August 10, 2015

Counting Down to Fall Start

It is a good morning in cloudy and somewhat warm Phoenix! Yes, you heard it right -- it is cloudy outside -- and I am excited at the prospect that we may get some summer rain today. Of course, my head is not happy over it, no sir indeed. I woke up with a pounding migraine headache and with the feeling that my head was going to explode. Needless to say, I didn't make it over to Arizona Christian this morning (for an optional orientation day). I had planned on going last week, and then when I checked the schedule late last night, I realized that the events this week were optional for adjunct faculty. Normally, I would have gone anyway, just to show my school support, but this morning's headache put a damper on that thought. Yes, it is 9:40 and I am still not feeling better. Sigh!

Despite the headache and other aches and pains (oh, my aching back!), I am rejoicing in the immensity of God. You see, no matter how I feel, no matter what I think, my God is still BIGGER, BETTER, AND BOUNDLESS than anything I face this day! Yes, when my world seems to be giving way to doubts, fears, and anxieties (which it is), I can rest and know that my God, the God who created the heavens and the earth, is able, no more than able, to handle whatever concerns me this day (Psalm 138:8). Yes, I rejoice with the psalmist this morning, and I bear witness to the goodness of the Lord.

Your lovingkindness, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
Your judgments are like a great deep.
O Lord, You preserve man and beast.
How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God!
And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.
They drink their fill of the abundance of Your house;
And You give them to drink of the river of Your delights.
For with You is the fountain of life;
In Your light we see light (Psalm 36:5-9 NASB).


Today is just one of "those" days. I am struggling with doubts, with fears, and with anxiety over my situation, and while I am trying not to let panic take root, I feel the urge to run and hide. Yes, I want to run and hide so badly, to just cover my head, and wait for the trouble to pass by me. I know, of course, that this trouble, this present trouble, will not pass. It is here to stay, and there is nothing I can do about it. I cannot change my circumstances, I cannot alter my way to make my situation, my circumstances melt away. I wish I could wave a magic wand and have everything, just everything that is unpleasant, difficult, and stressful vanish (oomph!) Of course, that is a myth, a wish, and a fairy tale. Life just doesn't work that way, no matter how much you desire it to do so.

I think sometimes, "What in the world has happened to you, Carol? How did you get into this spot of trouble?" You see, it was not long ago that I felt that everything in my life was "coming up roses." Yes, I believed that I was in a place of blessing and prosperity, and that nothing bad was going to happen to me ever again. After all, I had spent the previous two dozen years living in miserable conditions, and now, yes now, I was following hard after the Lord, seeking His face diligently, and trusting Him completely. Surely, NOW, my obedience, my faithfulness, and my desire to follow and serve Him would solve all my needs, all my problems, and would promise me goodness in this life as well as in the next. Yes, I believed the words of people like Paula White, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Creflo Dollar -- all these Pentecostal and charismatic Christian leaders who preached the good news of Jesus Christ coupled with the supernatural blessings and outpourings of the Holy Spirit.
Whoever pursues righteousness and unfailing love will find life, righteousness, and honor. (Prov. 21:21, NLT)
In fact, I would say that for a long while, perhaps several years, I "followed" (as in paid attention to what they posted to Facebook or social media, not as in supported their ministry) these pastor-teachers because I strongly felt that there was a connection to God's blessing through our faithful obedience to His word and His work. Yes, I felt that if a Christian gave everything, sacrificed their life so to speak, and lived in complete obedience to the Word of God, and followed the teachings and commands of scripture, they would live a blessed life. I mean, I know that many Christians do not experience this type of life, they may be faithful, obedient, and doing good work -- but they are not being prospered, not being blessed, not experience health and vitality. This said to me that it wasn't the Lord's fault, but rather it was the individual who wasn't doing what the Lord wanted or was living with some unconfessed sin in their life. Yes, I felt certain that one could experience supernatural blessing and prosperity simply through obedience to the Lord.

I know, I know, that is wacky theology because the Word doesn't promise this type of prosperity. I have done word studies on prosperity and I have read Scripture seeking to find proof that the Lord will reward the faithful in this life as well as in the next. The problem is that just when I find one verse that supports this line of thinking, I find several others that seem to say otherwise. Sigh!

