December 7, 2015

Amazing Love

It is a blessed Monday here in sunny and somewhat chilly Phoenix. I woke up feeling less than refreshed, even though I slept soundly until my alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. I have a slight headache, sinus mostly, and that is causing me to feel less than perky today. The good news is that I am home, at least for a couple hours, and with the help of some Advil and Sudafed, should be feeling better very soon. I am on my second cup of coffee, which never hurts, so I think I just need to wait this out until the pain and pressure subsides.

As I sit here today, I am thinking about several things. In fact, I would say that my mind is full of content today, mostly the emotional and deeply personal kind. I have been thinking about my feelings, my emotional well-being, and the fact that today, well, I just feel oppressed. Yes, once again, I feel the hard hit of the enemy as he attempts to assail me with accusations and guilt. I am standing firm, placing my faith and my trust in the Lord, but still his assault hits me hard. I guess it is partly because I am tired, and partly because I do feel unwell right now. My enemy knows when to hit me, and it always seems to coincide when I am down, really down and out.

Still, my hope rests securely in my Lord and Savior. I am free today, set free by His marvelous grace and His deep, deep love. I am free to live my life fully surrendered to Him, and in exchange He has made His home in me, within me. I love the Lord more than I can articulate some days, and when I am low, really low and feeling down, well that is when I try to turn my mind back toward Him. I focus on His love, His mercy, and His grace, and I remember just how much my Father in Heaven loves me. He has called me His child, and in that name recognition, I am able to see the truth. The reality is that the Lord is my Heavenly Father, and in remembering that fact, I am able to see, to know and to comprehend, that I am safe, secure, and settled in His comfort and His care. He is good to me, so very good to me.

Seeking to Know the Truth

I am a truth-seeker. I have always wanted to know the truth, and as such, I have spent most of my life actively seeking truth. I think this is one of the reasons why I am a doctoral student today. I love to discover truth, regardless of the subject -- be it Literature, Communication or Theology -- I love the process of truth-seeking. I love learning new things, and I enjoy trying to understand very difficult concepts, abstract thought, and hidden meaning. I love philosophy, in particular, and I love ancient studies in logic and rhetoric. I don't know when this "love" started for me, but I believe I have been wired this way from birth. I mean, I don't remember any time when I didn't need to know truth.

As a child, I wanted to learn how things worked, why things worked, really, and I was very hands-on, always trying things out, experiencing them, in order to understand the subtle nuances of their composition, their make up, and their function. I am the same way today, I am constantly looking at ways to improve my life, my situation, my process. For example, I want to figure out how to teach, how to become a better teacher, how to use curriculum more effectively so that I see greater improvement in my student's abilities. In addition to teaching, I want to learn how to write better papers, to become a more productive and proficient scholar, researcher and writer. In all of this, my aim is directed in one way, and that is to improve my approach, my understanding, and my knowledge of a particular THING, be it a discipline as in teaching or an applied process as in writing research papers. My goal, therefore, is on improvement. I want to be the best I can be, and for me that means, to study, to undertake a systematic and thorough approach to the discipline. I must learn everything there is to learn about the subject at hand, and then through practice and application, I learn proficiency. My outcome is to be both a subject matter expert AND a master performer.

I run into problems, though, when I lose sight of the purpose for my efforts. When I focus my efforts solely on improvement for self-gain or for self-promotion, well, then I find that I am not able to accomplish anything at all. But, when I keep my focus on learning how to adapt myself to the Lord's will, in gaining knowledge that is useful to Him and to His work, well, then I am able to accomplish much, far more than I believed possible.

A case in point is my current doctoral study. I believed in my own abilities to go to graduate school. In truth, I did have confidence in my abilities to do this level of study, but I knew that my confidence would only get me so far, my foot in the door, so to speak. Longevity in doctoral program is key, thus, one has to have the skills to go along with that confidence to be successful at this level. The program is taxing, draining, and so difficult at times, that the urge to give up becomes a regular thought. It is vital to have skills, honed skills, to be able to stay the course, to not give up, to see the program through to the end.

I am blessed in that I believe going to graduate school is the Lord's will for my life. I have recognized throughout this process that He has helped me, gave me that push, the encouragement, and the dedication I needed to stay the course. Without His help, I would have never made it this far, of this I am sure, of this I am sure. He has seen me through to this phase, and now I am ready to embark on phase II (exams), and I know He will take me by the hand and lead me to the finish line (graduation). He is good, so very good to me.

How then do I navigate this need for improvement with His calling on my life? How do I make sense of all that I am feeling today, the questions and concerns that I have regarding my next steps? How do I know that what I think He wants me to do next is really His plan for me?

