Fresh Coffee

By: Mark Deisinger

Where I work we have a newly-opened café area. My employers believe that what software writers do is turn coffee into code, so they provide coffee and a few other amenities to us. Some other outfit keeps things stocked and functional. It’s a nice arrangement, though the coffee and donut table at enCompass wins, hands down, for friendliness and, let’s be honest, because of the donuts.

Caffeine does unpleasant things to me, but when I head downstairs in the morning to get a cup of decaf, I always see this sign, which I have arranged just so for a photo:

Fresh Coffee pic

Delightful and reassuring, no? Yes. But also, sometimes, just completely wrong. In fact, sometimes the sign is dusty from not being touched for weeks. It just sits there, advertising the availability of fresh coffee, when in reality it has no clue whether the coffee is fresh or not. The sign is not smart or informed, and is not reliable.

Today as I write this was one of those days when the sign was … mistaken. I got a cup of decaf (it’s the one with the orange proboscis), but when I took a sip I immediately and fully knew, as much as I’ve ever known anything, that the coffee was brewed the previous afternoon and had been sitting in the decanter for roughly 16 or 17 billion hours. All of the aromatic oils had dissipated or chemically changed into nasty, spiteful, cynical molecules with grudges. Oh, and trust me, those of you who can ingest actual caffeine, decaffeinated coffee doesn’t really need any help in the “being bitter” department.

I’ve learned to be more careful about how much I trust the sign. Some things just aren’t what they advertise themselves to be. You can certainly come up with your own examples. We all know that department stores that have sales all the time aren’t really having sales; they’re just playing with pricing to draw interest. Movie trailers are designed to hide flaws. I’ve heard it said that the goal of dating someone is to conceal information until it’s too late.

But most of us need a jolt in the morning, for one reason or another. I don’t think this is an accident. I think it explains why there is dew on the grass, and why sunrises can be so beautiful, and why the presence of newborns is refreshing.

The Israelites, after escaping Egypt, were given manna every morning (and a double portion the day before the Sabbath) to get them through the wilderness. That was a gift direct from God’s own hand, and it kept the people from starving. It’s also, of course, a lesson for us all that God stands ready to provide for us on a daily basis. Lamentations 3:22-23 says this (NIV):

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

His compassions are new every morning. If you put a sign in front of His compassions that said “Fresh Brewed This AM,” that sign would never be lying to you.

But that’s kind of half the story. Just like I have to go to the café to get my decaf every day, the Bible hints quite a lot that we need to go to Him every day, too, to stay in touch and get some blessing action. I’m not a particularly stellar practicer of Christian disciplines, but I know they’re important – private and communal prayer, private and communal worship, fellowship with other believers, acts of service and giving, and daily devotions.

I’m reminded of something a pastor of mine once said to me, speaking about a meeting he had with another person (he did not say who the other person was, and I don’t even know if I knew the man). The man he was meeting with told him, speaking of his own spiritual state, “Pastor, I’m starving, but I’m not hungry.” What I believe he meant was that he knew, intellectually perhaps, that he desperately needed to be closer to God, to partake of the compassions that God had laid out for him, to eat of the spiritual food that was provided for him every day. Sadly, he didn’t feel the urge to partake. His heart had gone cold toward God. A sad state of affairs, robbing him of the benefits of having a close relationship with the One who loves him best.

But there is hope, for that man and for us, all of us who have dry periods in our relationships with God and with others. Ezekiel chapter 37, which I will not quote here but you should go read right now, is the scene with the dry bones. God raises the dry bones up and gives them flesh and breath again so that they once again live. He is, after all, the God of resurrection. Go get some fresh coffee.

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Weird Uncles, Crazy Cousins, Wacky Aunts – Our Family

By: Samantha Sir

SamanthaHey, enCompass family! This year has been transformative for me, to say the least. It was my second year of coming to enCompass services, but really my first year of coming regularly. Although I haven’t been able to get as involved as I would like, I have finally let myself feel a part of this family. I am going to talk a little bit about the ways I see God working in enCompass and what God has been doing in my life, and how they work together. I hope it is encouraging to you.

When I first came to enCompass, I did not let myself get attached. I have been hurt by the Church in the past and have been a part of several church families, causing me to stay guarded. Through a combination of the authenticity of the sermons, music, and most importantly the people, I have really felt accepted and valued in this family. This is also significant because it is my first church (as an adult – without my parents). As a college student, I long to be a part of a family that includes people of all ages since I’m used to being surrounded by other students in the same stage of life as I am. The adults – the sisters, mothers, fathers and brothers – of enCompass have taken me in, just as the body of Christ. This started to occur as I came more consistently and did other things such as Connect group, leading worship, and prayer meetings.

