Archive for the ‘Unemployment’ Category

Helping those in need

Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse. —Proverbs 28:27*

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on US and global economies. Hundreds of thousands of businesses have closed for varying pandemic-related reasons. The food service industry here at home has been hit particularly hard.  Thousands of restaurants have closed, with most having no hope of reopening. The middle class is shrinking, leaving a fractured nation that is increasingly becoming a land of haves and have nots. History has demonstrated that as the middle class shrinks and the lower class grows, civil unrest often increases.

To survive, many American families have had to dip into retirement savings, placing the future in question.  When savings are exhausted, losing a job can mean losing nearly everything.  The ability to pay a big mortgage, something common for young working couples today, often depends on the salaries of both spouses.  If even one of them loses their job, foreclosure becomes a distinct possibility! To stay afloat they must negotiate with lenders, which in the long run usually means increasing the size of their mortgages and/or tapping into short term savings and retirement accounts. Early retirement withdrawals are usually accompanied by additional fees.

On top of pandemic problems, even before COVID-19 economic globalization had given rise to thousands of large companies that are loyal to neither to their country of origin nor to their employees.   Workers, especially blue collar ones, are increasingly being treated like disposable commodities that are brushed into the trash bin like rubbish on a picnic table. Highly educated and skilled working professionals who lose their jobs and end up turning to the government for assistance are common today.  In my job working with the unemployed, I heard many lament, “I never imagined that I could end up in this situation.”  This can and must change.

Churches, especially those in large urban areas, are often unaware of the financial struggles of individuals and families in their area—even when those affected are members of the church. Many churches have lost touch with early traditions. The scriptures speak frequently about caring for those who share the faith.  This is an essential part of discipleship that helps the church set its own house in order.  In Acts chapter 6, the Apostles appointed seven deacons to assist in the distribution of food to local widows, who were followers of Christ.  James 1:27 tell us, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

Even clearer instruction comes straight from the mouth of our Lord in John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Building a healthy church family is essential to serving those in need outside the church.  Brett Eastman has served as the small groups champion in several of the largest mega churches in the country including Pastor Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church.  Eastman writes:

“If you want to create a church community that really cares for one another, the best way to do it is through small groups. When small groups become the vehicle for care-giving, the whole church gets involved in sharing one another’s burdens—a much more personal approach than relegating the task to a committee.  The whole congregation should be making hospital visits, taking meals to people when they’re sick or something’s happened, doing childcare when someone’s in crisis and giving money when somebody’s lost a job.”

Small groups in churches set the conditions for encouraging personal intimacy and trust building—essential elements of loving Christian relationships.  Only by sharing our hopes, fears, cares and concerns do we really get to know other believers well.

Small groups also enable churches to develop outreach ministries. One way for small groups to quickly make a difference is by reaching out to Christian charities in their church’s local area.  Charities are always in need of volunteers, financial supporters, prayer warriors and other resources.  The possibilities are endless. You can’t take care of everybody, but you can take care of somebody.  The closest ministry filed for any church is the one inside its doors. The largest ministry field for every church is the one just outside the church doors.   

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed. —Proverbs 19:17

*All Bible quotes are ESV.

Feed My Sheep

The Good Shepherd (C.1650-60) by Philippe de Champaigne

My recent work with a struggling young man in my community has provided me a stark reminder of the reality of hunger in America. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food security as “having access, at all times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.”  According to USDA figures, 10.5 percent of American households in 2019 lacked proper food security. While the government’s 2020 food security figures are not yet available, indications are that this year’s numbers will be much higher.  The primary reason for this is the sharp increase in national unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the map below shows, the food insecurity problem is widespread.

As a state workforce developer in Pennsylvania, I worked with hundreds of clients who had recently lost their jobs.  Food security was often a major concern of these displaced workers. Many had small children at home, making their situations even more dire.  More recently, as a volunteer job coach working with the elderly, I discovered that food security is a major concern for many of my clients. My typical client is age 70 or older, dependent upon a Social Security check of less than a thousand dollars a month as their primary income, and frequently has to decide between purchasing expensive prescription drugs or food, as they lack sufficient income to pay for both with what remains after paying the rent or mortgage.  

