Thursday, September 30, 2010

A peculair and exquisite experience of Faith

I'm so grateful that I got to grow up in a household that, as far from perfect as it was, was a household that believed in God and the Bible. I'm grateful that I grew up going to church. Because of this foundation, I've never had to struggle with believing that God was real.

But of course I've had plenty of questions for God throughout my life. Questions about what certain things mean in the Bible, questions about how church is supposed to be, questions about why certain things have happened, questions about what I was supposed to do. Sometimes God has answered my questions with distinct clarity, and sometimes it would appear that I may never have the answer this side of heaven (and I often think that by the time I'm on the other side of heaven, and in the presence of the greatness of God Himself, I probably won't care any more).

I'd have to say the biggest questions in my life right at this moment in time have to do with my job circumstances. In a nutshell it's like this: I worked as an assistant administrator, and then when I obtained my license, as an administrator, for a large health care company at a few of their locations for 7 years straight. Then I re-married and we moved to a small, mountain community and I worked a interim stint for that same company, and then a permanent position came open within a half hour drive from my home and I took it. It seemed that God was really blessing.

Then a year after starting there, for the only time ever in my entire life, I was terminated from a job. That was in April 2009. I was devastated; I felt that I had given my heart out in all the years I'd worked for that company, and been a faithful employee who went way above and beyond what was expected. I knew God was in control, yet I struggled with feeling hurt, betrayed, and bewildered. Then, in the 17 months since then, I've encountered rejection upon rejection in my job search. Where I once was sought after and considered valuable, it now would seem that I was not wanted. Of course the fact that the nation's economy started tanking in 2008, and that California's unemployment rate is at 11%, and that jobs at the top end of the job market are always hit hardest, all factored into my experience. Because I made good money when I was working, and we're committed to a life of simplicity, I was able to save money when I was working; we've been able to utilize those saving and have not suffered financially. But it's been difficult for me on an emotional level. I've come to realize how much of my identity was derived from my work. I've struggled a lot with feelings of being a failure.

Right now as I'm writing this, a job related decision is weighing on the back of my mind. My current questions of Jesus are - do you want me to take this job I've just been offered? Even though it will mean an hour commute each way each day? Even though it pays 58% less than I made before? Even though it's a huge "come down" of a job from what I used to do? What do you want from me Lord, what is it that you want me to learn though all this?

In my morning times with God I've been enjoying a slow process through Genesis. Sometimes during this time, in addition to the Bible, I'll read other books that stimulate my thinking about the scriptures I'm studying. One of such books I've been reading and working through, is Beth Moore's The Patriarchs. As I've been reading, re-reading and thinking about Genesis 40 -41:13 these last couple of days, I've found Joseph's predicament extremely interesting. This is when Joseph was in prison, he'd interpreted the dreams for the pharaoh's baker and cup-bearer who were also in prison, he'd asked the cup-bearer to remember him to the pharaoh when he was released, and had been promptly forgotten by the cup-bearer. Then Joseph had waited for two more years in prison until the day came that the cup-bearer did remember him. I found these two comments that Moore made in regard to Joseph's two years of waiting, to be of great encouragement to me in my current work circumstances:

"Time can be a liar. Heaven is replete with angelic activity as God faithfully completes in the spiritual realms what He will release in the visible realms when the time is right"

"Sometimes we can be so busy looking for what is missing in our lives that we miss Who is busily present in our lives. We're looking for God to do us future favors when He is trying to open our eyes to present ones. Remember, God purposes to use every second of a divinely-ordained wait to build us into the individuals our future demands we be. One most peculiar and exquisite experience of faith is realizing that while you haven't seen answers or the way you should take, you've learned to see the light of God Himself."

Guess that describes where I'm at right now. I don't have the answers with regard to this current job offer, or my career in general, right now. I don't know the way I should take. But may I learn more and more with each passing day to see the light of God Himself.

What about you, do you have any unanswered questions and requests before God right now? How's the Holy Spirit encouraging your heart? What's God teaching you during this time?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sometimes we ask the question...but we already know the answer.

Those little black specks are what's known as hairy-cell leukemia...and I'm all too familiar with them.

December 2003 was a tough month for yours truly. Even though I had managed to clean up most of the mess I had made of my life to that point, I still had a few transgressions to settle and account. My life had come 180 degrees in a fairly short period of time. My focus was once again on God and not on myself. As the t-shirts and bumper stickers was good.

Two major life-altering situations occurred that month within 15 days of each other. The first happened when I sat down with my physician (who happened to also be my boss) and he broke the news that the blood work from my routine physical was showing an abnormality. I was referred to an oncologist, so it didn't take another M.D. to deduct what was happening. Three days later, I knew what I was up against.

Twelve days after the news I was fighting hairy-cell leukemia and as if that wasn't bad enough, I got a courtesy visit from the government saying I was being investigated at work for accounting abnormalities. Huh...that same word again. So doing what you feel you need to do to get the job done is 'abnormal?' I would come to learn that the end definitely doesn't justify the means in the eyes of the State of Tennessee. But that's a different side of the story completely and was totally irrelevant if my time on this planet was soon ending.

So, I settled in to battle the Big C. My life, as I stated, was framed with a lot of recent successes. I was in the relationship I believed God had placed before me to a young lady who was a spiritual dynamo. My prayer life was once again flourishing, and my daily walk was...well...I actually had one again. God was blessing me in tremendous ways.

So Lord. Why now? Why in all the rotten times in my pathetic life am I healthy and vibrant, and now that I've turned my life back over to You, to serve You, am I dying? It just doesn't make sense...

I wallowed in self-pity about...I'm guessing...I'd say I felt sorry for myself and asked for answers about...3 hours. Maybe less. I don't think, as Christians, we completely realize, or maybe even understand, the full power God gave us when Christ returned to Heaven and the Great Comforter was sent. I have a little better understanding today because after that self-absorbed 3 hours or so, God gave me an answer to my plea.