Sigh. It seems like I can never get off this mouse wheel. I am always questioning, wondering, thinking and ponder IF this feeling, this sensation, is really the Lord's will for my life.

Knowing the truth. Or the need to know, I guess, becomes my divining rod, so to speak. I seek truth, and as a truth seeker, I believe that "all truth is God's truth" (Giesler & Fineberg). Therefore, I follow the path of truth, which is the word of the Lord, the written Scriptures that have been handed down to us for our guidance and edification. Of course, often what we are seeking to know is not contained in Scripture. For example, there is no passage of Scripture that tells me what I should be doing "next" as soon as I complete my PhD program. No, the Old and New Testament writers, as prophetic as they were, didn't glean any insight for this modern woman. Yet, there is Scripture that can be used as a plumb-line, a guide really, to help me know whether what I seek aligns with the Lord's will for my life or with His overarching Kingdom will for His creation.

Thus, as I struggle to come to terms with these questions, to know the truth, one thing must always be first and foremost as criteria: is this action, thought or deed within the Lord's will for His children (His kingdom calling) or with the Lord's specific and expressed will for my life?

If the answer is yes to one or both of these questions, then more than likely the feeling or sensation I have is from the Lord. I will still pray about these feelings, asking the Lord to confirm to me fully His will, and I will still search the Scriptures and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the Father's will regarding this matter. In this way, I will wait patiently for the Lord to make His will known to me. I will seek His kingdom first always (Matt. 6:33), and I will allow "all the rest of these things" to be added or taken care of in His perfect will and time. He is good, so very good to me.

You might be asking me, "So what are you thinking about? What has boggled your mind so much that you are wondering if you are sensing the Lord's will correctly?" Great question! I don't really have an answer because right now, what I feel, well they are just impressions, feelings really, that are not congealed into one cohesive thought or idea. Just bits and pieces, really, but the feeling that is attached to them is very strong, and that leads me to believe that the Lord desires that I think about them, and even perhaps, do something with them. Hmmm.

How Do You Know Anything is True

This is the million dollar question and scholars, researchers, philosophers, theologians, have all wrestled with this bit about "knowing" for centuries. How do we know what it is we believe? How do we know what we believe is true or is the truth? In this modern era, so many people no longer believe in ultimate or universal truth. They believe in relativism, that truth is relative to the individual, the culture, the time period, but that there is no such thing as absolute truth, divine truth or a universal system of truth. In short, they do not believe that all truth is God's truth, and as such, they do not believe that there is a God at all.

My heart and my mind explode at that thought because I believe what I know to be true is so because the God who created me, divinely inspired the writers of the Old and New Testament to write down His truth. This truth has been passed down for generations, and it came to me through revelation, through hearing the word preached and through reading the Scriptures. I had spiritual help, of course, the inner working of the Holy Spirit as He illuminated the word, and gave me understanding. It was through this process, hearing and reading, studying really, that His truth became known to me.

What is more so is that this truth, His word, and the revelation of His word has been borne out to me as I listen, I learn, and I let the experiences of generations as individuals, just like me, share the same vision, the same story, the same illumination. This process of witnessing has convinced me that what I believe as true for my life, is in turn, the same truth I see experienced and lived out in another person's life. I see the experience, the testimony of these people, and with that I believe what that the Word of God says to me, that the Holy Spirit will bear witness to me (John 15:26), and that He will convince me that what I believe, I see, I feel, and I hear in relation to God, His word, and His Son, Jesus Christ, is true.

Perhaps the reason why I want to know the truth so badly is not so much to convince myself of the truth of God's word or the truth of Jesus' divinity and lordship, but rather it is to know and to understand how God's word functions, illuminates, and advocates within the heart and mind of the individual believer. How does God's word transmit truth to us? How do we receive, acknowledge, and understand this truth? How does this truth shape, influence, and inform our attitudes, beliefs, opinions, and behaviors?

My mind is positioned as a scholar right now, and as a scholar, I desire to know how language, Biblical language, functions to communicate truth. Yes, I desire to know how God uses human language, thought, meaning, etc. in order to communicate His truth. And as a result of that communication, how does the knowledge we receive, enable us to live out our faith. This is what I want to know today. This is what I need to know today. Why, you ask? Well, I believe this knowledge is crucial to understanding how we can communicate our faith more effectively to a generation that no longer accepts the idea of universal truth. I want to be more effective personally as a teacher and writer, but I also want to help others to understand what they must do differently so that they too can be effective ministers of the blessed Gospel of Jesus Christ.

