September 30, 2014

Options and Choices

Jeremiah 17:10 - But I, the LORD, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve.

I have spent the past two weeks teaching my Communication students about research methods. Last week, we focused on social science research (quantitative), and this week, we are focusing on humanities research (qualitative). 

Research, in and of itself, is a challenge to most undergraduate students. From the moment students enter college, they are asked to conduct research, to use scholarly resources, to find evidence to support claims, and to persuasively argue their point of view. Locating scholarly resources, good quality resources, is a challenge for any student, even doctoral students. Therefore, helping my students find these resources, helping them to understand how they are structured (for publication), and helping them to cite them properly, is vital to their success in school. Not only will they be able to use resources well to present strong arguments, but the more comfortable they become with the entire research process, the easier it will be for them to conduct research on their own (as they say "practice makes perfect!")

My students complain whenever they have to use the online library and database. They tell me that they do not understand what they are looking for or how to use the databases to find resources that match their topic interest. I understand, really I do! I struggle at my level to find resources that match my study topic too, and since research is a major part of what I do as a doctoral student, I feel intense pressure to find good sources. My research is founded on good source material, and I do not have the luxury of picking and choosing like they do. I have to find narrowly researched studies that support my research questions (or hypotheses). My entire research project or prospectus will succeed or fail based on the quality of my resources.

Motivation and Making Sense

Thus as a Communications scholar, I have three choices in how to conduct research: quantitative, qualitative or historical/critical (I only teach the first two to my undergraduate students). Communications is considered to be a social science discipline (like psychology or sociology), yet there is overlap with the humanities because aspects of language and linguistics can be studied under the umbrella of Communications. This means that I can decide how I want to research any given communication topic based on my perspective or lens. I can conduct scientific research, collect and analyze data to report findings or I can conduct interpretive research where I focus on meaning and connection. I can also conduct historical research (something I am currently learning how to do) and study rhetorical methods of communication.  I "sit," so to speak, in the qualitative and historical/critical research camps. I bring my interest in language studies and linguistics to communication because I am keenly interested in how we make meaning when we communicate. I believe that communication is essential to relationship building, and as such, understanding how we communicate with each other as well as why we do certain things (behaviors, acts and motivation) when we communicate, can prove instrumental in helping God's people learn to live in community, and learn how to share the good news of the Gospel message with a hurting world. My research then is focused on communicating meaning (meaning making) and on affect (motivation).

Today, I started thinking about motivation and how we as human beings are motivated to do certain things. I do not have any answers (that is why I am a Communication Scholar) at this point in time, but I am aware that motivation is predicated on our belief and value systems. We make choices, and we consider options based on our belief that something will cause something else (in argument, we call this causation because "x causes y") or that something will lead to something else (consequence).  Our choices often are the result of a prime cause or a first cause. We use causal chain reasoning to determine outcomes, to determine whether an action or a belief will create a desired consequence. 

This is a very long aside: One of the reasons I love argument is because it is so logical. As an INTJ personality type, I am rational, ordered, and analytical in my thinking. I do not make snap decisions based on emotions. I am considered and carefully thoughtful in what I do. In fact, I spend a lot of time collecting data, analyzing it, processing it, and then organizing it before I make any decision. My son (an INTP) says that the average INTJ personality will plan their lives out 33 years in advance. While the length of time might be off the mark in a real-world sense, I would agree that my focus on careful planning and the determination of my steps, is spot on. In short, I have the plans for my life laid out and so carefully considered that I can almost guarantee today what I will be doing in 3-5 years from now. I may not have 100% of the details sorted at this point in time, but I have the major events plotted on the timeline and graph of my life. My INTJ wiring gives me confidence to say that I know where I am going, and I know how I am going to get there. I digress...

Lately, I have been thinking about options and choices in life. Yes, INTJ's tend to think a lot about choices. We consider everything, every new piece of information, within the context of all the established planning. So if some change comes into my life, a new person, for example, and that new person turns out to be significant to me, I will reconsider my entire life plan to factor in that change. My life plan that is carefully purposed will need to be recompiled to include this new person and all the relevant data they bring with them. I know that sounds really weird, so let me explain how it works...

My INTJ brain works like a giant computer program. New data has to be entered into the program in the proper place or line in the code. I cannot just dump new coding into an establish program or the program itself will break (will not function). No, I have to put that new coding into proper context, into its proper line, so that the program will function with this new enhanced feature added to it. Computer programmers would understand what I am suggesting, but suffice it to say, that adding in any new element, be it a person, a place, or a thing, requires that I spend time recompiling my program (my life application) so that the outcome (the goals and end results I have planned) still come to pass. 

In some ways, this process requires a lot of time spent thinking or debating within my head. I think a lot, about a lot of things, and I process mostly through reflection. I think about how something might influence or impact my life, and I consider the range of possible outcomes or consequences. Once I have carefully considered the possibilities, I make a decision based on all the data I currently have in hand. I rarely make significant errors when I process this way. Yes, sometimes I am short data, and I may make a decision that seems best, but in practical application, I will realize that the decision didn't produce the expected outcome. It happens. When it does happen, I don't consider the process to be flawed, but rather I acknowledge that there were extenuating factors or circumstances unknown at the time.

