What was Sunday's sermon at your church? Think fast…
Yeah, most of us struggle with that one. The sermon engages us. We understand it. We perhaps even feel a small tug in our hearts. We walk out of church and by the time we're done with lunch we hardly remember the sermon.
I had the same problems in my math classes in college.
Well, that's why we should take notes, right? Of course, taking notes and never looking at them again is almost meaningless, but the act of writing down the sermon helps you to retain the message anyway.
But if you know you have to share the sermon - well, that's a different story.
There is a statement about learning that seems true, though I cannot find a definitive source (some reference the book Keys to Success, but there are a few books with that title): “We retain 10 percent of what we read, 20 percent of what we hear, 30 percent of what we see, 50 percent of what we hear and see, 70 percent of what we say, and 90 percent of what we say and do.”
I saw a poster that added a line: "We retain 95% of what we teach." From personal experience, I think that number is a little bit high, but the concept is correct.
So, in an effort to retain some of the excellent sermons at our church, I'll try to toss in a summary the following week. It won't be perfect. It might not even be a good summary, but I'll do my best. It will all be in my own words, though.
The Pastor this week talked about discernment. Dictionary.com defines discernment as "the faculty of discerning; discrimination; acuteness of judgment and understanding." (I always find that cyclic definition annoying, but…) The synonyms are helpful: judgment, perspicacity, penetration, insight.
Okay, they define discern as: 1) to perceive by the sight or some other sense or by the intellect; see, recognize, or apprehend; 2) to distinguish mentally; recognize as distinct or different; discriminate.
In Christian circles we seek discernment to determine good from bad, and we do it based on the teachings of the Bible. (I refuse to get into a discussion of the merits of that practice. I believe that if we all followed the basic tenets of the Bible the world would be a better place. Feel free to disagree.)
We seek discernment for a lot of reasons. When we need to make a life-changing decision, or even a mundane, daily decision - discernment can help. When we are trying to evaluate the trustworthiness of someone we just met - discernment can help.
Many people have discernment. Some call it a gut-feeling.
The question for the sermon was how do we practice discernment in a Biblical way? And, for Christians, that's the vital question.
(All Bible quotes are taken from the New King James Version (NKJV) from biblegateway.com)
Pastor pointed us toward John 4:1-3. (As an aside, I'm a big fan of John's letters.)
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.
The Pastor said that the word "test" is the Greek word for "approve" and that the word "spirits" means "influencers." We should be approving those things that influence our lives, the way we live.
This shows us how to discern if we are dealing with a trust-worthy person. Well, that seems pretty clear. If they agree with Christian philosophy, we can trust them in matters of faith. I'd probably trust them beyond that.
Now I have a story about that. (I almost always have a story.)
I once knew a man who was a graduate of a local Biblical College. He had a theological degree. An ex-pro football player, he lost a leg in an accident and was now a man of God. He was charming, bigger than life, and charismatic. When I first met him I felt a little uneasy, but he won me over and I chalked it up to a bit of envy.
He was also a liar, self-absorbed and hurtful toward people I care about.
I could have used better discernment. He said that Jesus Christ was his Lord and Savior. He professed belief. Did I ever hear him actually say that Jesus Christ was the son of God made flesh? I don't recall.
He spent weeks in our church assembly and everyone seemed to like him, including our Pastor.
We all could have used better discernment.
I seek people who have solid characters, who live a character-based life, not a personality-based life. Our society goes for the latter.
We celebrate personality in the news, in the movies, and even in our churches. We should value the character, not the charisma.
I said this before, and I'll probably say it again. The people of Africa see so many miracles in their lives (and they do!) because they understand we are spiritual beings in a physical world. They celebrate the spirit, and seek ways to make it more a part of their daily existence.
In our comfortable world we've lost that.
There is a spiritual war going on. There is a Spirit of Deception who has great sway over people, and that Spirit is very charismatic and charming.
Christians separate the world into two simple groups - the saved and the lost. Better terms would be the saved and the deceived.
I am afraid many of the deceived are in our churches, proclaiming their own salvation.
I sometimes tremble in the dark of the night, gazing into the void of blackness around me and wonder about my salvation. Is it genuine? That's the Spirit of Deception whispering to me. When my heart skips a beat in fear, the Spirit of the Living God answers the question. It does not depend on me, but on God's promise, and God is always faithful, even when we are not.
I know that I gave my heart to Jesus, the Christ, the son of the Living God, who is God and who became man to pay the price of death for the sins I commit. I'm thankful to Him for that salvation, to the very depth of my heart, and for that reason He is my Lord. When I accepted Him as Lord, I received all His promises.
Regardless of the dark whispers of the Spirit of Deception, I am saved. Pastor said "Believe in spite of condemning hearts."
The deceived won't agree with any of this. In 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 we see "But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them."
I know many people who don't believe because they are too smart to believe. They consider me a "country bumpkin" for my beliefs, and they treat me with kind condescension.
They are free to do so. When I was younger I would have taken offense, perhaps tried to convince them of my beliefs, but it was out of hubris, not compassion.
Now I simply look at myself, not at them. Am I a character-based person? Yes, I am, though I tend to be more introspective than most and evaluate myself (too) often. So I do my best to "walk the talk" as they say in Texas.
1 John 3:16-19
By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.
Pastor also said that in our world "emotion is king and experience has priority." Just look at the shows that are popular on television in our country. We no longer seek shows that exemplify good character. In fact, when the Duck Dynasty patriarch gave his honest views on a subject there was an outcry and backlash. What? Must we all agree on all topics in this world?
Religion doesn't even help us, since religion is based on how you want to approach God instead of how God says to approach Him. Once we decide, then we create our own God. That's religion, not a relationship.
Pastor said that discernment is a gift of the Holy Spirit and begins in forgiveness - accepting the forgiveness of God for our sins and extending forgiveness to others for the wrongs done to us.
He said there are three things to look at in our lives:
1) Are we born from above? Have we dealt with the sin in our lives?
2) Are we growing in grace?
3) Does our character reveal the redeeming work of God?
We're not the only ones dealing with spiritual warfare, if that's any comfort. Luke 22:31-32 says And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”
Jesus knew that Simon would return after he denied Him. None of us are beyond hope, then, are we?
Luke 11:35 Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness.
It's all about the Light.