danacox31

Hoping to share the love, joy, and grace I have received in my own life.

My First Seminary Intensive

I can’t write in one post about everything that I learned over my first two weeks at seminary.  I want to document some of the highlights though.  As much as I gained knowledge, I also lost some things.  I lost grudges that have weighed on me for years.  I lost doubts about myself (of what I should be doing) and I gained confidence in what I am capable of doing.  I lost emotional pain that has burdened me for a long time.  My life is not the same.  I am not the same.  This is GOOD NEWS!

I was stretched physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually in the most amazing ways.  I have returned home to my husband, whom I am so in love with, and our terrific daughters and son-in-law, who all bring such joy to my life.  I have a lot of work ahead of me.  This is a four-year program, but I am all in.  God opened doors to get me here and I am going to keep responding to God’s call.  Life is good.  Life is really and truly good.

Grief isn’t my enemy anymore.  Grief is my friend.  We’ve worked things out, grief and I.  I know there will still be times when grief will take over this relationship, but I know how to work with grief and not let grief hang around for long.  I need this grief though.  Grief is the feeling of the emptiness in my heart without my son’s physical presence on earth, but my love for Trevor…my love for him covers all of that pain and more. My grief and love for my son have helped shape who I am today and who I will continue to be.

I am going to put all of the love I have for Jesus behind everything I do from here on out.  He saved me.  He redeemed me.  I hope to share the news of what he has done for me (and will do for anyone) with people for many years to come.  On the drive home from seminary I heard the song Control (Somehow You Want Me) by Tenth Avenue North and felt the lyrics deep into my very soul.  The second verse, in particular, speaks so loudly to me now…

I’ve had plans
Shattered and broken
Things I have hoped in
Fall through my hands
You have plans
To redeem and restore me
You’re behind and before me
Oh, help me believe
God you don’t need me
But somehow you want me
Oh, how you love me
Somehow that frees me
To take my hands off of my life
And the way it should go

I have attached the lyric video so that someone else may feel the love of God wrapping them up, preparing them to be used for God’s kingdom, even if they don’t believe in themselves.  Jesus transforms lives every day.  I can promise you that because he is transforming mine…even though I don’t deserve it, even though I can’t even believe it myself, even though I thought God deserted me just a few years ago.  Here I am.

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Alright, Alright! I’m going!

O.K., O.K., I get it!  Yesterday, one of my friends made sure that I read the day’s devotion from Upper Room. It was called “Saying ‘Yes'” and began with 2 Timothy 1:7 (God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.) Today, a podcast I subscribe to was titled, “Believing God’s Call” and was about the story of Moses and a message from Paul to the Romans showing us why it’s possible to believe God’s call in our lives, even if it seems surprising or impossible, and that God will give us all we need to reply to His call.

I hear you, God! This is such a giant leap and I cannot believe it is me, Dana Cox, following this call. It seems far too extraordinary for me, yet I know that God will help me get everything I need to begin this huge new journey.  I have been accepted and have committed myself to the Master of Divinity program at University of Dubuque Theological Seminary in Iowa.  I will be a full-time residential student.  This means that for the next four years, I will reside at the seminary two weeks each August (beginning Saturday, August 5, 2017!) and one week each January.  I will also be at the seminary each Monday for all of the fall and spring semesters in these four years.  It’s a commitment made as much by my family as it is by me.  We all have decided to answer this call.

That brings me to the hard part, a humble request…I am in need of some help to get started on this new and exciting journey.  For that I set up a GoFundMe account (you can check it out here.)  I am humbled to ask for funds to help my family make it through the next few weeks as I will not have wages for the two weeks that I will be at the seminary.  I also have many out of pocket expenses such as: books, gas, lodging, and one meal each day.  I cannot tell you how much any help would be a blessing and I look forward to continuing the journey on this path to become a pastor.  I will continue this blog and pray that you will all stay with me on the amazing ride.