You may be asking why is all this so important, and what does this have to do with making choices, considering options, and research? 

Sigh! Yes, I am rambling, and I know it. I am a "big picture thinker." I need to see the big picture, the picture on the top of the puzzle box, to feel comfortable that everything is as it should be. When I struggle to process new information, to piece together disparate items, or to factor in new change in my life, my brain begins to recompile all the data in order to reestablish the preplanned and purposed outcome. I think my problem right now is that my "big life puzzle" is missing some key pieces, pieces that I don't have on hand right now, pieces that I need in order to create the picture on the front of the puzzle box. AGH!

I think this is really what is going on inside my weird, my quirky, and my dysfunctional brain right now. I am trying to figure out what is happening to me, why my life seems to be turned upside down, and how all the new data that I am collecting will fit (will be recompiled) into my life. My ordered and logical mind has been given a great challenge, a great opportunity to consider an altered outcome. I am trying to process this information (research), to consider it carefully (analyze cause), and to understand (make sense) what the Lord desires me to do with it. I can hear Him say to me "let it be," and that reminds me that I am trying to be INTJ-Super Woman and crunch the data to fit. The Lord, I believe, is telling me to let go, and to rest in His ability to make sense of what is happening in my life right now. All I can say in response is "Yes, Lord!"

Dear Lord,

I thank you for the change you have brought into my life recently. I thank you for the opportunity to experience something new and wonderful and blessed. I am struggling right now to process everything, to understand it all, and to make sense of what you want me to know, to do, and to accept. I ask that you to cover me with your blessing today, that you help me to rest, and that you help me to let things go so that I can relax and move along with you as you lead and guide me. I believe that you know what is best for me. I believe that you have everything under control, and that the plans you have for my life are good, so very good. I trust you today, and I let go of all the details, I let go of all the unknowns. I rest in your sufficiency, and I rest in your provision for my life. You are God and I am not. I let go, I let it be, I let you be Lord over this new area in my life. Amen, so be it, thy will be done. Selah!

September 25, 2014

Waiting in Hope for the Lord

I just realized that it has been almost ten days since my last blog post! This is so not normal for me. I blog every day unless I am sick, I cannot access the Internet or I run short on time in the morning. Lately, though, I have been distracted, and I have not had the time to sit and blog about anything.

Distractions come in all shapes and sizes. We tend to view distractions as a negative thing, something we should avoid at all cost. I wonder why this is the case? (This is a rhetorical question because I know the answer.)  Most of the time we see the distraction as a negative event because it interrupts our lives when we least expect it or want it to do so.  When we get distracted, our daily routine is interrupted, and we are forced to shuffle our priorities. It is this shuffling of priorities that we see as a negative experience. We do not like it when our little world gets rocked, and we have to adjust our time to accommodate the contracted schedule in order to meet our expected outcomes (oh, that was a mouthful of words!) The short of it is that distractions poke into our lives, our very busy lives, at very inconvenient times.

Today, I am thinking about distractions. There are two views on distractions, generally speaking. View 1 says that distractions are always negative, and that the goal of the productive worker (person) is to avoid them at all costs, to stay on task, keep focused, and grind through the to-do list to maintain the time schedule. This is the business model predicated on a strong work ethic. I think we all are mindful of this view because we have been condition to think and perform in this way (through formal schooling and in our daily work environment). View 2, however, says that distractions are not always negative, and that a focused mind set, while seemingly good, could end up counter productive to experiencing new opportunities. This view suggests that it is better to budget some flex time into that schedule to allow for moments of distraction because it is possible, that in these moments, something new, something exciting, or something wonderful could happen. View 2 is the relational model predicated on balance, on stability, and on the "big picture" of life. While most of us feel the need to be productive, and I am not saying that we shouldn't be productive, there is a cost associated with maintaining a schedule full of to-do's (namely stress, work overload and work burn out). View 2, therefore, allows for the possibility of the unexpected distraction to bring good into a very stressed, very pressured, and very managed way of life.

As I consider the types of distractions I have encountered recently, I cannot help but believe that View 2 is aligned with the biblical mindset in Scripture. I am sure there are valid arguments for the View 1 business model too (Scripture discourages sloth, laziness; and encourages diligence, good productive work). However, with a Kingdom perspective, the relational model seems to match that of our Lord, especially in His relationship with His disciples and with His ministry. I believe that this relationship model suggests that when we are less focused on the work we have to do, we are more open to experience relational distractions (people interruptions). Let me explain...

Yesterday, I was at Taco Bell for lunch. I teach M-W and F's at two different Universities. In between my second and third class, I have a lunch break whereby I drive from one campus to the other. I stop some place along the way to grab lunch before I check in to my class. I just happened to have a hankering for Taco Bell so I stopped by one near the school. This school is in a "rough" part of town. It has a very high crime rate (for Phoenix), and generally speaking, it is filled with poor Black and Hispanic people. As you drive through this part of town, you will see homeless men and women begging on street corners, in traffic, and at times, directly in front of stores. I usually do not stop and eat on this side of town simply because I am a woman, alone, and depending on the time of day, do not feel comfortable getting out of my car. I will drive through and then park and eat in my car. It is just something I do.