While the mission of Christ’s church is to spread the Gospel, it’s difficult to convey the Good News to someone with a growling, empty stomach. Jesus clearly recognized this. By feeding the five thousand in the miracle of the loaves described in John 6, Jesus provided for the physical needs of the crowd.  The very next day, he called Himself the “Bread of Life.” (John 6:35). Clearly, one needs food in the belly in order to be more open to partaking of the Bread of Life.  The level of involvement in feeding the needy varies significantly from church to church.  Many get involved in collecting and distributing holiday food baskets for the needy.  While this is a wonderful thing, such baskets only cover a few days of the annual 365 that people need to eat. Much more is needed.   

Food banks and pantries exist across the country to help support food security. Typically, a food bank supports a region (such as a county), while local food pantries serve small towns or communities within larger towns/cities. According to the non-profit organization Feeding America, a food bank is a non-profit that safely stores thousands to millions of pounds of food for bulk distribution to local food programs, like food pantries. Food banks come in all different sizes. In contrast, food pantries receive food shipments from food banks and run food distribution programs where hungry families can receive food directly. Pantries feed hundreds of people per week! Because every community is different, there are many different types of pantries. It is common for a food pantry to operate from inside a community school or church. Some areas even have mobile food pantries to serve seniors with limited mobility or rural communities with little transportation.  Some pantries require the clients to demonstrate financial need, while others serve anyone who shows up. Some communities also have food kitchens, where the needy can eat a hot, nutritious meal.

Churches and individuals can help their local food banks, pantries and kitchens in a number of ways by donating money and by volunteering their time. Check directly with your local organizations to ascertain the best way to help each. A general rule of thumb is that monetary donations are preferable to food, as it enables the organization to spend where the need is greatest. Another general rule is that volunteers are always needed; this is particularly so during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Many food banks, pantries and kitchens have adopted special precautions for COVID-19.  Those who might wish to volunteer should check with their local organization(s) to determine if they are comfortable volunteering in light of the precautions that have been adopted. In any case, I encourage you to reach out as you can to support food security in America. As James 2:15-16 tells us, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?

Jesus feeds the five thousand, John 6:1-13 (NIV).  Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick.  Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.  When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So, they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

Unemployed? Seek the Lord in Your Day of Trouble.

Prayer

In the Day of Trouble I Seek the Lord

Today millions of Americans are facing the challenges of unemployment or under employment. These can lead to fear, frustration, depression and even physical illness. However, they also present opportunities for growth.

When you’ve lost your job or find yourself in a job that is not self-sustaining, a whole-person approach is needed as you strive to improve your situation. I like to use the “Wheel of Life” to help illustrate this. The circles on the outside of the wheel represent six areas of one’s life that contribute to the whole we refer to as “self.” Neglecting any of these puts the entire wheel out of balance, leaving one struggling and feeling out of sorts.

Wheel of Life

 Wheel of Life

Family and Social Life.  A period of unemployment or underemployment opens the door to opportunities in each the six areas on the wheel of life. It is a good time to spend extra time with family, renew old connections with friends and build your social network (which will improve your chances of finding self-sustaining employment).  Don’t forget to have some fun!

Physical Conditioning. It also provides an opportunity to improve your physical condition through proper exercise, sleep and nutrition. It is a wonderful chance to shed a few pounds and look your best for your next interview..

Career and Financial.  Dedicate some of your extra time towards education. You don’t necessarily need to pick up another degree or certification. Focus on learning something that will help make you more employable. Perhaps you can focus on improving your Microsoft Office software skills. There are free training courses galore on the Internet. If you need to improve your speaking skills, you could join the local Toastmasters chapter. The possibilities are endless.

Finances.  Being unemployed or underemployed is also the perfect time to work on improving your finances. Perhaps you’ve been talking about downsizing your household.  Start by selling off things you don’t really need.  Put together a new budget, trying to reduce frivolous spending. Try keeping close track of where your money actually goes. You might be surprised at how most of it gets spent.

