January 3, 2016

Happy Sunday!

Today is the day the Lord has made! I will rejoice and be glad it in! Yes, today, is January 3, and it is the last Sunday before the new semester starts. I am home today, still struggling to overcome a tummy bug that I picked up on Thursday. I am not sure what it is, but it seems to come and go, and mostly just causes me a lot of distress and pain. Still, I am thankful for my home, my lovely home that is filled with peace and quiet this morning. I am able to sit here, think quite a bit, and just relax.

It is a good day to think about the Lord, to focus my attention on Him, and to give Him all the praise, the honor, and the glory this good, good day. It is also a day to rest. I need to rest; I need deep prolonged and significant rest in order to face what is coming my way. Yet, I know that this rest I seek, the rest I so desperately need, will not come to me until I am with Him forever. Until that time, the Lord graciously grants to me periods of rest (nightly, weekly, and throughout the season) so that I can find times to recharge my batteries, so to speak.

One thing I have noticed is that as I get older, the harder it becomes for me to rest, to truly rest. I am exhausted, strained, and stressed right now, and while my heart is content, completely at peace, my body seems to be saying, "I cannot go on, I cannot go much further." I know I must, and I know that when I find that I am physically unable to take one more step, my Lord is the One who carries me through to the next resting spot. Today is such a day. I have more to do that I can possible get done, and I am feeling unwell and physically weak. I want to rest, yet, I must go on. I pray today that the Lord will cover me in His sweet peace, and grant me His kind strength so that I can accomplish what He has in mind for me. I ask it of Him now, especially as I feel so drained of all energy. I need His hand to touch my life, to heal my infirmities, and to provide a way for me to complete the tasks He has assigned to me to do. I pray this today, I look up and wait, and I rest, I rest in His sufficiency and in His abilities this good, good day. Selah!
Considering My Way

As I consider my life this good day, and I think about all the things He has in store for me (long-term plans and such), I am reminded that the path I am on is of His doing. Yes, I made the choice to become a teacher, and I am thankful for the experience thus far, but without a doubt, this path was purposed and planned because it produced character qualities and skills and abilities that He needed me to develop and hone so that I could do His work. Now that I am about to sit and pass my exams, I am thinking about my long-term goals, where I would like to see myself, and how I would like to spend my remaining years (work-wise). I am very, very content to remain in higher education. It seemed that for a long time, I wasn't ready to settle on this path. For a very long time, I felt uncomfortable in my abilities to teach and to teach well. Now, though, I am content to know that I am a very good teacher. I am happy in this path, but still I struggle with meeting my weekly and monthly needs. The Lord provides enough, don't get me wrong, but long-term stability is an issue and concern for me. I am trusting in Him always, yet there is part of me that thinks perhaps the time has come to choose another way. I don't want to cycle down into despair as I did earlier in the fall, no, not at all. What I am just saying is this -- it seems like the timing is good for me to make a change. Let me explain...

Since 2009, I have been on a quest to find a "career" for myself. As a single person, an older single person, I knew that I needed to find a solid career to keep me in good stead over the course of my remaining work years. I found myself single at the age of 47, and with that number in mind, I allocated a good 20 years to working toward retirement. Now, of course, I think I won't retire at all, but even if I am matriculated out, I think I will make it to 70 years before that happens. It is 2016, and that means that I now have 17 years left to work and to make enough money so that I can retire comfortably. This path that I am on at present is good, but it will not earn enough income for me over the course of that 17 years to really provide well for my later years. Thus, I have struggled to come to terms with the fact that I have such little time to earn a lot of money.

Now, putting the money aside for a moment, I am also concerned about the quality of work, and about the way in which I walk. I want to make sure that everything I do conforms to the Lord's will for my life, and that means, that I must make sure that the work I do (practical job) doesn't conflict in any way, shape or form with His expressed and specific will for my life. Therefore, any options for work must be ones that the Lord Himself has placed on my heart and mind. This is not the time to go willy-nilly out and about to "test" out careers. In fact, I did that for the first couple years. I worked at UOPX and CVS, all in an attempt to find that "good fit" that would sustain me through my golden years of work. Neither of these industries suited my skills and abilities, even though both seemed like they aligned with the Lord's will during those years.