Yesterday was different. I had extra time on my hands so I got out of my car and went into the Taco Bell. I ordered my food, and when it arrived, I sat at a table by myself. I was on my phone, checking email and Facebook, when an elderly black man came up to me. He was obviously drunk or on something (drugs). He mumbled something to me and sat down next to me. I had a hard time hearing what he was saying, but I thought he was asking me for food. I asked him if he wanted something to eat and he said yes. I bought this man lunch and he blessed me. Granted he was stammering due to whatever he had consumed prior to walking into Taco Bell, but I couldn't let him not eat. I made sure he had some food before I left the store. The cashier waved to me and thanked me. I thought it was weird at first, but now I see exactly how the Lord used me in that situation.

That man probably came to Taco Bell often and he probably asked other people for money or food. Perhaps most people just shooed him away, told him to get lost, or ignored him. Clearly, that man was a distraction to me, to them, to everyone. This poor man was not homeless (he was clean and dressed nicely), but he had a drug/alcohol problem.  I didn't have the time to help him more than what I did, and frankly, a single woman is not the person to be helping an elderly man with this kind of problem (others are trained to do that work). However, I could do something, and that is what I did for him. I let him distract me for a few minutes. Did I change that man's life? Did I get him to seek help for his drug/alcohol problem? No. I gave him a meal, that is all.

The point is that I could have been the one who stayed looking down at her phone and who chose to ignore this man. I could have been in my right as a single woman -- a woman sitting in a Taco Bell on the wrong side of town -- to ignore this man completely. Yet, in my heart, I could see that this man needed food, and I had the means and the opportunity to meet that need.

Distractions, in my view, can be good. They can be life-changing experiences that bring new levels of understanding and meaning to our lives. If we allow people to distract us, to garner our attention, to cause us to experience life in a new way -- then I believe -- we can become better people, better ministers, and better servants of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I think about Psalm 33, one of the many songs of hope, and I am reminded of the hope that lives within me because of my relationship with the Lord. My life is bound up in His life. My work is part and parcel with His work. Therefore, I must be willing to be distracted by people, all kinds of people, so that I can minister to these people in the way in which our Lord ministered to me. He was real, He was attentive, and He cared about my needs (all of them -- physical, spiritual, mental and emotional). I must do the same for others. I must care about people, all people, with the same kind of care that the Lord gave to me. This is grace and this is love demonstrated, lived out, and experienced fully and completely. I rejoice with the psalmist today, and I sing joyfully to the Lord of Hosts. I give Him my praise, my honor, and my worship today. He is worthy, so very worthy to be praised!

Psalm 33 (NIV)

1 Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;
    it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
2 Praise the Lord with the harp;
    make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
3 Sing to him a new song;
    play skillfully, and shout for joy.

4 For the word of the Lord is right and true;
    he is faithful in all he does.
5 The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
    the earth is full of his unfailing love.

6 By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
    their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
7 He gathers the waters of the sea into jars[a];
    he puts the deep into storehouses.
8 Let all the earth fear the Lord;
    let all the people of the world revere him.
9 For he spoke, and it came to be;
    he commanded, and it stood firm.

10 The Lord foils the plans of the nations;
    he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
11 But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever,
    the purposes of his heart through all generations.

12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
    the people he chose for his inheritance.
13 From heaven the Lord looks down
    and sees all mankind;
14 from his dwelling place he watches
    all who live on earth—
15 he who forms the hearts of all,
    who considers everything they do.

16 No king is saved by the size of his army;
    no warrior escapes by his great strength.
17 A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
    despite all its great strength it cannot save.
18 But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
    on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
19 to deliver them from death
    and keep them alive in famine.

20 We wait in hope for the Lord;
    he is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice,
    for we trust in his holy name.
22 May your unfailing love be with us, Lord,
    even as we put our hope in you.

September 16, 2014

The Power of Perserving

Monday, September 15, 2014

I am tired today. I am worn out, worn in, and worn through and through. I have hit the nub end of the pencil, and I am trying to imagine how I will find the strength to carry on. My mind is fuzzy, my body feels faint, and I am struggling to pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again (tomorrow!)

I have so much on my plate right now, what with teaching and Regent studies. My professor has just reminded our class that we will be leading discussion for two weeks this semester. This requires writing a critical response to the reading, and proposing discussion assignments for my colleagues. Furthermore, it also requires responding to the board discussion -- to all my colleagues posts -- providing critical responses to their probes. I am dying under the weight of the work, and all of a sudden, I am feeling the crunch of time and of the pressure to complete my studies on time.

My school work at Regent is vitally important to me. Up to now, I have been able to handle the workload with effort, minor at times, major at other times. I have stayed on top of my discussion and readings, and I have planned out my research projects and papers. I have felt the pinch of time more than once, but generally speaking, I have been able to work my schedule into my daily business without causing too much upset. That is, until now.