My cancer was from living in a fallen world, not from God. The investigation was from my own decisions and actions, not from God. That's when the peace of His love fell on me and wrapped me in only a blanket He can provide. On my knees, I made a vow to Him and Him alone. If I was to die a young man of 38 years, I would spend ever last day He gave me thankful and in service to Him. On the other hand, if He wasn't through with me yet, then I would face what I needed to face and also be thankful and serve Him.

My Father let me know that either way, I was His to do as He wills for His glory. Coming up on 7 years later free of cancer and all legal abnormalities...I'm glad I gave it all to Him, and I'm sorry I ever ask the question 'why?'

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I Always Get the Same Answer

Having spent the last five years of my life in academic Biblical studies and theology, I am tempted to bore all of you with some deep theological language and issues. I remember when I first started this academic journey I couldn’t seem to understand the meaning of a lot of terms. In my first semester and for some time beyond that, no matter how many times I saw the word ontological I would freeze in my tracks. I would run for a dictionary. I would look it up again. Now I can use the term in a complete sentence and even think to use the word. My first day in a New Testament class, the professor told us to go home and prepare a pericope outline for the book of Mark. I had no idea what he was talking about and really stressed over that assignment.

So I use big words sometimes. Sometimes I know what they mean and how to use them, other times not so much. If I were going to ask some of the big questions I have theologically, I would ask about the atonement, theodicy, the incarnation or the Trinity. In reality, I like that type of mental activity. I guess I better since I spend so much time doing it.

I think if the question were phrased, what questions would like to ask God? I think my questions would be around these deep theological questions. But that’s not the question for today. The question is what question have I asked Jesus? That’s a totally different question. Jesus is my Savior. He is my redeemer friend. He is the one who I cry out to from the deepest parts of my soul. Yeah, I know about the Trinity. Remember it was one of my deep theological questions. Nevertheless, in spite of being a theological nerd, I still see Jesus in a slightly different light. He was human (that's the incarnation part). The scripture says:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin. Hebrews 4:15

So in the non-nerd part of me, when you talk about Jesus it’s just different.

I have asked Jesus why it is that I am in South Dakota. I don’t like it here. I don’t understand why or what purpose He had in having me come here. It just seems wrong, totally wrong for me. Yet, here I am.

I have asked Jesus why He called me and now I sit. Why did He gift me in preaching and teaching and give me precious few opportunities to use my gifts? These questions are followed with internal scrutiny of things I may have done wrong. Of course, I have done things wrong at times but that never seems to be the answer. If it were, I could fix it. I could repent. I could change. I keep asking.

I have asked God why my precious granddaughter had to die and why my children often make poor choices. (Here is the story of the granddaughter’s death.) I ask Him why we experience pain and troubles (that’s the theodicy part).

My biggest question right now is, why do you never give me a choice between two good things? Why do I always have to chose between two choices that are both bad? I am facing some decisions right now. Neither choice is good.

Jesus has never really given me any good answers to these questions. Jesus is sometimes difficult like that. Most of the time, He is just silent. When He does answer, He says:

 Joyce, just trust Me.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Jesus Takes Your Questions

Jesus was questioned about fasting, what to do with the woman taken in adultery, how to be born again, taxes and divorce. It seemed his disciples only had to have thought that was a question and Jesus would answer it. (Mark 2:8)

This week your faithful Kingdom Bloggers are going to write about a question they have asked Jesus.

The Lord has answered many questions for me over the decades. I am comfortable with salvation, Heaven, and with who's going and who's staying. Spiritual gifts and answered prayers are common place for this Christian. I know that God is preparing a move for us, but I don't know how He is going to accomplish it, but I am certain He will carry it out just as He has spoken.

I have kids of various ages. Like most parents I am concerned about the choices they make, yet I know He is in control. Another prophetic word that I received in 2000 is fulfilling itself for the older two as I type this. I am secure in knowing that He loves them, and they know where He is. I am excited about where they are going in life regardless of the path they take.

It is interesting as I was thinking about the topic, I didn't have any pressing questions - well except this one.

Jesus, what must I do to see more people healed? I see some healing, and yet, compared to the meeting that You did where every one was healed, I am seeing only a small percentage of folks that ask for healing prayer, get healed. What must I do?

I know the Bible says desire the gifts. Let me say "Oh God I want this one!" The Bible says to have faith, and I have seen enough healing that I know it happens; it happened again at church yesterday. Glory! And of course, if you want to see folks healed, you have to pray sick people; I do. Jesus, what must I do to see more people healed?

I don't know about you, but we are commanded to heal the sick (Matthew 10:8), and I want to!

Here is video from Mobile, AL. Delia Knox who was 22+ years in a wheelchair from an accident had no feeling in her legs. Here she is walking after all that time. God healed her. HERE is the original video shot when she was still in a wheel chair, check it out about 4:51!

How about you, do you want to be used by God to heal the sick?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

It really is a choice

I'm so blessed to be married to John. This man truly knows me - the good, the bad, and the ugly - and still loves me. He focuses on my strengths. I really think that if someone asked him in confidence what really bugs you about your wife, that he'd not be able to think of a thing. In fact, I know that if he read my opening here about the good, bad, and ugly he's appreciate the Clint allusion (for some goofy reason John adores old Clint Eastwood movies), but ask me what in the world I'm talking about.

Trust me on this one - he could have a very long list of complaints. Because as much as I try, I sometimes mess up. I have defects of character. I'm sure grateful that God loves me, forgives me, and empowers me to change. I'm grateful that I'm a better person today than I was three years ago. But I'm still in process.

All of us are in process.

One of the things John frequently says that has kind of become our marriage motto is that we've got to give each other a lot of mercy, grace, and forgiveness just like Jesus gives us. I've found that having this mentality, knowing that I annoy myself sometimes so of course my beloved husband is sometimes gonna annoy me, and when he does I need to just let it go and choose to focus on all the good things about him - this attitude changes our day to day existence. Gone is all the drama and upset about what the other person did wrong. Gone is the need to convince the other person how right I am. In it's place is love, forgiveness, and the choice to say words of gratitude and praise. I've learned that I really can make that choice.

