Sunday, November 1, 2015

Waiting Patiently

Waiting can be very difficult.

Even for the most secure Christian who knows that God has a plan for their life and He is their hope and salvation, waiting is waiting.

To wait is "to stay where one is or delay action until a particular time or until something else happens." Another definition includes the phrase "to remain inactive or in a state of repose, as until something expected happens." Synonyms include hold back, bide one's time, mark time, stand by, sit tight, hold one's horses, holding pattern, detention.

Honestly, reading through those synonyms and the actual definition of "waiting" helps me understand why it's so hard to wait.

I am a doer by nature. I don't let grass grow under my feet. My accolade at the end of last school year was "The Energizer Bunny" because I kept going and going and going.

I would say our season of waiting began last spring as Joel started sending out resumes and applying for pastoral positions.

After 64 resumes had been sent and little was heard back, it was hard to expect anything and easy for doubts to creep in. But, our hope was in the Lord. There were days we would ask God "are You sure You said this is what I was supposed to do? supposed to pursue?" There were days it felt silly to be hoping for something different. We were content with what we had and where we were. But, in all honesty, Joel was working part-time and I was working full-time. We wanted that to be reversed. So, we kept hoping and praying and seeking.

Those are the actions of waiting. While one definition says "remaining inactive", it doesn't mean you are completely still, doing nothing as you wait. Even in line at a store, your weight gets shifted back and forth, your mind is working, sometimes you're talking to those around you who are also waiting.

Talking to God and listening for His voice, trusting in His provision and plan, reading the Word and seeking wisdom, sending resumes, replying to job postings, talking to friends and making phone calls--even when you're waiting, you're often doing.

God opened the door. He made a way. He connected us with Rivermont Baptist Church in Danville, Virginia and here we are.

A few weeks after we arrived, I applied to substitute teach and sent off my packet to get certified to teach in Virginia. Then I waited. I got a call and they said they would schedule a training. No date. And I waited. My certification was held up by a transcript. I fixed that and then waited. No date. Just waiting.

I was called Friday and given a date for training--next week. Yay! This morning I woke up to a letter on our front porch. It's my Virginia teaching license. Woohoo!

There's more waiting in the future. Of this I am sure. But, it feels so good to finally get that thing you've been waiting for.

Friends, if you are waiting for something today, don't give up hope. Waiting is hard, even when you hope in the Lord and are trusting Him for guidance and provision. It doesn't mean you're doing something wrong when you admit it's hard to wait. It means you're human and you're growing. Over the last six months as I've waited my relationship with the Lord has grown as I've talked to Him about it, searched the Word for wisdom and answers, renewed my trust in Him to guide us, and reaffirmed my belief that He is good and His timing is perfect. Whatever you're waiting for today--restored relationship, a job, a healing-- don't give up. "But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint." Isaiah 40:31

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Fruit Inspection

I've been pondering leadership a lot lately.

Joel is the pastor of our church. He is a leader. That's a weighty role.

We left a ministry where leadership was controlling--much more than I even realized! We left the ministry because they were making changes and we did not feel we could commit to the changes. Specifically, GFA was planning to build a new headquarters with staff housing on a campus an hour east of where we lived. We weren't sure about: selling our house and "renting" from the ministry, having all the staff further isolated, and our commitment to the ministry for more than another few years.

During the five years we served on staff at GFA, Joel's desire to pastor a church never waned. So, we decided it was time to move on. We walked away quietly so Joel could attend seminary in hopes that he would then be called to pastor a church. In the three years since we left GFA, we have discovered that there was much more going on behind closed doors at GFA than we could have imagined. My trust in the leadership at the ministry is gone. Completely.

How do we decide if someone in leadership is worth following?

You often hear the word "fruit" in a discussion on the value of someone's ministry. What exactly is this "fruit"? In telling people about the corruption of GFA leadership, I've heard people say "There has been such good fruit from the ministry that I'm sure there's just a misunderstanding" or "You will know a ministry is good when you see good fruit coming from it." In response to this, a good friend had the following to say that I found very helpful:

In these situations a good question to ask is: what would it take to not trust leadership anymore? What would in your mind be the last straw and break your trust with leadership?

If you can answer that question honestly and then look at what has happened objectively you may be surprised at what you have allowed for the sake of "the fruit on the field".

And perhaps that is the answer: what if the fruit on the field is actually bad?