The amount of work required to prep for four courses is killing me. Perhaps it is because I put so much effort into the lecture content. Perhaps it is because I worry about keeping my student's engaged. I don't know -- I just know that I spend a lot of time getting ready to teach each class. I don't mean to complain, but I have got to figure out an easier way to prep for class. I am staying up to 1:30-2:30 AM every other night, and the lack of sleep is causing me to suffer.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

I guess on the good side, if there is one, I found out that this is "normal" for teachers. I met the gal who teaches ENG 101 right before me at ACU on Monday, and I found out that she also teaches at GCU and ASU. We were chatting quickly in between courses and she mentioned that she had stayed up to 4 AM to get ready for her classes that day. So even though I don't like it -- at the least -- I know that I am not alone in this prepping business!

I am thankful for my days off, that is for certain. I spend most of my T-TH resting. I do try to get my Regent studies completed, but some weeks I end up napping in the afternoon and pushing off my assignments until later in the day. Part of me is thankful for the teaching opportunities, and of course, for the blessing of doctoral study. Part of me is whining and complaining over my lack of sleep, my extended work hours, and the fact that I can't enjoy a "real life." The funny (ha ha) thing is that no one ever said it was easy to get a doctorate. I mean no one ever said, "YEAH, A PHD IS A PIECE OF CAKE!" Nope. Everyone I know said that getting a PhD required more work than imaginable and next to zero sleep to accomplish it within the 5-7 year time frame. Yeah, welcome to doctoral studies...

I am counting down the days to my vacation/time-off. My next vacation time is October 13-14. I will be teaching at GCU, but ACU has a fall break on those two days. After that, I will have the entire week of Thanksgiving off. Then, of course, I will have the three weeks off at Christmas.

I just got the pending schedule from GCU. I have asked for three classes, all ENG 105, for next semester. These courses are on T-TH, so my PPTS from this semester should be usable again. My schedule could be 9-4:45 two days a week. This is still a full day, but it would be at one school only, and I would have about two hours in between classes for lunch and prep. I would love to have three days off, especially since I have two heavy doctoral courses in the Spring. The Lord is good, and He knows my needs well. I am praying that GCU accepts my request. It would be good to know that I could teach three instead of four courses.

I think when it is all said and done, the main point is this: God knows me well. He knows what I can and cannot do. I laid down last evening (I am finishing this post on Tuesday) at 9:30 PM and as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was out. I managed to get a prayer said, I think, before I sunk into a very deep and restful slumber. I remember saying "Lord, I cannot do this anymore. I am at the breaking point, and I am so very tired. Please help me to stay on top of all my coursework and my teaching responsibilities." As I drifted off into sleepiness, I heard the Lord say to me, "I have you well-covered." When I hear this in my spirit, it means that the Lord is saying to me that what I am experiencing is not the end, is not too much for me to bear. Yes, physically I am spent, but the Lord is able to step in when my strength fails. I am mentally, emotionally, and spiritual drained -- yet -- the Lord sustains me. When I am weak, He is strong.

Today, I woke up (Tuesday) refreshed and ready to tackle my day at the Heard Museum. I had a great day, full of fun and pleasure. I am tired (from walking), but I feel good. The Lord gave me a precious day of rest, of enjoyment, of relaxation, and I am thankful. As I look out my window, I see the rain come down. I am glad to be home right now, glad to have my work completed for the day. I look out and I see His hand upon my life and I know that while I may falter, I may lose my step, He never will let me go. He loves me, He cares for me, and He is my ROCK, my FORTRESS, and my STRONG TOWER. I praise His Name today. I thank Him for His blessings, and I worship Him as my Lord, my King, and my Savior.

Blessed be the name of the LORD From this time forth and forevermore!

September 14, 2014

Thinking About Tomorrow

Today is a good day. I woke up this morning thinking about my week ahead, and about future possibilities (teaching options, school work, moving, etc.) God has been good to provide for me. He has provided a new career (teaching) and extended education to help me develop that career. I have been teaching college for over a year now, and I am learning how to become a better teacher through practical hands-on experience. I hope to one day soon begin applying for full-time teaching positions, and to move into an Assistant Professor role where I can put down some roots and settle into this new and exciting career. Until then, I am committed to my studies at Regent, and to my classes at ACU and GCU (both open doors from the Lord).

I know the Lord has a great plan for my life, and I am trusting Him to lead me and guide me into the fulfillment of that plan.

As I think about His will and His plan for my life, I cannot help but reflect on all He has done for me. The person I am today is not the person I was a couple years ago. I am strong in the strength of the Lord. I am committed and disciplined to seeking His highest, His best for my life. I am content, fully surrendered to His way and His will. I know He is bringing His best to me, His finest, and His highest to bring about the work He has asked me to do. The more I mediate upon what I believe to be His calling on my life, the more assurance I have that it is coming to pass.

My life has taken such an exciting turn, and while I do not know what tomorrow will bring, I am confident that whatever may come to pass will be good, so very good.

The Lord is Good, so very good to me. I give Him all the praise, the honor, and the glory for His GOOD in my life this day.

September 13, 2014

Praising God This Morning

Today is a GREAT day! I am praising God, and I am thanking Him for His Goodness and Mercy!!

Some days there are no words to adequately express my thanks to God. Some days my heart is filled with so much praise that I cannot even think of what to say to Him, of how I can tell Him how much I love Him, and of how I can express my gratitude for the good He has brought to me. Today is one of those days.

