Thursday, September 29, 2016

Job 16:10 (ESV)
Men have gaped at me with their mouth;
they have struck me insolently on the cheek;
they mass themselves together against me.
Job 17:1 (ESV)
“My spirit is broken; my days are extinct;
the graveyard is ready for me.

Job 17:14-15 (ESV)
if I say to the pit, ‘You are my father,’
and to the worm, ‘My mother,’ or ‘My sister,’
where then is my hope?
Who will see my hope?

Job’s adversity caused people around him to shun him, and mistreat him. His spirit was broken. He had almost given up hope. Here is a man who had everything. In our day he would be the equivalent of the CEO of a large corporation. He was the man everyone went to for help. Now people spit on him as they walk by. What do you see when you drive past a homeless person? What do you see when you walk by a drunk on the street? Do you ever wonder about who they are, where they have been, and what they have done in life? Or, do you avoid them and walk on?

Over the years, I have had many conversations with those less fortunate than myself. Two thoughts have occurred to me. First, that could be me. If things had just been a little different it could easily be me living on the street with nowhere to call home. At what point would I just give up and stop trying? The second thought that occurred to me is that these are people created in the image of God. They are of value no matter how dirty, how hopeless, or how little motivation they have to change. They are often people with surprising backgrounds, training, and experiences. Sometimes circumstances got the better of them. Sometimes their own choices took them down this road. But, they are people.

It is easy to smell the stench of unwashed clothes and see the dirt of living on the street, and not see the person. How many people who walked by Job saw a man of great wisdom? How many simply saw the sores, and the ashes, and the hopelessness? How would Jesus see him? In Jesus’ day people saw a little, despicable tax man. Jesus saw Zacchaeus and said, “I must stay at your house today,” and “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:1-10). In John 4 when Jesus met the woman at the well, people saw an immoral woman. Jesus saw a broken woman who had value. She became an evangelist to her whole city. When the woman in Luke 7 washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, people saw an immoral woman. Jesus saw brokenness, worship, and faith.

Maybe it is time that we stop looking at others through our own eyes, our own expectations, and our own experience. Maybe it is time to ask God to help us see as Jesus sees. Maybe it is time to see others through eyes of grace instead of judgment. Maybe it is time to make this our daily prayer, “Father help me to see, think, and speak with grace and peace today.” After all, where would we be if he gave us what we deserved?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Job 16:22 (ESV)
[22] For when a few years have come
I shall go the way from which I shall not return.

Job is realizing how short life is. He has almost lost hope. He feels like he is standing on the edge of the grave. It reminds me of Jacob’s words to Pharaoh, “The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life” (Genesis 47:9).  “Few and evil” describes life. When a person is young, 50 or 60 years sound like an eternity. You turn around and realize you are 50 or 60 and wonder how you got there. Life is short.

In pondering how quickly life spins past us we can respond in one of two ways. Paul writes, “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’” (1Cor 15:32). If there is no resurrection; if there is no hope beyond this life, then we respond to the brevity of life by saying, “We need to have as much fun as we can before we get too old to enjoy life.” We need to go for the gusto before we end up like Job and cannot enjoy life anymore. We need to see all the sights, live all the experiences, and do all the things we’ll regret never having done. That’s one response to the brevity of life. Reading Job’s words one might come to that conclusion.

Job 17:11, 14-15 (ESV)
My days are past; my plans are broken off,
the desires of my heart.

if I say to the pit, ‘You are my father,’
and to the worm, ‘My mother,’ or ‘My sister,’
where then is my hope?
Who will see my hope?

But there is another way to respond to the brevity of life. It is what Job clung to all along. It is what many in pain, suffering, or difficulty have come to embrace. That is, no matter what life sends our way, we need to trust God. We need to embrace Paul’s perspective.

Philippians 1:21-23 (ESV)
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

Job’s perspective on life seems to be slipping, yet he trusts God. Looking at life through the lens of the present he is beginning to wonder what value his commitment to God held. He was faithful, yet here he is standing on the threshold of death, living in pain every day. What is the point of that? Of course, what Job could not see was how God would use his story to encourage people to faith for thousands of years after Job was gone. Job could only see the present. He could only feel the pain. He could only live the grief. But he could trust.

