Everything in the world is made up of black and white. When we look at the gray, the key is looking at it through God’s eyes and making a decision that leaves you at peace with and close to God…one that leads by example and gives glory to God, whether or not the rest of the world is watching. Can my heart remain pure and without sin by reading this book, watching this movie, dating this person, eating this food, making this purchase, listening to this song, wearing these clothes, drinking this glass of wine, etc? It is an endless question that needs to be asked many times during each day about various things.
The Pursuit of Holiness
What makes the whole process and pursuit of holiness more complicated is that sometimes God is just silent. Now, I know I said things seemed so much simpler when I first became a Christian, and for the most part, they were. Still, I remember when I first began reading the Bible for the first time that I did struggle with one particular thing. I would come across some horrific descriptions of events in the Old Testament and would be floored as to how the facts were stated in a very newspaper-like fashion and then the text would move on to the next subject without any commentary on the evil of the act. I called up a Christian friend and co-worker, who also inspired me to begin giving church a chance again, and told her of my struggle. She encouraged me that once you read the whole book from cover to cover, it takes on a whole new light. You see all of God’s plan and man’s deeds from the beginning of the world in Genesis to its end in the book of Revelation. You see the need for salvation and the change from salvation by law to salvation by grace. You see that sometimes God speaks volumes about how He feels about what people are choosing to do with the free will He gave them. You see that sometimes even God goes through many emotions: saddened, enraged, patient, silent, merciful. Still, from the rest of His Word and what you learn about Him as you develop your relationship with Him throughout life, you know how He feels about such events and that His whole plan for dealing with the black and white of the fallen world is to offer the light of Himself to cover the blackness, creating the shades of gray where His mercy and grace live.
Halloween used to be one of my favorite holidays and it is a perfect example of a line you have to draw for yourself between you, your conscience, and God. As a kid, I loved the candy binge of course, but also dressing up was fun. Little Red Riding Hood…Clown…Gypsy…Snow White…oh yeah, I was cute. And even when I outgrew trick or treating, I still loved picking out costumes and masquerading. The Queen from Alice in Wonderland…Hippie Chick…Sally from Nightmare Before Christmas…Witch in Lime Green and Black Striped Stockings and Hat with Lime Green Hair…oh yeah, I was rocking it…too cool for school! It was a love-hate relationship though. I also hated the other side of the holiday where many people focus on the grotesque horror and essentially celebrate evil. That aspect of it never sat well with me. After I became a Christian, it took a few years, but my husband and I made a personal decision on where our family would stand when it came to this holiday. The line we have drawn may be different from many other Christian families, yet the critical point is that we all prayerfully seek God regarding the matter and, in good conscience, come to the conclusion of to what extent we participate in Halloween. (One of the most informative articles on this specific subject is here: http://www.gty.org/resources/Articles/A123.)
We must reference God’s Word for determining what He deems evil versus good, and use all His guidelines for living wisely in the freedom of His mercy and grace. If we seek God and unity with Him in our conscience, we can make wise choices about where to draw the lines in the gray. This verse summarizes it well:
‘Everything is permissible—but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible’—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.’ – 1 Corinthians 10:23-24
Let’s also look at some additional excerpts from Romans 14, which provide much insight and guidance on the subject of dealing with the gray:
‘Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God…
…each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister…
…If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval…
…So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.