I woke up this morning feeling tired, very tired, but filled with contentment. Merriam-Webster defines the term, contentment, as "the state of being happy and satisfied." The root word "content" means to be "pleased and satisfied" or the point of "not needing more." As I laid in bed, I started to think about contentment, about what it means to be content, and about how one becomes content. I started to think about my life, reflect on it a bit, and think about the moment when I "found" contentment or first experienced what it means or feels like to be content.

If I were honest with myself, I would say that I have been content for a number of years now. Of course, to be truly honest, I would have to add a caveat to that saying that I have been mostly content because I doubt that I could say that I maintained a consistent state of contentment. Yet, I believe I have been content, mostly content, for a long while. I am not sure when it happened, when I changed from a constant state of being unhappy and dissatisfied to the way I feel today, but I can say that it only has been within the last 5 or 6 years.

In looking back on my life, really reflecting on my life from childhood through to adulthood, I would have to say that the majority of my adult life was unhappy. I can say that now because I believe it is true, mostly true, and that now I can share that without the worry of anyone criticizing me for saying it (if that makes sense). Moreover, I think I could go as far as to say that my life from my early 20s through to my late 40s was marked by an overarching sadness. It is no surprise that this period of time, some 20 years, also coincided with the years I was married. In reflection, and with ruthless honestly, I would have to say that my unhappiness began when I got married and ended sometime after I found myself single.

In research, we would call that a correlation or a direct relationship between two unrelated events. However, as every good social science researcher knows, you cannot link cause and effect quite that easily. We like to show progress from event A to event B, and while sometimes two events do link together and create a causal chain (this is why I teach Introduction to Argument), those two events are not always synonymous with each other. I can say that I see a pattern for certain, and I can identify common themes. I can interpret the data and put forth a plausible scenario but I cannot say 100% that this was the cause or reason for my unhappiness. There were other factors at play, other issues, and the combination of events, of circumstances, and of influences worked together to create a ripe environment for sadness and for despair.

Despair is an interesting word. The dictionary defines despair as the point when a person "no longer has any hope or belief that a situation will improve or change." Most people, and I am generalizing here, do not find themselves in despair initially. Despair is the end result of a process, usually beginning with disappointment and ending with dissatisfaction. We despair when we feel that the circumstance or event has become so distressing to us that there is no longer any hope for change or improvement.

Jasmin O. Brown writes in her book, "Bruised but not Broken," that the Bible reminds us that our lives will be filled with disappointments and that we will suffer discouragement, dejection, and at times a sense of despair. She quotes Hebrews 12:11,
No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening--it's painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.
to point out that every trial and every test has a purpose, has a result. Therefore, suffering in this way, should lead us to peace and not to despair. Our hope rests in the security and blessings of God, in His provision and care. When we choose to turn away from God, to turn away from His perspective, His way of thinking, then we begin to despair, to lose all sense of hope.
Romans 8:37 - No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
Some Christians today do not like to talk about suffering as being divinely appointed by God. They do not like to venture into that uncomfortable place that says there will be suffering in this life. Yet, Scripture is full of references reminding us that suffering is something we will all experience. James 1:2-4 tells us that suffering produces a good result:
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
So while circumstances (within and without our control) can produce suffering, sin also causes suffering. I believe that for many Christians, the whole topic of sin, is taboo. Much of our suffering comes as a result of our own willful stubbornness to yield to the admonition of Scripture. Sin and sinful choices lead to unpleasant consequences. Those consequences often cause us to suffer pain, anguish, guilt, etc. So when it comes to discussing suffering, it is much easier, less painful, to focus on the circumstantial suffering (the job loss, the death of a loved one, disease, etc.) than it is to confess sinful lifestyle choices. I digress...

We despair when we feel that our life is hopeless, when it is bleak, when it is black. We find ourselves in deep despair when we no longer sense that there is a rescue at hand. In an emergency situation, we wait for the first responders to arrive, to rescue us. We have hope that they will arrive, that they will resolve whatever issue is at hand. If they were late to arrive, late to rescue us, we would soon begin to fear that there was no way out. We would find ourselves in a hopeless situation.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 AMP says this,
Therefore we do not become discouraged (utterly spiritless, exhausted, and wearied out through fear). Though our outer man is [progressively] decaying and wasting away, yet our inner self is being [progressively] renewed day after day. For our light, momentary affliction (this slight distress of the passing hour) is ever more and more abundantly preparing and producing and achieving for us an everlasting weight of glory [beyond all measure, excessively surpassing all comparisons and all calculations, a vast and transcendent glory and blessedness never to cease!], Since we consider and look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are visible are temporal (brief and fleeting), but the things that are invisible are deathless and everlasting.
Paul, in writing to the Church at Corinth, encourages us to not lose hope. He admonishes us to look to the eternal and not the temporal, to keep a Kingdom perspective rather than a human perspective.

