Saturday, October 22, 2016

Job 27:6-8 (ESV)
I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go;
my heart does not reproach me for any of my days.
“Let my enemy be as the wicked,
and let him who rises up against me be as the unrighteous.
For what is the hope of the godless when God cuts him off,
when God takes away his life?”

Job 28:28 (ESV)
And he said to man,
“Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
and to turn away from evil is understanding.”

In Job 27-28 Job argues the value of maintaining his integrity based on two premises. The first is that the prosperity of the wicked will not last. Chapter 27 builds that part of the argument. “What is the hope of the godless when God cuts him off?” (Job 27:8). He had argued earlier that life was unjust because the virtuous experienced suffering and loss, while the wicked prospered. But that is the narrow perspective. Here Job zooms out for a broader perspective. Here he realizes that the wicked never prosper forever. Death is the end of their prosperity. No one grieves their loss. The wealth they left behind is lost. In the long run, the wicked never prosper. Their wealth, comfort, and ease is short-lived. Taking a big picture view of life from an eternal perspective changes everything. It reminds me of the old chorus by Alfred B. Smith.

With eternity's values in view, Lord.
With eternity's values in view;
May I do each day's work for Jesus
With eternity's values in view.

Job’s first premise is that an eternal perspective changes everything. The prosperity of the wicked will not last. His integrity will be rewarded in the end. His second premise is that wisdom is found only in fearing God, and that understanding leads to turning away from evil. He argues that man has contrived ways to explore parts of the earth that no other creature has explored or seen, yet we have not found wisdom. We have collected the wealth of precious stones, gold, coral, and pearls, yet none of it can purchase wisdom. No matter how much wealth we acquire, nor how deep we explore, the place where wisdom is hidden will never be found. Only God knows that place. Wisdom cannot be purchased nor discovered. It is found in fearing God.

Because an eternal perspective on life changes everything, and wisdom is found only in God, therefore no matter what injustices we experience, there is value in maintaining our integrity. The Grass Roots recorded a song entitled Live For Today back in 1967. The song contained some wisdom, but it’s conclusion was faulty. Here are some of the lyrics:

We were never meant to worry
The way that people do

That part of the song is true, but their conclusion is faulty.

And I don't mean to hurry
As long as I'm with you
We'll take it nice and easy
And use my simple plan
You'll be my lovin' woman
I'll be your lovin' man
We'll take the most from living
Have pleasure while we can
(Two, three, four!)
Sha la la la la la live for today
Sha la la la la la live for today
And don't worry 'bout tomorrow, hey
Sha la la la la la live for today (live for today)

Their answer to the worries of life was to narrow their view even further. If a perspective that looks to tomorrow is filled with worry and fear, then we should only be concerned about the moment. That is a philosophy of life that is widely perpetuated today. I heard that sentiment repeated several times just last night. The solution to the problems of life is to ignore them and live only for the moment without thinking about the consequences. That sounds right when only two options are presented, worry or live for the moment. But there is a third option; we can take a broader perspective. When we zoom out to an eternal perspective instead of zooming in to a live for the moment perspective we find two truths. First, there is no reason to worry. Life is only a small part of eternity. Second, there is no reason to abandon our integrity. Eternity is coming, and wisdom is found in God, not in the moment. With an eternal perspective we can make the most of every moment knowing that we will one day see the God of all wisdom and understanding.

So, here are our choices: We can live with eternities values in view. We can live for the moment. We can live worrying about the future. I’ll take option one. How will you live?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Job 26:1-4 (NIV)
Then Job replied:
“How you have helped the powerless!
How you have saved the arm that is feeble!
What advice you have offered to one without wisdom!
And what great insight you have displayed!
Who has helped you utter these words?
And whose spirit spoke from your mouth?

I sense a bit of sarcasm in Job’s words as he begins chapter 26. There is some frustration with his friends. They claim that they came to comfort, but there is no comfort in their words. They have helped no one. They have expounded their own wisdom, expressed their own experiences, and concluded what their own faulty theology led them to believe. In the process of talking about the justice of God, they lost sight of his greatness. In the process of explaining Job’s sin, they lost sight of his suffering. In the process of justifying their own perspective, they lost sight of why they were there. So where does Job turn?

