September 18, 2015

Perseverance Pays Off

Today is a good day. It is September 18, 2015, and it is FRIDAY! I am so glad that the week has come to an end. I made it, hooray, and I am feeling pretty good about my progress this week as well as my overall health/mind/body. Yes, God is good to me, so very good to me, and He has helped me get through this week with grace and sufficiency.

Today, I remember my colleagues as they sit DAY 2 of their exams. This is the final day of testing before they must prepare for their oral defense. I am sure they are nervous about the second day of hard work, but the Lord goes before them, He has prepared, trained, and equipped them, and they are ready to tackle this step in the process to becoming a PhD candidate. God is good. He is protecting them, shepherding them, and giving them His grace. He is all-sufficient, and His will is done. Praise be to the God of glory who was and is and is to come! Selah!

As I consider this day, I am reminded of the Lord's goodness toward me. He has protected me, sheltered me, and provided for my daily needs. Thus, as I consider where I am and where I am going, I am resting in His sufficiency because He is the great I AM, and He knows my comings and my goings. He has a plan for my life, and that plan is very, very good.

This morning as I was walking to and from class (what a beautiful morning it was -- the sun was just breaking over campus and the air was cool and there was a slight breeze), I was praying about my life, about some of my struggles, and about the plans the Lord has for me. I have been consumed by these plans, and I have spent years trying to figure them out.
  • I believe so strongly in a personal identity that is founded, grounded upon Christ. 
  • I believe so strongly in a personal life plan that is predicated upon His will for me and for His kingdom. 
  • I believe that my life has purpose, value, and counts. 
  • I believe that there is no such things as randomness, and that choices have consequences. 
There are good and bad outcomes as a result of the choices we make, and there are degrees of quality and satisfaction in life. How we navigate this life is determined by our worldview. We choose to place all our trust in our own flesh OR we choose to place all our trust in the Creator of the Universe. There is no other option for it is either His way or our way. The choice we make will determine our outcome; whether we will be with Him in eternity and experience in this life His goodness OR whether we will take our chances depending on ourselves and others and end up separated from Him for all eternity. I have chosen to follow Him, and in doing so, I am choosing His way in every area of my life. This means that there are options for me, choices I must make each day that will either bring good or bad into my life. Since I am devoted to Him, I seek His will and His wisdom before I make any choice. This means that I do not choose anything unless I feel certain that it is a "good choice" and that the Lord has given me permission to choose it. I know this sounds odd because what I am really saying is that every decision I make is made only after I sought the Lord's opinion on it, consulted the Word, considered the advice of Godly mature people, and then listened to my inner Guide, the Holy Spirit. I choose a way to go, an option, only after careful consideration and consultation with the Lord. This method has proven to work well in my life. I have come to expect positive results, good outcomes, and generally satisfactory experiences -- all -- because I have chosen to seek His will first, above all else.

So as I walked from the STEM building over to the library, I was deep in thought and prayer over the choices I have made in my life. In particular, this one -- teaching at GCU -- and I wondered if I was doing the best thing possible. I mean, I am satisfied with my income (now), and while I know I will work full-time at some point, I still worry about financial planning, how I will pay for my life down the road, etc. As I was praying, I heard the Lord say to me "I have provided for you. You have no lack." Interestingly, I read a short article yesterday from Nancy Leigh DeMoss that mentioned this idea of "lack." If you are out and about on Facebook or other social media, you will see this term bandied about by Pentecostal preachers who claim that it is the Lord's will for His children to have no "lack." They say that if you are "right with the Lord," then you should have no lack of anything good -- health, wealth, and prosperity. The problem with this view is that many, many good people love the Lord and yet still have lack. These preachers will often say that the reason they have "lack" is because they are not giving (tithing) and therefore this is punishment for their disobedience to the Word of God (particularly the Law). It is false doctrine, of course, and unfortunately for many uneducated people, they believe these preachers and give all they have in order to gain more income, wealth or to receive healing.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss wrote a blog post that suggested that perhaps the reason good people have "lack" is simply because the Lord has decided that it is best for them to be where they are because it keeps them dependent upon Him for their provision. In short, they have "lack" because God deemed it was good for them. As I read this blog post, I thought to myself, "Yes, this is true." I know that in my life there were many times when I experienced "lack" and truthfully, it was painful, uncomfortable, and downright depressing. My circumstances didn't change until I turned around and started seeking Him first. Once I shifted my attention from my own efforts and placed my entire faith upon Him, I started to experience a change in my status, my life became less difficult and more comfortable. Yet, still, I didn't experience increase in wealth overnight. In fact, I still live modestly, and at times, I live very close to the line, so to speak. I have "no lack" but I don't have wealth and prosperity.

