July 3, 2015

Summer Storms

The monsoon has officially arrived! This week we have had dust storms and a nice light show twice. Last night, we had impressive lightning and a good downpour. The forecast calls for more stormy weather through the weekend. This is good news for those of us who call the desert home. The cloudy skies today should help to keep our temperatures down, at the least, to more moderate ranges (lower 100's). It is humid out right now (38%) with only a slight chance of rain today. The chances of rain are much stronger tomorrow (historically, we seem to get rain on the 4th of July, go figure!) Still, it is such a blessing to have a change of weather. I cannot tell you how boring it is to always have sunny skies. I am sure that folks who move here from extreme Northern climes love the sunny days, but for those of of us who like clouds and variable weather, the perpetual sun can be just as difficult to handle as the always present grayness. I happen to be one of those people who really needs gray. I know that seems weird, but I have always loved the grayness of winter, the cloudy and rainy days, and the variableness of weather. I don't like severe storms, tornadoes and such, but I do enjoy the change. Just saying it is so...

Thinking More About Moving Elsewhere

Yesterday I posted some pictures of my desires regarding home ownership. Today, I thought I would post pictures of what I love most about the country life. I grew up in the city, always a city girl, but my heart was never into the big lights of the big city. Of all the places I have lived in my 50 some years, the closest I came to living in the country was my 8 years spent in Hazel Crest, IL. Hazel Crest is a village in the southern suburbs of Chicago. The house pictured to the right was my childhood home. It was white with black trim, and I don't recall a big tree in the front yard. Still that would have been nearly 37 years ago so a lot has changed in the neighborhood (demographically speaking). As a child, I think the population was about 17K. According to the 2010 census the population is now 14K. I am not surprised with the drop. Most of my childhood friends have left the area, moved farther south and west of the city. Still when I was young, you didn't have to drive very far to be "in the country" or at the least in a more sparsely populated area. In fact, you could drive about 10-12 miles south and you would see open fields by either side of the road.

Monee, IL

My cousins lived in Indiana and Ohio, so during our time in IL, we visited them frequently. My Indiana cousins lived on farms outside of Bluffton (near Ft. Wayne). My Ohio cousins lived in the country outside of the Akron/Canton area. Both locations, IN and OH, were beautiful, and I dreamed that some day my Dad would get relocated with his job. This never happened, and instead, my Dad moved from IL to CA. My youth was spent living in either smaller towns to large metro cities. I have to say, though, that my heart has always been drawn to rural America. I have always loved small towns, smaller churches, and the lifestyle of Small Town, USA.

Ohio

Sharon Center, OH

My Aunt and Uncle's House (it was brown back then)

Down the road

Indiana

I tried to capture some photos from Indiana, but unfortunately, where my family lives (or lived) is so rural, that Google has not taken the time nor interest to map it (LOL!) Instead, here is Berne, IN. My Aunt and some cousins live here, and it is a very quaint little town.

Downtown Berne

Typical Amish Farm near Berne, IN

Old and New

I think what I love most about these pictures is the way of life captured in them. While I am not advocating a return to a simpler time or even moving to a farm somewhere in rural America, it is more so that I long for the peace and quiet of the countryside. I love rural roads, and I love small towns. I love everything about living in a small town, even the negative things like living in too close of quarters where everyone knows everyone. There is part of me that loves this idea, and I think it is because today, so many people do not know their neighbors. Even if they do know them, they may not socialize with them. I mean, they may say hi or wave, but they don't really "know them." This is unfortunate, and as times get increasingly more challenging, I think it is vital to make good connections with our neighbors. Besides, they might need us or we might need them some day very soon!

Rural Life and What I Like

My number one pick for rural life has to be trees. I love trees and green countryside. This is a picture of a very nice road with lots of green around it. I think this would be a great road to drive on.

Nice road with lots of trees

Cows and a Pond

White country church (a must)

Gothic Style House

My desire is to move someplace where I can live very comfortably. I guess it is important to define what I mean by comfort. You know the old saying, "One man's comfort is another man's poverty," well, it is true. Comfort level is subjective. According to Merriam-Webster,  comfortable means "affording or enjoying contentment and security." This means that I would like to live in a place where I could live on my income without having to worry about contentment and security. For example, let's say that I earn $4000 a month (gross), and all my bills (everything including food, gas, expenses) runs me about $2000 a month. I would have everything paid for each month, and still have half my income left over to invest and to save for emergencies. This is my plan, to keep my living expenses to 50% of my income. The plan also includes extra income, should I marry or have some other source to add to what is available each month. 

Personally, I live very comfortably on $2k a month, and I spend -- not a lot -- but I do spend. I shop, I go to lunch, I buy books. I spend whenever I want, whatever I want (but with limits). If my husband and I earned double this amount, I would not increase my expenses to meet the extra income rather I would keep my expenses at a moderate amount, factoring in an extra person's needs for food, clothing, etc. So lets say combined my husband and I bring in $60-70K. I think it is feasible to live on 50% of that income or $3K per month. Granted, we may be able to live on less, but I am just shooting numbers out to demonstrate a point. The key is to manage your expenses. I can see realistically that it is possible to live a very good quality of life, comfortable, without exceeding 50% of your gross monthly salary. This means, no credit card debt, of course. It also isn't factoring in school loans or other extras.  The idea is that if you live someplace where you can be comfortable, and you can make a decent salary, then you should be able to live modestly without having to give up everything. This is my goal, the plan I have been working off for nearly five years. The Lord has provided double my expenses, and He has helped me be careful in my spending. Right now, I have more credit card debt than I am comfortable having, but I know it is temporary. I have to travel to VA every year for my schooling, and well, travel is getting to be expensive. I know that once I am finished with school, and I am working a regular full-time job, I will have those credit cards paid off and kept to zero. 

Thus, to me comfortable applies "to anything that encourages serenity, well-being, or complacency as well as physical ease." I desire to live comfortably all the days of my life, Lord willing. If the Lord moves me to a place where I can live this way, I will be blessed. If He calls me, instead, to live in a more expensive place, so be it. I know He will provide. My job is to rest and to trust the One who knows my needs best, who is looking out for my best interest, and who is all about bringing to pass that which is good for me. I trust Him, I rely on Him, and I rest in His security. He gives me contentment and He provides ease so I can feel safe and secure. He is good, so very good to me.

July 2, 2015

Thinking About Wants

It is a strange feeling to start considering wants over needs. I have spent the past 30 years focused only on "needs." This didn't mean, of course, that I didn't day dream about what I hoped would happen, it just meant that I was fixated on the needs at hand, and that meant that all other thinking was simply "wishful." Lately, though, I have been thinking about 'what if' scenarios like what if I move to Alabama, and what if I do get a job teaching at Auburn University. Furthermore, what if I get that job and I am able to purchase a home for myself. Thinking along these lines has made me start to identify what I would want in a home, what kind of home (age, style), and whether I would be willing to purchase a fixer-upper or renovate a historic home. My mind has been traveling back through memories of when I wanted nothing more than to purchase a home that could have been featured on the ever popular "This Old House." Yes, I grew up with Norm, Steve, and the guys. I watched all the episodes on how to repair plumbing, sand and refinish floors, and paint properly. At heart, I am a "This Old House" girl.

The funny thing is that I lived in a mid-century home for 12 years (built in 1970). Okay, so not antique by any measure, but still a home needing significant repairs. Unfortunately, I was never able to make those repairs or even keep up with them. It seemed it was always something, always something breaking or rotting or mildewing. I hated living this way, but because of a lack of funds, it was all I could do to keep the roof from leaking (in the end, it did just that). Still, I tried my best to make that home comfortable, livable, and in my modest attempts, I created a very nice home on the inside and the outside. I covered up a lot of the issues -- paint works well -- but still there were big issues that needed a good handyman, and my ex-husband wasn't born with the "handy gene." My Dad helped often but he wasn't able to do major work anymore, so a lot of the repair problems that started as minor were left untouched and ended up being major problems down the road.

Now I am thinking about the kind of house I want, whether I want to live in town or in the country. I have spent a lot of time online, looking at communities in and around the area, and frankly I am drawn to living outside the city in one of the small towns that are 20 miles or so away. I figure I can drive the distance, and I don't mind really, so long as I am not stuck in traffic. Furthermore, I am thinking of the type of house I would want to purchase, and the more I look at new homes or even homes built in the latter 1980s-2000s, my heart sinks. No, I really don't want to live in a new home. I like old homes, and I have always wanted an older home.

This is a sample of a home I would love to own someday. This house was built in 1840 and it sits on 2.5 acres. Unfortunately, the previous owners did a poor job renovating it and they removed all the historic character from the home. It looks good on the outside, but the inside is all chopped up, and that is not what I want. I want a period home that looks like the period it was built.

