Tag Archives: Circumstances

Just When I Thought it Couldn’t Get Any Worse

And they took Jeremiah the prophet and Baruch son of Neriah along with them. 
Jeremiah 43:6 (NIV)

Just a week or so ago I was listening to a Typology podcast with a panel discussion of those who are Enneagram Type Fours. I also happen to be a Type Four, and listening to the podcast threw me into an unexpected depression. “I don’t want to be one of those people,” I groaned to Wendy that night in bed. The ironic (and hilarious) part of it was that my dramatic brooding about being a Four is exactly how a Four reacts!

I so identified with Jeremiah in today’s chapter. The poor old man (who I’m convinced was a Type Four as well) has lived such a long, hard life dramatically prophesying a lot of pessimistic, doom and gloom predictions to people who refuse to listen to him. He then gets to watch as his prophesies come to pass. He lives through a siege in which he almost starves to death, is imprisoned, and eventually thrown into the bottom of a well and left to die. He’s rescued only to watch his city destroyed, God’s temple destroyed, and his own people slaughtered. If that’s not bad enough, in today’s chapter – after giving a prophetic Word to a group of people who asked him what they should do, they reject his prophetic advice and take him captive to Egypt.

“Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse!

The truth is that most every one has stretches of life’s journey in which nothings goes right and everything seems to go wrong. Just when you though it was bad, it gets worse. Hopefully, you and I will never be rejected, imprisoned, thrown into a well, left to die, have to watch our town destroyed by invaders, witness people cannibalizing their own for lack of food, and then being taken captive to another country. Jeremiah’s list makes anything I might moan about seem ludicrously silly in comparison.

The description of Type Fours on the Enneagram Institute website states: At their Best: inspired and highly creative, Fours are able to renew themselves and transform their experiences.” As I reread that again this morning it reminded me that how I handle the valleys, detours, and pot-holes on life’s road is really up to me. I can allow myself to be a slave to my own pessimistic, brooding natural bents, fears, and anxieties. Or, I can continually work on becoming the healthiest version of myself and transform my circumstances into a better, healthier, more capable human being. The person Jesus calls me to be. The person I was created to be.

I don’t always choose my circumstances, but I always choose how I react or respond.

 

Embrace the Mystery of the Moment

Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
John 13:7 (NRSV)

There was a lot that Jesus’ followers did not understand. It is a subtle, but recurring theme in John’s biography of Jesus:

  • Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
  • They did not understand that he was speaking to them about the Father.
  • Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word.
  • Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
  • His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.

Along my life journey I’ve discovered that I almost always desire clarity and understanding, but it quite regularly eludes me in the moment and in my immediate circumstances. It is only when I reach a waypoint down the road that I look back and perceive with clarity and understanding how God was at work around me, in me, and through me. I have come to accept that there are some things that will continue to elude me until my journey is over and I am safe at home.

At least I’m not alone. I take heart today in the realization that Jesus’ best friends and closest followers on this earth were perplexed in the moment, too. Being physically present with Jesus and hearing His every word, they still didn’t get it until further on down the road. Maybe it’s time for me to cut myself a little slack.

I’m reminded that this life journey is, for me, a faith journey. I will rarely have clarity and understanding in the moment. I am, however, assured of the hope that God will complete His good work in me. Having looked back at how He has brought me to this point, and all that He has faithfully accomplished thus far, it is evident that I can trust that my present circumstances are part of the plan.

You do not know now what I am doing,” Jesus says to His followers, “but later you will understand.”

Indeed.

So, go with it. Trust. Have faith.

Embrace the mystery of the moment.

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featured image by odreamer via Flickr

Things I Can’t Control and Things I Can

All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered.
1 Timothy 6:1 (NIV)

It is hard, I believe, to understand with our 21st century experience what daily life was like for those who followed Jesus in the days of Paul and Timothy. I have often heard individuals criticize the fact that God’s Message does not specifically condemn slavery, and those arguments come to mind when reading today’s chapter. I have a lot of historical, cultural, and contextual thoughts about why this is the case. Nevertheless, I will admit that it’s only one of many questions I have about the things God says and the subjects on which He chooses to be silent.

What I take from today’s chapter, however, is a human challenge that is as relevant today as it has ever been. At different waypoints along life’s journey we will all find ourselves in situations we cannot escape and that will not be fair. It could be a situation at work, a family relationship, life tragedy, or a legal obligation.  Sometimes in life we are powerless to change our circumstances.

