Pastor Jeff Needleman
Thick & Thin (A bad hair day!)
Updated: May 4, 2020
Please feel free to make comments, ask questions, insights or offer encouragements to others! ****************************************************************************************************************
It used to be that having a bad day meant your boss telling you not to bother to take your coat off. Or if your kid’s school called… to surrender. You’d know that you should have stayed in bed when your secretary tells you the FBI was on line 1, the DA on line 2, and CBS on line 3. You’d know things weren’t quite right if you found yourself sitting and patiently waiting for the stop sign to turn green. But for those that are stuck sheltering in place, we pretty much only know if it’s a rough day because our plants did better when we weren’t home to talk to them, when it takes 3 hours to make minute rice, when you're so bored you play hide and seek alone. and when your kids treat you like you used to treat them!
But all humor aside, as a pastor, I know the struggles that we all weather. We often face a litany of troubles from simple minor irritations to Trials and Trroubles of great consequence. There are those living in constant pain, dealing with marital and relational problems, health issues, and especially now, loneliness and toxic boredom.
We suffer from addictions, injuries, hassles at work, emotional damage from our upbringing and PTSD. Life’s not always easy; and this COVID lockdown brings things to the surface! I get irritated at being controlled, so guess what happens when I’m herded like a cow at my favorite stores and have to wear a mask at Costco! Yet there are those who have lost loved ones, jobs, and/or are experiencing financial hardships and adversity.
One of the puzzling parts of the Christian life that we often grapple with is the fact we’re not immune to the garbage that life throws our way. and many of us can’t seem to avoid throwing ourselves in front of the oncoming trains!
But why does a loving and caring God allow us to go through these troubles, even if they are self baked? Doesn’t our Savior want us to be free with a simple, easy, comfortable and prosperous life that focuses on Him w/o distraction? He’s sovereign, so why doesn’t He just fix it. If he’s greatest of parents, why doesn’t He just make our difficulties vanish? Let’s read:
Mt 7:9-11 NIV “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 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! The answer is that truly effective and loving parents don’t take away their kid’s trials- because they want their children to grow up and mature by working through their difficulties! So as good parents, we walk beside them, offering advice, guidance and counsel where, when, and as we can -helping them in long run! Scripture is quite clear that God’s intent for us is only good-- as Paul teaches in: Romans 8:28-30 NLT and we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
So this means that the lions and tigers, bears and coronavirus that God allows in our lives are part of the “working together for the good of” His children. But it’s above our paygrade, beyond our ability to understand the divine purpose behind the issues we face! What Scripture teaches us, and what my own personal struggles and experiences have revealed, is that faith and maturity grows thru 5Ts; trials, troubles, tribulations, tempests and temptations!
That’s why God allows us to struggle through the processes with Him. It’s not the immediate destination or accomplishments on our faith journey that Jesus is most interested in, but rather our long term Spiritual and Emotional formation -our becoming more Christ-like as vs. just mere believers- walkers not just talkers! As we endure the fear, confusion and adversities in our lives- God’s goal is for us to grow closer to Him. In our growth we find a lot of “ands”. And to be more like Him- to let go of control and let God do His thing, and to trust Him thru Thick and Thin. And we learn that despite the circumstance we still have to get up in the morning and do what’s in front of us. And we learn it’s to our advantage to seek His guidance and counsel before we do things! And it’s after the garbage that we learn to have confidence in God’s long-term care for us! and find the encouragement to endure the processes again and again. And our growing trust helps us to find a small measure of joy and thankfulness during the minor flea bites or during the major crises and calamities. There’s a lot of good ands!
King David, the author of most of the book of Psalm, was a perfect example of 1 who endured all sorts of trials, troubles, tribulations, tempests and temptations! Those of his own making and those to which he fell victim. Psalm 118 is well known because it’s been the source of sermons, hymns and praise songs, and even the inspiration for a Bob Marley tune!
Psalm 118 is a psalm of thanksgiving and praise that celebrates God's mighty acts on behalf of His beloved children. And Psalm 118 was probably the hymn that was sang at the conclusion of the Jesus’ last supper during the Passover prior to His crucifixion. As I read thru Psalm 118, would you at home please repeat out loud with me “His faithful love endures forever” whenever I point your way?
Psalm 118:1-29 NLT Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. Let all Israel repeat: "His faithful love endures forever." Let Aaron's descendants, the priests, repeat: "His faithful love endures forever." Let all who fear the Lord repeat: "His faithful love endures forever." 5 In my distress I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me and set me free. The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me? Yes, the Lord is for me; he will help me. I will look in triumph at those who hate me. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in people. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. 10 Though hostile nations surrounded me, I destroyed them all with the authority of the Lord. Yes, they surrounded and attacked me, but I destroyed them all with the authority of the Lord. They swarmed around me like bees; they blazed against me like a crackling fire. But I destroyed them all with the authority of the Lord. My enemies did their best to kill me, but the Lord rescued me. 14 The Lord is my strength and my song; he has given me victory. Songs of joy and victory are sung in the camp of the godly. The strong right arm of the Lord has done glorious things! The strong right arm of the Lord is raised in triumph. The strong right arm of the Lord has done glorious things! I will not die; instead, I will live to tell what the Lord has done. The Lord has punished me severely, but he did not let me die. 19 Open for me the gates where the righteous enter, and I will go in and thank the Lord. These gates lead to the presence of the Lord, and the godly enter there. I thank you for answering my prayer and giving me victory! The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone. This is the Lord's doing, and it is wonderful to see. This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. 25 Please, Lord, please save us. Please, Lord, please give us success. Bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord. The Lord is God, shining upon us. Take the sacrifice and bind it with cords on the altar. You are my God, and I will praise you! You are my God, and I will exalt you! Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.
