Friday, September 30, 2016

Job 18:5, 18-21 (ESV)
“Indeed, the light of the wicked is put out,
and the flame of his fire does not shine.

He is thrust from light into darkness,
and driven out of the world.
He has no posterity or progeny among his people,
and no survivor where he used to live.
They of the west are appalled at his day,
and horror seizes them of the east.
Surely such are the dwellings of the unrighteous,
such is the place of him who knows not God.”

Job 18 is Bildad’s second response to Job. His argument is that bad things happen to wicked people. The wicked are devastated, wiped out, and forgotten. His implication is that because bad things happen to bad people, and bad things are happening to Job, therefore Job is bad. But there is a breakdown in his logic. First, history shows us that the wicked are not always wiped out and forgotten. Sometimes they prosper, and their memory lingers for generations. Sometimes history is even rewritten to make the wicked look good.

Bildad is correct about the destiny of the wicked in the end. Isaiah 65:17 says, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” There will come a time when the wicked will be forgotten, but that is not in our lifetime. That is in the new creation. In his argument, Bildad has gotten ahead of God.

Second, even if Bildad is correct…, even if it is true that bad things happen to wicked people, that does not mean that people to whom bad things happen are wicked. It is true that a dozen is twelve, and twelve is a dozen. It is true that grapes are fruit. It is not true that all fruit is a cluster of grapes. It is true that a dog is an animal. It is not true that an animal is a dog. Not every statement of truth can be reversed. Bad things will eventually happen to wicked people. That does not mean that if something bad is happening you therefore must be wicked. Good theology can lead to bad application when it is handled poorly.

When we live with our convenient boxes of truth we tend to jump to conclusions, judge those different from us, and do more damage than good. What Bildad needed was discernment. He looked into his disconnected boxes of truth, found where Job seemed to fit, and jumped to a conclusion that had a ring of truth to it, but he missed the truth by a mile. That is why we need to listen to the Spirit of God as well as knowing our Bibles.

The Spirit of God will never lead contrary to his Word. After all, he is the one that inspired the Bible. He will never lead contrary to his Word, but he might lead contrary to our understanding of his Word. Too often we assume that we know the Word. We assume that we have a corner on truth. We have our neat little boxes of theology all wrapped up nicely. Anything else is evil. But often, we have not listened well. We have jumped to conclusions based on our own culture and experience. We have not wrestled with the hard questions.

Bildad was sure that he had it all figured out. Job was wrestling with the question of why bad things were happening to someone who had been honoring God. Bildad didn’t feel the need to wrestle with that question. His neat, tidy theology explained it all. Bad things happen to bad people. Bad things were happening to Job. Therefore, Job was bad. It was as simple as that.

Bildad has all his theological “I”s dotted and “T”s crossed. The simple truth was that God was doing something outside Bildad’s boxes of understanding that he had never seen before. God has a way of doing that. Will we listen, or will we force God back into our neat theological boxes? Maybe he is trying to teach us something. The big question is: Are we listening?

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.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Job 12:5 (ESV)
[5] In the thought of one who is at ease there is contempt for misfortune;
it is ready for those whose feet slip.

Herein lies the problem. Job acknowledges that what his friends have been saying contains truth. He knows it as well as they do. What they cannot see is that experience does not support their thesis that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. They have reasoned backwards starting with Job’s experience of pain and assumed that he must then be a great sinner. They have failed to see what Job reveals in the next verse.

Job 12:6 (ESV)
[6] The tents of robbers are at peace,
and those who provoke God are secure,
who bring their god in their hand.

Job sees that not all “bad people” have bad things happen to them. Conversely, bad things are happening to him and he knows he is right with God. It is easy for his friends to sit in their ease and explain away the pain of the less fortunate. It is another thing to look carefully at their world and recognize the injustices. Job 12:5 gets to the heart of the matter. His friends, in their ease, hold those experiencing misfortune in contempt.