The price is right for this home, though. It is for sale for $50k, and that is music to my ears. Yes, I could do a lot of fixing up in a home that costs that much, and if it was to be my forever home, then I could take my time doing it. I did the math, and a mortgage on a home like this would only be $200 per month. I know, taxes and all, would add in to that but compared to the fact that I pay rent in Phoenix for a 4br home, and it costs my family, $1500 per month. This doesn't include utilities. So even with taxes and insurance, I bet I could get by with mortgage, insurance, tax, and utilities for less than what we currently pay in rent. Plus, if I get hired full-time as an instructor, I am assuming that my annual salary would be somewhere in the $45-60K range. I should be able to live very, very comfortably in a historic home.

My wish list right now looks a bit like this:
  • Older home (90 plus years)
  • Needs TLC (cosmetic mostly)
  • On a good lot or acre (1-2 acres)
  • In a small town or outside a small town
  • 4-5 bedrooms
  • Hardwood floors, crown molding, and panel doors
  • Funky kitchen (yes, I like funky kitchens!)
  • Bathroom with a claw foot tub (or tubs)
  • 9-10ft ceilings
  • Porch
  • Room for a large garden plus flower beds (lots of flowers)
  • Fireplaces (can be non-working)
Other items that would make me smile would be a pool (I know, lots of work), and some outbuildings like garage, shop, or small barn. I like places where I can store things, so outdoor space is a must. I also don't want to look into my neighbors windows so some screening trees and shrubs or just space is good. I am friendly, don't get me wrong, but I don't want to see my neighbors every move.

Living in the Past

I am all about authentic, so I have decided that while I like the granite and stainless steel, I really do not want to live in a modern or contemporary home. I like funky rooms, rooms that open into other rooms. I like the way old homes were connected, the way the family lived together, and not in one big space. I love butler's pantries, and funky little closets. I like carved mantels with mirrors over them. I want to feel like I just stepped back in time, and I want to enjoy the privilege of living in an older or historic home.

My decorating style is a mix of English and Farmhouse, so I plan on decorating my old home this way. First of all, everything gets painted. All the wood trim needs to be white. The walls need to be a creamy beige. Neutral is best to set off the pretty hardwood floors.

For floors, I prefer this color. It is pretty, and I think it looks nice with the color combination above. I love scrubbed pine floors, so if the floors are in bad shape, I would probably paint them a color instead of replacing them. It would just depend on how bad they are and if I could cover them up. I also plan to put down large area rugs so most of the damage could be covered with rugs and furniture. Besides, damaged flooring, so long as it is safe, is really just a testimony to a life lived in the home. I have no issue with marks, scrapes, and other signs of life.

For windows, I am thinking of hanging plain white linen or cotton panels. I like the idea of rod iron so I would use black rods to hang the curtains. The goal is to create a neutral backdrop so that I can have the things I like around me. I love books, lots of books, and comfy reading chairs and sofas. My goal is to make my home a place where you can put your feet up, have a cup of coffee, and read a good book. The following images are samples I saved through Pinterest. I like the style (the color is not always my choice) and the type of architecture and furniture.

Curtains 

Dining Room with Leaded Glass

Nice Sofa

Funky kitchen any style is good

Iron bed is a nice touch

Outside Gardens

I definitely want some outdoor space. I love to plant flowers and shrubs, and I love to garden (vegetable). I would like to be able to create pretty spaces where I can watch birds, bunnies, butterflies, bees (all B' words) along with other wildlife. I am not too picky because I can do a lot with space, even just to grow wildflowers. Some thing like this is nice, though.


I think what I want most is the "look" I remember when visiting my cousins in Indiana. My aunts live near Amish farms, so I have this picture in my head of what I want my house to look like. While I don't necessarily want the hassle of a farm, I like the look of a farm house. I will take any kind of old home, so gothic, federal, colonial, craftsman -- it doesn't really matter to me. I just want a white house with lots of flowers all around it. Some trees, shrubs, and general privacy is best too.

Is It Wrong to Dream About Such Things?

Sometimes I feel guilty for dreaming about such things. I mean, shouldn't a Christian forsake worldly desires and concentrate on seeking the lost? I think moderation is always important, so for me, this means that I think if it is possible to live modestly, it doesn't matter the type of home. In fact, a modest home can be any style. So if I can find a modest priced home that is old, so be it. I personally favor flea-market finds anyway, so I am not going to be spending a lot of money to decorate my home. Just homey. Comfortable. Warm in the winter, cool in the summer. The rest is really not important.

As I think about my life today, I can imagine this as a possibility. It is not outside the realm of reasonable, given the fact that I can earn a decent income, and I am willing to live in Small Town, USA. Yes, I want to live in a little town. Yes, I want to live in a modest home. I have no beans to beg, and I am not into showing off to anyone. I just want a little place to call my own, to put down roots, to retire comfortably, and to live out my days doing the Lord's work as plainly as possible. No frills, no show. Just plain and simple and modest.

Modest is defined as "unassuming or moderate in the estimation of one's abilities or achievements." It also means "(of an amount, rate, or level of something) relatively moderate, limited, or small." I believe the Lord has called me to live modestly. I have always believed this to be true. When I started to study modesty, I spent a bit of time reviewing plain living. Plain is defined differently, and for those who are unfamiliar with plain living, it simply means without adornment. Your plain people are people who are Amish, Mennonite, Brethren, and others who forsake all outward adornment as a sign of humility. I asked the Lord if this was His desire for me, and I always felt He wanted me to live modestly instead. Modest living is similar to plain living, but it doesn't go as far into outward appearance. It simply means that you live comfortably, but with limited frill. So for example, a modest home would be a home that is safe to live in (no lead paint, for instance), and that is clean and free from mold and mildew (see the OT on why we need to be careful about these pathogens in our homes). It is practical so that means that it has enough space for a family, enough bathrooms, a functional kitchen, etc. It is well-ordered, cared for, and for the most part, simply decorated. You won't find a modest home on the cover of Home Beautiful or Southern Living. But you will find a modest home pretty much any where in Small Town, USA.

Modesty in dress is vital in my view. Too many women dress immodestly, and men are not far behind (with pants hanging down, bellies exposed, etc.) The Lord imposed dress regulations for the Israelites to help them be different from the surrounding culture. I am not advocating we return to Leviticus' rules on dress, but I am saying that most American Christians, men and women, do not appear to look any different than their cultural counterparts. This is something we need to think about and pray about to make sure that we are not becoming conformed to the world when we would be conformed to Biblical standards.

Modesty, in my view, is a heart issue, an attitude that recognizes that everything we have is from the Lord. All my wealth, provision, etc., come from His hand. Therefore, how I use what He gives to me is important. I want to be a good steward, and to live modestly recognizes that what I need to live on is relatively small. I don't need the flash, the bells and the whistles. This lifestyle is not pleasing to the Lord, and it smacks of pride, so unless the Lord specifically calls a person to live this way, I believe that it is better to live carefully, modestly, and with understanding of what the Lord has given to each one. Yes, I know some Christians will take issue, but I am just saying that sometimes God does call people to minister to the rich rather than the poor. If the Lord has called you this way, so be it. If the Lord has not called you this way, be content with what you have, and be wise in how you use the Lord's gracious gifts.

Modest Inside and Out

I want to live in modest home. I think the Lord has put this on my heart because whenever I look for homes, I will naturally go for the small one, the one that needs some work, the one that is priced fairly. To me, I struggle to comprehend paying $200K for a house when a good $50K will net you a better deal. I don't think it is wise to give all your money (the Lord's provision) to money lenders. I have no issue with a mortgage because most folks have to have one these days to buy a home. But my plan is to buy a modest home, at a modest price, so that it is paid for by the time I retire. I want to live comfortably in my old age, and that means not having a mortgage payment hanging over my head. Plus, I want to live my days out in my home. I don't want to go to a nursing home, but rather, I want to stay in my home, to die in my home. I know that sounds morbid, but I believe it is proper in many ways. Often, we send our older relatives off to nursing care when they could be cared for at home. In extreme cases, where dementia or other conditions require medical supervision, I think nursing care is needed. But for most older folks, they simply need help caring for themselves. They need meals, bathing help, and general comfort. Most families can provide this -- but only if they are willing. I believe it is honoring to the Lord to care for our relatives, but many people are too selfish to consider that at all. They want to travel when they retire, to live their dreams. Taking care of grandparents or loved ones is not in their game plan. I digress.

