Now What? – #Write31Days

 

If you are a leader of any sort, you may be looking at a list of emails or text messages seeking your opinion.  In the last few days, a well known author is at the center of some controversy.    Her fans are sticking by her side.  Her friends are comfortable to agree to disagree.  Her critics finally received the ammunition they needed to label her a heretic.

The people whom you lead may be asking you…

“What does this mean?”

“Do I have to stop reading her books?”

“Is she right, or is she wrong?”

“What is your opinion?”

You may find yourself struggling as well.  Are you the die hard fan that thinks she can do no wrong, the one who can see so much value in what she has offered that you are comfortable disagreeing with her on this controversy, or are you the critic who has been waiting in the wings for the shoe to drop?

This situation is not unique.  I have heard plenty of criticism about certain Bible teachers, famous Pastors, and specific authors for a very long time.  Video clips, quotes from their books, etc. which have helped their critics drive home points about the person being a false teacher, heretic, and sometimes far more drastic terms.

How, as a leader do I respond to these questions and criticisms?  How am I responding to emails, texts, and posts about this newest controversy?  By not giving my own opinion, but instead by suggesting to each person how they can go about figuring out the answer for themselves.  It is the same litmus I suggest to women in my small groups and women’s ministry leaders to use when selecting Bible study materials.

First, I establish the reminder that we are all humans and prone to err.  Additionally the amount of knowledge I have to day is vastly greater than what I knew 5 years, 10 years, 30 years ago.   As well, my opinions and interpretations have changed over the years with the accumulation of knowledge, wisdom, and experience.  I need to remind myself (or whomever I am giving this counsel to) that I can’t hold anyone to a higher standard than I would hold myself.  If I need grace, they need grace too.

Second, I ask a few questions about the author:

?  –  What is his/her background?   Seminary student? Lay leader?  Seasoned speaker on the scene, or a new face?

? – Who is in his/her circle of influence?   Who does s/he read, quote, look up to, etc.  Is there any controversy regarding that leader?

? – Who endorses him/her?  What publishing companies are printing their material, and what standards does that company hold to?  What do leaders whom I respect say/write about him or her?  What conferences or organizations have supported him/her?

Third, I look at the criticisms of the author (body of work, personal life, etc).   If there is an accusation regarding an interview clip or quote from a book, I look into the full context.  I want to eliminate any criticism that is based on partial information.    If it is taken out of context, or there is no way for me to verify the context, it is disregarded.  If I can read it within the full context of the interview or book, then I feel more equipped to make an educated decision by testing it against the scripture.

I also want to look at when this interview or book was written.  It may be a legitimate criticism over a piece that is 10 or more years old.  Lord knows I am not the same person, same Christian, I was 10 years ago.  I’ve learned somethings.  If the criticism is that old, I look for more current works and interviews to determine if the author/speaker/Pastor still maintains these beliefs or not.

Fourth, I want to consider who is making the accusation and responsible for the criticism.   Is this a person who generally has a critical spirit over anyone who doesn’t fall in line with his/her beliefs?   Is this a person who is credible, or not?  What is being criticized, the author’s interpretation of a Biblical truth or a personal conviction?  What does this person get out of criticizing the author/speaker/Pastor?  Is there a pride issue here, of wanting to be right or a sincerity of wanting to expose truth?

Finally, if I am still uncertain, I MAY purchase the material and test it to the Word.  Now you could argue that this would be better suited for the first step.  I disagree.   Usually, a false teacher or heretic is going to be exposed in these first four steps.  I would rather not spend money on materials from a false teacher, adding to their coffers and raising their book up the best sellers list another notch.  I would rather not put into my mind materials that are false teachings.  I would hate for something to take hold and stick there, and later quote it in error.  So, if I can discount material before reading it… I would prefer to do so.  I also wouldn’t want anyone to assume that because it is in my possession I endorse it.  Trust me, when you invite me into your home… I am casing your bookshelf for reading suggestions.

That said, new authors and speakers may not have enough history to address those first four steps appropriately.  If it comes down to it, I have to make a stand.  I can purchase the material, test it against the Scripture, and then make an informed decision.  OR, I can choose to skip the material altogether or at least until I can learn more about the author and their beliefs.  It is okay to not jump right on the band wagon of the newest popular speaker, author, or Pastor.  To take your time, observing and testing what you can.  When in doubt and you can’t find clarity, it is better to pass it up than regret your decision to engage.