Job 26:11-14 (NIV)
The pillars of the heavens quake,
aghast at his rebuke.
By his power he churned up the sea;
by his wisdom he cut Rahab to pieces.
By his breath the skies became fair;
his hand pierced the gliding serpent.
And these are but the outer fringe of his works;
how faint the whisper we hear of him!
Who then can understand the thunder of his power?”

Job turns to the power and greatness of the Almighty. Job’s friends mentioned God’s greatness, but they gave it a different spin. Job’s comforters claimed that because God is almighty, therefore two things must be true: 1. No one can possibly be righteous before him. 2. Job cannot escape his judgment. Job acknowledges the first idea earlier, but firmly rejects the second. His hope is in his redeemer. Job’s take on the greatness of God is that one-day God will set things right. Therefore, Job will never deny him, nor speak deceitfully.

Job 27:2-4 (ESV)
“As God lives, who has taken away my right,
and the Almighty, who has made my soul bitter,
as long as my breath is in me,
and the spirit of God is in my nostrils,
my lips will not speak falsehood,
and my tongue will not utter deceit.

Job does not understand what he is experiencing. He wants to argue his case before God. He is confused by what is happening, yet nothing can shake his resolve to trust the God he cannot see. By the end of the book Job will not only know about the greatness of God, he will have seen it. But for now, it is enough that he believes in the greatness of God. He finds hope in that truth.

Too often we let the pain of our experiences, and the voices of our accusers convince us. What we need to do is to take time to look up from our pain and see the glory of God. Job talks about the greatness of God as revealed in the world around him. He then concludes, “And these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him!” (Job 26:14). We need to listen for the whispers of his greatness. We need to watch for the “outer fringe of his works.”

When was the last time you stopped to just look around you and see the glory of God? You can see him in a sunrise, or in a flower. You can see him even in the devastation of a storm. The God who can stir up a wind that can snap an oak tree, topple man’s greatest constructions, or wash away an island, is the God who sees you, hears you, and watches over you.

We may not understand the pain. With Job, we might feel confused and bewildered by the chain of events in our lives. We may not be able to see any hope for the future. But we can see glimpses of God’s glory if we look for them. They remind us that the world is bigger than we are and that God is bigger than the world. It’s not really about us at all. Today may our vision be filled with the glory of God, and may that be enough. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Job 25:4 (ESV)
How then can man be in the right before God?
How can he who is born of woman be pure?

By the time we get to Job 25 Eliphaz has tried to convince Job of his sin three times. Bildad and Zophar have each given it a try twice. Now, in six short verses, Bildad wraps up their attack by concluding that Job must be wrong because it is impossible for anyone to be right before God. He is correct. How can anyone be right before God? Yet, he doesn’t really solve the issue. For Job it is not an issue of whether he deserves what he has, but an issue of justice. Why does he get pain while those even more wicked get pleasure?

Eliphaz made that argument as Bildad back in chapter 4, and again in chapter 15. Job acknowledged that truth in chapter 9. The Psalmist acknowledged that same truth in Psalms 143:2 where he writes, “For no one living is righteous before you.” This is not a wrong statement. We often hear, “What did I do to deserve this?” The reality is that we all deserve worse than we get. That is why a heart of gratitude is so important. It doesn’t answer the question of injustice, but it does raise a valid question. How is it possible for anyone to be right before God? Psalms 130:3 asks it like this,
If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?

Therein lies the Good News. “If you should mark iniquity, who could stand?” Our goodness, our righteousness is never found in ourselves. Moses wrote, in Psalms 90:8,
You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.

There is nothing hid from God. With him there is no such thing as secret sins. Thankfully Psalm 130 does not stop with the question, “Who could stand?” It goes on to say,
Psalms 130:4-6a (ESV)
But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.
I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord

Job understood this. He agreed with Bildad and Eliphaz back in Job 9:2 when he asked, “How can a man be right before God?” But he also understood, “I know that my redeemer lives” (Job 19:25). If God were only just we would all perish. Thankfully he is also merciful. When I begin to realize that because of Christ I will never receive from God what I deserve, I am overwhelmed. I am reminded of the gospel chorus Why Should He Love Me So?

Love sent my savior to die in my stead;
Why should He love me so?
Meekly to Calvary's cross He was led;
Why should He love me so?

Nails pierced His hands and His feet for my sin;
He suffered sore my salvation to win
Meekly to Calvary's cross He was led
Why should He love me so?

