Being Thankful (and Joyful, Too)

being_thankfulIn two days here in America we will be celebrating Thanksgiving and this year it also marks the first day of the Jewish holiday, Chanukah (Hanukkah). And even though the specter of unemployment still looms over my life after more than four and a half years now, I have much to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day and everyday.

Eight days ago I wrote my latest blog post titled In God We Trust – True or False? and then the very next day my wireless modem died and along with it my internet connection to the world. It was 3 ½ years old and had served me well, and while I did everything I knew how to do in the following days to try to revive it, the consensus was that it was dead. I mourned the loss as I knew a new wireless modem would cost more than I wanted to spend right now. I never dreamed that when I lost my job in April 2009 that I would still be unemployed over four and a half years later, and as much as I try not to worry about finances (my only income during this time was the unemployment benefits I received which ended in May 2011 and I have had no income since that time), to have unexpected expenses on an already tight budget gives me pause for thought every time it happens and sends me back to the place I talked about in my last blog post–e.g., do I really trust God to see me through every circumstance. To say the least, it humbles me.

And I have a confession to make . . . . After over four and a half years of unemployment with still no light at the end of that tunnel, there is one portion of Scripture that I recently found rather annoying (at least in the first sentence of the passage). It is found in James 1:2-18. Let’s read it:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

It is clear from the start of the passage that we (e.g., Christians) will encounter trials of many kinds throughout our lives and that these trials come our way as a testing of our faith which produces in us that much needed quality of perseverance if we allow it to (vv. 2-3). And it is that quality of perseverance that will make us mature and complete, lacking nothing (v. 4). And in order to acquire this perseverance, we must have God’s wisdom and God has clearly told us to ask him for it and he will give it to us generously and without finding fault as long as we truly believe that he will and not doubt (vv. 5-8). Well, I can’t tell you how many times I have asked God for his wisdom over these past four and a half years (five, actually) and he has given it to me every time I have totally trusted him to do it and not relied on my own understanding.

However, at the beginning of this portion of James is this statement, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sister, whenever you face trials of many kinds . . .” (v. 2). I have to admit that after four and a half years joy doesn’t exactly describe how I have been feeling lately. Tired, frustrated, isolated, restless . . . yes; but joyful? Hardly . . . . I found joy to be in very short supply when one mini-trial would end only to give birth to the next one and all of them in the midst of the major overarching trial of long term unemployment. And I was still encountering a major anger issue from time to time regarding my former boss in Houston who started this whole mess in my life when I first arrived for that job in Houston in late September 2008 and from which he fired me from in April 2009.

Now, mind you, my anger at him has in no way affected him at all. In fact, he doesn’t even know about it. The last time I saw him or talked with him was the day he fired me (April 21, 2009). His life has kept right on going through a couple of promotions while I’ve been unemployed the entire time. And then last night I read a quote on Facebook that really brought it all back home to me. While I couldn’t find a reference for the author of the quote, here is what it stated:

The one that angers you
Controls you.
Don’t give anyone that power
Especially the one
Who does it intentionally.

Human anger is destructive. It can and often does destroy others and always destroys us in the long run if we do not deal with it appropriately and in God’s way. Only godly anger can be constructive, but we humans rarely experience that kind of anger. Our anger is usually followed up with a strong desire for revenge. And the Bible is very clear that revenge belongs to God and not to us—see Romans 12:19. I have stumbled over my anger more times than I can count over this long time of unemployment, and it is the biggest stumbling block preventing me from experiencing real joy in the midst of a major trial that, at least from my very human and limited perspective, has lasted way too long and has stretched the lesson on learning perseverance to its limit.

Choosing joy todayHowever, as I read through Psalm 139, I am reminded that God knows everything about me (and he knows the same about you, too)—including every moment of my life and every circumstance and trial that I have encountered and I am currently encountering (and the same also goes for you). He knew me from my mother’s womb and “all the days ordained for me were written in your [God’s] book before one of them came to be” (see vv. 13-16). And as King David said right after that acknowledgement in v. 17: “How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—when I awake, I am still with you.”

