Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Job 4:5 (ESV)
[5] But now it has come to you, and you are impatient;
it touches you, and you are dismayed.

In Job 2 Job’s friends came and sat with him for a week without saying a word. They grieved his pain with him. In chapter 3 Job finally speaks, decrying the day of his birth. He is expressing his pain. One of his friends, Eliphaz, responds to Job’s words in chapters 4-5. Eliphaz speaks out of an experience he had with a spirit. There is really nothing he says that is completely wrong. Before God there is really no one righteous. We are born for trouble. If you would seek God, he would bring healing into your life. The only thing I can see wrong with Eliphaz words is the assumption and implication that Job has not been seeking God adequately.

It is easy for our theology to lead us to wrong conclusions based on assumptions about someone’s heart, motives, or thoughts. Our lack of discernment causes us to judge when we should care, and care when we should judge. Eliphaz theology is experience based. A spirit came to him in the night and spoke to him. Was the spirit a demon, an angel, or God himself. We don’t know. The spirit spoke truth. It raised the question, “Can mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker” (Job 4:17 ESV)? It’s a valid question. The implied answer is that we cannot be pure before our maker. Of course it’s not quite accurate, for our maker can declare us pure. Twice in the first two chapters God called Job “blameless and upright” (Job 1:8; 2:3).

Eliphaz assumption is that if Job is suffering then he must not have been seeking God adequately. The truth is, bad things happen to people whom God has declared righteous. Eliphaz’s theology is accurate as far as it goes. There is no one good or righteous in themselves. We live in a world where every baby born is bent toward sin. Our world is broken and so are we. Yet those who believe him are declared righteous, not because we are good, but because he is good; not because we are better than anyone else, but because his perfect son took our sin upon himself on the cross in order to give us his righteousness. The cross impacts in two directions. It covers the sins of those who went before Jesus and the sins of those who come after. Our righteousness if found in Christ.

Why do bad things happen to “good” people? Eliphaz is right; there are no good people. None of us, in ourselves, deserves God’s blessings. That is what makes grace so great. Yet Eliphaz is wrong; pain does not imply sin. Difficulties in life do not necessarily indicate rebellion. Crying out to God in our pain does not equal sin. We need to be careful not to assume that if bad things are happening then there must be unconfessed sin in someone’s life. Maybe God has a higher purpose that we don’t comprehend. Job’s pain wasn’t really about Job. Ultimately it accomplished two things. First, it proved to Satan that God’s assessment of Job was correct. Second, it demonstrated that God is greater than we imagine. The book ends with Job encountering God on a level he had never experienced before.

Eliphaz assumed that Job’s pain was discipline in the sense of punishment. Actually it was discipline in the sense of training. That is the idea in Hebrews 12. We often read it as though it is talking about punishment. God punishes us because he loves us. But that’s not really the sense of the word discipline in Hebrews. Rather, it carries the idea of training like the discipline of training in sports.
Hebrews 12:5-7 (ESV)
[5] And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline (training) of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
[6] For the Lord disciplines (trains) the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
[7] It is for discipline (training) that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline (train)?

In Job God is training Job. He is not punishing him. Be careful to distinguish between the two. Too much damage has been done in the name of Christ, truth, and holiness because we have failed to discern the difference between God’s training and God’s punishment. That, I believe, is where Eliphaz went wrong. Let’s not make the same mistake. Let’s not add wounds to the pain of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Rather, may we be like the good Samaritan in Luke 10:34. He bound up the wounds of the injured man, pouring on oil for soothing, and wine for healing. May we be healers, not ones who inflict further wounds in the lives of those who are hurting.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Job 3:3-4 (ESV)
[3] “Let the day perish on which I was born,
and the night that said,
‘A man is conceived.’
[4] Let that day be darkness!
May God above not seek it,
nor light shine upon it.
Job 3:11 (ESV)
[11] “Why did I not die at birth,
come out from the womb and expire?
This is a difficult chapter. Chapter 2 ends by saying that Job did not sin with his lips, yet here he is cursing the day he was born. Isn’t that sin? Isn’t that complaining against a sovereign God? The verses quoted above are harsh. Anyone who has experienced abuse can identify with Job’s words. Anyone who has lost a child will likely cringe at his words. This is hard stuff.