I know how difficult it is to keep focused on the Lord, on His will, on His way. I know what it feels like to live with sadness, with despair. I also know what it feels like to live with joy, with peace, with contentment. I believe that the secret to contentment, if you want to call it a 'secret,' is a change of perspective. Yes, I believe that by changing your perspective from a human, inward, self-sufficiency view to an God-centered, outward, self-dependency view is the ticket. It is not just changing your mindset, but rather it is shifting of your vision from inward (self) to upward (God). Despair comes when we focus on our own efforts to resolve certain circumstances or events. When we feel hopeless or that there is no way for things to change, we begin to despair. We look to our human efforts, our human hands, and our human abilities to change our life.

God is our hope, and to experience contentment in this life, our eyes must be upon Him and His provision and not our own abilities or our own efforts.

In hindsight, I can say that I began to experience contentment the day I chose to place my faith, my entire faith on the Lord Jesus Christ. At the moment of salvation, I experienced joy in His life-saving Grace. I experienced forgiveness and healing at the foot of the cross. Yet, a contented life didn't just happen over night. No, I had to learn how to be content in every life experience. I believe this is where suffering produced its good result in me. I suffered through trials and experiences that were clearly God-ordained, and if not ordained, then permitted. God permitted certain experiences in my life to test and to try my faith. In doing so, I was hardened-off, so to speak. I was made strong, and I learned the valuable lesson of endurance. This is common to all believers as Scripture tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:13 AMP:
For no temptation (no trial regarded as enticing to sin), [no matter how it comes or where it leads] has overtaken you and laid hold on you that is not common to man [that is, no temptation or trial has come to you that is beyond human resistance and that is not adjusted and adapted and belonging to human experience, and such as man can bear]. But God is faithful [to His Word and to His compassionate nature], and He [can be trusted] not to let you be tempted and tried and assayed beyond your ability and strength of resistance and power to endure, but with the temptation He will [always] also provide the way out (the means of escape to a landing place), that you may be capable and strong and powerful to bear up under it patiently.
In addition to these experiences, I also made choices, sinful choices that produced very unpleasant consequences. I learned through those experiences as well as through the trials and temptations of life what it means to endure. And while God rescued me from my sin choices (after I confessed and repented of them), He didn't always short circuit the consequence or bring it to a quick close. No, often because of the nature of the sin-choice, the consequence was significant and prolonged. Yet, despite the situation, God was faithful. God, in His great mercy, cared for me throughout the learning process. He covered me with His blessing of grace (strengthening me and sustaining me), and He provided a way to endure (we like to think that He will provide a way out -- a short cut -- but this is not always the case).

Contentment, therefore, comes through hard life lessons. Learning how to be content in all situations and circumstances requires patient endurance, endurance through difficult and at times very painful experiences. Contentment, in my view, only comes after the experience ends, after the lesson has been learned, after the pain has subsided. It is then and only then that we can understand what it is like to be content in all things. Paul says it best in Philippians 4:11-13,
Not that I am implying that I was in any personal want, for I have learned how to be content (satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or disquieted) in whatever state I am. I know how to be abased and live humbly in straitened circumstances, and I know also how to enjoy plenty and live in abundance. I have learned in any and all circumstances the secret of facing every situation, whether well-fed or going hungry, having a sufficiency and enough to spare or going without and being in want. I have strength for all things in Christ Who empowers me [I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him Who infuses inner strength into me; I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency].
To whom is your sufficiency in? To whom is your praise given?

Today, my praise goes to the One who is more than worthy to receive all praise, all honor, and all glory. I give praise to the Sufficient One, to the Lord, who is my SUM, my SUFFICIENCY. May God be praised today and forevermore. Amen. Selah!

September 11, 2014

Simplify


A pretentious, showy life is an empty life; a plain and simple life is a full life. ~Proverbs 13:7 MSG

A good friend of mine and her husband are planning to move from Phoenix to the Pacific Northwest soon. They want to simplify their life, so they are looking at acreage where they can live modestly and raise animals. They are both into animals (dogs mostly), and they like organic living. They have been talking about doing this for a long time, and finally, they made the decision to go and look at locations to see if it was doable for them.

I think the whole idea of living simply is an interesting one. I like the premise -- living off the land, reducing outward possessions, relying on the bare essentials necessary for living. I don't think it is something I could do, well, not any more. I think it requires a lot of self-sufficiency and hard work. Not that I have anything against hard work, it is just the kind of hard work needed to live this way. I have several other friends who live in rural places in the US. They have horses, cattle, pigs, goats, etc. Small farms or ranches require 24/7 care. There is always something to fix or some animal needing care. I love the idea of this kind of lifestyle, but there is part of me that wonders if living in isolation is a good thing, Biblically-speaking. I am not judging those that do because I do not know if the Lord has called them to this way of living, I am just thinking more in general terms, or about making this decision for reasons prompted by more worldly concerns.

I used to think that it was better to live off-the-grid, so to speak, then to exist within the mish-mash of civilization. My former spouse was always on about living off-the-grid. He wanted us to have an Internet based business where we could live anywhere but still make income. He always talked about moving to the mountains or traveling around the country in an RV. He believed that it was possible to earn income through online sources and live off that income anywhere so long as there was Internet connection. I thought the idea of living in the mountains was great, but I never wanted to be a "rolling stone." For me, having roots, living in a home, was always very important. I never cared if that home was super nice -- I just wanted a place to call home, a place to call my own. 