But what would make it bad? What if there's only ONE Believer? Is that still good fruit? Of course it is, but is it enough to excuse lying? Would all these lies be ok still for ONE? What about two? If there's 10 is it okay to lie? 100? 1000? 10,000? When is it ok to lie for the sake of those who are coming to know Christ?

Are believers permitted to lie without repentance as long as what they are doing leads to the lost being saved?

What does Jesus say?

You will know them [false prophets] by THEIR fruits. Does He mean their "fruits on the field"—their works? Or does He mean their own "fruits of righteousness"?

Look what John said to the religious leaders:

"Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Is it possible that Jesus cares about the fruit of people's character and not as much about the fruit of their work? Can He not do His work of reaching the lost BETTER with those who also have fruits of repentance and righteousness in their own lives?

If we make room for lying, are we doing good or harm ultimately to God's kingdom? And ought not we (out of all men), who are part of the household of God, stand up against the sin of lying?

"And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God."

Friday, October 9, 2015

Landing

I haven't blogged since our move.

The Lord guided us to a new place. We now call Virginia home.

Joel is pastoring a small church in Danville, a city just across the North Carolina border in the central part of the state.

I have to laugh when I think about the journey. Laughter is good. Better than crying, though I love to cry.

The month of June found me excited about what I thought was the direction for our family then frustration when there was silence. I'm not good at silence. Anyone close to me can tell you that emphatically.

As July approached, I banked on the promise from Scripture that I clearly felt was from the Lord. Sensing the Lord had given me anything personal is a huge breakthrough given the place I had gone in my walk with Him over the last few years--wondering if personal really existed. The verse I felt so strongly connected to was in Psalms. Chapter 84.

There is much more than just a verse that spoke to me as I was waiting on the Lord. In particular, however, was verse 5: "Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage." I really wanted it to be more specific. At the time when I first read this verse, Joel and I were visiting a church where he was preaching--for what we thought was a potential calling to pastor. I wanted specifics. I wanted reassurance. God gave it to me. It just didn't look like what I wanted.

He set my heart on pilgrimage. It's true. That's what He did. 

We left that weekend with high hopes. Then days turned to weeks and we heard nothing. My fears were waiting at the door, knocking gently at first. By the beginning of July, those knocks were getting louder.

Thankfully, I battled well this summer. Never perfect. But, I glory in the Lord for battling standing up instead of feeling like I was knocked down or, worse yet, unaware of the fight.

Years ago I did a Beth Moore study. She talked about the sons of Korah writing this Psalm. Psalm 84. Better is one day in your courts than thousands elsewhere. I had heard the song. I sang it. But, Beth explained what the sons of Korah were talking about. Their ancestors had disobeyed God and He opened the earth and swallowed them up whole. These sons were so taken with the Lord that they didn't want a lofty place in the inner courts. They were content to serve the Lord as long as they could just be inside the courts.

I believe the Lord used this Psalm to encourage me this summer so that my heart would be set on pilgrimage--a move--and also so it would be set to be content regardless of what place or position He gave me/us. 

He is the Lord God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. He is highly exalted and reigns on high. He is the Anointed One, who took on flesh and bore my sin and shame. He is the Risen and Exalted One, who will one day return. All creatures will bow and declare Him King of Kings and Lord of Lords. 

Better is one day in His courts. "For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you." Psalm 84:11, 12

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Noah, Abraham, and others who followed

Over the last few weeks we have been preparing our house to put on the market. The market here is "hot" right now and houses are selling quickly. They are also selling well above what we paid for our house seven years ago. But, there are projects to be done--walls to be painted, bathrooms to be tiled, trim to added, decluttering to be done.

We began with the projects as soon as school was out and our days were more free. We started with decluttering because I wanted to have a garage sale. We cleaned out quite a bit. Having a garage is both a blessing and curse. We tend to use the space to store things and pretty soon we've crowded out our car. We clean it out and park in it again (usually if bad weather is expected). But, it soon becomes filled with little things here and there. Once we started decluttering, we made a huge pile of "garage sale" items and then also began making a pile of things we could go ahead and pack up.

We had our garage sale. We did well. We sold a lot. We made enough that we could pay to have a few projects around the house done. I'm still trying to sell a few things online. But, it feels really good to be decluttered! Moving out some furniture pieces and boxing up some stuff has also helped to feel less cluttered.

Then we began the bigger tasks, like painting and fixing molding and picking out tile. I spent the last week painting our front living room. Joel painted the hallway and back living room. As I was painting the other day, it struck me that we are doing all this work and have no idea if we're really leaving let alone where we're going. Mind you, we have some options. After a phone call and email last week Joel is confident we are moving. I have to say I know we're moving too. But, the question still remains, "Where?"