Anyway, as I think about what the Lord is putting on my heart today, I feel pretty confident that He intends for me to purchase a modest home. He knows I have a "thing" for antique homes, so I have to trust His leading to make sure that the home He guides me to is safe and can be renovated without much expense. I don't see myself tackling a complete reno, just a clean up with paint and some modest improvements. The rest will be me spending time making my home look the way I like it to look -- clean, white, fresh, and filled with warm scents. I just love this kind of home, and that is my intention, Lord willing, to create.

The LORD is gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness. The LORD is good to all, And His mercies are over all His works (Psalm 145:8-9 NIV)

May God be praised for He is generous and kind and good to me. Selah!

July 1, 2015

Holiness and the Pursuit of It

A while back I read the book, "The Pursuit of Holiness" by Jerry Bridges. I had read his other book, "The Pursuit of Godliness" a long time ago, and I remember how much it influenced my early Christian walk. Lately, I have been reminded of how much the Father desires that His children emulate His holiness. The word says, "Be holy," and as such, we are commended to strive for holiness in every area of our life.

Bridges writes, “Holiness is the perfection of all His other attributes: His power is holy power; His mercy is holy mercy; His wisdom is holy wisdom. It is His holiness more than any other attribute that makes Him worthy of our praise.” When we focus on God's holiness, we are able to frame our perspective and worldview to hold rightly against His plumb line. By this I mean that we are able to see clearly who He is and who we are and there is no mistaking the two. He is God, and we are mortal created flesh.

As I consider the ruling by the Supreme Court this past week, I am all the more challenged toward this direction. The Word encourages, no it mandates, a type of living that is different from that of the surrounding culture. The Old Testament and the New Testament both advocate a form of separation from the dominant culture. This means that the inward transformation in the life of a believer should be clearly recognizable by their outward actions. The world should see Christians as possessing something different, something unique, and something desirous. Yet, if you scan most professing Christians, there is little doubt of verifiable difference on face value. Yes, from the homes we live in to the cars we drive to the clothes we wear -- there is no difference in appearance.

Furthermore, in attitude and in action, most believers behave similarly to their non-religious neighbors. Granted, you might not find the local pastor down at the bar on a Friday night, but you might just find him drinking beer at home with his buddies. The same is true for that Godly wife and mother who professes Christian love, but who is the first one to spread the gossip about the neighbor down the street.  There is this mentality, this laziness, that says "so long as I clean myself up and make myself look good on the outside then I don't have to worry about what is happening on the inside of me." The problem with this mentality is that we keep our sin hidden and we allow it to coexist in our lives. We rationalize this sin, downplay its significance, and we champion God's grace, knowing that our sin's are forgiven. The root issue is that we choose to allow sin in our lives when the Word forbids it. We think we are powerless against it, but the Word says otherwise. We believe we are "sinners saved by grace," rather than "saints" who are redeemed and sanctified for a life of holiness. Yes, we live in this quasi-cultural place where our light is diminished, and our effectiveness as witnesses for the Gospel of Christ is watered down. We live right where the enemy wants us to live -- in between heaven and hell -- as saved but unholy children of a Holy God.

This is a lie from Satan, and we must refute it, challenge it, and walk away from it. Bridges states, “In the deceitfulness of our hearts, we sometimes play with temptation by entertaining the thought that we can always confess and later ask forgiveness. Such thinking is exceedingly dangerous. God’s judgement is without partiality. He never overlooks our sin. He never decides not to bother, since the sin is only a small one. No, God hates sin intensely whenever and wherever He finds it.” Furthermore, he writes, "We need to brace ourselves up and to realize that we are responsible for thoughts, attitudes, and actions. We need to reckon on the fact that we died to sin's reign, that it no longer has any dominion over us, that God has united us with the risen Christ in all His power and has given us the Holy Spirit to work in us. Only as we accept our responsibility and appropriate God's provisions will we make any progress in our pursuit of holiness.”

WOW! True testimony!

As we pursue holiness, we will come to see sin the same way that God sees it. We will find that we hate sin as much as He does, and in doing so, we will be to judge rightly, to use our biblical discernment to know when and if something is sinful, and how we are to respond to sinful thoughts, actions, or words. Yes, we will become people who are holy because of their relationship with a Holy and Awesome God.

Some Thoughts on Holiness

Many years ago, I became enamored by the holiness movement. If you are not familiar with it, then google some to learn about the history of this movement within evangelical Christianity. In sum, the holiness movement began in the 19th century with the Second Great Awakening, but is most generally thought to be an off-shoot of Weslyanism. Generally, this movement is embraced by many different adherents within Protestantism, and groups fall in a wide spectrum of belief statements. The main tenet of the holiness movement is the belief in Christian perfection, which suggests that through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christians are empowered to live a life without sin (willful sin). This means that because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Christians may sin unwittingly as the Holy Spirit is transforming them, but they cannot engage in willful, habitual sin after their conversion to Christ. The main difference between Holiness advocates and general evangelicals is the position of progressive sanctification -- a process of sanctification whereby the believer cooperates with the Holy Spirit through a faith-walk and comes to progressive holiness (the end result is preparation for future glorification). Holiness adherents believe that sanctification takes place during the regeneration of the Holy Spirit at the time of baptism. This is called "entire sanctification." Moreover, holiness adherents believe in the whole canon of Scripture, and that the rules set forth by God in the Old Testament are valid for all believers. This means that behavioral rules are to guide the believer, and are useful to help the believer lead a holy life. Some groups address these rules as part of their statement of faith or their church membership guidelines. Common behavior rules include such things as:
  • Forbidding the consummation of alcohol, gambling, dancing, card playing or going to movies
Many evangelical Christians see holiness proponents as legalistic, stating that they do not need their church to tell them what they can and cannot do in their free time. Other groups, see these rules as simply conforming to a standard of holy behavior, and they feel that these rules provide for a conformity of Christian society, and a more self-controlled witness to the world.

The three groups still associated with the holiness movement are The Church of the Nazarene, the Wesleyan Church, and the Free Methodist Church. Unfortunately, as times have changed, so have associations with this movement. Many of the words used to describe holiness adherents have taken on different overtones since the later part of the 20th century. For example, fundamentalism, which was one of the terms used to describe churches that practiced holiness, has now come to symbolize radicalism. Likewise, the holiness term is most closely associated with the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement. While some Pentecostals and Apostolic Christians adhere to holiness behaviors, the primary difference is in the belief of speaking in tongues. Traditional holiness movement supporters rejected the belief of speaking in tongues. Therefore, holiness adherents today will be divided by those that follow the early Wesleyan founders and those that follow current Charismatic practices.

My View of Holiness

My early childhood was spent in mainline Protestant churches. My first experience with "holiness," was when I read Watchman Nee's book, "The Normal Christian Life." This book changed my view of Christianity in an instant, and I became convinced that my life, my ordinary life, was less than what God desired. Nee, a Christian missionary, brings a unique perspective to living a life predicated on holiness through application of Scripture and a life's work committed to serving the Lord Jesus Christ.  

At the time of my conversion, I was attending an Evangelical Lutheran Church. I came to faith as a child, but it wasn't until I started to attend this church, that my life became fixated on serving the Lord. In truth, I had little knowledge of God's word, and I felt so very inadequate when compared to my friends who grew up in Lutheran schools and attended church all their life. I felt that I knew nothing about God, other than I was convinced that I was saved (my Lutheran Pastor disagreed with me, but then he felt that because I wasn't raised as a Lutheran, I wasn't saved).

After high school graduation, I left this church and I attended a large Bible church. I had been invited to a bible study for college students, and I liked what I heard from the Student pastor. I started to attend weekly, and within two months, I found what I was looking for -- I found a systematic theology that taught me what it meant to be a Christ follower. I learned what it meant to follow Christ, and I was strongly encouraged to study the Bible, to learn as much as I could about the Word of God, and to seek out my calling as a child of God. This church was originally founded under the Disciples of Christ banner, which meant that their focus remained two-fold: seeking the lost and making disciples of them. I was a young believer with little "knowledge" about God, but over time, I grew to love the Word, and to see my life as something more than a warm and fuzzy feeling. I came to understand my place in God's Kingdom, and to learn how to live my life in light of that truth.

The church I attended was known locally as a "fundamentalist Christian Church." This church was a point of conflict for my Confessional Lutheran friends, who deemed it "satanic" because of the influence of legalism and the Church's belief in Christian perfection. I knew all about "that church on the hill where thousands of people were going to hell because of the heresy they were teaching each week." These dear people believed that while one might strive for perfection, but staunchly defended the view that perfection is unattainable this side of heaven. Unfortunately, I lost a good number of friends, people whom I assumed were my friends, when I made the decision to leave the Lutheran church and become a member of this Bible church. My Lutheran friends believed that this church taught salvation by works (because of the emphasis on holy living and Christian perfection) and not grace. This was not true at all, but because these people would not even attend the church to see for themselves, they condemned anyone who went there as "utterly lost." As I reflect back on my formative years as a young Christian, I can say that during my 10 years at this Bible church, I learned more about what it means to be a Christian, and what God expects from His followers as far as holiness and life-style choice. In fact, I would say that I became an ardent and passionate follower of Jesus Christ through my time spent at this church. I digress...

