Saturday, November 3, 2012

ISI 22: Gray Areas

Icebreaker Question:  
            If you had three wishes to use for yourself on frivolous stuff, what would you wish for?  What if you had three wishes for serious stuff?  (And not things like world peace, curing world hunger, and salvation for all.  Because of course, we would all choose these.)


Open With Prayer


Read Lesson and Bible Verses:
            Over the years, I’m sure we’ve all run across various issues that are “gray areas” in Scripture.  These are the things that Scripture doesn’t talk about specifically, but that each Christian needs to decide for themselves.  Ideally, we would all make up our minds about these things and not worry about what someone else decides about them.  But the problem is that many times, these issues can cause conflict and divisions between Christians.  And that’s not good.
            But let’s take some time to explore various “gray areas” (or are they really more black-and-white?) and to consider what Scripture says about how to make decisions for how we live.  Not everyone will come to the same conclusions about these, but talk about the ones that interest you and challenge each other to figure out your positions on them.  (But do not let it turn into fights.  Skip any topic that may lead to that, or that might stumble another believer.  But it is my assumption that you are all mature Christians and can handle hearing different points of view on gray areas.) 

 
            Here are some gray areas to consider (and maybe not-so-gray areas).  Pick the ones you want to talk about:

            1.  Smoking

            2.  Drinking alcohol

            3.  Dancing

            4.  Watching worldly movies, even R-rated ones or scary ones

            5.  Listening to mainstream music or watching shows with questionable or ungodly content

            6.  Mothers: Work outside the home or stay home with the kids?

            7.  Is it necessary to hold regular family devotions?

            8.  Hanging out with non-believers

            9.  The need to confront others (believers or non-believers) with their sins or not

            10.  Environmentalism and our level of responsibility in caring for the earth

            11.  How much to tithe (Sometimes, we believe that since God knows that we are struggling financially, it’s okay to not tithe.  Is this okay?)   

            12. Yoga

            13.  Participating in Halloween

            14.  Clothing choices – less covering or more covering, tight or loose, one-piece or two-piece swimsuits for girls.  What does “modesty” mean?  How much does it matter?

            15.  Playing violent video games

            16.  Reading Harry Potter books or others like it

            17.  Lunch dates or emailing with members of the opposite sex when you are married to someone else

            18.  If you are married, what about having separate bank accounts, email accounts, vacations, goals, pursuits, friends, etc.?   

            19.  What about issues like how many possessions you have or pursue, how big your house is, how much money you spend on yourself, etc.?

            20.  A 7-day creation period or God working through evolution?

            21.  A young earth or an old earth?

            22.  Is it okay to have gay friends or not?  Is it okay to attend or participate in the gay wedding of a friend or family member or to send a congratulations card or gift?  How do you handle that?  Is it okay to welcome a gay couple to the neighborhood?  (Is it okay to attend or participate in a Buddhist wedding?  Or Muslim wedding or atheist wedding or whatever?  Where do you draw the line?)

            23.  Contraception?  Should we use it?  Should we be allowed to make our own decision about how many children to have, or should we allow God to set the number, giving us as many as He wants?  Is it okay to choose to have none when God gave the command to “multiply and fill the earth”?

            24.  How much to share your Christian faith at work

            25.  How to share your Christian faith – quietly living it or boldly sharing it with whoever you meet 

            26.  Which words are inappropriate for a Christian to say?

            27.  Public school, private school, or homeschool?

            28.  How strict we are with our kids, how we discipline, and how much we shield our kids from the bad things in society (TV or no TV, monitor who they are friends with, check their phones and emails, etc.)

            29.  Obeying certain laws or authority figures when it conflicts with your conscience (think up examples)

            30.  Which issues should we stand up for (such as abortion, poverty, etc.) and how can we take those stands (think of more)?  Which are more “live and let live” issues?

            31.  How much money to give to charity

            32.  How much of your time to give to church and church activities

            33.  Does being a missionary mean going out into the world or does it mean being a missionary wherever God has you?  (Are those who minister in their own backyard somehow less glorifying to God than those who leave their home to become a missionary?  What does the “Great Commission” mean?  And how can we do it?)

