December 9, 2015

Finding Purpose

Today is a good day to be alive even though I am feeling the wince of pain as I read about the heightened political rhetoric being bantered back and forth regarding Islam and those that practice the radical form of it. My mistake - I was reading social media before sitting down to write today -- and well, my heart is saddened and heavy over what I am seeing, hearing, and feeling right now.

It really started yesterday after I read a blog post from a woman who was a child in Austria during the early days before WWII. Her story (I am not sure it is true, but I will assume it is), is shocking to read. She clearly tells her story, horrific as it was, but cogent enough to demonstrate how the current events of our time are aligning with what happened almost 100 years ago in Northern Europe.

So while I am not going to take a stance one way or another because this is not the purpose of my blog, what I am going to say is that I believe what this woman said, and what I am seeing now does look eerily similar to what the world saw way back in 1933 when Hitler first rose to power in Germany. There are too many similarities right now to not see the future for America and the world as fragile and frightening volatile. I see our political system as broken, with the right so far to the extreme that they are issuing threats and ultimatums that smack of fanaticism and the left so out of touch with reality that they are championing socialism, fascism, and communism as our only hope. Then there is the middle ground, filled with those who are fence sitters, individuals (many Christian) unwilling to take a side, yet who openly embrace the mild mannerisms of secular humanism. These people are fueled by a dispassionate like for either side, but who are ineffectual because of their muddled thinking and impassive action.

I was praying over this today, and the words of John in the Book of Revelation, chapters 2-3 came flooding back to my mind. If you recall these are the chapters where he spoke about the seven literal churches and prophesied about the characteristics of individuals and churches in the future (our future).

The characteristics of the seven churches are stated as:

(1) Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7) - the church that had forsaken its first love (2:4).

(2) Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) - the church that would suffer persecution (2:10).

(3) Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17) - the church that needed to repent (2:16).

(4) Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29) - the church that had a false prophetess (2:20).

(5) Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6) - the church that had fallen asleep (3:2).

(6) Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13) - the church that had endured patiently (3:10).

(7) Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22) - the church with the lukewarm faith (3:16).

Many churches today, whole denominations in fact are represented as one of these "types" of church bodies. Furthermore, many individual believers are living their lives as testimony to the characteristics John talked about and warned against. May we come to understand that we must be like the Philadelphians -- be resilient unto the end! Selah! Come, Lord Jesus!

What got my mind started down this path again today was another Facebook post. As I was scrolling through my feed, I saw a post that a family friend had "liked." This post was put out by the United Church of Christ. This friend is fairly liberal, but still, I know he is a devout believer. Yet, my heart sank as I read that he "liked" what this statement said. I wasn't surprised by the position the UCC was advocating because I know they are a very liberal thread of Christianity. But, what concerned me most (as I read the comments attached to the original post) was how many professing "christians" seemed to agree with what they were saying. The UCC was, in effect, calling for a full embrace of Islam suggesting that it was "Christian-like" to do so. They warned that religious intolerance would backfire, so it was best to embrace other religions in a show of "ecumenicalism". In short, they were saying that if we do not embrace other people's religion as equal to our own, and that if we do not accept and behave tolerantly to these views, beliefs, and assumptions, then we will find that our own religion will be treated the same way some day soon. They were, in essence, arguing that by "playing nice" we will all win. Sigh.

The issue I have is that I do understand their point. I do not advocate dominionism at all, in fact, I don't believe that this is Biblical, per se.  I do believe that the great commission is to go into the world and evangelize with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but I do not believe Christians are called to take the world by force, to do what we see happening in the Middle East. No, I believe that the call of Christ is personal, and therefore, while salvation is freely extended to all people, it is a choice, a response to the Holy Spirit of God. Not all people will come to faith in Jesus Christ.

What is more, in our current political vacuum, right now all people of faith are under the gun, and they are virtually "lined up" within the gun sights of extremism, liberalism, and atheism. However, as Christian's we are not called to embrace other people's religious beliefs as though they are equal to our own (different views, different versions = all the same under one God). This is pluralism, and while I am not going to bash another person for what they believe nor am I going to persecute them because they believe differently than I do, I am also not going to say that their religion is just as valid as mine is because I believe that my religion, my belief in the One true God trumps all others. My system of belief holds out life, the assurance and security of blessedness, and the transformational power through Jesus' atoning death that brings a right relationship with God.

The problem, as I see it, is that our culture has become so polarized that it is impossible to have an opposing view. If you do not side with the majority, you are singled out as being an extremist. This is a perfect example of E. Noelle Neumann's Spiral of Silence Theory that suggests that minority voices are silenced out of fear of the majority voice. We are seeing this happen today, right in front of our very eyes. If you come out and say that you are a Christian, you are labeled as an extremist, fundamentalist, and radicalized "potential" terrorist. Christians are treated as though they are just as dangerous as individuals who blow up clinics, gun down bystanders, and who are anti-anything that isn't serving their own purpose or agenda.