O how He agonised there in my place
Nothing witholding my sin to efface
Meekly to Calvary's cross He was led
Why should He love me so?

I am grateful that because of Christ I don’t get what I deserve. The good news is that God will accept us, not because we are good enough, but because Jesus took our sin. Believe it. Job understood that. His friends didn’t get it. Do you?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Job 24:1 (ESV)
“Why are not times of judgment kept by the Almighty,
and why do those who know him never see his days?

In chapter 24 Job continues to wrestle with the injustice of life. Those who are walking in sin, injustice, and selfishness seem to get away with it, while those who know God never see his blessing. Of course it is an overstatement. Not all of the wicked live in luxury. Not all of those who know God live in pain and want. But Job’s question is valid. Why do the wicked get away with their wickedness?

A primary idea in this chapter is Job’s description of wickedness. He gives very little time to what we would call wicked. Toward the end of the chapter he mentions thieves, murderers, and adulterers, but most of the chapter is given to societal injustice. The wealthy fail to care for the poor. For many believers in our culture that would be considered a second-tier sin. It is not as important as stealing, killing, and committing sexual sins. Those are the really big ones. Job sees issues of justice as primary. It is wrong for the wealthy to be comfortable while the poor starve and freeze. It is wrong for the powerful to use their positions of power to take advantage of the less powerful. White collar crime is given more attention than the crimes of the poor.

Job 24:2-3 (ESV)
Some move landmarks;
they seize flocks and pasture them.
They drive away the donkey of the fatherless;
they take the widow’s ox for a pledge.

These are descriptions of those with wealth and power taking advantage of the poor in order to increase their own wealth. This is wrong. This is not political for two reasons. First, this is not about developing new government programs. Government programs allow the wealthy to continue abusing their wealth and power while providing a program that makes them feel like they are helping. All they are really doing is creating dependence. Second, this is not political because both major political parties are populated by the wealthy. Many of them have gotten where they are by taking advantage of others. This is not political; this is basic ethics. This is about loving our neighbor. This is about demonstrating the grace and love of God to others. This is about remembering that we are all created in the image of God.

Our wealth is not for our consumption, but for our service. 2 Corinthians 9:11 says, “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way” (ESV). God’s blessing and provision are not for our own consumption, but in order to give us opportunities to demonstrate his own generosity. God’s overwhelming mercy caused him to love us when we were unlovable. It caused Jesus to die for us “while we were yet sinners” (Rom 5:8). That same overwhelming compassion ought to characterize his people. Yes, God hates sin. Yes, stealing, killing, and sexual sins are evil. But maybe we have so focused on those sins that we have missed a greater sin. We have lived lives of comfort and ease off the pain and suffering of others.

Job is desperately confused by the injustices of life. Why does God allow the wealthy and powerful to continue taking advantage of the poor and powerless? Job finds his answer in the brevity of life.

Job 24:24 (ESV)
They are exalted a little while, and then are gone;
they are brought low and gathered up like all others;
they are cut off like the heads of grain.

Not even the wealthy and powerful can escape death. Let’s be honest. We are the wealthy and powerful. As little as I make, I haven’t missed a meal. I have a dry home and a warm bed. Compared to much of the world, what I possess makes me extremely wealthy. I don’t need to feel guilty for my wealth, but I do need to make sure that I am using it for God’s glory and not just wantonly wasting it on my own personal comfort. It makes me wonder what life would look like if we lived with eternity in view instead of trying to get all our happiness here and now. This reminds me of the chorus by Alfred B. Smith. May that be my attitude today.

With eternity's values in view, Lord.
With eternity's values in view;
May I do each day's work for Jesus
With eternity's values in view.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Job 23:10 (ESV)
But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.

Job is still contending that he is innocent. He desires to argue his case before God, yet he cannot find God. He searched for God. He called for God. He cried for God, but he cannot find him. He firmly believes that if only he could present his case before the throne of the Almighty he would be vindicated. On the other hand, Job fears God greatly.

Job 23:15-17 (ESV)
Therefore I am terrified at his presence;
when I consider, I am in dread of him.
God has made my heart faint;
the Almighty has terrified me;
yet I am not silenced because of the darkness,
nor because thick darkness covers my face.

Job’s friends assume that because he is defending his innocence and desiring to present his case to God, he therefore has no fear of God. Yet that is hardly the case. Job does not understand why these things are happening to him. He feels that if only he could present his case he would be guiltless. Yet his fear of God has never diminished. Job desires to approach the unapproachable God. What motivates Job’s desire to present his case to a fearsome God is his faith in the character of God.