Because of the world we live in I want to clarify that I'm not talking about stuff like addictions such as gambling that leave the family without money for food, or physical abuse, or repeated cheating. These kind of things can not be over looked while one chooses to focus on the positive. These things must be dealt with and typically require assistance (counseling by a pastor or therapist, 12-step groups, etc.). What I'm talking about here is the fact that none of us are perfect, and sometimes we do the wrong thing, so, since we're in this business of life together with our spouse - why not just engage in a lifestyle of overlooking offenses, forgiving, and loving?

We're all different, but for me, I do not talk with my friends if I'm upset with my husband. Anyone who has ever been in a small group setting with me for long almost inevitably thinks John is absolutely wonderful (of course that's because he is), since it's only the good things about him that I share with others. If I've got a problem with John, the only one I talk about it with is God. If I were to ever encounter a problem that I needed outside help, then I'd get it; but I'm not going to go around complaining, venting, or just being negative about my husband.

I recognize that sometimes, even with two well meaning people, we do need to talk about things that the other person did that upset us. But I've found that I don't need to have these talks as often as I used to think that I did.

It's only after I talked with God and get what I feel is the go ahead, that I will ever bring a problem between "us", or that I perceive to be with John, to my husband John. Lots of times I do not get the go ahead from God; lots of times I get the sense that John has issues, just like me, that he's working on and what he needs most from me is forgiveness, support, praise and love. What he doesn't always need is some big long discussion. I can tell you account after account where I've brought something to God, I have not sensed a release to talk with John about it, I've continued to pray about it, and God has worked in John and brought about changes or God has worked in my heart to see the situation differently, or change how I feel about the thing.

I've heard that Abraham Lincoln once said that a person is about as happy as he chooses to be. I think that's true. I think that thought applies so well to marriage, we're as happy with our spouse as we choose to be. It's up to me if I want to focus on what may annoy me, or I may think is missing, or on my husband's imperfections, or I can focus on his strengths and how God has blessed me with him. Having done so many things wrong in the past, I'm grateful that today I can live choosing to enjoy the good things.

What about you, what do you choose?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

You gotta keep saying "I do" even when you don't

I am the one in this group who has been married 30 plus years, 32 ½ years to be exact. My husband and I met 33 years ago this summer while both students at the University of Missouri-Columbia. You’d think that would mean I know a lot about marriage. I suppose I do. One thing I do know about marriage is that it is a lot of work. It isn’t easy!

I worked with a guy once; in fact I was his boss. He was a driver for our senior transportation program. He was single, never been married and approaching 40. We had a young female student come to do her internship with us as a social worker. Bob was smitten. I am not so sure she was smitten at first. Nevertheless they started dating.

At Christmas time he was plotting how to ask her to marry. He had a t-shirt made that said “Will you marry me?” His plan was to wear it under his regular shirt and present her with a ring, taking off his shirt with the question. It wasn’t the most romantic thing I ever heard of, but it was dramatic and creative. He was so nervous. All of us knew that the big question would soon be asked. All of us were rooting for him. There aren’t too many people in this world as nice as Bob. He deserved happiness. He dreamed of a family and had waited a very long time for it.

Their wedding was beautiful and fairy tale-ish. They came from different ethnic groups so we knew there’d be some challenges. We all hoped love would conquer all. It wasn’t a year and trouble started. I was amazed at how fast trouble came. She wanted a career; he wanted a family. She’d worked hard for her degree, was still in her 20’s. He just wanted to settled down. In-law issues also arose.

One day Bob came to me. He asked me, what’s the secret of a good marriage? He told me that there was a divorce petition ready for signatures. He was now smitten with grief rather than love. I had just come through a terrible challenge to my own marriage. I had been on the brink of despair myself. I thought about the answer.

Now I know the question today is “what works in my marriage?” All of us probably have a sense of what works in general terms with marriage. There is a huge difference in know theoretically what works in marriage, and living it out in the day to day of year after year after year. That first blush of love and passion does get lost in dirty laundry, bad days, baby diapers and the like. My answer to Bob was not a theoretical answer. Oh I did give him the “put God in your marriage and go to church” theoretical answer in my answer to him. But the most important thing I said to him was what I feel is what works in my own marriage of over three decades.

The answer sounds so simple but it is so hard to do. What works in my marriage is just not giving up. It’s so easy to say this is too hard, I don’t like this, I’ll give up. I’ve said it thousands of times in the years I’ve been married. It’s okay to say it. It’s natural to feel it. Marriage is very hard work. It challenges you more than even raising teenagers.

I told Bob that day that it is just about commitment. It is saying to yourself, when things are bad and when their good, this is my mate. You promised for better or worse and there is a lot of worse in this life. You just have to keep going if you want to stay married. You just have to persevere. There is no magic formula. There is no way to get around the fact that there are times that every part of you screams get me out of here. That’s when the rubber meets the road and you have to just press on because as hard a work as it is, it’s really worth it. 

Bob stuck in there. He and his bride have been married for close to 15 years now. He retired early and became a stay at home dad. She has her career, they have a good life together raising four beautiful children.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Marriage, It's More Than Sex and Pizza

On Thursdays, I can't wait to get home from work. It's date night at the Johndrow's - and Mr. and Mrs. are going out on the town. Our 6-year-old gets a babysitter, and we get some much needed time together without the rapid fire questions and requests for assistance.

You might not know it, but all of your Kingdom Bloggers are married - some more than once. We range from a few years to 30+ in matrimonial experience. This week we are each going to share one thing that helps us maintain our marriage.

What's so cool about date night and why does a middle-aged couple need one? It's interesting, if you talk to someone that has been divorced - especially when it is not due to one of Dr. Phil's deal-breakers; addiction, infidelity or physical abuse - they often say they "fell out of love." A question a lot of marriage counselors will ask is: "How did you fall in love?" The answer invariably starts with, "while we dating..."

My experience is that most couples go the extra mile while dating and for a short time after the honeymoon. Then things change. You live together awhile, he leaves his socks on the floor, she leaves the kitchen cabinets open, and you don't need to go out as much - after all you are together a lot more now.

