September 28, 2015

Looking Ahead

It is a good Monday here in sunny and hot Phoenix, Arizona. Yes, it is still summer and while most of the country is enjoying the blessedness of cooler fall temperatures, it is hot, hot, hot, here in Arizona. In fact, this week our forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-100s. Today's high is supposed to be near 102. Later in the week, the forecast is showing highs of 106! Yikes! How I want to move someplace else -- soon!

God of Heaven

I don't know if you watched the lunar eclipse last night or not, but here in Phoenix it was visible for a good hour-hour and half. The eclipse itself was interesting to watch, with the moon looking sort of an orange/red color, and sitting fairly large in the sky.

This morning as I drove to campus, the "super moon" was large in the sky, and I thought about the infinite wisdom of our God, and how He has created the stars and the moon and set them in the sky for His creation to see. As I watched the moon rise, I was reminded of this verse from Isaiah 40:26 NLT,

"Look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars? He brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name. Because of his great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing."

Today as I consider my life, and I think about my future, I know that there is nothing too big for my God. In truth, there is nothing outside of His knowledge and His ability. No matter my circumstance, I know that He is the God of all creation, and in that role, He is able to change the circumstances of my life in an instant. He is able to create life, to create possibilities and opportunities, simply by setting His mind on it. The Word says that God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing, and in the one act of creation, all of life was brought into being. In some views of philosophy this idea of creating something out of nothing is startling, but in other more ancient views, it is simply the acknowledgement of a pre-existent life force that orders and sustains everything. Thus, when the ancient writers say that God created life out of nothing, they attribute the fact that the God of the Universe pre-existed all known creation, and that through His imaginative creative act, was able to bring forth life.

As I looked at the moon today, I thought about this idea, that the Lord of Heaven spoke forth life. Prior to communicating His desire, He imagined (thought) life into being. His vocal act simply provided the agency to facilitate the desire of His creative mind. Therefore, as I consider my days, my ways, and the trials I face, I remember that Creator God is the author and finisher of my faith. The journey I am on today is part of His overarching plan for my life. He is able to bring forth life in me and through me simply because He desires it to be so. This says to me that my circumstances are beyond my control in many ways. I may blunder, and I may walk into places where I shouldn't be, but if my intention is always to seek His will in every area of my life, then the chance that I will end up someplace not of His accord, is highly unlikely. I am not walking to the beat of my own drum, but rather I am walking hard after the One who is leading me onward. Thus, my steps are ordered and prepared by the Lord. 

I am Where He Desires Me to Be

This is the truth, the practical reality of my life. It is not by happenstance that I am at GCU this morning. It is not just "fate or destiny" that I am teaching the courses I am teaching this semester. No, every action, every outcome is planned and prepared by His hands -- and carefully -- He has chosen the outcome He desires for me. I can rest in His wisdom and knowledge. I can know for certain that I am not "willy nilly" doing something that might prove disastrous for me. No, I am doing exactly what the Lord desires me to do. With this knowledge, I can rest in the path, I can let go of the anticipation and anxiety I feel whenever I begin to think about tomorrow and the plans He has for me. It has been a long process for me to get to this place of faith. It has been difficult for me to let go of the mindset that says that I determine my way, and that I must figure out if my way pleases the Lord. I have come to understand that my way will never please the Lord, therefore, no matter what I choose to do, I will fall short. It is only through my surrender to His way that I am able to know for certain that I am walking in His way. His way will always produce results, will always satisfy His desires, and will always please Him.

It is good to be where He wants me to be. It is good to be doing the work He desires for me to do. It is good to rest, to let go, and let Him have His way. It is good, so very good, to be living in the Lord's expressed will, and to know, to know deep down inside, that I am right where He wants me to be today.

With this understanding, I can now move on. I mean, I can now look forward to the future, and know for certain, with 100% assurance, that I am doing the 'exact' thing He wants me to do. What a relief! I mean, I no longer have to question if I am on the right path, doing the right thing, working in the right job, or even living in the right place because I know that I am already blessed, already provided for, and already approved for this work. My days are numbered, accorded to me, and I am doing all that I can to accomplish the work He has in mind for me. I might still goof, and I may feel as though I have failed Him, but even despite my human frailty, I can take comfort in the knowledge that He has me so well-covered. I am completely under His care, in the mercy of His care, and with that understanding, I know that He will not let go of me. I can follow freely now, without hesitation because I understand that wherever He takes me it will be His choice. It is not if He will choose; no, it is that HE HAS ALREADY CHOSEN. There is such a difference in mindset when you have chosen to agree with Him, to accept that with God there is no "maybe" in His mind.  He either is or isn't. He doesn't waffle. He doesn't vary. He makes up His mind, and then He follows through on His decision. It is always good, always best. There are no shades of 'good.' There is only His good, and in human terms, that good is superlative (the best good possible).

Today, I marvel at this knowledge, and I thank the Lord for giving me the grace to come to this understanding in His time. I wish I would have learned this lesson sooner, but knowing myself well, I grasp the fact that with me, well, sometimes I am stubborn and hardheaded. Sometimes I need time to process details, to grasp the significance of events, and to accept the truth. The Lord has graciously provided this time, given me time, so that I could accept His will, and understand how He will works. I get it now. I see it. I understand it.

What Does This Mean for Me?

What this means for me is that I can rest in my work, my daily work. You see, I have stressed, struggled, and strived to figure out IF I was doing the right thing. I mean, is teaching the best career for me? Is living in Phoenix the best place for me to live? Is Regent the best school for my PhD? I have been befuddled by all these questions, and while I have walked in faith through many of them, I still second-guess if I am doing the right thing. Lord, am I on the right path? Am I doing the "thing" you want me to do? As I have struggled to answer these questions, I have doubted His sufficiency. I have questioned His integrity. Do you really know what is best for me, Lord? Are you sure, Lord?

He has patiently waited for me to come to terms with the fact that 1) He is God, and 2) that as God, He does indeed know what He is doing.

My flesh fails me. My flesh cries out in fear. Yet, throughout His Word, He clearly advocates for His children, He stands by them, flesh and frailty, and He upholds them by the very words of His promise to them. He is God, He is able. He is good. There is nothing else, nothing more satisfying that accepting His nature, His character, and His promise. In doing so, there is assurance that He will do as He has promised because it is in His nature to keep His word, to deliver on His word, and to be faithful to His word. God can be trusted. He can be known. He can be a place of security. I have experienced this truth over and over in my life, and yet, I still doubt. My flesh doubts. My spirit desires to be faithful, to be set, but my flesh, oh my flesh, simply chooses not to believe. My eyes see, my heart doubts. 

Today is a good day because I have come to this place of faith that says "I believe you, Lord." Yes, I believe your word is truth. I believe your word to me is true.

As I think about today, my life seems to be more in focus than ever. I realize that I am one step closer to my dream of becoming a professor, teaching college English, and enjoying the blessings and benefits of full-time work. I also realize that I have finally discovered my purpose, and it is not what I thought it would be. In fact, I would say that my purpose has been clarified over the past 4-5 years, and I see now that I am doing the very thing the Lord called me, prepared me, and equipped me to do. What is that you say? Well, the thing I am doing is living out my life as a faithful servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am living it out in such a way as to give Him full sovereignty over my days, my nights, and months and years. I am no longer trying to dash here or there, but instead, I am resting in His completeness, knowing that He is able to do whatever He desires in my life. This means that I no longer have to worry about this path or that plan. Instead, I simply allow Him to do whatever He desires, and I cooperate with Him. If He says go here, I go here. If He says do this work, then I do this work. It relieves me of all responsibility for the planning and purposing of my days. I can truly say that I am able to say "Yes, Lord" and "So be it, Lord" and mean it. My life has been good, very good, and though I spent many years in the dry and parched desert, I have been living in the land of fulfillment and blessing for a long time. In fact, I would say that since January 2010, my life has incrementally, progressively, become better. Quality. Quantity. And contentment have flowed from His throne, and I have enjoyed the fullness of experiencing life in His presence through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. My life is good, all of it is so very good. I now look forward to my days, to the experiences the Lord has for me. I know that someday soon He will move me. Someday soon He will provide a full-time position teaching college English. Until then, I patiently wait and I look up. I look for His hand to provide. I don't try to rush the process or force a job to come to pass; no not at all. I simply wait for it. I wait with anticipation and expectancy to see the Lord deliver His promise reward to me. He is faithful, He has promised it, and He will do it for me.

Thus, my life has become clear. I am no longer trying to come to terms with the inconsistencies and other difficulties in my life. They are what they are, and I am right where He wants me to be. I let go, I let Him lead, and I follow. It is a good place to be. I am content. I am happy. I am at peace in His presence, and in the promised fulfillment of His will. Selah (pause and calmly think about it).

September 27, 2015

Clinging to the Lord

It is a blessed Sunday, and I am at home resting. Well, I am working on my computer and trying to rest as much as possible before this good day ends. The problem is that I have too much work to do -- yes -- I have school work (Regent) and teaching work (GCU/ACU) that must be completed by the end of this day. I am bounded by constraint, and there is nothing I can do about it. I must complete my task list, and it must be completed today.