Mental.  Take time to relax and stretch your mind.  Put down your phone, turn off the computer and TV, and pick up a challenging book that you’ve always wanted to read.  Spend some time with people who challenge your way of thinking. Visit an art gallery or museum that would not normally be of interest to you.

(Read Psalm 77: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm%2077&version=ESV)

Spiritual.  Lastly, Psalm 77 provides a simple, yet perfect framework for approaching the spiritual realm when you’re unemployed or under employed. When things aren’t going your way, it’s comforting to be reminded God has not and will not abandon you. The Psalmist finds comfort in reflecting on how God helped his people in the past. We should follow his example.

Pray fervently—then pray again. The Psalmist prayed throughout the entire night. He felt abandoned by God. He spoke what was on his mind. We can be totally honest and open with God, telling him about our feelings, our fears, our doubts and our desires. We can ask him any question. Because Jesus suffered every temptation we have faced and felt every emotion that we have felt, we are free to discuss our deepest thoughts and feelings with God. Through Jesus’ experiences, God the Father has firsthand experience with everything we might face in our lives (v.9-10)

“We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but God wants it to be our first line of defense. We pray when there’s nothing else we can do, but God wants us to pray before we do anything at all. Most of us would prefer, however, to spend our time doing something that will get immediate results. We don’t want to wait for God to resolve matters in His good time because His idea of ‘good time’ is seldom in sync with ours.” ― Oswald Chambers                                              

Recall how God has blessed you in the past. The Psalmist did not simply spill his heart out to God. He thought about everything the scriptures say regarding what God has done for his people in the past. God blesses those who have faith in him (v. 11).  Too often we dwell on what God hasn’t done for us rather than being thankful for the multitude of blessings he has provided.

Focus on the future. Think positively about your situation, hopes and desires. What is God teaching you? What is His will for your life? Make a list of Biblical promises you can identify about your future? (v. 13)

Reconsider your present circumstances. Ask God to strengthen your faith as you strive to cope with unemployment. Remind yourself that you can always trust  His promises (v. 14). Share your experience with others.

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace,  that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.   ―Hebrews 4:16

 

As you continue to search, remember to always follow the light!

The Risen Lord [by Arnold Friberg]

“The Risen Lord” by Arnold Friberg

Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. –Psalm 61:1-2 (ESV)

Christmas day has passed, but many Christians around the world continue to celebrate the Christmas season through the day of Epiphany on January 6. The joy and hope of the Christ Child still shines brightly! Unfortunately, joy and hope will fade for many as the Christmas season passes and they return to their often mundane daily routines.

This can be a particularly difficult time for those who are already living with the fear, anxiety and depression that frequently accompany periods of unemployment. Fortunately, if we open our eyes and look we will see that God is present always in his Word, Holy Spirit and blessed sacraments.  

While you’re job hunting, networking, sending out resumes and filling out countless job applications, don’t forget to make some extra time to spend with God in prayer and studying the Word.

Spend time with other job seekers and pray with and for them. Take time to use your God given talents to help others in need. God knows your needs before you ask and He already has a plan for you. His plan will produce fruit in your life at the time He has appointed.

Meanwhile, don’t miss out on the joy today has to offer.  If you will only seek Him, God will give you joy with or without a job. Habakkuk 3:17-18 says, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”

It is impossible for one to know what God has in store for him or her, but rest assured that He only wants the best for us all. Christians may take comfort in the knowledge that God’s love does not depend upon our success in this world. He doesn’t look at our education, work history or awards. He loves us unconditionally. While we busy ourselves with the worries and toils of this life, He is preparing us for something bigger and more glorious than we can possibly imagine.

The Bible promises that those who make seeking the Kingdom of God their top priority in life will be blessed with everything they need in this world. While you struggle with the pain of unemployment and all of the other burdens you will bear during this life, remain close to Christ and let His light show you the pathway that He would have you follow.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. So we do not lose heart, though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. –2 Corinthians 4:6, 16-18 (ESV)

Prayer: The link below leads to a website not associated with this blog.

