And Behind Door Number One…

Confession: Sometimes I doubt my calling.

Am I alone here? Probably not, yet even so I easily slip into feeling alone; into doubt and discouragement instead of faithful perseverance. I am particularly prone to such mental agonies when I have been praying for a door to open yet find myself standing in a hallway filled with doors which are all securely barred.

Or worse, when my efforts are called to mind with the crystal-clarity of hindsight and I recall all the ways that I failed to demonstrate love, joy, peace, patience, and the rest during my stint as a homeschool mom. My blunders stretch as far as the eye can see; great heaps of error which threaten to topple and bury me in inadequacy.

And yet… my King reminds me that not all obstacles are blockades.

In fact, my current situation kind of reminds me of Moses. In Exodus 3, we can read about God’s dynamic calling on Moses’s life – the burning bush and the undeniable command to speak to Pharaoh and ask him to free the enslaved descendants of Israel:

Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”
(Exodus 3:10)

Personally, if I had heard the very voice of God speaking from the depths of a flame that did not consume the vegetation it engulfed, I like to think I would move forward in my calling rather eagerly and certainly anticipating a high degree of success.

With all the ways the Lord equipped Moses – a staff that became a snake, an apparent miraculous manifestation and subsequent healing of leprosy – I imagine myself in his place approaching the great Pharoah with a slightly cocky swagger and a confident demand for the freedom of the Jews. Most likely while I stepped jauntily up to the throne, my mind would be filled with a pleasant fancy of the grateful masses hoisting me upon their shoulders and roaring, “Three cheers for Moses!”

But Moses did not exactly sprint from the burning bush to the throne room:Shh006

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”  (Exodus 3:11)

Not only did Moses begin his conversation with the Almighty with this apparently self-deprecating question, he continued to hem and haw and generally drag his toe through the dust like an unwilling child through a rather lengthy dialog, eventually submitting his final request:

But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.”  (Exodus 4:13)

If I am brutally honest, that sounds more like the actual me. When I look at the strewn remains of my failed attempts, I hear my own voice echo very similar words: “Do I have to, Lord? I don’t seem to be very capable. Can’t You find someone else?”
Eventually, Moses did go, albeit reluctantly and only after God agreed to send his brother, Aaron, along as the key spokesman. Of course we do not know whether Moses entertained grand fantasies of being hailed as the rescuer of the people or not, but naturally one would expect a seamless success from such an unmistakably clear calling, especially when bolstered by the confidence of the people:

Aaron spoke all the words that the LORD had spoken to Moses and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.  (Exodus 4:30-31)

Things were bound to go well from here, right?

Wrong.

The first interview with Pharaoh did not precisely result in an open door to freedom. Instead, the door slammed firmly in Moses’ face:

The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen, “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But the number of bricks that they made in the past you shall impose on them, you shall by no means reduce it, for they are idle. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’   (Exodus 5:6-8)

And rather than receiving honors and accolades, the formerly worshipful group of slaves now criticized their mighty deliverer:

“The LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”  (Exodus 5:21)

This was not going well at all.

Of course, most of us know that after many such interviews, several broken promises, and no small amount of signs and wonders which Pharaoh’s stubbornness escalated to dire proportions, the people were finally allowed to go free. The Egyptians even gave them much in possessions, very possibly in the hopes of being well rid of the calamity.

Persistence and faith won out in the end, and at some point Moses even gained enough confidence to take over the office of spokesman from his brother. Yet the fact remains that Israel’s circumstances became much worse before they improved.

Today, I am reminded that not everything that looks like failure is.

Just because my calling has not brought the success I imagined does not mean I have misunderstood it (although that possibility remains!). Sometimes, obstacles in the path make the journey more rewarding in the end.

But at other times, the obstacle is the point. Real-life success often appears in different clothing than fantasy success, and not all locked and barred doors are impassable.