For Mary Anne and I, the 5 Love Languages really helped us learn about meeting each others "love" needs. It was a way of learning to express love that the other person received as love. It also helped us to understand our own needs better. Sometimes, you don't get what you don't ask for.

My love language is time together, and hers is words of affirmation. In order for us to spend time together, we instituted date night. It is our night, and we do not schedule anything else in it's place. We get a babysitter for our 6-year-old, and go out on the town, take a walk or grab dinner and movie. I look forward to it very much.

After folks have been married for awhile and the honeymoon is over, it is important for couples to get some time alone, like when they were dating. After the kids come along, it is easy to get in a rut.

The fruit of our date nights is personal emotional intimacy. It's a time to discuss us, our needs, our hopes and our dreams. We try to leave the bills, the kids, and the jobs out of it. Sure, it often starts with how school and work is going or an occasionally a pressing need. What I enjoy is that we talk about our future, vacations, retirement, moving to a farm - the things that we hope for.

Jimmy & Karen Evan' of Marriage Today, have been another resource for us. We have used many of their ideas on marriage and parenting - but we like the idea of getting away alone. They recommend every few months. For us, it is just for our anniversary. These "retreats" from the rat race of work, school, and trying to squeeze out time the family are always refreshing.

As I guy, I didn't really feel married until the wife says "you bought what?!" All joking aside, my wife is always on my team, always supportive, and we try to discuss every aspect of our lives. no one is perfect, especially me - but on date night, I get a chance to redeem myself.

How about you, do you take a night every week to be with your spouse , if you have one?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Education might be expensive, but...

When you hang one of these in your home, you are putting the world on notice...if you truly mean what it says.

We live by a few simple principles or creeds in the Tony C household. One of the most important of those is the Big Three List of Priority:

  1. God
  2. Family
  3. Education

Of course, the list could be expanded to...say...10 or more listed priorities, but I've found there's enough conflict created by just these three in the order we’ve placed them. But since this post isn't about household priorities, I'll focus on #3 in the list - education.

Both my wife and I are college graduates and the first in both cases to hold baccalaureates in our extended families. Others have followed, but we were the original trailblazers for education in our families. I give credit in both cases to our parents for motivating and supporting the endeavors. Education was important to both families, and we continue to carry that banner today and maybe even put some added emphasis.

There are, however, two distinct reasons that education is stressed. As far as secular academic education goes, the importance is placed on excellence and the choices in career paths that come with that commitment. I didn’t stop after my baccalaureate and have continued with graduate work with the ultimate goal of a doctorate (you’re an inspiration fellow Kingdom Blogger Joyce). My wife, Candice, also plans to work on a graduate degree in education once the house settles down a bit from baby-dom. Still, it boils down to the more emphasis and dedication being placed on education, the more choices there seems to be when it comes to employment and the types of employment.

Biblical education takes on a completely different impetus. Both Candice and I grew up attending Sunday School. Like our girls are now, we learned a lot of the fundamental stories central to a solid Christian belief system. We both feel, however, that continued biblical learning is essential to a strong, faithful walk with Christ, and we try to emphasis to the teenager now (and her younger sisters later) that reading God’s Word is important…but more important is LEARNING from God’s Word with every opportunity.

Some people have a hard time with the concept of learning something new from reading the same book repeatedly over the course of a lifetime. As a matter of fact, I was once one of those people. I finally came to realize and accept just how vast the knowledge of God truly is and understand that even learning something new every day from His Word over the course of a thousand lifetimes…well…wouldn’t even be a significant start to enlightenment. Sorry my Buddhist friends.

Education counts…secular and biblical.

Can we trust them to God?

When David suggested we write about back to school I had no idea what to write.

So I started thinking about what school starting meant to me this year. The biggest deal for me this year is that my middle son is now a senior in high school.

This is my very large son (he's currently 6ft 3 1/2 inches & weighs 260lbs & is very muscular). My son whose life revolves around football. The one who in every area of his life besides football, examines the situation and determines what can he do to satisfy the needs/requirements while investing as little time and effort as possible. My son who can't stand to be alone for long and who's always got to be around people. The one who's always got all kinds of people coming over to our home and who hates to stay home at night. The one who freequently tells me that he loves me, and who's a total romantic when he falls for a girl (he writes them poetry & engages in all manner of creative things for them from having the announcer at half time during the football game ask the girl to homecoming for him, to making her go on a treasure hunt to locate her Birthday present). He's the one who is a Christian and very open about that and very clear about wanting to wait til marriage before he's sexual; yet he only goes to church because he knows I really want him to and doesn't read the Bible on his own on a regular basis. He's the impulsive one who I've seen make lots of poor judgment calls but has yet to realize this himself. This son is a senior. This son will most likely be off at some college on a scholarship next year; away from home, making all his own decisions. Rather a disquieting thought.

Since I know God is in charge of the universe and is totally trustworthy, I don't need to worry - right? Since I gave my son up to God from the moment of his birth; promising to look to God for grace, wisdom and ability to be his mom, I should experience peace - right? Since I've raised him in a home where he has had ever increasing amounts of freedom and have not shielded him from the natural consequences of his behavior (both good and bad), I can feel confident that he'll do fine - right? So how come the thought of this son off at college, off on his own, brings anxiety where as I never had a worry concerning his older brother?

A part of me thinks that perhaps it's because he is so social and I see him influenced by ungodly practices around him. Or because he's such a big heart and I hate to think of him being hurt. Or because he's so impulsive and I've seen him do really dumb stuff that he still thinks, even after experiencing the consequences, were so worth it. But maybe it's because I really don't trust God. Or I only trust God when things go the way I want them to. Nothing is so black and white when it comes to parenting; at least not for me.

What about you, do you ever struggle with trusting your kids' future to God? Do you experience anxiety about your children's choices, or are you at peace in the knowledge that God's in control?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I Don't Need

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.
John 14.26

  • I don't need a title to minister Jesus.
  • I don't need a degree to teach Jesus.
  • I don't need is a building to serve Jesus.
  • I don't need a pulpit to preach Jesus.
  • I don't need a doctrine to qualify Jesus.