Prayer of the Unemployed

Easing the Pain of Unemployment

Jobless-not-hopelessYou take my life when you do take the means whereby I live. –William Shakespeare

In Romans chapter 12, St. Paul tells us, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (ESV) Many churches attempt to follow his advice by hosting various support groups. There are groups for addiction recovery, divorcees, singles and those grieving the death of a loved one to name a few.

Unfortunately, there is another group in great need of support, but often overlooked by church ministries—the unemployed. Most people who become unemployed go through a series of emotional stages resembling this.

Initially, there is the shock of losing a job. This might initially give way to denial or disbelief like, “I can’t believe this is happening to me.” This sometimes gives way to feelings of anger or outrage towards those deemed responsible for the job loss. As the anger slowly subsides, sadness can follow. If the period of unemployment is prolonged, sadness can lead to the onset of depression. Isolation from others during this period worsens the situation.

To varying degrees, all of us derive some sense of worth from the jobs we do and the relationships we have. Losing a job can be every bit as devastating as a divorce or the loss of a loved one.

Those who have lost their jobs are in tremendous need of contact with and the support of others. This is where churches can weigh in for the unemployed. Options for helping are limited only by the imagination. The ShareFaith website published a very useful article in 2011 titled “Seven Ways to Help the Unemployed in Your Church.” You can find it at this link: http://www.sharefaith.com/blog/2011/12/ways-unemployed-church/.

I particularly like suggestion #4, “Provide free workshops.” Workshops are a fantastic way to help your church’s unemployed. But why stop there? Unemployment in your local area opens the door to a church ministry reaching beyond the pale of your own churchyard. Consider forming a job networking group reaching out to the entire community.

The north Pittsburgh area where I live has two fantastic, faith-centered job networking groups that have helped hundreds cope with unemployment over the years. Both began as ministries inside the church, but grew into nonprofit, community outreach ministries. Check them out and then start thinking about how your church can form its own job networking group. There can never be too many!

 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. —Galatians 6:2 (ESV)

Rescue the Weak and Needy

Homeless

 Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.

                                                                                                                                   —Proverbs 28:27

After enduring over 10 years with a dismal economy, many Americans today find themselves in perilous positions far exceeding anything they could have imagined. The middle class is quickly shrinking, leaving a fractured nation that is increasingly becoming a land of haves and have-nots.

The average American family has somewhere around $5,000 in savings, placing them in a position where losing a job can mean losing nearly everything.  Paying big mortgages, which is common for young working couples today, often depends on the salaries of two working spouses. Only two or three missed paychecks can lead to foreclosure! To stay afloat they tap into savings and then into retirement accounts, darkening their prospects for the future while also paying the federal government large tax bills for early retirement withdrawals.

The global economy has given rise to large companies having loyalty neither to their country of origin nor to their employees.   Workers are increasingly becoming disposable commodities that are brushed into the trash bin like rubbish on a picnic table.

Highly educated and experienced working professionals who lose their jobs and end up turning to the government for assistance are common today.  In my job working with the unemployed, I’ve heard far too many lament, “I never imagined that I could end up in this situation.”  This must change.

Churches, especially those in large urban areas, are often unaware of the financial struggles of individuals and families in their area—even when the strugglers are members of the church. Too many churches have lost touch with early traditions.

The scriptures speak frequently about caring for those who share the faith.  This is an essential part of discipleship that helps the church set its own house in order.  In Acts chapter 6, the Apostles appointed seven deacons to assist in the distribution of food to local widows, who were followers of Christ.  James 1:27 tells us,

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (ESV)

Even clearer guidance comes straight from the mouth of our Lord in John 13:34-35:

 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Building a healthy church family is essential.  Brett Eastman has served as the small groups champion in several of the largest mega churches in the country including Pastor Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church.  Eastman writes:

“If you want to create a church community that really cares for one another, the best way to do it is through small groups. When small groups become the vehicle for care-giving, the whole church gets involved in sharing one another’s burdens—a much more personal approach than relegating the task to a committee.  The whole congregation should be making hospital visits, taking meals to people when they’re sick or something’s happened, doing childcare when someone’s in crisis and giving money when somebody’s lost a job.”

