You may have noticed that I don’t comment on political matters; usually there is enough of that going on on social media and news sites already. And today is no different; I’m still not going to comment!
What I have noticed in many people’s interpretations of the times we are living through at the moment, though, is that as usual everyone has an opinion and expects everyone else to have the same opinion. Worse, people’s hearts are being judged by complete strangers on the sole basis of what they write on social media. Some folks are confronting others and asking them what they, personally, are doing with regard to ‘getting involved’.
It concerns me that, once again, people’s innate judgmentalism is coming to the fore; it seems that yet another set of criteria have appeared by which people gleefully and angrily (both at the same time!) judge others. Instead of concentrating on what they themselves should be doing, they look to see if others are doing that same thing, and judge them if they’re not. The hypocrisy is immense.
As a note for posterity, this piece was written at the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, and at a time of rioting in the USA over black people’s rights. But whatever the situations are; this principle of hypocrisy is timeless, and people who are moved by the prevailing situations will vary on the actions they perform to address those situations, if indeed they do perform any such actions. Different people react in different ways – and not all people choose to place their actions on show – or even ‘in view’ – for others to judge. Of course, our actions are not performed for others’ judgment anyway, nor are they performed for others’ approval. In essence, approval is simply the end-result of someone’s judgment anyway, in that others judge an action and decide if they approve.
Jesus said that showing off our ‘acts of righteousness’ before other humans was not a good idea (Mt 6:2). This was more in the context of not showing off how ‘spiritual’ we are for others’ approval, but you see that word there again – ‘approval’? It’s almost as if they were setting themselves up for others’ approval – and therefore favourable judgment – by being ‘spiritual’ and praying on street corners and such-like. But the meaning can also be extended to putting any‘act of righteousness’ on display. It could be feeding the poor; standing up for black rights; giving money to good causes; all of which are good in themselves but can also be used as a ‘spiritual showing-off’ trick. “Look what I’m doing for [my choice of good cause]!”. In other words, it is inviting the ‘favourable judgment’ of others, in order to improve at least how one feels about oneself, and maybe also how others feel. And that was what He meant by “you have your reward already”.
So, personally, I have never cared what others think, nor have I ever placed myself on a pedestal for approval. And I have to say that the freedom from others’ opinions is simply incredible, although I haven’t really known it any other way. I suppose I am helped in that, having Asperger’s Syndrome, I have always considered others unable to understand my way of thinking anyway (it’s not ‘better’, it’s just ‘different’) and so I gave up trying to make others understand a long time ago.
For these reasons, then, any actions I perform will of necessity normally be secret. I will not tell anyone that I gave some money to a beggar; I would not trumpet it out that I am standing up for this person or that person’s rights. It just wouldn’t occur to me. And I am absolutely sure that this is also the case for many millions of others too, who just silently and unobtrusively get on with their ‘works of righteousness’ without flags, drums or trumpets, and without in any way calling attention to themselves doing those things.
Note, though, that just because no-one else knows does not mean they are not ‘doing things’. Equally, it does not mean that they are ‘doing things’. What it does mean is that whatever they ‘do’ or ‘don’t do’ in the cause of righteousness is no-one else’s business, and is known only by themselves, by God, and (sometimes) by the people whom they may choose to bless by performing those actions.
Another thing is that not everyone is capable of doing things that others can do easily. For example, someone may have a disability that prevents them from being able to do things. I’m sure there are other things those people can do should they feel the inclination. But you see that principle can also be extended in that everyone does things in their own way. There is no prescribed way to help; sometimes it may look like someone is doing nothing, but the truth may well be very far from that. Or it may not. Part of a believer’s freedom is to notgo along with the crowds and their expectations; as a believer, this freedom includes you too. I mean, I’m sure Jesus had many demands on His time too. But He did what He saw His Father doing (John 5:19). And that is the path to being free to make a difference: to doing what Father requires of you at the time. If you follow everyone else’s requirements, you’ll not get done what Father wants you to do. Remember there is no ‘should’ as far as a believer is concerned, because he lives in freedom.
Complete freedom as a believer becomes possible when one has shaken off the need to please humans, and this includes no longer feeling you have to justify your actions to others. As a free believer, you are above others’ judgment, and you are also above the politics and compulsions that drive them; they don’t have to drive you in the same way. Instead, if you need a ‘driving factor’, you can be free simply to let yourself be driven by doing what you see the Father doing, just as Jesus was. And if Father isn’t asking you to do something, you don’t do it.