I do understand the draw for people to the country. I mean, why not live the rural life, away from people, and enjoying God's beautiful country? It sounds idyllic. I imagine how wonderful it would be to wake up and look out my window and see trees (and not the block wall fence separating me from my neighbor). I love the smell of the country (yes, even the stinky smell of animals), and I love the rolling green hills, meadows and ponds. I would be very happy living in the country, I know this is true. However, as I have gotten older, and I have come to devote my life to the Lord fully, I think more about the ministry aspect of living in isolated rural locations. Is living off-the-grid fulfilling the Lord's command for us to go and make disciples? Is this kind of living so far from people (souls) a good thing? 

Again, I am not judging others who feel the Lord has open doors for them to do this, but for me, I think my ministry calling is about people and not animals. My ministry is to build up and encourage the church, and while we (believers) are the church (individually and corporately), we also are commanded to gather together in community. For sure, rural folks go to church, so living in the country doesn't necessarily mean living outside that community. I am thinking about people who live an hour or so away from other people or who live so far from a church where they cannot attend each week. For me, I feel that the Lord is calling me to stay connected to people, and those people are going to be found mostly in towns and cities. So while I would like to live in the country, for sure, I don't think I want to live so far out that I am isolated or far from conveniences like stores, church, etc. I think it is possible to enjoy God's beautiful creation while still remaining connected to people, God's people, and to those who so desperately need to hear the good news.

As I consider Proverbs today, I meditate on the worlds "a plain and simple life is a full life." I wonder what Solomon was thinking when he wrote this proverb. In truth, he didn't have a plain and simple life. He was one of the wealthiest people to live on this planet, and his life was far from modest or simple. 

The KJV says it this way, "There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing: there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches." The Amplified, one of my favorite versions, says it best (I think):

One man considers himself rich, yet has nothing [to keep permanently]; another man considers himself poor, yet has great [and indestructible] riches.

The AMP seems to echo the words recorded in Matthew (or vice versa) 6:21:

Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.

It seems to me that Solomon was saying that the attitude of the heart is what matters most. Living a pretentious or showy life is a life built upon pride, pride in one's accomplishments, in one's achievements, in one's own works. Living a simple life, a life that is plain and modest, is a life that focuses on the inward matters, the heart matters. Likewise in Matthew we are cautioned to remember that whatever we store up as treasure in this life will be an indicator of our heart condition. Therefore, if we are focused on outward things, living a grand or rich life, then our heart's desires are fixated on such things. If we seek a modest or humble life, then our heart is focused on the things of a similar nature.

I wonder sometimes if the desire to live off-the-grid is more about show or if it is more about stripping away the things of the world that captivate and enslave us? I trust that those who feel called to live this way will do so out of a sincere desire to remove obstacles and influences that are prideful. My prayer is that they will still remain connected to people because we are called (all of us who love the Lord) to Love God and to love others.

September 9, 2014

Loving God and Loving Others

I marvel at the way Scripture bubbles up in my heart some days. I like to imagine that there is this fountain of living water inside my soul, in the very depths of my soul. When I need encouragement or when I mediate on some Biblical principle, that fountain starts to bubble and then spills out reminders from God's Word all over my heart. As these verses "bubble up," my mind begins to consider their meaning, their truth, and I find hope, find encouragement, find strength in what the Lord brings to my rememberance.

Today is a perfect day, well not perfect, per se. It is a good day, nonetheless. Today has been a good day of rest, of being home, of enjoying the blessedness of peace and harmony in my home. It started off a bit rocky, just from the standpoint that I woke up feeling sort of yucky, and I remembered that I had a lunch date planned.

My good friend, Kristi Guerrero, texts me every month to see if I can meet her for lunch. We always go to Flo's in Scottsdale (sort of a gourmet Chinese place). We used to work together and we would go to there at least 1-2 each month. She had text-ed me last week to setup a lunch date, and I was eager to meet with her. But then life intervened and I spent the weekend working overtime (on school and school). Then yesterday arrived with a huge bang (due to heavy rain), the valley came to a halt (flash flooding), and my classes were cancelled. It was a blessing in disguise because it gave me an extra day off to rest and recoup from my all-niter study binges and teacher lesson plan sessions of the past couple weeks.

I woke up this morning, feeling just a bit off, but glad that it was Tuesday (my normal day off). Despite my lunch plans, I was bound and determined to get some real study time in and to make some needed headway on my Regent courses. Instead, I went to lunch and ended up spending an hour or so at Wal-mart. Needless to say, I am home now and I have yet to crack a book open.

The funny thing is that as I sit here and write this blog post, the words of Romans 10:9 bubbled up in my mind. I am not sure why, but I started to think about confessing the Name of Jesus, and this is the verse the Holy Spirit brought to me. Perhaps it was because I had just read a good article/blog post by Ravi Zacharias, and I had copied this quote to a Facebook friend's status saying, "I love this quote: 'Faith and reason must always work together in that plausible blend.'"

