August 26, 2016

Making the Most of These Days

Happy Friday! Yes, it is 'FRI-YAY!" and I am glad this week is over. I've had a great week, by the way, but it was hectic and now that it is over, well, I am relieved. I am glad I made it through my first week at Regent (yay!) and my second week at Arizona Christian. I also finished my 5-week class at Ohio Christian, and while I still have to grade final essays and post final grades, my work there is done. In all, I have had a very stressful and hectic summer, and although I wasn't super busy (working on my project, for example), I was stressed over so many concerns and situations. In many ways, I am really glad the summer is over. I mean, I have almost made it to the end (money-wise), and that means that I will be getting some needed income in the next week or two. My cash reserves are low, low, low, but so far, my well has not run dry. God be praised - my well has not run dry! He is good. He is so very good to me.

On top of it being Friday, we are still getting some monsoonal moisture come up from Northern Mexico. This morning around 6 a.m., we had a nice little cell develop over top of us. I woke to thunder and the heavy downpour of rain. It didn't last long, perhaps 10 minutes, but it was enough to keep the pressure right where it needs to be for my head to not pound, praise God! Yes, I slept really well, and I woke up without any sinus pain or pressure today. The forecast for today is mostly cloudy skies with a chance of rain later on tonight. I just checked Weatherbug, and there are little blue/green spots on the radar all around us. It is possible we might have rain off and on all day long. Yes!

I am still trying to figure out how to manage all my classes and work on my own research, but for today, my plans are to grade and read (literature). I need to interact with my students on Blackboard, and I need to get some small grading out of the way for my British Literature students. Once I get some content posted, I know I will feel better about the class and my part in it as instructor. I have to say I am really liking teaching online. It is different, you know, than face-to-face. I love the fact that I don't have to prep for anything. I merely have to discuss with my students. I can see this being very low-key for me, especially the more I teach and the more material I read. My plan from this point forward is to get the materials I need ahead of time and read over my breaks and summers. This way, I will be ready as soon as school begins. I can really see this as working in my favor, and I am so blessed that God has opened this particular door for me. He is so very good to me. He is so, so, so very good to me! Selah!


Good News

So today, I woke up without a major headache, and I am giving God the praise. I cannot tell you what it means to be free from headache/sinus pain and pressure. I am so tired of living in Arizona. It is funny really when you think about it. Many people still come here to get away from their allergies in the Midwest or East. They find AZ to be great for their arthritis pain as well as their seasonal allergies. In my case, I am thinking of moving to a variable climate where there is constant low pressure. The only time I have relief from high pressure is during our summer monsoon and occasionally when we get rains in the winter time. Low pressure typically signals a storm coming, or at the least, rain. High pressure like we have here in AZ is fairly constant, and that means that most days are sunny with no clouds or changes in the barometric pressure. For many allergy sufferers, this constant high is a boon. But for some people, myself included, the high simply causes our heads to pound, our sinuses to feel full, and our ears to be plugged. My prayer is to relocate to a place of variable change, and with that change, I am hoping that I can finally be free from the constant pain and pressure. In truth, I have had pressure headaches for 20 years, and by that I mean, most of my 365 days begin or end with pressure headaches. I am sick and tired of the pain. Plus, I am tired of the fact that I cannot breathe well. The dust is a killer, and I feel as though my lungs are compromised most days. I know, I could take medication to help, but frankly, I simply do not want to be on chronic medication. Nope, not at all. This is why I am praying for the Lord to move me to the place where He feels I will be at my best, where I will be able to live comfortably and in good health during my remaining days on this blessed earth. Yes, Lord, please move me to the place where I will be happiest, healthiest, and free from headaches. Selah!

