The gift of discernment is the ability to “judge well” or figure things out.  Whether you are aware or not, our country is locked in a bitter “culture war”, a “battle for the “soul of America”.  One of our recent political campaigns used this slogan.  The definition of “soul” in this slogan is unclear.  What version of soul are they referring to?  What is it based on?  What truth?  Whose truth?  In this new age of extreme relativism there are no absolutes.  Everything seems to be up for grabs.  We are divided on almost everything, even the small stuff.

A few weeks ago, I read a post about a guy who posted a video on TikTok (social media platform) about “how to slice or cut open an English muffin correctly.”  The headline read, “Man reveals ‘right’ way to cut an English muffin and the Internet is divided.”  I’m constantly amazed at how much interest there is in such mundane things, and even more amazed that people would feel the need to comment about them.  But, that’s where we are in 2021.  We are divided about everything.  Some of the division is understandable, but some of it is just bizarre. There are definitely some “real” issues out there that deserve and warrant time and attention, but English muffins aren’t one of them.  I don’t care if you use a fork, knife, or chainsaw to cut one open.  Just cut and eat.

Whether we’re trying to figure out the origins of the universe, restore the soul of America, or how to cut an English muffin, we have to make choices.  We have to decide or discern what to believe or how we’re going to do it, whatever it is.  We have to make a judgment call one way or another.  Some things are just no brainers or common sense, right?  Well, nothing is “common” anymore, especially not the proper method of cutting an English muffin.  All kidding aside, common sense is sound, practical judgment concerning everyday matters, or a basic ability to perceive, understand, and judge in a manner that is shared by (i.e. common to) nearly all people.  Today, in our current culture, a practical judgment concerning everyday matters can create media frenzy or a firestorm of conflict, so think carefully before you post that video on “how to make a proper peanut butter sandwich”.

You would think that our culture’s hypersensitivity over all things big and small would lead to greater discernment and attention to doing and saying the right things, but that’s the hard part.  What is the “right” thing to say and do?  It gets us back to the “soul of America” slogan again.  No, I’m not talking about politics.  I’m talking about the conscience that drives or guides our choices.  What standard, truth, or precept are we employing for our discernment?

Precept is not a word you that you hear in normal conversations.  A precept is a general rule intended to regulate behavior or thought, a rule or principle prescribing a particular course of action or conduct, a commandment, a law, or an order issued by an authority; a writ, command, or process.  Wouldn’t it be great to have one of those precepts right about now?  But where would it come from?  Who would decide?  Who has the authority?  Since human beings have pretty much failed at every means of self-government and rule, whom do we turn to?  What is left?

Prophets in the Old Testament of the Bible had a tough and very dangerous job.  They were chosen and called to deliver God’s message.  It wasn’t always good news.  Sometimes prophets were the voice of doom and impending judgment from God.  It wasn’t always a message that people wanted to hear.  Isaiah was a prophet of the Lord from around 740 BC to 686 BC.   He is one of the Major Prophets in the Old Testament.  For those who don’t know there are major and minor prophets in the O.T.  Not sure why they are separated this way, but apparently Isaiah is a heavy hitter.  Here is how the book of Isaiah begins.

“The vision about Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah, Amoz’s son, saw in the days of Judah’s kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah.Hear you heavens, and listen earth, for the LORD has spoken: I reared children; I raised them, and they turned against me! An ox knows its owner, and a donkey its master’s feeding trough. But Israel doesn’t know; my people don’t behave intelligently. Doom! Sinful nation, people weighed down with crimes, evildoing offspring, corrupt children!  They have abandoned the LORD, despised the holy one of Israel; they turned their backs on God.”  Isaiah 1:1-4 CEB

I’m not going to go into all the historical stuff because that would take too long.  And your probably like, “thank God for that”!  But, one of the things in this passage that jumps out at me is this statement, “my people don’t behave intelligently”.  God’s people were making bad decisions.  The worst of which was turning away from God.  Intelligent behavior or discernment has never been one of our strong suits throughout history.  Human beings like to think we are progressing as a species, but if history is any indication, I’m not so sure.

“Although they knew God, they didn’t honor God as God or thank him. Instead, their reasoning became pointless, and their foolish hearts were darkened. While they were claiming to be wise, they made fools of themselves.”  Romans 1:21-22 CEB

We “claim to be wise” but our behavior doesn’t always match up to our claims.  It’s like someone who thinks of himself or herself as a great athlete, but they’re not.  Their imagination or mind is writing checks their body can’t cash.  The King James Version of this verse says that we become “vain in our imaginations”, like the old saying that “I’m a legend in my own mind”.  If we watch the news or stroll through social media, we will find plenty of examples of “pointless reasoning” and “foolish hearts”.  If we were so wise, then why do we keep making the same mistakes over and over again, and with all this foolishness going on, why doesn’t God step in and do something about it?  Why doesn’t He save us from ourselves?

“Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.”  Romans 1:24-25 CEB

For whatever reason, God chose to give us the freedom or “free will” to make our own decisions.  If I was guessing, I think it was in the hopes that we would “honor God and thank Him.”  We would love Him enough to make the right decisions.  But unfortunately, sometimes we would rather “exchange the truth about God for a lie”.  Adam and Eve chose the lie that if they ate the forbidden fruit that they would be “like God knowing good and evil”.  Recently, I listened to a progressive pastor teach that the serpent was really the one telling the truth and that God was lying.  Basically, his “reasoning” was that God didn’t want Adam and Eve to have an “open mind”.  God was holding out on them, and the serpent was just giving them the freedom that they deserved.  According to this pastor, God was the bad guy.  He’s certainly entitled to his opinion, but there is no Biblical evidence to support His theory.  It’s one of the most radical interpretations I’ve ever heard.

Discernment is hard enough, but without some kind of truth, standard, or precept to base it on it is impossible.  How can I make a judgment without some rule of thumb or standard of measurement?  Does 2+2 still equal 4?  We may think that it’s our right to choose as we please, but how do our choices affect others?  Are they pleasing to God?  How do we know?  Well, for me there is only one source of absolute truth.  It is my primary tool for discernment.  It’s the Bible, God’s word.  It is the primary way that God speaks to us.  No, I don’t worship the book.  I worship the God who inspired it.

As you reflect, I just wanted to say that you have my permission to cut your English muffin however you like.  Bon appetite.

Love y’all!  Have a great weekend!

Weekly Devotional by Robby Morris, Director of Family Ministry & Facility Coordinator @ Andrews UMC.