Thursday, September 3, 2009

Discernment in the age of Mass Communication

Discernment in the Age of Mass Communication:
As a fledgling Christian, I find myself often conflicted by so much information coming in to my mind for processing. This age of mass communication is fraught with pitfalls and wrong way streets, and for one like myself who is too quick to react, talk, etc. . . . well, it is a perilous journey when I lose my focus on Jesus Christ! Why just today I stumbled in indiscretion and had to ask for forgiveness from a dear sister in Christ, as well as others who were brought into our plight. That said, I have been trying lately to find my way through Scripture, and with the help of Christian saints through the ages, to that place of truth and discernment. The search was prompted by a growing concern with the parade of false prophets, false prophecies and demon/deliverance ministries that seem to be so prevalent in our world today. Before I share what I’ve gleaned from my reading, I should say up front that I was not surprised to find in the end that a focus on Jesus Christ, both historical and living, is the key to living this life of a Christian, this life with God.
So, let me start with a quote from Richard Foster reflecting on J.B. Phillips attention to Scripture. “We now have the dubious distinction of being able to communicate more and say less than any civilization in history. We have become as Clement of Alexandria says, ‘like old shoes – all worn out except for the tongue.’ And because so many words bombard us from so many media we tend to pay little attention to them. Can you or I remember even a single full sentence from the last movie we saw, or the last email we received? What we must learn, therefore, is discernment. Some words deserve sustained attention, others do not. [Right here I’m thinking that’s what most people probably think about all my emails.] The phrase that Phillips uses too such delight – “rich in mercy” – is a reality we all could soak in for a very long time. In contrast, we should probably speed read the latest book from the New York Times bestseller list, for likely it deserves no more than five or ten minutes of our attention. In fact, it is a positive virtue for us to remain ignorant of much of the attention getting, ego driven, greed motivated words that whiz by on the information superhighway. We do so in order to be attentive to words that speak life into our souls. This, too, is a discipline.”
Okay, so we can choose to ignore all the contemporary media hype out there; turn off the TV, read the newspaper less, avoid the magazines and tabloids, but what about finding truth in Christian literature, or even within Holy Scripture which all too often seems to get twisted by Christians?! I think finding truth, God’s Truth, is wrapped up in the life we choose as a Christian. This life of trying to follow Christ, this life in God is a spiritual journey (attested to by many Christian saints through the ages) that requires our focus and attention to discipline (training or “working out”.) Going all the way back to John Cassian (360-435 AD) we find this notion of discernment, to Cassian, “the mother of all virtues”. It is through discernment that we not only find our way in the world, but also our way to God, to an intimate knowledge of God. Gayle Beebe writes in Longing For God, “Discernment is the virtue that keeps us from the snares of the devil and on the path to God. It is the lamp of the body, the guide of life and the source of sound judgment. [I could certainly use more of that!] It teaches us how to make wise decisions in human affairs and also about God.”
Martin Luther recognized and affirmed that Jesus Christ is alive and here to teach His people Himself. Recognizing that ourselves, we always need to reconcile our “experiences” with the testimony of Scripture, and the community of faith. Christ will teach us through the Word and His Body, the church, the community of faith. False prophets, false prophecy, false doctrine, as well as the evil dweeb parading as an angel of light will be with us until He comes to make all things new. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), who started the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) was occupied with the truth and actually came up with some wise early steps to discerning the truth:
1. Test claims in light of example of Christ
2. Consult Holy Scripture
3. Consult the saints throughout the ages
4. Consult responsible, leading Christians of the day
5. Pray
6. Study
7. Balance prayer and study with action in order to know God and express His Will
I suppose those sound very familiar to many of us? We also often hear that we should “listen” to the Spirit’s promptings, but how can we discern whether we are “hearing” God’s Spirit, or something or someone else? The steps above are certainly helpful, but I also found some wise words from Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) on distinguishing the voice of God from the dweeb or our own imagination; “When the leading is from God it comes through words that are very different from our common speech. Leading from God comforts us, and restores community. It lingers a long time and becomes an ever more weighty concern. When the leading is from God it also brings a sense of certitude, peace and inner delight. It produces profound breakthrough and fresh new insight. Our spirit-led, trusted friends confirm the leading and our thoughts surrounding the leading dwell on God alone.” So, always this sense of God’s Peace and certitude, which makes sense to me. Even when I’ve been convicted by something, there is always a sense of peace, not judgment or guilt. Yes, I am compelled to repent and seek forgiveness, but always with a sense of trust and goodness at hand. Teresa’s “Bookmark”, a prayer of her own, is comforting; “Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing alarm you. While all things are passing; God is unchanging. Be patient and you will gain everything. With God in your heart nothing is lacking. God alone suffices.”
So, this brings me to the area of concern that prompted this search in the first place. What about all these modern day prophets, prophecies, healing ministries and deliverance (demon casting) ministries? What is true, what is of God and what is just nonsense or worse yet a charade to gain people’s trust and money?! Richard Foster writes in Longing For God, “Numerous present day prophets function without any serious accountability or training. They come to a city, deliver their “prophecies” and leave for regions beyond, while local Christian leaders are left to deal with the fallout from those often destructive pronouncements. Some are on the electronic airwaves and so send out their “prophecies” without even meeting the people about whom they are prophesying. There is a legitimate and even necessary place for prophesy in the community of faith. But, to function with spiritual success it needs the discipline and structure of Scripture and the community.” I would suggest that those seven steps of Ignatius are welcome help in this area for all of us.

As I said in the beginning, and I think most of us will conclude, the focus on Christ is key in all of life if we would know God and His path for our lives. From Augustine in the 4th century, through Fox and Bunyan, through Spurgeon and Chesterton, all the way up to Willard, Dillard and Nouwen in our own times, the Christian spiritual life has always been focused on Christ, recognizing his “work” as complete and our life as a journey toward union with His Father, Our Father. George Fox said, “Christ is living and present among you.” He had no time for preoccupation with the dweeb, he was too immersed In Christ, and Christ’s presence was enough to keep the dweeb at bay. Charles Spurgeon little book, (ever notice how little is written on the dweeb by faithful Christians, put him in his place and get back to Jesus,) Satan A Defeated Foe, affirms what Christ has already in His earthly life and His resurrection. Ultimately, there should be far less interest in “casting out demons” in this “already not yet” time we live in, AND far more inviting Christ in! That’s not to say that we are not to be aware of our own flesh and its temptations, which the dweeb loves to use, but we have Holy Scripture (Jesus’ own weapon against Satan), and the testimony of the Spirit with us . . . the dweeb has no chance, we live and fight from a stance of victory in Jesus Christ!
I’ve probably written too much, and many who attempted to read have long since put this down and moved on to other things. For those of you who have stayed on this observation from Julian of Norwich to encourage us:
“In all eternity Jesus will never leave the position which He takes in our soul; for sitting in us is His most familiar home. This was a ravishing and restful sight, for the sight of this sitting gave me certainty that He dwells there eternally.”
I trust Christ is even now “cleaning house” in my heart and soul. Every time I am convicted or challenged in my Christian life, there is a cleaning and movement closer to God. Thank you Jesus for taking up residence in my heart, make me more like you.
Only by Grace,
The Armor of God – Ephesians 6:10-18
10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

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