Tag Archives: seminary

The Blank Canvas

Does God have a plan for your life?  Are you one of the special ones for whom He has set out a purpose?  Or are you just wandering through life, a background person in the lives of those who are special and called of God? 

My pastor tells us often that God has given each of us a “vocation” – a sense of calling that pushes us to do things because we’re made to carry out a certain mission, even when those things don’t make sense to others.  Writers may not ever make any money or have stability, but they must write their thoughts down.  It’s in their bones and they can’t exist any other way.  An engineer must figure out how to make things run better.  It’s just the way it is.  But I talk to many people who don’t feel a sense of calling, who don’t feel there’s something they simply must do. 

When I went to seminary, the leaders of my school realized that if we didn’t know ourselves, we could never know others.  Since pastors primarily work with people, they required us to get to know ourselves.  We took assessments and went through steps and read books.  We learned our personality and temperament, our work style, the role we most often play in a group, our strengths and weaknesses, and more.  I learned a lot about who God has created me to be while I was there.  I learned that it’s more valuable to improve our areas of strength and be the best (an expert) in one thing, than it is to be a well-rounded person who can do most things decently.

When I meet people who don’t feel they have a sense of calling, my assumption has been that they don’t know themselves well enough.  They haven’t submitted themselves to the battery of tests, to self-assessment, and to significant prayer time on the matter.  (I spent years in prayer and regular fasting before God finally told me to go to seminary and then it took three years until it was actually time to go.  But I didn’t give up.  I just kept asking Him what to do and where to go until He finally answered me.) 

But last week I went to hear Donald Miller, a popular author, speak and he said something that stunned me.  He said he doesn’t believe God has a specific plan for most people’s lives.  He said it isn’t a biblical concept.  He said God has a specific plan for some people’s lives, but it’s a small percentage of people.  He said he believes that when we’re born, we have a big, blank canvas in front of us with lots of colors to choose from and we make our own design on it.  That’s God’s gift to us – our free will – and our lives are our own to shape and design. 

That is a hard thing to hear for someone who has submitted herself to total obedience and is waiting for God to give me direction on the next steps in my life.  I believe God does have a specific path I am to walk and that my success in the Kingdom of God depends on my obedience.  I believe I can live a life of frustration and fear, as I have in the past when I wasn’t obeying God in all things, or a life of victory and joy through total obedience.  But if God doesn’t have a specific plan for my life, then who am I obeying?  Is it possible that I am painting my own canvas and obeying my own desires? 

My mind has been whirling with these thoughts.  As I went back over my life, I realized that there are a few times when I have known beyond a shadow of a doubt that God has spoken to me clearly regarding the direction of my life.  At times I obeyed right away and other times I allowed misery to overtake my life before I submitted.  I can look at the results of those times to convince myself, if no one else, that I had heard from God.

  1. God told me to move to Nashville, TN.  I obeyed and am very thankful.
  2. God told me not to date the sociopath, but I didn’t know why He was telling me that because the guy seemed great, so I ignored Him for a year, which led to misery.
  3. God told me to go to Regent University to seminary.  It was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
  4. God told me to wait for a ministry position after I graduated and to turn down the secular jobs offered to me.  I obeyed and am thankful.

When I look at those things, those very specific things, it’s hard for me to imagine that God doesn’t have SOME kind of plan for my life.  All of them were hard.  At the time, they were all much bigger things than I could do on my own, or even wanted to do.  I know they are things I didn’t make up on my own. 

Once I got to Nashville, I didn’t feel any specific calling about where to work or go to church.  I think it’s possible that it didn’t really matter and God could work with whatever I decided.  Or it’s possible that He was guiding my every step and didn’t need to give me a thundering word of direction because I was stumbling upon His will without it.  I can think of many times in my life where that’s been the case.  I made the best decision I could make, given the information I had, and God has used it. 

I suppose it’s possible that I am one of the few people (in Donald Miller’s concept) who God does have a specific plan for.  But that seems like a terribly arrogant thought.  I don’t really buy into the concept that I’m special.  I think it’s narcissistic.  It seems much more reasonable to me that God does have a plan for everyone’s lives and we have to learn to listen and obey. 

I’m really struggling with this issue and would love to know what you think.  Here are a few Scriptures I found to support my point of view.  Is your opinion different?  Please post your comments below. 

Proverbs 19:21 (Amplified Bible)
Many plans are in a man’s mind, but it is the Lord’s purpose for him that will stand.

Psalm 33:10
The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to naught; He makes the thoughts and plans of the peoples of no effect.

Isaiah 46:10-11
1
Declaring the end and the result from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure and purpose, calling a ravenous bird from the east–the man [Cyrus] who executes My counsel from a far country. Yes, I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed it, and I will do it.

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Ignorance is Bliss?

In a conversation I had with a woman in her late 50s who was describing the abusive childhood of a loved one, she repeated a commonly used excuse for the irresponsible behavior of the parents.  How often have we heard this phrase: “They did the best they could with the knowledge they had”?  That phrase is usually followed or preceded by a horror story of child abuse or some other atrocity.  I decided a long time ago that I despise that phrase, that excuse. 

