April 14, 2016

Good Day, Y'all!

It is a good day here in lovely and warm, Phoenix. I slept well and awoke fairly refreshed and feeling good (sort of an overall, good). I am enjoying my first cup of coffee while I settle in and plan out my day. I have a lot to do today, mostly make some major progress on my paper, but also do some other general computer and house work in order to get myself ready for my last week of school/teaching and summer.

I was thinking about this today, how in just one week, I will be "off" for three months. I am so looking forward to having my summer free this year. I mean, the only travel I am planning is a week's vacation to visit my good friend in the South. I am excited to have a real vacation -- no summer trips to Regent -- no classes to take over the summer!! Woohoo!! The next scheduled trip (must travel) won't be until fall or early January (Lord willing) when I go to Regent for my dissertation defense. The only "other" trip I may take is to Philadelphia in November -- should, and I mean should -- NCA approve my paper for presentation at the national conference. It is a long-shot, so right now, I have no travel on my radar except for these few opportunities.

My summer, thus, looks calm and refreshing -- fun even -- and I cannot wait to enjoy the blessing of the downtime. My prayer is for the funds to travel, but that is up to the Lord. He is the One who is overseeing my finances now (well, always has), and it is up to Him to determine how I will use the resources He provides to me. I have relinquished my control recently, and in doing so, I have found great peace in the matter. My original attitude was one of utter reliance on the Lord, but sometime in between then (2010) and now (2016), I got the idea into my head that it was my responsibility to improve my situation. You know, forget the Lord's timing, and take the reins and start making money any way possible.

Silly little me! I mean, everything belongs to the Lord, thus when I start to think outside His will for my life, I start to run contrary to His timing and His provision. I think this is why I struggled so much last year. And, this is why I have vacillated between teaching and doing another type of job that would pay more money. I know I am right where the Lord wants me to be, and that means, that the provision I have is ENOUGH. I may not see the end or see how the current path will produce financial success -- but that doesn't mean that it won't come to pass or that I won't experience the provision I need. The Lord has never let me down. My bank account has never run out or even gotten close to the "E" mark. Nope. I have always had enough money to pay my bills on time. In fact, I just checked my credit report and reviewed my paying history. In the past six years, I have only missed one payment, and that was way back in 2010. It was a mistake -- my ex was supposed to pay a bill and he didn't do it -- and my credit was marred. I made the payment one month later and then took control of everything with my name on it to ensure this sort of thing would never happen again. Since then, with the Lord's help, I have paid every bill on time. Praise God! I am like the widow in the Bible. My oil and my flour has never run dry!

I do have needs, mind you, but when I think about His provision, my needs pale in comparison. He has supplied my needs with sufficiency. Thus, when I let go of the "need" to improve my financial situation, I have experienced a rush of peace in and through my life. I have come back home, so to speak, back to that place of complete dependency on Him. It is such a welcome relief to know that I do not have to try to improve my situation. I do not have to try to make things better. I may not like the number in my account or the percentage of debt I carry -- but I know the One who is in control of those things -- and since He is not worried about it, then I am not going to be worried either. I will be faithful to do what is asked of me, and I will trust and look to His hand of blessing in order to do what is necessary today, tomorrow and into my prosperous future.

Next Steps and Some Change Anticipated

I think I have realized the key to financial success and that is to know and to comprehend that God is the giver of all things -- material -- as well as spiritual (James 1:17). God is the one who feeds the birds, as the Scriptures says, and as such, He cares for our physical and our material needs (Matt. 6:26). But, the world tells us that it is up to the individual to make their own way. The movies feed us lines like "If you build it, they will come" and we come to believe that our success is 100% up to us. If we succeed or if we fail, it is our doing. And, while that may be true for many people, for Christian's in particular, the fact remains that the Bible clearly describes means to financial wealth and prosperity. There are instructions in the Old and New Testament that are set out as guidelines on how to build, manage, and keep wealth. And, over and over again, we are instructed to be careful, to understand the nature of wealth, and to refrain from making money a god or from using it as a tool of pride or arrogance. We are to be cheerful in our giving (2 Cor. 9:6-7) and to use our wealth to meet the needs of the Body of Christ (1 John 3:17).