Thus, my heart is struggling with the fact that what I need most today is REST. I need rest from the constant strain that is pulling me down. I need rest from the stress of an never-ending to-do list, and I need to relax, just relax, and have down time, free time, to laugh, to enjoy, and to not be pressed so hard into doing things I don't want to do. I need His relief, the release that comes from the full surrender to the Lord, and I need to let go of everything knowing full well that He will do it, He will see to every task, every item, and every need. I have let go of all the "extras" in my life, and all that is left is my teaching (work) and my doctoral study (work) and of these two things, neither can be reduced or relaxed until the end of the semester comes (December 11). I am counting the days for sure, but until then, I must press on, I must carry the heavy burden, and I must do the work that has been assigned to me to do. Selah!

My soul and my body, thus, cling the Lord today. Joshua 23:8-10 NIV says,

"But you are to cling to the LORD your God, as you have done to this day. For the LORD has driven out great and strong nations from before you; and as for you, no man has stood before you to this day. One of your men puts to flight a thousand, for the LORD your God is He who fights for you, just as He promised you." 

In this passage, Joshua is reminding the Israelites to remain steadfast and to keep on looking to and relying upon God for their sufficiency, their deliverance from their enemies, and for their rest (in the promises He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). The key focus in these verses is to rest upon the One who has promised, who is faithful, and who is with them in battle.

Similarly, the Psalmist says in Psalm 63:6-8 NIV,

On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.
Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings.
I cling to you;
your right hand upholds me.

There is something about this word -- to cling -- that the Old Testament writers understood. I don't think we see "clinging" as a positive thing these days. In fact, I would say that in almost all cases, clinging to something or someone is viewed as "needy or unnecessary." But, the word itself simply means "to hold onto something or someone very tightly, to stay very close to someone for emotional support, protection, etc., and to stick to something or someone" (Merriam-Webster).

Emotional support is something we all need. As humans, we need the emotional support of others whether that is in verbal affirmation or physical stick-to-it-ness. I was just thinking about this idea of emotional support this week. It has been three weeks since the young man in my church took his own life. I was thinking how everyone was grieving over the loss of his life during that first awful week. As the week's have passed, I have not seen any news, any word, telling me how the family is doing. It seems that everyone who grieved with them moved on. The family, I am sure, is still wounded by the loss of their child, the grandparents are still trying to understand the senselessness of the act, and the extended family is missing the warmth of this young mans presence in their daily life. Yet, the friends, the church, and others have moved on. The emotional support they offered to the family has been withdrawn and placed elsewhere. Yet, it is this emotional support that we all need, and at times, we cannot live without.

Cling to the Lord Always

Joshua was telling the army -- cling to God -- rely on Him for your emotional support. Do not leave God, but remain close to Him, steadfast in your hold. I think this is what David was saying as well when he said in Psalm 63: 1, "You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water." We need God, we need relationship with Him and with others. Yet, when we are stressed, strained, and starting to come apart at the seems, we hunker down, and try to hold on to whatever is nearest to us. We cling to people, to positions, and to power -- only to find that our strength fails -- and the very things we are attempting to hold on to, falls away. Yet the Lord remains. He is steadfast, immoveable, and resolute in His position of power and authority. He is sovereign Lord, and as majesty, He is not moving from His rightful place on the throne of Heaven. He is God, and there is nothing that can move Him. Therefore, when the days seem long and unending, when the to-do's seem impossible, we are reminded in Scripture to cling to our God, to look to Him for our emotional support and our physical well-being. It is only through Him that we can overcome whatever challenges we may face. 

Today, as I write this blog post, I am sitting at my computer feeling the burning pain in my back, stretching to relieve the ache in my shoulders and thinking to myself, Lord I cannot do it, I just cannot do it. I am burnt out, I am physically beat, and I am spiritually drained. I have nothing left to give. I hear His voice say to me "I know the feeling. I am here, I am with you." I recall the verse from Matthew 28:20 where Jesus says, "I am with you always, even to the end of the age." And then I think about this verse from Revelation 22:12 where the Lord says, "Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done." Yes, He is coming soon, and His reward is everlasting life. I am patiently waiting for His return, knowing that I must remain steadfast, stalwart, and steady throughout the trials and circumstances of this life.

I am ready, Lord, I am ready, but until you come, I will march on. I will "keep on, keeping on" until you say "Well done, my good and faithful servant." Selah!

September 24, 2015

Turning Around Slowly

Well, I've made it to Thursday, and I am home after my 9:00 class at ACU. Yes, my class consisted of 12 men (the two women were away for games). Despite loads of testosterone in that room, we successfully discussed communication and the "self." Not the easiest topic to discuss with young men, but I think we did it, we covered the necessary parts. I let them out early, and I think, they were thankful for that gift of mercy. I also met my chair on the way to my car, and I had a nice visit with him. He is such a nice man, and the more I get to know him, the more I like him. He is an all-around nice guy.

So I am home now, and I have eaten my Atkins bar, and I am sipping my second cup of coffee for the morning. I am feeling better. I had a good restful night, and I woke feeling less pain, stiffness, and general malaise than the previous day. Perhaps it is because it is Thursday, and I know that I have this whole day to relax. Or perhaps it is because tomorrow is Friday -- I don't know -- I just know that I do feel better (still in pain, but not agonizing pain like last evening). Today is a good day. My parents are out all day -- bible study, lunch and then a doctors visit -- so the house is very, very quiet. My son is at school, and I am sitting in my room enjoying the peace and quiet. It is nice, so very nice, to just sit and type on the computer. No distractions, no messiness, no loud noises at all. AHH!

I am working on my PC today rather than my MAC. It is weird, really, but on Tuesday, the Lord prompted me to switch over my computer. I did as I thought He was leading, just because I trust in His nudges now, and I know that more than likely the "nudge" is a good thing, and just may be a pre-emptive sensing that something might be happening (good or bad). So I switched over the computers, and worked on the PC for a while. Later in the afternoon, I was feeling frustrated, so I switched back to the MAC. I just like working on my MAC better than my PC, and despite some issues with the software (long story -- my MAC mini runs off an external storage device because the internal drive is corrupted -- and it has had a history of software failures), I prefer to use it over the PC. I think I prefer the MAC interface, the way the computer works, the OS, the look and feel of using a MAC, etc. to that of my HP Windows machine.  I also think I am more productive when I am on my MAC. I don't know, it is just a personal thing with me.

The big issue for me, though, is that both of my machines, MAC and PC, have problems. Both systems have major, significant problems -- like the "crash and burn" kind of failure where you end up losing everything on the hard drive. Over the course of the past three years, I have used two systems just to make sure I never am left without any that work well. I keep both with nearly an identical setup just so I can switch one out for the other and keep on working. Since 2011, I have had major hardware and software failures, and I have lost valuable files (almost all my files). I started graduate school in 2010, and because I have come close to losing everything three times, I use this switch-system method to make sure I always have a computer that works and that has access to my school files.

My MAC has been behaving rather flaky lately, so last month, I upgraded my PC to Windows 10. I never liked Windows 8.1, and I had a major software failure twice under 8.0. Win 8.1 was better, but I still had major issues with the computer booting up, staying connected to WIFI, etc. In the end, I shoved it over to the side of my desk, and I only used it when I absolutely had to use it.  I had heard the hype that WIN 10 was better than 8.1, so I figured I had nothing really to lose with the free upgrade. I went ahead and did it, and in truth, I do like the new OS better than the old one. My machine seems happier, less grumpy, and I have not had any issues with it. It is also fast, and for the most part, everything (all my applications) seem fine. So far, no complaints.

My MAC, on the other hand, has been showing some signs of near failure (again). Each time I boot it, it takes longer and longer to warm up. It is so slow, and frankly, I get frustrated with all the issues I am having. Yet, I am hesitant to ditch my MAC because I love it, Apple products, in general. Right now, though, I cannot afford the cost to replace it nor can I afford to swap the hard drive (not something I can do myself) at this point in time. I digress...

Paying Attention to His "Nudge"

Back to that nudging thing...Yesterday, after I came home from GCU, I took care of some business around the house. My parents were out for the afternoon, so the house was very quiet. I wasn't feeling well at all, so I laid down on the bed and crashed for about 2.5 hours. I know, crazy, but when I woke up I was in more pain then when I laid down earlier in the day. I didn't want to do much work, and I knew that the only task I had to complete was my class prep for this morning. So, I logged into my MAC, and I began to make updates to my power point presentation. Yes, I attempted to update my PPT, but after 4-5 tries where Power Point crashed, I finally gave up. My system refused to cooperate with me, and I was fearful that my lessons would be damaged the more I tried to edit them. After about an hour of trying to get my MAC to pay attention to me, I gave in, and I switched my system over so that my PC was active (I share a monitor between the two computers). I then proceeded to work on my PPT without any problems, and before the evening was over, I had completely revamped the slides, and gotten myself in good shape for today's class session.

The moral of this story: pay attention to the Lord's "nudges" because HE DOES KNOW BEST! I am now working on my PC, hoping that I can remain settled for a time, and feeling blessed that the Lord does care about the work I do. I don't know if my pre-emptive sensing was really a "gentle nudge" from the Lord or not, but what I do know is that the feeling I had that something was quiet right, and that it might be wise for me to use my PC for a time, proved accurate. My sensing of an imminent issue worked itself out in my MAC refusing to allow me to do my school work. My PC stepped up to the challenge, and as for today, I feel that I am right where I am supposed to be.  Sigh!