In 2013, I made a sharp turn into higher education and into teaching in order to "test it out." I wanted to be sure that teaching was not a good fit for me and that it wouldn't prove a viable option long term. What I learned was that teaching was a partial good fit. It provided a great way for me to work on my doctoral studies and enjoy blessed rest through out the year. Furthermore, it kept me focused on my studies, and I was able to enjoy the process of being a student and teaching students for three wonderful years. What I did learn, though, has been difficult, and that is that the road into teaching is paved with high standards of excellence in scholarship and in academic success. Thus, the chance of becoming a full-time tenure professor is a challenge, especially to those who enter the game very late in the fourth quarter. It is not impossible, not with God, I mean, but in practical terms the likelihood that a job will be produced is slim. In short, it is more difficult given the parameters of my life -- where I live, my parents need of long-term support and care, etc.

With the turn into 2016, I am starting to see options that didn't exist for me before now. It is not that I didn't consider shifting back into business, because I did; several times in fact. In truth, I have considered it a number of times, and I have looked at it up one side and down the other. But, I never could quite get myself to the point where I felt it was the right way to go, at the least, not then. I think part of the problem was that I was still in student mode. I mean, I was still finishing my classes, and I was immersed in teaching multiple classes. I am ready now, more ready than before (let's just say), and by that I mean, that I am ready to consider doing any type of work that will:
  • Supply my financial needs
  • Build my retirement
  • Provide for my family
  • Give me a good future with successful outcomes
  • Deliver a challenge to me (week in and out)
  • Offer me flexibility so that I can come and go as I please
As I think about teaching today, the big draw for me has been the time off. I know, not the best reason to choose a career by any means, but for me, rest is a big deal. I love the schedule of teaching, I love having time off. What I don't love is the lack of income, especially as adjunct, and the long and very dry summer months without any money coming in.

Last night as I drifted off to sleep, I prayed to the Lord. I asked the Lord to help me know what to do. I mean, I have good work through April, but then comes that long and very dry summer of parched resources, and while I am confident that He will provide, there is part of me that sees the necessity of working full-time. I see it, it is plausible and rational, and really, any one would agree -- it is the right thing to do. The timing is good to move into a full-time position.

I have sought full-time teaching positions before and even applied for a few. Nothing has materialized yet, so I have been looking crosswise, at other options, even working multiple jobs for a time. I am okay with that, but my logical and rational brain doesn't see that as a smart investment over the long haul. No, I need to do something soon, and I need to remember my ticking time line. I need to work and earn as much income as I can in less than 20 years. That is, if I want to live comfortably through my later years (which I do). I see first hand what the strain of fixed income looks like as I consider my parents needs. While they both receive social security, and they have a decent medicare plan, they pinch every penny, and often go without simply to keep from going in the red each month. This causes excessive pain on my Dad, who worked without ceasing during his career as an Engineer just to avoid this sort of thing from happening to them. The downturn economy took its toll as did some unwise financial planners who advised them incorrectly, and what they have left, well is all they have left. I don't want to be in that position, and I know that I can only do what the Lord has for me to do -- so really -- all of this worry and concern is for naught. The Lord WILL PROVIDE for me. I just want to make sure that every day is spent doing the "best" thing rather than something, that while good, isn't really producing optimally for my life and my needs.

The Parable of the Talents

I am reminded of the parable of the talents this morning as I consider what I feel the Lord is placing on my heart and mind. If you recall the story from both Matthew 25:14-30 and Luke 19:12-28, then you will remember that it is a story about wise stewardship, and about faithfulness in using one's gifts and talents for the Lord's work.

A brief summary of the parable reads as follows,

"In both Matthew and Luke, a master puts his servants in charge of his goods while he is away on a trip. Upon his return, the master assesses the stewardship of his servants. He evaluates them according to how faithful each was in making wise investments of his goods to obtain a profit. It is clear that the master sought some profit from the servants’ oversight. A gain indicated faithfulness on the part of the servants. The master rewards his servants according to how each has handled his stewardship. He judges two servants as having been “faithful” and gives them a positive reward. To the single unfaithful servant who 'played it safe,' a negative compensation is given" (Wikipedia).

There are many different interpretations of this story, but I think most scholars agree that Jesus was addressing both the people gathered around Him and the church leaders who were standing from afar. The theme of the story is stewardship, which is an "ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources" (Wikipedia). The actual definition from Merriam-Webster says stewardship is "the activity or job of protecting and being responsible for something." In longer form, stewardship refers to "the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially, the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care."

