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Jan 24 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 20, 2013 – Mark 8:14-21

A spiritual mentor will help us discern the will of God

And He was giving orders to them, saying, “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” Mark 8:15

INTRO: We live too far from the times of Jesus to be shocked by this warning

Imagine I said, “Watch out! Beware the leaven of the Evangelicals”
– most people assumed the Pharisees were doing religion the way it was supposed to be done
• they were the trusted authorities on the Torah and religious issues for the common folk
– but Jesus is telling the disciples, “Their influence will not take you to the same place that I’m leading you”
• leaven in his teaching: only takes a little, permeates, and has significant effects (Mt. 13:33)

Mark doesn’t tell us what Jesus meant by “leaven”
– Matthew says it was their “teaching,” Luke says “hypocrisy”
• perhaps Mark intended for us to take the challenge and discern what Jesus meant
• a “test” to see if our eyes see and our ears hear
– the point is, there were problems that Jesus wanted his disciples to avoid

We have begun to examine the role of a spiritual mentor
– one of their most important services is to discern and to help us discern God’s will

When I decided to address spiritual mentors, I put discernment on the list

But at the time, it was only a topic – an important one and much discussed, but not something I was passionate about
– then, Tuesday night I got a phone call that turned me around

My youngest daughter, Karen, called with a few questions for me
– she was drawn to the spiritual zeal of a new friend
• but the friend implied that Karen’s relationship with God was not everything it could be (who’s is?)
• she suggested that my daughter needed to attend her church where she would hear the truth
○ she also volunteered to begin providing discipleship for Karen
– I instantly recognized what Karen’s friend was up to and was familiar with her tactics
• in fact, I guessed correctly the church to which she belongs
• the timing was perfect for catching my daughter in a weak moment
○ for several days I was troubled and deeply concerned for Karen
○ that’s how the critical importance of discernment became a burning issue for me this week

Thursday night, Jim reminded us of the way spirituality gravitates toward rule-based religion
– rule-based religion can be very appealing – especially if the spokesperson is charming
• it seems to have all the answers, promises to meet all our needs and make us the best Christians around
– but it also draws us away from a moment by moment dependence on God
• Paul’s question to the Galatians was, “How could you fall for this?!” (Gal. 3:1-3)
• to begin in grace and move into law – begin in the Spirit and move into the flesh?
– it is not a set of rules that leads the way forward, but the Spirit and love, which is the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:13-26)

Do you know what I mean, “Painting by numbers”?
– you can turn out a reproduction of a famous work of art, but it will never be a creative production or a masterpiece
• and it won’t even come near the beauty of the original
– your spiritual life is supposed to be an original, created by the Spirit
• you won’t get that doing “religion by numbers”

Rule-based religion is not the only threat
– I’ve known two men who seemed to have a seasonal psychosis (perhaps undiagnosed bipolar disorder)
• every year around same time, each of them would step outside of reality
• I learned to recognize it, because each of them were suddenly full of devotion to God
○ but their surge of interest in God took on a stalker-type obsession
○ they could see to the heart of God’s work – everything connected
– some people mistake that kind of spiritual intoxication for being “anointed” or specially gifted by God’s Spirit
• I have even known other Christians to envy them or treat them like they are enlightened
○ after all, how wonderful it is when everything in life, the news, the universe makes perfect sense
○ but that in itself is a fairly reliable symptom of insanity
• when we encounter people in this state, we have to discern:
○ are they on to something or just on something?

Discernment is critical
– the spiritual life is especially vulnerable to the influence of authoritarian figures, delusion, and deception
• not having good discernment can be deadly — do you remember the “Heaven’s Gate” cult?
– and it is influences from outside ourselves that need to be discerned
• from early on, spiritual mentors warned of internal dangers
• the old translation of the word they used was discretiondiscrimination is probably closer to what they meant

John Cassian, writing in the fifth century had learned from a spiritual mentor, that unless a believer “pursued [discretion] with all zeal, and secured a power of discerning with unerring judgment the spirits that rise up in him, he is sure to go wrong” not only in serious matters like walking over a cliff in the dark of night, but also in making “frequent mistakes in matters that are plain and straightforward.”

What is discernment?