Paul’s entreaty to those who follow Jesus was to manage those things that we can control in otherwise unmanageable situations. We can choose how we act, how we respond to others, what words we choose to use, how we will think, and the attitudes with which we will approach a situation.

Paul was powerless to change slavery in his day. It would be 1800 years before humanity began to address that issue in earnest and it still plagues our fallen world today. What Paul, and his friends who were slaves, could address was how they lived their lives each day within their given circumstances.

Today I am reminded that I cannot always control my circumstances, but I can control my mind, my tongue, my eyes, my ears, my feet and my hands. What I choose to do with them is what matters.

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Receipts and Rejoicing

Statute of Kukky. Photo by rimski via Flickr.
Statute of Kukky. Photo by rimski via Flickr.

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NIV)

So, the past few days I’ve had to play both sides of the field in response to having all of my stuff stolen. Defensively, I’ve been protecting against identity theft by changing accounts, user names and passwords. Offensively, I’ve had to initiate three different claims (hotel’s insurance, personal insurance, work insurance) and tell the same story over and over and over again. I’ve also had to start replacing and rebuilding both my personal and business lives as they relate to all that I do on computers (which is almost everything). I haven’t had much time for anything else, which means other things are piling up.

Arrrrrrgghhhhh. Didn’t I say something yesterday about the possibility of you catching me grumbling not-so-nice words? Taylor did reply with a creative idea for responding to the thieves should they ever be caught: send glitter to your enemies. Thanks for that.

So, the prophet Habakkuk’s final stanza was a good reminder for me this morning. He and his people were facing national annihilation at the hands of an army of merciless marauders. I’m simply trying to *$#&Sing remember where in the world I might find documentation for that *#&@ing pen. Despite the massively dire circumstances he faced, Habakkuk (Meaningless aside: How did his family and friends shorten his name, anyway? Hab? Haba? Bak? Kukky?) was intent on remaining joyful. Given the, in contrast, relatively minor annoyance of my own current circumstances, the least I can do is be intent on the same. I will rejoice, even though I still can’t find that bloody receipt.

 

Unexpected Curves in Life’s Road

And finally Saul son of Kish was chosen from among them. But when they looked for him, he had disappeared! So they asked the Lord, “Where is he?”

And the Lord replied, “He is hiding among the baggage.”
1 Samuel 10:21b-22 (NLT)

I am reminded this morning of a conversation I had with a fellow actor during a production this past year. She had been sharing with bits of the story of her own life journey. Like many people, her life had been marked with some difficulty and we were talking about the struggles and disappointments we experience in life.

I took an informal poll and asked a bunch of people if their lives had turned out the way they had expected when they were young,” my friend told me. “Not one person said ‘yes,'” she explained. “So, I figured that while my life wasn’t what I expected it to be, I’m just like everybody else.”

I recalled this conversation when I read about Saul being unexpectedly anointed king, empowered by God’s spirit, and then choosing to go hide in the baggage. The reality is that we will all face certain events, circumstances, opportunities and callings in this life which we didn’t expect, nor do we feel capable of facing. Like Saul, it’s tempting when experiencing a major curve in life’s road to take a good look at the uncertain path ahead and immediately run for cover.

God makes a habit of throwing unexpected and seemingly tangential waypoints into our journey. Saul experienced it in today’s chapter. Mary experienced it with an unexpected angelic visit and a positive pregnancy test. Paul experienced it on the road to Damascus. Joseph experienced it being sold into slavery by his brothers. Moses experienced it in a conversation with God amidst a burning bush. The twelve disciples experienced it in Jesus’ betrayal and late night arrest, then a few days later in an unexpected appearance of the resurrected Lord.

We cannot control our circumstances, but neither should we be afraid of the road ahead. We who walk by faith are repeatedly told not to fear, not to be anxious, and to choose to rejoice even in the toughest most unexpected stretches of life’s journey. God purposes not the fulfillment of our short-sighted and finite desires but the fulfillment of eternal and divine purposes. God will not call us to walk a path we are incapable of traversing. Even if we stumble and stagger, we can be confident that there is meaning in the struggle which will only be revealed when we later look back with 20-20 hindsight at just how far the journey has brought us.

Now, get out of that steamer trunk and put on your hiking boots. Time is waning and we’ve got a long road ahead of us.