So what is Christian perfection? Christian perfection is often confused by people who do not understand what John Wesley believed when he wrote about sanctifying grace. Wesley believed that "Perfection is the process of sanctification which is both an instantaneous and a progressive work of grace." It is important to note that Wesley believed that "Christian perfection did not imply perfection of bodily health or an infallibility of judgment. It also does not mean one no longer violates the will of God, for involuntary transgressions remain." Rather, Wesley taught that born again believers, through the transformative work of grace, were given the power to choose not to sin. This doesn't mean that they are made perfect at the time of conversion, but rather that they are sanctified and work towards perfection through obedience to God and reliance upon the Holy Spirit as guide, helper, and defender. In short, "Wesley's perfection represents a change of life, a freedom from willful rebellion against God, impure intentions, and pride."

The church I attended taught that as a born-again Christian, I possessed the ability to refrain from sin. This didn't mean that I was free from sin, but rather that I could choose not to sin. Whereas before the cross of Christ, I had no power in me to deny the temptation to sin; after the cross of Christ, through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, I was able to live a holy life. Therefore, it is possible to "practice holiness," through the Holy Spirit, who controls our thought life, and our resultant actions.

For me, I embraced this teaching because it seemed to offer to me a way to live a life that was pleasing to God. In fact, I found that I loved everything about this church, their teachings, and the guidelines they offered to help young men and young women live lives of holiness.

Legalism and Works

Many Christian's today still revolt at the thought of legalism. They believe that any system of laws that prohibits a Christian from life-style choice runs contrary to the Word of God. However, for these believers, many of whom see the Old Testament as the cultural history of the Jews only, do not understand that the Holy God they serve has "holiness" at the very core of His nature. Thus, the idea that somehow God will permit unholy people to populate His New Kingdom seems acceptable to them. They do not understand sanctification nor do they understand that the transformative power of the Holy Spirit is delivered to help the believer progress, to change, to adapt to the holy standards of a Holy God.

I think if more Christian's would study holiness, they would come to recognize the error of their way. They would see that they cannot sin, willfully sin, and inherit the Kingdom of God. Remember the words of Paul, who was writing not to the Jews, but to Gentile believers and who commended them to remember the lives they formerly lived. The idea being that you cannot continue to walk in sin, to live in sinful desires and fleshly temptation. Peter 1:16 says it this way, "For the Scriptures say, "You must be holy because I am holy." He is reiterating the words from Leviticus 20:26, where it is written,

"You must be holy because I, the LORD, am holy. I have set you apart from all other people to be my very own."

What Does This Mean to Me Today

I think this is something that has been on my heart and mind for a long time. I came to faith as a child. I was born-again while attending an Evangelical/Confessional Lutheran church. I was baptized, and I became a fervent follower of the Lord Jesus Christ during my time in a fundamentalist Bible church that taught holiness and Christian perfection. I rejected this line of teaching when I realized that it was impossible for me to live by this standard. I was not able to live a perfected life because of the sin in my life, my ex-husband's life, and the temptation I faced daily. I walked away from Christian perfection for a long time, a very long time.

Then, almost 20 years later, I embraced it again, but this time through a very different lens. I decided that I wanted a deeper relationship with the Lord, and I needed a way "back." I remembered the teaching I received through that church, the lessons I listened to and the Bible studies I attended. It all came flooding back to me, and for a time, I deviated into a form of perfection that had its roots in Anabaptist traditions (Brethren and Mennonite). I spent three years studying the word, looking at the teaching of God and the interpretation of men on such issues as outward appearance and Godly living. 

Now, it is ten years later, and I am studying the Word of God to understand the cultural mess the church is in today, which says, "everything is acceptable because of grace." In my observation of the youth culture in the Church, I see people who identify as Christ followers, but who openly advocate for social issues that run contrary to the word of God. Furthermore, I see Christian brothers and sisters who actively sport revealing clothing, who proudly show off their latest tattoo, and who  delight in marks (piercings) that seem more appropriate for the world than the church. Through all the rhetoric, religious, political, and social, I am afraid that I can no longer see any difference between the true Christ follower and the man on the street.

Something is wrong, clearly wrong, and I wonder if this little overlooked and often maligned aspect of Christianity -- the holiness of God -- is the root cause. Have we done what Paul said we should not do in his letter to the church at Rome? Romans 6:1 says,

"What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?"
I believe that in our "anything goes" culture, the Church has failed to teach people what it means to live a holy life. Furthermore, by downplaying the significance of the Old Testament teaching on holy living, the New Testament church has failed to grasp the seriousness of God's interest in holy living. We have accepted God's love, but we have refused His judgement. Yes, we have assumed that our loving God will overlook our sinful behavior because of His grace. We must rethink our standing, we must reconsider our approach into the Holy of Holies. Did not God say to Moses to remove his sandals for the ground on which he stood was holy?

"Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground" (Exodus 3:5 NIV)
Perhaps if everyone who confesses the Lord Jesus Christ spent a little more time pondering the nature of God, specifically His holiness, well then, just perhaps our attitude, our behaviors, and our life-choices would change to align with a new appreciation for who God is.

"Then Joshua warned the people, 'You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy and jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins'" (Joshua 24:19).
 

June 30, 2015

Provision from the Lord

Zechariah 10:1 NLT says, "Ask the LORD for rain in the spring, for he makes the storm clouds. And he will send showers of rain so every field becomes a lush pasture". 

Today, I am praising God for He has provided a way for me to go, He has met my needs with sufficiency, and He has shown me the provision of His hand.

I have blogged about this before, and I know I may sound like a broken record, but I cannot help it, I cannot help it. I believe that God always provides what we need, and that He ensures our sufficiency is met at each turn in the path or road we are on. I know that there are many Christians who are experiencing lack right now, they are behind on their bills, over their heads in debt, and struggling to make ends meet. I don't know why this is so, and because I don't know each person's story, I cannot offer a "pat answer" that will help them turn their situation around. For instance, I don't know how that brother or sister in Christ got themselves into debt? Furthermore, I don't know why they cannot pay their bills on time. For some people, these issues are self-induced by choices that were made many years ago or by unrestrained living. For others, this is not the case, and they simply are living "hand to mouth" because they lack the ability to earn more income or move into a more suitable line of work. So what I can do is pray for them without ceasing. I can pray, and I can ask Jehovah-Jireh to help them through this difficult time, to educate them on ways to right their financial situation, and to open a door of opportunity that may bring extra income or a new way to go.

Personal Experience

I know that in my case, I have lived at the borderline financially speaking as a result of choice. I lived meagerly for many years, and I suffered greatly from the stress and strain of never having "enough" income at the end of every month. For a very long time, I thought that the lack of financial security was simply a matter of time, you know, just a matter of working a bit harder, longer hours, finding more jobs (contracted), etc. I believed that earning more income was up to me and my husband, and it meant doing more work. Work harder, my ex would say. Take every job that comes to you, he would demand. The only thing that came from this approach was stress, and the feeling that I was spinning my wheels, but never getting anywhere, never moving forward.

This pattern of never having enough began to change when I separated from my ex-husband in 2010. As my son likes to say "correlation does not equal causation," yet I have to believe that the moment I separated from my husband's authority, I began to see a change in my ability to produce good income. Let me explain so that I don't say this incorrectly, and lead someone to believe wrongly...

I can bear witness to the fact that neither my ex nor myself were walking with the Lord in every area of our life. I did try to do this, but over time, I found it difficult. It was like walking in shifting sand. As the Lord would press upon me to do certain things, to let go, and to let Him lead, my ex would withdraw and refuse to follow. So we lived in this push-pull way, where I would believe that the Lord was saying to us to stop doing certain things, and he would tell me I was over-reacting or being unwilling to support him in his chosen line of work. The problem, of course, was that I did believe the Holy Spirit was convicting me, calling me to abandon the self-motivated and self-centered lifestyle we practiced, and that He was begging us to return in humility to the way of the Lord.

After 21 years of disobedience to the Lord and living in agreement to the sinful desires of my ex-husband, I decided to confess and to repent of my sin in 2006. I made the decision to turn my life around, and that day will be forever marked on my life because it is the day the Lord lifted me from the pit of slavery, and He set my feet on the solid path, the solid ROCK.