As I mentioned in my last post, In God We Trust—True or False?”, so often we take our eyes off of God and place them squarely on what we think needs to be done in any given situation. And once we take God out of the equation of our circumstances (or ask him to bless what we are about to do instead of asking him for his guidance in the situation when it happens and while we are going through it) we are on very shaky ground. Deadly ground, actually.

This whole experience with my internet modem dying last week has brought this point back home to me once again. I fretted and stewed about what to do; what it was going to cost me; how I could do it the cheapest way possible; how I was going to recoup the financial loss with no income whatsoever coming in, etc., etc., etc.; in fact, by yesterday morning when I woke up I was totally frustrated and had worked myself into a frenzy. I spent time over the past several days checking out all the options, weighing the pros and cons of each decision, and, quite frankly, wore myself out with the ensuing frustration of trying to figure it all out on my own.

Now, mind you, during this time I was aware that God was trying to get my attention but I had inadvertently assumed that I had to give him some help with it (how often do we do that, folks?). By the time I got up yesterday morning I had made that proverbial mountain out of a molehill and it was time to get off that mountain. And by yesterday afternoon I gave it all up and said, “Okay, God . . . please show me what I should do about this situation.” So I packed up my laptop and headed out to the store that I had almost written off as an option (I checked them out last week along with some other options) . . . and, well, you can probably guess what happened. I ended up getting a wonderful sales clerk who gave me a fantastic deal with a brand new and fast 4G wireless modem with whistles and bells and no contract required and some discounts I didn’t expect (I’ve been a long term customer with this particular company with my cell phone service) that will be saving me at least $15/mo from what I was paying for my 3 ½ year old much slower wireless modem with a different company that died last week right after I wrote that post that asked “Do we really trust in God?”

Talk about an object lesson . . . .

So now, once again, I bring to God this anger issue that just doesn’t seem to be resolving itself on its own. I’m tired of being angry, folks. Really, really tired . . . about as tired as I was yesterday morning when I woke up totally frustrated about what I needed to do to get connected with the world again after my wireless modem died a week ago. And that little saying I quoted above that I found on Facebook last night brought it home to me. I want God and not my anger at my former boss and my unbelievably long-term unemployment situation to be in control, so I give the entire situation (and my former boss) back to God right now . . . right this very moment . . . .

So with all of that being said, this Thanksgiving I am enormously thankful and grateful that God is always in control–even when I’m out of control–and if I will let go of my preconceived ideas or my own understanding which has limited perspective on the whole issue and truly ask him to guide me in everything I do, he will do exactly that—just as he promised he would do in James 1. And this morning, I can feel that joy that has been eluding me for so long seeping back into my life . . . and just in time for Christmas, too.

Are you in the midst of a trial that you can hardly stand anymore and any joy you once experienced has been robbed from your life? Then maybe it’s time to stop trying to figure it all out on your own. Leave all of the options up to God—he’s the only one with the right option (and with him, it’s never an option).

Christmas is coming soon and there’s no better gift to receive than God’s wisdom (through Jesus Christ). So stop the struggling on your own; ask God for it, and don’t doubt . . . .

Starting right now . . .

And consider it pure joy . . . .

YouTube Video: “Joy to the World” sung by Whitney Houston in the movie, The Preacher’s Wife (1996):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

In God We Trust — True or False?

For Psalm 25Throughout his life, King David (who started out as a shepherd boy) learned to put his complete trust in the Lord, no matter how dire his circumstances. The book of Psalms is filled with many of his songs to the Lord not only seeking the Lord’s help to rescue him during the many crises that came up during his life but to cleanse him from his sins and to praise the Lord’s name forever and ever. While David was far from perfect (see article at this link), God testified that David was “a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do” (Acts 13:22). David learned to trust in God completely, no matter what the circumstances. How often do we do that today? Most of the time we say we trust God, but we really trust in ourselves or our money or our status or our position; or our own “wily ways” and just about anything else that we can see, do, or manipulate. The kind of complete trust that David had in God and not in himself or anyone else is, unfortunately, often rare in our world today. It was rare in David’s world, too.