It is significant that nowhere is Job chastised by God for his words. Nowhere does Satan come back to God and say, “See! I told you he was only being good because things were easy.” Reflecting on this chapter, three ideas occur to me. First, it is not wrong to question why things are happening. Too often I have heard that it is wrong to question God. That seems odd to me in light of Job’s words here, and the complaints in the Psalms. Consider Psalms 10:1, “Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” That sounds like questioning to me. It is not wrong to question. It is wrong to rebel. Those are two very different issues.

Second, it is okay to be honest with God about how we feel. This is closely related to the first thought, but it has a different dimension. Not only are we often told that we should never question God, but we often feel as though we must always be nice to God. We act as though he has thin skin and gets his feelings hurt easily. It is not like he doesn’t know what we think. It is the height of absurdity to assume that although we feel hurt, abandoned, and rejected, we must never say that to God. He already knows. We are not telling him anything new. Until we are willing to tell him how we feel, he is not free to help us face our feelings and lead us to peace. Transparent honesty only makes sense when addressing an omniscient God. Listen again to Psalm 10:

Psalms 10:11, 17-18 (ESV)
[11] He says in his heart, “God has forgotten,
he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”

[17] O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
[18] to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

It is not necessarily wrong to question God, and it is right to be honest with God. Third, living by faith does not mean always wearing a smile. Let’s be honest, I’m tired of phony Christians who pretend that their world is perfect when everything is falling apart around them. I am also tired of whiners who never see God’s goodness, but that’s a topic for another blog. I believe that relationships are hindered, our walk with God is hobbled, and we communicate falsehood to our children and grandchildren when we suggest that life is always smiles. I had a friend who used to say that he had never had an argument with his wife. First, I don’t believe him. Second, I don’t want him counseling newly married couples. It sets up an unrealistic expectation. I’d rather have someone who says, “My wife and I get cross-ways with each other, but this is how we have learned to work through it.”

Life is not always roses, but God is always faithful. Walking with God is not about pretending we are good when we are not. Walking with God is not about hiding our true feelings from him. Walking with God is not about unquestioningly following him. It is about transparent honesty between us and God, and honesty between us and others, and faith in the goodness of God no matter how crummy life gets. We can tell him it’s crummy. We can pour out our heart to him. We don’t need to paste on a smile. But through it all, we can trust him. That’s what Job did. It is why God commended him. Let’s be like Job, not like Mary Poppins. That’s the model of a true believer.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Job 2:11-13 (ESV)
[11] Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. [12] And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. [13] And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

This was a lengthy affliction that Job experienced. His friends came from a distance. They made an appointment together. It would have taken some time for word to get to them about Job’s condition. It would have taken some time for messengers to travel between them setting up the appointment, or agreed upon time to visit. It would have taken some time for them to travel to see Job. Once they were there they sat with him for seven days without speaking. This was no short affliction that Job experienced.

When I am hungry I get grouchy. When I am nauseous I wish that God would just take me home. Let’s be honest, physical infirmity affects our whole being. Yet here is Job, having lost everything he owned, having lost his family, and now having lost his health. His response is, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10). “In all this,” the text says, “Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:10).  

2 Corinthians 10:5b instructs believers to “take every thought captive to obey Christ.” One online source lists 35 verses on controlling your tongue. Psalms 34:12-13 says, “What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.” Proverbs 21:23 says, “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” James 3 warns about the importance of taming the tongue. “For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body” (James 3:2 ESV). For all Job’s afflictions, “Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:10).  

Sometimes we think that honesty means saying whatever thoughts come to mind. But that is not honesty. It is foolishness. As believers we are to bring every thought under the control of the Holy Spirit. As believers we are to guard every word that comes out of our mouth. We are to speak words of comfort, encouragement, and peace. We are to turn our eyes upward, fixing our eyes on Jesus (Heb 12:2). We are to “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that (we) do not grow weary or fainthearted” (Heb 12:3).