Your life is not there to fulfil someone else’s wish list. And your life is not subject to others’ judgment or, following on from that, their condemnation. Don’t get bogged down in attempting to explain your actions to others, which can only lead to your being judged by them as they deceide whether or not your actions (or lack of them) are ‘acceptable’ in their own eyes.
Because, at the end of the day, the only Person you need to please is God.
And you do that, in any case, just by being you. That’s what Grace does.
Recently, there has been tremendous upheaval in the way we live our lives, what with the Coronavirus pandemic and all that it has entailed. Also, there has been much social change going on with ‘Black Lives Matter’, and its consequences and ramifications, being very much in the forefront of the news.
Now, I don’t comment on political things, nor do I comment on news things in general. But I am aware that these huge social changes have a significant impact on everyone’s lives. How, as a believer, does one navigate not just these changes in the world, but indeed any major crisis or change?
But God’s calling is still God’s calling; it is unique to each of us (Jn 21:22), and He knows what He would like each of us to do in these circumstances, for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance (Rom 11:29 (KJV) ). He doesn’t change His mind for the sake of human whims, so you have that security.
So how, then, does the believer determine the call of God on their lives, and how do we apply that calling in the face of intense pressure from other people to conform, to not conform, to act, to do, to not do? It’s a combination of a whirlwind of ideas and thoughts; truth and lies, with a minefield of pitfalls. Often, it seems like we just can’t put a foot right!
In order to encourage my readers, I wrote this series of blog posts outlining what I consider the believer’s position is with regard to these monumental events and how to cope with those who clamour and vie for your attention, your affirmation, and your vote. I believe there will be something in these posts to encourage everyone, although of course there may be some things you will not agree with.
And so I invite you to dine at my table with these articles: eat the meat, and spit out the bones. No-one will tell you that you are bad-mannered for doing so 😉 Please dig in to this series which touches on aspects of your faith, your calling, your actions, and the judgments of others. You will find ideas on how to conduct yourself in these difficult times, you will read inspiring examples, and you will find encouragement in your position in Christ and as a citizen of the Kingdom of God.
And, all being well, you will find peace in the midst of the storm.
My readers are probably fed up by now with the way in which I keep reiterating that there are Christians who seem to determined to wring every bit of Bad News that they can out of the Good News. Examples of such articles are here and here. I didn’t mean to rant, honest! 😀
Anyway, my dear friend Mo Thomas looks at this phenomenon in some detail in this post, where he explains some of it with refererence to identifying how he himself used to believe. And he’s right in his thinking.
Responding to Mo’s piece, I wrote a short prose filling out a few other points, which he liked. Together, I believe these two pieces make for some instructive reading, which I think goes to the heart of the pessimistic outlook of those Christians, from two different angles. That’s why I thought I’d share it here with you. It has certainly helped me to see things from their perspective!
Over-Exaggerating God’s Goodness
Why is there such massive pushback in our churches, perhaps even outrage, against an unconditionally loving and merciful God, whom we hope will eventually rescue and save all people? Do people just not want a successful Savior?!?
Well… it’s more complicated than that.
Many that fall into this category are simply trying to honor God by taking the scriptures seriously and literally. They aren’t purposely painting God as a genocidal murderer and cruel torturer and giver of death and disease… instead, they sincerely believe these are unfair and grossly inaccurate labels that atheists tend to hurl as accusations and caricatures. They categorically believe the Bible says what the Bible plainly says, which means that God can and does do whatever He pleases – even if this includes behavior that we would, without hesitation, know is evil.
This was me for most of my life.
Here were a few points of my previous, seriously literal, Biblical logic:
1. God is filled with both love AND wrath, and without the darkness of “violent OT” [Old Testament – Ed] God and “overseer of hell” God, Jesus’ radical love in the Gospels is diminished and perhaps even meaningless without the contrast.
2. The Gospel by definition is centered on a CHOICE that REQUIRES some are in, and some MUST BE out, or else why did Jesus die at all?? In this case, “out” means you will be banished to a place of endless horrifying torture, the just requirement of an infinitely holy God.
3. There was a certain security and even (unspoken) pride in knowing I was heading to heaven’s bliss because of something I had done or believed. It also provides a sense of belonging to be in the “in” group with all the “in” benefits, in STARK contrast with those currently excluded.
4. The parable of the vineyard highlights how furious the “early arrival” workers became when learning the Master paid the “late arrival” workers the exact same amount. It seems so very unfair to say that EVERYTHING depended on the character of the Master, REGARDLESS of how long or how hard or how sincerely anyone worked. I guess I really wanted, in some sense, for God to place a great deal of weight on my life-long diligence, knowledge, choices, and hard work when it came to receiving His benefits.