I have watched non-smokers criticize smokers who couldn’t kick the habit. “Just quit,” they say. As if it were that easy. I have watched those who were cancer free explain miracle cures to their cancer ridden friends. Things change when they get cancer. I have watched those without pain explain to those in agonizing pain how to easily get relief. They don’t realize that the one in pain has already tried all the “easy” miracle cures for pain relief. They didn’t work. I have watched those with a good job and a steady income criticize those without. They don’t realize how difficult it is for a homeless person to get a job. They don’t realize the difficulties involved in learning a new way of thinking when you have been taught to think from a poverty perspective all your life. They don’t realize the limitations the jobless person is facing. I have watched my white friends criticize those who complain about white privilege. I have done it myself. We have no idea what it is like to live as an African American or a Native American in a world that does not trust you. We have no idea what it is like to be pulled over on the highway by a police officer at gunpoint just because of your skin color. Like Job’s friends, we criticize those who do not have the same privileges we do without understanding the world in which they live.

Recently in our community, to raise awareness of violence against women, Support Within Reach sponsored an event called Walk a Mile in Her Shoes. Men took part in a walk while wearing women’s shoes. Just looking at the shoes they had to wear made my feet hurt. How women can wear those shoes every day, I have no idea. But the need for better footwear wasn’t really the point. The point was to open people’s eyes to the fact that not everyone’s experience is the same. Too many conflicts and broken relationships are the result of people, like Job’s friends, making judgements about other people without understanding their pain first.

The incredible part of the gospel is that God didn’t shout down at man. He became a man. In order to save us God walked three years in our shoes. Then he died for our sin and rose to give us new life, not just fix our old life. He didn’t just shout platitudes at us from the comfort of Heaven. He took our place on the cross. How different our world would be if we became more like Jesus. How much better if Job’s friends had first tried to place themselves in his experience rather than trying to fix him quickly. How different our churches would be if we learned to listen and understand instead of criticize and fix. What a different world it would be if we became even a little more like Christ.

Philippians 2:5-8 (ESV)
[5] Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, [6] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, [7] but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. [8] And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Job 11:5-6 (ESV)
[5] But oh, that God would speak
and open his lips to you,
[6] and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom!
For he is manifold in understanding.
Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.

Job 11 is an interesting chapter. Eliphaz, in chapters 4-5, spoke based on a vision he had experienced. Bildad, in chapter 8, appeals to tradition. Now Zophar speaks up. He is a no nonsense sort of guy. “God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.” Zophar’s argument is that there is clearly sin in Job’s life. Job’s sin deserves even worse than he is experiencing. If only he would come clean about his sin, God would make everything right.

Job 11:13-15 (ESV)
[13] “If you prepare your heart,
you will stretch out your hands toward him.
[14] If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away,
and let not injustice dwell in your tents.
[15] Surely then you will lift up your face without blemish;
you will be secure and will not fear.

Zophar’s problem is that his understanding of the world, and the workings of God are too narrow. “You sin. God judges. You repent. God forgives and blesses.” For Zophar it is as simple as that. But Zophar’s conclusions are skewed. It is certainly possible that Job’s suffering is the result of sin, but that is not necessarily the cause. Zophar has assumed that he can reason backward from condition to cause. He doesn’t realize that there are things he cannot see. He cannot imagine that Job’s pain could come from any cause other than his own sin.

How often do we hear Matthew 7:16 quoted? “You will recognize them by their fruits.” We quote that passage and argue that we can know a person’s heart by their deeds. But that is hardly the context. Matthew 7:15-16 read, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” We will know false prophets by their fruit. The passage does not say that we will know a person’s heart by what they do. It does not say we will know a person’s motives by what they do. Yet that is too often what we conclude. We make the same mistake as Zophar. How much better if we would start quoting what God told Samuel when he went to find a king to replace Saul.

1 Samuel 16:7 (ESV)
[7] But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

In the first chapter of Acts, when the disciples chose the man that would replace Judas as an apostle, they knew that they could not read hearts. “And they prayed and said, ‘You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen’” (Acts 1:24 ESV). Psalm 7:9 says that God is the one who tests “the minds and hearts.” In 1Kings 8 Solomon prays to God, “You, you only, know the hearts of all the children of mankind” (1Kings 8:39b). At least three times in Jeremiah he makes note of the fact that God sees “the heart and the mind” (Jer 11:2; 17:10; 20:12).

How much better off we would be if we would quit trying to read people’s motives, hearts, and minds. Only God can see that deep. We can guess, but we are often wrong. We cannot know a person’s motives for certain. We cannot read hearts. Only God can do that. To argue from circumstances to motives and heart conditions is arrogant at best, and almost always dangerous and destructive.