This semester was a very rocky, twisty, sometimes dismal chapter of my life. It was a time that I was trying to complete an education in a major that I was not meant to do, but God led me to try it – and fail – so that I could learn to trust Him. I felt useless, incompetent, and frustrated, but God showed me that I can do more than I imagined, and that he can give us more strength and joy than I ever thought possible. The words of encouragement and exhortation I received at enCompass were one of the ways that God did this.

When He finally ended that journey, showing me a different path, I learned to listen to him. He had been telling me deep down that I was not using my gifts and passions fully, and that I was not a fit for the job that I was striving for, but I didn’t listen until very late in the process. Even though I was not very connected with enCompass throughout this process, they were praying for me. Also, the truth that I heard on Sundays lingered in my brain and heart throughout the week, and the Lord used it to speak to me. As the chapter ended and I was freed, I started getting more connected, and found that even though I felt as if I had offered nothing these past months – because I was physically and spiritually not able to – the people of enCompass were not bitter, guarded, or annoyed. No, instead, they embraced me and showed me that I am valued for just being there, not for what I accomplished.

This year, I have seen what sets enCompass apart from a lot of other churches. We still have room for improvement, but we are acting more as a family and a body of parts working together. I have seen growth, not necessarily in numbers, but in becoming a family in which we have the weird uncles, crazy cousins, wacky aunts, and everyone has their issues, but we love each other. As believers, we need to be real. We need to accept our own flaws and the flaws of others. I have seen this developing at enCompass. In fact, the weirdness makes me feel so at home that I almost feel… normal!! … Well, I don’t believe in normal, but seriously, I feel a part of this family. I have room for improvement too, but I look forward to seeing how we continue to grow together.

We can’t do this alone. Jesus made us to live in community with each other, loving and serving as he showed us to by example. Let’s keep striving for this and learning what this means in our own lives. As I learned this year, there are seasons in which I may have nothing to offer, but I am still valued as a part of the body! We are all called to love each other and be loved, and we do this by being open and vulnerable to God working through each person.

 

 

Mind Mountains

By: Ben Behnen

Mind Mountains PicAbout a week ago, I had a conversation with my parents over the phone. I was recently accepted into the marriage and family therapy program at St. Mary’s University, and I wanted to settle with my mom and dad that this was the right choice. The conversation began delightfully because my parents are the sweetest and silliest. Soon enough, however, we got down to business. They started asking questions about what my schedule would look like, when I would have to start making payments, how much those payments would be etc.

My head started to ache and race as I realized that I had no idea the answer to most of these crucial questions. I became defensive and shut down inside, to no fault of my parents. They were just looking out for my best interest. However, I felt really inadequate, really small and incapable.

After I hung up, my thoughts started to race faster and I could feel anxiety building up inside me. It got to a point where I knew I had to go for a walk and get some air. I talked to God about it and that helped some. But for the rest of the week these thoughts loomed large, like mountains I’m trying to climb over or push away.

Recently I have been learning just how prominent these “mind mountains” have been in my thought life. For a long while it seems like I’ve been surrounded by them – whether it’s worries about grad school, or if I’m doing this Christianity thing right, or if I’ll ever find that special someone. These formidable, scary thoughts form this mountain range in my head, and it always seems like I have to tackle at least one (usually multiple) of them right now. And I can’t. I just don’t have all the answers or even know where to start. But I still feel like I have to do something about them, so I’ll ruminate over and over about them.

After a long week of this worrying cycle, the glorious weekend showed up with beautiful weather. I thought it might be nice to watch the sunset, so I stuffed my hammock and a blanket in a backpack and drove to the superb lakeside view on campus. I found a friendly pair of evergreens, strung up my hammock, and sunk in. I probably got there about an hour before the sun would fully set, and felt a little restless. I checked my phone a couple times but thankfully it died on me. Eventually I decided to just sit and watch.

I sat and watched for that full hour. I saw muskrats swim calmly on by the shore. I heard birds cut through the cool evening air. I smelled the damp freshness of the lake. And when the heart of the night emerged, when the soft, heavenly pink toward the west mingled with the deep blue of the north, a thought slipped into my mind: maybe all of this is good?

And with that thought, it was as if my soul heaved a deep sigh.