Thus, stewardship is the responsible care for the things that God has entrusted to us. This includes not only ourselves and our families, but the church, and the natural world (the environment). We are called to be good stewards of what God has given to us. Peter says it this way in 1 Peter 4:10 NASB, "As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." Therefore, as we consider the parable of the talents in the Gospels, we see that as Christian's God expects us to be responsible for the things He has entrusted to our care. This covers every area of our life, so not just the spiritual stewards of the grace gifts given to us, but the physical care of our world, including but not limited to our closest possessions (our homes, our families, and the local church body).

Sometimes Christians view stewardship in very narrow terms, and they focus on the Old Testament practice and command of giving a tithe to support the work of the church. They extend this command to supporting the New Testament Church, and in doing so, they focus stewardship efforts solely to the giving and receiving of tithes, but also to the act of service and ministry inside and outside the church. I agree with this in part because I do believe it is the right and responsibility of every believer to support their local congregation, to help pay for the costs to keep the lights on and the Pastor's family fed. However, some churches mandate a tithe and they do not consider the role or the responsibility of each believer in using wisdom to manage their own affairs.

I like the way that the Episcopal Church addresses stewardship. They write,

"Stewardship is about being grateful, responsible stewards of the gifts we receive from God. The tradition of giving back to God and to the church comes from the Biblical practice of “tithing,” which means to give back a tenth of our earnings to God (Numbers 18:26). The Episcopal Church sees stewardship as more than simply contributing money to the church; it’s also about contributing time and talents, and volunteering for ministry and mission. It’s about reaching out to build relationships from a perspective of abundance instead of scarcity" (episcopal.org).

If stewardship is about being grateful and giving back to God with all our abilities, then the story in Matthew is on point. In it, we see the wise steward as the one who invests the gifts given by the Master, and who when the Master returns, is rewarded positively. The investment is subject to interpretation, and thus, is left to the individual to determine the best course of action. The Master is not demanding that the servant invest in a certain way, and in fact, you never read that the servant was required to invest the talent given specifically, just that each was given a talent according to his abilities.

Verse 15 says, "To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey". Verses 16-17 tell what each steward did with the talent given. The first one we are told, traded his talent (did business with it), and gained back double his initial investment. The second did likewise, and doubled his investment. The third, put his in the bank, so to speak, and sat on it. He put it safely away, but didn't take any risk with it, thus when the Master returned, he received no reward for his service.

As I think about this parable, one thing come to mind. We are to use our talents (our abilities) in service to the Lord. Now, for some, they will say that this means that we are to use our talents for ministry only, for the Lord's work, but if we believe that all our work, both practical and ministry, is for the Lord, then we are to be actively using all our gifts, our talents, and our abilities to faithfully care for the responsibilities that God has entrusted to us (1 Cor. 10:31,Col. 3:23-24).

Gifts Has God Given to Me

First off, it is important to consider what the word, talent, means. Merriam-Webster simply defines talent as "a special ability that allows someone to do something well". I like this definition because I think it draws us into the idea that a talent is some special gift that is uniquely assigned to individuals by God. My son has great musical talent. His gift of music is uniquely expressed through his ability to compose arrangements, transcribe music he hears, and manipulate and perform well on many different instruments. He uses his talent to serve the Lord, but also to earn income for himself (part-time) as he performs with others for corporate events or special events.

The longer definition clarifies what a talent is when it defines it as, "a characteristic feature, aptitude, or disposition of a person or animal; the natural endowments of a person, and as a special often athletic, creative, or artistic aptitude." Clearly, we see that talent bridges all disciplines and while we typically think of talent as athletic aptitude or like in the case of my son, musical ability, the word itself con-notates no such small delineation. Talent, in fact, covers a wide range of abilities -- everything -- from physical skill such as building and crafting to logical skill in mathematics, accounting or business.

God has given His children a wide range of skill and ability in order to serve Him and the Church. He has also given them these abilities so that they can provide for their families and for those who have need in their local community. God has generously given gifts based on need and desire as well as want and supply. He is a good Master who knows how to manage a team well! Selah!