This is a Psalm of both praise and victory- and prophecy! Yet reading between the lines we feel the ache of the struggles! In Verse 5, the writer cries “In my distress--”; other versions use words like anguish, trouble and great pain. In Verses 10-13 he laments of being attacked with murderous intent- I translate this as “my enemy has me cornered; their bullets sting like bees and they scorch me with flamethrowers”.
Yet in Verse 18 it’s clear that the Psalmist knows that what he’s going through was God’s discipline for his own long term well being and benefit. One version reads The Lord has chastened me sore- punished me severely, but not to death!
Whatever the trials, the Psalmist knew it was for his own good because that’s what punishment is all about, God’s chastening is for our own growth, benefit and testimony about the Lord! We read in: Hebrews 12:5-6 NLT "My child, don't make light of the Lord 's discipline, and don't give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child."
We don’t read what exactly happened to cause the Psalmist such distress, but here’s a major point; this was penned after the rescue! The writer encountered difficult times in his life- But the praise came after… after the rescue, not during the 5Ts; - trials, troubles, tribulations, tempests and temptations! And that’s because it’s tough to see the thin of the positive through the thick of the negative!
It’s rough to see the blessing until we look back and reflect! So listen up, the Bible is clear that even in the lives of those who appear to be finest of believers and seem to have it all together; there’s always times of struggle, sorrow and weeping. But Scripture advises us to work at being thankful, even amidst the 5Ts.
Ephesians 5:19-20 NIV Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
James 1:2-3 NIV Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
Scripture doesn’t say to only “give thanks when we’re in a fine mood, or things are going awesome, or when we’re surrounded by good… no- God says to ALWAYS give thanks! In the thick of the good times, and in the thin of mediocre or distressing times. and… even though affirmations of thanksgiving and praise may be stubbornly stuck in our throat or our lips sealed shut with sourness during the 5Ts.
And This is where we need to be careful! In the sorrow, anger, bitterness and pain we can enter the dangerous road of turning away from God- rather than turning toward Him. These are the times Satan loves to tune up and gas the car hoping to drive us away from the Lord. He’ll even clean windows and throw in a car wash!
Sadly, I’ve witnessed more than just a few people’s faith falter as they’ve forgotten how God stood beside them through the thick and thin… so please hear this, God assures us that joy will follow the sadness, just like morning follows night- just as we read in: Ps 30:5 HCB For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor, a lifetime. Weeping may spend the night but there is joy in the morning.
Here’s some more ands..
And if, if, during the good times, we remember His faithfulness during our times of distress and desolation, we’ll be better prepared for the future battles of the bad times of the 5Ts! and if we assign Him the victory looking back, we will move closer to Him and better experience the depth of knowing Jesus’ faithful, steadfast and enduring love thru thick and thin.
So make an all out effort to always remember to seek God at all times, and praise Him through good and bad, and thick and thin, so that we may find that time of joy in the morning.
In 1927, Scottish Pastor Arthur John Gossip’s wife suddenly collapsed and died. The next day he preached a sermon he entitled “But When Life Tumbles In - What Then?”. He wrote "I don’t understand this life of ours. But still less can I comprehend how people in trouble and loss and grief can fling away peevishly from the Christian faith. In God’s name, fling to what? Have we not lost enough w/o losing that too? You people in the sunshine may believe in the faith, but we in the shadow must believe it. We have nothing else."
Ps 118’s author didn’t fling away from God, but instead sought to have God guide and protect him in his times of trouble. Because he steadfastly trusted God thru thick and thin, Kind David was able to write these powerful words of praise: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. Let all who fear the Lord repeat: "His faithful love endures forever."
The 5Ts perfect our faith by helping us we progress from being mere believers into Christians! and that’s God’s ultimate purpose and goal for us is to become Christ-like here on earth and prepare us for heaven! and that’s God’s goal heavenly for us as assured by the Apostle Peter in:
1 Peter 1:6-9 NIV In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Even though we may struggle and sometimes fail, we can rest in the knowledge that though our maturing faith, our salvation is secured, even though we still have to suffer the natural consequences and garbage of life. and just a reminder, Jesus forgives our failings and sins because the eternal punishment for them has been paid by His on the cross.
2Corinthians 1:8-11 NLT We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on Go, who raises the dead. And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.