What I need is to be obedient to Him.

But you have received the Holy Spirit, and He lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what He teaches is true, it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ.
1 John 2.27

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Back to school again.

As I was reading David's blog yesterday and thinking about my own, I thought, wow - God really likes to mixes us up, doesn't He? He certainly doesn't deal with all His children alike - I guess there is no cookie cutter mold for Christians, is there?

Like David, I played a lot of Scrabble with my mother. I remember sitting on the floor, her on the tangerine sectional couch with the plastic slipcovers - I kid you not, we really had those - she had this rounded end triangular coffee table too. That couch and her coffee table were her pride and joy. I think it was the only new furniture she ever had in her life. Almost every evening I would get the brown Scrabble box, turn the letters over on the box lid and we'd play Scrabble. She was good at it, soon I got better than her at it. It was a big moment in my life to routinely beat (legitimately too) my mother at Scrabble. I still love the game.

However, unlike David, my mother was a high school dropout. She had finished the 10th grade and quit school. She never had a job other than a few jobs doing domestic work. My father had little formal education as well. He worked as a janitor at a large bank in Manhattan. Every night, while we were playing Scrabble, my father was getting his last little bit of sleep. As we were folding the Scrabble board, he'd be getting up. He'd have a bit of coffee and a snack. He'd leave to board the subway to clean the floors and toilets at the bank. When I was asked in school, where does your father work? I would say he is a banker. It was an honest answer from me. I didn't know any better. My father worked at a bank. That made him a banker, right?

I too quit school. Education was important in our family. Both my brothers had managed to go to college. The one had even been a high school drop out, like me. But it was different for me. I married young. I had three small children. I had been beaten and abused. I was pretty much a loser by all standards except God's. God some how or other reached inside of me and gave me the courage to go back to school. You can read a bit about it here. The story of that journey starts here.

I have wondered how I really felt that first day on the University of Missouri campus. I had an infant at a day care a few blocks away. I would go in between classes and nurse her. I had two boys elsewhere. One was in Head Start learning his A, B, C's. The other was in grade school. Driving to class in a 69 Volkswagen bug, running to feed children macaroni and cheese and hot dogs or whatever was in the pantry, it was certainly not your average back-to-school experience. Unlike my walk to PS 94 to start Kindergarten, I didn't have my mother's hand to hold to help me feel brave.

I got through it. I got a degree. I was married again to my husband of now 32 years. I was pregnant with our first child. But I had done it. God had taken that spark in that hospital room at the pit of my despair. Took a young woman who everyone labeled a loser and helped her get a degree in 3 1/2 years with 3 children.

Children, husband's degree, more children and bills kept me from pursuing any more degrees until a few years ago. I went back to school again and now I have a Master's degree. That degree actually took me more years than the Bachelors did, but I did it. Now I am in school for a doctoral degree. I'll do that in three years. I have no choice, that's the way the program works.

God had a different path for me. One that seemed impossible. But that's sort of how God works. He loves enabling us to do the impossible.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Back to School - Education and Jesus

We sat around the dining room table playing Scrabble. "Is 'xertz' a word," my brother asked?

"You can't ask. Play it, and we can challenge you if we want." my mother snapped.

I rolled my eyes looking at my tray of letters. "I'll never be good at this," I thought to myself. "I only know two words that start with "x" - well, I don't have the "x" anyway.

Lots of folks are back to school, my little one just started first grade. Your Kingdom Bloggers are back from their Summer break, and ready to write inspired and uplifting blogs with a personal touch.

Education was a big deal in my home. My mother had attended some of the world's best schools including: Wells College, Yale University and the New School in New York. It seems she had more degrees than a thermometer. Dinner time included a lot of grammar correction, as well as intellectual talk. It sort of bored me - I'm no intellectual. 4 out 6 of those who sat at that table were of the certified on paper, genius variety.

In that sort of environment, school was not fun. I was just an average kid, trying to carve out an existence amongst intellectual giants. My mother, an educator, tried everything she could think of to get me to read. She bought me magazines: Hot Rod, Motocross Weekly, and American Photography. It worked a little bit.

In middle school, when grades mattered; I wasn't getting very good ones.

Since that time I have earned to enjoy grandiloquent writing, and do a little of it myself. At age 19, two years after I graduated at the bottom of my class, I finally decided to go to college. I studied 2 years at a 4-year school, and then transferred to another school where I triple majored. I took some classes a few other colleges to round out my education. In 1988 I decided to study art, and went two more years. Oh, and then there was the seminary classes and Bible school. Oh, and more school for computer science - I turned out to be a lot like my mother.

Recently, I spoke to my wife about entering a master/doctoral program that included some online classes. After all, I just paid off my student loans. My wife is my biggest cheerleader, and was very supportive - she always is.

I looked over the courses, downloaded the application form, and because there was no rush with school starting months down the road, I went on about my life. Last July I was in church, and woman named Sarah came over to me. She said, "I was watching you during worship this morning, and I felt led to share the following: You are an educated man, and you've compared yourself to others - you want to know what they know. But I feel the Lord wants you to know, that he is training you, and he will provide the very knowledge you need to succeed. I don't know if it is God or not, but I was a very strong impression."

If one were to intellectualize this "message", it isn't very meaningful. For me, it was the "word of the Lord." I have done just that which she said. All they way back to my first Scrabble game, I wanted to be as smart and educated as others. I already have 9 years of college. I fantasized about having Phd after my name - that sort of thing. All of my favorite teachers have doctorates.

The words Sarah gave me changed that. What I really want is to know Jesus.

A few days later, I was feeling relieved. School is a huge sacrifice when I am already working full-time, trying maintain a family, and play in a band. I constantly tell my wife, "I don't need more to do."

I am thankful that God has plans for me, and as I sit and blog, and meditate on his word, He teaches me.

Philippians 3:7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

How about you, do you feel you have enough education to serve God, or do you need to go back to school?

