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What is my Future?

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And God said, “I will be with you.”   Exodus 3:11-12a

Our devotional this week is brought by Mr. Reagan Witten, a student at UMHB’s McLane College of Business.

For many of us, uncertainty over our future careers is a prevailing condition.  Unfortunately, it also tends to be stressful. Should I take that transfer opportunity I was offered? Is it time to polish my resume and test the market?  Should I take a chance and start my own business? Whatever I do, will I regret my decision?

One of God’s greatest Old Testament servants faced this same uncertainty.  Moses’ early years were defined by his Egyptian upbringing and being groomed for leadership.  But after murdering an Egyptian in defense of an Israelite (see Exodus 2), Moses had to flee to the desert and wound up tending sheep for his new father-in-law. There, under the desert sun, Moses may well have wondered whether standing up for the defenseless was the right career move.

God’s next opportunity for Moses would be presented in the burning bush experience (partly recorded in our text for today), producing a whole new round of uncertainty. Moses was being offered a promotion by God. But, like any such offer, the proposition of being given greater responsibility can bring feelings of inadequacy and fear of failure. Moses, however, overcomes his fear with an act of faith.  The Lord doesn’t immediately reveal to him the details of His planned deliverance of the Israelites but Moses proceeds with the task, regardless of the uncertainty.

Though God might not appear to you in flame-engulfed shrubbery, He can still offer us opportunities in mysterious ways, if we are willing to listen. The stress we can feel when we face an uncertain future may bring anxiety with it. But God makes us promises, just as He did Moses.

Take a lesson from Moses. Trust the Lord and His faithfulness when thinking about how your future will look. He will be with you.  Ask the Lord for His wisdom and trust in His plan for you. You may even have your own, personal Exodus, and might even lead some of God’s people along the way.

The Gifts of Our Trials

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:1-4

This week’s devotional is brought to us by Ms. Baylee Smith, a senior at the McLane College of Business. 

Two years ago, my uncle lost a two-year fight with cancer. We knew it was inevitable, but that knowledge didn’t make his passing any easier for our family.

Shortly after he died, a woman reached out to us claiming to be his long-lost daughter. After some investigation and communication, we learned that it was true! My uncle had a child he never even knew about. This discovery added even more sadness to a season that was already painful.

Thankfully, most people don’t face this particular story of loss. But all of us have trials in our lives. Even just as people working in the world, we face trials like termination, furlough, layoffs, on-the-job injuries, or just harsh criticisms that can leave us feeling defeated and produce emotional scars.

Saint James warned us we might face trials. Those trials can take all manner of forms. But, at the same time, James encouraged us to rejoice in the gifts the Lord may give us through those trials. They can build perseverance in us, make us mature, and fill up our spiritual tool bags until we are “not lacking anything”.

So what do we do with those mournful experiences?

The pain of our trials is real. But if we approach them with faith, we can receive great gifts even in the middle of them. We can gain the promised perseverance, confidence in our faith, maturity, and, sometimes, new people to love.

I am still mourning the loss of my uncle. But what was once an experience almost too painful to speak about has become a point of praise in my life. I learned I had a cousin and she has become a tremendous blessing for our family. Although she never met him, she has many of my uncle’s attributes that remind us of him fondly and unexpectedly.

Not all of the gifts of our trials are as tangible as my “new” cousin. But God has something for us in the midst of these trials, and they can help transform us into the very image of Christ.

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.  Matthew 6:34

Our devotional this week is brought to us by Ms. Alejandra Tristan, a student at the McLane College of Business.

Day after day, many of us remain firmly focused on our next step in life. When can I take my next holiday break? When will this job come to an end? When and how can I move up in this organization? Some of us are so fixated on the future, we completely fail to enjoy our current position in life.

It’s not a surprise.  Many of us were raised in this manner of thinking.  We were taught to go, go, go and to keep reaching for the next rung on the ladder. Few of us received equal encouragement to “stop and smell the roses”.

Our culture of striving for success has produced a new kind of anxiety – uncertainty about what is next for us.  We may be confident that we will be safe, satisfied, and well supported in the future.  But the simple anxiety of not knowing when we will reach a new level of accomplishment can put us in anguish.

While we could be enjoying today, we are instead busy making plans for tomorrow.  Sometimes, our minds are so set on the future that we even fail to enjoy the moment that we planned so heavily for in the past! When that future moment arrives, instead of enjoying it, we are already anxiously awaiting new moments ahead.  