Still in my heart, I believed that God could choose whom to bless. After all, the Word says in Romans 9:17-18,
For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH." So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
Yes, God is sovereign and He has the power to choose whom He will show mercy.

I know that the context of these verses is the story of the exodus from Egypt, and Paul's empathy toward his Jewish brothers and sisters. Paul is speaking of the nation of Israel in the first passages of this chapter, and in how, the "blessing" that came through Abraham was given to them. They had all the blessing as he states in verse 4,  "the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises". Yes, the blessing of God was given first to the Jewish people, but as Paul states in verses 6-8,
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.
It is a curious thing to understand that the Lord of all Hosts has free will to choose whom to bless, to show mercy, and to whom He may destroy. We often marvel at this idea, that somehow it is not right for God to be this way. After all, in our vision and design of god, we like to think that He acts in ways that are pleasing to us. We forget that in righteousness there can be anger, and in holiness, there can be justice. We want to believe that all people are good, all people are faithful, and that all people deserve to be saved. Yet, the Word of God tell us otherwise, and that our Judge who is coming again, will determine who will be saved and who will perish on the basis of faith and not so-called good works (John 5:19-29 NASB).

How then does one reconcile this prosperity gospel that says that if Christians will have faith in God, He will deliver security and prosperity. Pastors who preach this way often refer to these verses in Scripture as proof-texts that God does indeed promise prosperity to those who are faithful to Him.
  • Malachi 3:10: Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.
  • Matthew 25:14–30: the Parable of the talents
  • John 10:10: The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
  • Philippians 4:19: And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
  • 3 John 2: I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.
The prosperity gospel is also known as the "Word of Faith" movement, and it stresses the believer's ability to use God as he or she wills, almost as if God were a resource available to the believer, much like a credit card is, to enable the individual to harness spiritual power to live a secure and financially blessed life. According to GotQuestions.org, "Word of Faith or prosperity theology sees the Holy Spirit as a power to be put to use for whatever the believer wills," rather than the other way around as Scripture teaches. Furthermore, the Word of Faith movement believes in the power of confessing words, that our words as believers have power. 

As a communications scholar, I agree with this point that our words are powerful. We know that with our words we can bless or curse, build up or tear down, and because we are one of the agents the Holy Spirit uses to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ, our words do contain life. Therefore, I agree with the prosperity purveyors that we must guard our words carefully (Ps. 141:13, Prov. 13:3). I also agree that it is vital that we do not condemn ourselves, something we do regularly through the use of our words. We deliver condemnation on ourselves whenever we pronounce that we are "stupid, incapable, not valuable, a mistake, etc." Romans 8:1 says, "So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus." Yes, we must be careful with our words, we must make sure that we do not pronounce unworthy the very thing the Lord valued and esteemed -- the salvation of our souls! However, can we speak words and cause money to grow out of nothing? This is the point where those that preach this doctrine say, "yes, we can and we should!"

The Word of Faith movement believes in positive confession. As such, this movement stresses "that faith is a matter of what we say more than whom we trust or what truths we embrace and affirm in our hearts" (GotQuestions.org). They believe that "What you say, Word of Faith teachers claim, determines everything that happens to you. Your confessions, especially the favors you demand of God, must all be stated positively and without wavering."

I think this is the interesting part in this doctrine because I do actually think they are correct in a small way. For example, if we seek to live lives that affirm and build up another, if we seek to esteem, to affirm, to encourage, etc., then we are using our words and our actions in a positive way. Modern psychologists agree that how we use our words can have great influence in how our children come to view themselves. If we affirm our children, rightly esteem them, then they will grow up believing what we have said about them. Thus, if we are told by our parents that we are loved, wanted, needed, valued, then we will develop a healthy self appreciation, and take that belief into our adult years feeling "good" about ourselves. Likewise, if our parents condemn us or tell us we are "good for nothing," then we will believe what has been said about us, and we will go into our adult life feeling that we are worthless and of no value. Words, positive affirmations and confirmations, do indeed benefit us in this life. Thus, I agree that our words do have power and authority. However, I am not sure I can say "Lord, give me $100 and it will materialize on my doorstep." Do I believe that the Lord can bring me $100 to my door? Yes, I do. However, do I believe I have the power to make Him do this, like I make a decision to brush my teeth each day? No, I do not. I feel that it is dicey when you put God into the position of a bank teller. In truth, I believe that the God of the Universe is all powerful and rather than me manipulating Him to do what I want, I believe what honors Him most is me sacrificing my life to do what He wants. After all, I didn't save myself. I didn't and I cannot wield that kind of power no matter my status in this life. I am dead in my sins and my trespasses, and I have no good thing in me save that which is wrought by the blood of the Lamb! Selah!