I began to ask the Lord about this idea of lack, and how the Church has gotten it all messed up. I was asking Him how it was that some preachers earn millions of dollars whereas others barely get by. It would seem to me that men of God would earn a decent living and would be able to provide for their families and such. It seems odd to have preachers such as Joyce Meyer or Creflo Dollar jetting about the world, living in mansions, and driving Bentley's while there are good, Godly men and women who are eating canned tuna or mac and cheese every night and who either do not drive because they cannot afford a car or are driving some run-down beat-up vehicle. Why is there such a disparity in incomes for similar work? You might argue that these big time preachers do outstanding work, reach millions of people over the Internet and in person, and do much for the Kingdom of God. Yet, I would say that the work is the same -- to reach the lost for the Kingdom of God and to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the work is the same, the outcome is the same, yet it appears that there is inconsistency in the provision. Why Lord?

As I prayed in my spirit, the Lord brought this analogy to my mind. It makes sense to me, and it helped me understand my position now as well as what I believe the Lord intends to provide for me in my future. First off, I felt the Lord say to me that many of the preachers use marketing, savvy professionals who know how to manipulate people and the world system and this is why they are very rich. In short, they are not rich because of the Lord's blessing or because they tithed, but because they knew how to market themselves well. Secondly, I felt the Lord was saying to me that the Kingdom of God is like a business (yes, it is sort of parable-ish in that it is a story). God is the business owner/manager, and He employs a lot of different people. Some of these people are educated, some are highly skilled, and some are good workers (manual labor). In His business, He determines the budget each department requires to do the work they have been assigned to do. So for example, the Administration department needs a certain provision so that the people who do this kind of work have the tools, resources, etc. they need. They have a minimum budget required and they have the provisions necessary so they can do good work. But their need is very different from Marketing because Marketing has basic needs like the folks in Admin, but they also have some additional needs to do the work they do. The same is true for Research and Development, which requires a large budget, at least 10x that of Administration. Why? Well, the work requires more money in order to produce product. Lastly, the folks that work in Maintenance need the least amount of resources. These folks produce manual labor and therefore they need less to do their work.

As I started to think about God's work in this way, it started to make sense to me. God calls and equips each of us for different work. Some of us He calls as Apostles, some as Prophets, and some as Evangelists or Teachers/Preachers. Others are called to Administration, Service, etc. As God calls and equips His people for good work, they are given what they need to do His work. If you recall the words of Jesus, He said clearly that the Father knows the needs of His children. He already provides food, shelter and clothing (we all need these things) so the provision that comes above and beyond that is for specific purposes -- it is for doing God's work.

I started to consider this viewpoint and I thought to myself, "Yes, this does make sense." You see, so often we want "no lack" to mean wealth and prosperity (financial abundance). Preachers preach and say that this is the Lord's will, and in truth, it is. But, not the way they mean it. The Lord desires that you and I have "no lack" but only in the status and provision of the work we do for His Kingdom. Now, can we take what the Lord gives to us and use it wisely? Yes, we can. In fact, we can invest our provision well, and like the parables of the talent, we can increase the amount that the Lord has given to us, but the goal is not to build wealth, but to provide well for ourselves, our families, and our community.