With all that said, I guess the long and short of it is this, I believe that the Lord delights in the details of our life. In Psalm 37:23 NLT, David writes, "The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives." I believe this is true, and from experience, I feel that the Lord does take an interest in the casual, the mundane, and the everyday circumstances of my life. You say, PC or Mac? Really? I say, "Yes, the Lord cares for me, and He cares about my ability to do my job, complete my courses, and do the work He has called me to do!" He delights in the smallest of detail, and He is active and present in helping to guide and direct our steps. Selah!

Today, I sit here and I blog. I am enjoying the peace and quiet, and I am hoping that I can accomplish all that I have set out to do today. My task list is not long, but it is significant. I have a lot on my plate right now. I have a lot of work that must be done. Still, I know that the plans the Lord has for me are good, they are good. I am trusting in His sufficiency, in His abilities, and in His way -- He will see me through, He will cover me, and He will provide for me so that I am able to do that certain "thing" He has called me, purposed me, and planned for me to do. Selah!

Some News on Planning and Purpose

I have struggled the past couple weeks with understanding exactly what the Lord intends for me to do. I was talking with my son the other day, and I mentioned that I would need to be ready to move soon. He was wondering where I would go, what job I would do, etc., so I shared with him what I "felt" the Lord was saying to me. Of course, I don't have all the details yet, but I do have some strong feelings toward one way in particular. I think the biggest revelation is that I am set in my career path. I know, news flash! Well, to me, it has been difficult for me to accept that this is the "thing" the Lord wants me to do with my life. I have felt that this is the case, but I always believed that the "thing" the Lord called you to do would be easy, not difficult. Let me explain...

I listened to some Pastors many years ago that said to me (well, to their congregations) that when you "found" or discovered the Lord's path for you, His expressed will for your life, then you would know it because...
  1. You would have a strong sense of peace about it
  2. You would find that you naturally are inclined toward it (possess skill already)
  3. You would desire it above all other things
  4. You would do the work with ease
I believed that once I figured out my calling, all of these statements would be true. The problem was that for a long time, I had one or two of these things, but not all of them. When it came to teaching, I struggled because I didn't have any of them, so for many years, I simply believed that I wasn't meant to be a teacher. It was not my calling, and I wasn't supposed to do this work.

The funny thing was that my last job prior to teaching was one that I enjoyed greatly, and I had a natural inclination toward it. I liked being an analyst, and I was very good at it. I liked the kind of work, and I thought it was a good fit for me. The only thing I lacked was a sense of peace. I never did have a great deal of peace in that position, but I believed it was provided for a purpose, so I viewed it as a temporary measure and not "the thing" the Lord desired for me.

If I were to rate teaching, I would say that I don't have any of these four things to help me know that I am doing the thing the Lord desires of me. Teaching is not easy, for sure. I don't necessarily desire it, and I am not naturally inclined toward it. I also do not have peace, outside of a general peace that tells me I am where the Lord wants me for now. So what does this mean? Am I on the wrong path, and am I doing the wrong thing?

My mind has been fixed on this question for a long time. I have been seeking peace, ease, and the fulfillment of desire for a long, long time. I don't understand why it is not this way. I hear Pastors and preachers say the same thing that I heard some 20-30 years ago. If everyone in ministry believes this is true, then what does that mean for me? What am I to infer from this assessment?

For a long time, I believed that I wasn't called to teach. It wasn't in the Lord's plan for me because I didn't meet these qualifying statements. Furthermore, I spent a lot of years working in jobs that I didn't really like, jobs where I struggled, stressed, and strived to figure out. I never felt good about any of them, and in the end, I went from one thing to another. My family would ask me "Well, Carol, what exactly do you want to do?" I would shrug my shoulders and say "I don't know, I don't know."

How do you make rhyme or reason out of it? How do you figure out what you are called to do?

Identifying a Calling Versus a Job

It is an interesting thought to consider if there is a difference in what we do each day for work and what we think we should be doing for "ministry." I read an article by a professor at BYU recently, and in it he spoke about how difficult it is to identify a calling because of the way the world views professional careers these days. He spoke about how the nature and understanding of work has changed throughout history. In ancient times, work was considered drudgery, it was hard, and it was necessary for survival. During the Reformation, Luther wrote about work as fulfilling our calling in Christ through service to the body. In short, our work is to do whatever we are called to do based on our station in life. If we were raised by a father who was a baker or cobbler, then our calling would be to do this work, and to do it with the mind set that our efforts are feeding or shoeing the children of God. Calvin added a spiritual component to the idea of work, making work more spiritually fulfilling, but not really changing Luther's understanding of why we work. Calvin suggested that our work always has a spiritual basis since we are called to love God and love others. No matter the work we do, the job so to speak, we are to serve God with a pure heart.

It wasn't until the early part of the 20th century that the notion of work lost its spiritual connection and took on purely secular underpinnings. Work lost its religious foundation and began to be a motivating force for personal satisfaction. Our work, therefore, became a vocation, a calling where we would find fulfillment, joy, peace, happiness, and ultimately satisfaction. Unfortunately, this view of work moved God from the center of our focus and placed human achievement in its place. Work became an idol, and in order to find fulfillment, we prostrated ourselves at the altar of a job or vocation.

Moreover, since the late 1970s when there was a spiritual renewal movement in the US, churches and parachurch organizations began investing in tools to help believers "identify" a calling through a spiritual gifts test. This approach suggested that you calling was something different than your work, that you calling would be specific to the spiritual gifts you possess. This idea, I think, has caused further confusion and has created a division between work and calling. In a way, it has made it difficult understand if the work we do (practical work) is ministry or if the work we do is just a bill-paying system, and nothing more.

I know that I have fallen into the trap of seeing my spiritual gifts through this lens. I have come to see that the work I do is separate from my calling, my purpose, and in that way, I have treated my work as just a "means to an end." The more I think about it, the more I pray about it, and the more I reflect on it, I realize that my work, the work I do, is to serve the body of Christ. So whether I teach or I clean, as long as I am doing this work to serve others for Christ's name, then I am actively engaged in ministry and using my gifts as God desires. You see, I think I have been confused by the words, "calling," "vocation," and "job." I have wanted a professional career, but I have believed that having a professional career that is outside of "ministry," is somehow wrong. I realize now where that line of thinking stems. I see that my marriage, my long relationship with my ex-husband's family has colored this perspective. You see, my ex-husband came from a family of professional ministry people (PERPS). His family had a history of missionaries, pastors, and teachers in Bible schools and colleges. Almost everyone in his family was involved in full-time ministry. Therefore, any job outside of ministry, church, or a para-ministry organization was considered secular and not worthy of pursuing. Thus, if you taught school, you did so in a Christian school. If you were a missionary, pastor, or some other support person, you did so through a ministry organization or a church. In short, all "acceptable" professions must be ministry-based. No other work was approved.

I think this is why my ex-husband's parents looked down on his desire to work in business. My ex-husband was a salesman, and from the earliest days of our marriage, his parents sought to turn him from his worldly path to a religious one. It was an intensive process, this turning from secular to Christian, and he fought against it. In the end, he turned as far from Christianity as he could without fully walking away from the remnant of his faith. I came to see that the only valid job would be one in the church. For a wife, my primary role was to be a mother and wife. My secondary role, if I had to work outside the home, would be to work at church or to be a Christian school teacher. There was no other acceptable path to follow.

Thus, my early desire to be an artist was met with much disdain. My secondary interest in studying Literature was also met with vocal protest. I was slowly slipping down the slope into secular humanism as they believed, and without restraint, I would be lost forever.

Reconciling Myself to My Work

As I read this article on the nature of work and identifying your calling, the author stated how for many years his work life, his professional life seemed to take him around and around without really confirming his "calling" in life. He shared how he did many jobs that contributed to what he called the "tapestry" of his career. I liked the way he said that because his experience aligns well with mine. I never desired a career outside of being a wife and a mother. I did consider teaching children very early on, and I did think I would like to work in some capacity as an artist. But, even with those interests, I never really landed on anything that was fulfilling, satisfying or at the minimum, what I could identify as a "calling."

Now I am in my early 50s and part of me thinks that I am still trying to prove myself as worthy when it comes to the nature of my work. In truth, I have desired a "career" for the past four or five years. Why? Well, I think mostly to get my family to stop looking at me like some sort of failure. Much of my motivation has been to "prove" to others that I was good enough, on the right track, approved for service. Yet, no matter what I did for practical work, I have never been satisfied, never been happy or content. I have liked various aspects of the work I did, but never really felt like I could say "I am content to do this work from now on."

When I think about being content in one's work, I think of my Uncle Bob. My uncle was a well-respected doctor. He served for 50 years and took care of the poor in his community. He died a couple years ago after having traveled to Africa and served as a missionary doctor caring for the people of the Congo. It was a dream of his to do this work, and after being a faithful servant for so many years, loving and healing many in his local community in IN, he went home to be with the Lord. I remember him saying to me that he never wanted to do anything else. He only wanted to be a doctor, and that was the career he pursued and he lived out all the days of his life. He died in satisfaction that he ministered through his efforts in medicine. He did good practical work on this earth, and he touched the lives of many. In short, his life and his career seemed matched. He was a Godly man, loved the Lord, and loved people.