I don’t know how to handle these mountains of mine. I don’t have the strength to move them or the know-how to scale them. Regardless of what I’m capable of, though, these are good. These mountains – scary and daunting and insurmountable as they may be – they are good.

I think they are good because God formed them. And I think they are good because God led me up the one I’m standing on now. I look back and realize the mountain range is only in front of me. Behind me is this rich view of a million miles travelled with my God. Sometimes I forget we’ve been going at this for quite some time now. Nevertheless, he’s sure to remind me and he’s sure to point out all the little good things he’s done.

So if all that has been is good, why not all that will be? I may get scared and confused and lost, but I’d like to think at the end, when I’ve worried my last, God will look me in the eye and point behind me. And there we’ll just sit and watch. For an hour, maybe two. Maybe the time won’t matter at that point. And we’ll look over this great mountain range and everything will seem so small, so good.

Rise Above

By: Kevin Thomas, Lead Pastor

Rise AboveRancor. Distrust. Prejudice. Irritation. Antagonism. Fear.

Seem slightly familiar? Our present era of political rancor, racial distrust, and prejudiced religion leaves us weary and confused.  I believe we’re all pretty tired of the irritation, antagonism, and fear we see and feel each day.

Our collective experience, however, is nothing new. Humanity’s seen it all before. In fact, as we embark on our Christian Holy Week, it’s strikingly similar to the situation Jesus faced as he stepped into Jerusalem.

Jerusalem’s religious and political climate was a tinderbox of tension. The Roman authorities were exasperated trying to the keep the Jews from upsetting the peace.  The Religious Elites (known as the Sanhedrin, Sadducees, and Pharisees) played a continual cat-and-mouse game to protect their national, religious and personal interests. The Zealots were hoping to ignite a civil war that could create enough chaos to reestablish their long-lost political and theological power.

It took Jesus less than a week to light this tinderbox on fire.  Never one to be a “people pleaser,” he openly mocked the pride of the religious elites, ignored the power-play of the Zealots, and expressed his personal superiority over the power of Rome.

We know how the story ends. In choosing not to choose sides, he opted instead for his own demise. As he willingly, thoughtfully and compassionately laid down his life, Jesus publicly exposed the deep darkness lurking inside human nature.  He was lifted up on the cross to show humanity that he is the only one who can rise above the hatred, hypocrisy and selfishness of our egocentric ways.

Intriguingly, only one man seemed able to grasp what was happening in real time. As Jesus exhaled his final breath, a gristled military Captain gasped in astonishment,

“Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39)

For this one week, let’s put aside our smug sense of moral superiority and marvel at the only man in human history that truly rose above it all. Join us on Friday evening at 7pm as we contemplate the depth of Jesus’ love. Come back again at 9am on Easter Sunday for a joy-filled breakfast and then engage in heart-felt worship at 10am as we celebrate the only man who can truly save us from our sins.

Rancor, distrust and prejudice will not soon go away. Yet through Jesus, we can learn how to rise above it all and live with greater love, hope and faith.

I Am Enough

By: Amber Harder, Communications Specialist

I am enoughIn case you missed church on Sunday, it’s worth a listen and you can find it here. Dr. David Clark spoke in our current series, Heaven on Earth: Learning to Live in God’s Kingdom, and preached specifically on “A New Personal Mission.” One of my main take-aways from the sermon was that whatever I am doing, whatever my “work” is day in and day out, God can use me as a Kingdom Ambassador in that role.

From Colossians 3:17 –

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Dr. Clark even mentioned we can honor God by changing diapers. This hit home because these days I am changing a lot of diapers between my two littlest ones! I don’t often consider it important work, but God can use me here at home in some very big ways. I don’t have to try and be someone else or do what I deem to be “great” things for the Kingdom – I am enough and the work I am doing is enough when I give every effort to glorify God through my work.

Sunday’s sermon gave me a lot to chew on, but then a funny thing happened. I heard a similar message again on Monday…

This time it was at the U of M while watching a self-reflective documentary, “The Diaspora Journal” by Nathan Araya, a first-generation American whose parents were Ethiopian. In it he mentioned that one of his struggles growing up was that to Americans, he wasn’t “American enough,” and to Africans, he wasn’t “African enough.” He didn’t know where he fit.

In a follow-up Q & A, one attendee asked what Mr. Araya would say to his 8-year-old self if he could go back in time. He said “I would tell my 8-year-old self, ‘You are enough.’ You are American enough, you are African enough, you are good enough, you are smart enough. You are enough.” God has a specific purpose and place for each of us, and we need to live that out. By sharing his own story and struggle, he reminded me that I am enough.