The correct approach, I think, is to consider our calling and then understand that certain callings require certain resources. So for example, if God has called me as a teacher, then I have certain needs such as education, credentials, and other certifications just to do practical work. I certainly can teach the Word of God without these things and I do, but for working in the world, I must have certain documents, levels of achievement, in order to be hired, to keep a job, to be promoted, etc. The same is true for the person God calls to Pastor. In this day and age, most Pastors have graduate study/seminary education. Is it necessary or vital? No, of course not. But most churches want individuals who have degrees in Bible or who have studied at a graduate level before they hire them. Therefore, if God is calling you to Pastor, more than likely He is going to send you to school to be educated and trained in the discipline of preaching and pastoring. It just makes sense.

I think this approach is Biblical. After all, if you read in the Old Testament, you will know that God classified people based on their job and their abilities to do His work. God didn't assign the building of the temple to unskilled workers. No, He assigned it to skilled workers, artisans, who knew how to create beautiful buildings and works of art for His expressed purpose.

So today, I consider my place, my position, and my provision. I realize that God has called me to teach students at the college level, and to do that I must have at a minimum, a graduate degree. I already have a Masters degree in English, but do be hired as a Professor, I must also have a PhD. I am in the process of completing that degree, and  hopefully by next year (this time), I will be graduated. My work is settled. I am a teacher, an instructor, and a professor. I will be employed full-time soon, and to accomplish that feat, I must be graduated from doctoral study.

Moreover, as I think about my place, where I live now and how I live, I am reminded that the place is of less importance than the position. You see, I can do my calling, live out my calling anywhere. I do not have to be in this place or that place to do this work. I can teach in Phoenix, in California, or anywhere in the world, for that matter. The place, therefore, is less important to me. It is more vital that I go to where I can be provided for well because the Lord has chosen this profession as my main means of support. I must find a job where I can be employed full-time. This position, then will provide for my needs (material) and will help me live comfortably. I will have no lack because I will be doing the work He has called me to do, and that work falls into a certain category of professions that pay a certain amount. I will not be wealthy, but I can be secure. I can use my resources carefully, plan well, invest well, etc., so that I can live very comfortably in my retirement, but in truth, I will not be an Oprah or a Bill Gates. Nope, I will be a modestly employed professor, and I am OK with that fact.

Thus as I consider this word today, this is what I take away from it. First, I realize that my provision (financial) is given to me according to God's will and design for my life. I have "no lack" because I am doing the work He has called me to do, and He is providing for me according to that purpose. Secondly, in moving forward in my career and in my life, I realize that where I live (here or there) is of no consequence outside His desire for me. So, I can remain where I am and do this work. I can move to another state and do the same work. The ministry field is ripe and ready for harvest, so the work I do is good, practical and has value. I simply must go when He calls me to go. I must look at moving as a good thing, a way for the Lord to continue to bless me with the provision I need. I must not look at moving as a negative experience or as punishment in any way. There are good places all over this country, places where there is good practical work to be done, and a full harvest waiting for men and women of God to work. I understand this now, and while I may miss my family or even feel as though I am leaving the harvest, I must remember that God has other workers who may be assigned to this particular field. He can choose where He wishes to send me to do His work, and I mustn't take the stance that I can tell Him where I want to serve (reap). Lastly, the Lord knows the intended outcome of my life, and He also knows the people that are waiting for me to reach them. If I stay here, I may leave many people un-reached, and without my willingness to go, these people may end up lost for all eternity. I know that seems harsh, and often contradicts with what some preachers teach -- to stay where you are, bloom where you are planted, etc. I would just say to remember that God called Abraham to go to Canaan and not to remain in Ur. Both places were filled with pagan people, both places worshiped foreign gods. God didn't say to Abraham to stay put, to work in Ur, but instead, He called Him to go to a new place where He would make Him a great nation. Sometimes the Lord calls us to stay put and do work right where we are, and other times, He clearly tells us to GO to a new place, a place where He intends to use us mightily.