We've visited one place we like very much. We like the church, the houses, the community, the location. We haven't visited the other two places. We will visit one in the coming weeks. We may get invited to visit the third.

But, as I was painting I thought to myself "this faith I'm exercising right now (because it has been a HUGE exercise of my faith muscles!) is the kind of faith that led Abraham to a land he didn't know." Abraham's faith should encourage me. He left everything in a time when people didn't do that! People move all the time now. It's not a big deal in our culture to move away from family or change jobs. It's not even unfamiliar to Joel and me. I moved across the country at age 10; Joel moved to Japan at 19 and then kept moving in the Marine Corp. Together we moved to a totally new town 6 weeks after we got married. Then we moved to Texas 5 years later. In many ways, I feel more like a nomad than someone really ever leaving "home". But, Abraham...Abraham risked it all. Abraham trusted God. Abraham had no idea where he was going. He walked with God step by step, day by day.

Noah also obeyed God despite understanding the directions. He began building an ark when no rain had ever fallen from the sky. What must his neighbors have thought as he built this gigantic wooden structure? The mocking, the ridicule, the questions, the doubters. Surely they were there to keep him company. But, it says "Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God." (Gen. 6:9) Noah walked with God. That was said about Adam and Eve before the fall. God would walk with them in the cool of the day.

I know the presence of the Almighty. I know when I'm walking with Him and when I'm not. When I'm not, it's because something has captivated my attention and I walk away to explore it--much the way my children do when we're in a store and a shiny object looks alluring. When I'm walking with God, I have a calm reassurance that all will be well. I am reminded that He loves me, has a plan for my life, and cares for me. I am reminded that He is faithful, just, and merciful. I am reminded He is a good Father who delights to give His children good gifts. I am reminded that His ways are higher than mine and His timing is perfect. I can also look back on the years I've spent following Him and remember how He has guided me to various places. The stories are so fun to remember and retell.

Yes, I feel like Abraham who doesn't know where he's going. I feel like Noah preparing a house when there's been no rain. But, I'm not Abraham or Noah. I'm just called to walk in faith, looking to these godly men as examples and taking courage that God is doing something I just can't see yet.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Just Fit!

My walls must be completely bare, my desk entirely cleaned off with my computer unplugged and all the cords wrapped, and every single box, book, and pencil crammed into my one classroom closet before I can say "it's summertime!" at the end of the year.

Teaching in a charter school that rents space in a church, my classroom is used on weekends and throughout the summer in a variety of ways. Most teachers must pack up their room and move things at then end of the year, but my room doesn't look at all like a classroom when I walk out for the summer break.

As I packed some items in boxes two weeks ago, I sat and thought about how much easier it would be if it all fit in the box! I have a wire rack that holds five buckets. I use them to sort supplies for the different subjects I teach. The box they came in is long gone and the rack is too long to fit in most boxes. I filled my closet full of my library books, curriculum, markers and notebooks, and boxes of other things. That wire rack just doesn't fit in a box. Urgh!

Wouldn't life be more simple if everything just fit in a box? But, it doesn't. Emotions don't fit in boxes. People don't fit in boxes. Relationships don't fit in boxes. God doesn't fit in a box.

So, I shall pack away what I can in a box, seal it with tape, and stack them high. Then, alongside or on top I'll perch that wire rack and remember that sometimes things just don't fit in a box.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Gratitude

There are several popular books in the Christian bookstores right now all centered around the idea of gratitude and thankfulness. It's not just a "thanksgiving" time thing. Many believers are realizing that a grateful heart changes your entire countenance and studies support the idea that a grateful heart even prolongs your life. It makes sense, really. If you are focused on being grateful, your heart feels full. You are less depressed. Happy people live longer, according to all the studies I've heard of. Happiness and joy release all sorts of good things in your body.

Now, I've heard some criticisms of these books on being thankful. Most of the criticism revolves around the fact that some books claim you are nearer to God when you are grateful or that you'll live your most fulfilled life by focusing on gratitude. I don't know about all that, but the overall idea that we should be more grateful is something I can wholeheartedly support.

It's really easy to focus on the things that frustrate us, disappoint us, make us angry, scare us, or worry us. Those things can consume you if you let them.