Small groups in churches set the conditions for encouraging personal intimacy and trust building—essential elements of loving Christian relationships.  Only by sharing our hopes, fears, cares and concerns do we really get to know other believers well.

Small groups also enable churches to develop many outreach ministries. One way to quickly make a difference is by reaching out to Christian charities in your church’s local area.  These organizations are always in need of volunteers, financial supporters, prayer warriors and other resources.  The possibilities are endless. You can’t take care of everybody, but you can take care of somebody.

Look closely and see that behind the face of every downtrodden man and woman is the face of Christ.

                                                                                                                                        –Oswald Chambers

Out of Control

Out of Control

Read Psalm 42

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.   —John 14:27 (NIV)

Watching the evening news these days can be depressing.  In fact, it’s getting so bad that some people try to hide themselves from what is going on around them.  Recently I’ve heard several people say they no longer watch the news because they just can’t stand hearing about all of the problems in this world. Just look at what’s happening today!

  • NASA recently reported its scientists have determined that a massive solar storm in 2012, which narrowly missed making contact with Earth’s atmosphere, had the potential to radically alter life on our planet. A direct hit would have disabled nearly every satellite in orbit and crippled the global electric power grid.  According to NASA, we would still be “picking up the pieces” some two years later.  The National Academy of Sciences estimated, “the total economic impact could exceed $2 trillion or 20 times greater than the costs of a Hurricane Katrina.”
  • Things are heating up in the Ring of Fire region around the Pacific Rim. New volcanic activity and earthquakes are making headlines weekly. With every undersea earthquake comes a tsunami panic.  Doomsday prophets warn of a gigantic volcanic eruption that could fill the planet’s entire atmosphere with ash and darken the skies, causing an ice age.  Others warn of global warming and climate change, while still others are raising an alarm about global cooling.  What is one to make of it all?
  • Ukraine and Russia are on the brink of an all out war that could threaten stability throughout Eastern Europe and beyond. A Malaysian airliner was recently shot down by a surface-to-air missile over Ukraine, killing all onboard.  Russia and Ukraine blame each other for the mishap.  Meanwhile, there is talk of a second Cold War between Russia and NATO.
  • The so-called Arab Spring uprisings, which some dreamers believed would bring a new era of peace and freedom to the people of the Middle East and North Africa, has backfired. Egypt, Libya and Syria are on the verge of implosion and total chaos. Terrorist activity in Syria is spilling across the border with Turkey, a NATO member, threatening to drag all of NATO into the fray.
  • In Iraq, a hitherto little known group of Sunni Muslim militants called ISIS is conducting a rebellion that has captured large swaths of the country and threatens to collapse the government, reversing all of the gains paid for with American blood and treasure for over a decade. Christians there are increasingly being persecuted by ISIS.  The growing abuse of Christians is not unique to Iraq, however. Believers are under fire in Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Syria, Pakistan, India, Vietnam and China just to name a few places.  Some would even argue there is an anti-Christian movement afoot here in the United States, where it sometimes seems that Christians are the only unprotected group in our society.
  • The Israeli military has moved in force into its semi-autonomous Gaza Strip territory in response to months of rockets fired by Palestinians at Israeli cities. As always, security problems in Israel have the potential to rapidly blossom into larger problems extending beyond her borders.
  • China and Japan are rattling their sabers over a territorial dispute involving the Senkaku Islands, an uninhabited chain in the East China Sea. The islands are surrounded by rich fishing waters and have significant natural gas deposits.  The current dispute reaches back to World War II.  China, Japan and the United States have all controlled the Senkaku Islands at various times in history.  The United States, which is heavily in debt to China and bound by treaty to assist in the defense of Japan, finds itself between a rock and a hard place in this argument.
  • Speaking of debt, the U.S. economy is in horrible condition as a result of decades of uncontrolled borrowing and spending by federal legislators. Jobless rates across the nation are staggering. People desperately seeking work find themselves frustrated and disillusioned.  With a rapidly shrinking middle class, America is quickly becoming a nation of haves and have-nots.  There is growing talk of a total economic collapse that could make the Great Depression look like a walk in the park.