I do realize that we often do things out of ignorance and on some level that will always happen and cannot be helped.  No one can know everything or understand any situation fully but God.  Perhaps that’s why God is infallible?  He knows everything and sees each situation from all sides.  But I don’t mean to get into a theological discussion of God’s perfection, so moving on…  As I was saying, I do understand that each person will make mistakes out of ignorance and this is to be expected.  The reason I so despise the phrase mentioned is because it’s often is used to excuse behavior that is reprehensible.  When a small child is beaten with a board full of nails for saying a curse word he’s heard his father use a million times before, then forced to “confess” by repeating that curse word and is so frightened he can’t remember it, is then forced to guess what curse word he said then beaten for each incorrect curse word he guessed until he’s nearly dead – that is inexcusable.  Don’t tell me the father didn’t know any better.  No one is that stupid.

I heard that phrase many times while I was growing up in the form of, “I’m sorry I hurt you.  I did the best I could with what I knew to do.”  And I decided I hated it.  I was not the one beaten with boards, thank God!  But in a pastor’s house, you hear horror stories every day.  People bring their problems to their pastor and I paid attention.  Ignorance was sometimes an excuse, but it struck me as totally unreasonable.

I made a decision somewhere around the age of fourteen that I would not let that be an excuse for bad behavior in my life.  If I didn’t know something, I would find out.  And I have built my life on that concept.  I’m a researcher.  It may appear that I make quick decisions and don’t take the time to think them through.  I am a decisive person.  But what many don’t realize is the number of hours I’ve spent searching for answers to questions I don’t have to answer yet, so that when the day comes that I do have to make a choice, I can choose wisely.  I rarely decide anything without much research and forethought.  When I do, I usually regret it. 

Ever since the day my brother was born when I was nearly eleven years old, I have known that I want to be a mother.  I began to research parenting and did all I could to apply the principles I learned to the children around me.  When I was in my early twenties, I finally put down the parenting books because I realized I was driving myself crazy with all this theory and no one to practice on.  I haven’t picked up another parenting book since then, but I’m a really good babysitter and aunt! 

The point is, I didn’t want to make parenting mistakes out of ignorance when the time came.  I haven’t picked up any more books since then, but I’ve been a diligent student of my friends with children.  I’ve watched how they do things, asked questions, and made mental notes for myself. 

In my mid-twenties, a friend challenged me with a unique understanding of Scripture as it relates to the end times and Christ’s return.  She walked me through the Scriptures to prove her point of view.  As she did this, I realized I disagreed strongly with her, but I couldn’t articulate why.  I KNEW she was wrong, but I couldn’t walk her through Scriptures myself to show her why.  I became furious and had to walk away from the conversation before I lost my temper.  I wasn’t angry with her, but with myself for not knowing more so I could discuss it with her.  I’d been a Christian all my life, was a pastor’s daughter, the product of several Christian schools, and had even spent a year in Christian college.  Yet I was mute before her argument.  That realization drove me nuts.

A few years later I enrolled in seminary.  The major paper I did for my last systematic theology class was on this very subject.  I was determined to understand it and refute it.  When I finished that paper, I felt such a sense of accomplishment!  I went back and talked to her about it and was finally able to explain why I disagreed with her.  I didn’t change her mind (darn it!), but I was no longer ignorant either.

Proverbs 13:15 says, “Good understanding gains favor, but the way of the unfaithful is hard.”

What good would it have done for me to have yelled and shown my anger toward my friend that day when I didn’t know what to say to her, just knew I disagreed with her?  I kept my mouth shut until I had good understanding.  She had no idea I had been so worked up by what she said.  When I went back to her years later, we had an intelligent conversation about it and she was touched that I cared so much about her ideas that I went and studied the matter out to be able to answer her.  We are still great friends to this day and every once in a while have to acknowledge our different opinions on the end times.  This is done with no animosity, but respect.

Proverbs chapter four is full of admonitions to get wisdom and to make sure we understand things. 

Proverbs 4:5 Get wisdom! Get understanding!
      Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth.
       6 Do not forsake her, and she will preserve you;
      Love her, and she will keep you.
       7 Wisdom is the principal thing;
      Therefore get wisdom.
      And in all your getting, get understanding.
       8 Exalt her, and she will promote you;
      She will bring you honor, when you embrace her.
       9 She will place on your head an ornament of grace;
      A crown of glory she will deliver to you.”

We often do shameful things out of ignorance; things that embarrass us later.  We can’t explain why we did them except, “I didn’t know any better.”  But Proverbs urges us to seek wisdom and understanding.  Instead of shame, it promises that we’ll have an ornament of grace, a crown of glory on our heads. 

I try to live my life by the words of Proverbs 4:13, which states, “Take firm hold of instruction, do not let go; keep her, for she is your life.” 

What would the world look like if we all sought after wisdom and understanding?  If we all tried to understand the best way to do something before we did it?  What would the church look like if just the Christians did that?