Zophar thinks he has Job figured out. He doesn’t have clue. Zophar argues that the cause of Job’s pain is obvious. All one has to do is reason back from Job’s experience to the obvious condition of his heart. Zophar is wrong in his assessment, and we are almost always wrong when we try to do that as well. Only God sees the heart. How much better off Zophar would have been if he had listened to his own words, “Can you find out the deep things of God” (Job 11:7)? The obvious answer is, “No. No one can find out the deep things of God.” Zophar understood that Job could not “find out the deep things of God.” He forgot that he couldn’t either.

It is time we stop quoting Matthew 7:16 so much, and start taking to heart 1Samuel 16:7. How much better off we would be if we would pray for discernment rather than assume we know someone’s heart. How much better off we would be if we would walk humbly with others rather than arrogantly assume we know their heart. “For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1Samuel 16:7b).

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Job 10:15-18 (ESV)
If I am guilty, woe to me!
If I am in the right, I cannot lift up my head,
for I am filled with disgrace
and look on my affliction.
And were my head lifted up, you would hunt me like a lion
and again work wonders against me.
You renew your witnesses against me
and increase your vexation toward me;
you bring fresh troops against me.
“Why did you bring me out from the womb?
Would that I had died before any eye had seen me

Do you ever feel like that; like no matter what you do it is wrong; like your choices are irrelevant, your commitment to good is worthless, and no matter how hard you try, everything is against you? It makes you wonder where God is. It makes you doubt his goodness. It causes you to reconsider your understanding of the goodness of God. It makes you question the value of doing the right thing. It pushes you toward considering selfishness over sanctification, narcissism over submission, rebellion over worship. It causes you to question the character of God and the value of serving him. That is exactly where Satan wanted Job to go.

Job 10:18b-21 (ESV)
Would that I had died before any eye had seen me
 and were as though I had not been,
carried from the womb to the grave.
Are not my days few?
Then cease, and leave me alone, that I may find a little cheer
before I go—and I shall not return—
to the land of darkness and deep shadow,

Satan wanted Job to question the character of God, but Job never went there. He questioned why God was treating him this way. He questioned what his righteousness had gained him. But he never went that next step. He never accused God of wrongdoing. He never rejected his commitment to God. He never concluded that his faith was misplaced. He questioned why, but he never questioned what. That is why Satan gained no victory in this story.

It has often been said that it is wrong to question God. Yet God never once condemns Job for raising the questions. Asking why is simply an honest expression of our faith. It is when we accuse God of wrongdoing that we have stepped over the line. I don’t understand why God allows children to suffer. I don’t understand why He doesn’t stop Christians from being brutally murdered for their faith. I don’t understand why he lets cancer ravage the body of a godly man or woman. I can think of a lot of people in the world that deserve it more than they do. I don’t understand these things. And it is not wrong to wrestle with God over these issues. But ultimately he is God and I have to trust him. I may ask him to change my conditions. I may be confused as to his purpose. I may be blind to his bigger picture. I can be honest with him about that. He understands. But at the end of the day, He is God and I never challenge that.

I have heard people say that they have a higher level of morality and integrity than God does. That is ignorant arrogance. I have heard people say that they don’t believe in the kind of God that allows bad things to happen to good people. Believe it or not; it doesn’t change the truth. It is not up to us to decide who God is. We can wrestle with the question of why. We can honestly express to Him our pain and our doubt. We can cry out to him to put an end to our condition. But in the end, He is God and I must trust him.

The difference between Job questioning God and Job’s friends questioning Job is that they assumed the answers were to be found in Job’s life. Job understood that the answers were to be found in God. Maybe asking why isn’t so bad if it causes us to turn our eyes upward. If we keep our focus on ourselves and our part of the equation, we miss the point. We may be part of the drama, but ultimately it is not about us. That’s a hard lesson to learn. I’m not sure Job’s friends ever got it, but I think Job did. Life feels very personal, but it’s not about us. Father, remind me of that often, even if it takes pain to get me there. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Job 9:2-3 (ESV)
[2] “Truly I know that it is so:
But how can a man be in the right before God?
[3] If one wished to contend with him,
one could not answer him once in a thousand times.