Job is absolutely convinced of two additional truths. First, Job is convinced that even though he cannot find God, God “knows the way that I take” (Job 23:10a). The omniscience of God is comforting to Job. He cannot find God, yet God knows right where Job is and what is happening to him. Not only does God know, but God is watching over him. That brings us to the second truth: Job is convinced that he will come out of this trial like purified gold. “When he has tried me, I shall come out as gold” (Job 23:10b). That sounds an awful lot like 1Peter.

1 Peter 1:6-8 (ESV)
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,

This may not answer the why question that Job is wrestling with, but it gives hope. Whatever I am facing, whatever pain, or difficulty, or oppression, or opposition, or even persecution we face as believers, we know two things. God is watching. Nothing escapes his view. And, we will come through the trial like purified gold.

Trials aren’t fun. No one prays for more difficulty in life. Yet it is just that which God uses to burn off the dross in our lives and purify our faith. It reminds me of the old chorus:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace
Helen Howarth Lemmel

The challenge, of course, is to turn our eyes upon Jesus when we cannot see him. That was Job’s conundrum. Sometimes, with Job, we can only see him through eyes of faith. And so we hold firmly to this one truth: “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold” (Job 23:10).

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Job 22:15-16 (ESV)
Will you keep to the old way
that wicked men have trod?
They were snatched away before their time;
their foundation was washed away.

Eliphaz responds to Job in chapter 22 by saying that clearly Job is a wicked man. If only he would repent, then God would restore his wealth. To make his argument he recalls the flood of Noah’s time. “Will you keep to the old way?” The old way was the way of wickedness, violence, and rebellion that led to the destruction of the earth through a flood. “Their foundation was washed away.” Eliphaz’s assessment of the past is accurate. His application to Job’s life is flawed. His own presuppositions led him to misuse and misapply truth.

Eliphaz queries, “Is it for your fear of him that he reproves you and enters into judgment with you” (Job 22:4 ESV)? He is suggesting that Job does not fear God (see verses 12-14). Job’s pain and suffering must be an attempt by God to teach Job to fear him. If only he feared God more he wouldn’t be such a great sinner. If only he feared God more he wouldn’t be experiencing God’s judgment. The problem is that he is putting words in God’s mouth. For God the issue has nothing to do with whether Job fears him. It has everything to do with proving Job’s faithfulness to the accuser.

Eliphaz spoke truth wrongly applied. How often we do that! Truth needs to be coupled with discernment. Proverbs 4:7 says, “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.” Eliphaz failed to get insight. He failed to use discernment. Further, truth needs to be understood in the proper context. Naomi told Ruth to go down to the threshing floor, observe where Boaz lay down to sleep, and then go uncover his feet and lie down for the night. There is some cultural and historical context to that passage that we may not understand, but it is hardly good advice for a young woman looking for a husband today. Can you imagine a mother suggesting to her daughter that the way for her daughter to find a husband is to find out where he is sleeping and lie at his feet all night? That it is truth taken out of context.

Cults take truth out of context. False teachers take truth out of context. Abusive leaders take truth out of context. Biblical believers cannot afford to do that. We must be diligent to handle God’s word accurately (see 2 Tim 2:15). Truth needs to be properly applied. To do that truth needs to be coupled with discernment and understood in its proper context. Further, we need to make sure that we are actually speaking truth, and not just our perception of truth.

The Holy Spirit who inspired every word of the scriptures is the same Holy Spirit who dwells within every believer. He is the same Holy Spirit that Jesus said would lead us into all truth (John 16:13). Rather than assuming that we know the truth, we need to make this our daily prayer, “Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long” (Ps 25:5 ESV). Maybe if Job’s friends had understood this, they would have turned out to be better friends.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Job 21:1-2, 34 (ESV)
Then Job answered and said:
“Keep listening to my words,
and let this be your comfort.”

How then will you comfort me with empty nothings?
There is nothing left of your answers but falsehood.”

In Job’s frustration with what he perceives as injustice, he cries out to his friends, “Keep listening to my words, and let this be your comfort.” He needed friends who would be a non-anxious presence in his life while he wrestled with his pain, and his perception of the inequities of life. Their own anxiety pushed them to defend their theological positions with increasing insensitivity. Job just needed them to listen to him.