Yet, I see where these prosperity purveyors seem to go with this line of thinking. I can see how they use the verses to fuel their interpretation of the message. It is interesting to me, as a scholar, but also as a believer who wonders just how much of this doctrine is true.  According to GotQuestions.org, the Word of Faith movement is just like the early Christian "get rich for the sake of the Lord" peddlers. These were rampant in the early church, and according to GotQuestions.org, the movement we see today "closely resembles some of the destructive greed sects that infiltrated the early church. Paul and the other apostles were not accommodating to or conciliatory with the false teachers who propagated such heresy. They identified them as dangerous false teachers and urged Christians to avoid them."

I know that I got turned off my the popular preachers, Paula White and Creflo Dollar, when their ministries face booked me to tell me that I would be blessed if I gave to the ministry. Furthermore, I was told that if I gave money to an African minister who was suffering in Nigeria, God would answer my prayers and provide for all my needs. When I said that I didn't have the money they asked for, which was a fairly large sum, they reduced the amount until finally they went away without me giving one-cent to their ministry or specific need. I was put off that they would contact me directly and ask me for money. I felt that while I appreciated their prayers, which they said they prayed for me, the fact of the matter was that they wanted to sell "blessings" to me. This reminded me of the indulgences in the Catholic church. If I would only pay "X" amount of dollars, then I could lop off someone's sentence in Purgatory. It is wrong, wrong, wrong, and this was the turning point for me in believing that financial prosperity was in anyway aligned with the doctrine these ministers proclaimed.

Why is this important to me? Why should I care?

I guess the reason it is important to me, and the reason why I care so much is two-fold. First off, I am in a position where a little extra income, a little more security and financial prosperity would be welcomed, no praised! Yes, I admit it. I am struggling today with doubts, fears, and anxieties over my dwindling bank account, and the fact that I still have 20 plus days to get through before I will see any paycheck hit my bank. Even at that, what I earn will not be enough for me because I just lost one of my teaching contracts at GCU, and that means that my monthly income for the next four months will be shy of my needs. Furthermore, while my refund will be welcomed, it will not be enough to pull me out of debt. In fact, it will more than likely need to be used to off-set my income, and that means that my credit card balances will not be paid off or even down. This frustrates me because I feel like I am not being a good financial steward of what the Lord has given to me. I feel like I am not being responsible for my debt burden. I struggle to reconcile the fact that I believe teaching, being a teacher, is the Lord's will for me, but I don't see how this line of work will ever be promising financially. I see the blessing, but I see the curse as well. I see myself in this position where I am treading water, but not making any progress, not moving forward, and not seeing prosperity (even modest prosperity) come to pass.

Secondly, and more importantly, I care about this doctrine because I think many people are enslaved to it. The people who push it, the Joel Osteen's of the world, live in multimillion dollar mansions, but the people who fund his ministry are often the poorest in the church. In fact, most of the prosperity gospel preachers earn close to 1M annually, have mansions, drive Bentley's or Rolls Royces, and fly in private jets. They are celebrity Christians who have made money off the backs of poor innocent and uneducated (in the Bible) Christians who bought the message that if you confess it, it will happen. My heart breaks when I see people, poor people especially, who are being promised prosperity when what they need is the truth of God's Word. They need to know that Jesus loves them, and that it is their faith that matters, and not their wealth.

