When I resurrected this blog on July 8, 2011, after deleting the contents from the previous year when I originally started it (July 2010), I published a post I had previously written on March 19, 2011, titled, “Moving Forward.” It was the story of my spiritual journey from the time I lost my job in Houston on April 21, 2009, until that point in time (almost two years later). I followed it up with a post written on March 26, 2011, titled, “Don’t Lose Your Soul At The Crossroads,” which was a continuation of the first post and republished on the same date, July 8, 2011.
Several months later, I wrote a post titled “Second Chances” (published January 23, 2012), written almost a year later from the original dates when I wrote the above two posts and also as I was coming up to the end my third year of unemployment. In it I wrote about being a “late bloomer” much like what Jesus talked about in the parable about the workers in the vineyard who were hired throughout the day (from dawn right up until the very last hour of the work day) and how they were all paid the same amount of money regardless of how long they had worked (see Matt. 20:1-16).
Well folks, I’m about to end my fourth year of unemployment in early (April) 2013. Who knew, right? And it’s been a very long haul . . . . Looking back, I’m glad that on the day I was fired (April 21,2009) I had no idea what was up ahead and that I would still be unemployed several years later. If I had known that at that time, I would have requested that they take me to the roof of that building (a six-story building) and throw me off. The upside to that is that I wouldn’t have spent the last three years and eight months in an absolutely futile attempt to find employment and I would have been in Heaven all this time, too!!! However, that was obviously not God’s plan for me (and no doubt somebody at that former place of employment would be in jail for throwing me off the roof). I say all of that tongue-in-cheek as I certainly don’t have a “death wish” even after almost four years of unemployment. But this is getting WAY OLD, folks!!!
If you’ve read any of my previous posts (176 including this one since July 8, 2011), you are familiar with my journey and how it has taken on a whole new perspective and direction beyond the initial (and frantic) search to find another job, which is still certainly something I keep looking for as I need an income. However, God graciously kept it a secret from me that I would be unemployed for so very, very long. Not only that, but all of the thoughts I had back then about how I thought God would work in my life after being fired bit the dust (e.g., that I was sure God would bring me a new job within six months or at the longest a year since I am self-supporting and knew I’d be financially destitute by the end of that first year without another job). Well, here I am almost four years later and I’m not broke yet (that–in and of itself–is no small miracle).
Years ago I read a book titled, “Your God Is Too Small,” by J.B. Phillips (1906-1982). Originally published in 1952, it was republished several times (the latest in 2004) and is available through Amazon.com. While the copy I owned has long since been lost (no doubt among the 1000+ books I lost when I left Houston in 2009), the title has always stayed with me. The book is broken up into two parts: Part One: Destructive (Unreal Gods), and Part Two: Constructive (An Adequate God). There is a long list in the “Destructive” section that I’m sure many of us can relate to–here’s some of the chapter titles: “Resident Policeman,” “Parental Hangover,” “Grand Old Man,” “Meek-and-Mild,” “Absolute Perfection,” “Heavenly Bosom,” “God-in-a-Box,” “Managing Director,” “Second-hand God,” “Perennial Grievance,” “Pale Galilean,” and “Projected Image.” Several of those titles most likely ring a bell in all of us as to how we personally view God. However, the one that really intrigued me was “God-in-a-Box.” A PDF of the book in plain text is available at this link but be aware that it is 97 pages in length.
In the chapter titled, “God-in-a-Box,” the topic of which is regarding denominations (pp. 23-27 in the PDF) J.B. Phillips states, “There are doubtless many reasons for the degeneration of Christianity into ‘churchiness,’ and the narrowing of the Gospel for all mankind into a set of approved beliefs (e.g., within denominations); but the chief cause must be the worship of an inadequate god, a cramped and regulated god who is ‘a good churchman’ according to the formulas of the worshipper. For actual behavior infallibly betrays the real object of man’s worship” (pp. 24-25). I think many of us would agree that those of us raised in a certain denomination tend to believe what we have been taught about God in that particular denomination. And in so doing, we put God in that particular denominational box and this extends into our own personal relationship with Christ and our own image of who God is. Unfortunately, most of the time it is very small . . . e.g., “destructive.”