What I am doing and not doing is enough.

Who I am and who I am not is enough.

I am enough. And God has a plan and purpose for me.

And then I came home from the screening and needed to hold a crying baby. I turned on “Last Man Standing,” a show I’ve been watching on Netflix intermittently. In this particular episode, Kyle, one of the employees of the outdoor store, was unwittingly promoted to a boat salesman. Kyle had no skill selling boats and it didn’t make him happy. Once this came to the surface, his supervisors wanted to switch him to another role. In a conversation with this employer, it became evident that Kyle had a knack for knowing the personalities and talents of the other employees in the store and understanding where those individuals would be most effective on the sales floor. Once moved into a position where he could use this skill, Kyle thrived.

Huh. Another instance of someone doing great things when using their unique personality and skill set in the right role. Though it was a sitcom, the truth of the lesson resonated with what I heard in the previous 36 hours.

Because of these 3 encounters, all so close together, I began to sense God reminding me that I am unique; I have a skill set unlike anyone else, and I can glorify Him and be a Kingdom Ambassador right where I am.

Who I am and what I can give right now – it’s enough. It’s enough and more than enough when I seek to do everything for Him.

Nachos & Oatmeal

By: Deron Vaupel, Ministry Administrator

pic-for-derons-blogI always feel bad writing a blog about my interactions with my kids. There truly is more to my life than being a dad, but I learn so much from my boys…

Dinner can be challenging for a little one, especially when they’re sick, teething, and want nothing to do with one (or more) of their parents. After a few minutes of fussily picking away at the delicious assortment of food on his tray, we decided it wasn’t worth the fight and took the sick teething child out of his seat so he could go somewhere else and we could perhaps eat a bit of our dinner in peace.

That of course failed to pan out. More fussiness and frustration (from parents and child) and an overall feeling that the day was going to end on a hopeless note. To her (somewhat) delight, mom had an obligation outside the house, so I was left to handle the bedtime routine with the perturbed little one. Still more frustration, but then some glimmers of hope. And then the weirdest thing started to happen. Angry sick child started making his way around to the table. And showing interest in what might be available for his sustenance. Never mind that the warm succulent options were now tepid and unappetizing. Or that his eventual meal looked more like what you’d find at an early morning tailgate party. His attitude was gone, his tummy was full, and bedtime was solid.

The whole experience got me thinking…What do we miss out on when we reject God’s wonderful gifts because of our own pride? What more can we hope to experience by trusting God even through frustrations? I don’t necessarily have great answers to those questions just yet, but I pray for the awareness to be able to trust in God’s goodness even when I see very little of it in myself.

Matthew 7:9-11

9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

 

Breathe, Just Breathe

By: Nicole Quast

The other day I was passing by a coworker on the way out of a building and I addressed her by saying “hello.” She then said, “hello, how are you?” Without even thinking I said “Good. Have a great day!” and I continued walking. As I exited the building and began walking to my car I thought to myself I’m not good. I’m exhausted and I’m feeling lots of anxiety about all of the things I need to do. I’m back to work full time, taking a graduate level class (that I waited until the last minute to finish) and there are so many extra things to do because it’s the holiday season! Don’t get me wrong, I love all the hustle and bustle of the holidays. I love all the little events and traditions that go along with it like lights, trees, parades, parties, seeing Santa, and celebrating the birth of Jesus.

photo-credit-steven-leonti-via-visualhunt-cc-byAs I got into my car and started driving to the next place I needed to be, the song “Breathe” by Johnny Diaz came on the radio.  It was as if the song was written for my life at that exact moment! I have been moving so fast and doing too much!  I broke into tears and could truly feel God’s presence and words speaking to my heart.

After the song was over, I started thinking about the interaction I had with my coworker. Why is it our natural response to say we are good? Is it because we don’t want to expose our imperfections to others? Is it because we don’t want to admit to ourselves that we don’t have it all together? Is it because we feel like no one really cares about how we feel? Is it because we are “Minnesota Nice?”  I’m really not sure and I think for each of us it may be for different reasons.

I was reminded by this song that God cares! So I decided I don’t need to say I’m good but I also don’t need to dump my current problems, feelings and issues onto coworkers and friends. Instead, I can breathe and turn to God in prayer and let him know my struggles and insecurities.  I know he already knows them but by giving them up to him in prayer I realized it helps me not only to acknowledge them but also to release them and let them go!