By the grace of God, and the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, physical affliction and infirmity ought to move us deeper in dependence. Too often, however, we allow the darkness to descend and we embrace hopelessness and despair. In those times may God remind us of the integrity of Job who, even when his wife encouraged him to curse God and die, chose the high road and did not sin with his lips. In those time may God remind us of the example of Christ, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” In those dark times let us resolve to take captive our thoughts and turn our eyes upon Jesus.

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus
O soul are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There's light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free:

Turn you 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.

Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
Over us sin no more hath dominion
For more than conquerors we are!

His word shall not fail you He promised;
Believe Him and all will be well.
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!

Turn you 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.

© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group

For non-commercial use only.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Job 2:9-10 (ESV)
[9] Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” [10] But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
This is one of the most incredible questions posed by a man or woman in the Bible. “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In Matthew 5 Jesus instructed his disciples to love their enemies. He then reminded them that God sends good things, like sun and rain, on the good and the evil (See Mt 4:44-45). One of the common issues we wrestle with is the question of why good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. Why does God bless evil, unjust people with sun and rain? Why does he allow bad things to happen to people like Job?

There are several answers to the question, but it starts with the nature of God. He is good, and he is no respecter of persons, therefore he gives good to all. Secondly, we are not good. Yes, God describes Job as righteous. In fact, he calls Job “a blameless and upright man who turns away from evil” (Job 1:8). That is a description of Job in contrast to other people. But, in contrast to God the Bible says that there is no one who is good. Jesus said, in Mark 10:18, “No one is good except God alone.” Quoting from the Psalms, Paul wrote in Romans 3:10b-12
“None is righteous, no, not one;
[11] no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
[12] All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”

“Good” is a relative term in our usage. We look at others and determine who is good and who is not good based on who is “better,” or by some personal standard of what we consider good. But “good” is never a relative term when used of God. Good equates with the nature and character of God himself. By that definition there is no good person on earth. We do not deserve God’s blessings. We deserve his wrath. Yet “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). What an amazing truth, that God would love sinners. Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? There are no good people. There is only a gracious God.

God is good. We are not. That in itself ought to bring us to Job’s conclusion, ““Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” That is the foundation upon which we must stand as we wrestle with this age old question of why good things happen to “bad” people, and why bad things happen to “good” people. So how do we respond? Do we walk around feeling bad about ourselves all the time? No, I don’t think that is the point at all. I think that we need to revel in God’s grace. We need to see expressions of his blessing every day. We need to recognize his good gifts. When Job answered his wife, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” he was not focused on the bad. She was focused on the bad. All she could see was her husband’s pain. But Job remembered the good.

His eyes were focused on the good God who had blessed him beyond what he deserved. He lived in gratitude. He understood that if he was to enjoy the good blessings of God in his life then he must be willing to accept the bad things that God allowed to happen in a fallen, broken world. His eyes were fixed upward. His wife’s gaze was fixed downward. Maybe the words to that old gospel song written by Johnson Oatman, Jr., Count Your Blessings, is the advice we need to listen to.

When upon life's billows you are tempest tossed
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost
Count your many blessings, name them one by one
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Count your blessings, name them one by one
Count your blessings, see what God hath done
Count your blessings, name them one by one
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly
And you will keep singing as the days go by.
When you look at others with their lands and gold
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold
Count your many blessings. Wealth can never buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.
So, amid the conflict whether great or small
Do not be disheartened, God is over all
Count your many blessings, angels will attend
Help and comfort give you to your journey's end.
Count your blessings, name them one by one
Count your blessings, see what God hath done
Count your blessings, name them one by one
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Job 1:20 (ESV)
[20] Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.

Job just received news that his oxen and donkeys were stolen, his sheep destroyed, his camels taken, his servants working with his livestock were slaughtered, and his children were killed in a freak windstorm. Job 1:20 is his response. He tore his robe. He shaved his head. He fell on the ground and worshiped. Clearly Job’s idea of worship is different from the common use of that word today. When we think of worship, we almost always think of music. We tend to equate the quality of worship by whether it made us feel close to God. To be honest, that is man centered. It is about how I feel, or whether I feel the presence of God. “I” centered worship is not worship.