My unraveling began as the nameless, faceless people, in the stories I read and the sermons I heard, started to become humanized in my heart. These were real flesh and blood image-bearers who, according to the narrative, suffer at the hands of God, in gratuitously violent and soul-sickening ways that I simply could NOT reconcile with the character of Abba as revealed by Jesus.
I also saw that my theology had been mainly propped up on MY beliefs and MY works, rather than on Christ – Their beliefs and Their works and Their loving acceptance of me into Their heart long before my birth.
So I started asking questions, and I encountered the Holy Fire of Their Love that unveiled the terrifying and utterly beautiful nature of raw, unfiltered Grace.
(By the By… it’s IMPOSSIBLE to over-
exaggerate the Goodness of God…
you will be forgiven for trying)
– Mo Thomas, used here with his kind and indeed enthusiastic permission
Of course, that post got me thinking. And, as so often happens when I read others’ posts, it helped me to crystallise my own thinking from over the last few months or so.
Here’s what I put:
I agree that they are trying to honour the ‘whole counsel of Scripture’, but of course even that depends on interpretation and on being able to see the whole arc of the story. For example, treating the OT Scriptures as if Jesus never came is a mistake that is all too common. We cannot give the same weight to OT Scriptures where they are superseded by the revelation of God in Christ.
Something else is that in our lives we are conditioned to believe that if something seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Maybe that hesitancy to believe that the incredible, [insert superlatives of choice] Good News really is as good as we claim, is based on that reluctance to believe that things can really be that good. Especially when we combine it with being told that God is Good, and holding that up against the crap that happens in the world. Evidence from civilisation suggests that God is not good, or at least if He is, then He’s not doing much about the bad stuff that happens.
For those who have experienced first-hand the goodness of God, there is no other way of seeing things except that God is indeed Good – and yes, that’s ‘all the time’ 🙂 But a combination of our fear of being let down (again), nature being red in tooth and claw, and shit being allowed to happen unchecked, and things being too good to be true, I suppose it’s no wonder that we fall short of allowing ourselves to bask in the fulness of the knowledge of just how Good the Good News really is.
So, there we are. Lots to think about there, and hopefully some understanding has been gained too.
Too Good to be True? Well, I think it was Kurt and Katy Adkins that said, “…if it is not too good to be true, then it is not the Gospel”
Here’s a great thought from my friend Phil Drysdale:There is nothing wrong with engaging with spirituality at that level. For many that is all they need and want.
But know that for those of us that have moved forward we are unlikely to start moving backwards again. That’s not the trajectory of our path. Your plea for us to return to your absolutes is not likely to do much more than cause you more frustration and pain. And I can say with all honesty that is the last thing we want for you.
If certainty is what you seek, enjoy your certainty. There are even many out there seeking certainty and they may be all ears to your answers. But we are not those people.
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. -Matt 10:28, NKJV
How often I’ve heard the above passage used to prop up the idea that it is healthy to transmit to others, and have in ourselves, a terror and fear of God based upon His ability to torment us in hell forever. However, it’s crystal clear, without even deconstructing the idea that Gehenna equals the modern version of hell, that this is not what is being said.
Remember, the context in which Jesus said this is that He is commissioning His disciples to go and preach the kingdom to hostile individuals who will seek to imprison and kill them. Jesus’ solution? Don’t be afraid of them, because what they can do to you is quite limited compared to what God could do.
So, it seems simple enough, right? Be more afraid of God than people, right?
Read what follows:
Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. -Matt 10:29-31, NKJV
The point Jesus is making is that if you’re going to be afraid of someone, it should be the one who could do you far greater harm than any human could. However, this one is moved even by the death of a sparrow, which men imbue with little value, and yet He loves us far more deeply than He does the sparrow, as He’s has taken the time to number the hairs of your head. So if the death of a sparrow moves Him, how much more would harm coming to His children move Him! Therefore, though God is the only one capable of doing us true harm, He would never dream of it, and the conclusion of this passage used to encourage fear is actually “do NOT fear”!
So I say again what I’ve said ten thousand times before: any doctrine that encourages us to fear a God of wrath and retribution, violence and vengeance, is anti-Christ and the opposite of Gospel.
I have titled this piece as I have because I see a common theme of freedom all around the world: ordinary believers from all faiths, denominations and cultures are realising that God is simply available to all who call on Him, and He releases them into the freedom to serve Him as He calls them, and not according to the whims, doctrines and dogmas of other humans.
I wrote, in an article I published a few weeks ago, about how I am ministering in a group for ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses. On the back of that article, then, I present here an extract from the book Crisis of Conscience, by Raymond Franz, a man who for sixty years was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and who for the final nine years of that time was one of the Governing Body (the ‘GB’), the supreme council of that religion.