News like this has the potential to make anyone depressed. It sometimes appears as if the world is increasingly growing out of control—but it isn’t.  It only seems out of control to those suffering from the delusion they can control it.  Many politicians and businessmen are constantly planning and scheming, trying to make things go their way. Sometimes it seems as if they’re succeeding, but their victories are only illusions.

In fact, God has been in control all along.  He is in control now and always will be. As Hebrews 13:8 reminds us, He is the same “yesterday, today and forever.”  The Bible is filled with examples where God snatches victory from what appears to be certain defeat.

  • Moses, the adopted child of Pharaoh’s daughter, was chosen by God to lead the Hebrew people from bondage in Egypt.
  • As a youth, David the shepherd boy overcame the fearsome Philistine giant Goliath in direct combat, thereby saving the children of Israel from certain defeat.
  • While captives in Babylon, the children of Israel were freed and allowed to return to their land by Cyrus the Great, the King of Persia, after his armies conquered Babylon.
  • Saul, the greatest persecutor of the Jews in Jesus’ time, was described to Ananias by Jesus as God’s “chosen vessel” (Acts 9). Saul the great persecutor of Christians became history’s greatest evangelist.
  • From the ashes of the Holocaust the modern Jewish nation of Israel arose.
  • And most significantly, Jesus overcame a brutal death on the cross to rise from the dead as the Savior of all mankind.

Christians needn’t worry when they hear bad news.  God has promised, “I will never leave you” (Hebrews 13).  When standing in the midst of chaos, remember that He is in control.

My assurance is to be built upon God’s assurance to me. God says, “I will never leave you,” so that then I may boldly say, ’The Lord is my helper; I will not fear’ ” (Hebrews 13:5-6, NIV). In other words, I will not be obsessed with apprehension. This does not mean that I will not be tempted to fear, but I will remember God’s words of assurance. I will be full of courage, like a child who strives to reach the standard his father has set for him.   The faith of many people begins to falter when apprehensions enter their thinking, and they forget the meaning of God’s assurance— they forget to take a deep spiritual breath. The only way to remove the fear from our lives is to listen to God’s assurance to us.  —Oswald Chambers

“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.”  —2 Thessalonians 3:16-17 (NIV)

Twila Paris – God is in Control  (Click to listen)

One Journey Ends, Another Begins

Man on a JourneyI know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.    —Jeremiah 10:23 (ESV)

I just completed a long journey in my life.  This particular one, an 18-month job search, was extremely wearisome.  In retrospect, however, all of the waiting was worth it.  I have been blessed with a new job that appears to be a nearly perfect match for my skills and desires.

Finding good work in the current economy is challenging, particularly for those of us who are a little gray around the temples. To make my search more difficult, I had decided to take a new direction with my work. It was therefore necessary for me to convince potential employers that my skills accumulated over some 30 years were transferable into the new line of work I was seeking in the nonprofit field.

The long journey was fraught with emotion—anticipation, hope, disappointment, rejection, self-doubt and frustration.  I applied for dozens of jobs, preparing resume after resume and spending hours online completing application after application.  Oh, that businesses would all use the same application process!

In many cases, my applications went unanswered.  For others it was rejection letters or very impersonal emails stating simply, “We have decided to pursue another candidate.”  It was a situation in which I could have easily lost hope, but I found comfort in Saint Paul’s words, from 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”  (ESV)

I focused intently on trying to remain faithful, casting worry and doubt aside as I searched for employment. Of course there were lapses along the way.  I had to constantly remind myself that I was working on God’s timeline, not my own.  I found peace in the knowledge that He would provide the right job at the right time.