Job 21:7-9, 28-30, 34 (ESV)
[7] Why do the wicked live,
reach old age, and grow mighty in power?
[8] Their offspring are established in their presence,
and their descendants before their eyes.
[9] Their houses are safe from fear,
and no rod of God is upon them.

[28] For you say, ‘Where is the house of the prince?
Where is the tent in which the wicked lived?’
[29] Have you not asked those who travel the roads,
and do you not accept their testimony
[30] that the evil man is spared in the day of calamity,
that he is rescued in the day of wrath?

[34] How then will you comfort me with empty nothings?
There is nothing left of your answers but falsehood.”

What do you do when your theology doesn’t fit with your reality? That is the question Job is wrestling with. His theology tells him that the wicked are judged and the righteous prosper. His reality is just the opposite. As a righteous man, he is suffering while he watches the wicked around him prosper. When our theology doesn’t fit our apparent reality we tend to respond in a couple of ways. We reinterpret reality. “They may look like they are prospering, but deep down they are miserable.” We don’t know that, but it feels like an answer that allows us to not think too deeply about life. It makes us feel okay. “I’m miserable, but deep down I have the joy of the Lord somewhere. They look happy, but deep down they are miserable.” Our theology is still intact and we feel like we have provided an answer. All we have really done is reinterpret reality.

Job’s friends reinterpreted their reality. They chose to look no further than a few examples in life that seemed to justify their position. Job challenged them on this. Notice what Job asked his friends in Job 21:29-33.
Have you not asked those who travel the roads,
and do you not accept their testimony
that the evil man is spared in the day of calamity,
that he is rescued in the day of wrath?
Who declares his way to his face,
and who repays him for what he has done?
When he is carried to the grave,
watch is kept over his tomb.
The clods of the valley are sweet to him;
all mankind follows after him,
and those who go before him are innumerable.

Essentially Job is saying, “Don’t you actually look around and see the world? Do you just create these ideas out of thin air? Don’t you talk to people who have seen more of the world than you have?” Their perception of reality is not real. How often have we decided that things are a certain way simply because that supports our teaching or our theology? We reinterpret reality and sit in smug self-righteousness. All the while people like Job are falling apart around us, and we blame them.

We can reinterpret reality. We can also can refine our theology. Job’s friends did this as well. They tweaked their theology and their understanding of their world by saying, “God stores up their iniquity for their children” (Job 21:19 ESV). So now, instead of saying that bad things happen to bad people, they are saying that bad things happen to bad people’s children. It doesn’t really solve the problem. They have no evidence to support this idea. If they were to look around, they would realize that even the children of bad people are not experiencing God’s judgment. On top of that, Job asks why bad people would care about what happens to their children as long as their own life is comfortable. Their tweaked theology makes them feel justified in their assessment of Job’s condition. It does nothing to help Job.

We do not need to be afraid of people asking hard questions. We do not need to feel anxious and begin defending our theology at all costs when someone challenges us. Much damage has been done because we react to people instead of listening to them. Much damage has been done because we have failed to be honest about the difficult questions in life, settling for canned answers and easy solutions that satisfy only ourselves, but fail to enter into the pain of those around us.

What Job needed was not answers, but someone who cared. He needed friends who would be a non-anxious presence in his life while he wrestled with his pain, and his perception of the inequities of life. Their own anxiety pushed them to defend their theological positions with increasing insensitivity. Job just needed them to listen to him. Jesus did not say, “Always have an answer that readily fixes people.” What he did say was that we should love God and love others. In our anxiety we fail to do either. If we can trust that God is at work in an individual’s life, then we can lay aside our anxiety and love them instead of trying to fix them. To do that we need to be okay with not having all the answers.

Peter wrote that we should “always being prepared to make a defense (or answer) to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” But he went on to qualify that by saying that we should, “do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:15). He didn’t say that we need to be ready with an answer to every question that people have. Nor did he say that we need to be ready to defend God. He did say that we need to demonstrate gentleness and respect.

We ought to have an answer for the hope that we have in Christ. We do not need to have canned answers for every question people have in life. The reality is that we need to be okay with not having all the answers. We need to be okay with not being God. We need to trust him more than we need to defend him. When we trust him then we can love people even when they ask hard questions for which we have no ready answers. If only Job’s friends had learned that.