He deeply desired to understand why he was facing such difficulty in life. He deeply desired to argue his case before God. He was overwhelmed by the lack of future from his perspective. Yet God had not abandoned him. All his earlier service and dedication had not been forgotten and it had not been in vain. When life is all there is, we opt for, “Let’s party for tomorrow we die.” When our perspective is centered on Christ, we realize that we have all of eternity to experience life. We have but one short life to prepare for eternity. That changes everything.

1 Corinthians 15:19-21, 54b (ESV)
If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”

For the believer, “Death is swallowed up in victory,” and “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” make much better slogans for life than “Go for the gusto.” Our time on earth is short. Our bodies will fail us. Life will disappoint us. We will never experience everything there is to experience or see everything there is to see. But we can live life to its fullest for the glory of God and never regret a day. How will you live your life? 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Job 16:4 (ESV)
I also could speak as you do,
if you were in my place;
I could join words together against you
and shake my head at you.

One of the things that made Job’s comforters “miserable comforters” was their inability to view life through his eyes. That is an extremely difficult thing to do. Most church conflicts are couched in terms of sin versus obedience in some form. Whether we are talking about a difference in theological emphasis, a disagreement over where money should be spent, or what the focus should be in our worship services, we almost always talk about these issues as though they are sin issues. The reality is that they rarely are. They are almost always simply an issue of different people viewing circumstances through different lenses. Unfortunately, we allow our lack of understanding to become a sin issue.

When we fail to recognize this and fail to try to understand how others are thinking, we damage the church and the community. People get angry and leave. People are “disciplined.” People hold grudges. People talk about their frustrations to others. That results in division within the church, and defamation of the church and God outside the church. What was not a sin issue becomes a sin issue.

Job says, “If I were in your place I could say what you are saying.” If he saw life through their eyes he would conclude what they were concluding. The problem is that their eyes were faulty. Almost everyone thinks that they see clearly. They rarely do. What is common sense to us is foreign to others. What is obvious to one makes no sense to another. Grace is needed, but criticism is offered.

In my previous blog on this passage I wrote that we need to be like the Holy Spirit in his role as comforter. We don’t do that well. Rather, we like to play Holy Spirit in his role of searching hearts and convicting of sin. Job’s friends thought they saw things clearly. They thought that they were helping by playing Holy Spirit in Job’s life, but they picked the wrong role. Instead of comforters they were accusers. That never ends well.

My prayer is that I would view others with eyes of grace. I don’t mean that we should overlook sin. But, I am fully aware that what we often call sin may not be sin. It might be hopelessness. It might be despair. It might pain and confusion. It might be a simple lack of understanding or training. If I can look first through eyes of grace everything changes. The same grace that sent my savior to die in my place to offer me undeserved acceptance sent my savior to die in their place as well. Today I choose to look at others through Jesus eyes, because mine aren’t very clear.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Job 16:2, 4 (ESV)
“I have heard many such things;
miserable comforters are you all.

I also could speak as you do,
if you were in my place;
I could join words together against you
and shake my head at you.
Job 17:1 (ESV)
“My spirit is broken; my days are extinct;
the graveyard is ready for me.

Job waxes poetic as he responds to his accusers in chapters 16-17, but in essence he says three things. First, his friends are “miserable comforters.” Second, they clearly do not understand his pain. If he were as comfortable as they are he could say the same things they are saying. Yet their assessment is not accurate. Third, he is realizing how short life is. He has almost lost hope and feels like he is standing on the edge of the grave. Each of these statements are heavy truths that deserve a blog of their own. Let’s think through the first of these three statements.

His friends are miserable comforters. How often we have failed to minister to those who are hurting. True ministry means getting my hands dirty. I would rather stand on the edge of the mud hole and tell you about the mistakes you made that got you there. If I actually get in the mud hole with you to help you get out I might get dirty too. We become self-appointed critics when we should be God-appointed servants. To switch metaphors, we can explain why there is no fruit in your life, but we are not willing to help cultivate, irrigate, and fertilize for healthy growth. And yet, like Job’s friends, we think we are being helpful because we are pointing out he lack of fruit. We call that encouragement. The one we are “helping” calls it criticism.