            34.  Is the death penalty acceptable or unacceptable? 

            35.  Should we be giving money to animal charities when there are so many people in need?

            36.  Dating a non-believer or going into business with one

            37.  How far should you physically go with the person you are dating?

            38.  Dating or courting?  (Date for fun or date only to find a spouse?)  Get married young or wait till older?

            39.  If a good friend who is a believer wants to marry a non-Christian, what should you do?  Should you confront them?  Go to the wedding or not go?  Say “congratulations,” say nothing, or cut off communication? 

            40.  At what point and for what reasons should you cut off contact with a fellow believer who is caught in sin?  And when and how should grace be extended?  Examples?  (There are many “Christians” who are coming out as gay or in support of gay weddings.  How should we respond to them?  Should we separate ourselves from them or embrace them?)

            41.  Is eating healthy food and exercising your body a necessary "must do," because our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit?  Or is this irrelevant?  What does it mean to be the “temple of the Holy Spirit” and how should that affect how we live?  What about tattoos and nose rings?  Are they ok?  Eating pork or not eating pork?  Should women have their heads covered?  Can they cut their hair short?  Is it okay for men to have long hair?

            42.  Should we force resistant kids to attend church or other church activities?  Make them sit in adult church instead of children’s church?  Sit with parents instead of with friends?  Does it matter?

            43.  What should you do if your grown child is living with their boyfriend or girlfriend?  Should you invite them over as a couple?  Let them sleep in the same room?  What if they are unmarried, have a child, and need a place to live?  Should you let them live with you?

            44.  Faith healers: real or not?  Does the Bible promise healing based on faith?  Is it irresponsible to lead hurting people to believe this?  Or is it biblically sound? 

            45.  Do you think positive thinking attracts good things and negative thinking attracts bad things, like we hear in some popular teachings nowadays?  Do our words and thoughts make things happen?  Or is this an unbiblical concept?  

            46.  What about small, white lies?  “Your haircut looks nice” instead of “It looks like an angry monkey chopped your hair with hedge-clippers”?  How about “Your new baby is cute” instead of “He looks like a shriveled potato”? 
            Is there ever a time to lie, out of politeness or discretion or trying to save a life? 
            What about Rahab in Joshua 2 when she hid Joshua’s spies and then lied to the king’s men who were looking for them, telling them that they already left the city?  What about those who hid Jews from the Nazis?  What if you are bringing Bibles into a country where they are banned, and the police ask you if you have any Bibles?  Are lies ever okay?  Under what circumstances?  (Speaking of Nazis . . . Could murder ever be justified, such as if a believer had the chance to kill Hitler?)    

            47.  Under what circumstances is “civil disobedience” okay?  Examples?

            48.  Should Christians vote or stay out of politics?  (Some people believe that since God controls who leads a country, Christians should not vote because they are interfering with His Will.  Do you think this is true?)

            49.  Blessings and curses that people from the Old Testament gave their children:  How do they work?  Was there really power in the words spoken, so much so that they can’t be taken back, like the blessing that Isaac gave Jacob instead of Esau in Gen 27?  Is there still power like that in words?  Can we really “bless” and “curse” our kids by our words? 
            [I think it’s interesting to note that, according to biblical research, Noah’s son, Ham, settled in Africa.  And in Gen 9:25, we read a curse that Noah put on Ham after Ham discovered him lying in his tent, naked and drunk: “Cursed be Canaan!  [“Ham was the father of Canaan,” verse 18]  The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.”  Was it a strange coincidence that Africans became slaves over the course of history or could it be that Noah’s curse actually stuck?  (If so, shame on Noah!)  Is there this kind of power in words, at least during Bible times?  I’ve always wondered about blessings and curses, and never really had a good answer.  But it does make me wonder about the words I say, such as saying to one of my kids, “You are going to be living in your brother’s basement because you won’t be able to get a job if you don’t apply yourself!”  If he does end up living in his brother’s basement, I’ll feel guilty!]  