How often do we trust in our own “wily ways” (status, money, power, deceit, etc.) and how often have we placed our trust in others (e.g., family and friends, relatives, spouses or significant others, employers or coworkers, even pastors or deacons or elders or church folks, government officials, teachers or professors, etc.) only to have it fall flat when we needed it the most? More times then we’d like to admit, I’m sure. Trust is a very fragile thing, and humans aren’t very good at it or with it especially when push comes to shove. Selfish motives and/or self-protection is pretty much the rule of the day . . . even among folks who call themselves Christian. And we trust in our paychecks, government checks, or retirement accounts more than we trust in God to be there for us.

The answer to this whole trust issue is found in the very middle verse of the Bible—Psalm 118:8—and it states the following:

It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in humans.

That just about covers the waterfront, doesn’t it? “Humans” is all inclusive of the entire human race and that includes you and me, folks. None of us can be trusted all of the time, most of the time, or even some of the time. Ulterior motives reign supreme and self gets in the way. Only God can be trusted, and it is only in God that we should place all of our trust. Even our money here in America states, “In God We Trust,” but the reality–and the irony–is that we far too often place our trust in all of that money instead of God who created the entire universe including that money that we crave more then we crave Him. Money cannot save anybody, folks, and any “loyalty” it buys is shallow and self-serving at best. And Jesus even said in his Sermon on the Mount that “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24). Unfortunately, most of us serve money while claiming to serve God but the way we act and live and treat others tells the truth. And the love of money is idolatry and can end up destroying our lives and/or getting us killed.

Psalm 25v14-15David’s trust was not in wealth or possessions (and he had a great deal of both as King) nor was it in people (just look at how King Saul tried to kill him many times without success before he became King). And even when David had the perfect opportunity to kill King Saul (see I Samuel 24), he chose to trust in God for the outcome and not in his own wits, and he spared Saul’s life. Did you get that? He spared the life of the very man who wanted to murder him in the worst way. That, folks, is what complete trust in God–and not in our own ability and bent towards retaliation and revenge and hate–looks and acts like, and it’s not often found in our world. And in the end King Saul took his own life (see I Samuel 31) and David became King.

The cry of David’s heart was always to God and not to any person regardless of how powerful they might be. One of my very favorites Psalms over the years (and there are many, but this one has always stood out) is Psalm 25. Let’s read it:

Psalm 25
(A psalm of David)

In you, Lord my God,
I put my trust.

I trust in you;
do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one who hopes in you
will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those
who are treacherous without cause.

Show me your ways, Lord,
teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
for they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
for you, Lord, are good.

Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right
and teaches them his way.
All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful
toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.
For the sake of your name, Lord,
forgive my iniquity, though it is great.

Who, then, are those who fear the Lord?
He will instruct them in the ways they should choose.
They will spend their days in prosperity,
and their descendants will inherit the land.
The Lord confides in those who fear him;
he makes his covenant known to them.
My eyes are ever on the Lord,
for only he will release my feet from the snare.

Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
Relieve the troubles of my heart
and free me from my anguish.
Look on my affliction and my distress
and take away all my sins.
See how numerous are my enemies
and how fiercely they hate me!

Guard my life and rescue me;
do not let me be put to shame,
for I take refuge in you.
May integrity and uprightness protect me,
because my hope, Lord, is in you.

Deliver Israel, O God,
from all their troubles!

When was the last time we can say we totally trusted God without trying to run interference for him? Be honest now. Look at the sequence of events found in this Psalm. Do we start off our request by stating, “In you, Lord my God, I put my trust” and if so, do we really mean it? God knows our hearts far better than even we know them. Proverbs 3:5-8 states:

Trust in the Lord with all you heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.

