2011 in review

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Looking Ahead By Faith

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Who Am I?  Part 26

And now for the final chapter.  This has been quite a journey.  We started together way back in January of this year, and now 12 months later I am ready to tell you how the story ends.  But wait, it’s not really the end, because I am believing that there are many more exciting years ahead of fruitful service for the Lord.

This topic of “Who Am I?” has been a series of snapshots of what has happened in my life from birth until the present moment.  There certainly have been lots of interesting events and winding trails in my life as I look back over the past 51 years.  There have been some truly awesome moments of breath-taking adventure, and there have been a number of mind-numbing “sloughs of despair”. One thing for sure, you cannot say that our lives have ever been dull.

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In many ways, it is quite appropriate I think that I am writing this last Saturday personal journey story on the night of Christmas Eve.  Over 2,000 years ago, while the world in stillness lay, the angels in heaven were holding their collective breathes as they waited in glorious anticipation of the Christ Child to be born.  From that moment on, the world would never be the same as the Messiah came from Heaven to live among us, teach us about God, and provide a way for men to be reconciled once again back to God.

Now please don’t read this wrong.  I am in no way trying to compare my life to the Life of Jesus who is my Lord.  Heaven forbid that I should ever dare to think so highly of myself.  No, I am just a fallible man as much as any other, and I count it as a sacred privilege to be called by God to serve Him in the mission work He has given me to do.  Rather, it is the idea of there being an air of expectation that I want to use as a catalyst for this final article in this personal series.

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As I look over my years of ministry for God, I almost feel like it could be compared to a grand symphony arrangement.  In a great music score, you have a flowing thematic harmony of many instruments that lead you along the main story line of the arrangement.  That is what my desire to be a missionary can be compared to, which has been a central part of my very being since I was a young teenager.

Then as the music continues, you find select instruments rise above the main melody.  There is excitement created by the violins, the darting whimsical nature of the wind instruments, the foreboding danger triggered by the beating of the drums.  All of these sounds carry you further into the story, raising you to new heights, and casting you down into deep dark corners of your mind.  That is what my many years can be compared to: one moment, a thrilling adventure, and the next moment, a heart-wrenching event that crushes the soul.

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 But wait.  The philharmonic evening has not been finished yet.  There is a pause, a moment of silence, the tinkle of the little silver triangle.  Then a murmuring beat from a drum, the cautious entrance of the violins, the pipes and the horns and the flutes are poised to join in to the chorus.  We can sense the excitement building as we realize that there are still some upbeat moments and great crescendos to come.

And that is pretty much where I think my life is right now.  I’ve crossed the desert, I’ve forded the river, I’ve scaled the mountain, and just around the bend I expect to see the fantastic vista to open up to me as I look ahead to the new adventures that still await me.  The message that I delivered in quite a few sermons to some of our supporting churches this past summer was, “God is not finished with us yet!”

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What a great feeling that is.  Of course I know that God loves me and is always with me.  Then add to that the fact that God is still choosing to use me and work through me to impact peoples lives around the world.  He continues to give me strength for each day so that I can still be involved in Bible translation projects in Southeast Asia and Papua New Guinea.  This past four months, I have lived and  worked in Dallas and helped to teach new missionary recruits.  Two years ago, I thought my life of ministry was over and I was all used up.

And if that is not enough, God has opened up this blog outreach which my wife, Jill, aptly calls my “Armchair Ministry”.  Considering that I spend most of my day, every day, propped up in a recliner chair to relieve the pressure and pain in my legs, it is truly amazing how writing down my stories and insights into Scripture has become a blessing to thousands of people in countries around the world.

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And so now I have arrived at my “Today” of my life story.  Lord willing, I will have many more “todays” to live, and to serve my God, and to pass on my stories to others to tell of the wonders and majesty of my Lord and King.  As I think about all that God has done for me, and will continue to do for me and my family, there is only one adequate response to give back to God.  I praise my God, and offer back to Him the well-known Christian Doxology:

Praise God from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him all creatures here below.
Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Amen!

Make Your Life A Testimony – Pt 1

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We have come to the last chapter in our book that we have studied together this year on The Listening Post.  The title as many of you know is “Walking With God on the Road You Never Wanted to Travel” by Mark Atteberry.  We have journeyed together with the children of Israel through their wilderness wanderings until they came to their Promised Land.  But we have also journeyed together with reflections on life with one another and seen that the God who fulfilled His promises to the Israelites is the same God who fulfills His promises to us in our lives.