The problem is that most Christians aren't interested in what the Bible says about financial health and prosperity (Mal. 3:10, 1 Timothy 6:17-19). They would prefer to listen to individuals who offer worldly counsel on financial matters or who will tickle their ears with the promise of wealth gained hastily (Proverbs 13:11). Some do follow wise Christian money managers such as the late Larry Burkett or popular financial guru, Dave Ramsey. And, while I take no real issue with either man's Biblical approach to financial freedom, I do think that often they tend to suggest a zero-debt mentality rather than a conservative-debt mentality. What I mean is that Burkett and Ramsey both advocate that it is a Biblical mandate to not have any debt at all, and they do not recommend using the world's system or worldly financial options as a means to secure or produce wealth. My view is in the conservative and careful use of these tools -- so while I agree that we shouldn't carry debt long-term -- I do understand the necessity of some debt simply as a means for living life in the 21st century.

In addition to financial wealth and prosperity, many Christians are not interested in what the Bible has to say about physical health and prosperity either. Somehow the notion that Christians are supposed to be poor and in failing health as a measure of their sacrifice to God has permeated the Church. This is medieval thinking, predicated on the notion of penance and flagellation (NewAdvent.org, 2016). It is Catholic doctrine that has infused evangelical thinking to this day ("Catholic Essentials: Penance," 2016). The problem with this approach is that it is a works based doctrine that says that grace is not sufficient to cover your sins. There is no sacrifice required to appease our God. We are saved by grace -- through faith in Jesus Christ -- and as scripture says, "not of any work" lest man boast. Thus, the idea that we must suffer for Christ sake is Biblically accurate -- but not because it is a penalty placed on us for our sins -- rather, suffering is permitted to reproduce the righteousness of Christ in our lives, to demonstrate the likeness of our character to His, and to conform us to His image. It has nothing to do with our health, our wealth, or our way of life.

I realized this some time ago, how God didn't expect me to be "poor" in spiritual vitality or in physical situation (Isaiah 61:1). I have surely suffered, but not in either regard. I am full in spiritual vitality and my bank account, while not luxurious, is also full enough to meet my needs (Phil. 4:19). The suffering I have endured is spiritual, and at times, emotional. It has been mostly the result of sin in my own life as well as in the lives of others, those around me. It has been a natural consequence of the choices I have made in life and the choices others make that impact me. There have been times of true spiritual persecution, but this has been rare and only as the Lord has permitted. No, most of the suffering in my life was the result of my own ill-will and choices made prior to my full surrender to the Lord.

Now, that I have my mindset right again, I realize that the Lord doesn't want me to suffer in this life. He takes no delight in my suffering (Lam. 3:33). It is a fact that I will suffer -- many times and throughout my days on earth -- I will have to endure suffering (1 Peter 2:21). However, it is not the Lord's desire for me to suffer needlessly (Ezk. 18:23). Instead, He permits it for its intended outcome, and He gives me His strength to endure it in order to create within me the character He desires. I understand that I am responsible for my choices in life. I am responsible for my attitude and my actions. Thus, to reduce the suffering in my life, I must make good choices every day. I must seek the Lord's guidance, His advice and His counsel on every decision I make. I doing so, I am assured that with His will and His permission, the choice I make should produce a good result. Is it a guaranteed good outcome? I would say yes and yes! However, understand that the outcome may be good to the Lord, but not necessarily as we expect or anticipate. I guess what I am trying to say is that when we surrender our will to His will, and we start to make decisions that align with Scripture and are for our good, well we will have the very best possible opportunity for a good outcome. It is called trusting the Lord in all things, and in doing so, we will find peace, comfort or endurance as He determines what is in our best interest and for our good (Romans 8:28).

Sensing Change -- Always a Good Thing

Just recently, I have sensed a great change coming toward me. I think this change is a good thing, a really good thing. I know that I need to finish some major tasks on my timeline (my dissertation, for example), and I need to stay strong to finish out this semester. However, I am feeling that the Lord is getting ready to open a new door for me. This door has been previously closed, due to my own unwillingness to walk through it. He has chosen, in His mercy and grace, to reopen it for me. I am now in the position to walk through it, to walk on in obedience, and to see what the Lord has in mind for me as I pursue this new path.