In his book, Ray Franz describes in detail much of the way in which the GB works, and he also describes the ‘witch-hunt’ and inquisition that led to his dismissal from the GB, and eventually his ‘disfellowshipping’ from the Jehovah’s Witnesses entirely. I mention this in order to give context, because what Mr. Franz speaks of here describes perfectly the freedom one feels when one emerges from under the domination of man-made religion and the need to please men in accordance with their doctrines. In my previous article, I talked about people I had met in the ex-Jehovah’s Witness community who are now living free in the Spirit. I would say that in fact complete freedom in the Spirit is not really possible until one has shaken off that need to please men; this shedding of the need to follow the ‘doctrines of men’ (Mt 15:9) is what my friends in that group have progressed to, and this is what this extract speaks of. Note also the parallels with dealing with Religious antagonists of any persuasion – especially the ‘judging adversely one’s standing with God’. Heaven’s gatekeepers at work again!
Over to Ray Franz:
The mind which renounces, once and forever, a futile hope, has its compensation in ever growing calm. I have found that saying true in my own case. I know that it has proved true in the case of many others.
Whatever the initial distress— a distress that sometimes follows the demeaning experience of being interrogated by men who, in effect, strip one of human dignity, make the weight of their authority felt, and presume to judge adversely one’s standing with God— however torn one may feel inside, afterward there does come a distinct feeling of relief, of peace.
It is not just knowing that one is finally outside the reach of such men, no longer subject to their ecclesiastical scrutiny and pressure. Truth, and the refusal to compromise truth, brings freedom in other fine and wonderful ways. The more responsibly one makes use of that freedom, the finer the benefits. The greatest freedom enjoyed is that of being able to serve God and his Son— as well as serve for the good of all persons— untrammelled by the dictates of imperfect men. There is freedom to serve according to the dictates of one’s own conscience, according to the motivation of one’s own heart. The sense of having a great burden lifted off, the lightening of a heavy load, comes with that freedom.
If genuinely appreciated, this gives one the desire to do, not less, but more in service to the Ones giving that freedom.
– Franz, Raymond. Crisis of Conscience: The story of the struggle between loyalty to God and loyalty to one’s religion. (pp. 453-454). NuLife Press. Kindle Edition.
I think that’s absolutely brilliant and, like I said, people from all faith walks are finding this freedom today all over the world. It makes no difference whether they are Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Evangelicals, whatever; God is doing this.
What’s even more remarkable is that Ray Franz had this epiphany some decades ago. God was moving in the ranks of Jehovah’s Witnesses even back then.
Ponder and digest, for there is great freedom in this.
I have come to realise over the last few days that all of the writers of the various books of the Bible were at different Stages of Faith. Just like us, they were all at different places in their walk with God, and some of them were possibly even at less ‘mature’ stages than we are.
This is visible easily in St. Paul’s writings, as his maturity and emphasis changes with the chronology as well as with his target audience (hint: Paul’s books are not placed in the Bible in chronological order, but in order of content!).
Not only were they as writerspersonally at different stages of faith, but the cultures they lived in were also at different stages of evolution regarding their concept of God.
So, the guys in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) were not long out of Pagan child-sacrifice culture, whereas those who had returned out of exile in Babylon, hundreds of years later, were very different in their regard for God and His ways.
In the New Testament, the view changes even more decisively with Jesus’s ‘perfect revelation’ of what God is like. “Now we have seen Him”, was John’s implication in John 1:18.
I find this quite fascinating, and it is all very much worth bearing in mind as you read the words written by these people so long ago, and remember that you too are on a similar journey.
But your experiences and learning will be different from theirs – and that’s ok. Amongst other things, the Bible is about an evolving arc of discovery of Who God is, and what He’s like. And it’s perfectly ok – a good idea, even, sometimes – to read it with that in mind.
Great little nugget from my friend Dave Carringer:
I’m not ‘accepted’, nor am I ‘forgiven’. I’ve never been separated from my Source. No surveillance film is being taken of my life. I was never judged by a ‘higher power’. I was judged and condemned by my own alienated mindset, because of the alienated mindsets passed down from other men. I’m totally (and forever) over all that now. I’m free to love and be loved. I’m One. With you. And I know it. That’s really all that matters. Nothing can change that.
I remember waking up on May 1st to hear about the first ‘Black Buck‘ Vulcan raid on Stanley, the longest bombing raid in history at the time, and realising later that it had forced the Argentine leadership to dedicate their Mirage III jets to defending the mainland, rather than sending them out over the Falklands.