Over the course time, I had become a shell of a person.  The person I was when I married was filled with life. I was dedicated to following the Lord. I was committed to living a Godly life. I wanted to please the Lord in every area of my life. I believed that my husband loved the Lord too, and that together, we would build a Godly family. Instead, I became this "other person," a person filled with repressed anger over the sin choices my ex made during our marriage. I hated the direction we were going, and I hated the way I felt as an enabler to his sinful behavior. I was ashamed of the person I had become, and I was ashamed of the choices I made in order to keep my marriage in tact. Moreover, I was ashamed at choices I made, willingly engaging in sin myself, often to medicate the pain and emptiness I felt in my marriage.

You see, I had lived with a disagreeable heart for nearly all of our marriage.  I blamed my ex-husband for the way I felt because he had chosen to follow after worldly riches and new age mysticism in order to 'get rich' quick. He had left a good job in 1988, after just 3.5 years of marriage, and began to walk away from God in order to figure out the "secret" to wealth and prosperity. He became immersed in New Agism, and he dabbled in the occult. He would ask me to participate, and I would refuse. I would pray about it, but I felt so uncomfortable with it, that I couldn't follow along with him. The more we disagreed, the more miserable I felt. I was miserable beyond words, and I felt the oppression of demonic influence during those years. I cannot tell you how black our life was then, but it was dark, so very dark. 

As my ex continued down this path, my heart began to grow hard toward him, and I prayed often to be released from the marriage. The Bible speaks of two reasons for a spouse to divorce only, adultery and abandonment. In my case, I believed that my ex had been unfaithful to me, but I had no proof. He refused to leave the home, and he said to me that he would never let me have our child, so I knew that there was no way I could leave him. I did my best to be a loving, God-honoring wife, but in truth, I bore this hardness in my heart toward him because I believed he had lied to me, and that he had taken advantage of me sexually in order to get his way.  He married me, and he promised me that our life would be predicated on God's word.  However, it wasn't long after we were married that I learned the truth about his life, the lies, and the behavior he engaged in regularly. He was one person on the outside, and a completely different person on the inside. I was fooled into believing that he was a Christian who honored God. In truth, he was a man who had been seduced by the darkness that promised him a life outside the Word, outside God's provision and His plan.

The last few years of our life were very rough. I turned back to the Lord with a vengeance. I adopted a rather legalistic approach, and I became involved in the "head covering" movement (fundamentalist Christianity). I have to say that while I have changed my views on head coverings, I can tell you that I understand why women do this. During my practice, I felt closer to God than ever before. I felt purified, redeemed, and holy. I cannot really explain it, but I believe the Lord allowed me to spend time in this practice in order to cleanse me from all the darkness going on around me. Of course, my behavior caused great contention in our home. My ex was not supportive of what I was doing at first, but eventually, he relented and told me that I could do whatever I wanted. He cautioned me saying that he never married an "Amish" woman, and he had no intention of being married to one.

I practiced this form of religious obedience for two years, off and on, and while I do not practice it now, I can say that I never felt so safe, secure, and holy before. I was absolutely in a special place in my relationship with the Lord, and it was a beautiful experience for me. My family didn't understand, and they made regular comments about my appearance, about my choices. It was hard for me, but I did it, and I am proud to say that it was a good experience for me, a really good experience. I would liken it to a person who chooses to join a monastery or a commune for a time. They forsake all worldly things and spend a certain amount of time in utter devotion to God. This was what I did. My time was spent doing three things: reading God's word (for hours each day), praying without ceasing (for hours), and practicing gracious living toward my husband, his family, and the church as a whole. I did these three things in addition to homeschooling my son, serving in AWANA, and keeping the website design and hosting business afloat.

In many ways, I thought that the Lord had shown me how to live in submission to an unbelieving spouse. He gave me a way to live holy, righteous, and free from the oppression WHILE I remained under my husband's headship. In 2007 and 2009, of course, we experienced severe medical crisis, and we almost lost everything due to the medical bills. My ex-husband almost died twice, and I believe that for whatever reason, the Lord spared his life (the doctor's told me he should have died). I continued to practice obedience, but in 2009, I discovered my ex was involved in a long-distance relationship with a family member. Later that year, I discovered that he was having a relationship (internet-based) with an old college girlfriend. I discovered a lot more evidence of his behavior over the months, and then in 2010, we made the decision to separate. We did seek counseling, well, rather I demanded we go through counseling. I did my counseling, but he only went 3-4 times before he quit the program.

I share my story simply to say that God redeems the broken, He restores the sorrows, and He reconciles the lost years in order to re-establish relationship with Him. In my case, I ended up separated from my ex-husband after 26 years of married. We divorced after 30 years of marriage. I bear no hardness, no anger, no resentment toward him. I pray for him, and my hope is that he returns 100% to the Lord. He does attend church, but I don't know if he has changed his beliefs. He still seems to be very far off the mark, but at the least, he comes to church and he listens to sermons that are Biblically-sound.

God Provides

Over the last five years, I have witnessed the Lord's provision for my life. I have seen Him move in mighty ways to provide for me. He has provided a home, a job, and a plan that includes my graduate study and a new career and ministry focus. I have been redeemed from the pit of slavery, and I have been restored to a place of honor. The Lord is my devotion, He is my desire, and I seek Him with intensity. He is everything to me, everything to me.

When I stop and think about where I have been, where I came from, and I look at where I am going, one thing is for sure -- God's hand marks are all over my life. I cannot take any credit for where I am today. I am living a blessed, highly favored, and fortunate life because of the work of the Lord as He leads and He guides me.

I believe the Lord has a great plan for my life. I am committed to following after Him, and to living in a way that is pleasing to Him. I have thought about returning to that way, that walk of obedience, again because there are times when I miss that spiritual connection, that deep sense of pleasing the Lord in all things. I believe that following a life of obedience, in word and in deed, reaps great rewards -- spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical rewards. The Lord is honored when we make Him our Source for everything. The Lord is honored when we choose holiness, when we choose righteousness, and when we choose to submit and yield to the inner callings and workings of the Holy Spirit.

Today is a good day for me. I feel so blessed, so blessed. God has provided for my needs for the 2015-2016 school year. I have my teaching contracts in place, and I have my school tuition paid for by scholarship. I will be OK going into the fall. Yes, my summer is still a bit tight, but I can see the end more clearly now, and I know the Lord will not let my account run dry. I will have enough money to pay my bills, to buy food for my family, and to help with the rent and other costs associated with living in this home. God is good. He is so very good to me. Selah!

"Let them praise the LORD for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them" (Psalm 107:31 NLT)


June 28, 2015

Abiding in the Vine

Another life lesson learned today. God has been working so diligently to get me to understand the importance and the value of abiding in Him. I have been stubborn, as usual, and I have struggled to "rest" and to "abide" in Him. I have felt so restless, so depleted, and so overwhelmed lately, and I have felt that the Lord was saying to me, "Carol, you must rest." I know, Lord, I know.

Today has been a blessed Sunday. My family has been in town visiting, and I have enjoyed spending time with them. My Leadership Theory and Communication class is over (officially tomorrow), and I feel good about the previous 7-weeks of course work. I have learned so much about being a servant leader, and about how to manage more effectively, should the Lord place me in a position of leadership some day. I am surviving the heat, which today, has been oppressive. We had a chance of storms last night, and there is another slight chance tonight. Still, the heat is getting tough to handle, and I will be really glad when the monsoon comes with its full force.

With everything on my plate this week, and into the weekend, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to make it to church. I had prayed about it last week, and I had made the decision to return to SBC for the remainder of my time in Phoenix. The transition back to SBC has been difficult, and for a good 6-7 months, I felt out of place there. I was still stinging from the fact that my ex-husband and his girlfriend attend, and that the church I remember from my younger days simply doesn't exist anymore. Still, I have felt the Lord leading me back there, and so I faithfully returned last Sunday, and made the commitment to make SBC my home church from this point forward.

I prayed about church on Friday, seeking the Lord on whether or not I should plan on it, since my family would be in town. Most of my family, my brother and his wife, are strong Christians. My younger nephew and his girlfriend attend church regularly, but I am not sure about the middle children. They were all going to be in town this weekend, and I figured they would not attend church with my parents. I wanted to go, and like I said, I had made the commitment to attend SBC, and to make it a habit of regular attendance the previous week.

I prayed about it earnestly, and I felt the Lord was saying to me, "Carol, you need to go. You need to go on Sunday." So this morning, I was determined to get up and go to church. I woke up after a difficult night. I didn't sleep well, just not feeling well, and I woke up with the start of a migraine headache. I got up early, which is very unlike me, and I made my coffee. The Lord sustained me because the early hour made it possible for me to have a good visit with my brother and sister-in-law, and get some caffeine into my body. By the time, 9 a.m. rolled around, I was already in church mode (PTL). So the family split and went their way, and I left the house and drove over to church. As I pulled into the parking lot, once again, I felt this sense of peace, a settled peace. I headed into the Venue, where my son plays, and I took my normal spot over to the right of stage (in the back). This is opposite where my ex sits, and for the most part, while I can see him, he is not able to see me. It has been a good location for me, and gives me a nice line of sight to watch my son perform as part of the worship and praise band.