Sometimes, learning to trust God in the face of repeated failure is what we were called to do all along…

 

Not Without a Fight

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…
Hebrews 12:1-2b

I am so ready for autumn.

Despite the fact that we are past the half-way mark of October here in Tennessee, summer still clutches the land in hot, greedy fingers, baking the earth and dulling the splendor of many leaves. Oh, am I ever ready for him to go!

I, too, am in a different season of life with some remnants of the previous period still clinging, hesitant to depart. Still, I can sense the slow decay of years creeping into my body and the exuberant arrogance of adolescence creeping into my children.

As the reality of age sinks in, I am beginning to truly see the overwhelming need for endurance in my walk with the Christ — and in everything else. For well over a decade now, I have run this race and now I find myself on a long stretch of the narrow path far beyond the starting point and yet equally far (it is likely) from the finish.

There is no going back, not that I would want to. My life before Jesus holds nothing of interest now. There is literally nothing to do but press on, pushing through the teenage angst, through the crazy of our schedules, through the wild fluctuations in hormones and need and nearly everything except for my Jesus. This is where it gets real; where tenacity is the only thing that gets my tired old bones out of bed to spend time with Him each morning. This stretch of road requires endurance.

It’s no small wonder that I think of running this race in somewhat literal terms. Being physically fit has always been fairly important to me, and when youth was my season,  it was also easy. Before I knew Christ, it was to the gym I turned when I found myself dealing with deep-seated anger issues — working my body until I literally did not have the energy to sustain fury any longer.

Then I had two babies, then meningitis followed by another baby. Enter migraine and the beginning of the slow decline.  I had to learn to lessen the intensity and so I took up walking, often with my dogs.

After several years of wonderful, sunrise walks and talks with my Father, I began to have pain in my left foot. Typical of me, I ignored it for months until the swelling became ridiculous and the pain developed both depth and intensity.

Finally fully annoyed, I had it checked out.  Diagnosis: arthritis in the joint of my big toe. The podiatrist told me that running is actually easier on this joint than walking. So guess what? I started running.

Running worked splendidly for some time until I was hit with sacroiliitis. Oh well, I can still do pushups and burpees so long as I keep that big toe joint from bending, right? Wrong — tennis elbow saw to that.

So I started swimming.

At my age, fitness is not a game; it’s a requirement. Should the Lord decide to prolong my homecoming, I would very much like to be able to pick up my grandchildren and play with them on the floor.  And so I will not go down without a fight.

Just so, the season is changing in our culture. While some vestiges of respect for Christianity remain in America, more and more often Christians are viewed with open scorn or worse. The whole idea of God and Jesus no longer carries the weight of reverence it once did.

Thanks to social programming, most people know little of God except what they read in internet memes or hear in passing. Even among professing Christians, few have read the entire Word of God; fewer still in its original, ancient languages. On top of that, there are any number of distractions to pull at our attention and prevent us from maintaining that absolutely vital connection with the Lord.

But my friends, this is where it gets real. Now, while we can see the bald truth behind Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesian church to “make the best use of the time because the days are evil.”

This is the stretch of the narrow road that requires endurance.

Newt Gingrich is credited with saying, “Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of the hard work you already did.”

As a disclaimer, I know nothing of the man, but whether he is a lunatic or a staunch and steady guy, the quote is no less true. Brothers! Sisters! We are called to endurance!  Sacrifice is a part of who we are if we are truly in Christ. To live as He did would be to endure anything, everything, even undeserved mockery and bodily harm for the sake of God’s good name.

The fact is that following Christ will cost us — and will likely cost us in increasing measures. Are we willing to pay? Are we willing to ask God to open our eyes and see at our own sin, no matter how painful, and to repent? Are we willing to lay aside our comforts in order to fast and pray? Are we willing to skip that TV show or the extra 30 or so minutes of sleep so we can read His word with a prayer on our lips, seeking His wisdom and guidance within its pages?