The word “worship” means to bow down, or fall prostrate before a king or one in authority, showing respect, honor, and homage. Worship is about God, not about the one worshiping. One may never sense the presence of God, and still worship. One may feel the very near presence of God and never worship. Worship is a matter of the heart. It begins with acknowledgement of who God is. It involves yielding to the will of God even if it is not the path I would prefer. Worship is what Samuel did when he said, “Speak Lord, for your servant hears” (1Sam 3:10). Worship is what Israel did when they slaughtered thousands of lambs for sacrifice. Worship is what Isaiah did when the Lord said, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah replied “Here I am! Send me” (Is 6:8). That was worship. Worship is what Mary did when she responded to the angel, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38 ESV).

Singing may be celebration, but it is not worship unless it is done from a yielded heart. Worship is about falling on our faces before the King. Worship is saying, “Yes Lord.” Worship is what Jonah did in the belly of the big fish. He didn’t feel ecstatic. He felt desperate. He didn’t sing, he yielded. He didn’t celebrate, he gave in to the will of the Father. He worshiped.

Maybe it is time we rethink what worship is, what is means, and how we worship. Habakkuk 2:20 says, “But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” Revelation 8:1 speaks of silence in Heaven for half an hour, followed by the prayers of the saints being offered on the altar. Psalms 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” Two verses later, the next Psalm starts, “Clap your hands!” Celebration is in order, but worship starts in silent submission. In the busyness, and constant motion and noise of our world, have you worshiped today?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Job 1:5 (ESV)
[5] And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.

The father offered burnt offerings on behalf of his children. He apparently offered one for each child as the text says, “according to the number of them all.” More children took more sacrifices. What a contrast with the Eternal Father who sacrificed his own son on behalf of his enemies.

Romans 5:8, 10 (ESV)
[8] but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
[10] For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

“While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” What an incredible truth! Does it matter whether we understand Jesus to be God, or “a god?” Does it matter what we believe about the Trinity? Isn’t the fact that God sacrificed his Son enough? There are those who say that Jesus is the first created being. Isn’t that okay as long as we understand that he is perfect? But here is the dilemma. Any sacrifice has to be perfect in order to be acceptable. The fact that Jesus never sinned is what makes him an acceptable sacrifice for a man. But how many men can one man die for? Job had a separate sacrifice for each of his children. One man can only die for one man.

Romans 5:19 says, “By the one man’s (Jesus) obedience the many will be made righteous.” How can many be made righteous by the death of one? Death is not a thing. Death is simply the absence of life. Death can be passed from one man to many. Life, on the other hand, is something. There is only so much life in one being. Life can pass from one man to one man, but how can many be saved? Hebrews 9:28 says, “So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” As a man, Jesus is an acceptable, once for all sacrifice for a man. As God, Jesus is an acceptable sacrifice for “the sins of many.” The value of one man is equal to one man. The value of God is more than equal to the value of all humanity. Does it matter that Jesus is God? Yes! If he is anything less than God then his sacrifice is no sufficient for more than one.

Job, the father, offered sacrifices regularly on behalf of his children. The Father’s sacrifice of his Son, who is eternal God, makes us holy “once for all” (Heb 10:10). “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14 ESV). How do you respond to a truth like that?

Hebrews 10:19-25 (ESV)
[19] Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, [20] by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, [21] and since we have a great priest over the house of God, [22] let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. [23] Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. [24] And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, [25] not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

As our world turns dark our response is not to run and hide. It is not to build walls and keep people out. It is to draw near to God and rest in his unchanging favor for the sacrifice of his Son is all sufficient. Trust him.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Job 1:20-21 (ESV)
[20] Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. [21] And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

Job is described as “blameless and upright” (Job 1:1). By the end of the chapter Job has lost his livestock and his children. He is devastated, yet he replies, “Blessed be the name of the LORD.” Job is the ultimate story revealing the truth that life is not about us (I don’t use the word “story” because I believe that it is fiction, but because it is told in narrative form). When we approach this story from the perspective that life is about family, then this story makes no sense. Yes, Job’s wealth is returned and increased in the end, but that is not really the point of the story. Yes, Job gets more children in the end, but the children that died are still dead. How do more children recompense for those he lost? It was never intended to. Life is not about Job. That is the lesson of the book. Life is not about us; it is about God.