Today, therefore, is a good day for me. I feel pretty good, and for that I am so thankful. My life seems to be settled now, and I am content to follow after the Lord as He leads, guides and provides for me. I am comfortable in my own skin, and I am finally starting to feel like I am right where the Lord desires me to be. I am happy in my profession as a teacher. I am pleased with my progress in graduate school. I am content to wait for the Lord to provide a way for me to move from AZ to the place of His choosing. I am hopeful that He will have good work for me to do -- teaching and ministry -- so that my life can be full and my efforts satisfying. I am eager to begin His work (ministry), and to finally be in a position whereby my education and training are called on day in and day out. Until then, though, I am at rest. I am walking in His peace, His comfort, His shelter, and His goodness. I am trusting Him for my needs (daily), and looking to His hand of blessing for my future. I feel confident that soon, very soon, I will know the answers I am seeking to know. I feel very confident and assured that when those answers come to me, they will make sense. They will make very good sense. More so, I am committed to seeing this whole thing through to the end. The Lord has made it very clear to me that He has a plan for my life, and that plan is specific, is unique, and is clearly and completely designed by Him. This means that I do not have 100% control over the events in my life like some Christians believe. Rather, it means that I believe that the Lord desires me to do something special, and that something special has required me to gain advanced education and to transition into this profession as a teacher. In all, what He is calling me to do is specific and it requires that I trust Him for the outcome.

Calling to Ministry

I was reading something that A.W. Tozer wrote, and I found that I was disagreeing with him on it. He said, "Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called and his work will be as sacred as the work of the ministry. It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it.” I get his point here, and that is that we are all "called to ministry" in the sense that wherever the Lord has us, He desires that we do good work. This means that whether we work in a restaurant or in an office complex, we are to live out our faith in ways that demonstrate His goodness and His grace. We are to freely give His grace to others, to love them, forgive them, challenge them, etc. In this way, we minister with our hands and our hearts, and we demonstrate His blessedness in our life as we engage and interact with others in daily life.

I find that for many people, the idea of lifestyle evangelism is what they think of when they think about ministry. They grasp that some people choose to work in the church, as pastors, teachers, missionaries, etc., and that it is through these professional roles that "ministry" is completed. I find no fault with lifestyle evangelism (a term I was first introduced to back in the 1990s), and in fact, I think it is a biblical model that focuses on relationship building as well as verbal testimony. According to GotQuestions.org, "Lifestyle evangelism is an evangelism strategy that focuses on living a holy, winsome life among unbelievers with the goal of attracting people to the message of Jesus Christ. Many variations of lifestyle evangelism exist, but the definitive resource is the book Lifestyle Evangelism by Joe Aldrich" (para. 1). As a child raised in churches where Sunday visiting was mandated, I can remember how "evangelism" was handled by the church in general. I remember being handed tracts and pamphlets and told to distribute them throughout our neighborhoods. The role of the believer was to be messenger, someone who handed out materials that would lead a person to Jesus Christ. We needed to "know" the answers to the most oft-asked questions, but more than that, our goal was simply to bring people to the church so the "professional people" (aka, the minister) could witness and win them to Christ.

As crazy as that seems, it was the method often used in the 1990s (and in some places today). Critics of lifestyle evangelism said it was ineffectual, and that the only method needed was good old-fashioned testimony. According to GotQuestions.org, "Critics claim that lifestyle evangelism is insufficient or that it ignores the Bible’s command to share the gospel verbally. Doing good works is not enough; we must speak the truth. However, lifestyle evangelism can and should do both" (para. 2). I tend to agree with this assessment, and as a communications scholar, I realize that there needs to be both -- good works AND good testimony -- in order to successfully witness to the world around us. However, for many Christians the whole idea of witnessing has gone out of favor, out of vogue, so to speak. I think a lot of it has to do with our current cultural climate that is anti-tradition, anti-institution, and anti-religion. To say that our culture is hostile to the message of Christ is an understatement. It is not only hostile, but it is vehemently against anyone who brings the message as well as the message itself.