This book has had such a profound impact on my life as I have been on my own personal hard road journey living with my muscle disease that flared up 3 ½ years ago.  There have been many difficult days for me along this road.  Even today, I am not feeling well as I have not had a good sleep and battled pain and fatigue for four days now.  But then I remember that my commitment to God is to serve Him, not complain to Him.  And I also remember that God’s promise is that when I am weak, He is strong.  And reflecting on that brought an old hymn below to my mind.

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Before I gave my life to Christ at age 12, I was only concerned about Me.  (But isn’t this the attitude of all children?)  Yet I wonder what kind of adult I would have turned into if Christ had not become my Lord.  I shudder to think about how self-focused and self-serving I would have become.  So I praise God that I heard the Gospel message when I was young and responded to that call.

And it was only a few years after making that decision to make Jesus my Lord that He showed me that my life was to be fully dedicated to serving Him in mission work around the world.  I have never thought of my years of service for Him to be my “duty” or my “repayment” for the salvation He offered me. Rather, it has always been my joy and privilege to offer my life as a thanks offering back to Him.

1.  Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in endless praise.

2.  Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee.

3.  Take my voice and let me sing,
Always, only for my King.
Take my lips and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee.

As I consider the years that I have been in ministry and mission work up until my disease become evident, I feel that my commitment to serve Christ was in some ways easy for me. Like the first three verses of this hymn mention, I gladly gave Him what was not difficult to give.  I would go, I would reach out, I would sing for Jesus.  And I would enjoy myself as I went along on this adventure in life.

But it in these past 3 ½ years, I have found that serving the Lord had to become a regular choice, as I could choose to give in to the disease and decide the effort to go half way around the world to do our mission work was not worth it.  Even more basic than that, I had to choose to praise God and thank Him for each day that I woke up, no matter whether I “felt” good at the start of the day or not.  Living for Christ is giving all of me over to Him, my mind, my will and my heart.

4.  Take my silver and my gold,
Not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use
Every pow’r as Thou shalt choose.

5.  Take my will and make it Thine,
It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own,
It shall be Thy royal throne.

6.  Take my love, my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee.

I found that my world shrunk for me all the way down to little more than my living room.  With little to do, and little ability to do much more than sit in my recliner chair and become even more attached to my computer, I could have literally turned into a “couch potato”.  But God was not finished with me yet.  Through encouragement from my wife and others, we found ways for me to still serve God, even sitting in my own living room.

Through modern technology, I am still able to work on translation projects that are on the other side of the world.  With modern medicine to manage the pain, and rapid transport to get me to other countries, I set myself up in a different recliner and keep on being active in this mission ministry.  But God also opened up this ministry of blogging so that I could encourage others to believe that if God can use me and bless me as He has in spite of my limitations, then He can do this for anyone.

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Back to Atteberry and his last chapter, he tells us that when we have broken through from the barren wilderness of our hard road experience, we need to set up a memorial, as a testimony to others that God is faithful and will carry us through.  And I believe that is what this blog site has become for me.  I sit down and write three articles a week and memorialize all the good things that God has done for me and is still doing for me.  My prayer is that my writings, my memorial stones, have brought honor to God, and been an encouragement to all my readers.

God Answers Our Prayers

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“Thank You God!”

In the past few weeks, there have been four significant events that cause me to pause and remember and give thanks for all that God has done for me and for my family.  November 11th is known in America as Memorial Day, but in Canada we call it Remembrance Day.  November 24th was Thanksgiving Day in the United States.  It also happened to be the 1st year Anniversary of this blog, The Listening Post.  And November 27th was my birthday.  Each of these events have given me reason to look back at the last year.

There is another reason for me pausing in my blog writing to think back and be thankful.  There are so many people who read these articles and the email updates and prayer & praise reports that we send out, that I am receiving wonderful and encouraging responses which help me to see my own life through the eyes of another person.  And one of them that I received fairly recently is worth sharing with all of you who are reading this article.

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The following message came from a good friend of ours:

Remember the first list of prayer requests you and Jill sent out when you were asking for special prayer partners? If I remember right, they have all been answered now. The condo sold, for less than you wanted, but it sold. Glen is now in the military, took time, but it happened, Eric has a job, you have been doing really well health wise most of the time, Jill is working full-time and doing well in school.

You have had good health to preach when you needed it. I don’t know how your Partnership Development has gone, but praying well, and praying that you can get some translation done for Papua New Guinea. I am praying for Jill while she is by herself. Eric and his wife live there in town don’t they, so if she needs to talk to someone, she can call him or you or if it is the right time even Glen. All in all I think that the Lord has really answered the prayer requests that your friends have been praying for you.