 

            50.  How about confusing Bible verses:
             “‘Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered.  ‘I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.’“  (Mark 11:22-24.  This one still gets to me.  Seems so sure and possible, yet so often it doesn’t work that way).

             “But I tell you that men will have to give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.”  (Matthew 12:36.  Really?  Every careless word?  What does it mean to “give an account”?  Kinda makes me want to keep my mouth shut a lot more.)

            “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 18:19.  Was this only for the early church leaders or is it for us, too?  If it’s for us, too, why doesn’t it always “work”?  And if it doesn’t always work, why word it that way?)

            “And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.  Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”  (Matthew 12:31-32.  What does this blasphemy look like?)

            “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.  That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.”  (1 Cor. 11:27-30.  Interesting.  Very interesting.)

            How about “submission” in Ephesians 5:22-33?  What is it?  What is it not?  And how should we apply those verses?

            Is baptism necessary for salvation (John 3:5) or is it a symbolic act of salvation?  Can you have a saving faith without baptism?  What about the thief on the cross next to Jesus who never had a chance to be baptized?  Could he make it into heaven?  Is infant baptism necessary or does it not even count?    

            Can women be pastors (1 Timothy 3)?  If not, what leadership roles can they have in church?

            “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”  (Matthew 18:20)  What does this verse mean?  How is He with them?  Is He not with a single faithful person?  Is there more “power” or “presence” when more people are gathered than less people?
 




            51.  Or maybe don’t look at confusing, gray verses, but at convicting verses:
            “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  (Ephesians 4:29) 

            “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - is anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things.”  (Philippians 4:8)

            “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”  (Philippians 2:3-4)
 

            52.  Or maybe you can come up with some “What would you do?” scenarios, maybe examples from your life like this one . . .
            When I was taking a college class at the community college, I found myself in one of uncomfortable situations where I didn’t know what the “right thing to do” was.  I was in an English class, and it just so happened that one of my younger classmates was also in my church’s youth group, where I was a leader. 
            The teacher had asked people to take parts in a play to be read aloud.  None of us had read the piece ahead of time, but I raised my hand and was given a part.  But as the play started, I looked ahead to my character’s lines . . . and I was horrified.  I had been given a very sexual, immoral character.  I felt a knot tighten up in my stomach.  I would be saying these things in front of someone who I was trying to “live Christ” in front of.  I was a leader in the youth group.  People watched my life.  How would this affect my witness?  Sure, it might have been “just a play,” but I really saw it as an issue of integrity. 
            Now, I am no Mother Teresa, but (as an illustration, and forgive me for saying it) what if she once took the role of a vulgar, drug-using prostitute for a Hollywood movie?  A gratuitous role with no redeeming value?  Just cursing and drugs and sex?  Would we think any less of her?  Would our minds hold that image as we watched her serve God later?  Would her integrity and witness shine as brightly if we had seen her playing out a morally-depraved character?  All I could think about as I considered my character’s lines was how this young youth-group friend would hear my voice saying these immoral things, and yet later at youth group they would hear me speaking about Jesus and God with that same mouth. 
            It was a moral dilemma.  But what could I do?  The play had already started.  My mind raced for an answer.  And I finally settled on one.  One that I really didn’t want to do.
            But let me first ask, what would you have done?
            Here’s what I did:  As discreetly as possible, I crept up to the teacher and told her that I couldn’t do the part.
            “What?” she asked me, incredulously.
            “Um, I can’t read this part for . . . moral reasons.  I don’t like what she’s saying,” I sheepishly whispered, as the play went on around us.  And she stared at me with raised eyebrows that said, You’ve got to be kidding me?  Now that’s one I’ve never heard before.  
            Well, as soon as my part came up, she had no choice but to read the lines for me.  And I shrunk down as far as possible in my seat, as everyone looked at me like, What just happened here? 
            I never got a chance to explain to anyone why I did what I did, so who knows what they all thought of me.  But at least I didn’t have to live with knowing that my fellow youth-grouper (or God Himself) heard me saying things that were totally contrary to my faith and walk with God.  I don’t care if it was “just a play.”  This was about choosing what would please God more, about honoring Him.  Even if it was humiliating and uncomfortable.          
            How about you?  Any scenarios you can think of or have experienced?