In seeking to apply these verses to our lives, let’s use the example of eating pork. We are often told that the guidelines God gave us in the Old Testament regarding various things including eating or not eating certain items “no longer apply” because we are covered by grace. Plus, in the New Testament, God says not to declare anything unclean that He has made clean, and we are free to eat anything with thanks. Whoo-hoo! Bring on the bacon! It’s the other healthy white meat, right? Not so fast…we are also not to take His grace in vain or our forgiveness and freedom as licenses to sin or harm. Godly wisdom also needs to have its place in our hearts and minds. Remember, Jesus also said He came not to do away with the law, but to fulfill it. God gave us the laws in the Old Testament because they are His best for us, for abundant life filled with energy and goodness…living off a diet that literally includes milk and honey as He intended it. Yes, everything needs to be read historically and contextually, however, science and logic are also proving God’s guidelines to be sound and true. To go back to our pork example, pigs – like ocean bottomfeeders and shellfish such as shrimp and lobster – eat literally filth…everything from excrement and dead animals to rotten food scraps and things tainted with heavy metals, chemicals, or pollutants, anything that falls in front of them. They are some of the most toxic creatures in the world. What happens to us then when we eat them? God had reasons for warning us to stay away. We won’t die or be condemned for eating pork occasionally…but, we can live a healthier and more productive life for the Lord if we limit our intake or abstain from it altogether. It’s a matter of choosing to learn, believe, apply, and share (if welcomed) the wisdom God offers without judging others or causing others to stumble/be distressed in the process. Call sin what it is, call good what it is, but we should never judge another’s motives, especially when it comes to the gray; only God knows your heart and all matters are between God and you only.
A Lesson from the Ostrich
I believe it all goes back to my first few entries on this blog and the purpose of the goingplaid journey. We can’t remove ourselves completely from the world or shelter ourselves from the darkness by focusing only on the light just as we can’t deny the fact that the darkness exists lest we stumble in it. We are to be the light while still in the darkness…seeking to find, remember, and promote the good while not ignoring or denying the existence of the bad. Yes, we are to keep our main focus on the light, but we must simultaneously be aware of the dangers lurking in the darkness around us and on our guard to defend ourselves against attack. In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis said, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.” 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Yes, I am talking specifically about spiritual warfare here, but I am also talking about everything potentially evil or dangerous in the world around us. We are to live today doing today’s work as well as the work to prepare ourselves for tomorrow’s work and for the surprises that come with living in a fallen, mostly self-centered world.
You know, I never gave much thought to the ostrich (other than it’s a weird looking bird, it seems pretty defenseless, and I believed the myth that they actually did put their heads in the sand…a perfect metaphor for the denial many of us cling to) until I learned more about them. Not only are ostriches the fastest bird and two-legged animal, reaching speeds in excess of 43 mph with up to 16 feet in a single stride, but they have the largest eye of any land animal with exceptionally keen eyesight – both excellent for seeing predators from afar and running away (their first defense). They are pretty huge at approximately 9 feet tall and 140 – 320 pounds. Yet, they can collapse and lie flat on the ground, flattening out their heads and necks, to disguise themselves as rocks or brush to their many predators (their second defense). Most interesting of all, they have a 4-inch sharp claw on one of their “toes” (a claw as lethal as Velociraptor’s), and their legs are so powerful that a well-placed kick could be fatal to most mammals including its most dangerous predators, the cheetah and lion (their third defense). About the only way predators successfully attack and kill an ostrich is by ambushing it. Tolerating a wide range of temperatures and climates, they live in rather large groups during some seasons, and live alone or in pairs in other seasons.
Also needing to adapt to ever-changing circumstances and environments as well as to be with significant others some of the time while seeking time alone with our Creator at others, we can learn a lot about godly, wise, and goingplaid living from this creature. Its survival depends upon its ability to be alert and on guard: recognizing danger from afar whenever possible and being ready to defend itself by the most effective means of countering the enemy’s form, timing, or method of attack. And most lethal to the enemy is when we are on the offensive, using the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God, to counter lies with truth.
Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ – John 14:6
New Year, New Opportunities, New Choices
Critical to your quality of life and ability to make a difference in others’ lives, your health is another shade of gray that is between you and God. Your body is His temple. In “The Stop-Doing List, Part 2,” I mentioned several things that determine whether we suffer with poor health or enjoy abundant health. Health is much like a jigsaw puzzle. When our health is failing, we need to go back to school and grab our detective hats to find our unique missing pieces and complete the beautiful, vivid picture that most everyone has the potential to create. Starting in March 2013, I will be writing more in detail about the many keys to solving your “health puzzle” by exposing the lies we’ve been taught by the world and embracing God’s truth and wisdom for wellness.
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