I remember the late Brian Hanrahan‘s immortal words about Harrier tactical strikes from the aircraft carriers, “I’m not allowed to say how many planes joined the raid, but I counted them all out, and I counted them all back”.
I remember Colonel ‘H’ Jones winning the posthumous VC for his actions in saving many of his men from being killed, by leading a charge to destroy an Argentinian machine-gun nest and at the cost of his own life.
I remember HMS Sheffield being hit by an Exocet ASM and being lost the next day. I remember the first British pilot casualty, Lt. Nick Taylor, being shot down and killed over Goose Green on 4th May, after which they stopped using the Sea Harrier for strike missions, instead saving them for air superiority, a role in which they excelled. I remember that the British Pilots destroyed many Argentine aircraft without a single loss to Argentine aircraft in air-to-air combat.
I remember after the War, visiting HMS Plymouth, actually in Plymouth harbour, and seeing the place where her own depth charges had exploded on her decks after being hit.
I remember the heroic actions of L/Cdr Ian Stanley and his Wessex helicopter crew, rescuing the occupants of two crashed British helicopters on the Fortuna Glacier, South Georgia, in appalling weather and near-dark conditions in what was, after all, the late autumn/early winter in the Southern Hemisphere. I have seen that actual helicopter in the Fleet Air Arm Museum, which isn’t far from where I live.
I remember HMS Conqueror torpedoing the Argentine light cruiser ‘General Belgrano‘, and being grateful that she hadn’t got in amongst the much lighter ships of the British Task Force, despite the endless armchair pontifications of the journalists long after the event.
I am a military historian; there is so much more I remember… while today’s world goes about its business and most people have forgotten that ten-week War on the other side of the planet, rest assured I will never forget that War and the people who lost their lives on both sides.
Please note that this is supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek piece which uses humour to get across the ideas I have. As you will see from my comments later in the article, I am not in any way trying to paint certain ‘Grey People’ as the ‘enemy’; they are not. In this context, they are simply people who are getting in the way of a conversation I’m trying to have with someone else 🙂
Most of my regular readers will be aware of my ongoing personal struggles in coping with certain ‘Grey People‘ who are far too serious and always want to argue and debate things theological, when their victims don’t actually want to do so. It’s especially bad when they want to argue others, as well as themselves, out of the Good News I share. I’ve had to work out methods of staying sane while still treating them with respect and all the while being conscious of the ‘Silent Listeners‘; those hundreds, if not thousands, of people who read articles, posts and comments without anyone knowing they are there. I also want to continue the conversation I was having with my friend, with whom I am discussing the things of Grace, before the Grey Person decided to muscle in uninvited on that conversation. And I am also aware that although the Grey Person is usually hostile, still they too are someone who needs to realise the full scope of God’s Grace in their lives.
So this present essay is about a strategy I have evolved over the last few months in order to cope with the Grey People, especially when they jump in on an already existing conversation in order to spoil things. But first, some background to set the scene. It’s a bit geeky, but I think the analogies I raise should make sense 😉
There is a board wargame called ‘Federation Commander‘, which is a simulation of tactical starship combat set in the Star Trek universe, and which I used to play often. I’m afraid I must admit to holding a dubious claim-to-fame in that I am the most-published British writer in terms of tactical articles for the game, in the various magazines and other items associated with the game system, for example, in the ‘Tactics Manual’, which you can look at here.
Well! Fame at last!*
One such article in the Tactics Manual was my piece on ‘Tractor Beams’. For those unfamiliar with the idea, a tractor beam is a system, fitted to most starships in the game, which is kind of a powerful magnetic force beam used, amongst other things, to grab hold of objects in space, including other starships. Think of them as a sort of space tow-rope, and you won’t go far wrong. My article in the Tactics Manual is generally regarded, amongst players of the game, as being the definitive treatise on their use.
Don’t worry. There is a reason for all this preamble! 😀
One of the tactics that you can use a tractor beam for is simply to grab, or ‘anchor’, an enemy ship. You would usually want to do this in order to restrict his mobility, say for example so that he can’t run away from incoming missiles or torpedoes. Or maybe you grab him so you can stop him in space while you send over boarding parties to attempt to capture his ship. This is very much like how crews in the Age of Sail used to throw grappling hooks across to another ship, so as to prevent them getting away.
I take it you’re getting the picture. Tractor beams. And this idea of the restriction of mobility is the main reason for me using tractors as my analogy today.
Right, so, to the analogy. This following description will no doubt be familiar to many of my readers! (Please bear in mind that I do not count these people as ‘enemy’; I am simply using the analogy of a space battle involving tractor beams).