 

 

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Freedom from Fear

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.  When we cry, “Abba, Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God. ~Romans 8:15

I have experienced fear in my life that enslaved me.  From the age of about 8 to 19 I had an abusive step-father.  Life with him was chaotic, sad, and most of all full of fear.  As the years went on, I began to understand what his outbursts would stem from and when I believed those situations would arise, I would stay the night with my grandparents, my dad, or a friend.  Although I have let that part of my life go, I have never forgotten the paralyzing feeling of the fear that came with it.

Freedom from fear is one of the most liberating freedoms I feel.  Perhaps it is because the chains of it were so tight, lasted so many years of my life, and didn’t hold only myself, but also my siblings and my mom.  That fear made me afraid to do anything in his presence.  I was punished for things such as using a spoon to eat peas and reading or doing homework because in his eyes, it was a “waste of time.”

I honestly don’t dwell on that anymore, but when I contemplate where I have faced fear in my life, because those years were the majority of my growing up years, that is where I easily feel that enslaving fear that has a hold on a person not only for a few moments but for years.   I am still working through forgiveness from those chains.  I realize now that he was sick.  He had a serious problem that he needed help for, but never got it.  I am not making excuses for him.  I am only saying that as I prayed through the memories that still had a hold on me years later, God helped me to see that those chains are gone now.  I am set free from fear.  Ahhh, sweet freedom!

If there is a fear that has a hold on you today, take a minute to listen to “No Longer a Slave”  by Jonathan and Melissa Helser.  You can break free from those chains, too.

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Freedom Through Christ

They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity – for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.” ~2 Peter 2:19

The world promises all kinds of things.  This example of a world’s promise for me is one that I haven’t shared much of.  Following Trevor’s death, although I was desperate for relief from the intense grief of burying my son, I denied taking prescription medication that was offered to me to help me “get through the coming days.”  I knew that not only would medication not take away the pain (it may mask it, but whenever I decided to stop medicating, I would have to face reality) but also that I needed and even wanted to feel the pain.  The grief was the only connection I had to Trevor.  I had memories, but without his physical presence here, the way I felt my son was through the crushing heartache.  I was smart enough to know there wasn’t a magic pill that could cure me, but did end up taking one sleeping pill on the second day to just finally get some sleep.

However, in the coming days, (I can’t tell you the exact amount of time, it may have been 6 months) I began to medicate myself with alcohol.  It started with a glass of wine.  Then became several glasses of wine.  The more I drank, I believed, helped to numb the pain that I was feeling.  After a considerable amount of time and an embarrassing display of stupidity, I came to the realization that I wasn’t at all benefiting from the alcohol.  Although alcohol can seem to be a stimulant after one glass of wine, drinking a bottle of wine causes it to become a depressant.  It took several months, but I realized that the alcohol was causing more pain than it was relieving.  I blame no one, but myself, for the horrible choices I was making, but many people encouraged this crazy train ride.

The world promises us things that look like freedom.  For me it was a freedom from the emotional and physical pain caused by grief.  I learned that the world and everything in it cannot free me from that.  Only God can do that.  The more I dug into the Bible and strengthened my relationship with Jesus, the more I realized that things of this world are NEVER going to relieve my pain of Trevor’s death, but God can certainly help me learn how to manage it.  He does.  Everyday I am reminded that the pains and struggles of this earth are temporary.  A life with a real relationship with Jesus gives me a happiness that cannot come from anything else.  It is an indescribable joy that I want everyone to experience.

1 Corinthians 6:12 says, “I have the right to do anything,” you say – but not everything is beneficial.  “I have the right to do anything” – but I will not be mastered by anything.

I am nowhere near where I want to be, but God is working in and through me.  I will always make mistakes and even some bad choices, but I know that the only way to redemption is through my relationship with Him.  We do have freedom to make our own choices, especially in our country.  We are a free people.  Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.  I can’t say I was a slave to alcohol.  I worked a full time job and took care of my family while I medicated my pain with wine.  I see now though that I was a slave to what my body wanted and when Jesus freed me from that, I knew that I needed to serve Him.  Joy is filling my life.  I still have grief.  I still drink a glass (or two) of wine.  I love life and love to have fun with family and friends.  My relationship with God comes first because that is the way I get through everything else in this world.