Through all of this Psalm 55:22 kept ringing through my head:

Cast your cares on the Lord
    and he will sustain you;
he will never let
    the righteous be shaken. (NIV)

Such a powerful and important message in my life right now!

So with all the hustle and bustle this time of year, it is my Hope for us all that we can slow down and breathe and  remember the true meaning of Christmas.  God loves us so much that he gave us his only son to die for us. No present under the tree can even come close to that amazing and everlasting gift!

 

Photo credit: Steven Leonti via Visualhunt / CC BY

 

 

Peace on Earth

Editor’s Note: A committed member of enCompass brought forth this heartfelt response to Sunday’s message. We pray it is an encouragement to you to continue to lean in to what God is doing in our current series.

As we enter into this Christmas season, how oh how are we supposed to be filled with hope, wonder & joy when we feel no peace on earth? How do we find that peace for our hearts so we can share that light with all the other hurting hearts?

This Sunday, Pastor Kevin’s sermon on Matthew 5:3-9 spoke volumes to me. My heart is raw from the broken relationships within my extended family, the animosity throughout and after this last election season, and the wars devastating families & nations around the world. I feel angry & hurt. I mourn for those who are persecuted, forgotten, unheard, disenfranchised, hungry & killed. I mourn for the broken relationships in our family. I am angry for those who are being mistreated. I am angry for what I have to tell my kids. My spirit is poor & broken. I am in mourning.

Despite the heavy heart, I have a glimmer of hope & see a little light. In Luke 2:14 the angels sang “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” I cannot bring peace & good will to Syria, my government or my family…but I can ask God to bring it to my heart. I can ask God to help my heart be meek and filled with mercy. I can ask God to continue to help me be a peacemaker one relationship at a time.

I invite you to listen to the sermon (possibly again) online this week and to join me this coming Sunday to hear the next sermon in our teaching series “Peace on Earth: Bringing Calm to a World of Crisis.” It will be encouraging, challenging and well worth your time.

What Does it Mean to Love?

By: Amber Harder, Communications Specialist

we-choose-loveThe last few weeks have been challenging ones for me. Our nation and our world seem to be an ever-growing tangle of hostility and fear. I find myself paralyzed, unsure of who I can trust and wondering all the while about the condition of the hearts of those in my day-to-day life.

A few weeks ago I was so overwhelmed that I just wanted to shut the shades, pull the bed sheets over my head and hide from it all. It seemed safer and easier than doing anything about the animosity that seemed to be ever more powerful in the world.

With increased hate-incited incidents showing up nation-wide and even in our own metropolitan area, I fear for my own biracial family as well as my family, friends, and neighbors who fall into groups who have been the target of resentment and violence.

As I thought about all these treasured people, I wanted to reach out to them in some way and let them know I cared about them and would have their backs no matter what. However, I felt timid and awkward in doing this, so naturally just put it off. For weeks.

The other day I was driving through my neighborhood and saw a neighbor of mine who I wanted to reach out to, but hadn’t yet. I battled in my head – should I stop? Should I keep going? I had two seconds of courage, so I pulled over on the street by his house and called him over to my open window. I let him know that the last few weeks were tough for me and I wondered if they were for him too. I told him that I love him. I told him that my family loves him and that we are so happy he is our neighbor. I told him I want him to feel safe in our neighborhood and that I would have his back.

And you know what happened?

He looked at me with tears in his eyes, squeezed my hand, and told me how much it meant to him to hear that. He shared how hard the last few weeks have been and how he is looking around his community with new eyes, wondering who is safe. Wondering, like me, about the condition of people’s hearts.

I was so glad God gave me the courage to reach out. I especially wanted to do so because I know my neighbors know my family’s routines. I know they see us leave for church each Sunday morning and believe us to be Christians. And honestly, the title of Christian has been tarnished and wrapped up with words and acts of hate instead of Jesus’ message of love. I want my neighbors to know that I am a Christian and I am not going to judge them. I am not going to persecute them. I am going to love them.

I believe love speaks more of God than anger, fear and hate ever will.

So while the future seems uncertain and there are times when fear grips my heart, I am moving forward with love. I want to start in my own circle – my family, friends, and neighbors, and then move from there to my community and world. I believe we all have been given the power to love and therefore positively influence the world around us.

I find it no coincidence that our upcoming series at church is “Peace on Earth: Bringing Calm to a World of Crisis.” God has a way of giving me exactly what I need, sometimes even before I realize I need it. I look forward to journeying with you in this series to learn how we can all bring “much-needed peace and joy to our fragmented world.” Lord knows we need it, and as His followers, it’s up to us to bring His message of love here on Earth.

