Wise as Serpents, Gentle as Doves

Author's Note: I didn't get my usual Wednesday blog done this week! I was en route back to Minneapolis after five days in Florida for book research, and upon arrival I had a few writing assignments due. Thanks for reading this bonus Friday blog!

Me in Tampa on Sunday night before church service #3

I've been thinking a lot about discernment lately.

That's sort of a "churchy" word - but basically it means decision-making, thoughtfulness - and seeking God's will as you navigate your life.

Discernment is a tough thing, because it requires you to employ both the kindness of God and the mercy of God - while also seeking God's judgment. 

In a world that often makes a dichotomy between being "judgmental" and being "sinful," discernment offers a middle path: loving others, while guarding your heart.


Discernment is critical at all phases of life, but it's especially critical in the midst of life changes and transitions. Maybe that's why I've been thinking about it. I recently started a new part-time call at a great church in the Twin Cities, as well as ramping up my book research and also maintaining a steady load of freelance writing and speaking projects - and constantly pitching story ideas related to my book research.

I also have that other small responsibility that involves two little boys who like to cause trouble (related: we spent last night in the ER making sure Josh didn't ingest an unsafe amount of wiper fluid that he sprayed into his mouth ... long story ... but fortunately he was totally fine and we were just being overly cautious parents)

Discernment comes in handy from relatively small to large tasks: i.e.: how to navigate childcare and school choices for your children; buying the expensive or inexpensive shoes; selecting fresh produce; who to marry; who to trust; how to figure out if politicians and media are lying or not.

The good news is, God gives us great tools for discernment. I want to look at one particular Scripture passage today, coming out of the instructions Jesus gives to the 12 disciples in Matthew 10 as he sends them out to share the Good News to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

The entire passage is worth reading, but let's focus on verse 16:

See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; 
so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves."

Jesus sure knows how to take two seeming opposites and ask us to do both. 

How do you become a serpent and a dove at the same time? Well first, only by calling upon God for help. What is impossible for me is easy for God.

How else? 

I've been thinking about this verse as I process my time in Florida researching my book, interviewing people from Orlando to Tampa to Naples -- including President Donald Trump's Pastor, Paula White, a church where the Pastors advertise that they carry guns, and retired and current football players and coaches from high school to the NFL.

I want to use this verse to guide me as I conduct all my research. 

To be innocent as a dove ...

I plan to approach each person and each situation I encounter with an open mind. Already in my research, many of my preconceived notions about people, places and events have been turned upside down. Innocent as a dove means to me that each person and place gets a fair shake - an open mind - a fair chance, and I approach each one asking God to show me His truth in the midst of the situation and the interview. This has led me to unexpected connections and also great joy in seeing the diversity of God's work in America.

To be wise as a serpent ...

This is maybe tougher for me. I am somewhat shy, reticent - but I also trust people easily. I always want to believe the best about people, and I will go out of my way to relate to them and give them the benefit of the doubt. This has led me to be really taken advantage of in some situations, and it has also caused me to trust when I should have possibly been more suspicious. To be wise as a serpent means that while I pray for God's guidance and to see God's truth in situations, I am also prepared for the possibility that God's truth reveals an ugly, scary evil even in the place where I stand at that moment. I must prepare myself for moments when I hear or see things that speak against God or distort the Gospel of Jesus. I must figure out ways to kindly and openly tell peoples' stories, while at the same time guarding my heart and preparing myself for the possibility that they are distorting their truth or presenting themselves dishonestly. I must also be prepared to hear disjunctive statements: at one time hearing God's word and kindness out of the same mouth that spews hatred and fear; and I must seek God's discernment in understanding the person before me, knowing that I myself make disjunctive statements as well, and must confess my own hatred and fear in the midst of my listening and discerning.


This Lent, a few weeks before Easter, I want you to examine your own life. 

Where do you need to exercise discernment?
What is God telling you about an upcoming decision or situation in your life?
When is God calling you to be as innocent and gentle as a dove?
When is God calling you to be wise as a serpent, and seek God's judgment?

Our answers to these questions may all be different, but my prayer is that they are all guided by the same Holy Spirit, who heals and uplifts and strengthens our shared faith - guarding our hearts and growing our love.


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