Posted tagged ‘discernment’

Knowing That Voice!

September 19, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            September 19, 2016

                          

     My wife Carol still shakes her head in disbelief as she retells the story to people. It happened about twenty years ago now in the midst of a restaurant in Tempe, Arizona called Rustler’s Roost. Our family, along with Carol’s mom and dad were enjoying a nice dinner in the midst of the establishment. As we sat there sipping our Pepsi’s and munching on the pre-meal bread I heard a voice, a woman’s voice, coming from a few tables over from us.

I looked at Carol and said, “That’s Sue Burt!”

She gave me a confused look and asked, “Sue Burt?”

“Cyndi Martin’s step-sister from Arlington Heights.”

“How do you know it’s Sue Burt?”

“I’d recognize that voice anywhere!” Sue Burt’s step-father was Dr. James Payson Martin, Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois, a church where I served as Youth Director during my next year of seminary in 1978-1979.

It was now 1998!

“Bill, are you sure? You aren’t even looking at her.”

“Absolutely!”

Without delay Carol got up and walked over to the table where “the voice” was coming from and asked the young woman, now about 35 years old, if her name was Sue Burt. She was greeted with a confused look attached to an affirmative nod. Carol explained to her that I had heard her voice. I walked over and we reconnected for a few minutes after a twenty year gap.

Sue had a voice that was distinctive, unmistakable, just like a few other voices that we can easily recognize…Pee Wee Herman…Mister Rogers…our family physician. When a voice becomes known to you it isn’t easily forgotten. When a voice speaks into your life you remember it.

I find this is increasingly true for followers of Jesus. When we know the voice because our life has listened to it for a long, long time we recognize when the voice is speaking to us. In a culture of a lot of noise- or perhaps multiple voices- hearing the “true” voice is essential for a person’s spiritual journey. The thing is lack of intimacy with “the Voice’ creates a high level of voice-guessing. That is, God becomes the voice of personal agendas clothed in spiritual jargon. “God told me so!” gets used a lot to cover up self-centeredness or people on power trips.

Churches are prone to listen to the ten spies rather than to the “Joshua and Caleb’s”. People also tend to listen to the loudest voice rather than the whisper of the Spirit. The one who has the deepest intimacy with the real Voice often gets drowned out by the turned up volume of others. Spiritually mature voices are seldom loud. Wisdom and discernment don’t emerge out of turned up volume.

But when a person or a church truly…undoubtedly…unmistakably…undeniably hears the voice of God, the whisper of the Spirit, and the leading of the love of Jesus something that can only be explained as being of God is about to happen!

 

Baptist Mom Guilt and God-Leadings

May 17, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       May 17, 2016

                            “Baptist Mom Guilt and God-Leadings”

Last week my cell phone rang at 5:55 A.M. It was Amy, the lady who assigns substitute teaching positions. Usually the automated call comes at 5:45, so I had drifted back to sleep, thinking that there would not be an assignment for the day.

When the phone rang I answered and, with a hint of desperation, Amy’s voice greeted me with a “Good morning!”, and asked me if I was available to teach a third grade class that day. I had just been through a two-day first grade gauntlet, so I said that I would pass. Her voice carried subdued disappointment in it as she said good-bye.

I laid back down and then I felt led to call her back and say I would do it. She was overjoyed, as well as relieved, and I prepared for a day of corralling third graders.

Later on that day it hit me! It wasn’t a leading from the Lord that had caused me to call her back. It was “Baptist Mom Guilt!” BMG!

If you’ve been raised Baptist, especially independent or Southern Baptist, or Catholic, or one of a few other church backgrounds, it is very likely you know what I’m talking about. Baptist Mom Guilt is that loud inner voice that tells you to do something that you have no intention of doing.

Christians speak quite often about being led by the Lord or led by the Holy Spirit. For me, it is often difficult to differentiate the voice of God from the voice of my mom in decisions that are made.

For instance, even though it has been several years, this was a meal-time dialogue with my mom:

“Bill, do you want more squash casserole?”

“No, I think I’ve had enough, Mom.”

“There is just a little bit left.”

“No, I’m okay.”

“Just enough to dirty the dishwater!”

“No, thank you.”

“There are children around the world who are hungry, but you want me to just throw this last bite of casserole away?”

“I’m just full, Mom.”

“So you didn’t like the squash casserole?”

“It was great, Mom.”

“If it was great then have this last bite.”

“Okay! Okay! I’ll take it.”

I loved my mom. She was an awesome woman, who is now whispering in the ear of God, seeing if he would like that last bite of the heavenly squash casserole. (Not really, but I can envision her standing in Glory with a serving spoon in her hand.) She knew how to get my siblings and me to do things…Baptist Mom Guilt!

And the thing is…there are a number of times each day when I hear her voice as I’m making a decision. Since I’m not substitute teaching this morning I’ll probably go home and “be led” to vacuum the family room, and do a load of laundry. I’ll hear the inner voice saying, “Why are you relaxing? Don’t just sit there. Do something!”

There are some Sundays where Baptist Mom Guilt drives me to church. Some mornings BMG causes me to withstand the temptation to wear the same pair of underwear for two days in a row. It also makes me clean my dinner plate, brush my teeth, and pick up my socks.

So how do I know that I’m being led by the Holy Spirit, as the Book of Acts so often describes what happened in events of the lives of the apostles, and how do I know it’s Baptist Mom Guilt?