So when Tozer said that every man should be happy in his calling because it is his attitude that matters (and not the work), part of me wondered if this idea is antiquated, outdated and outmoded. Of course, when Tozer lived (from the late 1890s to 1963), life in America and around the world was vastly different than it is now. I don't disagree with his view in total, it is just that part of me wonders if our Lord would have taken this view when He called the disciples to leave their nets and follow Him. I mean, perhaps had Peter, John, and Andrew simply remained fisherman, the gospel message would have spread far more rapidly and without the resulting enmity against Christ? 

Of course, I am being facetious in that remark. We know that the Lord specifically called people out of their work to follow Him. Yet, not everyone He called left their work behind. Some were told to return to their families and to ministry in their homes and communities. But, many followed Him, and many travelled with the apostles as they moved about the various territories spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Thus, it is difficult to say that one way is right or best and to paint a wide brush across all people, in all places, doing all things. In this way, Tozer is correct. No matter your calling, Christians should do work with faithfulness and diligence. This aligns with Scripture, and in particular, 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." Likewise in Colossians 3:17 (NIV) it says, "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

Therefore, one must wonder how God calls people to ministry. Does God still call people to leave father and mother and follow Him? Does God call specific individuals to start ministries, to travel to distant lands, to engage in work outside of the normal professions we think of as good and practical? I think the answers to these questions are clearly "yes and amen." We read stories of people who felt a call to leave their home and travel to another country to engage in full-time ministry. Pastors will say they felt a call to study at seminary. Worship leaders will say they felt God open doors for them to lead worship in a church or for some organization. Writers, professional speakers, etc., will say they heard God call them to preach to groups, to write periodicals and books on certain topics, and to engage in work that provides practical and useful tools to help people know and understand who God is and how to develop or deepen their relationship with Him.

Yet, despite all the testimony, there are some in the church who still feel that the average person, the "ordinary Joe," will never be called by God to do some specific work. No, the ordinary Christian will work at the mall or in the hospital or lawyer's office, and in their so-very secular work, they will not do "ministry" at all. The professionals in the church, the pastors, the teachers, the bible study leaders -- these are the folks -- who will engage with culture, who will change people's lives, and who will effectually win people to Christ.

The problem with this approach, this mindset, is that it negates the power and authority of the "call from God." It simply infers that God has preferences and that He is partial to certain people. And, while we know that the Word says He is impartial and doesn't prefer one man or woman over another, we do know that throughout history, God did call certain people for certain tasks. Consider David or Nathan or Moses or Noah. There are numerous examples of individuals called for a specific purpose in the Old Testament and in the New. Paul, Peter, James, John, etc., all were called specifically by Jesus for their role in spreading the Good News.

Consequently, the belief that God is impartial and doesn't prefer one over another is an inaccurate reading of Scripture. You see, God is impartial and doesn't make preferences when it comes to His grace -- His gift of mercy -- as it relates to salvation. All are called to receive the gift of grace. Yet, not all do accept His free gift, and therefore, some choose life and some choose death. In this way, God's judgment of the righteous and the wicked is impartial and without preference. Yet, in life itself, in interacting and communing with His Children, with those who have placed their faith and their trust in Jesus as Savior, God does indeed call certain individuals to certain types of work. We can clearly say that not everyman is a Billy Graham or a D.L. Moody. The same can be said for Corrie Ten Boom or Kay Arthur. You see, God does place within the hearts and minds of His children certain desires, certain ideas, and certain leanings and interests. He works one-on-one to train, to develop, to equip, and yes, to call those individuals to specific work. In this way, missionaries are given the grace needed to do foreign work in foreign lands. Writers can write; preachers can preach; ministers can minister. In all, God chooses whom to raise up for certain tasks, and whom to call forward to receive blessing in order to fulfill His work on earth.