God didn’t create in order to make us happy. Yes, he intended that we should find joy in his creation, but it wasn’t about us. He didn’t make us stewards of his creation for our benefit, but for his own glory. He didn’t save us for our benefit, but for his own glory. Hebrews 12:2 says of Jesus that he, “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” He died in our place because of the joy set before him. We struggle with this. We expect that life should be about us. The very idea of being a person with self-awareness seems to suggest that life is about us. But self-awareness just makes our worship more meaningful. It doesn’t make us the point of creation.

Can a painting say to the painter, “I don’t like the way you shaded my flowers,” or “I prefer a different shade of color for my sky?” Of course not. The painting is not for the painting. The painting is for the glory of the painter and the good of those who will get to see it. A painting is never for the painting. Creation is never for the created thing. It is always about the creator. How can Job say, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:2)? Because he understands that life is not about him.

I fear not only that we have built a theology on the foundation of life being about us, but that we have trained a generation to believe that life is about them. The arguments I hear to excuse sin are almost always built in some shape or form around the idea that “God wants me happy.” Health and wealth theology is built around the idea that God wants us happy. Revival theology, on the other hand, was built on the idea that God can only be glorified through our own brokenness. Life is not about us. Revival and renewal can never happen as long as we pursue a faith that is about us and our happiness. We subtly fall into that thinking without even trying, and we have trained a generation to believe it without even thinking.

Maybe Satan learned something from dealing with Job. The way to turn people against God is not to take everything away from them. It is to convince them that life is about them. When they fall for that lie it doesn’t take much to push them over the edge. It is time that we, as God’s creation, begin to think like created beings instead of creators. It is time that we realize that we are here for his glory. He is not here for our comfort. When we find our proper place we find that we are surprised by the joy of being what we were created to be. When we continue to pursue the glory due the creator we find only frustration and failure. When bad things happen do we respond, “Blessed be the name of the LORD,” or “Why me Lord?” Our response reveals our heart. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Esther 10:3 (ESV)
[3] For Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Ahasuerus, and he was great among the Jews and popular with the multitude of his brothers, for he sought the welfare of his people and spoke peace to all his people.

What makes a great leader? The truth is, we are all leaders in some sense. There is someone that we lead, teach, mentor, direct, or influence in some way. You may lead a great country, a large corporation, or a mega-church; you may lead a small congregation, serve as an elder, or Sunday School teacher; you may be a Mom, Dad, grand-parent, aunt or uncle, of just a friend, but almost everyone has someone on their life that they influence in some way. The question is: How do you lead?

Mordecai was made second in rank to the king. Haman, when he was in that position, sought his own welfare and his own peace. Mordecai “sought the welfare of his people and spoke peace to all his people.” I just sat through a two-day conference on leadership. The challenge toward the end of the conference was convicting. Leaders invest in others. We were challenged to think, plan, and watch for opportunities to add value to the lives of others.

Isn’t that what Jesus taught and practiced? He said, “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43b-45 ESV). The King of Kings came to earth as a man in order to serve. He gave his life so that we might have life. He allowed himself to experience our death so that we might experience his life if we will trust him. That is incredible leadership.

What if more believers led for what they could give others rather than for what they could get from others? What if more people sought to serve instead of seeking to be served? What if disciples of Jesus Christ actually modeled the life and attitude of Jesus Christ? How might that change the perception of the world toward the church? How might that change the perception of church attenders toward church leadership? How might that change the perception of children toward parents and teachers, laborers toward bosses, and followers toward leaders?

A theme that we haven’t explored in thinking through Esther over the past few weeks is the theme of Mordecai as a picture of Christ. It might be worth thinking about. Clearly we see it here in Mordecai’s leadership. He thought of others first. He sought their welfare and spoke peace to them. Mordecai sought for their welfare. It means that he sought or worked for their comfort and pleasure, working to provide a good life for them. Additionally, he spoke peace to them. The word translated peace is shalom. Shalom means wholeness of life. It means everything that is wrong is made right. It includes justice, provision, wholeness… True shalom is life before the Fall of Mankind. Mordecai worked to provide a life for his people that reflected how we were designed to live, with wholeness, joy, and full provision. Isn’t that what leader’s do?