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Freedom to Serve

Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. ~1 Peter 2:16

My goal to write seven consecutive daily devotions on freedom is complete today.  I’ve found it to be a help to me on my new journey and have decided I may be able to keep it up a little longer.

Today’s passage reminds us that although we are free (especially in our country) we need to be careful how we use our freedom.  Back on July 3rd, I mentioned how we serve one master, either God or sin.  In this first letter from Peter, although he is telling his readers to submit to the law of the land (at that time the Roman empire under Nero) Peter is clear to state that we are to live as servants of God. Earlier, in Acts 5:29, Peter stated with the other apostles that “We must obey God rather than human beings.”  In our country we are able to live according to the laws and at the same time to be obedient to God.  If there is something we are being persecuted for, as Christians, it should be for obeying God and not for breaking civil laws.

In looking at it this way, it could be said that we are enslaved to God.  Our freedom can be used as a tool for living a joyful, energetic life in His service.  God gives us these freedoms so that we can reach our highest potential.  We just need to choose to reach for the best God has for us and not be chained by religious rules and eternal guilt.  When we let go of our own desires and begin to answer the call that God makes on our lives, that is when we get to see the real freedom and joy that is available to us in this world through our relationship with Him.

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What sets people free?

Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. ~John 8:32

I wish I could really convey the freedom that comes from a relationship with Jesus.  I cannot explain in words how amazing it is to know that Jesus’ perfect truth frees us all to be exactly who God created us to be, if we just accept him.  Jesus is the truth that sets us free.  In the 8th chapter of John, when the Jews asked Jesus what he meant when he said they would be set free (they were Abraham’s descendants and hadn’t been slaves to anyone) Jesus replied, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  Jesus is the standard for what is right.  Freedom through Jesus is offered to keep us out of the hold of the slavery to sin, from deception by Satan, and from our own deception.  Jesus shows us the way to an eternal life with God.  Jesus doesn’t give us freedom to do whatever we want, but to follow God.

A new song comes to mind this morning as I type this devotion.  I want to share the lyrics with you.

The Gospel (written by Ryan Stevenson, Bryan Fowler, and Toby McKeehan)

A restless generation, we’re turning over every stone
Hoping to find salvation in a world that’s left us cold
Can we get back to the altar, back to the arms of our first love?
There’s only one way to the father and he’s calling out to us

To the captive it looks like freedom
To the orphan it feels like home
To the skeptic it might sound crazy
To believe in a God who loves
In a world where our hearts are breaking
And we’re lost in the mess we’ve made
Like a blinding light in the dead of night
It’s the Gospel, the Gospel that makes a way

It’s the cure for our condition, it’s the good news for us all

It’s greater than religion, it’s the power of the cross
So can we get back to the altar, back to the arms of our first love?
There’s only one way to the father and he’s calling out to us

To the captive it looks like freedom
To the orphan it feels like home
To the skeptic it might sound crazy
To believe in a God who loves
In a world where our hearts are breaking
And we’re lost in the mess we’ve made
Like a blinding light in the dead of night
It’s the Gospel, the Gospel that makes a way

In my own life it means forgiveness, when I know I deserved the fall
It called me out of my darkness, and carried me to the cross
In a moment my eyes were opened, in that moment my heart was changed
Like a blinding light in the dead of night it’s the gospel

To the captive it looks like freedom
To the orphan it feels like home
To the skeptic it might sound crazy
To believe in a God who loves
In a world where our hearts are breaking
And we’re lost in the mess we’ve made
Like a blinding light in the dead of night
It’s the Gospel, the gospel that makes a way

 

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Living in Freedom

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. ~Romans 8:2

Money had a hold on me and I know it is often a struggle for others.  It seems for the past several years my husband and I struggled so much to stay afloat and the financial burden was great.  I began praying about it and toward the end of winter we enrolled in a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace class.  The difference that made in our financial situation helped to relieve us both of so much stress.  I literally felt like weight was lifted from me.  Through prayer, work, and guidance from those who knew the program, we were able to break free from the hold of money.  I was a slave to the money I had (and did not have) because I wasn’t managing it correctly.  The freedom that came from that class and the complete restructuring of how Jeff and I handle our finances broke chains that had held us for years.  That’s not all.  I have broken free from so many holds in this life and I know that because I am still in this world, there will be more holds to come.