As I think and process all of this today, I am reminded that the plans the Lord has for me are HIS PLANS. So often, I want my plans to come to pass. I want to do this thing or that, to live here or there, or to be this way or that way. I forget that He has called me for a specific purpose, and that purpose can only be fulfilled through surrender to His will, His way, and under the authority of His Word. I think I am like most people in that I want my way more than I want His way. I may say that I want His way, but my life generally wants comfort more than pain. Yes, I prefer high satisfaction and low pain. I think of it this way -- in life our choices usually will be classified by their quality and their degree. So for me, I prefer to do work, to live where I can experience the most satisfaction. I want things to be good, to feel good, to do good work. I am all about satisfaction, that feeling of being satisfied at the end of every day -- knowing I did my best, and my work was good. I also want to live my life free from pain. Yes, it is the pleasure-pain principle (so Freudian), and I desire to avoid pain at all costs. I don't want to do work that is painful or that produces pain for me. I would rather do something that brings me joy, happiness, comfort. I know, how selfish of me. Well, my flesh does try to rule, does try to get its own way at times. Thankfully, in a surrendered state, I realize that my flesh is so very weak, and that His strength, well, is so very strong!  My plans, my hopes, my dreams then are set according to my need for high satisfaction and low pain.

It took me a while to wrap my head around this, but today, it became more clear to me. I realized that the work the Lord has provided to me is good. It is His GOOD, and not mine. Let me explain...

I am teaching my students how to write a definitional essay and in that assignment they must define a contested term such as good. We ask ourselves all the time, "well, what do you mean by good?" Or we will say "what constitutes good?" In this way, we are asking for clarification of what a term represents. When we say that God is Good, we are really saying that He is the highest, best, and most supreme version of good possible. He is not the penultimate. He is not second to best, but only 100% BEST. This means that when I say that God has done something good, then I am stating that He has done His very best. There is no second best with God.

In this way, everything God does is good. It is perfectly good because He is perfectly good. There is no second, third, or less than good when it comes to God. Thus, if He has chosen this line of work for me, it is GOOD. If He chooses to move me, then that choice is GOOD. More so, if He chooses to permit me to have "less than" at this time in my life, then it is GOOD. As I think about this, I realize that I have been striving, seeking, and searching for the "thing" that I thought would provide the highest level of satisfaction to me, and that would produce the least amount of pain in my life. Teaching has been difficult for me because while it is satisfying, it also produces quite a bit of pain. I would say it is 50/50, moderate in satisfaction and pain. Therefore, one could say that it is not good because it is not 90/10 or even 80/20. It is 50/50 and that clearly is mediocre and not good. But, if I use God's standard and remember that everything He does, gives, permits is GOOD, then clearly teaching is good for me. It is His best for me.

The same is true for where I live and where I minister. Again, my mindset says that living in Phoenix produces little satisfaction and a lot of pain. Yes, it is miserable to still be in the low 100s so close to October, but there you have it. I do not like living here, and I have been vocal about it. However, for now, I am content to stay because this is where He has me. If I remember that everything God has given me is good, for my good, then I have to admit that it is good to live in Phoenix, at the least, for this present day. My teaching at ACU and GCU is good. Both provide 50/50 satisfaction and pain, and generally, living with my parents and son is a bonus. In fact, if I factored everything in, I would say that overall my satisfaction and pain are about 80/20 right now. Not too shabby in my own opinion.

Consequently, as I think about today and tomorrow, I realize that wherever the Lord leads me it will be Good, and it will be assessed based on His criteria, which are outlined in Scripture:

  • To bring me to maturity and stature
  • To bring me to eternity 
  • To conform me to His image, character and likeness (in every area)
  • To use me to build His Kingdom
God's goodness toward His creation is predicated on His will for His creation. What He does is GOOD and His choices as He intervenes and guides His children are always good. 

Thank you, Jesus, for your love, your mercy, and your goodness. I rest in your sufficiency, and I accept your determination that my life is good. Thank you for showering me with blessing, and for providing for me. I ask now that you will continue to show me how to grow up in your Name, and how to live my life in relation to this truth -- that you are GOOD -- always good to me.

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