Chapter-a-Day Acts 24

The Andaman Cellular Jail was the shadiest pri...
The Andaman Cellular Jail was the shadiest prison of the British rule in india. Now it is Indian National Memorial and tourist attraction at Port Blair. There is a single door with close up. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He also hoped that Paul would bribe him, so he sent for him quite often and talked with him. After two years went by in this way, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And because Felix wanted to gain favor with the Jewish people, he left Paul in prisonActs 24:26-27 (NLT)

Going through divorce was a particularly agonizing stretch of my journey. I have found that while there are commonalities to the human experience, a relationship is like a fingerprint. While it looks similar to all other fingerprints, it is unique in detail between the two people who have created one relationship and then experienced its deterioration. It is not a pleasant experience when a marriage breaks apart.

Whenever the path leads through difficult times, it’s easy to ask “Why me?” Despite the fact that our circumstances are largely the result of our own choices and actions, we sometimes shake our fist at God and scream “Why me?” We might recede into depressed places and moan “Why me?” We could even choose an even more dangerous path to distract us from having to finish this particular stretch of the journey and avoid asking the question altogether (until we find ourselves in an even worse spot).

In the midst of the maelstrom of stress and emotions of divorce, I found myself talking to my Pastor. It was actually the first time we’d had a conversation. As I shared with him my experience, I wondered how he was going to respond to my story. Would he label, judge and condemn me the way so many others had? After I finished my rambling tale of woe, he looked at me and quietly said, “Someday, Tom, I believe you are going to be called upon to walk beside someone who is going through a divorce just like you are. Because of all that you are going through right now, you will be the right person to help someone else who needs understanding and wisdom in the midst of what they are going through. God is ultimately going to use all of this for His purposes.

I thought of that conversation, and the opportunities I’ve had, even in recent weeks, to walk with those who are traversing a similar stretch of their own relational journeys. I think about Paul languishing in prison because of ridiculous, trumped up charges and the Governor’s political machinations to keep the Jewish leaders happy. Paul could have screamed, “Why me?” and chafed at his difficult circumstances. Instead, he recognized the opportunities his chains afforded him to share the love of God with the Governor, his wife, and the “captive audience” all around him. He recognized that God was ultimately using Paul’s difficult circumstances for His eternal purposes.

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Chapter-a-Day Acts 8

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 02:  Kyle Korver #26 of th...
CHICAGO, IL – APRIL 02: Kyle Korver #26 of the Chicago Bulls passes the ball under pressure from Courtney Lee #5 of the Houston Rockets at the United Center on April 2, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Rockets defeated the Bulls 99-93. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria.  Acts 8:2 (NLT)

The other night I watched a snippet of an interview with Kyle Korver of the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls have struggled all season with their star player injured and on the bench. The other players rallied behind their ailing MVP all season and ended with the best record. In the first game of the playoffs, however, their now “healthy” MVP blew out his knee. Now the team has to face the playoffs without their most important player. No one is giving them much of a chance.

“We’ve got a great story here,” Korver said in response to the situation. He’s right. No one wants to read the story of a team who packs their bench with the biggest stars and then waltzes to a championship everyone expects them to win. The story of a rag-tag team of bench players who rally together and win against all odds – that’s a story people want to read, and watch, and be a part of.

A shake-up can be a healthy for all of us. Tragedy and persecution are thought of as bad things, but God’s Message says in many places that we are to be joyful when we encounter trials and tribulations. Difficult times force us to grow. Tragedies refine our character. Pain pushes us to persevere. Maturity is found at the end of a difficult stretch of the journey. And, they are all the stuff of great stories.

In today’s chapter, the followers of Jesus experience a huge wave of persecution. People are being hunted down, arrested, imprisoned, and stoned to death. It is no longer safe to be associated with Jesus and His followers. People scatter out of the city and the region to avoid the persecution. I’m sure some were fearful and anxious asking God why He would allow such a thing to happen. By the end of the chapter, we begin to see the fruit of the persecution. Jesus’ message is carried with the fleeing followers to every corner of the country and beyond. The movement spreads out to reach more and more people and the incredible stories of people believing, miracles happening, and lives being changed begin to pile up.

Having a difficult time? Feeling beat down and persecuted? Be joyful. What you’ve got is a great story in the making. God uses temporary tough times and tragic earthly circumstances to tell an amazing eternal story. We’ve just got to open our eyes to see it, trust God to see us through, and press on.

Go Bulls!