Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Writing is on the Wall, Reading the Tea Leaves, Wolves, and Discernment

Discernment.  The one spiritual gift that seemingly everyone claims and the one I would argue is in shortest supply.  It is the biggest reason that I neither trust, nor endorse spiritual gift inventories lol.  Typically, I feel like I'm gifted in discernment, but therein lies the rub; I'm honest enough with myself to recognize that I've been burned and been wrong enough to know, well, a busted clock is right twice a day.

Truth be told, I think for most of us, it is there when we need it.  The key, the tough part is recognizing it for what it is in those moments.  What is the voice of God?  What is of the voice of me?  What is the voice of the world?  In rare instances, I mean really rare instances, the answer is crystal clear and undeniable.  Most of the time though?  My own voice tends to be the best impersonator of the voice God and I am left trying to figure out which one is which.

*****
I am reminded of a moment shortly after arriving in Louisville.  I had been here long enough to understand the proverbial "lay of the land" or in other words, I recognized the monumental challenges I was faced with.  I was sitting in a good friend/mentor's office discussing this, when in a quiet moment I simply said, "I feel like I've been thrown to the wolves."

My good friend/mentor's response?  "You have been," he said with a laugh.

I sat quietly for a moment and in one of those moments where I accidentally/unintentionally say something totally awesome and action movie worthy, I responded with a heartfelt sigh, "Well, I guess I better start bringing back pelts."

*****

I have exactly two sermons that I've preached (or intend to preach) more than once.  One is on doubt, which I'll be pulling out sometime soon for the second time.  The other?  Oh I've preached that one several times.  It recounts the story of chained dog from my youth.  The dog's name?  Wolf.

*****

The first class of my first day of seminary was Inductive Bible Study with Dr. David Bauer, one of the most brilliant and humble human beings God ever placed on this planet.  I had read the primary text book (written by Dr. Bauer) in its entirety before the class.  That book convinced me in short order that I had no business pursuing a Masters and I certainly had no business in that class.  As soon as he opened his mouth on that first day?  All of my fears were realized.  I understood a total of about two sentences that first day of class and both have stuck with me.

"Context is everything."

"The simplest, most common structure to identify is recurrence.  If a word or a concept repeats, the author is trying to get your attention."

Bingo!  I had something to hang my hat on; I could easily identify that.  Chiastic structure?  Whatever!  I've got recurrence!!! (For the record, I got an A in that class lol)

I learned that day, or rather I came to realize, God is rather fond of repeating Himself when He wants our attention.  All right, so His fondness for repeating Himself is probably a stretch.  It's just what it takes sometimes to get through our (my) thick skull.

*****

I've been in a long and if I'm being honest, a torturous, season of discernment.  Life is good, ministry is good, but there is a fluttering in my spirit that would not be ignored.  Was the fluttering just me?  My tendencies?  My desires?  My wisdom?  Or was/is it God?  It wasn't going away and it was only getting stronger.  Time to whip out my awesome discernments skills.  No seriously, you should see my scores on every spiritual gift inventory I've ever taken.  Discernment is through the roof...lol.

I think I have two and only two gifts in the realm of discernment.  The first is that I know myself, I understand myself, and I am painfully honest about myself.  I know my tendency to get in God's way, I recognize my motivations, my desires, and yes, my ego.  I'm also really good at...wait for it...DISCERNING when my inner voice is masquerading as the voice of God.  My other gift?  Well, it really has nothing to do with discernment, it is my response to it; I am obedient to a fault.  Once I have discerned something (that is really a loaded concept I realize) I am obedient to it.  I don't have to understand it and I don't have to like it.  I respond with obedience to what I feel like God is communicating to me.  If I mess up?  Bonus third gift!  I trust that when I have erred in an attempt to be obedient that God will help me make it less of a mess or even a victory.

I find that in these matters, the older that I get, the more experienced that I get, I find that I am far more analytical than ever. (Thanks Dr. Bauer)  Previously I tended to be far more instinctual and now I'm far more analytical.  Has one proven more effective than the other?  Not really.  I do believe that I have good and trustworthy instincts (see gift #1 above).  However, being more analytical does appear to make the process somewhat cleaner, albeit slower.