I was expecting to hear our Pastor Emeritus, Dr. Darryl DelHousaye preach, but instead the Venue Pastor preached. I was a little disappointed because I wanted to hear our former pastor teach today. As I sat there thinking that I was going to miss his message, I felt the Lord say to me, "rest," so I did. Worship was great as usual, and the service proceeded normally with the Venue Pastor overseeing baby dedication, etc. Finally, he started his message, and said that he would be preaching this Sunday and next from John 15:1-5 and 6-10.
I am the True Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser. Any branch in Me that does not bear fruit [that stops bearing] He cuts away (trims off, takes away); and He cleanses and repeatedly prunes every branch that continues to bear fruit, to make it bear more and richer and more excellent fruit. You are cleansed and pruned already, because of the word which I have given you [the teachings I have discussed with you]. Dwell in Me, and I will dwell in you. [Live in Me, and I will live in you.] Just as no branch can bear fruit of itself without abiding in (being vitally united to) the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in Me. I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever lives in Me and I in him bears much (abundant) fruit. However, apart from Me [cut off from vital union with Me] you can do nothing.
I should say that the Venue Pastor is turning into a very strong preacher. He has preached several times recently, and all of his messages have been life informing. So as I sat there, I relaxed, and I let things go. As I did that, I felt this sense of peace come over me. This passage of Scripture is one of my favorite metaphors in the Bible -- Jesus as the Vine, His followers as the branches. I have taught on this passage a couple times, so I am familiar with the text. Our Pastor did a great job, just like his message last week, and I felt like this was the reason why the Lord wanted me to be at SBC today. You see, I have heard His voice say to me "Abide in me," and I have replied, "Yes, Lord." My heart desires to obey, but in truth, I have not done a very good job of abiding in Him. I struggle. I strive. I want to do things my own way. I don't abide.

Today's message was slightly different from the normal Vine sermon. Our Pastor presented the topic initially by reminding us of the work of the Trinity. According to Scripture, God is the Vinedresser, Jesus is the Vine, and the Holy Spirit is the Fruit Bearer. We, of course, are the branches. I say the Holy Spirit bears the fruit in this way in order to explain the mysterious work He does to cause the fruit to blossom.  The branch doesn't make fruit nor does the branch have the capability to push fruit out. No, the fruit blooms through the spiritual influence of the Holy Spirit as He works in the life of the branch or the believer.

The message was pretty straight on to what I have taught before, but one thing remained with me today, that actually helped me immensely. The Pastor made a remark about abiding in the Vine, and he said that according to verse 5, anything we attempt to do outside of Jesus will never fulfill us. He said it this way...

If we look to anything other than the Vine for our support, our sustenance, and our service, we will never find fulfillment. Even good things such as marriage, ministry, a job, etc. while able to provide enjoyment or satisfaction, they will never sustain us because they were not designed for that purpose. What this means to me is that as long as you are looking to a job for your fulfillment, your peace, your joy, you are missing the point of abiding in the Lord. Yes, as hard as that may seem, the truth is that we are to seek the Lord for our support, for He is our Source.

I have known this for a long time, a very long time. In fact, the Lord has repeatedly reminded me that I am seeking fulfillment in things and not in Him. I know I do this, and I know this is the reason why I feel so unfulfilled in my work. Furthermore, I am placing a lot of emphasis on financial security, when the Lord is my security. He is my portion and my cup. I know this, I know the truth, and yet, I still do not abide.

So today, as I was leaving church and driving over to have lunch with my son, I prayed to the Lord. I am tired of struggling in this way. I am tired of feeling overwhelmed. As I consider the Lord's leading in my life, I realize that the more I place my faith in things or in people, the more I will be disappointed in the results. I loved the fact that my Pastor stressed how unfair it is for Christian's to do this to another person. He spoke directly of marriage, but his point was well-taken. When we look for a person to meet our needs, then we are placing a burden on them that they were not designed to carry. Only the Lord is able to meet our needs.

Today, I learned the lesson of abiding in the Lord. Most often when we think about the word abide, we choose the definition that says "to wait" or "to remain" in something. We think that we are to "to remain stable or fixed in a state," and while this is true, there is really more to abiding than just remaining stable.  In fact, abide can also mean "to accept or act in accordance with (a rule, decision, or recommendation)" or "to accept without objection," which suggests that there is an attitudinal component as well as a physical component. We must remain fixed to the Vine, but we must also understand the nature of the roles of Vinedresser and Vine.  God is the One who cares for the vineyard, who knows the business of growing vines. Jesus is the true Vine, and we are connected to Him. Apart from Him, as the word says, we can bear no fruit (produce no good thing). This suggests that all fruit is the result of our union with the Lord. Wild fruit that is useless, tasteless, and of no good purpose is grown when the vine is wild (a metaphor for Israel and the Jews). The True Vine gives life to the branches, and bears excellent fruit.

As Christians we must understand that the Vinedresser (God) tenderly cares for the Vine. He prunes the branches, and He gently lifts them off the ground so that they will bear more fruit. There is a beautiful illustration of the love of God in this story. We see that God carefully, and with great tender affection and mercy, takes care of His precious crop, His precision vineyard.

Metaphors are often difficult to understand, but in this case, we grasp that the only way to bear good fruit is to be vitally connected to the Lord Jesus Christ. In the AMP, verse 4 says, "Dwell in Me, and I will dwell in you. [Live in Me, and I will live in you.] Just as no branch can bear fruit of itself without abiding in (being vitally united to) the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in Me". The only way we will live a fulfilled and a satisfied life is if we abide (dwell with Christ, and allow Him to live in us).

I drove home from church feeling good about the day. I got the point of the message, and I realized that I have been striving to produce good fruit all on my own. I have been doing the Lord's work (Regent) without abiding in Him. God has graciously supported me, and I have born fruit, good fruit, but only after I relented and allowed Him to do it. It has been a constant struggle with me refusing to abide, and then when the mounting pressure hits the high point, I cave and I relent -- praying for forgiveness of my sin. I have chosen to attempt to control, to do, to be -- all in my own strength -- when the answer all along has been to simply dwell, to abide, to accept the fact that no good thing will ever be produced outside of my relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now as I think about my life, my current situation, my struggles, of which are many, I understand that I am in this season of my life, a season of pruning, of where the Father is tenderly trimming me in order to produce abundant fruit. One of the things our Pastor said that was interesting and was suggested as encouragement. He said that if you are in a season of pruning, do not feel as though your life is over, your progress is stagnated and not improving. He said that often we view our current struggle through a microscope rather than to see it in its continuity. He used a great example of the stock market over the course of the past 100 years. He said that if you only focused on the crash in 1929, you will never see the actual picture of the progress of the market. When you zoom out, you see many dips in the progress, but OVERALL, the progression has been upward. This is similar to our lives. Phil. 1:6 says that "And I am convinced and sure of this very thing, that He Who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ [right up to the time of His return], developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you." So no matter where you are today, the final outcome is upward toward the calling of Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:14 ESV).

I took heart today with this encouraging remark because it reminded me that where I am today is a far cry from where I was 6-9 or 12 months ago. I am stronger, I am better, and I am more ready to do the work the Lord has for me to do. I am not ready yet, at the least, I haven't arrived at the work He intends for me to do, but I am progressing toward that time. I am being made ready, being prepared, and I must abide in the Lord in order to not feel overwhelmed, to not feel so stressed.

I must remain, I must abide, and I must be content to be a branch in the Lord's vineyard.

June 27, 2015

Learning to Let Go...Again!

It is a beautiful Saturday in Phoenix, AZ. The sun is partly shining, so there is just a hint of grayness in the skies. Actually, the partly cloudy skies should help to beat the heat today. I am hopeful, so very hopeful.

I slept pretty well last night. I think one of the reasons why I slept so well is that I finished my Leadership Theory and Communication course, and I had a great conversation with my Chair regarding my dissertation topic. All of this to say that some of the pressure from school has been lifted, and I feel more relaxed and relieved. I still have two classes in progress, but both of these courses do not have a weekly discussion board requirement, so I am able to work on the remaining assignments at my leisure. In general, I feel good because 1/3 of my studies this summer are completed (praise God!) Now to wait for my grade to post, and then I can focus on what is left to do on my to-do list.