There’s no way I’ll ever know all the things I’m interested in, curious about, or need to know.  I wish I could, but when would I sleep?  I realize how little I know, which drives me to learn more and apply myself to getting instruction.  Ignorance may be bliss, but knowledge is power.

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Out of Debt, Part Two

 

There are two little “altars” on top of my dresser.  I’ve never made an altar before; I’m a little paranoid of turning into some kind of a weirdo.  One altar is a pile of cut up credit cards.  The other is a small pile of loose change – pennies, nickels, and dimes.  I believe in the power of our words and thanking God in advance for what He’s going to do.  At least once day I look at them and thank God for His provision and healing.  I have been doing this since November.   

 Back in November, my church licensed me as a congregational minister.  I felt a tremendous sense of awe over the covenant I was about to make.  As much as I wanted it to happen, I was pretty freaked out about it too.  It is a marriage of sorts – not one that prevents me from marrying a man (whew!), but a declaration to the world that I am a minister of the Gospel and there is no going back.  I bound my life in covenant to God to be a representative of The Church for the rest of my life.  I did not want to have anything weighing on my conscience while I said those vows, so I went through a time of deep soul-searching and prayer in the weeks that led up to the ceremony.  

 In that time, God revealed a weakness I’ve been aware of but thought I had conquered.  I almost always have a plan, evaluating the circumstances and the resources available and deciding the best course of action.  I often do this without realizing it.  I can typically adjust the plan, if necessary, because not only is there a Plan A, but there’s also a Plan B and Plan C.  If you want to see my anxiety rise, throw a kink in the plan when I didn’t think I needed to come up with a Plan B.  This ability to plan has gotten me through many difficult situations, but I have found that God doesn’t have a big need for all my plans.  While my ideas of where things should end up might (sometimes) be in keeping with His, our ways of getting there are often very different.  For a number of years He has been challenging me to let go of my plan and trust Him.  I’ve often described the feeling as if I’m stepping off a high cliff with no safety net other than God’s word that He will catch me.  I like my safety nets.

 God convicted me prior to my licensing that I had a safety net and was not trusting in Him completely.  My safety net was my credit cards.  I knew living on credit was wrong, and I was embarrassed to let anyone know I sometimes bought groceries, clothes, and gifts on them.  I saw no way out.  I thought without them I’d be unable to survive.  The credit card balances were not pretty, but I believed God would make a way to wipe out the debt for me.  Of course, I had my own ideas about how He could do that:  book deal, rich husband, generous donor who God told to help me…  It was something I prayed about often.  The plan, by the way, did not include me paying them off myself.  

 One morning as I was getting ready for work, I found myself again praying for God to somehow relieve me of this credit card debt.  I reminded Him that much of it had been incurred when I was in seminary and my income was unstable and puny, if I had any at all.  I reminded Him that I was giving my life in service to Him.  I was right in the middle of my most convincing speech about how God should take care of this debt when He stopped me in my tracks.  

 

“Why should I pay off your credit cards when you continue to use them?”

 

There was complete silence on my end.   

 

Over the next 24 hours, I was able to process this statement and realize God wanted my full trust.  He wanted me to leave my financial future in His hands.  My “safety net” was not a real safety net anyway.  It was a deadly trap that was robbing my future.  (This all seems so clear now, but to my great embarrassment this concept eluded me for years.) 

 

The next morning before I left for work, I did what I’d previously thought impossible.  Like I wrote in the earlier post, I cut up the cards and headed for the trash can.  Right as I was about to dump them, something stopped me.  I’ve cut up other credit cards before, but I’ve always gotten more.  What was going to make this time different?   

 

I went to my bedroom and piled up the pieces on my dresser – a memorial, an altar, to remember so I never go that way again.  There was also a small pile of change on my dresser.  I left it there – like a ying to the yang of my debt.  The pile of coins is a reminder that it’s just money.  God owns everything and to Him this debt is like those pennies are to me.  He is able to do anything.   

Since that day, God has been doing a miracle in my finances.  God did lay it on the hearts of some people to help me, which gave me a great jump start. I have a plan to pay off the debt in a reasonable amount of time.  One card is completely gone.  One card is half of what it was two months ago.  God even provided me with a second job that allows me to use my particular skill set and work from home when it’s convenient for me.   

  

As I thanked God for His provision, I kept finding myself calling out to Jehovah Rapha, the God Who Heals.  At first this surprised me, but soon I realized the financial issues I’m facing are the result of an inner turmoil.  They are the result of pain I’ve carried with me.  By claiming my healing, I do not only believe for the financial debt to be paid, but for the emotional debt to be paid as well.   

 

God is my Provider and my Healer.  I can testify that He is healing the broken places inside of me.  That step seemed so impossible, but has caused the sun to finally shine in a place in my life where so much darkness had been.  If you come to my house, you will find a small pile of cut up credit cards sitting on top of my dresser.  It will be there until the day all the debt is gone.  

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