With all its negative consequences, one gift of the COVID-19 experience has been the disruption of some of our plans. During quarantine, some of my friends told me about how their family dinners have made them so much better connected with the ones they love. They met around the table, forgetting the bustle of their go, go, go lifestyle, and took time to focus on family, just being together and enjoying the moment.

Our Scripture today reminds us that, as we walk (not run) through life, we will be blessed to limit ourselves to the anxieties of the day, and leave tomorrow’s anxieties for tomorrow.

He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted. Isaiah 61:1b

Our Devotional this week is brought to us by the UMHB Dean of Spiritual Life and University Chaplain, Jason Palmer.

The recent months have included no shortage of suffering for many. The scope of the painful experiences has been broad and the manifestations diverse. Many of us know people whose circumstances have tested their resiliency. Such tests remind us that the human condition is frail—that none of us are immune from shattering under the right combination of stressors.

We didn’t need a pandemic to show us human frailty.  Every workplace is a collection of x people, with x examples of brokenness.  Every family too.  The brokenness of the people around us may fall into recognized “Human Resources” categories but everybody’s individual hang ups are unique. 

Historical trends predict some of our very best efforts at dealing with our own brokenness will fail.  However, this forecast doesn’t lessen the sting that accompanies the moment of fragmentation. A decision point looms as we stare at the pieces: where do we go from here?

The Prophet Isaiah pointed believers to the One “sent…to heal the brokenhearted” because the process employed by the Messiah is instructive and leaves the object of healing better than it started. There is a Japanese art form called kintsugi that illustrates Christ’s work beautifully. Pottery that has been unintentionally or intentionally broken is skillfully repaired using lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum. The restored piece is often more beautiful, useful, and valuable than the original—set apart from its peers with a captivating testimony about redemption.

Jesus knows every detail of the hurt that exists in our families and communities. He takes the time to study the intricacies of each fracture and regularly binds up damage others assess to be hopeless. 

Take heart this week as you interact with people and projects that are cracked—that have little resemblance to their five-year plan.  God is still in the business of rejoining broken hearts. He sees with perfect compassion. May we trust that He is working in this fallen world to demonstrate His unique ability to redeem that which seems beyond repair.

You have made people like the fish in the sea, like the sea creatures that have no ruler.
The wicked foe pulls all of them up with hooks,
 he catches them in his net,
he gathers them up in his dragnet;
 and so he rejoices and is glad.
Therefore he sacrifices to his net
 and burns incense to his dragnet,
for by his net he lives in luxury
 and enjoys the choicest food.  Habakkuk 1:14-16

It is important in any line of business to identify the critical success factors.  You can manage your heart out but if you focus your attention on managing the wrong factors the company will move in unpredictable and uncontrolled directions.  In education, we track enrollment and retention.  In banking, we track credit spreads and default rates.  In retail we track turnover and gross margin.  There are lots of other metrics that are worthy of management, including for these industries, but you get the idea.

Once we identify the factors we have to manage to ensure success, we keep a careful focus on them.  We track them every week.  We forecast them every quarter.  We lay awake at night wondering how they will turn out.  I think it is safe to say we often obsess over those factors. 

As individuals within the company, or in any environment, we like to identify the major sources of our success also.  We learn how to manage the boss so that we stay on her good side.  If we have a single client who makes up a big percentage of our revenue, we keep careful tabs on that client.  We worry about those people.  We curry favor with them.  We obsess.  At some point, it begins to look a lot like worship.

Its natural.  We see those people as having control over our lives and it would appear to be true.  Whether I am able to keep paying my mortgage or have to ask my family for a loan Is in the hands of that major client.  Whether I have a good day, or a good month, or get relocated to Timbuktu is in the hands of my boss.  No wonder we worship them.  We see them as controlling our lives in the same way the ancient Hebrews thought the Baals controlled the rain and the crops. 

If only we stopped to consider how much bigger and how much more in control of our lives the Lord is.  Our God is god over our bosses.  Our God is god over all our clients.  He is god over whether we have good days or bad.  He is God over whether we are rich or poor.  And He is god over so much more than those weak people we fear so much. 

The next time you start to feel yourself obsessing over the affections of your boss, your clients, or whoever looks like they are pulling the strings in your life, look up.  Those strings go all the way to heaven and the only one pulling them is the God who loves you so.