January 5, 2017

Thankful Thursday

It is Thursday, and I am thankful. Yes, it is what is called “Thankful Thursday” out on social media, and that means that today is a good day to remember or reflect on all that one has to be thankful. I am thankful every day, of course, but it is good to be reminded to stop and think about all that the Lord has done for you during the week. In my case, I need to reflect on His mercy because I have experienced His mercy this week in multiple ways. Despite some unpleasantness at the first of the week, the Lord has sustained me — emotionally, physically, and mentally — so that I was able to focus on my work and make some progress.

I have found that as the week as progressed, I have slept soundly, though I am still having periods where I wake up drenched in sweat (thanks to menopause), but generally, I can say that I am sleeping well. More so, as I consider my spring semester courses, I am really thankful that I will not start classes until the afternoon. This means that I will have the entire morning to sleep in, rest, and prepare for my afternoon classes. I found this particular schedule helpful to me when I was knee-deep in quantitative studies back in 2014. I only taught one late afternoon class, but as I recall, I used my morning to get a lot of work done around the house and to catch up on work that would normally be completed in the evenings. My quantitative class required so much of my time, and the mornings free gave me that rest  needed to focus and do a good job. I did do a good job, and praise be to God, I actually got an A in that class. My coming spring will be far more challenging than when I took Quant at Regent. I will have a jam-packed teaching schedule AND I will be finishing writing my final two chapters in order to defend my research by mid-March.

Whenever I think about all that is left to do to finish, I become overwhelmed. But as my good friend and colleague reminded me yesterday, we must also remember how much we ALREADY have accomplished. She is right, of course. We have come through the trenches, and we are in the home stretch now. It is only by God’s grace and mercy that we are in this place to begin with so to lose heart and hope now is unthinkable. He has been faithful to us, and He will complete the good work He began in us. Thus, it is always good to remember to give Him thanks.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (Message) says it this way,
Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.
It is so difficult to be cheerful no matter what, as Paul says, especially when your world seems to be crashing down on you. It is in times like these, when everything seems so out of control, that we are reminded to give thanks to God who is always IN CONTROL. Yes, our God is not moved by our present circumstances, and His will is not fragile to the point where our situation can or will affect its intended outcome. No, our God reigns, and as such, His will is something that is 100% under His power and His authority. We can rest in the knowledge that what the Lord wills — WILL come to pass — because it is His desire, His design, and His dedicated pursuit to make it so. We can rest in His abilities and not ours. We can rest in His work, finished as it is, and know that He will complete the good work He began in each one of us.

Therefore, as I reflect on this week in particular, I can say that so far it has been a successful one. As a result, and in keeping with the “Thankful Thursday” meme, I thought I would take a moment to recount the “specific” blessings I have experienced so far:

  • New job as Faculty Associate at Arizona State University
  • The 90% completion of my visual coding work for my dissertation
  • The 50% completion of my textual/lexical coding work for my dissertation
  • Setting up all my online courses and getting ready for my first week on campus and online
  • The start of the prep work for my new course, American Literature 1, at GCU
  • Removing all Christmas decorations from the inside and outside of the house
  • The beginning of major organization overhaul to be completed with “Spring Cleaning” in March
I have more work to complete between now and Friday, but I feel confident that I will continue to make strong strides toward finishing all my visual and textual coding by tomorrow. More so, I have to prep for my week of classes, and I feel confident that I can do that on Saturday and Sunday. In all, I should be ready for next week and the start of the spring 2017 semester.

Furthermore, after a good chat with my Dissertation Chair, I realize that have more research completed than not completed, which means that I should be able to write my initial draft of chapter 4 beginning next week. This is not to say that my spring has magically cleared in order to give me free leg room to write at my leisure, but it does suggest that I am in good shape to finish my dissertation on time. At the least, this is my prayer. I believe this is the Lord’s will as well, so I go into next week knowing that whatever happens to me in the coming months (January and February) will be the Lord’s doing. It will be His will coming to pass, and the finalization of my dissertation will be His work as created and produced to bring Him praise, honor, and glory.

Making Some Other Changes

Yesterday, I blogged about the fact that I had come to terms with “letting go” of people, of things, and of places in my life that were meant for a single season rather than the long journey. I feel confident that in making that proclamation, the Lord has enabled me to (1) accept the fact that some things must change in my life in order for me to fulfill His will for it; and that (2) in letting these things go (people, places, things such as desires, wishes, wants, etc.) I am opening myself up to receive even greater blessing and reward as a result. Thus, in letting go I am actually opening my hands, my heart, and my mind to receive all that the Lord has in mind for me. This will be the provision (blessing of financial stability and security) of a new home, the welcoming of new friends, the strengthening of some relationships and the ending of others, the building upon my previous and current academic success, and the development of new plans along with goals and several exciting achievements. 