Yes, I have been thinking deeply lately, very deeply, and my heart has been convicted of a number of things, of important things. I am not talking about sin in my life, per se, but sin in general as in all our lives. I have been taking in deep words, deep concerns, and I have been sitting with them, processing them, thinking and pondering about them. I have to say that I love to think deeply. It is probably the one thing I enjoy most about my life. If I could sit and ponder all day long, I would do it. My very favorite past time is to ponder, to think, to muse, to meditate. If only I could get paid to ponder -- life would be swell! 

Yet, pondering for ponderings' sake is a worthless endeavor. The dictionary defines pondering as "think about (something) carefully, especially before making a decision or reaching a conclusion." Pondering, therefore, is a good thing that can be misused or elevated to the extent that it becomes a bad thing. Let me explain...

Have you ever known anyone who thought a lot about things but never did anything active with those thoughts? I have known a number of people who I would characterize as "carefully considered" individuals. By this I mean that they are slow and deliberate thinkers. They carefully consider every move, every idea, every thought, and they take a long time to make up their minds and move forward. Often they spend so much time thinking about something that they never get around to doing anything at all. They rarely make a decision because they are still thinking things over. They will over analyze every thought, critically evaluate it, and then even when they are at the results phase, will still find that they cannot make a choice -- yea or nay.

In my view, pondering or thinking deeply is a very good thing so long as the content of that pondering is worthy of the time spent. For example, thinking about the Bible or about God is a worthy pursuit. Thinking about Scripture, mediating on it, can bring healing and restoration to our hearts and minds. Yes, we can experience conviction too, but often the result of meditating on God's Word is to bring about a powerful resolution, an change or residual outcome.

These past couple weeks I have been challenged in my thinking. I have been looking at the world from one view only, and I have been asked recently to reconsider that view point, to look another way. Curiously, this revision in outlook has not come through the Lord, but rather through a friend who has placed interesting morsels of deep thought right in my pathway, right where I have to sort through them, before I can walk on. These deep challenges have caused me to turn inward for a time, to reflect on what I know, what I believe, and what I feel is the Lord's calling on my life. I have been asked to think carefully, to consider certain things, and the result has been one of introspection and probing.

It is a good thing that I like to ponder such weighty matters. It is a good thing that I love to think deeply and to question my thinking, my behavior, my motives. Yes, I love a good challenge.

As I think about all of this today, I am reminded that in my life I will face numerous challenges. I have oodles of CHALLENGE right now. In fact, I would say that my stress level is running about a 6-7. I would prefer it to be around a 3-4, but there you have it, I am pretty stressed right now. No, I am not at the danger zone, but I don't like the heightened stress awareness, and I would much prefer to chill out a bit, and to relax more.

Challenge is a good thing. Deep thoughtful challenge excites me and gives my mind something to do. I need mental stimulation, and while I have that through my doctoral courses, and to some extent, through my teaching prep and planning, deep pondering of a Biblical nature is something I haven't had in a very, very long while.

So why in the world would the Holy Spirit bring up Romans 10:9? I backed up a bit and read from verses 7-12. Here is the part that matters...

If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.

This is the meaty part of this verse. I believe that verse 10 is the part the Lord has chosen for me to reflect on today.  You see -- in my little world, my very neat and compact little world -- I rarely get the opportunity to witness to anyone at all. I encourage mightily, I build up, I affirm and I confirm (my dual-fold gift) to all I see, to all I meet -- but I do not proclaim the good news -- I do not share it to those who are lost. No, this is work that I do not do. It is not that I cannot do it -- because I certainly can -- and over the course of my life, I have readily shared the good news with many people. It is that I do not do it because I don't think about doing it. It is true, so very true. I admit it, and I accept the fact that this is true.

This past weekend, two good friends preached the Word to me. One did it informally, and the other formally (at Church). The truth of their words penetrated me deeply, so deeply, that I spent the better part of two days thinking about the seriousness of their words, the ramifications of failing to heed their instructions, and the general truth contained within God's great redemptive plan. Yes, I received the Word preached, and through pondering (meditating on that word), I have been moved to respond. I love it when that happens, when I hear the Word preached that way, through multiple streams and as a result I end up being motivated to consider a new path, a new plan, and new program.

God is so very good to me. He is so very, very good to me. I love the fact that He uses others to minister to my heart, to teach me truth, and to encourage me to continue to pursue His plan for my life. I believe more now than ever that the Lord is moving to prepare a place for me, a proper place for me to work and to minister for His Kingdom. I am content to remain where I am, but I feel that the Lord is getting ready to open a door for me. When He does, He will ask me to move, to go someplace, to start again, and to begin His work in a new way. I am excited at the thought of it, and I believe it will be good, blessed, and favored. I do not know what that way will be or where I will end up, but I feel that He is getting ready to move me (Again!) 

The Lord has moved in mighty ways before, and every single time He has done it, I have experienced great growth and change. I believe that each time He moves, doors open for me, opportunities arise, and new challenges begin. My life morphs into something new whenever He moves in me. I feel that He is ready to move, that perhaps He has already started moving. Now I need to rest in Him, to look to Him, and to trust Him to prepare a way for me, to show me clearly the way to go.

May the Lord be praised today and forevermore. May the Lord be blessed. May His Name be praised and honored and glorified for only He is worthy, for only He is worthy! Amen, so be it. Thy will be done! Selah!