Choosing to Obey the Call

I was called to teach; I believe it now more so then when I first received His calling. Yes, I was called to teach when I was a child. I was called to pursue education as a young college student, though I turned my back on that calling, in an effort to assuage my parents and do what they wanted me to do. In hindsight, I suffered mightily for refusing God's call, and not just in a punitive way, but rather in a loss of blessing and a loss of relationship. I took a different route, and in that way, I suffered as I tried in vain to please God, to follow God, and to obey God. It was in my disobedience to my calling that I suffered most -- and like Jonah -- I refused to go where God was sending me. I wasn't swallowed into the belly of a giant fish -- but I was swallowed into a culture that led me further and further away from God's distinct and direct purpose for my life. Had I listened then, I believe my life would have been blessed beyond measure. I would have had a good life, a comfortable life, a practical and useful life. I would have been employed, always provided for, and given a way to earn a decent income over the long haul of my life. Instead, I followed after someone else, and in that way, I followed a path that lead me far from where God wanted me to be.

It has taken me years to recover what was lost in that one act of disobedience. In fact, I have given up everything I had earned and established to obey His call. I lost my life, nearly, and I lost my home, my marriage, and my family (extended) once I chose to repent, to turn around, and to obey His call on my life. It hasn't been easy, and yes, praise be to God, He has made a way for me that has been less than painful to follow. I have had the "bandaid" ripped off twice now, and I can tell you that it hurts when the wound is uncovered quickly. The blessing is that the healing comes to you much faster, and the wound does improve with sun and with air. Still, the process hurts. It really hurts.

The good news for me is that while my disobedience led me down a path that the Lord never intended me to follow, my obedience has opened doors for me that I never thought would be possible. I am experiencing the blessing, the goodness, and the manifold grace of God in and through my life in ways I cannot even describe.

Now that I am choosing to obey His calling, I am committed to remaining faithful to Him. I am committed to following His leading and to going wherever He directs me to go. I don't want to disobey again, and I only want to experience the good He has in mind for me. 

This is my desire, my deepest and most sincere desire, and that is to follow after Him wherever He leads, and to trust Him to provide for me, and to rest in the security and the provision that is mine through Christ Jesus, my Lord. Selah!


In Closing

As I consider my day today, I realize that my life is built around two things: His calling and His mandate. My calling is the deep desire He has placed in me to pursue a specific vocation or profession, and in my case, that is to teach college English courses and to study communication. His mandate is the official commissioning or authority given to me to actually do the thing He is asking me to do. The two are necessary to fulfill what often is said to be "God's calling on your life." By this I mean, when God calls you to do a profession, a certain occupation, He must also give you the ability, the authority, and the right to pursue it. Without His mandate, your work will be ineffectual for any Kingdom glory. You see, you can pursue any profession in your natural abilities and many people do this daily. They choose a type of work, and then with their natural inclinations and abilities, that do that type of work. But when it comes to spiritual matters, spiritual or "kingdom work," there must be both a calling and God's mandate in order for there to be glorified outcome (where God receives the glory). In this way, it is vital to receive both parts before one pursues the work full-time. In my case, becoming a teacher was a time-consuming process. I had to pass certain qualification exams, graduate with advanced degrees, etc. This took time and money in order to complete my training. Then, I had to practice this work in order to gain experience. In all, I had to patiently endure the process before I could readily do this type of work.

Now, I am at this place where I have my education completed and my experience level ready. So next up is my commissioning, and that will take place in May 2017. This is when my professors, my Dean, and my school will commission me to do the Lord's work. I am excited to go through this ceremony, but even without this ceremony, I believe He has already commissioned me by giving me His grace to complete all my work with such great success. 

This is why I believe that along with my calling and my mandate, my graduation from Regent is key. I must complete this work so that I can graduate. Once I graduate, and I am commissioned for His work, I believe -- no, I know -- I will be sent to a place where I will engage in full-time ministry for the rest of my life. Yes, I believe that over the course of the next 3-4 months, the Lord will reveal to me His will as far as where I am to go to do this specific work (communications work, I mean, and not just teaching). I believe that very soon I will know exactly where He is sending me and then He will provide a way for me to go. I believe it is so, and I eagerly and with great anticipation, expect to hear this news very, very soon. God is good, so very good to me! Selah!

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