May 5, 2016

Thankful Thursday

It is a blessed day here in sunny and yes, warm, Phoenix. We hit our projected high of 100 yesterday afternoon, and today the forecast calls for highs in the 90s. As I blogged yesterday — I am not ready for summer — yet! Still, I am thankful to be living where I am, despite the super high summer temperatures. God has provided a good life to me here in Phoenix, and while I may not always write about my life in this way, I still have thankful — grateful — for the provision, the gift, and the mercy He has given to me throughout the years I have lived in the desert sunshine. He is good, so very good.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in every circumstance, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Today is “Thankful Thursday” so the focus of my blog is going to be on giving God thanks for the good He has brought into my life, the good He is working out through my life, and the good that I believe is coming to me as I continue to work out my salvation!

The Gift of Life

The first thing I am thankful for today is the gift of life. The Lord has not only given me this gift once (as in my natural birth), but twice. Yes, I am thankful for the gift of life that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. I am thankful for the people who took the time to share the gospel message with me. Some I don’t remember, but a few stand out because of their unwavering belief and hope that pushed them to see me as someone who needed to hear the Word of God. Specifically, I thank the very kind German missionaries who came to Bible camp when I was 13 — that would have been 40 years ago — but I still remember them well. They came and gave the altar call where I first professed faith publicly. I appreciate their message because it was the first time anyone had shared with me the truth of God’s Word and told me how to be saved.

The second person is Gail Westfall, a family friend, who was bound and determined to see me saved. She was unwilling to leave me alone until I had confessed my need for a savior. Even though I had professed faith three years before, she simply would not give up until I assured her that I had placed my trust in Jesus as my savior.

The third person was my brother, Tom, who spent a great deal of time telling me about Jesus, and helping me to see my need for a savior. Though he didn’t bring me to faith, he did help build the foundation of faith that would ultimately lead me to the point of grace, to the place where I surrendered my life and my future to the Lord.

The last people happened to be my high school youth group leaders, Andy and Lori Keil. I came to a point of understanding about faith through their leadership. Every Sunday night, Andy would preach the good news to the kids that came to youth group. Every night, I would walk away thinking about some little bit of truth as he shared it. It wasn’t long after I had joined the group that I found myself standing at my window in my bedroom, crying and praying out to the Lord and asking to know if He was really “there.” I received a call on my life that day, a call that I have been pursuing for some 37  years now. If it were not for these people, men and women, who invested their time and their friendship in my life, I would not be here today. Yes, I give the Lord thanks for sending people to me, people who would not cease until they had the assurance that I was saved.

The Gift of Knowledge

The second thing that I am thankful for today is the gift of knowledge. I came to faith in a small church where the gospel was not preached nor was it taught regularly. I knew little of God, other than what was taught in Sunday School. My parents, both raised in church, both came to faith as young children or teens, knew and understood the Gospel message but they didn’t talk about salvation with us. They assumed we would learn and hear the message at Bible camp, Sunday School and in church. Thus, for much of my childhood, I lacked knowledge of God. I didn’t understand the magnificent story of our Lord and Savior.

Over the course of my young life, however, I was confronted with my lack of knowledge. As a child, I always felt unprepared in Sunday School. I didn’t know the stories the way the other children did. I didn’t have a Bible so I couldn’t find where the stories were located during class activities. I was lost, and I was clueless when it came to basic Bible knowledge. I cried about it, asked God to help me understand, and in time, He did just that. He provided knowledgeable teachers who helped me come to understand the Bible, God’s Word to us, His promises, and ultimately, His unfolding History as it is recorded in Scripture.

In fact, my driving need as a young person was to know God. I wanted to know Him personally, but I also wanted to know His word. I tried to read on my own, but I found the process difficult. I relied on others to help me, and sometimes they did, and sometimes they didn’t. I was always left wanting to know more, to understand more, but it wasn’t until after I received my calling, that the Lord gave me a thirst for knowledge and an understanding of His word in order to grasp what He was asking me to do.

I began a systematic study of the Scriptures as a 17-year old. Later, I would leave my small Lutheran church for a large Bible church where the Word was preached weekly. I would have my first easy to read Bible (the NASB), and I would study the scriptures using the Life Application Study notes contained in it. I would read my Bible as best I could, study, memorize, and listen (and take notes) each week as the Pastors taught on a particular book. It was at this church that I started Precept Bible studies, and I began to really engage with the Scriptures in such a way as to learn deeply what the text meant. I fell in love with Bible dictionaries, concordances, and other reference works. In short, my love of reading God’s word deepened, and I finally felt as if I “knew” something of His love, His mercy, and His good grace.

In later years, my love for the Word deepened further through a life of sorrow. When I was 44, I had a second-life experience where I came to see just how much I knew about the Lord, but how little I really knew Him personally. I was confronted by my lack of love, my deep sorrow and my sin (of course), and I completed what I consider to me the penultimate life transformation. I was saved a second time. I say it this way only because it is the closest thing to the truth. Some might say that I wasn’t saved as a child, a youth, or even a young adult. Yet, my life bore all the hallmarks of a transformation — a thirst for God’s word, a desire to serve Him, a love for others and His church. This second-life experience signaled the beginning of my “Damascus Road.” I came face to face with the knowledge that to follow after the Lord, I had to surrender fully to Him. I couldn’t continue to live as I was living — as a typical Christian — a person who professes faith, believes and serves, but who is not 100% fully devoted and committed to the call of Christ on my life. No, I had to decide what kind of life I would lead, and in the end, I chose this one. I chose to lay down my life, to give up everything I held dear to me, and to follow after Him.