Analysis and Life Application

Today as I think about this whole matter, I cannot help but wonder about my situation, about why I am where I am and why. I know the path I have followed. I know where I was and where I am today. I see the link. However, I struggle to believe that I am where I am because it is the Lord's will for my life. I struggle because I believe, in part, that I am where I am because of a choice I made, and that choice has proven to be financially tenable to me. I guess the truth of the matter is this: the choice I made to become a teacher was part of God's will for my life, but it wasn't the most prosperous option. It was a good option, and I have learned a lot about teaching, presenting, and pedagogy. However, when I see where I am now, how far I have slid down the economic bannister, so to speak, I wonder if I made the BEST choice. Did I make the best choice? Or did I chose the path that seemed easier for me to follow, that seemed less intensive, less of a struggle in the long run? Perhaps the choice I made was made out of fear -- fear and a lack of trust in God's provision for my schooling -- and as a result, I left a lucrative position because I felt that I couldn't "do" my school and work full-time. Yes, I know this is true. I believe this is the case. I remember saying these words. I chose a part-time path in order to maintain all A's in my doctoral studies, to not overwork myself, and to ensure that I could "do it" well. I also chose this path to keep from having to explain to people outside of academics why I am getting a PhD if I didn't intend to teach. In academics, no one questions you because it is so obvious to them -- you are getting a PhD because that is what teachers do, they get higher education in order to secure a better, a tenure position in their organizations. But in commercial pursuits? Yep, rarely does one have an advanced degree unless they are in counseling or some scientific field. In Marketing or Communications, rarely do you see anyone with a PhD. Sure, you will find Master degrees in Business or Marketing, but you will not find doctors of philosophy unless they teach on the side.

Thus, I chose this path for the following reasons:
  1. I wanted to work part-time so that I could do well in my courses at Regent
  2. I wanted to 'try out" teaching to find out if I liked it and could do it
  3. I wanted to have my summers off so I could rest and relax each year
  4. I wanted to not have to explain my degree to people outside of education
  5. I wanted a position in a university where I could be respected for my intelligence and scholarship
  6. I wanted to engage in scholarship, in research, and to be around others who did the same thing
  7. I wanted to be a Professor, to wear the title, and to enjoy the perks and benefits of being one
  8. I wanted to show my family, my friends, and my colleagues that I could do it, I could be a professor even after all their comments telling me otherwise
In short, I wanted all these things and I believed that teaching would provide them to me. In truth, I have experienced much of what is on this list. What I haven't experience, however, is financial security. No, I don't have financial security nor do I have benefits. In fact, I have tried to move into positions at my schools that would provide these resources to me and so far all my efforts have been blocked. I have also come to realize that the competition for jobs is fierce, and that while I am content to teach English, more than likely I will not be able to teach communication because of the glut of communication professors in the marketplace. Thus, I experienced teaching, have enjoyed it for the most part, except for the fact that I am not making a good income, being responsible for the needs of my family, and feel in control about my future plans.

What is the Rub at the End of It?

The rub at the end of it is this…I am on this path for a reason, a particular and difficult reason. The rub, therefore, is lingering doubt as to whether I made the BEST decision choosing to leave corporate work for teaching. These lingering doubts, these fears, and these anxieties often get the best of me, often make me cycle down into depression, and almost always cause me to question whether 1) the Lord is telling me the truth; 2) the plan He has for my life is good; and 3) the Lord is really who He says He is. Consequently, it is these very doubts that tell me that they are not from the Lord, but rather that they are being fueled by my enemy who seeks to deter me, defer me, and distance me from making a life-long commitment to following after the Lord. 

What is next for me?

So regardless of how I feel, regardless of whether or not I feel as though I am stuck, I must stay where I am for the short-term because it is all I can do. I am committed to remain in teaching through December, and I must be honorable to my contracts. What's more, I am committed to remain faithful to the Lord as He leads me and guides me REGARDLESS of the outcome. I know it is easier to question God, to impugn His integrity, and assert dominance over His right to be sovereign in my life. Yes, this is a much easier place to be -- to threaten the Lord, to shake one's fist and say "why Lord? Why?" But this is not the walk of a faithful and obedient follower; no, certainly it is not. My faith is in the Lord Jesus Christ, and I believe the Word of God. I rest in His provision for my life, and in the security He brings to me through His merciful presence as I seek to honor, to worship, and to adore Him. I may not understand everything clearly or completely. I may not grasp the whys and wherefores, but this one thing is certain…I trust the One who died to save me. I place all my trust in Him alone -- for my salvation, for my security, and for my sanctification as I learn to lean on and abide in Him. He is my everything, and this day, I rest, I trust, and I abide in Him. Selah!

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