My gifts range from intellectual to artistic. 
  • I happen to be an artist, though no longer a practiced and seasoned one. I studied my craft for many years, and I became very proficient at producing good quality art (commercial and graphic). I used this skill in business for many years, and I lived off my abilities to produce artwork (graphic and web design) for businesses in my area. 
  • I also have excellently honed administrative skill. I have used my administrative skill in business and in ministry. In business, I worked for many years in administrative roles. I used my skill to be efficient, to produce good work, and to help my company succeed in their industry. In ministry, I used my administrative skill to develop children's programs, to manage people and resources, and to produce weekly opportunities for children to come to church to hear the Word of God. 
  • I have teaching and preaching ability, though I don't preach professionally or in ministry. I do teach, however, and in and through teaching I use my gift of exhortation to encourage, to mentor, to engage, and to instruct my students in the fundamentals of composition and communication.
  • I have intellectual abilities in order to study and to achieve higher education (degrees and such). I am not book-smart, per se, but I do have the ability to obtain and retain knowledge that serves me well in my studies, my scholarship, and in opportunities for research.
My work life has been varied. I have held positions in sales, marketing, IT, and higher education. I am a capable worker, smart and savvy when it comes to business, and a good producer of work (volumes). I am also a strategic thinker, someone who is very good at analysis, observation, and problem resolution. In all, God has graced me with gifts that while are spiritual in nature, often have a very practical application. In this way, while I don't perform music like my son (leading the worship team at church, for example), I do use my gifts in practical ways as part of my profession and when I am serving in ministry.

Making Use of My Many Gifts

Today, as I think about my life, and about the plans the Lord has for me, I can see clearly how He has used both my work and my ministry experience to train and to equip me for the work I do today. I know that as I move forward in His will, and I begin to take steps towards His expressed plan for my life (ministry related), my continued progression toward gift-fluency, toward living a life of gift-service will come to pass. My heart is committed to this goal, to becoming enmeshed in a life of service where by regardless of what I do, the work that is, always is focused on bringing the Lord honor, praise, and glory.

Thus, I want to agree with the Apostle Paul when he exhorts us, "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31 NASB). Yes, Lord, may it be so, may it be so!

How then can I use my gifts, talents and abilities for both work (practical) and ministry? 

I think the best way for me is to realize that all my work is directed toward serving God and serving others. Thus, whether I work in business or I teach students, the work I do is predicated on this mandate -- serve God, serve others. In doing so, keeping this attitude, I am released of the need to find a perfect job because all jobs are good. It is not the job that matters, but the attitude and heart toward serving in them that means the most to God. Therefore, I work unto the Lord regardless of whether I teach or I preach. However, I do know that as a wise steward my role is to be responsible for the things entrusted to me. God has given me responsible for several things in my life. Of these, I am responsible for ensuring their care to the best of my abilities. My attitude toward care is key as well as my heart service and physical performance. In this way, I am a good steward, faithful to the Master, and wise in how I use my time, my talents and my abilities for His name and His praise.

I have two options open to me for good practical work. The one way is already in process, and is a good and honorable path. However, this way doesn't provide as well for me, thus it is prudent for me to consider other options that offer me more reward. I trust the Lord to lead me and to guide me to these opportunities because I want to make sure that the company and environment do not conflict with the Lord's will for my life. Furthermore, I need His grace and favor to be considered for employment and to be hired for a job. Last, I know that the Lord has this planned out for me, so really, it is up to me to get my head straight, to consider the game, and to be "all in" so to speak. My attitude toward doing whatever job the Lord provides is key.
  • Am I ready to do any work, no matter how odd or difficult it appears? 
  • Am I ready to move to a place where I may not feel comfortable at the start? 
  • Am I ready to trust the Lord to provide a good financial package for me and to look for reward in other ways? 
  • Am I ready to let go of my need for rest, for a time, and embrace a new opportunity that will provide more substantial rest for me down the road?
My answer to these questions is a rousing YES! I trust the Lord, and I am now convinced that His timing is perfect. I have known that He would provide a job for me in time, but while I was immersed in doctoral study, I knew that He would not move me until I was finished with my courses. Now that I am finished, and ready to start phase II, I can see how this is His time. I am resting in this knowledge today, and I am looking forward to the next opportunity He has for me. In all, my prayer is that He will continue to grow, to develop, and to challenge me in the work I do, that He will provide abundantly for my needs and help me to be responsible for the things (people) He has entrusted to me, and that He will convince me and cover me as I explore other paths that are now available to me. He is good, and I know that every good gift comes from His hand. He is good, so very good to me. This day, He is so very, very good to me! Praise be to God, selah!

Dear Lord,

Help me this day to accomplish all that is on my task list. I ask that you would continue to illuminate my path, to bring to my knowledge and understanding exactly what it is that you desire for me to do. I ask now, that as I move forward in your will, I will come to a place where I will experience your goodness in every area, and I will know that I am no longer searching for that elusive job, but rather, I would rest in the THING you have chosen for me to do. I ask this now in Jesus' Name. Amen! So be it, thy will be done. Selah!

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