Tag Archives: trials

Thanksgiving in March

For the last month and a half I have been trying to get healthy. I’ve been eating smaller portions and healthier food, taking vitamins and probiotics, and stretching and doing yoga daily. I’m especially fond of the hilarious Adriene of “Yoga with Adriene.” Her motto is “Find What Feels Good.” Now, as a Christian, I know that saying cannot be applied to everything. Many things that “feel good” in the moment are not good for us in eternity, but it works for yoga and stretching. It basically means, don’t over-extend.

In life, I am learning, however, that it’s important to not only find what feels good, it’s important to find what fills us. Over the weekend I had the pleasure of meeting Costas*, a man from Haiti who lives near a park where I was attending an event. Our conversation started when he mistakenly told me “Happy Thanksgiving” and I corrected him, saying, “I think you mean happy Easter.” This led to a long conversation about assignments from God. Though, on first glance, Costas seemed like a disheveled wanderer, it turned out he was a man literally on a mission from God. All the trials and tribulations of his past had brought him to a place, geographically, financially, and spiritually, where he could serve the very place where it all began. He allowed God to take the pain of yesterday and turn it into the joy of the present.

After escaping his home country, Costas entered a world that was new to him. The language was new. The culture was new. Everything was new. In this place of deep need and emptiness, much like Job of the scripture, he encountered people on assignment for God, people of many different cultures and religions who had made the humble decision to serve refugees. As a recipient of such generosity and kindness, he thrived in his new home. He created a life for himself, even purchased the house he once shared with 11 other refugees.

His story could have ended there with a big fat “Happily Ever After,” but it didn’t. Instead God called him back to where all the pain began, where the running began, where the terror began. It must have been as profound for him as it was for me listening to it because he made a point of saying, “God often sends you back to where it all began.” He gave examples like that of Moses who had to go back to Egypt to set the Israelites free. Costas, in the last 15 years, decades after escaping Haiti, decided to go back to build a school where there was no education and serve thousands of people in rural Haiti.

His story really resonated with me. For the first 25 years of life I lived within 30 miles of where I was born. At 25 years old I decided to move to the Bay Area for 3 years until I finished school. Now 10 years later I am still here, and constantly wondering why. I love Oakland. I love my church, the food, the culture, but I often miss home. Maybe God took me from home to learn something to take back home someday. Perhaps there’s something I will find here that I would have never found at home, and when I return I will bring with me something someone needs.

So maybe there is something I could gain from this conversation with Costas that I could use years from now when I return home, but what I can I take from it today? Later that day, after talking with him, I felt so energized. I’m sure it was partially due to the Holy Spirit’s involvement in our exchange, but it was something more than that. I realized afterward that I am energized by one-on-one conversations with people. I walk away feeling like I have gained insight, learned more about culture, the similarities and differences. I feel as though the words spoken to me are the most precious gift.

Through this conversation with a complete stranger God reminded me that I need to have these individual conversations in order to be filled, energized. I recognize now why I sometimes feel unfulfilled in my workplace where there’s little time for individual exchanges or deep conversation, where the majority of my day is spent conversing with a computer screen.

Perhaps Costas had a point. It may not have been Thanksgiving, but Sunday was truly a day to be thankful.

 

*name changed for privacy

 

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Faith and Realistic Expectations

At one time or another every Christian and non-Christian is told something to the effect of, “My life was horrible until I found God.” That is like music to the struggling non-believer’s ears, and it results in many turning to God for a way out of a horrible life. Let’s face it! Being a believer is a beautiful thing, but life is not all roses when you give your life to the Lord. God challenges our thoughts, our actions, our will, and in turn it can lead to confusion, resentment, and power struggle.

Perhaps what people are trying to say when they say their life was horrible until they found God, is that their purpose and destiny have changed. Let’s look at the life of Jesus for example. Jesus was born in a barn, out of wedlock to a young, traveling couple. Later in life he was teased, ridiculed, beaten, forced to carry the cross (the equivalent of an electric chair), hung on that cross, alone and left to die by his own Father. Do you still think life is all rosy after you give your life to God? If you do, you are in for a big surprise.

I believe those that turn away from their faith, usually do so because their faith is challenged by a major trial in life. What if, while standing in that baptismal pool, your pastor said, “Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior and accept any suffering and persecution that is guaranteed to come with that decision?” Would you still be baptized?

Consider this. Imagine you have no honest married friends or family. They’ve all told you only positive things about marriage, claiming they’ve never wished they weren’t married. When you walked down the aisle you would be completely clueless as to what you were getting yourself into. In the same way the church could be much more realistic in their approach to evangelism and conversion. Instead of counting only the good feelings that come from being a Christ-follower, perhaps we should warn against all the human disappointment there can be even in the midst of divine appointment.