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In just two short paragraphs, our friend has been able to summarize well all the events that have happened in the lives of our family members over the past four months.  And in every case, we can see that the things that we were all so anxious about and fervently praying about this last summer have all been answered.  It really is amazing to step back and see from this perspective how everything we were concerned about most has been addressed, and for the most part we can say have turned out quite positively.

Now this does not mean that life is a breeze and we have nothing else to worry about.  On the contrary, we find there is plenty of things for us to get concerned about.  I am doing well physically, but it has meant being away from Jill and the family for most of the last four months.  Jill has been doing well at her schooling, but it has been a constant pressure nearly every day since June to get her assignments done, even when she wasn’t sure if she was understanding the assignment but had to do it anyway.

Yes, it is good that Eric has a job.  But as most jobs go, there are good things and some not so good aspects to the job that will drain his energy.  And it is not in the field he just got trained in, Graphic Arts Design.  And then with Glen, of course we are happy that he got into the Army after having a shut door in front of him for over a year.  But you can also believe that our prayers for Glen have increased for him since he joined the Army, not lessened.

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So what am I trying to say?  “Gee, I wish God had not answered our prayers.  Or at least not this way.”  Of course not!  As my friend has reminded me, and as I practice stepping back and looking at the big picture, I am amazed at how God has truly answered all of our prayers.  And in each of the specific answers He has given us, I can also truly say that there is definitely more good than not good in the situation.

What I am trying to say is that even when we are right in the center of God’s will and we see answers provided for the things we pray about, that there will always remain in our lives more questions and more concerns as we go through life.  That is life!  But that is not meant to be discouraging to us.  On the contrary, it provides an opportunity for us to  return to God and lay down our worries and our cares before Him and see what next He will do for us in our lives.

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And for me, that is exciting.  If every question I had was answered, if every problem had already been solved for me, then in many ways, I would not need to come to God and ask for a fresh experience of His mercy and grace.  And because He loves us, He is quite willing to have us come again and again to Him with our problems and our questions.  And then once again, as our Loving Father, He will provide just what we need, even if it might not be what we expected.

And in this life of dependence upon God, I have learned that in all things to offer back this response to all that happens, “Dear God, I give You thanks!”

Another Year – “Praise God!”

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My Birthday Reflections

Two days ago, it was my birthday.  I was not able to share this day with my family here in Dallas since they are all back in Canada.  But I’m really okay with that.  Of course it would have been nice to celebrate with them.  But what I did instead was to go out with a friend after church down here and we had a great time just talking and sharing stories about our mission work and interests.

Back to my family, they all sent me a card and either called me or emailed me to wish me a Happy Birthday.  That was nice.  I didn’t need the calls to be reminded that they love me, but it was still so nice to hear their voices and to see their messages.  It means that I was important enough to them to take the time to give me a call, and I am so grateful to God that I have a wonderful family.

    

As I went through the day though, I came to realize once again that I am actually part of another family, the Family of God.  Of course I don’t know everyone in this special Family, since there are millions of Christians in countries all around the world.  But there are a good number who do know me, either from growing up together, or through my mission work.  And now I have a number of new friends made through the ministry and fellowship we can have by means of the Internet.

Take Facebook for example. There are many hundreds of people whom I can call “Friend” on my personal home page of Facebook.  And the FB Page which is also entitled The Listening Post, has more than 750 people who are following it.  So by the end of the day on Sunday, because of the way I get notifications into my email Inbox, there were more than a hundred greetings from these various friends to wish me well and to pray for me to have another good year of serving the Lord.

    

But let me tell you another very big reason for celebrating my birthday, besides having a great family and lots of contacts on my FB account saying “Hi!”  I thank God for the life He has given me, (even taking into consideration my physical handicap).    Actually, because of my muscle disease, I have come to appreciate life more, and I often wake up and say, “Thank you God for giving me one more day that I can live for You here.”  And so having one more birthday means I have beaten this disease for another year.

You see, just about 3 years ago, I had been devastated by the diagnosis of my health condition.  And on top of that, things had not gone well with my mission organization back in Canada.   They had to freeze the financial books and some mission activity for a short while so they could deal with some governmental paperwork to keep the mission running.  I thought I saw all my dreams and hopes for life and ministry coming to an end.