Job’s friends were miserable comforters. Thankfully, whether others come alongside us or not, Jesus said that he sent us “another comforter.” The Holy Spirit is there to come alongside us, strengthen us, encourage us, and help us to stand even when everyone else feels obligated to tell us why we fell down. What if we, as believers, and as brothers and sisters in Christ, acted more like the Holy Spirit and less like the Accuser of the Brethren? We don’t have to be miserable comforters. Instead of hopelessness we could help bring hope. Instead of grief and pain we could help bring healing. Instead of criticism we could bring real help. We could bring real encouragement rather than patting ourselves on the back for “helping,” when all we’ve really done is criticize.

The three statements mentioned in the first paragraph build on one another. We’ll explore the other two in separate blogs. For now, perhaps it is worth some prayerful introspection to ask God and ourselves, “Am I an encourager, or a critic?” Do we build up, or do we tear down? How do our words affect those around us? May we be more like the Holy Spirit in his role as comforter, and less like the Accuser of the Brethren. May we be more like God and less like Job’s friends.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Job 15:2-5 (ESV)
“Should a wise man answer with windy knowledge,
and fill his belly with the east wind?
Should he argue in unprofitable talk,
or in words with which he can do no good?
But you are doing away with the fear of God
and hindering meditation before God.
For your iniquity teaches your mouth,
and you choose the tongue of the crafty.

Eliphaz is offended by Job’s claims. Job claims to be innocent. Job claims that his friends’ insistence that his pain is rooted in sin is inaccurate. Job desires to argue his case before God rather than men. Eliphaz takes offense at that. “You are doing away with the fear of God,” he insists. “Your iniquity teaches your mouth.” Eliphaz is adamant that Job’s plight is the result of sin, and that his sin is now clouding his judgement, his understanding, and his words.

What is ironic is that Eliphaz own ego is clouding his judgement.
Job 15:17-18 (ESV)
“I will show you; hear me,
and what I have seen I will declare
(what wise men have told,
without hiding it from their fathers,

Eliphaz does what every person does who is convinced that he is right, but can’t defend his position. He appeals to the anonymous “they.” “They say…,” we argue. “People who know about these things believe…,” we say. “Experts agree…,” we defend. Who are “they?” Who are “people?” Who are the “experts?” Eliphaz appeals to the anonymous “wise men,” whoever they are. His words in Job 15 are the words of someone who has been offended because his great wisdom was rejected. The chapter is full of venom and attack. He has nothing good to say about Job. Earlier he tried to help Job by pointing out that there must be some sin in Job’s life. His wisdom was rejected. Now he is hurt, and he is lashing out at Job. “Your iniquity is clouding your judgment,” he says. But, it is Eliphaz’ ego that is clouding his own judgement.

He should be listening better. He accuses Job, “You are doing away with the fear of God
and hindering meditation before God.” But the truth is that Eliphaz is not fearing God nor meditating before him. Eliphaz is relying on his own wisdom. Eliphaz cannot accept the reality that he might be wrong. How often in ministry and in relationships we react with a bruised ego instead of actually listening to others or to God.

Several years ago I preached to a large group of parents and High School graduates. Afterward a friend approached me. “That was a good message,” he said. “But, that verse you used doesn’t say that.” I went back to the verse and took a second look. He was right. The verse I used didn’t say what I claimed it said. I had misused scripture. How do we react when we are challenged? I have not always responded so well. There have been many times when I knew my arguments were weak to start with. When challenged I did exactly what Eliphaz did. I appealed to the anonymous “experts.” I reacted out of a bruised ego. I attacked those who disagreed with me.

Ego is a dangerous thing, especially in ministry. Ego destroys relationships. Ego lashes out at others and causes unnecessary pain. Ego stops listening to either God or man. Ego is about me. Humility, on the other hand, doesn’t need to be right. James wisely counsels, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (Jas 4:10). Just a few verses earlier James quotes from Isaiah, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Jas 4:6). But what is interesting is where that paragraph in James 4 starts. “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you” (James 4:1)? Ego destroys. Self-focused passion tears down. Humility brings healing.