We’re not talking here about welfare. We’re not talking about just giving someone anything they want or desire at no cost. Even before the Fall work was a part of life. If people wanted to eat they had to harvest the food God provided. He didn’t serve it up for them. It is just that work was easier and more enjoyable before the Fall. Paul warned, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” Idleness was never a virtue. We’re not talking about welfare.

But this distracts us from the point. Leaders work for the good of those they lead. Who are you influencing today? How can you work and speak to their benefit? How can you add value to the life of someone today? I love the story of the Grandpa who challenged his grandchildren to add value to the lives of others. The next evening the child excitedly told his Grandpa, “Grandpa, I opened the door for forty people today!” I don’t know if I have ever had the opportunity to open the door for that many people in one day, but that little boy had learned the principle of adding value to the lives of others. Have we learned that yet? It is how Jesus lived.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Esther 9:22, 27-28 (ESV)
[22] as the days on which the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and gifts to the poor.
[27] the Jews firmly obligated themselves and their offspring and all who joined them, that without fail they would keep these two days according to what was written and at the time appointed every year, [28] that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, in every clan, province, and city, and that these days of Purim should never fall into disuse among the Jews, nor should the commemoration of these days cease among their descendants.

The Jews are a people who know how to celebrate. They have faced genocide and survived. Their enemies have been destroyed. Their response is to throw a party. What is perhaps more significant than their celebration is the fact that they “obligated themselves and their offspring…to keep these days…every year.” Purim became an annual celebration still observed today. A Jewish website explain Purim says that the celebration reminds people to look up and remember the deliverance that came from God to his people. It is a celebration that moves from heaven to earth.

Sometimes I wonder if we Christians celebrate too little. I wrote earlier in my meditations on Esther that we are too now focused. When we forget the past deliverance of God, we lose sight of the future, coming deliverance, and we lose hope. Celebrating past deliverances and victories works to turn our eyes upward again and reminds us of God’s greatness, faithfulness, and power.

After reciting a list of qualities that ought to be in the lives of believers, Peter writes, “For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins” (2 Peter 1:9 ESV). We so easily forget. We forget that we have been cleansed. We forget that we have been empowered. We forget that we have been delivered. We forget that God has been faithful. In forgetting, we lose hope. We need occasional reminders, celebrations that turn our eyes upward again and remind us of the faithfulness of God.

What is it that you need to celebrate? What is it that you need to remember? Take a few moments today and reflect back on the faithfulness of God. It is easy for us to reflect back on all the pain, bad decisions, and difficulties of life. Let’s intentionally look back on God’s faithfulness. As the old hymn reminds us,
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

Oh soul are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness to see
There's a light for a look at the Savior
And life more abundant and free

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Esther 9:15 (ESV)

[15] The Jews who were in Susa gathered also on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar and they killed 300 men in Susa, but they laid no hands on the plunder.

The Jews were authorized to kill men, women, and children, and to keep their plunder. There is no mention of women or children being killed, and the chapter specifically says three times that they did not take the plunder. They stopped short of what they were authorized to do.

The United States of America is built on an understanding of certain rights. Unfortunately, we have moved from guaranteeing rights for others, to demanding our rights. It was the right of the Jews to kill men, women, and children, and to keep their plunder. They did not demand their rights. They celebrated their freedom, but they did not take advantage of that which was legally theirs.

“I have a right” has become for the rallying cry of our nation. “I have a right to be treated fairly.” “I have a right to be respected.” “I have a right to not be offended.” “I have a right…” When our focus is on our rights instead of protecting the rights of others we lose. Haman was fixated on his right to be respected as a great man. Look where that got him. Mordecai, on the other hand, was focused on protecting others. He ended up with Haman’s position while Haman ended up on the gallows, as did his ten sons.