The Greek words suggest three movements:
a) to separate
b) to learn by separating
c) to make a decision based on what you’ve learned

What needs to be separated?

  1. 1 John 4:1, “spirits” – not all inspiration comes from God’s Spirit
    – there is also the human spirit, world spirit, and diabolical spirits
  2. 1 John 4:6, truth from error
  3. 1 Cor. 6:12, profitable from unprofitable (healthy and unhealthy)
  4. Hebrews 5:14 right from wrong, good from evil
    But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil (Heb. 5:14)
    • although discernment can be a spiritual gift, it also comes with maturity and practice

Discernment developed another meaning in the New Testament:
– to see what is really there – for example, the Lord’s body in Communion (1 Cor. 11:29)

How do we exercise and develop discernment?

A brief list of some of the ways we exercise discernment:

  1. We use our rational minds and common sense
  2. We gather information – Jas. 1:5, Ask!
  3. We go to Bible – the cornerstone of discernment (Heb. 4:12)
    – but in a moment I’ll explain why sometimes it’s not enough
  4. We receive insight through waiting on God in prayer
  5. We listen to the church – I Co. 14:29 (Ep. 4:11-14)
    – some are given this gift – 1 Cor. 12:10
  6. We are sometimes tipped off by a sort of intuition
    – this is not absolute and always needs to be confirmed
    • but at the same time, we also need to pay attention to it
    – intuition is not so much a feeling as a knowing–“I feel peace about it” can be poor discernment
  7. We wait for fruit to appear
    – Fr. Romuald once said, “We don’t judge a person’s experience, we judge it’s fruit. Do they become a kinder, better person as a result of the experience? Or do they become conceited and promote themselves”

John Cassian’s mentor, again, said that acquiring discernment:
– requires humility — we must be willing to accept the truth
– beware of anything “novel” (new revelations) — a truth that no one else has ever seen or discovered
• when you hear someone say, “No other church teaches this!” – there may be a good reason

Why is the Bible sometimes not a guarantee of correct discernment?

For the obvious reason, it is often misinterpreted
– there’s a danger in being impressed when someone quotes a string of verses
• you cannot be certain of what a verse means without its context
• sometimes you also need the context of the whole Bible
– if there’s one thing Christians really confused about, “Bible study” — what it actually is, and what constitutes an authentic approach to finding its message and meaning
• there are many speakers that believers think are good Bible teachers when, in fact, they are merely entertaining, interesting, full of irrelevant facts, or they quote a lot of verses

Jesus used scripture to resist temptation, so it seems Bible is the only tool we need in discernment
– but then Satan also used scripture to support his temptation
• Jesus responded by correcting Satan’s misuse of scripture
○ which has to be done to use the Scriptures correctly
• Jesus taught his disciples to use prayer to resist temptation (Mt. 6::13; 26:41)

If I had only one thing to say about discernment, it would be:

Learn to listen – and listen for the right voice
– listen for the Spirit of God
– a mentor reminds us to listen – and listens with us
• as when we are about to make a big decision, with our mentor we need to listen to our own hearts
○ not just our rationalizations, but what is our true motive?
○ to expose our blind spots and illusions
○ and to learn the next step of our journey

Learning to listen in discernment is to pay attention without attachment

Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil (1 Thes. 5:19-22)

– it is okay to be skeptical until you have your answer
– always run the books you read and the sermons and speeches that you hear through a filter of discernment

CONC: St. Anthony is recognized as one of the first (if not first) desert monks

One day St. Anthony asked those gathered around him to hear his wisdom, “What is the most useful virtue to escape the devil’s deception?” One person said, “Fasting and vigils,” another said, “Despise everything except God,” another said, “Solitude,” and another said, “Devote yourself to acts of charity and service to others”

St. Anthony replied, “All of these virtues are helpful to the spiritual life, yet there are examples of people who were devoted to each one and were still deceived. The most important virtue to escape deception is discernment”

I would like for you to think about discernment this week — put it to work
– we can go crazy trying to discern too many things or things that are trivial
• but we’re not going to worry about that right now — we just want to get some practice

Discernment is what protects us from ingesting spiritual poison
– or wandering away from the heart of God

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