How then do I reconcile my life, my work, which has been haphazard at best, and for the most part, never provided any satisfying reward to me?

I think the only way I can come to terms with my work and my career is to realize that my calling is to love God and to love others. I cannot see any other ministry work outside of this basic calling. Furthermore, I must accept Luther's definition of work as being any job that benefits humanity, that demonstrates the love of God. Thus, whether I teach, I sculpt, or I engage in scholarly activity, my approach, my attitude, and my application must be to convey God's love for humanity. I work unto the Lord, and I do everything in order to bring Him glory. I do not seek a specific career so therefore there is no idolatry or desire to find satisfaction outside of my relationship with God alone. In this way, I can do whatever the Lord calls me to do (as in sends me out to do), and I can know for sure that I am doing what He is asking me to do.

As I ponder this question, I think about my spiritual gifts and how the Holy Spirit has empowered and equipped me to serve the body of Christ. My top gifts always seem to fall in the same order: Wisdom, Faith and Prophecy. After these three, I will score very high in administration, knowledge as well as exhortation. If you look at this list, you can see how confusing it has been for me to find that "calling" because my gifts tend to be focused on building up the body of Christ. Yes, this is my calling. I am called to exhort, encourage, and to remind the people of God that He loves them, cares for them, and that in His goodness, He has a unique and wonderful plan for their life. The only gift I possess that could be translated to a real-world job is administration. I am a gifted administrator, I know this, and I enjoy doing this type of work. I like to be ordered, logical, and structured. I am also very good at planning and at creating long-range plans. The problem as been that whenever I work in this type of job, I usually have been in a secular environment where I have had conflicts with my other gifts. You see, my desire is to equip the church, to build her up, person by person, but I cannot do this in a secular place. I can certainly help those who are lost see God in a new way, perhaps to encourage them to consider faith in Jesus, but I cannot do my top three gifts in this way. Therefore, the only place where I can use my spiritual gifts is in some ministry capacity where I am around church people every day, all day long.

The Lord has seen fit to place me at two Christian universities, and in this context, I am able to share my heart and encourage renewed faith in God. But, teaching is not a strength for me, so I teach as a way to minister to young people in a Christian environment. It is a struggle for me, but I do it, and in doing it, I am using my gifts daily. The problem as I see it is that teaching is a weaker gift for me, and while I believe that the Lord helps me, I still struggle with teaching as a career.

I guess my lot in life is to do whatever work the Lord calls me to do without ever defining a career path because my work is in His church, and there is no other place for me to do that work than in and around Christian people.

Coming to Terms with My Life

More than likely, I feel that the Lord is preparing me for some special job, some place where I will be able to fuse my daily abilities with my spiritual gifts. Is this necessary for satisfaction? I think so. I think that to come to terms with our calling and our work, we must accept the following tenets:
  1. Work in whatever capacity the Lord calls you. Luther said to whatever station you were placed, so this tells me that we are to work in whatever place, job, or opportunity the Lord provides for us. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, "So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God."
  2. Seek to demonstrate the love of God by loving others. Loving others is best done through a humble and willing heart, attitude, and mindset. We are to remember the words of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 22:37-38: "Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
  3. Know that whatever you do, whatever type of work you do, you are called in faith, not in service. This is a mistaken belief, but the Word speaks of our calling as a response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and not to a specific type of work. Yes, some are "called" to specific ministry positions, but whether we are placed in a full-time role such as a Pastor or Teacher, we are to demonstrate our spiritual gifts through our efforts regardless of our place, our position, or our practical work.
With that said, I can see how the Lord is using me as a teacher. Even though I find that the work is not easy, is not filled with peace, and is not a good fit for me physically, I am able to use my spiritual gifts to benefit the church. In this way, I am using my practical work to help me live a life of ministry to others in the body of Christ. Perhaps some day, the Lord will provide me with a different type of job, something less demanding, tiring, or challenging. Until then, I will do what I am able to do, and I will remember that it is in everything that I seek to honor, to worship, and to glorify the Lord. Selah!

September 23, 2015

Dealing with Doubt

It is Wednesday, and I am sitting on the 3rd floor of the Student Union in the computer/library. It is September the 23rd, and I am thinking that this semester is passing by so slowly. This is week 5 of a 16 week semester, and frankly, I am tired already, just so tired. I feel worn out, wasted, and at times, whipped, mostly by my own feelings of insecurity and my doubt.

Doubt is such a double-edged sword. You know, we doubt our abilities, our beliefs and our convictions all the time, and for the most part, we survive, we shrug our shoulders, shake our head, and just pick up and move on. Then there are those times when doubt cripples us, and we crumble and fall to the floor in a puddle, a mess, and we feel as though we are finished (fineto!)

This past week has be a roller coaster ride with my good friends, doubt and despair. Yes, I have partnered with them for a while now, and while I don't really like them, they do seem to tag along with me most days. Today, is no exception. I felt overwhelmed this morning, and doubt was there, as he is always there, ready to disprove my every thought, feeling and action. Yes, he is a constant companion, happy to remind me how I fail constantly, how I refuse to do "the right, the good, the honorable," and how I am a misfit when it comes to practicing faith, true faith in God.

I read an article today that referenced a popular Internet meme known as "Doubt Your Doubts Instead of Your Faith." This little saying has found its way around the Internet, and I found it today when I googled for a graphic image to post on my blog. I thought the saying was curious so I googled for it and I found that it was attributed to LDS President, Deiter Uchtdorf. Apparently, during an address, he made a statement encouraging his church members to consider doubting their doubt before they doubt their faith. The statement received a great deal of backlash from church members and others who felt the platitude was too empty, simple, and non-specific to be of any use. Of course, the man was using it as a way to show that his approach to doubt is to consider it from a negative perspective, as a message sent to destroy faith, not encourage it. Others who follow rational lines of faith took that to be a straw man, an example of circular reasoning. In truth, I guess how you view doubt is predicated on your worldview. If you see doubting your faith as a negative experience, then you will align your thinking with this man -- head that doubt off at the pass -- don't not give it a foothold to bring you down. Or if you align with the rationalists, then perhaps you see doubt as part of the growth process of spirituality. You may think that doubt is a good thing because it is causing you to think deeply about your faith and your own worldview. In my view, however, doubt is not a good thing, especially not for the Christian who professes faith in Jesus Christ. Let me explain...

I started my blog post with this verse found in Philippians 4. It is oft-quoted and it is a good reminder of how the Bible instructs us to handle anxiety, worry, and yes, doubt.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Paul is laying out one approach to dealing with periods of anxiousness, and that is to remember where you trust lays. When we feel anxious about life, about our problems, or even our fears, we are to remember to pray, to turn to God, and to reconnect our trust to His character and His nature.

Doubt is a feeling of uncertainty or a lack of conviction about something we said we believed. It is a FEELING and as such, it is fueled by our emotional state or well-being. Feelings are attached to positive and negative reactions, which simply means, that we can feel a variety of things, a range of reactions depending on circumstances, events, or even interactions with others. Therefore, when we feel doubt, we can pretty much accept the fact that our emotions are usually involved in the process. This means that we are not thinking 100% rationally or not using our reason or logic. We are reeling, feeling the sway and pull of emotion, and as a result, we are not always thinking clearly, accurately or with a right mindset. It happens, of course, and when we doubt, we most often "feel" bad about something or someone.

How we handle doubt will depend on our belief system, our emotional state at the given time or moment as well as our past experiences. For example, when I doubt, I almost always am under conviction from the enemy. He has accused me of doing something wrong, and that accusation as fueled a pattern of doubting, mostly my own abilities, powers, and experience. He gets me to think about my past failures, and in doing so, I find that I accept doubt as a rational explanation of what is perceived to be true. Note that doubt is often a perception. A perception is a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something, so how we perceive is based upon our mindset or how we see the world, and how we place ourselves within the world.

As I perceive my situation, I will choose one of two mindsets: a Biblical mindset or a worldly, secular mindset. Biblically, my worldview is predicated upon my understanding of the Christian faith. I believe the tenets of Christianity, I hold this conviction that the Bible is true, and that my faith in God is a vital, living, and responsive faith directed toward and upon my relationship with Jesus Christ. Furthermore, my Biblical worldview assures me that my life is purposed and planned, and my place, both temporal and eternal, is fixed and is part of God's overarching goal for my spiritual growth and development. In short, my life is a work in progress as my Creator molds, changes, and moves me toward the fulfillment of His expressed will.

If I choose, conversely to hold a secular humanistic worldview, then my mindset is predicated on my own abilities, my own power structure, and my outcomes are directly the result of my achievement. In short, I am the beginning, the middle and the end of my efforts. There is no hope outside of what I can achieve, and doubt in my abilities is the result of a lack of performance or effort. It is thoroughly up to me to achieve, and failure is a consequence of poor planning, poor application, or poor understanding of a thing or context.