So, does this mean I disregard everything this person has ever said?  No, not necessarily.  A friend of mine once said, ” a broken clock is right twice per day “.  There are authors who I do read, that claim to be Christian authors, and I do question some of their theological statements and interpretations.  However, because I am testing it against the scriptures… I know what to disregard.  I often read some of these authors as if they are secular authors versus Christians.  There are speakers who are great motivators and have some challenging words on social justice, and I can value the words they speak without affirming the rest of their beliefs are doctrinally sound.  There are some books I have completed avoided, because I don’t want to even entertain the thoughts and ideas shared in the material.

I would suggest to anyone before you jump on the bandwagon of criticism, do your due diligence.  Don’t rely on the opinions of others.  Pray that the Lord will give you clarity and discernment.  When it doubt, pass it up.  Be okay with giving time to build your own opinion.  Look at the big picture… who is the person, their life, their beliefs, their body of work.  Then make an educated informed decision.

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A Semester Ends… and Summer is Calling

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I know that I have mentioned it before, but it bears repeating for any new readers, I am currently back in school working on my Bachelors in Divinity Degree with Christian Leaders Institute.    This is a fairly new program for them, previously the school awarded certificates and included an ordination program.  However, last year, the school began it’s accreditation process.  This resulted in the addition of a Bachelors in Divinity Degree program!  And since, they have begun partnering with some great theological seminary schools for continued education into their masters programs.

It blows my mind how different my life is from where I expected when I graduated high school.   I went to college for a Bachelors in Arts degree, in Theatre Arts specifically.  Talk about a shift!  And, while I still long for the stage (on it or behind the scenes)… in many ways I don’t miss it.   I think over the years I have become very disenfranchised with what we see on stage & screen.  Even when I was in the thick of it, I can recall not understanding the need for gratuitous violence or sex.  I’d watch an action movie and wonder WHY this film needed a sex scene?  If it didn’t add value to the story, if it didn’t serve a purpose… then WHY?  I would also question how much they would show, perfectly content with the two lovers closing a bedroom door.  I knew what was happening behind those doors, I didn’t need too see it or hear it.

I think for a time, I wanted to be that change.  I could be a Christian and work in this industry.  I would just have standards.  There would be movies I wouldn’t do, scenes I wouldn’t do.  Easy peasy.  Not really, not anymore.  The industry has changed so very much, and there are so many actors and actresses willing to do ANYTHING in order to land the job…. a woman with convictions & standards doesn’t have a chance.  Right?  In fact, quite often, what we see now is a person who was willing to bend the rules in the beginning to get established.  Once they become a power house that gets the ticket sales, THEN they establish their new standards.  Everyone admires them for it too.  But they paid a price to afford them those convictions.

Then I looked at Christian movies and videos, available at the time.  I thought for sure that HERE would be the place that I could make a difference.  The story lines, scripts, acting and filmography were quite often cheesy.  But, let’s face it… they were working with a smaller talent pool, definitely smaller budgets, and time frame.  If we could just begin to infuse these movies with better actors, better budget, better everything…. we could WIN.  Those changes began to take place.

Yet, I find myself really disappointed still.  We didn’t make it beyond the first 10 minutes of Left Behind, with Nicholas Cage.  I had HIGH expectations for this movie.  Noah, well… Noah had rock monsters.  Fireproof and Courageous were ok, but like a Lifetime Movie type of ok.  (Yes, I know I am being HIGHLY critical here).  In fact, to be totally honest, the BEST Christian movie of all time in my opinion was The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson.  Let me explain why.

In your earliest acting classes, you are taught two very important things.  1) Acting is the art of lying.  In other words, you are responsible for creating a character totally outside of yourself that is also totally believable.  Every word out of your mouth is not true for you, but you have to sell it as truth for your character.   2)  Acting is the art of suspending belief.  I know, that sort of sounds the same as the first, but it’s a bit different.  Because this one is about the effect on the audience of the entire production.  It means that the writing, set, performance is SO GOOD… that the audience is totally invested.  You are transported out of your movie theater style seats and you are immersed in what you are watching.   Suddenly singing in the middle of a battle field doesn’t seem out of place.  Dragons are not only real, but you have an emotional connection (love/hate) to them.   You grieve this person who has died.  You are rooting for the underdog.  In today’s industry it also means buying the CGI that allows things that defy laws of gravity, or are seemingly impossible.

The Passion of the Christ, is the FIRST and ONLY Christian film that has (again in my opinion) pulled of those 2 important things.  It was also a film, unlike any other in the Christian catalog, to illicit a response in me beyond the theater walls.  Who hasn’t walked out of a movie theater or play, and discussed it over dessert or the course of the next few days.  The Passion of the Christ, broke me because my belief was suspended.  I was transported into that moment, watching my Savior being beaten, mocked and crucified.  It was real.  It left a visual imprint.  I still talk about it to this day.  It created the standard to which I weigh all Christian productions against.