When engaging in discussion with the Grey People, they are usually, if not always, of serious demeanour. Any attempts at levity, or engaging as a real person, is ignored. Everything is totally, and I mean totally, serious. No ‘lols’, no smiley faces, no emoticons. No consideration for your own learning, your personality, your interests, no consideration for the time you have walked with the Lord, and the assumption that you have never read any of the Bible is taken as axiomatic (as evidenced by their excessive use of proof-texts). Remember, they have seen you online trying to ‘lead people astray’; very often they have jumped into the conversation you’re having with your friend because they decided they needed to step in ‘in the Name of the Lord’, in order to correct your ‘error’.
No, it’s all very serious and heavy going. There is no lightness or freedom, and the whole thing has to be conducted according to their assumed rule-set, including Biblical infallibility. The terrain for the battle – and let’s face it: it is essentially a battle! – has already been chosen (by them, unilaterally of course) and that ground centres in that dance around the Bible, or at least their interpretation of it. So they try to restrict your freedom of movement in the discussion, and they want to grapple you and pull you back down into the mire that their shipwrecks are embedded in, which is exactly what you escaped from when you began your deconstruction journey. And you don’t want to go back there. And you don’t want the conversation to go into that rut, either.
Now, that sounds to me a lot like being caught in a Tractor Beam 😉 If the ‘conversation’ has got to that level, then you’re being held in a place where you can’t avoid the missiles and torpedoes, and you have been slowed to their speed so they can engage you effectively!
The answer to anything like this, where your antagonist is trying to dictate the terms of the engagement, is to exercise your ability to refuse those terms, and instead fight on your own terms.
So, here are the tactics I have being using for the last few months in that regard! Remember, in the vast majority of cases, these people have jumped into a conversation which is not theirs, but they have decided to make it theirs and to correct everyone’s point of view until they line up with their own – just like a Pharisee.
Firstly, you don’t need to accept every offer of battle that is issued. If you want to leave the thrown gauntlet on the ground, then yes, leave it right there and walk away. You’re never going to get within tractor range if you refuse the battle in the first place.
The vast majority of times, I simply ignore the Grey Pharisee and write as if he’s not there. I carry on talking to the person I was originally talking to. Usually, the Grey person gets fed up with being ignored and moves on. If they don’t, there’s always the ‘block’ button, which on Facebook has the added advantage that they won’t be able to see or recover anything they have posted in response to your thread that they jumped in on uninvited in the first place.
Should you decide for whatever reason to engage, though, read on for further tactical insight 😉
Secondly,remember that they are trying to tractor you so that you can’t move, so that you have to fight the battle on their terms, and in the place of their choosing. For example, and this is the most common occurrence, they may try to engage in a proof-text slinging match. “Ah, but, the Bible says…” In other words, they want to choose the ‘terrain’, the location for the battle that holds more advantages for them than it does for you, at least in their perception. They will have their proof-text torpedoes lined up and ready to go. But if we don’t let them tractor us, then the torpedoes will miss. This, of course, is because your view of the meaning of their carefully-arranged Bible texts will be completely different from theirs, and you can simply let their texts go over your head. So, in order to avoid being tractored like this, don’t get roped in to a Scripture battle. Don’t slow down to their speed, where they can tractor you and draw you in. Keep your speed up and stay out of range of their tractors by refusing to engage on their terms. He wants to drag you down into the nitty-gritty of microscopic interpretation of Bible texts, and that should be avoided; all he can do is to watch you fly past his entrenched position, fast and free!
Nothing is lost in refusing to argue with Grey People on their own terrain. They are not going to change their minds anyway; for myself, having once been entrenched in that same position, it took fifteen years away from Church and a major move of the Spirit in my life to boost me out of that mire. However, the benefit of refusing to engage at the level desired/required by the Grey People actually shows the invisible listeners that there is far more to life than heavy theology, especially in the day-to-day living of our lives. Sure, the depth and intensity of study is there for those who wish to indulge in it – many of my blog articles reflect the depths to which I myself study certain ideas on occasion – but for most people, including the Silent Listeners, the heavy theology is of no concern to them. They just want to get on with life, and quite right too.
Thirdly, You can also keep your speed up by not getting bogged down in deep discussion. In other words, keep it light and flippant.