Clearly, my mindset is Biblical, therefore, when I doubt, I allow the enemy the foothold he needs to get me to pay attention to his accusations. I believe what he says is true rather than standing upon my conviction or my belief in the authority of Scripture, the integrity of the Word, and the testimony of others (my witnesses) who say otherwise. My faith rests upon this band of evidence, yet when I doubt, I take my eyes off the evidence, and I look to my own hands, my own mind, for a rational and reasonable answer.

The Good Doctor

An analogy that works well is this one.  If you are sick and feeling ill, you may go to the doctor for diagnosis. The doctor is a skilled professional with many years of experience. He diagnoses your symptoms, prescribes a treatment plan, and suggests steps to alleviate your suffering. You, in turn, thank him for his efforts, but choose instead to doubt the veracity of his diagnosis. You do not believe he knows what he is saying so you go about getting second, third, and fourth opinions. Even in this way, you receive testimony that supports the doctor's diagnosis of your condition, but you refuse to accept them, believing instead that you know better, know more or you 'feel' that there is a better answer out there to be found. In the end, you consult other sources, never finding the truth, but seeking nonetheless to discover it. All the while, your condition worsens because you have chosen to pursue the path of disbelief and doubt rather than follow the path of truth and faith. Yes, you have chosen to prolong your suffering by choosing to doubt what you have heard, the testimony you have received, and the information provided. You would rather figure out the answer on your own, so you continue to dig, yet you find no relief. In the end, you either suffer without cause or you realize that the treatment offered initially was true. If you are fortunate, you return to the doctor, and this time you follow his advice. You recover, and you understand that your lack of faith in the doctor, his character, his witness, and his experience, would have saved you much pain and hardship.

God is our Good Doctor, and His word is our diagnosis for every ill, every worry, every fear. When we doubt, often we are doubting God's word to us. He has shown us the way to go, provided a plan, and given us everything we need to live rightly. Yet, we doubt this provision, often because of material or superficial lack. Yes, we often discount God's word to us because we fail to see the sufficiency of His provision. We expect more, want more, desire more, and our need is driven by something outside of God's will. We want an easier way, a more comfortable walk, or a higher standard of living. We want to be comfortable, to be kept in a way that is not quite as hard on us physically, spiritually or emotionally. We want to be cuddled, coddled, and comforted the way a parent comforts a small child. We don't want to be a grown up, we don't want to experience discomfort or pain, so we seek the easy way out of our troubles. In doing so, we often lose the benefit of staying the course, seeing the trial through, and enduring the discomfort in order to produce vitality, strength and boldness.

Doubt comes in all shapes and sizes, and while we doubt often, sometimes our doubts are fleeting and sometimes, our doubts are magnified by our extenuating circumstances. Yes, doubt can cripple us easily especially if we are in the midst of a strong or difficult trial. We can find that the process of constant faith drains us, and we give into doubt because it is easier to do so. I mean, after a while, even Moses needed help to keep his arms up so that the Israelite army would find success in battle. Yes, at times, we become so tired, so worn, that we need the help of others to keep us focused and to keep us primed for battle. And in this way, we are supported and encouraged by others who remind us to not lose hope, to not shift our focus, to not give sway to the enemy.

Today is a perfect day to explore this concept because I was filled with doubts all day long. I had it "bad," so to speak, so much so that I felt overwhelmed, depleted emotionally, and left feeling as though I was unable to do anything of value. I didn't really sulk, but I certainly walked around campus feeling depressed. I was condemned and I was suffering emotionally from my enemy's accusations. After my morning class, I tried very hard to pull myself up out of the blue funk I was in, but nothing really happened to me until lunch time. I had been complaining, and I was trying hard to change my attitude. I was praying about it when all of a sudden when of my former students stopped by and gave me a hug. She was on her way to a meeting, and she stopped to say hello and ask how I was doing. Her smile reminded me that I was admired, appreciated, and that she remembered me from class. Her little gesture felt so good, and I started to feel better about myself as the day turned toward afternoon.

After my 12:30 class, as I was headed over to the other building, I had another blessed encounter with a student. One of my former students called out to me from across the walkway. He waved and said "Hello, Dr. Hepburn," which made me feel special -- again -- that he was happy to see me. And, then if that wasn't enough testimony, as I finished my last class of the day, I bumped into a third former student. This time, we stopped and chatted for about 20 minutes. He asked me for some marital advice, on communication no doubt, so I shared some thoughts about how he might improve his communication with his wife. He was one of my favorite students from last semester, and we occasionally run into each other on campus. His smile is infectious, and he is such a gracious young man.

As I walked away, heading back to my car, I thought to myself, "Now, see? You have seen three students whom you impacted in some way here at GCU." I know it wasn't monumental or mind blowing, but to me, it reminded me that I am surviving the challenge this semester, and I am moving on with the best of my ability. Yes, it is true, I am doubting my proficiency again, doubting my abilities, and doubting my efforts. The funny thing, not as ha ha funny, but as curious -- is the fact that I am not condemned by God for my efforts -- Nope, He knows I am sincerely trying to do my best, and that while I struggle, I am working hard to be a good teacher. I may not be great, but I am trying very hard each day to do my best. God sees my effort, and He knows it is "enough."

Today, I am worn out, used up, and feeling so tired, but I am praising God because He is good, so very good, and He approves of me just the way I am. Selah!

September 22, 2015

Exciting News!

It is a good day here in cloudy and cool Phoenix! Get that -- I said "cloudy and cool" and used it with the word, Phoenix, in the same sentence! Woohoo! We are experiencing cooler than normal weather, at the least, for the next couple days, and I have to say that it is so nice, so very nice. We were supposed to get rain, but it seems the rain decided to show up everywhere EXCEPT for central Phoenix. Still, the change in color and scenery is nice, and it tells me that fall is just around the corner!

Today is a good day. I received some encouraging news earlier that has made me excited about possible changes in my future, mostly with my academic career, and in what may come to pass for my promotion and advancement. My article, "Ethnography in Praxis in the College Literature Classroom" has been selected for public discussion at CIRT (Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching) at GCU. This means that I am one step closer to getting my article published by the Journal of Instructional Research. This is good news to me because it means that I may be a published scholar soon. I know, so what is the big deal? Well, in the world of higher education, it is a big deal to have some publications and presentations on your resume. It just looks good, and right now, I have very little to show for myself other than almost three years of teaching. Even in that regard, I feel "less than" stellar when compared to my colleagues who have 7-10 years teaching and multiple papers to their name. But, I need to remember that it is not the hare that wins in the end, but the tortoise. I may be late to this game, but I am here, and I am doing my best to show myself approved (well, to the Lord, that is!)

It is a strange feeling to see the plans the Lord has for me come to pass. I mean, I was thinking about this today as I drove home from Arizona Christian University. I thought about all that has happened in my life, and how I went from being a graduate student to a doctoral student and now a professor. It seems like it was a life-time ago when I was a website designer, struggling to make ends meet, and trying to earn a living doing something that other people didn't "get." I was always having to justify my work, saying what it is that I "really do." I can remember when I asked the Lord if I could have a job where that wasn't the case. I mean, who doesn't understand what it means to "teach" students? I wanted a career where I could say "Hi! My name is Carol and I teach college English classes!" Easy! No one is left guessing as to what you do each day!

I remember asking the Lord if I could have this kind of career. I wanted a business card with my name, title, and job clearly stated. I didn't want to have to prove myself over and over. I wanted to be able to feel like I had arrived, finally, at some destination, at some place of importance. It wasn't so much that I wanted to be better than other people, no not at all. It never was about beating the competition. I just wanted to be considered in the same way as other people. I wanted to "be" the same, to belong to a category of people, individuals who did a certain type of work. I wanted to be a college teacher, and to belong to some school where I could feel like I was doing a good job, earning a good living, and being a good provider for my family. I didn't want to make "the big bucks," but rather, I just wanted to be taken seriously for my efforts. I wanted to know that I was accepted, acceptable, and that my work was good.

As I think about this now, I realize that the Lord gave me my desire. It is another example of my prayer of Psalm 37:4-5. I asked the Lord to give me the desires of my heart, and He did just that. He gave me a good job, a good career, a good way to earn a living. He helped me feel accepted by my peers, to feel good about my work, and to know every day that I was doing something valuable. He gave me this desire, and because He did so, I know that I am doing the thing He wanted me to do. There is no question in my mind that my career as a teacher is 100% of His hand. He has provided this work for me to do, and I know today for sure, that this is He design, His provision, and His desire for my life. He is good, so very good!

Furthermore, as I thought about the plans the Lord has for me, I realized that over the past several years, He has revealed bits and pieces of His plan to me. He has told me in some ways to expect certain things, and then those certain things come to pass, come about. I was thinking about this today, how so often the Lord will tell me a certain thing, and then some time in the future, that thing comes back around to me. Someone will say it, do it, or share it, and then I think "Hey, wait a minute? The Lord and I discussed this a long time ago!" The Word says that if you receive testimony from the Lord and it comes to pass, then you know that the word you receive was really from the Lord. In my case, this seems to happen frequently. I will pray about a thing, and then at some point in time, I will get confirmation that the thing is coming to pass or will come to pass. Sometimes it is just a confirming word, testimony from someone else that reminds me that the word of the Lord is true. He doesn't lie, He tells the truth -- all the time -- He is always faithful, just and true.