This should be the goal.

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So, as I draw to a close of this semester of school…. in a completely different area of study… I can’t help but wonder about our churches.  Churches today have access to greater resources than ever before, the pews and seats are filled and filling, and many “pastors” put on a great show.  But why?  What is the purpose?  What is the goal?

I am growing more, and more, concerned about the response of the church body as they walk out of the doors Sunday afternoon.  Did they get their fill up for the week?  Or did it inspire them to dig deeper, did it leave an imprint, did it make the person want to learn more?  Is this part of their process of change?

Are we failing our body, when we spoon feed them everything they need to know, without inspiring them to read more on their own?  There is nothing greater, to me, then when I arrive home from church on Sunday… and I crack open my bible.  I want to see more, I want to learn more about what the Pastor was talking about.  I have been known to email our Pastor, or my mentor, a question here and there about the message.  I’ve looked at commentaries.  I have gone on to share it with others, because it was so profound.  Always hoping they too will be encouraged to dig in and read it for themselves.

Is this not the standard we should be striving toward, as Pastors,  Bible Study Teachers, Small Group Leaders, Writers, Speakers, etc?  We don’t want to hand them a plate full of food, and call it a day.  We want them to return for seconds, thirds, and more.  We don’t want to satisfy their hunger for the word, we want to show them how starved they are!

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It was during a video lecture, from one of my classes, Dr. John De Vries mentioned the idea of having a Small Group that actually meets to discuss the sermon message.  INSPIRED!   Seriously, I thought to myself… wow, that is a great idea!  And yet, it seems so obvious and simple.

This teacher, did exactly what I was talking about… his words in the lesson, called me to go a step further.  The semester is over, summer is calling and I know exactly what I want to do with it.  This is my summer small group!  The great part about this?  It is going to create a ripple effect, in our church.   Dr De Vries started the ripple by inspiring me to do the small group.  This small group is going to create 1) accountability to attend services each week and 2) encouragement to dig deeper into the message and word.  And, I pray that God will bless this small group by rippling out further as we talk about it in our homes, with our friends and even begin to invite people to join.

If you are a student, or a parent of a student… this term is coming to an end.  Summer is calling.  God is calling.

Bible Study – The Third Question

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In the past two weeks, I have written a bit on bible study… what is the wrong question to ask, and what is the right question to ask.  We are about to head full circle, but let’s recap.

Our first question, when studying any scripture, should be:  How does this reflect or reveal Jesus?

All scripture, the entirety of the Bible, is God’s redemptive story.  It begins with creation, shuffles through man’s epic failure, resulting in man’s need for a savior, God’s deliverance of a savior and the redemption we receive through Christ’s sacrifice.   Every passage in the scriptures is not about me or you, our first response should never be to figure out how the scripture applies to us.  The first question needs to be 100% about Jesus, how is this passage about Jesus.

The second question is a two part question:  1) Who is speaking? and 2) Who are they speaking to?

When we take the time to look at who is speaking, or who is the author of the passage, as well as who the audience is…. a lot of information is revealed.  This information puts the scripture in context to the culture and the climate of the people.  Understanding history has always been important for future growth, it’s why we study it in school.  We must know where we come from in order to know where we are going.  History teaches us what we need to stop or not do, as well as what we need to start doing or do better.

Once we acknowledge Jesus in the scriptures, recognize who the speaker or author is, and identify who is being spoken to… THEN we get to come back to the question of application.

Asking how scripture applies to you and I is not an inherently wrong question, it’s just usually done in the wrong order.  If you have ever found yourself wondering why a piece of scripture doesn’t seem to apply to you, it’s because you asked that question first.  Had you taken the time to find Jesus, and understand the context of the scripture, application naturally follows next.  You begin to see the nuances you might have missed.

At that point, it may be obvious that this scripture applies to you because it is an important piece to a bigger story.   You just need to keep reading.  Or, you may see where it parallels to events in your life.   Because, the honest truth is if all scripture reveals Jesus, then all scripture is applicable to your life. It is the door that you open for Jesus to come in and do something amazing in your life.  Every time we find Jesus in the scriptures, it affirms our faith, gives us confidence in God’s Word and promises, and points toward hope.

How is any of that…  “not applicable”… to your life?

I know that I need to see Jesus in everything.

I know that I need to affirm my faith with the revelations of God’s Word.

I know that my confidence in the Word and the promises of God, is built through the scriptures.

I know where my hope is found, the scriptures tell me so.

It all applies to us, through Jesus Christ.