There was about a month back then where my symptoms kept getting worse and I didn’t know if or when I would level out with my condition.  And I felt quite distraught about what was happening with our Canadian mission.  I felt so overwhelmed by circumstances out of my control that during that time, my pain increased to the point that I felt it was crushing my chest and I really thought I might actually die.

    

But God was watching over me and provided me with just the right kind of professional help that I needed to get through that rough period.  I was able to see a Physiotherapist who helped me to set some realistic goals on exercises and short distance walking.  And when I found myself becoming overwhelmed emotionally, there was a Social Worker within the same clinic who took it upon herself to meet with me for four weeks in a row and let me talk out about my emotional and physical pain.

It was truly amazing the transformation that happened within me after meeting with these two ladies for those four joint sessions.  As I spoke out about my discouragements and fears, the Social Worker listened empathetically, while the Physiotherapist made sure the pain remained under control and that I was not in any physical danger.  And through that process, God brought about some real healing to both my emotional heart and to my physical body.

    

What made the difference for me in these sessions was my steadfast belief that God was still in control.  I told these ladies of how I had served the Lord in either pastoral ministry or overseas mission work for many year, and I poured out my heart about how much I wanted to continue to do just that.  And as I talked about how faithful my God had been to see me through some tough periods in my past, I realized that God had not changed, and I could look to Him to carry me through the current crisis to future days of ministry for Him yet.

So I have been marking November in my mind now for more than just stating, “It’s my birthday.”  I have realized that each year I do have a birthday, it is a victory day to mark how God has been faithful to carry me through and on into another year of life.  And so, this is now Year 3 of my new life: life with Christ AND life with my disease.  Lord willing, (if He doesn’t return soon), I will be able to have many more years of service for God, and each time I have another birthday I will say, “Thank you Lord for another year.”


Thanking God Through The Pain

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Praising The Lord

Life can be difficult. Life can be painful. How should we respond? How do you respond when life just wears you down? There are lots of ways that we can respond, but let me suggest that the best way is to praise and thank the Lord. And for those of us who are musically inclined, carrying around a song in our mind, in our hearts and even on our lips can be a very good thing. Here is a chorus that came to my mind:

I want to praise you Lord, much more than I do.
I want to praise you Lord, much more than I do.
Learn to seek your face, and the glory of your grace,
I want to praise you.

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For the second and third verse of this chorus, you substitute the word “love” and then “serve” so that we sing “I want to praise you Lord… I want to love you Lord… I want to serve you Lord”. This is a very simple chorus, but it certainly can affect your attitude and your outlook on life. Now let me give you the background of what happened in these past few days so that you can see why this song would be such a powerful song for me.

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Two Sundays ago, I had what I call a “fatigue episode”. Many of you may already know that I deal with a muscle disease on a daily basis. If not, you could go back and read my article from last July entitled “God and My Muscle Disease,” but make sure that you read the next article entitled, “Holy Spirit Enabled Missionary.” From these articles, you will be able to appreciate the challenges that I face, but also how God has become more real and more special to me.

Anyways, let me tell you about Sunday. In the previous week, the muscles in my legs had become more and more tightly knotted up. This would make it difficult to sleep and so it was getting harder to recharge my internal battery. I was able to take a long afternoon rest on Sunday, but when I woke up, I found that I had great difficulty in getting my arms and legs to move. I had literally “fatigued out”.

So there I was lying in bed and mentally saying, “Okay body, wake up!” First came my left hand, and it was kind of fascinating to watch it wave around. Then I would look at my right hand, and it just lay there. Next came my legs, then both hands, and finally my full arms. It took me over 45 minutes to fully get out of bed. I took it really easy that night and the next day, as it was clear that I had done too much in the previous week and needed to recharge my battery.

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Two days after this, I was able to get my regular massage therapy done on my legs and this has helped tremendously to allow me to rest and sleep better so that my internal battery would not be so run down on the following day. But I must say that the massage sessions are extremely painful as the therapist has to slowly work deep down and muscle by muscle to work out those tight knotted areas.

What I think is really worth sharing though, is the discussion that I had with a colleague of mine on the day after my “fatigue episode” and also with the massage therapist. Both of them wanted to know what I had thought and what I had felt during that time period. I will admit that part of me got worried, but I also had a very interesting conversation with God.

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When I realized that most of my body would not move after I woke up, part of me wondered about the idea of how I would respond if in fact I was paralyzed. And the answer that came immediately to my mind was this: “Well, at least I’m alive.” Then my hand moved, and I thought, “Thank you Lord. At least I have one hand now that works.” And it continued like this until I was finally able to get out of bed.