As someone who is living in the joy and freedom of the Children of God (Rom 8:21), you will likely have a far more light-hearted view on life and death than your antagonist. To re-quote G. K. Chesterton, whom I quoted in a recent article,
“…pride cannot rise to levity or levitation. Pride is the downward drag of all things into an easy solemnity. One “settles down” into a sort of selfish seriousness; but one has to rise to a gay self-forgetfulness. A man “falls” into a brown study; he reaches up at a blue sky. Seriousness is not a virtue. It would be a heresy, but a much more sensible heresy, to say that seriousness is a vice. It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one’s self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do. It is much easier to write a good Times leading article than a good joke in Punch. For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity.”
So, to use your flippancy and levity is not only your strength, but it is also a tool that the other guy cannot, and indeed dare not, use because he’s afraid he’ll be seen as not taking his ‘weighty matters’ seriously enough! Flippancy is always, and I do mean always, met with grey, dull admonitions that ‘one should not take the things of God lightly’ **. But when you are free, you can do nothing else but to take things lightly. I mean, sure, we still take life seriously. Our responsibilites for work, care for others and for ourselves, still exist. We still need to insure our cars and pay the bills. And if you see someone suffering, of course you go and help them.
But the way in which we take life seriously is completely different from the way in which Grey People take life seriously. According to the Grey People, life is all about ‘keeping short accounts with god’, making sure we don’t ‘stray from his ways’, and following the Law to the letter, on pain of (guess what) hell-fire. And you can understand why they take at least that latter seriously, lol 😀 But to the person who lives life constantly under Grace, life is simply there for living, walking with Jesus every day, and having a light and free unconcern with the ideas of ‘sin’ and ‘judgement’ and all that dull, serious stuff. The consciousness of ‘sin’ does not even enter in to the life of someone under Grace, or if it does, it holds very little weight. And so we walk free of the preoccupation with ‘sin’ that so many Christians walk under. It’s sad, because they have been set free from ‘sin’, but they neither live nor behave as if that’s true for them, probably because they don’t realise it.
As an aside, here’s an example of the kind of levity I use. This was in reply to someone who wanted to see all my research on a particular subject, just so he could criticise it***:
“Nope. Not going there, and you can think what you like about my motivations for that. I tried to answer your initial question at a level anyone can understand, graciously and simply – not realising your question was a trap to suck people in to an argument. I don’t have to attend every battle I am invited to, and I choose not to on this occasion. Find someone else to fight; I’m going for my breakfast”.
I’m happy to report that my disengagement was successful; no further hostile action was received from that contributor 😉
Fourthly, don’t let him close the range. Another reason to not let ourselves get tractored is because once that tractor is locked on, it means that the battle could well get very dirty, very quickly! Here at point-blank range – tractors can only be used at very short ranges, so don’t even get close enough – is where it can get mean. Skip over points raised by your opponent which are designed to hook you and pull you in – things like personal insults, inflammatory statements, things that push your buttons. If you react in the way they want you to, then that’s their tractor beam established. In practical terms, this can simply involve just counting to ten before typing a reply. Do I really want to answer that question? Will anything be gained by reacting to that taunt or barb? Refuse any invitation to close the range into a close and dirty knife fight (another tactical article I have had published in the game literature 😉 )
At the end of the day, I am perfectly secure in who I am, in what I am, and in Whom I believe. Nothing they can say can ever change that. They can quote Bible verses at me all they like; they can tell me I am damned and they can give me a whole list of Bible-based threats, but they cannot change what I know I know, and they cannot take away from me that I know He Who has given me that knowledge (2Tim 1:12). I am secure. My emphasis is therefore not to try to bolster my own position, but to encourage and help others to reach a similar position themselves in their faith walk. And dirty fighting does nothing to further that end.
Fifthly, Talk about Jesus and what He has been doing with you and saying to you. Against your personal testimony of your walk with Jesus, the only answer they can possibly reply with is that you are being ‘deceived’ by ‘some other spirit’; of course, this is passive-aggressive speak for ‘It’s the devil telling you this stuff’. That’s the only kind of two-dimensional, binary ‘thinking’ (although it’s not really thinking, it’s more like parroting) that Grey People can come up with.
Naturally, that retort implies that God is not allowed to speak to anyone outside of their own personal paradigm, whatever that is for them themselves – usually it relates to their particular interpretation of the Bible. But remember that the Bible is not what Christians are supposed to be gathering around; it’s actually Jesus that should form the centre of our discussions. And so, what you are doing here, by talking about Jesus, is to bring the focus back to the beauty and loveliness, gentleness, strength, wisdom and above all Love of your Best Friend and Saviour. Talk about Jesus and you won’t go far wrong.
