Discouragement & Thanksgiving


I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage. Yes, wait for the LORD.
—Psalm 27:13-14 NKJV

My wife and I received more discouraging news Tuesday evening. I don’t know why disappointment seems to gather around the holidays like a flock of morbid moths to a Christmas candle, but I’m getting accustomed to it.

We hear all the stories how more people die in December than any other month of the year. (I lost my Dad six Decembers ago, so I can point to my own experience of that truth.) And for every Jolly Old Saint Nick, there’s some Scrooge ready with a “Bah, Humbug!” CornucopiaBad seems to lurk around good for no other reason than sheer spite. Still, I think Job—who had leeway to talk—said it best: “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10)

We Americans aren’t very good at being grateful in times of trouble. I think we used to be, but perhaps our decadence snuffed our thankfulness. I pray that’s not the case. Still, we have a strange karmic approach to thankfulness that says that as long as the good outweighs the bad, we’ll be thankful. If things slide the other way…well, all bets are off.

So we’re going into another Thanksgiving carrying a load. It’s not life-threatening, but it’s still a bitter pill. I thought we’d avoid eating bitter pills on our menu this year. One snuck in with a day to spare, I guess.

I’ve generally thought of myself as a thankful person, though not perfectly. The one thing I’ve tried to instill in my son is gratefulness for even the smallest gifts God gives. Or as Habakkuk so ably put it:

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. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.
—Habakkuk 3:17-19 ESV

“To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.” I love that little flourish at the end. Music in the midst of discouragement. Think Paul and Silas in stocks in prison, singing hymns into the wee hours. I wish more modern worship songs said something about praising God when hell burst against us. That’s the kind of strong Church I long to see. “You can flog us to our skin hangs in ribbons, but we’ll go down singing the praises of Jesus Christ.”

(That may come to that sooner than we think.)

Faith is thankfulness for goodness put on hold. Like Psalm 27 says above, Wait for the Lord. Perhaps that’s why so few of us are truly thankful: we don’t know how to wait for anything. “We’ll take the despair now, please, but don’t bother us with thankfulness.” Sometimes, I think we believe thankfulness lives for another day. But it can’t wait, can it? Thankfulness embodies what we are in Christ, every minute of every day.

I hear people saying that Easter is one of the holiest of Christian holy days, but I’d like us to give almost as much attention to Thanksgiving Day. Because as much as we’ll be enjoying the fruits of Christ’s resurrection, we’ll be spending eternity thanking Him for it—and for every small gift we failed to appreciate this side of heaven.

Better practice now.

Have a truly thankful Thanksgiving.

On Disappointment


I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD
In the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the LORD.
—Psalms 27:13-14 NASB

— 36,600,000 occurrences on Google

Disappointment is always lurking. Due to astonishing similarities to an existing series of books by a bestselling novelist (who was a complete unknown to me just a few weeks ago), my novel and the series that I hoped would spring from it may be dead. At the advice of another author who was familiar with that other novelist's recently published trilogy, FaceplantI read those books. Having finished them this last Sunday, I sit here now and wonder how it is possible.

It wasn't too long ago that I landed my dream job at Apple Computer bashing Windows and the PCs that ran it. Newly married, I was on top of the world. We moved cross-country, thrilling to the hope held out before us. However, less than six months later my department was disbanded and we were stuck in Silicon Valley, a place where "it's all about who you know," without knowing anyone.

My mother was a "mom's Mom" in every sense of the word. And though she worked with young children every day, she had no grandchildren. How excited we were to learn of our pregnancy just days before we flew back to Cincinnati to stay with my folks for Christmas. There was even talk of moving back to be near the soon-to-be grandparents. Two months later, Mom was diagnosed with brain cancer. We moved back to Cincinnati, and I was fortunate to find a great job. My Dad died a couple weeks before the Christmas that followed the joyous one just a year before; Mom followed just over three months later. My exciting new company started having money trouble in the wake of the looming Internet bust and the layoffs came. My wife kept her good job, but we had a new baby and Dad's estate was troubling, so I stayed home to try to solve all the issues of losing both parents in rapid succession. We moved into our first home just a few months later—and then my wife was laid off, too. New house, new child, no parents, no income.

And so it goes.

In the last ten years I've stared in the face of more disappointments than I can remember. After a while you take a look at your list of goals in life and ask, "What was I thinking?" And while that's not the commonly accepted Christian response to goal-setting—at least from what all the bestsellers on the Christian bookstore shelves say—it may be closer to the truth than some wish to admit.

When the Tower of Siloam fell on eighteen hapless residents of long-ago Palestine, Jesus wasn't trapped by the question of the source for their rotten sense of timing and luck, He simply said, "…unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." He had a much different perspective, didn't He?

For centuries people have made the Bible into a talisman for good fortune. Entire theologies are woven around what God is mandated to give us if we apply the right alchemy of verses to our woeful situations. Yet who claims to force the hand of the Almighty? Who is that prideful? Well, Lucifer comes to mind….

What no one asks is if it's okay to pray what David prayed in Psalm 27. He said, "Lord, without the assurance of goodness provided to me in the here and now, I'm ruined!" God never intended for us to go through life without goodness evident this side of Heaven.

Now this is not prosperity thinking. You won't see any links to Rod Parsley on Cerulean Sanctum. But isn't the status quo, either.

I believe that we as a Church need a readjustment. Our idea of goodness is possessing every glossy item featured in the latest Neiman-Marcus catalog, plus a few from Family Christian Stores. We've let America infest our idea of what is good. In many ways, we've traded in a few of our "worldly" trinkets for "approved and redeemed Christian" versions. (A step down if you ask me.)

When we die in real life, what do we take with us? Nothing. But what about when we die at the foot of the cross? The answer's the same. Yet the problem with so many of us American Christians is we aren't fully ready to leave it all at the foot of the cross. And since we aren't, we never fully appreciate what the Father gives us in exchange for all the junk we lug around.

And what does the Father give us at the cross? Jesus.

Folks, do we want Him? Or will we cling to what is ephemeral, what is gone with one pink slip, heart attack, fire, or theft.

The goodness David waited upon, the anchor to goodness that held him, was the Lord Himself. There is no disappointment in the Father for in His right hand are pleasures forever (Psalm 16:11.) And we know who sits in that strong right hand.

When we know Jesus Christ and are known by Him, how can we be disappointed?

A hymn says it all:

I'd rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I'd rather be His than have riches untold;
I'd rather have Jesus than houses or lands;
I'd rather be led by His nail-pierced hand

    Than to be the king of a vast domain,
    Or be held in sin's dread sway;
    I'd rather have Jesus than anything This world affords today.

I'd rather have Jesus than men's applause;
I'd rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I'd rather have Jesus than worldwide fame;
I'd rather be true to His holy name

He's fairer than lilies of rarest bloom;
He's sweeter than honey from out the comb;
He's all that my hungering spirit needs;
I'd rather have Jesus and let Him lead

Beloved, never be disapponted that Jesus is all you ultimately have.