Learning to Let God Reign

Yes, I am back to square one on learning to let God be the Lord of my life. I know I say this often, so it is clearly a lesson I struggle to learn, but I am not doing well with the whole "God is in control" bit right now. Please hear me out, though, because I am not saying that I don't believe God is in control. I do, I really do! It is just that I am finding it difficult to stay in His peace because the cares of the world are falling heavy all around me. I am a good one for saying "God has me covered," and on most days, I feel this way. I feel so secure in His blessed hand. Then there are other days when I start to panic over the "what might be in my future," and I begin to falter and I think "Oh, Lord, what is happening to me, what will happen to me!"

"And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful" (Colossians 3:15 NLT)

I was reading a blog today on how to handle panic attacks. I am not having a full-on panic attack, per se, but rather the inkling of one. I used to suffer from panic attacks when I was a young person, and I am familiar with the whole process. I learned to deal with them a number of years ago, so right now, what I feel is this stirring in the pit of my stomach, and the uneasiness that accompanies it. It is a feeling that says to me "You are headed for a fall, Carol. Watch out!"

This rumbling is the start of panic, and this is something I haven't experienced in a good 2-3 years. As hard as that may sound, it is true. The last pre-panic attack I had was when I was working at CVS Caremark in 2013. I remember praying to the Lord one day after work. I was heading home and I was driving up through North Scottsdale, trying to avoid some of the rush hour traffic. I remember saying to the Lord, "Lord, I don't ever want to feel this way again. I don't want to panic again." I remember saying to Him that I was so tired of living like this, always fearful, always worried, and always panicked over the "what ifs" in my life. 

In truth, I had spent the previous 30 years living this way, partly due to my own experiences in childhood, and the fact that I lived in a tenuous financial situation whereby I never had "enough" income to live comfortably (minimally comfortable). I was always going without, having to tighten my belt, always having to make choices about whether to eat this or that (and going with the least expensive option). I had prayed to the Lord, and I had said then that I never wanted to be poor again. Granted, my version of poor and that of what we might consider true poverty are vastly different. I had a roof over my head, and I did have food on my table. Yes, often my electricity bill wasn't paid, my gas was turned off, and my car was not registered or insured. I drove on borrowed time, I lived from one pay period to the next, I robbed Peter to pay Paul. I didn't like living that way, and I begged the Lord to help me so that I would never live like that again.

I felt that I lived that way, not by choice, but by default. My ex-husband believed that the only work he could do was to be self-employed. He liked living "under the wire," as he called it. He didn't want the government to know his business, he would say, so that meant that he lived on cash, personal checks, and no credit. He liked hiding, and he felt that this way, he was protecting his rights as a US citizen. It was one of the reasons why he forbade me to get our son a SS card. He said the government didn't need to know he existed. The problem, of course, was that no one knew he existed so he wasn't able to go to get health care, to find a part-time job, or eventually go to college, without one. I finally took the reigns and got my son a card so he could get his driver's license, and then later, travel on a mission trip. I never wanted to live incognito. I never signed up for that kind of life when I said "I do."

When I got married, my ex had a really good job. He was a sales manager, and he made decent income. I worked for a tech firm, and I made good money too. Together, we had the makings of a modest, but happy life. However, after a couple years into the marriage, my ex told me that he had no intention of working for any one ever again. No, he was going to make his own way, and he was going to be self-employed. At first, it was fine. I was working, and we were still living off our savings. However, it became very apparent that we couldn't live on my $6 an hour job. We needed his salary to pay the bills. The cycle of paying, not paying, paying, not paying, started in 1988, and it didn't end until I took control of my life in 2010. Yes, once we had separated, I took control of my life, and I began to earn my own income, manage my own money and accounts, and pay my own bills. 

It took a while at first because I was working part-time. But in time, the Lord provided a good job for me, and I started to earn a salary. I panicked every single month when my bills were due. I panicked at the thought of defaulting, which to me, was like cutting my arm off. I mean it. I know people that say "So what? Everyone does this at some point." No, not everyone. Not my parents. Not the people I know who live within their means. Now, I am not coming down on folks who get behind, because this does happen, and for a myriad of reasons. I am just saying that so long as it can be helped, falling behind shouldn't happen unless there is a good reason. And, even then, it should be a temporary situation, not a permanent one. In my case, it was a permanent way of life -- by choice -- not because of circumstance. And, this life choice rankled my old fashioned Midwestern upbringing that said "If you cannot pay on time then don't borrow the money." Yes, my Father raised me to be responsible, and I think the reason I struggle so much with this issue now, is that I consider my life choice of adjunct teaching as irresponsible.

It is funny how things work out, I mean, before I started this blog post, I prayed to the Lord and I said, "Lord, I want this to stop. Please let me get to the root of this issue today." The Lord is good, so very good, and when you ask Him for His help, and you sincerely seek His wisdom and guidance, He will be faithful to supply it. So I asked for clarification, for help, so that I could learn to let go and let Him be the Lord over my life. I asked, and He answered. The root cause of all my panic, all my worry, and all my struggle is this...

I believe that leaving a good paying corporate job to become a college professor was irresponsible and foolish. 

There, I said it. No more hiding, no more second-guessing. I made a choice back in 2013 that put me in the position I am in today, where I barely make ends meet, and where I am relying on the Lord for His provision. I have tried to justify my choice, to say that it was better for me, for my schooling, etc., and while this is true in many ways, the fact remains that I am in a difficult position because of a choice I made. Furthermore, I asked the Lord to let me "try out teaching," so that I could know for certain that it was what I did or did not want to do. I asked Him, no I begged Him, and He gave me my desire. I became a graduate assistant first, followed by an adjunct teacher next. I am in this same position now, and while the experience has proved fruitful, and I have learned quite a bit, I am faced with the fact and the fear that I cannot make ends meet in this line of work. Sure, there is a possibility of teaching full-time, of a career as a full-time instructor, and I am hopeful that it will come to pass soon. However, I also know that I cannot teach full-time or will not be able to teach full-time until I am ABD or PhD. Even then, I may find it difficult to find full-time work. There is no guarantee, yet I believe that the Lord will provide, He will provide.

Until then, I am stuck in this role. I have asked the Lord to move me out of teaching and into a full-time position within higher education. This seems a closed door to me, so I have to pursue the path I am on for a time. Daily, it is a struggle for me, though. I mean, I look at my bank account as it drops by hundreds of dollars each week, and I know that there will be no new income until September. How much longer can I survive on the funds that I have in my account? It was better last year, but this year, well, it is very tight, very close to the line, and this panics me greatly.

I want so to be in control of my life, to no longer worry about where the money is coming from and when I will get paid. I am living in the same way that I lived when I was married, with the only difference being that the choice this time around, was mine. It was all my doing, at my own hand, and I am suffering because of my own stubbornness and refusal to do what the Lord clearly asked me to do. Yes, the Lord provided a job for me at a company that was growing, and that would have provided a good way for me. The work was boring, difficult, and I sat all day long -- with nothing to do. I hated the work, and I didn't like the job that much. In the end, I asked to go back to Grand Canyon, to teach and to follow that other path that seemed better, seemed right.

I am still not sure why the Lord gave me a great job, making excellent income, but with non stimulating and unchallenging work. Suffice it to say, He did it. He is Sovereign, and He knows His own mind.

I have begged, pleaded, and prayed for the Lord to fix this problem, to change my situation, to provide other work for me to do. He is silent. He hasn't moved. He is steady. I hear His voice, and He says to me "Rest." I know what that means; it means "let go and let me be God." Yes, Lord. I know you are God, and I know you know what is best. 

I am at the breaking point right now. I am back to where I was all those years ago when I refused to do the work the Lord provided for me to do. I wanted my own way, the way that was easy, convenient, and comfortable. I don't like this way, I don't like this feeling, and I want it to stop. I want it to end now.

As I consider my role in all of this, I cannot help but think the Lord has a lesson in it for me. I am to learn to trust Him (to have faith), and to rest (to let go and let Him be). I do not know if I have learned it yet, but I am praying that I have because I am tired of these feelings, and I want to get off this ride. I want to experience the peace of God again, peace that rules and reigns in every area of my life. I want to go His way, and I want to work in His job choice for me. I want to relent, to repent, and to turn around and follow after Him. I relent, Lord. I relent.