We do put God in a box all the time whether we realize it or not. For example, we say we believe in miracles but do we really? Here’s an example from my own life: I was sure (well, greatly hoping) that God would not leave me unemployed for longer then my savings (and unemployment checks) would hold out (a year at the max from the time I was fired as normally unemployment benefits only last six months and my savings added to it would keep me going for an additional six months). I couldn’t “see” beyond what my bank account told me was “impossible” at the time–e.g., that I could survive almost four years of unemployment and still not be broke when my actual funds at that time would only last a year. When we find ourselves in a tight spot and look to our own resources, we forget all about the fact that Jesus twice fed crowds of 4000 (Mark 8:1-10) and 5000 (Mark 6:34-44) with a few fish and a few loaves of bread.
In the routine of our daily lives, we tend to live in a very small world when it comes to understanding God. And at times, He will intervene through circumstances to get us to see Him and this world of ours as being much larger than we can even imagine. Initially when I lost my job I viewed it as God’s way of taking me out of a bad situation (which it was) and in my way of thinking He was going to place me in a job better suited for whatever it was He wanted me to accomplish and do it within a year due to my financial situation. Of course, at that time I didn’t realize how small the box was that I had put God in until my “new” life of unemployment began to unfold. And unfold it did sometimes very painfully when I came close to getting a job but didn’t get it, and I didn’t understand why.
When God intervenes in our comfortable world, it turns our world upside down. For example, the Apostle Paul had it “made in the shade” when he was a Pharisee–highly respected, publicly recognized, most likely well off financially–he had all the trappings of “success” in his profession, and he was “religious” to the core–a Pharisee of Pharisees–and he didn’t even recognize that he was heading down the wrong road. Indeed, he wasn’t even looking for a different road because he thought he had it right. And then Jesus met him on the Damascus Road, and his encounter with Jesus Christ changed his life forever. He wrote about the change that happened to him in Philippians 3:7-14:
“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 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 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. 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, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
In his comfortable life as a Pharisee he couldn’t see beyond the facade. But when Jesus intervened in his life, he couldn’t go back to what he once knew. Everything changed, especially his focus. It went from “living by the rules” to “knowing Jesus Christ personally” and the whole course of his life was forever changed . . .
. . . And that is what He wants to do with us–get rid of the box we’ve put Him in and the “religious” games we play and our assumptions about Him and how He works in our lives and in the lives of others. We need to stop judging what we don’t understand and realize that miracles DO happen everyday, and many times they are disguised in trials, and in my case, it has been this very long “trial” of unemployment. What He did for me wasn’t about just “finding another job.” No–it was about finding Him–not from a salvation standpoint as He has been my Savior since I was ten years old, but by taking Him out of the very small box I had put Him in which made my world small and self-contained.
I still don’t know what the future holds nor do I know how much longer this trial of mine will last, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is moving me forward and has given me a second chance. He has broadened my world and my view of Him in ways I absolutely couldn’t have imagined before I lost my job. He has become more real to me then a next door neighbor. And He is the God of second chances, and He loves to do it even when we initially shake in our boots and don’t understand because it is disguised as a crisis or trial. After all, as Isaiah stated a long time ago:
“I don’t think the way you think.
The way you work isn’t the way I work.”
“For as the sky soars high above earth,
so the way I work surpasses the way you work,
and the way I think is beyond the way you think.
“Just as rain and snow descend from the skies
and don’t go back until they’ve watered the earth,
“Doing their work of making things grow and blossom,
producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry,
“So will the words that come out of my mouth
not come back empty-handed.
“They’ll do the work I sent them to do,
they’ll complete the assignment I gave them.”
~Isaiah 55:8-11 MSG
I’ll end this post with two of my favorite verses which hold the key to taking God out of the box we put Him in (you’ll most likely recognize them, too):
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.
He does, indeed, make all things new.
YouTube Video: “Moving Forward” (2008) composed and sung by Israel Houghton and the Lakewood Church Worship Team: