from its moorings. But it's hard to see a film with crystal-clear eyes when you're always dabbing them with a Kleenex. 


Do you see it?  I see here a film that reaches for the head, but finds no satisfactory answers and then goes straight for the heart.  According to what I have seen of the response to the film, mission accomplished.    

OK preacher, it's just a movie.  Am I advocating some sort of stale, legalism that will eventually lead us to trash every movie except for the ones a church in south Georgia makes?  Will we have to hand over every Christian Oscar to Kirk Cameron?  I am certainly not condoning sanctified stupidity, but I am trying to slow the cart on the uncritical celebration by God’s people of something that appears to be at odds with the ethics of Biblical faith.  

If thirty-somethings don’t discern the message in this film, what do you think our 13 year old daughters glean as a take away?  Let’s face it, sex feels really, really good.  Is it true then that if we cannot reconcile the stars that it's game on?  What if the “stars” are not cancer at your home, but a boyfriend you can’t stand?  What if it is dad’s rule that his kids don’t date?  What if your baby finds “true love” (which is ironic in that “true” is a total head word) but you, the parent is screwing up the alignment of the stars?  

Here is the truth (head).  At its core, the film seems to say that the Biblical ethic of sex doesn't work in the real world of disappointing variables.  For a Christian parent, this poses a serious problem for the Biblically based message we teach and model for our children.

We need to be careful.  If we use our heart at movies but suddenly find that we need our head at home, the result is catastrophic.  What if one day we awaken and try to lead our children down discerning paths when there has been no prior precedent of head, heart, and Bible?  We may end up less like Christ and more like Romeo on a moral motorcycle attempting to jump Snake River Canyon.  When you do try to enforce a Biblical ethic in your home, your children will see the hypocrisy of it and reject your lead.  As believers we do not advocate situational ethics, but Biblical ones - in every situation.  We take every thought, even the hopelessly romantic ones on film, captive to Christ.  


Use your head, your heart, and your Bible.  Think! 
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Why We are So Wishy Washy on World Vision

In case you missed it World Vision, a Christian relief charity focused on children in impoverished conditions, announced on Monday that it will change its hiring policies and will now allow same sex couples to work within its organization.  You can find out more information by reading an interview published by Christianity Today with World Vision’s U.S. President Richard Stearns here

That decision lasted until Wednesday when World Vision’s board announced it had made a mistake and had failed to be consistent with the Bible.  You will find that story posted here.  

I find World Vision’s actions, as well as the wide range of “Christian” reactions posted on social media and the blogosphere to be indicative of this current age of confusion.  It is symptomatic of the very thing Paul said we should not be in Ephesians 4:14b, “children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”  

Why is the church so wishy washy, confused, and compromising?  Why is our message so unclear?  Pointing back to Ephesians 4, Paul says in verse 13 that there should be some semblance of “unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” about us.  This means that what we say on Facebook and in blogs doesn’t have to match precisely, but I’m not sure how much room there is in the word “unity” for our message to be all over the place.

Why are we as we are in a time such as this?  Again, I point to the passage.  It is a systemic failure of the pulpit.  According to Ephesians 4:11, it is the assignment of the shepherds and teachers to equip the saints for all of this.  If anything this week has shown, it is that when it comes to homosexuality, missions, Biblical policy, and social posting we have some glaring inconsistencies in our equipment.

Being a pastor I would like to address my fellow pulpiteers, stoolpiteers, tablepiteers, or whatever you choose to -piteer as your furniture of choice for preaching; by offering a short laundry list of Biblical issues we have failed to faithfully address over the last few decades.  

Sex in and of itself is not a social issue it is a Scripture issue.  Sex in and of itself is not sinful.  It is the boundaries of sex revealed by God in Scripture transgressed that is sinful.  The boundary we are categorically crossing is that sex is reserved for free, enjoyable expression between a man and a woman in covenant marriage for the purpose of union and procreation.  The union of man and woman in marriage is a model of Christ and the church.  Anything else distorts the gospel and dishonors Christ.  This we call heresy.  Let’s be clear not only on what’s wrong, but why. 

The reason we are confused about homosexuality is because we are compromised deeply on the Biblical message of sex altogether.  Before there was World Vision there was a landscape of broken preachers and churches wrecked by sexual sin.  The track record of clergy abuse, rampant pornography, affairs, and sexual failings that has plagued the church for the last 30 years has led us to our current quagmire.  The reason we can’t get homosexuality right is because we can’t get holy heterosexuality right.

What are we to do?  Repent of our sin and return to faithful, simple preaching of the full counsel of the Word of God.  Sex outside of marriage is sin - all of it, not just the homosexual version - all of it.  

If we are to return to faithful preaching we cannot return to where we were when I was a teen.  The only message I heard was that I was supposed to save sex for marriage.  O.K., then what?  O.K., now what?  

As a tempted teen we were told only to deny and resist.  We were never equipped in a gospel way to deal with the broader range of issues that surround sex, both positive and negative.  We just weren’t supposed to do it and we sure weren’t supposed to talk about it.    

True, God condemns fornication, adultery, and homosexuality, but that’s not all He said.  He also said that sex in marriage is to be celebrated and enjoyed.  We fail to equip the saints when we only condemn.  We should also affirm.  The Bible has a definite “No” but it also has a resounding “Yes.”  

Purity rings, true love that waits, and all of those youth camps that told us not to touch one another had their place, but because we never heard a single word from Song of Solomon, or Proverbs 5, or anything wonderful about what God has reserved for marriage, all we have now is a sexually dysfunctional laity of social media addicts who are, as I stated previously, “all over the place.”  

Don’t just preach to your boys not to touch the girls, teach them and show them how to be godly men.  The girls don’t just need to hear about modesty because they may “make a boy think a sinful thought.”  Teach them the model and reward of womanhood Christ has for them.  When it comes to homosexuality we are arguing socially, emotionally, and culturally and mistakingly calling it Christianity.  Hey preach, maybe its time we stop preaching 1,000 versions of our lame lists of how to be successful and develop some solid expositional sermons on how to be Biblically sexual.   

If homosexuality is wrong, what’s right?  Let’s not amputate the better half of our message again.  Why is marriage between a man and a woman better?  Why is it right?  How has God designed man and woman to unite?  What is it in the sexuality of a man and the sexuality of a woman that gives them the capacity to become one flesh in a way no other arrangement in creation is capable?  Even though Genesis 2:22-25 does carry with it some logical and simple refutations of the homosexual lifestyle, this is not the primary message.  I beg of you then dear pastor, please stop using Gen. 2 as a trite proof text that Adam didn’t have a husband named Steve!  Cliche‘ does not equip the saints, exposition does.  Preach Genesis 2 for what it is, a celebration of heterosexual covenant marriage.  The passage is not a stupid joke, it’s the gospel in its infancy.  If anything this week has proven, the saints have no idea how to articulate this message.  Again, the pulpit is to blame.

This leads me to our next glaring failure.  The reason we are confused on what to say about homosexual couples on the mission field is because we have been categorical failures when it comes to marriage at home.  Hey preach - when you cut on your wife and make jokes about her from the pulpit, it’s not funny.  Honestly, personally, it makes me want to punch you in the face - no joke.  When you ignore your wife and pay attention to her only when it benefits your “pastoral image” before “the people”, hey bro, the teens in your congregation are watching.  So are your kids.  The teens that have been watching this charade for 20 years are grown now - and they made a mess of Facebook this week.  Why?  Because they failed to see you faithfully model Biblical love for your wife.

Now they are divorced, abused, confused, broken and ashamed.  The reason they won’t take a stand on homosexuality is because they have watched everything else we tried to get them to stand on turn to quicksand.  

If we say homosexual marriage is wrong, dear God, please help us be more serious about getting Biblical marriage right; not just as something we say in the pulpit, but as something we model for YOUR people. 

What happened this week was that a generation of sexually broken, Biblically malnourished, confused adults tried to deal with something sexual and we stomped, fumed, condemned, posted, commented, and debated in the name of Christ but categorically failed to articulate a well grounded Scriptural message about Christ, the church, the gospel, and sex.  We were emotional, but not equipped.  We said stuff about sin and sinners and love and forgiveness and casting stones and all sorts of churchy gibberish what not . . . World Visions reversed their decision . . . Christian social media heads dutifully reversed their reactions . . .those that mourned on Monday rejoiced on Wednesday and Monday’s rejoicers became Wednesday’s mourners . . . but in the end we said nothing at all.  Why, because we are miles apart on Ephesians 4:13.  Why, because we are miles away from Ephesians 4:11.

For me, this week was not as much a commentary on our cultural compromise as it was an indication that the church is childish.  It is ill equipped to survive the social swirl, the angry churn of confusion Paul calls in Eph. 4:14, waves.  The decisions of Word Vision exposed the church as a weak swimmer in dangerous waters, with arms flailing, begging for help.  If we do not change the course of our preaching, if we do not connect the true gospel with sex, immediately, in due time there will be no reaction to these decisions at all.  Drowned men have little to say.

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