You’ll never believe what you’re about to learn in this sermon!
Discover THE three things you need to do to avoid being taken in!
Do I have your interest yet? Are you afraid of missing out? Stay tuned!
What I’ve just given you is clickbait. Don’t worry, I don’t normally preach like this. But you know what I’m talking about. You can’t go far on the internet before spotting links which get your attention. And you know what? Although you know you shouldn’t, you click on them! And yes, I click on them sometimes. Even Dr Mike Brooks admits he clicks on them sometimes – and he’s the psychologist who wrote the book on the dangers of clickbait!
Our brains are good at being tricked into wanting things that we don’t need or even like! When we start wanting something right in front of us – whether it’s a chocolate biscuit or the next YouTube video – it’s very easy to reach out for it. And we have even greater incentive if we feel afraid that we’d be missing out if we didn’t. Oh no! What if I don’t take this opportunity to discover which six saints (warning, this link is clickbait) were canonised by Pope Francis without the usual evidence for a miracle? Relax – nothing bad’s going to happen if you don’t find out.
Moses told the Israelites to expect a great prophet – but to beware, because false prophets would also rise up among them. Jesus was recognised as speaking as one who had authority, a true prophet. Today, we’re surrounded by many voices. Some claim to have the authority of Truth – and some claim to have the authority of God. We need to pause and ask ourselves: “Whose voice am I listening to?”
Clickbait is easy to recognise, though not so easy to resist. Other voices are more subtle. Have you ever had one of those chain emails or WhatsApp messages which begins: “My best friend’s aunt is a nurse in hospital X, and wants you to know what’s really going on…?” Be very careful. You trust your best friend to know whether their aunt is reliable. But as soon as the message gets forwarded, it’s no longer YOUR friend’s aunt, but someone else’s – so is your trust misplaced? A message like this plays on our fears. What are THEY trying to cover up? This must be the truth because it’s been sneaked out from under THEM!
Let’s pause and take stock here. We have two professions in our midst whose job is to root out the truth: scientists and journalists. Scientists make their money testing how physical or medical things work and gathering the evidence to back up what they say. But it’s not enough to be ‘just a scientist’. Even if someone’s a professor at a medical college, check what they do. A nutritionist or chemist has no more authority than me, with my physics degree, to speak about virus safety.
Journalists earn their pay by testing claims just like the message from the “aunt in the hospital”. If there is a cover-up, there’ll be a journalist breaking a story about it – all you have to do is run a quick search on the internet. The same applies to computer viruses – if you ever read that “Bill Gates says virus 21X is about to trash your computer for ever!” – just search. If Bill Gates really did say that, it’ll be on the record somewhere prominent. But I can guarantee what you’ll find – you’ll get a hit for one of those sites that list well known hoaxes and scams (this link is to a page by Sophos, one of the major providers of computer antivirus software).
As Christian believers, we might receive a message that a prophet or visionary has declared, in God’s name, that we are being asked to say certain prayers, or take certain actions to come under divine protection. Now that’s not impossible – the Israelites under Moses received a true warning to place their homes under the protection of the blood of the Passover Lamb. But again, we must be cautious. We can ask two questions – did the person actually say this? And is the source reliable? For instance, if you hear a claim that one of the Medjugorje visionaries had declared something – and I’m not making any statement here about whether Medjugorje is a place of true or false visions – the first thing you should do is check the official Medjugorje website. If the claim isn’t listed there, you can safely conclude it’s a false claim. Or if you’ve seen a YouTube video where an apparent “prophet” makes some pronouncement, check out that person’s credentials. Are they in good standing with their bishop or congregation leader? Do they have a reputation for receiving accurate prophecies which have blessed people? If the answer to either question is no, then relax – otherwise you’d be giving authority to fear instead of to God.
A few minutes ago, I promised three things you should do to avoid being taken in. And I’ve kept my promise! The ART of discernment – that’s A.R.T. – is to ask these questions:
- Is it Authentic – in other words, was the claim was made by the person whose name is attached to it?
- Is it Reliable – that is, does the person responsible have the authority to speak on this subject?
- Is it Tested – have other journalists, scientists, or church leaders endorsed the claim?
The ART of discernment is only to accept what is Authentic, Reliable & Tested.
Friends, we live in a troubled and worried world; the last thing we need is unnecessary anxiety. Go back nearly 2000 years and there were people who wanted to tell you the ‘real but hidden story’ about Jesus: we call them gnostics. Many were taken in, driven by that same fear of missing out which haunts us today. As followers of Jesus, we should be people of true authority; I appeal to you not to forward any chain emails or WhatsApp messages unless you have checked them out and found them to be authentic. We know the Devil is a deceiver; do not serve his purposes! Be servants of Truth, and the authority of Christ will shine in you.