Friday, September 10, 2010

So Father...let's do this Your way.

I posted on Kingdom Bloggers last December about taking over the college-aged Sunday School class at church. Although there was both excitement and anxiety about the new venture, I must report a little over 8 months later that the experience has been one of the greatest blessing God has ever given to me.

Each Sunday, our church's bulletin has a call for help to fill several open positions in different ministries. I can't begin to tell you how this breaks my heart. The church I attend has well over 300 members, but in typical fashion, it seems that there are a handful of people that do the work required by the church's called ministries. Even more heartbreaking is the fact I know we are in the norm and not the exception when it comes to this problem.

How can this be?

A little over a month ago, I requested to speak before worship services to the Sunday morning crowd. I shared my angst over the open teaching positions, but I also shared what a tremendous blessing it had been to work in the Sunday School ministry. I was honest about my anxieties and reluctance to take the class because of the time commitment then joked about my epiphany and realizing the awesome teacher I was replacing was also the Vice-President of a Fortune 500 could I be any busier than him? I poured it out and poured it on strong. When finished, a sense of accomplishment came over me as I headed back to my drummer's throne tucked away behind the piano.

Those same positions are still open today...

We are truly creatures of habit, and attitude is as much habit as anything else about us. While it still bothers me to open the bulletin and continue to see the request for help going unanswered, God has helped me focused on what He has me doing. Each Sunday, I come to class prepared and ready to challenge a group of young adults who need to question and understand why it is they believe what they say they believe. I stay involved in their lives throughout the week. When they hurt or struggle, I pray for them and hurt with them. When the celebrate yet another milestone or accomplishment, I praise God for them and celebrate with them. I can't even type this paragraph without tearing up thinking about the awesome blessing each and every one in the class is to me personally.

Maybe that is a much more effect way to motivate others to get involved. I know not every person has a talent or aptitude to teach. I don't have the talent to sing or work in children's church either. Jesus teaches extensively about the Church being a body made up of different parts...each with a role to fill.

So, I will continue to keep on keeping on with what I have been called to do. I will do so with my very best effort and attitude. I will stay involved and interact with my students with love and compassion. I will share with others what a tremendous blessing and privilege it is to be a small part of the Body working for the Kingdom. I will reflect all credit and glory to the One who allows me said privilege.

And if by some chance that rubs off on somebody else and motivates them to pick up the slack...praise be to God!

A few of the gang with a picture message for an absent fellow classmate. The small red head in the back is a special guest...

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Stepping out of my comfort zone into God's blessing

Last week I shared about how something that my son Daniel had talked about this past January caused me to re-evaluate if I'm using the gitfs and opportunities God's giving me to the fullest. I'd been inspired at that time to step out of my comfort zone and into some opportunities that God kept bringing my way.

If you know me at all, two adjectives that could well describe me are "shy" and "reserved". That's just me. I'm not a person who likes getting up in front of others and being the center of attention. It's a total turn on for me to get to work behind the scenes and bless people when they don't even know about me. I'm one of those people that is sometimes practically invisible, while I notice a lot about others.

A couple of years ago the woman in charge of women's ministries at our church approached me and asked that I be on the women's ministry core leadership team. After praying about it, I accepted. I adore women and enjoy getting to do things to reach out to them both in the church and community. A big part of the team is to pray and receive the vision/direction for what God wants to do for, and through, the women in our local church for the coming year. Then take that vision and plan out the calendar and "events", and do all the stuff required to make these things happen. Planning and administrative type activities come naturally for me. Plus I get to do lots of work that no one ever knows about but that blesses people - just my thing.

But several times, for more than a two year time period, I kept being asked to lead one of the large women's Bible studies that meet at our church. While there are few things that I enjoy more than studying the Word with other women, the idea of being the person who was in front of, or leading a large group, sounded totally unappealing to me. I kept thinking about how anxious I tend to feel in social settings, how tongue tied I get, how I don't at all perceive myself to be a particularly likable, charismatic, or popular type person. So I kept refusing.

But then God used what Daniel shared to make me think about the fact that God obviously doesn't expect me to be a super star (trust me, I have NO super star qualities), but He does want me to be faithful. He also kept bringing the apostle Paul's words from 2 Corinthians 12:10 about how when Paul was weak, then God could be strong, to my mind. It seemed to me that God was speaking to my heart that He wanted to use weak, shy, reserved, me and that because of my weakness it would make me rely more on Him and that way it would be a God-thing instead of a me-thing. So I finally agreed to lead one of the large women's Bible studies at our church.

And you know what? I absolutely loved it!

I know that lots of women from both our church and our community came faithfully. The study was set up so that there was a workbook with homework during the week prior to our meeting. We had a discussion time when we broke into small groups and shared, and I heard women tell about how God was working through His Word and His spirit in their lives during the time between our meetings. God was using the curriculum, His Word, relationships, and circumstances to cause change and growth, and produce faithfulness, in their lives. I never cease to be excited about God working in the lives of women!

A woman who was new to our church made sure to tell me later how comfortable, welcome, included, and accepted she felt. Another woman went out of her way to let me know that she really liked the atmosphere; that she appreciated that we had an agenda and (by the grace of God) didn't constantly go off on "rabbit trails", but at the same time were open to God's work, leading, and ministry to specific women in their lives. She felt like the agenda was never more important than herself of any other woman in the room.

I noticed that between or before meetings, that if I thought about me facilitating the event, I felt that sick oh-I-don't-want-to-be-visually-obviously-up-frontedly-in charge feeling. But if I kept my focus on the individual women in the group,that God kept giving me an intense love for each woman there. I'd find myself thinking about them, praying for them, seeing exciting things that God had in store for them. I got to write them notes during the week, or pray for specific things for them as the Holy Spirit prompted. Then we'd meet and I'd find out why God had me pray, and what He was doing. God was working in their lives, God was ministering to them, God was blessing them - and He let me be part of it!