You might be saying, "Carol, isn't the Gospel powerful enough to transform lives without you analyzing how the message is communicated?" I would agree heartily with that remark, and I would say that the Apostle Paul said the same thing in Romans 1:16,
For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes--the Jew first and also the Gentile.
However, our world no longer believes in truth as the ancient world did. You see, in pagan times (ancient cultures) the average individual accepted the idea of an all-powerful god or God. Moreover, they culturally accepted that there was good and evil in the world. Thus, while they may not have believed in the same god, they understood at the outset in the idea of a god. This meant that there was shared understanding, it was a shared starting point, where the writers of the New Testament found ground.

As we have moved from antiquity to modernity, what has changed the most and is most significant to current efforts to evangelize the world is that fact that the majority of people in the Western world no longer share this assumption. In fact, they reject it out of hand. Therefore, modern evangelists who assume that the world will understand their message, are often disappointed at the lack of response they receive when sharing or witnessing to nonbelievers. The Word tells us that it is the presentation of the gospel (the message) that will reach hearts and will transform individuals with God's love. But what happens most often is that the person sharing the good news (the messenger) is rejected before he or she even gets a chance to open their mouth to speak God's words in love. It is easy to say "Well, isn't this how it is supposed to be? Isn't the messenger always rejected, abused or treated with hostility?" I would say, yes and no. Keep in mind that God uses people to share His word, His message, and since He relies on people, this means that the messenger is just as important to the success of the message as the message.

In communication, both the sender and the receiver play an important role in communicating success of the message. It is the responsibility of the sender to send the message in a way that it can be understood by the receiver. The message must be encoded in such a way that a shared understanding occurs, that a mutually beneficial environment is created that promotes this shared understanding. Thus, how he messenger shapes his or her message so that it will not be rejected out of hand becomes paramount to the success of the message.

Keep in mind that the message itself, the good news, has the power to transform lives. It is the communicators responsibility to send the message out in the best possible way to create that shared community of understanding. Think of it like a man who plants a vineyard. The vinedresser wants the best crop, thus he takes care of how he plants his seed. He cultivates the environment of his vineyard, and in doing so, he gives his plants the very best chance for good growth and productivity. If the vinedresser simply scattered his seed out among thorny ground, untilled and uncultivated land, what would the likelihood be that he would have success come harvest time?

I know that for some people out there, they simply do not believe that the message needs any help from the messenger. They feel that it is the "power of God unto salvation," and that the messenger simply needs to shout the message out, and hope to hit a target with the message and then let the message do its work. The problem with this drive-by shooting approach is that the shooter has no interest in transmitting God's love. He is simply interested in shooting his words out to an unsuspecting and unprepared audience. It is akin to a man yelling in the middle of a crowded mall, hoping that someone will stop and listen to him. Sure, some people will stop and stare, but very few will stop and actually listen (or heed) what this man is saying. Most will walk on by, and most will assume that the man is crazy. Plus, with the din of the crowd, the man shouting is often drowned out or ignored. Furthermore, every good communicator understands that where there is no personal investment, no audience connection, there will be little to no shared understanding.

What Must Be Done

I believe we must communicate God's truth in love, and that means that we must learn how to communicate effectively using the tools, techniques, and talents the Lord has given to us. We must understand how to communicate, first and foremost, and then we must learn to craft a good message. We must create shared community, mutual understanding so that the message can be welcomed and received. This takes place in several ways, but shouting into crowds and drive-by shootings do not work. We must stop doing this behavior. We must change the way we speak. We must adapt to the culture around us. We must use the tools the Lord has given to us. We must speak His word in love. We must create a community environment where there is shared understanding so that we can talk with one another (rather than shouting or hitting one another). The time has come to change our ways, to change the way we speak, and to communicate the gospel message with love.

I am convinced of this as truth, and while I struggle with how to do the thing the Lord has called me to do, I feel that this is what He wants me to do next. I am to figure out, through study and application, how to train messengers in new ways to deliver the message for greater effectiveness. I don't have a plan of action, a manual to follow, or even a new-fangled approach. I only know that this is bothering the Lord, and that He has chosen for me to figure this out. I am sure He has other people out there working on this same problem, but at the least, He has called me to think about it, to ponder it, and to study ways to improve our communication effectiveness in order to share our faith to a hopelessly lost and dying world. Selah!

My prayer today is for the Lord to reveal His will to me, and for the Lord to show me what to do next. Perhaps this is why I feel that He is asking me to study rhetoric now that I am almost finished studying communication history and theory. Perhaps this is His plan, the reason why I was to go to graduate school now as a 50-something rather than to attempt it earlier in my life as a 20-something. Yes, the person I am today is vastly different than the person I was then, and what is more, the faith I have today is far greater, far more complex, and far more respondent to and dependent upon my relationship with the Lord. In short, I am ready now to do this important Kindgom-building work. I am convinced. I am excited. I am eager, and I am ready. Lord, have your way in me this good day. Amen, selah!

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