There is Eliphaz, trying to “minister” to Job. But he hasn’t learned to leave his ego at the door. He hasn’t learned that ministry is not about him. It’s not about being right. It’s not about winning. It is about listening, caring, and selfless service. How much damage ego does! How much better to embrace the attitude of Jesus himself.

Philippians 2:5-8 (ESV)
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

I love Kate B. Wilkinson’s words which she wrote sometime before 1913:
May the mind of Christ, my Savior,
 Live in me from day to day,
 By His love and power controlling
 All I do and say.

May that be true of me today.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Job 13:5, 15 (ESV)
[5] Oh that you would keep silent,
and it would be your wisdom!

[15] Though he slay me, I will hope in him;
yet I will argue my ways to his face.

Why is it that we think we have to defend God? That is essentially what Job’s friends have been doing. He tells them that they would be better off not speaking. His hope is in God, yet he desires direct access to God in order to argue his case. What follows is Job’s case against God. He accuses his friends of judging with partiality. They have decided that God is right before even hearing Job’s argument.
Job 13:7-10 (ESV)
Will you speak falsely for God
and speak deceitfully for him?
Will you show partiality toward him?
Will you plead the case for God?
Will it be well with you when he searches you out?
Or can you deceive him, as one deceives a man?
He will surely rebuke you
if in secret you show partiality.

Job argues that their partiality in the case is unnecessary and wrong. God doesn’t need us to defend him. He doesn’t need us to tip the balance of justice in his favor. That is not to say that we don’t present arguments for what we believe. Peter wrote, “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). According to Peter, we should be ready with an answer or defense for our hope. But notice that the answer is to be given in gentleness and respect.” I am afraid that we have been better at having answers than at showing gentleness and respect. 

Job’s friends would have been better off to remain silent. God’s response to them at the end of Job demonstrates that Job was correct. God didn’t need them to unjustly defend him. He was quite capable of handling Job’s arguments himself. There is a lesson for us here. Proverbs 17:28 says, “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” Proverbs 11:12 warns, “Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.” Job’s friends would have done well to heed the wisdom of these proverbs.

I’ll never forget one of my seminary profs telling the story of a class he was taking. His professor was railing against Christians and Christianity. Then she turned to him and demanded that he defend his position. His response was one of gentleness and respect. He said, “Someone must have hurt you deeply in the past to make you so angry with God.” He knew that he didn’t need to defend God. God is quite capable of doing that himself. He didn’t need to tip the scales of justice in God’s favor. That would have only fueled the fire. His response of gentleness and respect took the wind out of her sails.

It makes me wonder if we have been so quick to defend God that we have failed to let people see God in us. Maybe we need to defend God less, and emulate God more. Maybe, if we stopped trying to tip the scales of justice in God’s favor, and just cared for those who are struggling with God we might be more effective in pointing people to him. Yes, we need to be ready with a defense for the reason of our hope, but we need to wait for them to ask, and we need to provide our answer with gentleness and respect. I don’t think we do that very well. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

I was just reading Job 13-14 this morning when Job 14:10-12 caught my eye.
But a man dies and is laid low;
man breathes his last, and where is he?
As waters fail from a lake
and a river wastes away and dries up,
so a man lies down and rises not again;
till the heavens are no more he will not awake
or be roused out of his sleep.

There is hopelessness in these verses. Earlier in chapter 14 Job referred to the brevity of life.
“Man who is born of a woman
is few of days and full of trouble.
He comes out like a flower and withers;
he flees like a shadow and continues not (Job 14:1-2).

Life is short and painful, and then we die. That pretty much sums it up. But my mind went to 1 Corinthians 15
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1Cor 15:55-57).

Jesus changes everything. The hopelessness of death is turned to victory. The sting of death is removed. The death and resurrection of our savior moved us from death into life. So, today it is dark, damp, and drear out my window. My wife is away from a few days. I’m tired because I was up late finishing a paper I needed to write. It’s time to leave for my office and I still need to fix breakfast. But today, I celebrate life. The empty grave is my victory. Just the thought of that leaves a smile on your face. Think on it.