 
 
            Some of these things may be more clear than others in the Word.  And with some of them, it might not really make a difference what we decide about them.  They might just be “gray areas” that don’t really affect us, just make us wonder.  (And some people can actually get really passionate about the littler things, while failing to even think about the bigger ones.)  But there are some gray issues that require us to make a decision.  Because we will stand before God and give an account for how we lived and raised our kids. 
            And I bet that we can find godly Christians on all ends of the spectrum when it comes to most of these issues.  But at some point, any gray area can slide into being unhealthy or clearly ungodly.  And we should be aware of what point that is for us.  We need to know when we are sliding into “sin” about a gray area. 
            And for many of these issues, each of us needs to be responsible to figure out our own positions before God.  And then, once we do, we need to stand on those convictions before God and others.  Because once God reveals what’s appropriate for us or not, we are accountable to Him for whether or not we obey. 
            (And when it comes to confusing Bible verses, we should do our best to learn what they really mean and how to apply them.  Misunderstanding can lead to problems.  Yet some of them might be “gray” on purpose.  I don’t know.  But there are some confusing verses that I have wrestled with for years . . . and I still don’t have an answer.  Yet it’s interesting to explore them and wonder.)  

 
            Let’s take a look at the most well-known passage about dealing with these kinds of gray areas.  And then we’ll ask some questions about it later.
            Romans 14:1-23:  (a few verses taken out for space)
            “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.  One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.  The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.  Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?  To his own master he stands or falls.  And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 
            One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike.  Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.  He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord.  He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. . . . You, then, why do you judge your brother?  Or why do you look down on your brother?  For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. . . . So then, each of us will give an account of himself 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 your brother’s way.  . . . But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean.  If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love.  Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. . . . For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. . . .
            Therefore let us make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification. . . . It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.
            So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.  Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.  But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”     
 

            James 4:17:  “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” 
 

            These verses broaden the definition of sin.  Sin is not just doing things that we know we shouldn’t do; it’s also sin to not do what we know we should do, to do anything that doesn’t come from faith, and to cause another brother to stumble regardless of our views.
            This gives us a lot to think about when it comes to the gray areas and how we live out our positions on them.  They challenge us with a whole new set of responsibilities, of what God expects from those of us who call ourselves Christians. 
            Do we fail to do the good we should: ignoring needs that we see, turning a blind eye at injustice, failing to treat others kindly?  This is sin! 
            And what, in our lives, are we doing that is a result of faithlessness?  Do we hoard money, seek our own ways out of trials, seek to satisfy our desires outside of the boundaries God has given, fail to obey because we are afraid of what obedience will cost us?  This is sin, too!
            Do we confuse younger believers by flaunting freedoms that we have in Christ, when they feel convicted about the same issue?  Do we act out of love and restrain ourselves despite our “freedoms” so that it doesn’t distress them?  Do we even know where we stand on these issues?  Are we fully convinced in our minds so that we can know that what we are doing comes from our faith?  This is what we are going to consider today.
 

Questions:
1.  Does this topic trigger any thoughts or other Bible verses? 
 

2.  Can you think of any more gray areas?  Confusing or challenging Bible verses?  Write them down.
 

3.  What kinds of positions have people taken on these gray areas or Bible verses?  Discuss any that you want to explore.  And what is your position on them?  (This may take up the bulk of your time.  Explore them together and see if it helps you figure out where you stand on them.)
 

4.  Have you run across conflict over gray areas?  Known people who respond poorly when it comes to gray areas and differing opinions? 
 