Of course, we know that this is not true. There are millions of Christians throughout the world who are law-abiding citizens, who engage in supportive and caring work feeding the poor, sheltering the homeless, taking care of the widow and orphan. But, these people are marginalized and castigated as no better or no worse then our real enemy, ISIS, and other groups who have a vile hatred for Christians and Jews, alike.

The muddiness occurs when there is no longer logical thinking to guide rational minds and hearts to seek the truth, to stand for the truth, and to champion causes that support truth. I am shocked, dismayed, and utterly disappointed when my brother's and sister's in Christ defame people on the basis of their gender, race or creed. The Bible is very clear that we are not to behave the way the world behaves, that we are to be the peace makers because we carry the message of hope and of peace within us. Yet, our rhetoric (collectively) ignites and fuels controversy and leads to a break down in communication between individuals, families, and communities.

I am reminded of the words spoken by Paul to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3 that state,
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.  For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes’s and Jambres’s folly was also.
And in verses 10-17, we are encouraged to stand fast:
Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me! Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
There are many in the church who believe we are in the last days, that what we are seeing played out over mass media and new media is a demonstration of what was foretold in Scripture. It is a scary thought, very scary, to think that our world is spiraling downward, and that the next five or ten years could see a change that none of us ever imagined possible (our parents and grandparents did -- they lived through it once -- and now for those who are still alive, they see it happening again).

It is odd in a way how I see this happening, see the hatred, the vileness of the world around me. Yet, Scripture is clear when it says to not be deceived by what is going on. This is the end, we are witnessing the end times. Pray for peace. Pray for our world, and pray for the Word to go forth to light and illuminate the eyes of those who walk in darkness. Selah! Come, Lord Jesus!

This morning, while I was over at GCU, I had several lovely encounters with my early morning class. This is "technically" my last day teaching. The very last day is Friday, but I have nothing for my students to do so we are ending a day early. I am a little sad about that fact, but it made sense when I thought about it, and well, here we are today and so be it.

One of my students came up to me after class to ask me a question about communication and missions. She feels God may be calling her to work in missions some day, and she wants to be involved in communication. I had talked with her at the beginning of the semester, so she wanted to ask me a bit more about it today. The funny thing is that just yesterday, I prayed and asked the Lord to confirm my calling, my purpose, and well, I guess He did that today.

You see, this young gal is studying digital arts with the hope of using her skill as an artist in communication. I wanted to encourage her so I have helped her see how she might be employed after she graduates. Today, she asked me to help her explain what she wants to do. She is struggling to say what she thinks God is calling her to do, so she asked me to clarify it for her. I think it is funny how God does this sort of thing. I walked her through what I saw as the new and exciting opportunities that exist for individuals in communication, especially those that want to take their communication training and use it for ministry. As I was explaining this to her, I thought "This is what I am going to do." The words I spoke were framed from my perspective, but she understood what I was saying. I provided possibilities for entry level positions all the way up to researchers and scholars. In this way, she was able to see how important this work is, and how necessary it is for the church going forward. She thanked me for helping her to see how she could tell other people about what she wants to do, and I thanked her for being so willing to let God use her in this way. In the end, we both walked away feeling more confirmed in our calling and in our purpose.

Finding My Purpose

Today, I realize that this is my calling. I understand exactly what I am to do. I don't have all the details on "how" I will do it, but I am convinced that this is the work the Lord intends for me to do soon. In fact, I would say that I believe the Lord intends for me to do this work shortly, like within the next 6-7 months. I am excited to think about it, and I am praying for the resources I need to do this work. He has this planned out, so I am resting in the knowledge that He will lead me and guide me to do this work for His Name and His praise. He is good, so very good to me.

It is amazing to me, really, to think that just two months ago I felt so confused, so confounded, and so completely overwhelmed with the decision whether to stay in teaching or work in communication. I am so happy that I settled in this path. I mean, I am so content. It is like all the worry has just disappeared. I don't have answers -- there is no full-time job just yet -- but I am not worried about it. I just "know" that this is the right way, the way for me to go, and I know that I am doing exactly what the Lord wants me to do. This is so exhilarating for me. I mean, I am convinced, utterly and completely convinced that I am doing the right thing, walking in the right way, and that the blessing of His hand is falling down upon me. Selah!

As I think about my purpose, I know that it is a combination purpose. I am to teach college students English Composition (and perhaps some communication), and I am to work in communication as a ministry. I will do practical work, teaching, and ministry work, communications. I will do both, and through my combined efforts, the Lord's will is accomplished. My education at Mercy was for work. My education at Regent was/is for ministry. Any further education I do now will be for ministry as well. I don't need any more education for practical work. I have everything I need to teach college courses. My PhD, of course, will look good on a resume, but the content, the courses, and the research has been 100% ministry related. I have been blessed in this path, and now that I am almost finished, I am so excited to put to good use everything I have learned about communication and communicating faith more effectively. I am stoked, as they say, and I cannot wait to see what the Lord has planned for me next.

So today has been a good day so far. I have to travel back to GCU for my remaining two classes, but then, Praise God, I am off for three weeks. I cannot wait to have the time off. I have a lot to accomplish in a short amount of time, but I know the Lord will see to it. He is good, so very good to me.

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