Jesus words about turning the other cheek, forgiving and praying for one’s enemies, and loving your neighbor hardly fits with, “I have a right.” What if we in the church learned to serve rather than be served? What if we in the church learned to love our neighbors and pray for (not against) our enemies?  What if we learned to be more concerned about others than about ourselves?

I was in a school parking lot the other day and saw a sign that indicated a particular parking spot was reserved for the principal. I’ve seen signs reserving spots for the CEO of a company. I’ve also seen signs reserving a premium parking spot for a pastor. I wonder what that indicates to visitors. Might it possibly suggest (whether it is accurate or not) that this church is more interested in themselves than in others? I love it when a church gives premium parking to handicapped and visitors. I’m not so sure we should be protecting those spaces for ourselves.

The Jews defended themselves by royal edict, and were saved. They did not, however, use their full rights according to that edict. Maybe there is a lesson there for us today. What if we learned to serve instead of be served? What if we learned to give instead of take? What if we became known as a people who give up their rights for the benefit of others? How might Christ be exalted in that?

Friday, August 5, 2016

Esther 8:17b (ESV)

And many from the peoples of the country declared themselves Jews, for fear of the Jews had fallen on them.

From this verse we are not sure whether people were pretending to be Jews because they were afraid of them, or whether they were actually becoming Jews because they were in awe of them. The NET Bible translates this verse, “Many of the resident peoples pretended to be Jews, because the fear of the Jews had overcome them.” The LXX (the Greek version of the Old Testament used at the time of Christ), however, treats the text as referring to genuine conversion. It reads, “They were being circumcised and they became Jews.”

Whether genuine or not, people were apparently becoming Jews because of the influence of the Jews in the Persian Empire. I wrote about Jeremiah 29:7 in an earlier blog, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” As the Jews did that God protected and blessed them. Their presence had an impact on those around them. I think that sometimes we have been so focused on “getting people saved” that we have turned evangelism into salesmanship. We have believed and acted as though it was our responsibility to compel people into praying the prayer and getting saved by whatever means possible. That was never Jesus’ methodology. Neither was that the methodology of the early church.

Acts 2:46-47 (ESV)

[46] And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, [47] praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

It was the Lord that added to their number day by day. It was the Lord that moved people to be saved. The early Christians were meeting together, eating together, and fellowshipping together. Their presence impacted the community, but the Lord changed people’s hearts. Yes, God has given us the ministry of reconciliation (2Cor 5:18), but he has not given us the role or responsibility to play Holy Spirit in people’s lives. Jesus said that it is the Holy Spirit who “will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8 ESV).

Our lives ought to point people to Christ rather than our words coercing people into praying a prayer. Our lives ought to raise questions in people’s minds, rather than imposing answers on people who are not even asking questions. Peter reminds believers, “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 ESV).

Do we live in such a way that people see hope in us? Do we live in such a way that people ask where that hope comes from? Are we ready to answer with gentleness and respect? Are people wanting to become believers because they see something in us that they are lacking? If not, what needs to change? Evangelism is not about salesmanship. It is about people seeing hope in us. It is about people seeing Christ in us. It is about being ready to share the foundation of our hope as the opportunity arises. As believers, let’s move away from a sales mentality, and truly live as people of hope.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Esther 8:8 (ESV)

[8] But you may write as you please with regard to the Jews, in the name of the king, and seal it with the king’s ring, for an edict written in the name of the king and sealed with the king’s ring cannot be revoked.”

Esther and Mordecai are given incredible power in Esther 8. The king said to them, “Write as you please.” This privilege came as the result of a request to the king by Esther. But notice, it didn’t originate with a legal move on their part. There were no legal briefs demanding protection for their people. There were no uprisings. There were no demonstrations in the streets. There was fasting and there was a respectful request at just the right time. What preceded the request, however, was the fact that the king was safe and Persia was better off because of their presence. The king’s life had been spared because Mordecai passed word of to him of an attempt on his life. The queen was pleasing to the king. Esther’s request began with these words, “If it please the king, and if I have found favor in his sight…and I am pleasing in his eyes” (Esther 8:5 ESV). The king and the country was better off because of the presence of Esther and Mordecai.