5.  Why might we have a hard time accepting someone else’s position if it differs from ours?
 

6.  Does a Christian’s position on the gray areas reflect their level of spiritual maturity?   
 

7.  What determines if it is sin or not in someone’s life?  What should be our guide in figuring this out? 
 

8.  How can we tell if we are sliding into sin in a gray area?  Are there any cues that we need to be alert for?  Any examples from your life?   
 

9.  What things are not gray areas that some people (and maybe even Christians) treat as gray areas?  
 

10.  We looked at this before, but how would you define “tolerance”?  How does the world?
 

11.  How does the world view Christians who believe in “right and wrong” and who stand up for what’s right? 
 

12.  Why might Christians be afraid to take a stand?  What are some issues worth taking a stand on?  And what might be the consequences of doing so? 
 

13.  How have some Christians taken a stand in less-than-appropriate ways or in ways that reflect badly on God?  And how have some done it well?  What should be some guiding principles to help us know how and when to take a stand?
 

14.  Does the Romans passage above make it sound like “eat meat” or “don’t eat meat” is the better one?  Is there a better one?  Or are both equal in the eyes of the Lord?  What other issues can this be applied to?


15.  How would you sum up the Romans passage?  What are some overriding principles that we can glean from it?  How can we apply them?  (Think up examples.)
 

16.  What does it mean to “not put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way”? 
What kinds of stumbling blocks or obstacles might we put in people’s way, and how?
 

17.  What do you think it means that it’s better to not do “anything else that might cause your brother to fall”?  What about the fact that someone is always watching what we do, and we don’t know who it might stumble?  Wouldn’t this mean that every Christian should be operating according to the faith of the weakest brother who stumbles the easiest or who gets distressed the quickest?  Is this even possible or is it taking it to extremes?  How do we balance our freedom to do things (if our conscience is clean before God) and the distress our brother might feel about our choices?  Can you think of examples?
 

18.  “Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.  But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith . . .”  What do you think this means and how can we apply it to our lives?  Examples?
 

19.  What does “everything that does not come from faith is sin” mean?  And what does it mean for our lives?  Examples?  
 

20.  Consider the verse that says that it’s sin if we don’t do the things we know we should do.  What kinds of “good things” do we fail to do?  Why do we fail to do them?  How can this be taken to an unhealthy extreme?  (Personal examples?)

21.  What is the balance between calling others up to righteousness (challenging them about their position on a gray area) and not interfering in their choices at all?  Is there ever a time that we should be speaking up at all about someone else’s choices, especially when God says that we have to all decide about these gray areas in our own hearts, before Him?     
 

22.  What are some scenarios when it might be appropriate to speak up?  Do you have any examples from your life?   
            (Imagine something like this: You have a good Christian friend who drinks at the bars with non-believers.  Or maybe one who is dating a non-Christian.  Is it your responsibility as a fellow believer to challenge them about the wisdom or godliness of such a decision?  If yes, how?  If no, is it possible that a fellow believer is in sin and you are not following Galatians 6:1: “Brothers, if someone is caught in sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.”?  When and how should this verse be applied?  Come up with some scenarios and possible ways to handle them.)
 

23.    Have you ever had to challenge a fellow Christian about a gray area (or a not-so-gray-area)?  What happened? 
 

24.  Has anyone ever challenged you?  How did it go?  And would you have handled it differently if you were the one doing the challenging?
 

25.  Is God challenging you about anything related to this topic?
 

26.  Do you have any other thoughts to share or questions you want to explore?
 

27.  Thinking back on this whole study, is there anything that you want to talk about?  What in this study affected you the most? 
 

28.  Where do you think you are going to go from here in your physical life and spiritual life?
 

29.  As I suggested in an earlier section, is there any challenge that you feel God might be prompting you to try as an individual or as a group?  Will you commit to it? 

 

Thank you for participating in this Bible study.  I hope it was as fun and inspiring and challenging for you to do as it was for me to write.  God bless you all as you go forward from here!  And I look forward to meeting you all someday when we finally make it Home!  Take care and God bless!
                                                            Sincerely, Heather (Sweetly Broken Girl)