A good example of how this prayer-blessing works in my life a conversation I had with my son recently. It was his birthday yesterday, and my son and I were discussing his life, his plans, etc. He said to me some things that were clearly surprising to me. It wasn't so much that he shared them, but rather it was because the Lord and I had discussed these same "options" 3-4 years previously. Yes, in many of my prayers for my son's life, I have sought the Lord's wisdom regarding choices for his education, for his work, for his life. These private prayer-conversations were between me and the Lord, so to hear my son echo some of these same options says to me that my prayers are being made known to my son, but not through my mouth, but through the power of the Holy Spirit.

You see, I believe, well I have always believed, that my son was supposed to study music and not theater or performance or linguistics, etc. He is a multitalented young man and he has various interests. In all though, he is gifted musically. I have had many prayer-conversations with the Lord, seeking options for my son's life, and throughout all these conversations one thing has been certain: my son is called to use music in some way, shape or form, for ministry. I've known this for a long time, but my son hasn't. I haven't said to him, "Hey son, you are to do this for ministry. You are called this way" because I wanted him to seek the Lord for confirmation privately. But in my heart, I have known this to be true. Yet, because of free will, my son could choose any path, any direction, and walk in anyway. He did that for a time, walking away from this calling, this pursuit, and in truth, his life was not blessed, not good. It wasn't as if he was a prodigal son or anything, but he did wander a bit further than I would have liked, and he suffered quite a bit in his faith relationship with the Lord. I have always believed that when we walk in accordance with the Lord's will for our lives, and when we are humbly seeking Him, having surrendered all to Him, we experience the blessing of provision, goodness, and grace as outpourings on our life. This doesn't always mean that everything goes swimmingly well, but it does mean that we are surrounded by His care and mercy, and generally, we are moving with Him and not against Him.

Within the past year, my son has turned around, and has slowly come to embrace this calling to music ministry. I don't know if he knows that, but I see it, and I see the Lord's blessing on his life. In fact, I would say that there is blessing upon blessing being poured out right now, and it all stems from his turning back toward God and his drawing near to Him. As we had this conversation the other day, my son said so many things that were 100% spot-on testimony to my prayer-conversations with the Lord. These confirmations reminded me that God does indeed have a good plan for my son's life, and that those plans are coming to pass in much the same way as the plans the Lord has for my life. It is exciting really to think about the active nature and presence of the Lord. He is not distant, He is not far away, uncaring and uninvolved in our lives. He is living, breathing, and right with us, all around us, and when we walk in close proximity to Him, we experience His goodness in every area of our life.

I see these changes, these plans as they develop and become more fleshed out, and it excites me to think that God is really doing in my life and in my son's life exactly what He promised that He would do. He is being faithful to me, He is keeping His promise to me, and He is fulfilling His word to me. I am blessed, so blessed this good day.

Today, I sit here and I contemplate the very nature of God, the fact that His character demonstrates who He is and what He is all about. While there are many mysteries relating to theology, to doctrine, and to the main beliefs of the Christian faith, one thing is for sure: God is good. Yes, our God is good, and His goodness is one of the main attributes of His nature. He is good, and He shares His goodness with us in so many ways, so many ways. I think about God's goodness in my life, how He has single-handedly moved me from where I was, really from a place of such utter despair and despondency to where I am now, to where I feel good, confident, hopeful, and blessed every day of my life. He has done this for me. He has moved me. He has changed me. He has made all this possible, and my life is going well, so very well. I may not have everything in order yet, but I am slowly moving toward the fulfillment of His will, and that is so exciting to think about, to wonder, and to ponder. Yes, I am on the fast track to His will for my life, and every day, I take a step closer, closer to seeing His promises to me come to pass. I worry so much, I stress over the smallest details, and yet, He is doing what He promised me. He is faithful, He is working behind the scenes to bring this all to pass. I don't always believe what I see. I don't always get the outcomes, the process, and at times, I doubt His sufficiency. Yet, there He is, still doing His best to see me through to the end. He doesn't give up on me, He doesn't get mad at me. No, He just keeps His side of the covenant. He keeps His word to me. I fail Him, I falter, and I fall down all the time. I try, really I do, but I don't do what I should, and I break my promises to Him regularly. I confess, of course, and I get back up and "keep on keeping on," but still I do not do what I should, what I promised I would do. He loves me just the same, and He helps me keep my promise (praise be to God), and in all, His word doesn't return void to me -- but -- it comes to pass. What He has said He will do, He will do it. Why? Because His nature is this way. He is good. He is faithful. He is just. And He is true. Always. 100% of the time. Without fail, He is good.

September 20, 2015

Sunday Musings

It is a beautiful Sunday here in Arizona. I woke up feeling quite refreshed, though I think I am battling a bit of a tummy bug. I am not sure if I will make it over to church this morning or not. Right now, I am drinking my coffee and hoping everything settles down so I can go. It is okay if I end up staying home this morning. I have quite a bit of school work to finish, and it would be good to get a jump start on it. I know, I know -- school work instead of worshipping the Lord? Yes, there have been times when I have stayed home from church to work on a paper or to complete some last minute assignment. I know that sounds awful, but praise be to God, I am no longer under the law, but I am free under the banner of His grace and mercy.

Expectancy Delivered - 22 Years Ago

Today is a great day, at the least, I feel that it is going to be a great day. It is September 20th, the day before I get to celebrate the birth of my only child. Yes, my beloved son turns 22 tomorrow, and I give thanks and praise to God for his precious life. I remember how timid I felt, how anxious and worried I was at the thought of giving birth. The day before he was born, I was a mess, really a mess. I was a whole week late on delivery, and I felt miserable. He had been very quiet, not moving much, and that worried me. I spent the weekend in labor, having pains run from 10 minutes apart down to 3 minutes, but never consistent. And, then just when I thought it was time to go to the hospital, the contractions would stop. Three days in a row I suffered like this, three days. On Monday morning, I went in to see my doctor. He told me to come over to the hospital if the contractions started again in the night. Sure enough, they did. I went to the hospital around 9 p.m. Monday evening on September 20th, and my beautiful baby boy was born at 2:37 a.m. on Tuesday morning.

As I think about that experience, I realize that God had His hand upon me. My birth story was traumatic and difficult -- both of us nearly died -- but God be praised, we came through it and we survived it. The next weeks and months were a big blur, and then before I knew it, my boy was turning 1, and then 2, and then 10, and now 22. Time has flown by, and the memories I have of my son are sweet and soothing to me. I have enjoyed being a Mom more than anything else in this world, and even today, when my adult son looks at me, I see my baby, my little sweet bundle of joy. He is still so very precious to me.

Thank you, Jesus for giving me the joy of motherhood, for blessing me with this beautiful child-man, and for allowing me the privilege to raise him to manhood, to guide and direct him through the difficult teen years, and to witness his growth and maturity as he comes to learn what your express will is for his life. You are good, so very good, and I thank you today for this blessing.

Last night I had a good conversation with my special friend. I enjoy these conversations immensely, especially since I know that they are made-with-sacrifice. What I mean is that our time spent on the phone is intentional, it is not just happenstance. He calls me knowing full well that I am in the middle or finishing up some project for school. I talk with him knowing full well that he has other projects, other tasks that are sitting on his to-do list. We are both busy individuals, busy with school, and so to make time for one another means that we are committed to seeing our relationship flourish. It is a choice to spend time together. We could simply say "not tonight" because we have too much to do or we are tired or we simply want to chill out, veg-out, and do nothing. Instead, we say "Yes" to one another, and we engage in conversation that at times is silly, and at other times, serious. This intentionality is something that we both believe strongly in, and it shouts out the truth, "You matter to me." You see, since both of us have been in relationships where commitment was lacking, where the sentiment that says, "I need you. I want to spend time with you. And you are important to me" was not verbalized or demonstrated, we both want to make sure we do not fall into the habit of ignoring the other person. It happens, it does, and while it shouldn't be the case, many long-term relationships suffer from this same malady, what I call "invisibility." You see, after a time, no matter how good the relationship may be, how solid it is, how invested, it can become easy to look past the other person, to no longer see them the way you first did when you were courting, dating, or just hoping to date. Yes, it is easy to take that person for granted, to assume they will always be there, that somehow because they once said they needed you, that they will always say they need you. The problem with this attitude is that it is predicated on the false assumption that you can neglect a "thing" without causing any harm to the "thing" or the relationship.

Gardening and Relationships

We all love the beauty and wonder of plants. Whether you garden indoors or outdoors, plants are a lovely thing to look at and behold. They filter the air we breathe, and they bring their colorful show to brighten up our gardens, yards or tables. They are living things, created by God, and as such, they require certain elements to grow healthy and live long lives. They need good soil, plenty of sunshine, and ample water, just to name three. They also need shelter from the elements because harsh winds, hot sun, and depleted nutrients in poor soil will cause the plant to wilt and die. They also suffer from neglect, especially when they are not found in nature, but have been transplanted into our yards or brought indoors into our homes. You may not have been blessed with the proverbial "green thumb," but I am sure you have been blessed to have plants, either the flowering or green foliage kind, in or around your home. You know what a healthy plant looks like, and you know, unfortunately, what a sick plant looks like.