Sizakele Lugojolo, director of Lutheran Hour Ministries – South Africa has written that the peace of God, “is the peace we experience when we put aside the selfishness and let God be the center. This is the peace we experience when we give God the glory and not take it for our own satisfaction. This is the peace we experience when the will of God prevails, not ours.”

Just as Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, during my job search I frequently prayed that God’s will might be done—that I would end up in a place where He could use me as he sees fit.  Many dear friends offered intercessory prayers for me.  I could feel their power; it sustained me from day to day.

Along the way I came to realize that reaching one’s destination is not the prize.   The reward lies in how one handles his present circumstances—getting through each day of the journey.  For my many networking friends who are still searching I have but one piece of advice, “Let go and let God!”   As Saint Paul so eloquently wrote:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.                                                                                                                                                             —Philippians 4: 4-7 (ESV)

With my new job begins a new journey.  Like a good soldier,  I’m calling it my mission. Oddly enough, it entails something I’ve learned a bit about over the past 18 months.  I’ll be helping recently unemployed individuals find a new job. If I can help even one person find employment in less time than it took me, I’ll feel like I’m contributing to a worthy cause.

 Once you have a mission, you can’t go back to having a job.  —Shai Agassi

 

 

 

 

Peace through Weakness

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USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, CVN-69

As someone who served 24 years in the military, I naturally favor a strong national defense.  But I have to ask, just how much defense is enough?  Practically every day we hear one politician or another warning there’s not enough money for Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, education, job creation and a host of other programs.  Even worse, there’s not enough money to help feed hungry Americans, so many children go to bed hungry every night.

The popular TV comedian Stephen Colbert, who is also an outspoken Christian, said of America, “If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”  Among the needy I include those who lack the health care, education and jobs that are essential to growing self-sufficient, productive citizens.

Despite our country’s perilous economic condition, some politicians wail and moan that we need to spend more on defense.  They warn that China is going to overtake us in military capacity.  Iran and Syria are threats to the world.  North Korea has the ability to strike America’s west coast with a nuclear missile. And the list goes on!  These are the talking points of the war hawks—and the hawks aren’t limited to those on the political right.

Many liberal politicians have joined the war hawk ranks on the premise that growing the defense industry can help bring jobs to their respective districts.  Perhaps that’s true, but manufacturing televisions or a host of other products that are no longer made in America would also create jobs.

According to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, in 2012 (the last year for which full records are available), the United States spent 4.12 percent of its GDP ($645.7 billion) on defense.  China spent 1.24 percent ($102.4 billion).  In fact, the United States outspent all Asian countries combined, which had a total defense expenditure of $314.9 billion, less than half of America’s total.  In 2012, the United States accounted for 41 percent of global defense spending.  How much is enough?

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”                                                                                                                                                           —Dwight D. Eisenhower

I believe we need a strong national defense, but we have to balance defense with domestic needs.  If we can’t maintain a healthy, well educated, well nourished and self-sufficient population, then what is left to defend?

America is truly threatened from many directions, but the greatest threats stem from internal problems, not foreign countries or transnational groups.  Perhaps the biggest threat is our ignorance of history.  American society seems to have lost site of a key historical fact—the farther a nation separates itself from God, the more imperiled it becomes.

The Bible is full of examples validating this.  Those who don’t care to read the Bible should try reading Edward Gibbon’s “Decline and fall of the Roman Empire.”  The similarities between Rome’s decline and what is occurring in America today are astonishing.  (Sharie Pyke comments on this topic in an informative piece titled, “Is America like Rome in decline.”  http://goo.gl/7BgZFS)

“God is present in the places where our fears live.”   —Randy Kilgore, Our Daily Bread

Just as our nation is imperiled by pulling away from God, the more we humble ourselves before God the stronger we become.  1 Peter 5:6-7 says, “6Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (ESV)

Chapters 6 and 7 of the book of Judges provide a wonderful example of this. The Midianite people had impoverished the land of Israel through constant raids and pillaging of the countryside.  God chose Gideon to defeat the Midianites at a time when they were encamped in the land of Israel with a large Army.  From across the land, Gideon raised a great Army to defeat them.  But God had other plans.