I mention this simply because in this long season of discernment, I've distilled all of the "noise", all of the "static", and all of the information down to two voices.  Oddly enough they are pretty representative of the two "me's" and both sound like God.  One is based entirely on analysis and the other?  Pure instinct.  Which one is most representative of the voice of God?  Which one is most representative of the voice of Corey?  Not a clue.  Damn you discernment lol

On the analytical side, the evidence is overwhelming on every count.  Every piece points to one specific outcome.  If this were a legal matter, it would never make it to trial; there's nothing to argue or debate.  This side?  It's both just and righteous, and on the surface, would be very exciting to me.  The kicker?  New evidence supporting this side piles in on a seemingly daily basis.  If I were to travel this path, I have little doubt that it would be both accepted and understood.

The instinctual side?  It knows the score, it knows that the deficit will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.  It recognizes that there will likely never be full comfort in what it wants; it also knows really well that it could end badly on so many levels.  As a matter of fact, all of the aforementioned evidence says that it will.   Instinct says that I could very well point back to this post someday to say, "You absolutely blew it."  And yet, the instinctual side says with a grin, "So what? We don't play for here and now, we play for there and then."  The analytical side favors justice and righteousness, this side?  This side is nothing more than love.  All are traits of God, so which one is He most in?

*****

Thrown to the wolves.

Wolf pelts.

A dog named Wolf.

*****

I've been preaching for the past few weeks on the "Good Shepherd" (Matthew 10:1-21).  Specifically, to this point, I've been discussing those things which confuse and muddle the voice of the "Good Shepherd" and our inability to recognize said voice. We've talked about the myriad voices each one of us deals with and how so often they sound strikingly like the Good Shepherd.  However, in the passage Jesus is pretty clear; the sheep clearly know and dare I say, discern, His voice.

A really good line, I think anyhow, from this series was my admission, "My inner voice all too often is the very best mimic of the voice of God.  What I want, what I desire can too easily be confused with the will of God."  (Anyone else see a recurring theme here?)

What I want.  What I desire.  The will of God.

*****

"What do you want God?"

"Meh, whatever you want."

"Thanks God!"

Uggh.

*****

And then there it was.  I was reading the aforementioned passage before the church, just as I had done the previous few weeks, and boom; a lightening bolt to the heart in the shape of a wolf.

"The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep.  So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away.  Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it."

Contextually speaking (thanks again Dr. Bauer lol), this passage has nothing to do with me; I know this.  I will not twist it in an attempt to do make it so.  However, I also feel pretty certain that in that moment, those words were illuminated and used to grab my undivided attention; they cut straight to my heart.

*****

"What do you want God?"

"Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it."

"Fair enough."

*****

Funny.  I started this post out not really knowing or caring where it was going, and yet, here it is.  I've been picking at it for about a week and getting the words down and out have proven to be a pretty powerful tool in the discernment process.  I think (still trying to hedge my bets) that I do know the path that God would prefer me to take.  I also recognize now as I type this that at some level it's not necessarily the path that "Corey" was hoping for.  I can see now that the two sides weren't equals, even though I was convinced they were and that I was in fact quite biased.  There was one side that I was secretly pulling for.  

There's a little piece me of me that is just a bit disappointed, but oddly enough, that is a pretty powerful affirmation that I have discerned correctly.  Not that God is picking on me, or wants me to be disappointed, but that I can recognize the difference between God's will and Corey's will.  I tend to get nervous when I completely get my way lol.  

So many times in life and ministry, the paths that I did not necessarily want have turned out to be immense blessings.   I can see that, understand that, and totally believe that.  This situation?  I see great potential and blessings, but I also recognize that even as I sit here right now, the voice of Corey is attempting to mimic the voice and the will of God in the great potential and blessings that I see.  It is my attempt to justify the choice, perhaps even to comfort myself.  The reality?  I don't know what God has in mind; not my business.  I just know what's in front of me.  More pelts.

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