I think I’ve figured out a few things…maybe! If what I’m being lead to do alleviates feeling bad about myself it is probably a moment of BMG. If what I’m being led to do helps someone draw closer to God, or experience the unconditional love of God it has a great possibility of being a God-leading. If the leading begins with the words “I ought to…” it is probably Baptist Mom Guilt raising its parental head. If it is a leading that is framed in a thought that says, “I don’t quite understand this, but…”, it could very well be the leading of the Holy Spirit.

If it is a leading that results from a Sunday morning plea that says, “If we don’t get more volunteers, we can’t…”, beware! If it is a leading from someone’s heart cry that says, “I’m looking for a few people to join me on a new ministry journey of…”, listen closely!

I’m still figuring out this whole discernment thing! The good thing is that I’ve come to grips with how Mom still speaks to me. I remember the conversations of love being expressed, the two-layered coconut birthday cakes made, sitting between her and Dad in church, and I weigh those pictures and memories against the bite of squash casserole left in the dish…and it’s all good! It’s all good!

Discerning Perseverance

March 4, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       March 4, 2016

                                    

This past month I have been going through the application process to be a substitute teacher here in Colorado. Your first question might be “Why?” My response, besides the fact that Walmart wasn’t hiring any new store greeters, would be “Why not?” I enjoy being around young people, and I get tired of hearing people say “Act your age!” At my age I’ve got one foot heading towards a tombstone!

The process, however, has been an exercise in frustration. It’s like an ongoing visit to the DMV, something very few of us list as one of our pleasurable activities. On the Colorado Department of Education application it seems I was asked about five times whether or not I’ve committed a felony. By the fifth time I was starting to think that I had…kind of like when my mom would keep asking me “Are you sure you didn’t do that?” I’m sure at some time through the process I confessed to her that I had committed some offense that my brother, Charlie, had really done.

In my application process I’ve struggled with new technology that I didn’t have to worry about when I applied for a summer job at Rollyson Aluminum Products back in 1973. How do I scan a document? How can I attach something to an on-line application without staples or paper clips? Why do I have to be reminded of the sad state of my first year college grades?

A friend of mine suggested that the torture of the process is God’s way of telling me that there is unconfessed sin in my life, and that I should repent…and then become a pastor again! I failed to connect the dots of his reasoning, but it did make me think of the Christian exalting of the ability to persevere. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 5:3-4 that “…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” In James it says to “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:4)

So the question is how does one discern the need to persevere versus God closing a door you keep trying to go through? One of my favorite Far Side cartoons is of a bespectacled young boy trying to enter the door to his school. He’s pushing, but the sign on the door says to pull. Above the door is a sign that says “School for the Academically Talented and Gifted.”

No matter how spiritually connected a person is there will be a constant discernment struggle about whether he is to keep on keeping on…trusting in God…persevering in the faith…and seeing that the door is closed.

I know I’ve confused those two a number of times over the years. The temptation to persevere gets easily attached to something that offers more prestige, more power, and more money. Closed doors are often in the background of decisions that offer no enhancing of my resume. Inconvenience gets viewed as a sign that God is saying “No!”

Going back to “sin in my life”, I recognize that the distance I put between myself and God because of my desire to be in control also causes a blurred vision of what I am being called to do or not do.

In my life recently I’ve had several situations where discernment has been needed. I wish I could say that I’ve nailed it every time, but there have been a few times where I’ve been pushing on the door when the sign says “Pull!” Quite frankly, when I’ve stepped back and finally seen what the sign says I turn red in spiritual embarrassment!

Spiritually Suspicious

June 3, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                    June 2, 2013

 

There is something about our mindset that is strange. We often long for, and pray for, the touch of God upon our lives in such powerful ways, and yet when someone proclaims that he has experienced a powerful encounter with the Lord we are, more often than not, suspicious.

Perhaps it is because we aren’t quite sure God would present himself in such a way.

Or it could be that we are a bit jealous that someone else gets to experience the hand of God instead of us. Kind of like getting new underwear for Christmas while our sibling gets new Legos. Who would be happy about that?

Or perhaps it is because we’ve gotten burned for believing that such things happen too many times. Someone tells us how God has appeared to him, and then we find out a while later that it was all a hoax. We wanted to believe. Believing is risking, but like the boy who cried “Wolf!”, too many false alarms has left us leery of trusting in the real holy moment.

Let’s be honest! Sometimes people use our tendency to be gullible towards spiritual matters to pull the wool over our eyes.

The tragedy is that God still is working, and moving, and healing. He is still the God of the burning bush and closed lions’ mouths.

Facebook and Youtube have made us instant celebrities, but also immediately doubtful. As our culture becomes less familiar with the Bible it becomes prone more to being swayed by the spectacular. What if God, however chooses to be in the calm, the gentle whisper? At that point do we become visually-impaired to his hand?

I’ve witnessed a person be overwhelmed by the singing of a praise song. God was doing something in her life. I’ve also experienced the moving of God in the midst of a conversation with one other person. But I’ve also felt the uneasiness over the sharing of what was perceived as being a great moving of the Spirit.

It is confusing.

When talking to the Corinthian church about their worship issues, Paul said something that applies to this spiritual suspicion we feel. He writes, “When we worship the right way, God doesn’t stir us up into confusion; he brings us into harmony. This goes for all the churches- no exceptions.” (1 Corinthians 14:35, The Message)

If it is confusing, perhaps it needs further inspection, further contemplation and prayer. God is not a God of confusion, but he is the God of people who are quite often confused.