I spent the next three years in intensive Bible study. I read and devoured the Word more than I had ever done before. I spent hours in prayer, constantly in communication with the Lord. I became a zealot of sorts, on fire for Jesus, and unwilling to stand down regardless of who asked me to do so. My life was changed in an instant and I became an ardent, zealous, and fervent follower of my Lord and Savior. Of course, little did I know what was up ahead for me — a failed marriage that would end in divorce — and a life lived as a single person.

My study of the Word and my time spent in the Lord’s presence helped me — no it was the way — I survived the devastation of a marriage ending. It also served as the instigator for the formation of a new spiritual and mental identity. I became this new person — this bold, this energized, and this devoted — person.

The Gift of Experience

Third, and finally, I am thankful for the gift of experience. I guess you could say the gift of life experience because that is what I really mean by the expression. You see, my life has been a good one. From the outside package to the inside components, my life has been quite uneventful. I was raised in a good family, with loving parents (still married after 57 years), and with siblings who I loved. My parents gave us a good middle-class existence, and my life for the most part, was safe and secure. I grew up during the mild 1970s, where it was safe to be a child. I was able to experience the goodness of that Midwestern life — easy, free, and secure.

My teens and my young adult years were also uneventful. Although I struggled with self-esteem issues, failed relationships, and many mistaken ideas about life itself, for the most part, I was saved from deep hurt or the devastation of poor life choices. I married young, and I had high hopes for a normal middle-class life. I wanted children and a safe life — that is all — and never did I expect that I would live a life less than that of my parents. My ex-husband came from a strong Christian family so family relationships formed a central part of my young married life. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand the dynamics of family relationships nor did I grasp the difference between healthy relationships and dysfunctional ones.

My middle years were fraught with pain, sorrow, and suffering. I suffered emotionally, traumatically, and physically whereby I felt the sting of depression, oppression, and even manipulation and control by others. It was a dark place to be, and for many years, I thought — no I believed — that I was living the life I deserved.

My experience played an important part in my testimony. Even today, I share my experience with my students in order to help them understand that the Christian walk is not always rosy and easy. In my case, the majority of my life was filled with great sadness, emptiness, and loneliness. Even when I was deeply devoted to the Lord, serving others in Church, and studying the Word, I still felt this sense of isolation, aloneness.

In time, though, I came to feel His presence as a daily source of comfort. In time, I came to value His companionship, His friendship, and His peace in my life. Now, I am in this place where I experience His goodness every day, where I see and expect to see His goodness as He reveals His will, His work, and His way in me and through me. Yes, now I see the blessedness of my experience — the good and the bad — as it has served to shape my life, to make me and to mold me into the person I am this good, good day. I am thankful for the gift of experience because it has served me well. I wouldn’t change anything I have gone through these last 50 years. I wouldn’t change a thing because I am who I am today as a result of all of those life choices, those decisions that led me to this good, good place.

My Future is Bright

Just this morning, I read an article on Facebook about the hidden underside of the PhD life. I read about how many PhD candidates commit suicide, how many suffer debilitating depression, and how many self-medicate and self-harm as a result of the anxiety and uncertainty of the path they are on. I was saddened when I read the article because I know what these poor people are going through, how the path toward academic excellence is fraught with pain, sorrow, and angst. I get it. I know those feelings. The difference is that for many who seek this advanced degree, they are doing it out of a slim hope that it will bring them happiness, a desired career outcome or even some measure of affirmation that helps them feel better about their performance, their abilities, and their intelligence. They are seeking the degree as a means to provide support to their already crumbling self-esteem and identity.

I understand how easy it is to get sucked into believing that your performance and achievement are linked to your ability to obtain this degree. I see it daily. I read about it on blogs, in articles, and even in journals. Yet, I also understand that the pursuit of knowledge is a humanistic endeavor, and it serves no one but the one who believes they can “master” it. I am on this journey not for my own sense of achievement or to prove to myself or others than I can do it, but rather because the Lord has called me to this path. In everything, He has seen me through the ups and the downs, the highs and the lows, and now that I am at the end of the road, He will see me over the finish line. I can take no credit, no glory, no praise or honor for this achievement. I am, after all, held together (mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically) by His merciful and majestic grace. To God be the glory…great things He has done!

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord; let the earth hear his voice!
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord; let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father through Jesus the Son,
and give him the glory; great things he has done.

As I look to my future, I see hope. I see happiness, and I see the hand of the Lord as He maneuvers me into positions and places where He desires I serve and go. I am ready to take these next steps, and with a thankful heart, and a mind that is filled with the knowledge that it is by His hand of grace that I go and do everything asked of me, I relent. I let go, and I let Him lead me. I follow as a devoted servant of the Lord Most High. I follow where He leads, and I let go of my need to achieve, to perform, to receive praise and honor for my own accomplishments. 

This has been one of the most difficult aspects of followership in my view. I have strongly considered that my next steps, my future, belongs to the Lord in whatever way or manner He desires. Yet, my human flesh seeks achievement and accomplishment. I would be remiss to say that I don't desire results, outcomes, and awards. This is how I am wired, so to speak. Moreover, as I think about what the Lord desires from me, I have to accept that He may be sending me to a place that is not of my choosing at all. He may be asking me to do a job that doesn't seem to fit my skills or my abilities or seems out of my way and down another path. If I am truly a follower, then I must follow regardless of where He leads me. I must go, do, and be where He plants me. Yes, I must bloom where He plants me. I must live where He settles me, even if that place seems difficult, far away, or at odds with what I want or desire. I have to let go in order for Him to let me go where He desires. I have to trust Him. I have to relinquish control, and let Him drive this bus. In doing so, I let Him receive all the praise, all the honor, all the glory for only He is worthy to receive it. I let Him shine. I let Him reveal His goodness to me, and I marvel at His gift of grace, His marvelous and sufficient grace this good, good day. He alone is good. He alone is worthy to be praised! Amen, selah!

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