In many ways, this symbolic letting go of the past reminds me of a particular point of scripture where Jesus talks about how it is unwise (vain or not good practice) to pour new wine into old wineskins. He says in Mark 2:22 (NIV),
And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.
This passage of scripture is one of several mysterious sayings uttered by our Lord and Savior in regard to the Old and New Covenant and in the mistaken belief that one can mix or mingle new and old, the Law and the grace of the Gospel, into one doctrine. In this particular instance, Jesus was talking with John the Baptists’ disciples and was using this point to illustrate the fact that you cannot take the New covenant of grace, which is freely given and spirit empowered, to produce good results if you pour it into the old way of living (or the Old Testament law, predicated on ritual and legalism). Instead, He says that this new way, this New Testament, must be poured into new containers (or people made new) so that the “newness” of their mind, heart, and spirit, would be strong enough to stand the fermenting process of turning juice into wine. This process of creating wine required new wineskins that would be strong enough to handle the expanding demands of the fermentation of the grapes (the gases produced, for example). In practice, if one poured new wine (unfermented juice) in an old wineskin, the skin would break, thus ruining the skin and the wine in the process. Therefore, in order to expect good results, the winemaker would always pour the new wine into a new wineskin.

Some pulpit commentaries suggest this parable or saying to mean that what Jesus was telling the disciples (His and those who followed John) was that in order to produce new wine (the fruit of the Vine, so to speak), the skin must be brand new. In short, He was saying that unless you are born again, of the water and the spirit, no new “wine” can be produced because the “skin” must also be made new in order to accept the fermentation process of spiritual growth and development. New wine must go into a new wine container or bottle.

Some modern church workers often will say that this parable also speaks about a fear of change or that in modern worship, the old ways of doing things must change in order to unleash the Holy Spirit’s “new wine” in each and every congregation. I think there is justification for this view, but I think Jesus’ words are more on point with individual life change than with corporate worship or even church mentality change.

In my view, and in the way I am using it, when I say that I am letting go of the old way of thinking or doing things including the letting go of people, places and things, I am simply saying that I believe, in order to receive the fullness of God’s blessing and reward, I must accept new ways of thinking and doing. I must not be stuck in the past any more; rather, I must be made new. The new wine the Holy Spirit is pouring into me must go into a new wineskin. The old wineskin (the past, and all the past holds) must not be used anymore. I must allow the Lord, through the power of the Holy Spirit to pour out His blessing in fresh new skins. In this case, a skin or skins is simply a way of saying a body or a container that is new, never used before for this purpose.

I believe that the Holy Spirit is about to begin an amazing work in my life, and I think what the Lord is trying to say to me is that I must let go of the past or the old way of doing things so that I can accept the new way of the Spirit. If I want to be transformed from juice to good or fine wine, then the Lord has to pour His work into a “new” me and not the “old” me. The old man, the one I let be crucified at the cross of Jesus, still tries to hold on and control me often. He is supposed to be dead and buried, but I let his lingering stench color my attitudes, my mindset, and at times, my vocabulary. Yes, I let the old man’s ways continue on, when in truth, they “too” must be crucified and buried. The new life that is born of the Spirit needs a new, a fresh wineskin for this work, for His work, and I cannot keep on trying to use the old, patched, frayed, and stretched one.

In sum, I believe that the Lord is telling me that in order for me to experience the fullness of His blessing, His provision, and His reward, I must let the Holy Spirit transform me again. I must be willing to let the past — all of it — go so that I can walk on into this new life. I must be willing to accept that what is in the past belongs to the past, and that my past — all of it — has been crucified with Christ, and is now dead and buried. I can no longer allow any remembrance of the past or allegiance to the old way (the law, in particular) to keep me from experiencing what God has in mind for me.

Does this mean that I am legalistic and color-blind to the truth at times? Unfortunately, it does. It means that I often hold on so tightly to the law, to the rules and regulations of the law, that I overlook the Spirit and His work in and through people around me. I judge others harshly, as through the lens of the religious law, when I am to not judge them at all. I am critical of the way people speak, dress, act, and yes, even interpret the gospel. I am critical of how the law is applied in people’s lives, and while my heart desires for the law to be upheld and applied justly, I often forget that I am not the “just and justifier” of anyone’s faith. No, this position belongs to the Lord. Thus, I will often place myself in ways where I judge people based on the law, instead of judging them based on grace. You see, we are all saved by grace, and there is no one who is righteous in and of their own measure (Romans 3:10). I have been self-righteous and at times judgmental toward others, both of the “household of faith” and those outside the faith. I believe the Lord is saying to me that as I am ready, on the threshold of entering full-time ministry (in teaching and in the Church) my attitude, my mindset, and my beliefs must undergo a massive change in order to be effective in this important work. I must let Him fill me with “new wine” and that means that I must let Him also take away the old wineskin and replace it with a brand new one.