But I also know to lean on God.  I talk to Jesus.  I love that the Holy Spirit that was present at the creation of the world* is available to guide me today and is responsible for the freedom and power we all need to live the Christian life.  I ask for the Holy Spirit to guide me out of any chains that try to hold me down.  Sometimes I am aware when the Holy Spirit is working around me.  Most often I feel it in worship or prayer.  That little brush of air, goosebumps on my arms, a warming in my body, or whispers to my heart are all ways that I am able to feel or experience the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life.  How do you experience the Holy Spirit?  How are you (or not) living in freedom?  What has a hold on you today?

*Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.~Genesis 1:2

 

 

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Serving Others

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. ~Galatians 5:13

Paul is distinguishing between our freedom to sin and our freedom to serve.  The freedom to sin is really not a freedom at all, because it enslaves us to Satan, to others, or to our own sinful nature.  As Christians, we are free to do right and to glorify God through loving service to others.

The feeling we experience when we do something for someone else (without any expectation for repayment) is a wonderful feeling. It may cost a little money or a little time, but the reward is the great feeling that comes from serving others.  When we glorify God through helping someone else it opens the door to that person to receive God’s love, too.  You never know what small act of kindness might change a person’s outlook.  Often times, a smile and a friendly greeting can transform someone’s day.  It doesn’t take much to show we feel the love of God and are thankful for the freedom we have to share that love with others.  How can you serve someone today?

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We All Have a Master

But now, since you have been set free from sin and have become enslaved to God, you have your fruit, which results in sanctification – and the outcome is eternal life. ~Romans 6:22

It’s true.  We all have a master – either God or sin.  I work hard not to judge others because they sin differently than I do and I admit that I catch myself falling into that particular sin (judgment) more than I would like to admit.  I am continually praying and working through that.

I do know there is no sin from which God can’t set you free.  As a child of God, we no longer have to be slaves to sin.  We belong to God.  We’re chained to him and the fruit of that becomes the sanctification* (the Holy Spirit’s  continual work in and through us as Christians) that allows for eternal life.  This is real freedom.

If we choose sin, eventually the result becomes death.  By choosing God, the blessing is eternal life that begins here on earth and continues forever.  The happiness found in choosing God and living for him is the most liberating choice I have ever made.

*For more on sanctifying grace, listen to Reverend Rob Hamilton’s July 2, 2017 message here . Pastor Rob’s message begins at the 29:40 mark.  On another note, my little brother, Jason, sings a song in the middle of Pastor’s message.  

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Where is freedom found?

And the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. ~2 Corinthians 3:17

When we trust Jesus to save us, he removes our burden of trying to please him and our guilt for failing to do so.  By trusting Jesus, we are loved, accepted, forgiven, and freed to live for him.  I make mistakes all the time.  I have done things in my past that I am not proud of.  Still when these things start to flood my mind, I remember that I have given them to God.  I no longer need to have the shame and guilt that comes from past transgressions because I know that he knows me.  He knows my heart.  He has heard my regret and reminded me that there is freedom where the Spirit of the Lord is.  The freedom he has given me releases the heavy burden of past regrets and reminds me that I am on a new path, a better path.  Although I might (will) still make mistakes, my relationship with him will remain constant.

I wish I could put into words the weight lifted from my shoulders with this freedom.  I had so much baggage from all of the mistakes in my life that it felt like I was wearing a robe of heavy chains.  I didn’t realize the weight or even that I wore that robe until it was lifted off of me.  My whole person has changed.  Life isn’t perfect.  Life happens, right?  Things aren’t always rainbows and unicorns, but the way that I manage the fires that come my way now has significantly changed the way I feel about whatever the issue is at hand.  Prayer works!  How wonderful it is to know that I can’t control everything and that I don’t need to.  That is God’s job.  Freedom is found in letting go of whatever it is that ties us down.  Freedom is found in trusting God, knowing Jesus, and letting the Holy Spirit work through me, in me, in this beautiful crazy life.

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