When we surrender to God often something totally unexpected happens, and as it was discussed at my Bible Study last night, unexpected is usually not fun for the power-struggle of the human will.  We all think we are in control until we surrender.

One thing is guaranteed. When we surrender to God, His will is done.                                            “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:9

I can speak from my own experience that the good outweighs the bad, because looking at my life in reverse, I see how God used the “bad”, the trials, the mistakes, the hardships for a positive purpose.

Finding Ways to Celebrate

We all know that life is like a box of chocolates. Not every chocolate can be as delicious as the next. Sometimes you bite into something that looks sweet, and instead it is bitter. Does it mean we stop figuratively biting into life? Or do we just spit out what’s bitter and keep on looking for the sweet stuff?

This last month has been a whirlwind of ups and downs, and I can tell by the forecast of life that it will likely continue. That’s what happens when you are moving. You are bound to get hit with something unexpected. What I have found to be helpful, is to celebrate the little stuff. Recently I counted how many churches I have photographed, and it’s very close to 50. To celebrate I had some of the photos printed on nice paper with my website on the back. They turned out very nice, but then I couldn’t decide what to do with them. Who would want a bunch of pictures of random churches? Probably the people that don’t find them random, like the people that actually pastor these churches. So this week I have written a letter to encourage each pastor, I inserted their photos into the addressed envelopes, and I have decided to pray over each one.

Now suddenly, my personal celebration of my photos has turned into a way I can give back, and when I give back, I feel like I can do anything. Think about it this way. Have you ever seen anyone looking all doom and gloom, but when you say hi they perk up a bit, maybe even say hello back? Do you know that feeling like you have just conquered the world? You made someone smile and it made your day and perhaps theirs as well. When we give, even out of our complete spiritual, emotional, physical, or even financial bankruptcy, we feel energized, encouraged, empowered. It changes your perspective, and can hold the power to change the world.

We will always have times in life when we feel totally at the end of our rope no matter how much faith we claim to have. I have felt that way at times lately even though I have so much to be thankful for. I have a wonderful family, an enjoyable job, great coworkers, supportive friends, a warm place to live, and a car to drive. That’s more than much of the world can say, but somehow I let Satan suck the gratitude out of life. Fortunately I believe in a God that is more powerful than that thinking, and he always pulls me out of the miry clay and sets my feet on rock (Psalm 40:2).

What can you do for others today to also help you remember your blessings? You may not have much, but I guarantee you have enough to help someone else.

When Mercies are Blessings Trust and Obey

Laura Story sings the song “Blessings”, which poses the question, what if the trials of this life are God’s mercies and blessings in disguise? I often challenge myself to ponder this very question when things don’t go my way. I’ve seen it time and time again that an inconvenience turns out to be God’s mercies at work.

For instance, this week my computer came down with a virus, and 40 malwares later I was pacing, scratching my head, panicking about what to do to fix it. After all, I don’t have the money for a new computer! Later that night, after panicking for hours, I realized I could just take the computer to my friend who works in IT. The next day I trotted down to his shop, and he fixed it at a fraction of the cost of what most places would charge. I felt a weight was taken off my back, but little did I know that the weight I was carrying was not nearly the weight I would have been carrying a week later. When I retrieved my computer from the friendly and intelligent hands that repaired it, I heard from him that the computer would have “stopped working” within a week. For some reason the drive I was saving to was only one sixth of the space on the computer, but the computer would have thought it was full and stopped working without notice. Wow, my prayer the night before and the morning I took my computer in had worked. I had told God that if my blog was something that served him, and he wanted me to continue, He would make a way for it to be repaired within my budget. Not only had he done that, but he had spared me the even bigger headache of my computer completely breaking down.

Yesterday I was on my way to a town about 25 miles away to meet an old friend. Stuck in traffic I decided to stop at the fabric store on the way. I pulled over to text my friend, “Are you still going tonight?” When she replied I was relieved because she said she had forgotten and was already at the Raiders game. With a deep sigh of relief I continued to the fabric store. I pulled into the parking lot and texted her back, “I’m kind of relieved. The traffic is horrible and it’s pouring down rain.” As I looked up from the text the rain had stopped. If it hadn’t slowed me down I would have just driven all the way there only to find out that my friend had forgotten. Instead I was spared the drive and the frustration of a last minute cancellation, and I was able to get the fabric I needed to finish Mark’s Christmas present.