And so I shared this experience and my thoughts with my colleague and with my therapist. Even now, with all the restrictions and the barriers that this muscle disease has imposed upon my life, I am finding more and more each day that I am thanking and praising the Lord for what I can do, and not focusing in on what I cannot do.

There I was then, three days after having this fatigue episode, and as I was thinking about the Lord the chorus that I included above came to my mind. As Scripture says, our days are numbered and there is nothing that we can do to add to the number of our days. But we can choose what we do with our days. What I think is important is that we realize that we are just passing through this life. In fact, this life is the training ground for how we will spend our lives in eternity.

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I think that it all comes back to the attitude, and it reminds me of the simple poem that says:

Two men stuck behind prison bars;
One saw mud, the other saw stars.

As for me, I choose to be like the second man. How about you?

Blessed Be His Name

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My Attitude Towards Illness

In this article, I will try to express and explain what I think and believe about illness.  This is quite relevant to our family situation, considering that our older boy, Eric, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2002 and had to go through 30 months of chemotherapy, and now I am diagnosed with a degenerative muscle disease that produces pain and fatigue every day, and limits my walking to about 1,000 steps per day (about 700 meters).

Actually, I will limit myself to just share my heart on this matter.  If I tried to attempt to explain pain and suffering, I would simply end up added another book to the already endless mountain of theological and philosophical volumes on this topic.  So I will simply reflect on our situation and intersperse the words to a song that has become more and more meaningful to me.  It is the song “Blessed Be Your Name” by Matt Redman.

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If we go all the way back to the book of Genesis, we see that from the very beginning, God intended that Mankind was meant to interact with and have a full and vibrant relationship with God.  That is the story of Adam and Eve and God in the Garden of Eden.  But when the choice was made to disobey God, then the perfect relationships between God and man, between men, and between mankind and the world was broken.

The consequence of that sin (spiritually), resulted in suffering and death (first physically, and then spiritually).  I believe that from Adam and Eve, right up until you and me today, goodness and perfection was intended for all of us, but inherited sin from the beginning plus our own sins today results in us having only glimpses of this perfection, but more often offers us pain and suffering in this life.

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One of the question I would ask all of us is this: “What should our attitude be, whether we have those moments of pure joy in this world, or if we are experiencing the pain that comes from being a part of this broken world?  Read the first part of Matt Redman’s song:

Blessed be Your name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed be Your name

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I believe that after the fundamental questions have been answered positively (there is a God, and I should submit to His lordship over my life), the second response I think ought to be one of praise and honor to God.  Our suffering is not caused by God (as some think that He does this so that we will become “stronger”), but from a fallen world and sin.

But God loved us so much He did not let us stay in that state of sin.  He sent His own Son, Jesus, to take the full brunt of the penalty and suffering of sin away from us.  Although the spiritual penalty of sin has been removed (eternity in Hell) for those who have faith in Jesus and what He accomplished on the cross, that does not mean that all the physical consequences of sickness and death are finished.

We certainly can rejoice on one hand for the spiritual victory that is ours as true believers in Christ, but the hope for complete physical renewal and the promise of a new heaven and earth will have to remain until the end of time itself.  Reflect on the second part of the song now:

Blessed be Your name
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s ‘all as it should be’
Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

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And that brings me now to this personal question: “How do I respond when my son gets a disease and could have died, and even now suffers from some post-cancer issues?”  And “How do I respond to God with regards to the muscle disease He has “allowed” me to get in these recent years?”  Should I attach my attitudes to my circumstances? (i.e. when all is good, I am happy in life and I like my God, but when things are bad, I am very unhappy and I am mad at God.)

Of course this is not the answer.  That is so ethnocentric: “Why did you do this to me God?”  No, rather than blaming God for the situation, and asking “Why?”, I look to God in the midst of the situation, and ask “How?”  How God do you want me to act or react?  How God are you going to bring out good from this, as you promise in Romans 8:28?  How God can I bring glory and honor back to You in this situation?

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And I recognize that “God sends rain on the just and the unjust”, and so when He give us good things, I say “Thank you.”  And when He allows bad things, I still say “Thank you.”  Its the big picture which counts.  God is still God of the Universe, and He died to save me from my sin.  I will praise Him always:

Every blessing You pour out
I’ll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name

http://www.lyricsbox.com/matt-redman-lyrics-blessed-be-your-name-pfs45jc.html

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And one final word to consider comes from the book of Job.  I don’t think it can be said any more wisely or simpler than this:

“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.”

In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
(Job 1:21-22)

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