I guess you could say that I am ready to accept His offering of goodness in my life. It is not that I haven't already received His blessing, His peace offering, His amazing grace -- no, not at all! Rather, it is just that God has offered some pretty wonderful things to me, and I, in my haste and youthfulness, turned them down. I wanted what I thought was a better fit, a more appropriate solution. In truth, however, the delights He offered to me were far better than I could have dreamed. I was afraid to take hold of His provision, afraid of what He would ask me to do, and afraid that I would fail -- really the crux of it -- that I would fail Him, fail my son, and fail my family. Yet, here I am standing at that doorway and I am ready to take His offering into my hand, to step into His blessed peace, and to walk in this new way. I feel confident, I feel bold, and I feel really good about taking these next steps of faith.

As He leads me, so shall I follow. 

I mean, what else am I to do? I certainly do not want to return to the way things were a year ago. No way, no how! It was one year ago when I wondered if the path I was on was the best fit for me. It was one year ago when I tried to imagine my life, my future life, and I simply believed that I had to go a certain way in order to achieve what I wanted. I was wrong, of course, and in doing so, I did a major tail spin down into the dirt where I landed and remained for a very long, long time. The Lord was gracious to me, and He raised me up, dusted me off, and set me on my feet again. He is my ROCK, my steady ROCK and it is only through His diligence and faith toward me that I am here today -- ready to complete my PhD -- and move on in my life. He is so good to me, so very good to me.

Right now, I am thinking about the possibilities in my life. I am thinking back to a day some ten years ago when I first heard the Lord speak to me, when I first felt His touch on my life. I was changed in that moment, and my life took on a new direction. I was mired in my circumstances, in a difficult relationship, and in deep poverty and in on-going difficulty. I needed the Lord desperately, and even though I knew Him from afar (as Savior), I didn't know Him personally as LORD over every area of my life. I followed Him, I worshipped Him, but I didn't love Him -- not as LORD. It took a change of heart in order to get me to bow my head and my knee and accept Him as sovereign Lord. I had to relinquish all my efforts -- and I mean -- all my efforts to right my own ship, to change course, and to head in the direction of His calling and His will for my life. You see, I had turned and walked my own way some 20 years earlier, and as a result of that act of disobedience, I found my way hard, challenging, and downright, miserable. I was miserable. I was lonely. I was sad. I was depressed. I was in a "pickle" as they like to say, and I didn't know how to get myself out of the hole I had dug so deeply. The Lord answered my call (Is. 65:24), and He gave me His hand of hope. I took it, and I have never looked back. I have been lifted from the mire, the muck, and all that miserableness. He has placed my feet on the solid rock, and as such, I have come to learn what it means to walk with Him (Prov. 3:5-6).

As I have learned to walk along side of Him, He has blessed my life in numerous ways. He has helped me overcome some incredible challenges, difficulties, and yes, heartbreak. He has shown me new ways to go, provided guidance in life choices, and today, I am in a place I never thought or dreamed possible. He has brought me to this wonderful place, and He has given to me such a great and awesome life. I am indebted to Him, to His grace, and to His care for me. I love Him with my whole heart. My entire being praises His good, good Name. I love the Lord, and I seek Him diligently (Prov. 8:17). The good news is that because of my relationship with the Lord, I truly lack no good thing (Ps. 34:10).

Now, I am at this point where He is asking me to follow Him to a new place. He is asking me to trust Him for provision that I cannot see, a job that doesn't exist, and a life that has yet to be lived. Do I trust Him? Will I go without seeing any outcome on the horizon? My answer to Him is a resounding YES! I will go where you send me, Lord. I will go because you have offered me this chance, and in this chance, I know you will provide for my every need. You only offer the BEST to me, so I willingly take this challenge on. I willingly accept your offer of goodness, of blessing, and of provision because I know you are the One who goes before me, prepares my way, and makes my way smooth (Deut. 31:8).

Moving On and Ready to Go!

Yes, today, I take up my mantle and I ready myself to move on. I am moving. I am going. I am ready to see all the wonderful things the Lord has in mind for me this good, good day. He is good, He is God, and He has me right where He wants me -- 100% wholly devoted to Him and to His way. I am ready, Lord -- LEAD ME ON!

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