It all reminds me of a sermon I was listening to by Pastor Tom when he spoke at my church a few weeks back. The title, Trust and Obey. There is no obedience without trust, and disobedience is trying to do things by our own will. When I panic and try to fix the computer on my own, I am not trusting God to do His work. I am only making the problem worse, plus I am telling God that I don’t need Him when I’m in trouble. When I push to go faster in slow traffic in the rain because I have my own agenda, I am telling God that His plan isn’t good enough. Try to listen for that still small voice. The more you get to know him, the louder His voice will get, and soon you will find yourself having morning coffee with Jesus right across from you.

Overcome the World

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. -John 16:33B

When met with adversity we meet Him. This may sound like I am suggesting to look on the bright side. While I think looking on the bright side can be good to gain a different perspective, Jesus had emotions just like you and I. He felt broken, torn, hurt, offended. It’s not unchristian to feel. We are made to feel emotion. It’s what sets us apart. What I mean is that when we are met with adversity it is an opportunity to give Jesus the driver’s seat. I’m trying not to quote Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel”, but that’s exactly what we should do in trials and suffering. Who knows us and our situation better than the one who knit us in our mother’s womb.

In Genesis 39 Joseph has just been sold to the Ishmaelites by his jealous brothers. They had planned to kill him, but decided they’d make some cash by selling him. The Ishmaelites sold him into slavery to Potiphar, an Egyptian officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard. Joseph must have been feeling hurt and betrayed by his brothers, fear of what would come next, sad that he had been forced to leave his father behind. This was truly a time of adversity for him, but the Bible says , “The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man…” Did I read that right?!? Joseph who was almost murdered by his jealous brothers, sold into slavery, and now he has become successful? But this is not where the struggle ends. Just as in our own lives, because we fight through one storm does not mean there isn’t another on the horizon.

Joseph had become quite successful working under Potiphar until his wife tried to seduce him. When he realized her proposition he quickly fled, but she snatched his cloak from his back. Seeing this as evidence and an opportunity for revenge on Joseph she went to her husband to accuse his servant of assault, “See, here is his cloak he left behind.” Believing his wife’s accusation Potiphar quickly had Joseph detained. Once again, betrayed and let down, Joseph finds God’s favor. His good behavior and God’s spirit upon him earn him the position of watching over all the other prisoners, an assistant to the chief jailer. Over two years later through a series of unlikely events Joseph is asked to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. The dream’s interpretation indicated a famine was coming. Impressed with Joseph’s discernment Pharaoh promotes Joseph from prisoner to his personal assistant and head of all his servants and business of his house.

Later Joseph gained even more respect from Pharaoh and God continued to show him favor, even reconciling his relationship with his family and at last reuniting them. No mountain is too big or too small for God to overcome. The number of scriptures on overcoming adversity is overwhelming. If you don’t believe me reflect on your past. Think of all the times you have overcome. Did you really overcome with your own strength or was there something, someone supernatural carrying you through it.

If you are feeling stuck in struggle, suffering, sorrow take a moment to meditate on this, my favorite Psalm:

Psalm 91 (NRSV)

You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence; he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day, or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday.A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only look with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked. Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot. Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name. When  they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them. With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.

Blessings in Disguise

Have you ever looked at a landscape and thought “God paints the most beautiful pictures”? During the week of Christmas my parents and I went on a beautiful hike at Upper Bidwell Park in Chico, California. The landscape is gorgeous with oak trees sprinkled over rolling foothills and rocky ridges. We hiked from the base of an incline along Big Chico Creek. When we reached as far as we could go for the day and looked out across the creek to the climbing rocky ridges my mom exclaimed, “God paints the most beautiful pictures.” Looking down at my feet I noticed the dark, almost black rock winding down to the creek, lumpy and bumpy like bubbles in the rock. Looking to the northeast I saw Mt. Lassen in the distance. I knew this rock was volcanic. I turned to my mom and said, “They probably didn’t think that when the volcano was actually spewing lava and ash where we stand.” Image

It’s true. We go through life completely unaware of God’s plan, and when something doesn’t go our way we often think that God must have screwed up. What kind of God would send lava and ash spewing at me?!? The kind of God that knows exactly what he is doing is the kind of God that allows us to wrestle with our day-to-day struggles. In the moment we don’t see what good will come out of it, but I heard it said “Life only makes since in rewind.” If you don’t skip to the end of the novel everything leading up to the final chapter seems to be incomprehensible, unpredictable, sometimes happy yet sometimes unbearably painful. Since we will never know how each of our lives will end we must trust in the God that paints beautiful pictures.

Next time you are in a season of trials, frustrations, and disappointments reflect on God’s character and his faithfulness to see you through past trials. And lastly, take a look at a beautiful landscape, and know that in the end your life will make perfect sense like the lumpy, bumpy beauty of the rock at Upper Bidwell Park.