I recently read an article calling for the removal of tax exemption from churches. I read another article about a new children’s club starting in schools to counteract the influence of Child Evangelism Fellowship’s Good News Clubs. Their reasoning was that Good News Clubs teach children to hate. Apparently they’ve never actually attended a Good News Club. Be that as it may, the world increasingly sees Evangelicals as hate mongers. Some of that is simply because they disagree with us, and disagreement has come to mean hate in our world. But some of that is our own fault. The reason churches and non-profits were given tax exemption was because they provide benefit to the community that is of greater value than their tax dollars. So… is your community better because your church is there? Is your community better because you, as a believer in Jesus Christ, are there? Is that what Jesus meant when he said that we are to be salt and light in a dark, decaying world?

Over the past thirty years, evangelicals have made law, protest, legal moves, and demands for our rights the foundation of our influence in our communities. Is it any wonder that the world sees us as haters? Maybe it is time to change tactics. What if our communities were better places because we are here? How might that change our influence and the world’s perspective? Like Esther and Mordecai, we need to learn to trust the unseen hand of God behind the scenes and be the presence of Christ in grace and peace in our communities.

When the Jews were carried off into captivity they were instructed, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7 ESV). Maybe it is time we switch tactics and embrace the wisdom of Jeremiah 29:7. What if we worked toward and prayed, not for the judgment, repentance, or brokenness of our country, but for its welfare? What if we filed less legal briefs and simply served more people? What if we lived in such a way that the world said, “We need our churches!” Let’s be honest, right now they are saying, “Churches are irrelevant.”

It makes me wonder. I wonder how God might be calling me to serve the community instead of just serving the church. I wonder how God might be calling me to be an influence for the welfare of my community. I wonder how that might change the world’s attitude toward the church? Clearly the church will have enemies. Haman wanted to destroy the Jews. But the unseen hand of God was at work behind the scenes. Mordecai and Esther worked for the welfare of the city. Is that what we should do? It makes me wonder, and it makes me pray for wisdom.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Esther 8:1-2 (ESV)

[1] On that day King Ahasuerus gave to Queen Esther the house of Haman, the enemy of the Jews. And Mordecai came before the king, for Esther had told what he was to her. [2] And the king took off his signet ring, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it to Mordecai. And Esther set Mordecai over the house of Haman.

In two short verses we see a reversal of fortune. Haman went from being favored by the king to being dead. Mordecai went from facing death to being the king’s favored. It is not unlike the reversal of fortune in Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus. The beggar ended up in a place of comfort while the rich man ended up in a place of torture. It is a good reminder that now is not all that there is. For believers, now is only the beginning. Now only lasts for a lifetime, but our hope is eternal.

Too often we question the presence, love, or goodness of God because now we have pain or difficulty. Too often we act as though now is everything. Too often we give lip service to eternity, but live as though there is nothing beyond this life. What do we truly believe? Do we really believe Jesus’ words, “The meek…shall inherit the earth” (Mt 5:5)? Do we really believe Paul’s words “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:49)? Do we really believe Jesus promise, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3)? Do we really believe that God is using the hard things in our lives to produce the character of God in us as Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:6-7.

[6] In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, [7] 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.

I fear that we give lip service to faith, but we walk largely by sight. We get discouraged when we can’t see hope. We question God when we can’t see the future. We are ready to walk away from our faith if God doesn’t fix things for us now. We act as though God were our personal valet instead of the eternal, immortal, invisible, all-powerful, Creator God. We act as though we have a right to sit in judgment over him, when the truth is that he will one day sit in judgment over all mankind. We act as though we are king. God forgive us.

Mordecai’s and Haman’s fortunes was flipped. Haman had everything for a short season, but it didn’t last. Mordecai ended up with it all in the end. If someone had read only the first few chapters of Esther they would say, “I want to be like Haman.” When you read the whole story you say, “I want to be Esther or Mordecai.” Today, whatever God calls us to experience, may we look beyond the darkness of the moment to the unending light of eternity and trust God. Sometimes we have to drive through the fog, but the way is clear on the other side. Trust him.

Reflections on Psalms 77-78

Psalms 77:7 (ESV) [7] “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?   The first nine verses of this psalm express abso...