In God We Trust @ A-3While I can’t speak for anyone else, I am the first to admit that “my own understanding” gets in the way all the time. I don’t begin to have all the pieces to the puzzle of any circumstance I find myself in (such as my very long trial with unemployment and the many challenges it has presented in my life over the past four and a half plus years now), yet I try to figure out the entire situation all the time and only end up enormously frustrated most of the time. While God has given us the ability to understand some things, what he is telling us in these verses is not to “lean on” that understanding. Even if our own understanding is partially true, we don’t have the whole picture–only God does–and that is why he tells us to trust him with all of our heart and not to lean on our own understanding. That’s incredibly hard to do but it’s not impossible, because God never gives us anything that is “impossible.” Never. But we have to trust him and not ourselves and we literally have to let him guide us step by step each day and not three weeks into the future. No . . . his guidance is RIGHT NOW . . . and not tomorrow. He’ll take care of tomorrow when it gets here and we trust him (and not ourselves) with it.

Just as Kermit the Frog (in “Sesame Street”) said, “It’s not easy being green,” we can relate by saying, “It’s not easy being human.” We want the control, and we want to tell God how to solve our problem(s) or at least help him with it. And that’s not how God works. He is the potter and we are the clay. The clay doesn’t tell the potter what it wants to be. No, the potter makes the clay into what he wants it to be. And if we insist on having our own way, we’ll only end up as cracked pots that are good for nothing in the end. Unfortunately, we don’t believe that most of the time and think that we know best until it is too late. So who is really in control–us or God?

David knew who was in control of his life. . .

Do we know who is really in control of ours?

YouTube Video: “Total Praise” by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

Be Still and Know

"Be still and know that I am God" - Psalm 46:10

“Be still and know that I am God” – Psalm 46:10

Psalm 46 (NIV)

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
though the earth give way

and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams
make glad the city of God,

the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.


YouTube Video: “Be Still and Know” by Steven Curtis Chapman:

Photo credit here

The Woman, the Judge, Justice, and God

scale of justiceJesus Christ often taught in parables (short stories that illustrate truth) and there is an interesting parable found in Luke 18:1-8 that Jesus told His disciples regarding a woman (in this case a widow), and a judge who–after much time and persistence on the woman’s part–finally gave her the justice she needed from her adversary. Let’s read this short parable:

Then Jesus told His disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will He keep putting them off? I tell you, He will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

A study note in the MacArthur Study Bible regarding the judge’s response to the woman’s plea and then Jesus’ response (vv.5-8) states the following:

“What the judge would not do out of compassion for the widow or reverence for God, he would [and did] do out of sheer frustration with her incessant pleading.” [And Jesus responds by telling us to listen to what the unjust judge said] “(e.g., listen to the point of the story), namely, that God, who always does right and is filled with compassion for believers who suffer, will certainly respond to His beloved ones who cry for His help. He [God] may delay long, but He does so for good reasons (2 Peter 3:8-9) and when He acts, His vengeance is swift.”

The lesson this parable illustrates is found in the very first sentence—Always pray and don’t ever give up!!! We are not told how long the woman kept coming to the judge with her request for justice from her adversary nor what her adversary was doing to her that was causing her so much pain and injustice; however, she persisted and persisted and persisted—she never gave up. And while it appears to have taken a fair amount of time for the judge to finally grant her request for justice from her adversary (and the judge was not a God-fearing man nor did he care about what other people think), it was because of her continual persistence that he finally gave her the justice she so desperately needed from her adversary.

Are you going through a hard time that you don’t think will ever end? If so, remember this parable when you feel like giving up and remember, too, that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). God’s unfathomable and ever present help and bringing to mind the lesson in this parable when times have been really tough have kept me going through over four and a half years of still ongoing unemployment, and I’m not giving up! Don’t you give up, either!!!

So seek God’s face and always pray . . .

And don’t ever give up . . . .

YouTube Video: “My Help” sung by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir:

Photo credit here