Scripture is clear that worrying about things won't change them or add a day to your life (Matt. 6:27). Scripture is also clear in telling us how to deal with our anger. Anger tells us there is a problem that needs to be confronted. We are told to go to the person who offended us (Matt. 18), to make every effort to make things right from our side (Rom. 12:18), and to not let the sun go down on our anger (Eph. 4:26). We are told anger is an emotion that's okay, but that we aren't to hold onto it.

Disappointment is real. People let us down. We have expectations that aren't met. Maybe they were unrealistic or maybe the other person just didn't have the character to follow through. Either way, we meet with disappointment daily. Sometimes it's as simple as a meal not being as tasty as we'd hoped or expected. Other times, someone fails to be the person we needed in our life. We can continually focus on those failures--our own or someone else's--or we can attempt to move past it.

I have found that one of the fastest ways to get past what worries me or disappoints me or even angers me is to focus on being thankful. God tells us in 1 Thes. 5:18 to give thanks in everything. He also tells us in Phil. 4:6 to be anxious about nothing but to pray about everything. In this verse, we are told "in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." That word thanksgiving is right now. It's an integral part.

I don't do it nearly enough, but when I stop to reflect on my life with thanksgiving as my goal I am overwhelmed. My hope is to take more moments this summer to just sit back, step back, and be thankful.

There are plenty of things weighing heavy on my heart--worries, fears, disappointments...but I want them to be crowded out. None of them adds to my life. Thanksgiving reminds me I'm extraordinarily wealthy and no good thing do I lack!

Here's to a summer of reflecting on things with gratitude....

Friday, May 15, 2015

In Time

I'm in a coffee shop hanging out while Joel is at his graduation rehearsal. Tonight he will walk across the stage to celebrate earning his Master of Arts degree in Biblical Studies from Luther Rice College & Seminary.

I'm incredibly proud of this great accomplishment. It marks the ending (maybe) of a transitional time for our family. Three years ago we left staff at GFA, where we served for almost 5 years. The ministry was preparing for some significant changes (building a new campus in east Texas), which would require the entire staff to sell their homes, move, and either live on campus or find housing in the rural area. We didn't feel the move was right for our family and Joel's desire to pastor a church had never waned. In fact, it seemed to be growing. We started talking about the future and what to do. Knowing Joel always wanted to attend seminary, we decided we would make some big changes and make it work.

Back when we were first praying about moving to Texas, I made two lists. One list said "reasons to stay" (in Pennsylvania) and one said "reasons to go" (to Texas). Obviously, we wanted to go where "God called us". But, that can be tricky to decipher. [That's a whole other post...and question to ponder for a lifetime.] So, I felt led to make a list. Pros and cons. Look at the choices. Make a decision after weighing all the factors. God used that list to confirm that we were supposed to join staff at GFA and move to Texas. During our interview in Texas, one of the leaders said something that could have been a direct quote from what I wrote on the "reasons to go" list. Because of how that played out, I never doubted if we made the "right" choice. When it was time to leave GFA, the pieces all fell into place so quickly and perfectly that I never doubted that decision either. You see, we were "toying" with idea of me going back to teaching and Joel finding a part-time ministry job while going to school full-time. Within a month, I had a job--at my kids' school nonetheless--and Joel was hired by a church--right near his seminary!

It has been a fun, challenging, growing, long, exciting, stressful, and quick 3 years (note the mixture of emotions). Joel graduates today. It is official. He is finished with his degree. We can move on to the next phase of life. We are hopeful.

What makes me laugh about the way it all worked...one of the things on the "reasons to go" (to Texas) list was the ability for Joel to go to seminary. I knew there were many seminaries in the DFW area and with Joel working a weekday ministry job, he would have evenings and weekends available to do seminary. Ha! I was totally wrong. First of all, he couldn't do seminary while serving at GFA. And, when he finally did start seminary, he only went to a Texas school for one semester! He is graduating from a school based in Atlanta. His program was completely online and this is only the second time we've been on the campus. (The festivities aren't even on the campus; he only picked up his cap and gown and packet on campus.)

This all struck me in a new way as I was sitting in the coffee shop doing my Boundaries study this afternoon. The question was posed "When have you experienced the fulfillment of a God-given desire? Be specific about the circumstances and your feelings." I instantly wrote "We desired for Joel to attend seminary. He did it. He's done. It didn't happen in OUR timing or in OUR way, but God allowed it and has blessed it." 

It's a great accomplishment for us both--to have sought the Lord and followed Him in obedience. With much hard work and many long hours, he did it. We are celebrating!