There's a new women's large group Bible study starting in the end of September, and this time I didn't have to think twice before I agreed to facilitate one of the two times it will be offered. I'm looking forward to what God's gonna do.

What about you, can you think of a time when God seemed to be prompting you to serve in a way that was totally not you, that was outside of your comfort zone? What happened?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Great Adventure

I’ve written a lot about my life on Sounds of Hope. I’ve talked about childhood abuses. I’ve talked about being a single mother on welfare. I talked about being an abused and abandoned wife. There I’ve shared that I was a high school dropout, living on welfare, in a trailer with three small children. Not exactly the material for success in life. Certainly not someone you’d say was likely to succeed. But God...

Yes, but God. It’s always but God… He seems to see us differently than everyone else. He sees our potential and gives us dreams. Then He gives us a hope that we might fulfill those dreams. Then He gives us faith in Him and His ability to get us to those dreams. And He gives us strength.

This summer I took another huge leap of faith or stupidity – there are days I wonder which it is, faith or stupidity? I started a doctoral program. While I do ask myself sometimes is this just a stupid dream that I am too old to have, deep inside, I know differently. I know that God has put this dream inside of me. A dream I’ve had for many years, many, many years.

So this summer I did a lot of research. I probably have read around 4000 pages of material. I’ve produced a 103 page annotated bibliography. I’ve struggled through a position paper which still needs tweaking. I don’t think the tweaking will stop anytime soon as we are being taught to write an academic argument and that will take a while. So I’ll be editing, and editing and tweaking. Then I’ll be reading and reading some more and adding to the monstrous bibliography.

I’ve also produced a Curriculum Vita which is a fancy resume where you go on and on about yourself. Mine was six pages. Not because I accomplished that many great things but because I am old and had a lot of experience.

I don’t know where this is going – do we ever know really where God is taking us? We just sort of get on the roller coaster, let God strap us in and go for the ride. We let him take us on a GREAT ADVENTURE.

In the process of all this reading and living in a dorm on a college campus for the first time, I’ve found new hope. I may be old but God isn’t finished with me. Like Sarah, I laugh at times to think that God still has more for me to do or that doors will open.

This doctoral program really got into my personal business this summer. We were pushed not just academically but personally. We were pushed to look at ourselves, know ourselves and change ourselves. One of the biggest changes for me was I committed myself to exercise. I am now doing 5 miles in a half hour on an exercise bike, 6 days a week. My goal was 20 minutes 3x a week. Most of us don't think about our physical discipline as part of our spiritual discipline. But it is. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) You can see a little video I made for class here. Turn the sound on to hear the song at the end.

So I'm on a new adventure. God willing in 2013 I'll be Dr. Joyce Lighari. I'll still be me, but hopefully I will be prepared for whatever God has next. For my "Isaac." What about you? I’ll bet you have a dream. God’s not done. What’s your dream?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Sounds of Summer - The Cup Runs Over

One of the things that I love about Kingdom Bloggers is that we really get to talk about our lives with Jesus. We don't have to teach or preach; just be ourselves. My journey to the current place in life started in August of '06. HERE are the details on that. The story, however; continues.

There is nothing in life richer than knowing God. I could care less about theology or church stuff or religion or anything else. What I care about is Jesus, and knowing him deeply.

This week your Kingdom Bloggers are back from summer break with some testimonies about how God has worked in their lives. Welcome back, Joyce, Tracy, Dave and Tony. Here's mine:

If you read Waiting for the Rain - Acting on a Promise, you know that just as the Lord promised, the rain fell after three and half years. Since that time I found a new church - one that I decided to visit one morning during prayer. The pastor and I have become friends, and we meet together every other week for a few hours. He encourages and loves, as well as appreciating my ministry and spiritual gifts.

David has had a rough time with church. In spite of both seminary and bible school training, as well as completing a certificate class "The Art of Hearing God" and 3 levels of Denny Cramer's prophetic School, I could not find a "place" in church until now.

I have been asked to co-lead one of the ministry teams. I am excited about the possibilities.

Well over a year ago, I wrote about my passion: The equipping of the saints by a 5 part team. I am so certain that God is working towards something called the 5-Fold Ministry model, I can hardly contain myself. I finally had a two hour meeting with the pastor and told him about a vision I had for an "apostolic school;" one where I would teach about, and train others to be part of this type of church. Our vision was so similar, that we had a high-five to end the meeting - a sign of complete agreement. He said that I would have to organize it, and take care of the details. I knocked out a web site during a few lunch hours, and wrote a 15 page booklet to be used for the class.

Cool, right! The best part is that God brought us together, and he is opening all the doors.

And there is more... one day I was driving home and I saw a house up on wheels that was being moved. I clearly heard the Lord say, "you are moving." In one of my chats with the pastor, he mentioned in passing that none of the elders lived in the town where the church is. I heard the Lord say, "This is your town, David; you'll live here.

In June, my wife and I went away for our anniversary. As we were talking, she said that no one seemed that happy in the town we live in, and asked if I would be interested in moving? Wow, I never thought we'd get to the conversation, never mind agree that it might be possible.

We decided to get a small horse farm (2-4 stalls), or move near the ocean. All of the listings that we found on the Internet that were in our price range were at the beach, or; coincidentally, in the town where my new church is. We did look other places, but the farms were taken off the market. Go figure.

A few weeks ago, I was driving to Cape Cod for our family vacation. I have a friend from the Pacific Northwest who is a prophet. He knows stuff, amazing stuff. Because I had time on the two-hour ride, I decided to call him - we hadn't talked in a few months. As I was pressing the SEND button on my cell, I got an email from him. I called him and thought it some what of a coincidence. Joseph said, "Hey, I was praying for you and the Lord says that you are moving northwest - well north then west. Interesting, the new church is northwest of my current home about 55 miles.

So there you have it, a move of God in process. We have decided to move, and have no clue as to how it is all going to work out - just a few promises from God. Here is where the faith comes in. In the midst of waiting, Joseph called me again and said he felt that the doors would open in about 3 weeks. Well, that narrows it down God. Thank you Jesus.

How about you, do you have any promises from God that you are waiting on?