I would put in a caveat at this point, though. When I say to talk about what He has been doing with you and saying to you, I think we need to take Jesus’s advice and be careful not to ‘throw your pearls before swine’; that we should not ‘give dogs what is sacred’ (Mt 7:6). What His point was here is that what is valuable to you – things Jesus has given you – will often not be valuable to others, especially those who are already in antagonistic frame of mind towards you. They trample underfoot that which is precious, simply because they do not realise the value of what has been given to them. In the same way that a pig in her sty would not appreciate being given pearls, because she doesn’t understand – how could she; she’s an animal! – how valuable they are (even though she can’t eat them!), in the same way you will find that your gems of light that Jesus has given you hold no value to these people, and so they will discard them as worthless because they simply don’t understand.
And so, don’t give these people the really precious stuff. Exercise your wisdom in keeping the ‘Secret of the Lord‘, because not everything that is good and precious is for general distribution. Remember also that sometimes their whole intention is not so much to correct your thinking, but more simply to judge you and your beliefs according to their framework. So your pearls really would be wasted on your antagonist – and their judgment may well feel like they are trying to tear you to pieces! (again, Mt 7:6). Therefore, choose from your store of wisdom carefully 🙂
Sixthly, and this is about the Grey People themselves, remember that it is best if we ‘no longer know anyone according to the flesh’ (2Cor 5:16), in other words, we need to appreciate not just the way things look on the surface but also that which is going on in the spiritual and emotional realm. While I have so far written about these Grey People as if they are all the same, although this is understandable because their responses are usually rubber-stamped replies based on bog-standard Evangelical doctrine, actually, they are not the same. God loves these people just as much as He loves you and I. Apart from certain doctrinal assumptions, we don’t really know where these guys are coming from. Now, I know that the prime focus of our endeavours is to bless the person we are really speaking to; the person we were discussing things with before we were so rudely interrupted 😉 And also the ‘Silent Listeners’, of course. But even with the Pharisees – the ancient equivalent of today’s Grey People – Jesus only had a go at them because He loved even them. He wanted to bring them into the blessings of His Kingdom – the freedom, grace and wholeness of knowing Him – and we need to remember that all the roastings He gave the Pharisees of His day were intended to help them ‘see the light’, as it were. He did it for me, after all. And so, while our focus is not really on our antagonists, we still need to remember that we don’t know their story, we don’t know where they have come from, and we don’t know what they are fighting in their personal lives. For that reason, we need to exercise Grace in our dealings with them. So, as in my second point above, don’t let him get his tractor lock on you, because that’s when things can get dirty!
By exercising this kind of wisdom, we can keep our conversations – at least as far as it lies with us – wholesome and full of Grace. For more on this, see this article.
Finally, remember that ‘winning’ is not what it’s about. While I have used the analogy of a battle, I want to restate that the Grey People are not the enemy. Most of the time, it’s just a matter of discussing the points you are talking about with your original conversation partner; the fact that the Greys are trying to interrupt and muscle in over your shoulder is not really relevant. A battle avoided is a battle won.
Peace and Grace to you!
Header picture depicts a Galaxy-class Starship from Star Trek – The Next Generation, holding a small spacecraft in its tractor beam.
*For virtually my whole life, I have been passionately interested in many subjects, down to a level of detail that generally only the Aspergic usually go to. From all these subjects, the relevant ones in this case are Star Trek, science fiction, military history and wargames. I have had a lifelong passion for these things, which is why they come easily to me as parts of the analogy used in this article.
**This is also usually closely related to the ‘warning’ that ‘God cannot be mocked’. What this really means is that they still can’t cope with your levity, and they have also suffered a catastrophic sense of humour failure. These are the people who say ‘ho. ho. ho. god has a sense of humour ahahaha’ but with total deadpan expressions on their faces. God in fact has the ability to laugh at himself. Remember that in any kind of totalitarian rule, whether that be political or religious, the sense of humour is always the first thing to go, replaced by ‘approved’ humour only, which is a contradiction in terms. For the record, God can indeed be mocked; it happened to Jesus during His earthly life (e.g. Luke 16:14; Luke 22:63, Mt 9:24, Mt 27:31) . But that’s not really what they are talking about here; they are more likely feeling mocked themselves, (even if you are not actually doing so) and they are projecting that onto their Big Brother god who is definitely going to get you after school. What they really mean is ‘Don’t mock me. Or I’ll get god onto you’. 😉
***Also failing to appreciate that for your everyday Joe, ‘research’ just means watching YouTube videos made by people who already agree with him. For me, though, research means to me far, far more than a simple Google search; one of my degrees is by research, which involved a whole lot of hard, hard work involving years of study, reading and practical laboratory work. A little research from me, in my fields of expertise, is worth a lifetime of ‘research’ for anyone armed just with Google