Dear Heavenly Father,

I have learned my lesson (again), and I have decided that no matter what I choose, even if the job is within your will, there will be elements that will be unpleasant to me. I have learned that what matters most to me is to be responsible and in control (under your authority). I want to pay my way, to be responsible, and to be a person of integrity. I also want to care for my family well, to provide and meet their needs, and I cannot do that on the meager salary I earn each semester. I recognize that teaching has been beneficial to me, it has helped me to learn how to speak in public, and to develop plans and curriculum. I have enjoyed teaching for the most part, but now I am ready to return to solid work, to a job where I can do good work, and get paid a fair wage. I guess I am agreeing with you that at this point in my life, I am too late to the game. It is not that I cannot teach or that I never will teach, but rather it is that I have realized that to get to where I need to be -- financially secure -- I need to earn significant income regularly, every other week, so that I can rest and know I am being honorable with my finances. I ask now that you would do whatever you feel is best to right my situation. I relent, and I accept that it might mean I will have to work 40 hours a week, with only two weeks off at a time. I will give up my holidays and my summers. I will live like the majority of people do -- working full-time. I think about this, and I know that while I will miss have big blocks of time off, the truth is that I like to work, to do projects, and to be a leader. I ask now that you will provide a job for me that will accomplish your will, provide well for me and my family, and permit me (in your time) to relocate to be near my love. Until then, I will remain where I am, living as you provide, and waiting on your provision for my life. Thank you, Lord, thank you for your mercy, your peace, and your presence in my life. In Jesus' name, Amen. So be it! Selah!

June 25, 2015

Interpreting Correctly

Lately, I have noticed a lot of error when preachers preach the Word of God. It bothers me when this happens, almost as much as when someone runs their fingers down a chalkboard. I am not a Bible scholar, by any means, and I often make mistakes when I interpret Scripture, yet still there is a part of me that recoils when I hear someone misuse the Word.

I have always been this way, ever since I was a child, and I believe it is one of the spiritual gifts God has given to me to use to help the Church defend itself against apostasy. I think about this often, and I wonder why the Lord would give this gift to me of all people. I mean, I am terrible when it comes to memorizing Scripture. I do my best, but often what I remember are impressions of verses rather than the word-for-word retelling. I know some people who can rifle off Bible verses, quoting chapter and verse, and they know it, I mean, they know what the words mean. I envy those people (in a good way) because I wish I could do that too. Instead, I am one of those people who says "the Word says this in John" because that is all that I can recall. I can remember the story, though, and that is what I share. I would like to be able to be as accurate as possible with the Word, but I fall short so often, so very often.

When my son was little, we did AWANA. I loved AWANA's emphasis on memorizing Scripture. My son had a very good memory so he always did well in his books. I remember 2 Timothy 2:15, which is the key verse for the program:

Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth.

I love this verse in the NLT. It says it this way in the Message (verses 14-18), which adds emphasis to draw out Paul's meaning,

Repeat these basic essentials over and over to God’s people. Warn them before God against pious nitpicking, which chips away at the faith. It just wears everyone out. Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won’t be ashamed of, laying out the truth plain and simple. Stay clear of pious talk that is only talk. Words are not mere words, you know. If they’re not backed by a godly life, they accumulate as poison in the soul. Hymenaeus and Philetus are examples, throwing believers off stride and missing the truth by a mile by saying the resurrection is over and done with.

I love what the Peterson's translation is saying in this passage. When it says, "words are not mere words," I hear my heart cheering. The translation goes on to say "if they [words] are not backed by a godly life, they accumulate as poison in the soul." Oh, my goodness! How many people, preachers and bible teachers, appear as poisonous because they speak one thing, but do something diffierent!

My heart cries out with the Psalmist, when he says,

Teach me Your way, O Lord, that I may walk and live in Your truth; direct and unite my heart [solely, reverently] to fear and honor Your name. I will confess and praise You, O Lord my God, with my whole (united) heart; and I will glorify Your name forevermore (Psalm 86:11-12 AMP)

I pray to the Lord, and I ask Him daily to not let me lead people astray. May I never use my words to lead people away from the Lord Jesus Christ. May I never include extra-biblical instruction as anything other than suggested advice that can encourage Godly living. May I only seek to lead people to the foot of the cross, and into the loving and forgiving arms of the Savior. May it never be anything about me, Lord. May it always be everything about you, Lord! Selah!

Today, I think about these things. I think about the truth of the Word, and I wonder about the apostasy that is here and that is coming in the future. Apostasy is defined as "the abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief." In the Bible, it is described as a "falling away" by believers, a turning away from the truth of the Word of God in order to follow after the ways of the world. We read Paul's exhortation in 2 Thessalonians, verses 1-4, where he states,

Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition,  who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.

This great apostasy is coming soon. We already see it as people are choosing to change their status from Christian to spiritual, to move from an evangelical position to a normalized position. More and more people who once professed Christ are choosing to live a life more normalized to the center of postmodern thought, to accept normalized views that run contrary to the Word of God, but are acceptable by the majority of people in the world. We must not lose our focus. We must not lose our direction. The Lord is coming back soon, and we must stand firm until the day of His return! Selah!

As I consider my life, and I see my own situation, my heart at times becomes overwhelmed with sorrow, with panic, and with grief for those who are lost. I see them, and I hear them, and I want them so much to find the sweet peace of forgiveness. I want them to come to the Lord, and to be restored to Him. There is great blessing in being restored, in being in a right relationship with the Lord. I want so much for them to experience the Lord, to truly experience the blessing of peace that comes from knowing Him. Selah!

Today is a good day, a very good day. I am blessed, and I am strongly encouraged to "keep on, keeping on," and I know that while I may not understand everything that is going on in this world, I do know enough to see the times and the signs of the times. I see the end, and I see that it is coming soon. Selah!

Ephesians 6:10-12 KJV says it this way,

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

We must remember that we are at war. We are in a spiritual battle, and we fight against that which we cannot see. Yet, we suffer as a result, and therefore, we must remain strong, and keep our faith in the Lord. We must dress for battle, putting on the full armor of God, and being prepared for the attack. 

I am most guilty of forgetting this step. I rely on the Lord, I seek the Lord, I run to the Lord, but I forget to dress for battle. The enemy takes his shots, and I suffer. I am wounded, and down I go. I feel the onslaught, and I become terrified. Yet the Lord has not left me without protection. I have his full armor to protect me, and it is up to me, to put it on every single day.

Today is a good day to be protected by the armor of the Lord. I choose to stand ready for battle, armed and prepared, because I know my enemy and his tactics. He knows my weaknesses too, and he hits me where it hurts most, my need for provision and for protection. The enemy knows that what I long for most is financial security, to have enough every day, and that when I do not have enough or feel that I do not have enough, I panic. Once I get into panic mode, he strikes, and he hits me where it hurts most. I know his route, and I must defend against it. If my flank is weak, then I must protect my flank. I must place barriers there to keep that side strong. My need for provision is not something I can easily overcome, unless I choose to walk outside the Lord's will for my life. I believe that I am where He wants me, so I must trust and rest in His provision for me. That means that to protect my weakness, where I am most prone to fall, I need to shore up my arsenal with Biblical words that counteract the claims of the devil. Therefore, when he accuses me,

Has God really said He would provide for you? Look at what you lack? Sure He has forgotten His promise to you...

I need to respond with words that say the opposite, such as...

“He prayed, “O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like You in all of heaven and earth. You keep Your promises and show unfailing love to all who obey You and are eager to do Your will” (2 Chronicles 6:14 KJV).

When the devil says that God is being slow in answering my prayer or in keeping His word to me, I must respond with...

"The Lord isn't really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent" (2 Peter 3:9 NLT)

You see, it is the Word of God that defeats the enemy. For those of us that know the Word, we must remember that it is our best defense. The Word comforts us, encourages us, teaches us, corrects us...but it also is a mighty weapon. Ephesians 6:13-17 tells us that our armor includes the following:

Therefore put on God’s complete armor, that you may be able to resist and stand your ground on the evil day [of danger], and, having done all [the crisis demands], to stand [firmly in your place]. Stand therefore [hold your ground], having tightened the belt of truth around your loins and having put on the breastplate of integrity and of moral rectitude and right standing with God, And having shod your feet in preparation [to face the enemy with the firm-footed stability, the promptness, and the readiness produced by the good news] of the Gospel of peace. Lift up over all the [covering] shield of saving faith, upon which you can quench all the flaming missiles of the wicked [one]. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword that the Spirit wields, which is the Word of God.

This says to me that as a Child of God, we have everything we need to withstand the evil day, to face the enemy, and to quench the flaming missiles that he launches at us. We have the truth; integrity, moral rectitude, and right standing before God; the Gospel of Peace; saving faith; salvation; and the Word of God.

Therefore, we can be victorious over every assault. We will win, if we use the tools that God has given to us. We lose the battle when we forget or we do not choose to arm ourselves well. I know this is my case entirely. I have lost so many battles because I have forgotten to put on my armor. Then I have forgotten to use the equipment in battle. The Word of God is alive, it is active, and it is sharper than any living thing. We must remember that God has not left us to defend the enemy on our own. We must look to Him, to our Victor and our Champion, and we must fight the good fight, and run the race of faith, staying strong until the end. Selah!