God knew that Gideon’s army would overwhelm the Midianites, increasing their confidence in their own abilities to take care of themselves.   God wanted to teach Gideon’s followers to trust in Him, not in their own abilities.  He had Gideon select 300 of his best men and instructed him to have them surround the Midianite encampment.  With these 300 men and through a clever ruse God enabled Gideon to crush the Midianite force.  God delivers strength from our weakness.

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.  —Philippians 4:13 (ESV)

Just as God wanted the Children of Israel to trust in him, he also wants us as individuals to trust in him. The law given under the Mosaic Covenant does not consider the moral weaknesses or infirmities of humans in their natural, fallen condition.  God’s law is absolute, demanding absolute morality and obedience before Him.  The law accepts no excuses.  When a person comes to this realization, his life seems an inescapable, fatal tragedy.

St. Paul describes this in Romans 7:9, “I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.”  (ESV)  This is the powerful conviction of sin—a person coming to grips with his or her absolute weakness and inability to please God through works.  The cross of Christ is just a foolish notion to anyone who has never come to this realization. To believers, however, the cross is the only logical remedy for sin.

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”  —Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Likewise, the cross of Christ is a foolish notion to anyone who believes our nation can prosper without God. Jesus doesn’t command us to have a strong national defense, but in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), he does say He will bless us if we are merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and hungry and thirsty for righteousness.  He also tells us to give to the needy, love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

The best form of national defense is unquestioning trust in God.  God will allow us to push him away from our government, schools, businesses, social organizations, sports teams, televisions, movies, homes and lives.  Unfortunately, those pushing God away do not understand that every vacuum created by God’s departure is filled by something less desirable.

Beyond Thanksgiving

Army field worship service

Read:  Job chapter 1.

Tomorrow millions of Americans will gather with friends and family to give thanks for the blessings of the past year. Thanks will be voiced for many things—family, friends, gifts, wealth, and acts of kindness by others just to name a few.

Sometimes personal adversity makes it is hard to give thanks though.  Death, job loss, divorce, failing health and many other adverse circumstances can rob us of joy.   Yet we always have the assurance of Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  Even when our personal lives become chaotic, we have the assurance that God remains in control.  According to St. Paul, we suffer, “…that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”  (2 Corinthians 1:9, NIV).

Regarding the promise of Romans 8:28, John Piper has observed, “So the rugged hope of the believer is not that we will escape distress or peril or hunger or slaughter, but that Almighty God will make every one of our agonies an instrument of his mercy to do us good. ‘You meant it for evil,’ Joseph said to his brothers who had sold him into slavery, ‘but God meant it for good.’  (Genesis 50:18-20) And so it is with every calamity of those who love God. God meant it for good!”

While it might be difficult to see the good in today’s circumstances, someday it will be perfectly clear. During our lives we have an imperfect understanding of divine things. But as 1Corinthians 13:12 promises,For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

Even when our personal circumstances are tough we should always give thanks to God for the cross—that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.  Jesus became sin for us and in our stead suffered the punishment we all deserve.

Beyond mere thanksgiving though, God is worthy of our worship.  Worship is an act of awe and reverence done in recognition of God for whom and what He is, not what he has done.  We can follow the example of Job, who remained blameless before God even as his personal world was caving in around him:

While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” —Job 1:18-21 (NIV)

King David provided another example for us to follow. When his infant son grew ill, he fasted and prayed to God throughout the night to spare the child.  But, when he learned that the child has died, rather than having an emotional breakdown, David arose, bathed himself, put on clean clothes and then went to the Lord’s house to worship.   (2 Samuel 12:15-20).

In John 16:33 (NIV), Jesus tells us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”   In John 17, Jesus’ prayer reminds us that his followers are not of this world, even as He is not of this world.  We will all suffer at times during our lives, but we need look no farther than the cross to find peace amid life’s tribulations.

“There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.”― Corrie ten Boom