Plants die for many reasons, but often they die from neglect, disease, or improper care/handling/transplanting. I think these reasons are easily relatable to most on-going relationships. If you think about plants and how easily they can be damaged by neglect (lack of attention, water, nutrition) and how they can die simply by rough handling or poor treatment of their root system, you can see where I am going with this line of thought. Moreover, plants die from disease, from pests that infest them or from the transmission of fungus and other biologicals that we introduce into their soil.

In human relationships, we often treat our spouses, family, and friends, without much thought and care. We neglect them, and we care for them in rough ways. I don't think we realize how our handling (our treatment) of our relationships is so tenuous and fragile. Moreover, we don't realize that we bring outside influences into the relationship -- attitudes, behaviors, and even sinful practices that can all cause disease within our relationship. If left unchecked, disease will bring illness and can even lead to death. Furthermore, words, actions, and even nonverbal behaviors can cause damage to the tender root system of a developing relationship. Neglect, withholding of affection or the abandonment of a person to a harsh climate, will do damage to the internal consistency of the person's psychology. We often treat our friends, family, and most intimate relationships without care, thinking that our actions will not have consequences, our words will not matter, and our nonverbal behaviors will have no influence on the quality of their life or the life we share with them. But the truth is that our actions, our words, and our nonverbal behaviors cause reactions in the same way as with the gardener who withholds water, uses improper handling, and refuses to give nutrients to the plants he has transplanted in gardens, yards or pots in his home. Thus, the axiom is true: without proper care, all living things will die.

As I think about my relationship with my special friend, this is what comes to mind. We live in two different states. We have never met personally (face to face). We have shared aspects of our life with one another. We have enjoyed each others company, mediated by technology (email, chat, phone, and video). We have come to respect one another, to serve one another, and to love one another. All of this has happened without even meeting one another. How is this possible? How can that be? I mean "don't you have to physically meet a person to fall in love with them?" I used to think this was the case. I used to believe that the only way you could really know a person was to see them in action, to see them in the "real," the here and now. I have come to change my mind a bit, because over the past 16 months, I have experienced a true friendship with a man whom I have never met. I have experienced quality of care, the kind that the good gardener gives to his plants, from this person who lives far away from me. He has gently watered me, handled my emotions with care, and seen to it that I have been feed with proper nutrients (such as the Word of God). All of this has helped my roots grow deeply into the soil of a new relationship. I have tried to do the same thing for him, to care for his needs, to show him my intentions, and to be considerate of his feelings and his experiences. This behavior is intentional, it is not random. It is designed for one purpose and that is to clearly articulate intention, to show the other person, to tell them really that they matter, that they are important, and that we need each other.

Being Intentional

In relationships, so often people enter into physical intimacy without ever spending time preparing the soil of their new garden (relationship). They jump into bed with one another, spend inordinate amounts of time physically connecting -- all before they have even started to get to know the person well. They think that physical intimacy (sex) equals a personal relationship. What they forget or they simply do not understand is that no relationship can be developed without proper planning and care. Sex, in and of itself, is a selfish pursuit that seeks one outcome and that is, satisfied desire. Satisfied desire is not a relationship, it is more like plucking an apple from a tree. It tastes good, it feels good going down, and it satisfies hunger for a moment. Caring for the apple tree, however, that is relationship because when you care for the thing that has produced the fruit, then you showing true care, long-term care. Plus, you are cultivating a life-long way to satisfy desire, you are investing in the future of a tree that is going to produce fruit for many, many years to come.

I can remember how much time I would spend preparing my garden for planting each spring. I would start to look through my seed catalogs in early January. I would sketch out plans for changes I wanted to make in the garden boxes or around the perimeter of my garden. I would choose the plants carefully, deciding which ones would be best, most needed, the coming year. Then I would purchase the needed materials to "prep" my soil in late February/early March. Spring came early in Northern California so I didn't have to wait too long before I could begin turning over the beds for planting in late March. I would add fertilizer to the soil, rich compost from my compost pile, and begin to work the soil, tenderizing it so that when the time came, it was ready to receive my tender seedlings. I took great care with my seedlings, and I made sure their little roots were not damaged by rough handling. Once planted, I put shelter around them (plastic rings from Pepsi 2-liter bottles) to keep them safe. I watered them well, and over the course of several weeks, I was fastidious at keeping pests and weeds away. With all my tender care, come summer, my garden would be in full bloom, and I would have beautiful produce to enjoy. I would can some of the vegetables for fall use, but mostly I would enjoy the bounty of my harvest. When fall would come, I would remove the plants that were spent, chopping them up, and placing them into the compost heap. As they decayed, their life would be returned to the heap for use next year. It was the cycle of life in the garden, and the more attention I paid to it, the more success I had each year. The key for me as a novice gardener was to study gardening, to learn as much as I could about the subject, and then practice with intention, with the desired outcome of seeing my efforts produce good crops. If I was intentional, studious, and a good worker, I would see those results. If I neglected my garden, my plants, well -- I would see poor results, decay, and eventual death.

Commitment to Seeing Results

As a novice gardener, I made a commitment to seeing good results. I took a very bland backyard and I turned it into a mini-Martha Stewart show place. Of course, my garden didn't look like hers in reality, but many of the things I did do were similar to what she would show on her television show each week or in her magazine. My goal was to create a working garden, a place where I could relax each day, and where I could see the fruit of my labors come to pass. I remember thinking that once I started gardening, and once I dug up my back yard, I was committing to keeping my garden a live. For sure, I made an investment. I remember spending my hard earned money to buy the materials needed to build garden boxes. I started with one box the first year, and then the second year, tore everything out and rebuilt the back yard to include four boxes. I created compost pile that year, and I planted grapes with a trellis. It seemed that each year, I added something different, new to my garden. After six years, I had transformed the front and back yards (and side yards), filling them with flowers and plants, and making my home inviting and lovely to look at and enjoy. I invested heavily, I lifted rock, poured stone, laid foundations, and I planted, watered, weeded, and tended my garden with enthusiasm and care. I was so sad to leave my garden behind when I moved to Arizona, but I hoped I would have the chance to garden here. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to garden in Arizona. It is not impossible, but it is very, very difficult. The hard soil here requires great effort, and the burning heat almost always kills the plant. It is a challenge, and after several good attempts, I finally gave up. I miss my garden, for sure, but the life lessons I learned while planting and harvesting have remained with me to this day.

As I consider the nature of my new relationship, I see how intentionality between me and my friend has paid off. We have chosen to invest in each other, and in doing so, we are experiencing the blessing of love and friendship that is devoted to one another. I pray that some day soon we will be able to meet, finally, so that we can begin to develop that other side of our relationship, the more intimate side that only happens when you are face-to-face. But until then, I will continue to invest in his life, in the way that I can, and hopefully, he will continue to invest in my life. Together, we can build a solid foundation by each working in our shared garden - he tenderly cares for my life, and I tenderly care for his. It is mutual, life-affirming, and dedicated to the pursuit of establishing that life-long attachment that says "I need you today, and I will need you tomorrow."

September 19, 2015

Saturday Morning Post

It is a beautiful day here in sunny Phoenix. It is going to be another warm day (around 100-102), and while this is not-so-normal for September, it is not as bad as it has been this past summer. Our humidity is down, somewhere only in the low teens, so while the afternoons warm up quite a bit, the overall feeling is not oppressive. Next week, the forecast looks to be mid-90s. What a welcome relief!

I slept soundly last night, and I am feeling pretty good today. I woke up early, thanks to Winston, who likes the fact that three days each week, I am up at 5:30 a.m. However, on Saturday-Sunday, I want to sleep in. I need to make sure he gets the memo for tomorrow! Still, I woke up refreshed, and that is a good thing. My back is a bit sore and stiff, but overall, I am feeling well. It is a good thing, too, since my schedule at school seems to be settling into a routine, but my courses at Regent are picking up steam. LOL! Why is that such a surprise?

Overall, my semester seems to be going well, and for that, I am thankful. I got paid yesterday (woohoo!), and at the least for the next couple months, my income is satisfactory to cover my expenses. I am thankful for the courses I am teaching, even if I am not crazy about one of the classes or the day-to-day work. In truth, I was praying about this today, and I thanked the Lord for this work. I mean, 10 years ago, I would have worked 6-12 weeks on a website design and been paid a whole lot less than what I am making now for 15 weeks of work. I guess you could say that I have come up in the world (LOL!) In truth, the work I do is far more satisfying than anything else I have done. I was praying over this yesterday, talking with the Lord on my way home, and I confessed to Him that I have been grumbling about the kind of work He has me doing right now. I know, crazy, right? How blessed am I, and yet here I am grumbling to the Lord for His provision! Sigh! Flesh!