Friday, September 3, 2010

God said I did.

Okay...this is the first one of these I've ever done, but I felt lead to do it. I have to admit, it was a real blessing working on this storyboard video searching for pictures and related videos while listen to Chapman's compelling praise song.

So, what about the change? I had to ask myself that dozens of times during the process. Maybe this was meant for me, I don't know...but I hope you are as moved as I was to self-reflect on the lyrics.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Lesson from Daniel

This is the last week in our sharing a favorite from our own blogs. I feel compelled to share about something my youngest son taught me. It's kind of cool for me because I wrote this in January of this year, and have since then stepped out in the ministry area that I allude to here and seen God work through me. I know that God is the all powerful creator of the universe and that He does not need me to do what He wants to do. So I'm extremely grateful when He chooses to use me, when I get to be part of His work.

A lesson from Daniel

I've mentioned before that I learn a lot from my kids. Recently my youngest son Daniel, who is 15, has taught me some things worth pondering.

I've watched Daniel really struggle over the past couple of years with football. We live in a small town and football is a huge deal at the local high school. Daniel is on the team at the high school; but he doesn't do well. He works really hard; he even stays after practice and does extra running, working out and weight lifting to try to increase his ability. Because he tries so hard the coach does periodically give him chances, but he frequently messes up during those times. He's talked to me concerning this more than once. To make matters worse, his older brother who is just one grade ahead of him in school, is really good (of course this particular son happens to be 6'3" and 225lbs as a Jr in high school, so he's practically made to be a line man). All I've told Daniel is that I see such a spirit of faithfulness in him and that I think God honors that, and that I think this faithful, hardworking attitude will serve him well throughout his life. I never comment on the actual football part because I don't know much about football, he does seem to mess up, and the truth is that not everyone is good at every thing they try.

Daniel plays drums with the worship team in our small church. As part of a get-to-know-the-folks-up-here-on-the-stage-every-Sunday kind of thing, he was asked to give a testimony during church. What he shared both humbled and blessed me. It's also really had me thinking about those truths ever since he shared.

Daniel read the passage from Matthew 25:14-30 where Jesus told the parable of the talents. In a nutshell the parable is about a man who was going on a journey and gave 3 servants varying amounts of talents/money to watch while he was gone. When he returned he called the servants in to see how they had done with the money he left them. Two servants had invested and done well and they were rewarded, the servant who was given the least had done nothing with what he was given and he was punished. Daniel pointed out that not everyone was given the same amount of money to invest and that the man was most interested in what they did with what he gave them. Daniel shared about his struggles with football and then shared how the bottom line was that if God had wanted him to be the best at football he would have given him that talent but that obviously that was not God's plan for him. But that he believes God is very interested in how he uses whatever it is that he is given. He said he plays football because he thinks it's fun, and he's to the point where he chooses to do his best and just leave the rest up to God. Daniel talked about the fact that there most likely will always be people who are better at whatever it is that we each like to do, but that the talents other people have is not the really important issue. The really important issue is what we each do with what we are given.

Gee sometimes my 15yr old is smarter than me.

What Daniel shared has got me to think about, and look at, what I am doing with what God has given me. It's made me check to see if I'm using my meager talents in some areas as an excuse to not step out and serve others in these areas. There's one area in my community where there is a need and I was approached about serving in it a while back; but I turned the opportunity down because I had focused on my deficits. Recently I was approached again, but this time I'm stepping out in faith in that area simply because there is a need and I'm willing to serve. I'm choosing to rely on God's greatness instead of my giftedness.

What about you, do you ever let what you perceive to be your lack of talent keep you from serving? Do you ever refrain from participating in things that you think are fun just because you think you're not good enough at them?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Christian Haters Hating Christians

I kinda wonder if the apostles that stuck around Jerusalem after Stephens execution belittled those who ran off? (Acts 8.1) Did they condemn them for their lack of Faith?  Did Pete, John and the rest of the crew brag to each other how dedicated and fearless they were?

I am aware of how hypocritical this entry is.(Romans 14.22??) I am hating on the Christian haters.  I am so disgusted with the 'gospel experts' sitting behind their keyboards and pulpits declaring everyone else a pharisee or a phony.  How many people have accepted the Gift of Eternal Life because someone pointed out a 'flawed' theology?  Contrarily, how many people have become confused or bitter because of all the negativity and finger pointing? 

Yes, I have had conversations come up with others about Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, the Christian haters online and local preachers. Yes, I have been asked questions about what those people preach.  And yes, I have volunteered my opinion what those dudes are preaching.  There are things about each one these dudes that I can disagree with and agree with. It is tough to not get caught up in threads and debates about who is right and who is wrong.  I like to post something totally irrelevant in the threads, such as Project 86 is the greatest band ever. Or if you don't know Mars Ill, you don't know Hip Hop.  Or even something as stupid as my favorite color is snot green. 

With such easy access to express an opinion, its kinda hard not to spout off what we believe about Faith, sports, politics, work.  I believe it comes down to each persons motivation. (Romans 2.16) Why do we do what we do? Why do we preach what we preach? Is it share Jesus or is it to argue and debate about things that only time will tell?

I think anyone that chooses to limit Holy Spirit to the doctrine of one person is a fool.  I think anyone that wants to spend their time and talents tearing down other peoples doctrines instead of praying for those people is a bigger fool. I think anyone that wants to preach hate instead of preaching the Love and Grace of Jesus (yes, that includes confession (1John 1.9)and repentance (Titus 2.11-14) of sin) is the biggest fool of all.  I think there are too many Christians playing the role of a fool.  And too many times I play the fool.

It's true that some here preach Christ because with me out of the way, they think they'll step right into the spotlight. But the others do it with the best heart in the world. One group is motivated by pure love, knowing that I am here defending the Message, wanting to help. The others, now that I'm out of the picture, are merely greedy, hoping to get something out of it for themselves. Their motives are bad. They see me as their competition, and so the worse it goes for me, the 
better—they think—for them. 
Philippians 1.15-17 The Message