Resting Produces the Right Results

I am born again. I have been born again for close to 40 years, so the thought of being “born anew” seems odd or impossible. I don’t think what the Lord is saying to me is that I must be born again, as in going through that step again; rather, I believe what He is saying to me is that being born again is both a one-time process and a continual one. In spiritual transformation, it is the process of coming into greater understanding, deeper and more intimate knowledge, and then allowing that understanding and knowledge to create change within one’s spirit and body. In this way, as I allow the Holy Spirit to transform me, I am being changed from “glory to glory.” Paul says it this way in 2 Corinthians 3:18 (KJV), “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” As we come into more committed fellowship with the Lord, our very lives are being transformed and we are changed to become more like Him. This is the continual process of being born again, and it is something that must be allowed to produce results, must be allowed to come to pass.

I realize that my unwillingness to rest in His sufficiency and grace is part and parcel with the old way of doing things, with the law, with the need to always be in control of my circumstances. I have held onto my way of doing things for so long, but the Lord desires that I let go of my way, and He longs for me to experience the true rest that comes when we allow His Spirit to control our every thought, our every desire, and our every action.

In many ways, I have asked for, begged, and pleaded for the Lord to help me do this very thing — to let go — yet, even in my requests, there has been a measure of control, of my control. I have not wanted to let the Holy Spirit have full control, full authority, and full power to do His work in and through me. As such, I have wrestled with Him, and I have contended with the changes He wanted to produce in me. I have denied His presence, and as a consequence, I have been stripped of power when I have needed it most.

As I go into this new year, I have decided that it is time for fresh wineskins to be made ready for the Holy Spirit’s transformation work. I am ready to embrace all that He calls me to embrace. I am ready to take on this work, to produce this work, and to do it through His power, and with His authority so that I can achieve what He desires for me to achieve. In truth, I can do all things through Christ who strengthen’s me. I can do all things, and I can overcome all obstacles in my way, and I can become fully empowered, fully charged, and full of the Holy Spirit as a result. I am ready to be made new.

Therefore, I choose today to rest in the Holy Spirit. I choose to rest and to let Him guide me through all that is set before me. I can no longer maintain control. I can no longer attempt to manage my days, my weeks, and my months. I can no longer hold on to all that is slipping through my fingers, so I let what is to fall away, fall away.

First, I let go of the people in my life who were here for a season. I thank them for their presence, and I appreciate and honor their faithfulness to my care. I let them go. I no longer need them or rely upon them. I can let go of their place in my life, and in doing so, I rest fully upon God as my Chief provider and supplier of all  my needs.

Second, I let go of the plans I have desired, the places I have wanted to see, and the goals and achievements that I have longed to come to pass in my life. I realize now that while these are all “good things,” they are not all His GOOD THINGS, so I must let them go. I must only accept His good in my life, and that means that I no longer go where I want or where others want me to go, but rather, I go where He wants me to go. I go where He leads. I follow no one else but Jesus. I cannot follow after people I love, no matter how much I want to follow them. I must instead follow after my Lord, and that means that I must place His plans first and foremost in my life. His will above all else be done. Selah!

Third and last, I understand and accept that in this time of pruning, the Lord has chosen for some things to remain and some things to go. I am not to prune, but I am to let Him prune me as He sees fit. This means that I release the shears and I let the Lord choose what parts to remove and what parts to keep. He is the Master Gardener, and as such, He dresses the vine to suit His needs. I am simply a branch connected to the Vine. I have no authority over the way I grow, or the type or volume of fruit I produce, because in truth, all fruit is produced through His work and not my own. Thus, the fruit that is produced is never to bring me praise or glory or honor. It is not my work, but it is His work. I rest in this knowledge today because it relieves me of the stress and the worry about the quality of work I do, about the volume of work I undertake, and about the outcome of the work as it is completed. This is not anything for me to be concerned about, therefore, I rest in His work as Gardener, as Vinedresser, to do what He does best: prune, stake, and dress the vines for BEST PRODUCTION.

In Closing

As I close this blog post, and I prepare for my day’s work, I am ready to let the past go, to rest in the power and work of the Holy Spirit, and to begin to be transformed by Him as He moves me, makes me, and shapes me for the Lord’s praise, honor, and glory. I rest in His power today. I rest in His presence today. I rest in His providence, provision, and purpose. I know that He has me well-covered, and that He has everything under precise and specific control. I have no fear because my Lord, my God, goes before me. I am well today, I am well.

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