This is when it counts; here. Now. When it is not easy. That’s what endurance is all about.

So let’s do it! Remember, spiritual fitness is no game, either. Let’s run together, challenging one another, motivating and pushing each other to greater and even greater heights of faith. Together, let’s praise God for the trials we meet, knowing that each one is producing His character in us. And whatever we do, let’s cling to our God and resolve not to go down without a fight.

My Call to Endurance

Have you ever had a moment when God put into place so many signs indicating His direction for you that you would have to be ultra-dense to miss them all?

That happened to me this past weekend. Months ago, I felt strongly drawn to attend the Teach Them Diligently conference in Nashville and registered early. There was a glitch in my registration which resulted in me being charged substantially less than I was expecting. I called to straighten it out and the gentleman I spoke with was able to see the problem, but he had no idea how it occurred nor how to fix it. He told me, “Well, consider this a gift from the Lord and I guess you are supposed to attend this year!”

That event slipped into obscurity as the mundane home school days ground on. A few bouts of sickness, winter weather, and unexpected life events introduced kinks into our routine. As March commenced with a parting shot from ol’ Jack Frost, I found myself pretty much sick of home schooling.  And if I was feeling depleted concerning my home school, I was utterly devoid of any creativity or energy for writing. I was seriously eyeballing a complete change of career (read: getting a career) and began to look toward the upcoming conference with a sense of hopelessness.

We missed the first day. A series of what I can only call “Murphy Events” made my oldest child wonder aloud if we were even supposed to go to the conference. The memory of my conversation upon registration came to mind, and I replied that I was certain we were.

Knowing this, I rose at 5:00 the morning of the conference and sat down with my Bible, asking God to prepare my heart for what He wanted me to hear. As I read, I conferred with Him and He began to bring passage after passage of Scripture to mind, all in some way or another related to perseverance and steadfastness.

The first seminar we attended was called “Passionate Pursuit of Excellence” by Mark Hamby of Lamplighter. I must say it was basically an extension of my private conversation with my King from that morning, incorporating many of the same Scripture passages and even an illustration using an account from Judges that I had read the day before. In many ways, though several people were listening, it was an intimate chat between me and my God.

A word Mr. Hamby mentioned as he spoke was the Greek word agon, meaning struggle or fight, from which we get words such as “agonize.” Here, God reminded me that agonizing effort will often be required of me both in writing and home schooling. In both I must be prepared not only to give my all, but to sacrifice many desires.  Indeed, I will need to heed the words of this blog’s key verse and “run with endurance the race that is set before” me.

While I received many other admonitions from God during the conference, there is one other speaker I would like to mention in part because her topic was so close to my heart. Stacy Farrell of Homeschool Adventure Co.  spoke on the dire need to prepare our children for the absolute inundation of lies they will face every single day in this world.   Of the many wonderful points she made, one in particular hearkened back to my discussion with the Lord: She encouraged us all to be stubborn in our callings and to expect our enemy to try to dissuade us.

I had grown weary and had allowed discouragement to creep in. In these and so many other ways — far too many to recount here — God used people at the Teach Them Diligently conference to remind me of what He had been telling me all along.

Through many of the speakers, God dealt me a much-needed slap in the face and many reminders that I am not in this race alone; that I cannot quit just because the course is long and I am at the point of exhaustion. That I can trust Him to be strong in my weakness.

God emphasized to me that now is not the time to give up, but as Jacob did on that riverbank so many years ago, now is the time to cling to the Him with all the strength I can muster, refusing to let Him go. After all, I cannot be said to have endured if I drop out in the third leg of the race, but only if I run over hill and rocky ground, through blood and pain and tears, laboring diligently, walking when I can no longer run, clawing my way when I can no longer stand, continuing all the way to the end.

Now, at this moment, when the contest seems grueling and interminable, now is the time not only to endure. Now is the time to rejoice.

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Romans 5:3-5