Work for Profit or for the Lord

As I was driving home last night, I was praying over my path, you know, where I am right now and all. I was telling the Lord how I never imagined that this is where I would be today. I mean, I really never imagined I would be teaching all. I had assumed that "ship had floated" already some 25 years earlier. But, the Lord chose to bless me with this opportunity to do this work and here I am now. I am a teacher, and I am thanking the Lord for this blessing. The thought struck me as I was thanking Him for His provision that I am right where He planted me. Yes, you see, in His beautiful garden, He chose to plant me as a teacher. Thank you, Jesus! I love the fact that this is what I get to do every semester, and that I get to work at a college/university, teaching young people how to write and how to communicate. It is not rocket science for sure, and I am not discovering some new cure for a horrible disease. I am not saving people from burning buildings or even building those buildings from brick and mortar. No, I am spending my days helping them learn how to write well formed sentences, paragraphs, and essays, and I am teaching them the value of strong interpersonal communication skill. In short, I am helping them to be prepared for life by giving them practical help in practical areas. It might not be exciting, but I get to look into the faces of 100 students each day, and be there for them, in whatever little way I can. It is nice work, satisfying work, and hopefully, practical work that will prepare them to do whatever the Lord has called them to do. I am blessed to be able to do it at my age, and to be able to work in this profession for a while before I retire. I do wish I would have started this earlier in my career, but then the work I did in other areas has helped me, I think, become a better educator in the long run. Yes, I was thanking the Lord for this blessed opportunity, and for providing rich and rewarding work for me to do.

Some Context

This past week, I read Dorothy Sayers' classic work, "Letters to a Diminished Church" for my COM 709 Theology course at Regent University. This class has been wonderful, I mean just wonderful. I saved it for my last semester only because I had heard that it was one of the most challenging courses in my program -- lots of reading and writing -- so I thought I had best save it until I was a more seasoned doctoral student. In truth, I am glad I did because my worldview, mindset, and overall appreciation of communication as a discipline has changed over the past three years of study. I am in a different place than when I first started this program. In many ways, I have grown as a scholar and as a person! I think differently now, and because of my mind shift, I am better able to grasp the significance of these works in light of the authors contribution to communication study. That, my friends, was a very long digression that had nothing whatsoever to do with Sayer's collection of essays!

Sayers work is interesting. If you are not familiar with her writing as a fictional crime writer, then here is a brief introduction. Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957) is an English author, essayist, and lay-theologian (similar to C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton) and is best known for her Lord Peter Wimsey stories that take place during the lead up to and years surrounding WWII. She is also well known as an essayist, and her collection of essays on various topics of interest to her during the war years, focus most specifically on her concerns about the stature of the church and its negligent stance on the teaching of doctrine and the preaching of doctrine.

Although her writing is witty, and at times pointed, it is her concern for the Christian man and woman, especially the uneducated and the Biblically illiterate, that is of such poignant value. You see, Sayers believed that once the church stopped teaching doctrine (as in a statement of belief) the church as a whole began to sink into a pool of mediocrity and faulty thinking. Her point was that the early reliance on creeds, specifically the Apostles Creed, helped Christians, old and new, to understand the theology behind what they said they believed. In her view, the church was relying too much on personal experience, and less on doctrine and dogma (beliefs that are held to be incontrovertible or undisputed).

It is an interesting point of view considering when she first made it. You see, the modern church faces a similar foundational crisis, one which Charlotte Mason would classify as the teaching of "twaddle" rather than the teaching of truth. Twaddle to Miss Mason, a 19th century English philosopher and educationalist, was the teaching of "pablum," baby food, to children long past the time for soft foods. Twaddle, in particular was considered to be fluff, worthless entertainment, suited towards the dull mind of the dull child. Likewise, Sayers argues that as the church stopped teaching doctrine (solid meat), the ability of her children to think clearly, to understand the mysteries of the Christian faith, and the grasp the significance of the Gospel deteriorated. Thus, Christians in her time as well as in our modern era, are messed up, mixed up, and confused about the truth of Scripture. In sum, Christians do not know nor do they understand what they say they believe.

The Blessing of Work

In and in between her essays on doctrine and dogma, there is one particular theme that resonates with my blog post today. Sayers expounds on her views on work, the nature of work, and the Christian's attitude toward it. You see, for many Christians, work has become synonymous with profit making. Yes, the very attitude we have toward our work is related directly to how much money we can make from it. Sayers argues for a return to the Biblical understanding of work, that our attitude toward the work we do needs to be reshaped to conform to God's standard and design. In doing so she says, Christians will find far more enjoyment, satisfaction, and eagerness in their work, whatever that work may be, and will come to see the value in their everyday labors.

I enjoyed reading this essay because it reminded me of the importance of maintaining a Biblical mindset regardless of the circumstances we might face. Sayers suggests that if we change our views on the nature of our work, on the reasons why we work, we will find more enjoyment in the tasks we do each day. I think she makes a really good point because so often we see our work as a means-to-an-end. I mean, I know that I do that often. I classify my work based on how much money I make each week. I ask myself, "is it enough?" and then I place a value on that work. In this way, I am only focused on what I get out of the work, rather than I what others get out of the work I perform. You see, from a Biblical standpoint, our work should be driven outward and not inward. It is not about what I can make, how much I can achieve, but rather our work should be driven by the satisfaction of knowing how we have blessed others in our life. It seems rather easy when you consider it this way, but Sayers argues that because we have shifted the focus from others to ourself we lose the blessing of feeling as though we are making a difference, doing something important and valuable, no matter how small or insignificant it may feel to us.

I like her approach, and I agree with her. I think that from a Biblical standpoint, our work attitude should be on ministry. No matter what job we may do, what professional vocation we engage in, we must always think about how our work impacts and influences the lives of others around us. Perhaps if we did have this mindset, we would find that our influence would be demonstrated in our workplace and among our coworkers. In truth, how many people see "Christ" at work or in our workplaces? My guess is that unless you work in a church or for a ministry organization, the likelihood that Christ is seen regularly is slim-to-nil. Now, consider that I didn't say "How many people hear about Christ or are told what the Bible says about Christ" in the workplace, but instead I said "see Him." There is a big difference. I think Christians believe that as long as they are talking about Him, then they are doing His work. This is partly true, of course, because we do need to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others. But just consider this for a moment. In teaching pedagogy, we are told that we must not tell students how to do something, but we must show them how to do it. There is a big difference. We are to demonstrate how something is done, and then through example, they will see how to do it themselves.

Most Christians, I would say, have no clue about how to teach another person about Christ. They speak about Him, talk about what He has done in their lives, how He has changed them from this miserable person to this wonderful person, etc. They don't show anyone the way, no they just point to a direction and say "go to this church or that church" and find Him. Showing Jesus requires humility, and it requires a life that has learned by example. You see, if I want to teach my students how to write a good academic essay, I first have to have experience in writing good academic essays. I can study manuals, read teacher guides, and even learn the "words to use" to tell them how to write an essay. All of this is good and well, but without having first hand experience, I cannot show them what to do. I have to relate the training material to the practical experience and then demonstrate it so that they will understand what to do. It is the nature of teaching properly, and as Christians we fail miserably in doing this work.

I think the reason we fail is two-fold. First off, we do not understand how people learn, how it is best to learn, so we think we can just "talk someone into believing." Second, because we do not understand the material ourselves, and we have not taken the material and synthesized it with our personal experience, we fall short in being able to demonstrate what we are saying. It really comes down to this: Have you experienced Jesus personally? If yes, then you are to take what you have experienced, and then share that experience in a way that aligns with the Word of God. You must be able to put the two-together. You cannot just share your experience, but you have to share both parts with another person.

Knowing What You Believe and Why

Knowing what you believe and why is the first step to sharing your faith in a real way with other people. It is sharing Jesus in a living and dynamic way. However, to do it, you must understand why you believe what you say you believe. This is more than knowing Bible verses. It is about the doctrine (the set of beliefs that support your conversion experience). Doctrine is the set of beliefs held by a person or group of people. Dogma, which gets a really bad rap, is simply taking those beliefs and accepting that they are true, incontrovertible and undisputed. The doctrine that you stand on is the beliefs that you say you hold to be true. If you agree with the Christian faith then you are saying to believe the following:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Christian church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

Now, saying you agree is one thing, but do you understand what each of these "beliefs" mean, theologically speaking? If not, then this is why we must teach doctrine, why we must bring doctrine back into the church, and why it is valuable for teaching today just as it was centuries ago. If the church, and the people who make up the church, do not know what it is that they believe, they will be lured away by false prophets and false doctrine.

Sayers, Lewis, Chesterton, and a whole host of early 20th century lay-theologians argued for the necessity of teaching orthodoxy (teaching the main tenets of the Christian faith) in the church. They did not argue for ritual, but rather they simply said that they believed that doctrine was good, that dogma was valuable, and that with the teaching of these two aspects of theology, Christians would be more sure-footed, more stable, and more secure in their faith. I agree.

So what does all this have to do with working, with the 9-to-5 work I do? A whole lot, really. What it all means is that our life, for it to have meaning, and for us to receive satisfaction from it, we must make sure our worldview is centered on the One who created us. Yes, if our worldview begins and ends with Jesus Christ, then everything we do will be ordered rightly around Him. This means that the practical work we do will be to produce character in us that serves to demonstrate Christ's love for mankind. Our work will direct our efforts, and our attitude will align with our work so that we are choosing to put on His love for others. In this way, we will be showing the world the love of Christ. Anything we say, the words we use, will match with our actions, and we will be "congruent" in how we share grace. There will be exceptions, of course, times when our flesh gets the best of us, but our testimony (what we say) will clearly match our example (what we do), and in that, we will be His ambassadors, His messengers, and His ministers wherever we work.