 

Photo Credit: We Choose Love

Blessings in Disguise

By: Mark Deisinger

(Disclaimer: Nothing I say here means that I have any of this figured out or perfected in my own life. We’re all on the spiritual path together, though, as you’ll see, you may want to take a different physical path than me.)

November is one of my favorite months. A big part of the reason for that is the best holiday of the year, Thanksgiving. It’s the best both because of what it stands for and because it isn’t as encumbered with some of the negative trappings that are added to other holidays, even Christmas.

But that’s not the only reason. I just like the idea of Thanksgiving – as a holiday, and as an attitude. Our current teaching series at enCompass is “A Generous Serving of Gratitude.” As I move through my days on this planet and get older, I find more and more that being thankful for what I have is crucial. If I tried to count my blessings, I’d never get any sleep.

But what about bad experiences? Two of mine come to mind:

  • blessings-in-disguise-photo-2About a month ago, my lovely wife Sharon and I were on a bike ride on the trail system near our house. I wasn’t paying enough attention as we were exiting the trail system, and I biked straight into one of those pillars they put in the way to keep cars from driving on the trails. My bike stopped, but I catapulted over the handlebars and landed, hard, on the ground. I broke my collarbone and ended my bicycling for the year.
  • blessings-in-disguise-photo-1Just last week, as Sharon was heading to work in our minivan, the power steering failed and the battery light on the dashboard popped on. She was close to work and nursed it there. Motorheads will recognize that it was likely she “threw a belt.” As it turned out, a bolt holding a tensioner broke, but the belt was intact. A tow to the mechanic and several hundred dollars later, the car was functioning again.

If you’re like me, and I suspect you are, because in this case being “like me” means being human, you would find the above two experiences to be expensive, time-wasting, and unpleasant.

As time has passed, though, I think I’ve gained some insight into these experiences. It’s not a shocking insight, and it may seem trite, but here it is: It could have been worse. For these two experiences, I actually know exactly how it could have been worse:

  • Yes, I broke my collarbone, missed some work, and had to have a series of visits to the doctor, which cost money. However, two things are true: 1) I do not need surgery, and am healing quickly, and 2) If I had hit that post at an angle, it’s likely I would have very seriously injured my leg, possibly even destroying my knee. I’ll take a broken collarbone over that any day.
  • What I didn’t tell you about Sharon’s minivan story is that she was going to leave just a few hours later to drive to Wisconsin and spend some time with her father. If that very thick bolt had held out for another 100 miles, she would have been stranded on the side of the road in farm country. The part that needed to be replaced is unusual and normally doesn’t fail, so it’s likely that the closest mechanic would not have been able to fix her car, once she got there, for some time. The whole thing would have been more time-consuming and more expensive, and would have made her (and possibly her father) miss a memorial service for members of her father’s community who had passed away this year (including Sharon’s mother).

Blessings in disguise are hard to see through the veil of our immediate reactions when things go wrong. They’re hard to be grateful for because there are Problems that we are mad about. But, in them, I see the loving Father’s hand.

Okay, I can hear you already. “Mark, these are stupid examples. You’d have been fine, eventually, anyway. People suffer much worse than you, you whiny suburbanite.” Granted. Life would likely have gone on, relatively unchanged. People do have much bigger problems. Like you, I struggle to find the good when a loved one or friend dies (I lost two different close childhood friends to cancer this year — one was father to two children; Sharon’s mother passed away in July after fighting a debilitating disease for years), and I can’t come up with a good reason why truly awful stuff is done to innocent kids anywhere in the world, or why the Holocaust happened and stands as a blight on world history, or why injustice just seems to be everywhere these days.

What I have to fall back on, though, is what Paul wrote in Romans 8:28 (NIV):

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.

And in 2 Corinthians 9:8 (NIV):

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

What these tell me is that I can trust Him. He wants the best for me. He wants me to turn to Him when I am in need. He will give me “all that I need.” Something that has become clear to me in the last few years is that God is much less interested in my comfort than He is in my heart. He is willing to let me suffer if it means that I will grow closer to Him, which is the greatest good possible. I don’t really need to be free of pain or trouble, but I desperately need to be in a right relationship with God.

Job himself, amidst all the pain and confusion, said this in Job 13:15(a) (NIV):

Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.

Let’s all choose to hope in Him and be grateful to Him no matter what he puts in our path.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!