Job just listened to Bildad’s argument that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. We get what we deserve. Job agrees with Bildad’s assessment. His contention isn’t with the justice of God. He realizes that no one can stand as righteous in the presence of God. Job’s contention is that God has stacked the deck against us. Not only can no one stand as righteous before God, but we have no recourse. The is no way to argue our case before God. There is no way to challenge his findings. Even if we were able to stand before him to present our case, we would be wrong. Our only option is to plead for mercy.

Job 9:15 (ESV)
Though I am in the right, I cannot answer him;
I must appeal for mercy to my accuser.

The problem is that, from Job’s perspective, we don’t even get that possibility.

Job 9:33 (ESV)
There is no arbiter between us,
who might lay his hand on us both.

“There is no arbiter.” The NASB says, “There is no umpire between us.” NKJV says that there is no “mediator between us.” There is no one to stand between us and God, put a hand on each shoulder, and bring us together. There is no one to present our case to God and explain his case to us. There is no one outside of God to bring reconciliation. God has stacked the deck.

This demonstrates the genius of the incarnation. God became man. Jesus stands between God and Man as a mediator bringing reconciliation.  Paul wrote to Timothy, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5-6 ESV). What Job could only dream about, God provided. But it goes further than that. Jesus is not just a mediator trying to explain to God that we are not all that bad compared to other people. He is the once for all sacrifice that makes us acceptable to God.

Four time Hebrews says that Jesus sacrifice was “once for all.” Hebrews 9:26 says that “he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” Hebrews 10:10 assures us that, “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Job’s problem was two-fold. First, no one can be righteous before God. Second, there is no one to serve as a mediator between us and God. Jesus solves both problems. By offering himself as a perfect and complete sacrifice he not only invites us into relationship with God, he makes it possible. Having declared us righteous, he then intercedes on our behalf. He is both the sacrifice that makes us righteous, and the mediator that argues our case before the Father.

What Job could only dream about we too often take for granted. “I prayed a prayer. I’m saved. All is forgiven. Let’s party!” Imagine if Jesus had descended in the middle of Job’s experience, had taken Job’s pain, had argued with God for mercy, and then restored Job’s life. Do you think Job would be saying, “I prayed a prayer. I’m saved. All is forgiven. Let’s party!?” It is in brokenness that we come to understand mercy and appreciate forgiveness. The gospel is not about trying harder. It is not about changing your ways. That was Bildad’s solution.  The gospel is about mercy.

The gospel is the solution to Job’s dilemma. How can we be right before God and who will argue our case? The answer is that old Sunday School answer. The answer is Jesus. The solution is not to try harder. The solution is to throw yourself on the mercy of God and trust that he has accepted you because of Jesus. That is the good news we have to bring to a lost and broken world. That is why it is called good news.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Job 8:8 (ESV)
[8] “For inquire, please, of bygone ages,
and consider what the fathers have searched out.

Bildad is challenging Job in chapter 8. Eliphaz relied on the experience of an encounter with a spirit at night for his theology. Bildad draws on the wisdom of his ancestors. There is wisdom in those who have gone before us. My generation claimed to trust no one over 30. Then we found ourselves over 30. Now we are more than twice that and realize that we still had much to learn. There is no value in ignoring the wisdom of the past. Neither is there value in taking the teachings of the past without question. Bildad draws on the collective wisdom of the ages, yet his theology is just as faulty as that of Eliphaz.

Bildad’s assumption is that bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people. If Job’s children died, then they must have been guilty. If Job is really righteous, then he will be healthy and successful again soon. Yet, as readers we have been granted the privilege of looking behind the scenes. We know what Eliphaz and Bildad do not know. We know that the death of Job’s children and servants had no direct link to some sin they had committed. Yet how often do we rely on the same theology? If someone is poor, it is because they are lazy. If someone is suffering, it is because of some sin in their lives. If a church or ministry closes, it is because they abandoned God’s truth at some point. With Bildad, we assume that bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people.

None of those things are necessarily true. Someone might be poor because of circumstances beyond their control. Someone might be suffering due to no fault of their own. A ministry may close or come to an end because it is God’s time. We cannot see hearts and motives based on our perspective of circumstances. We cannot judge what only God can see. We may see behind the curtain in Job, we only God sees behind the curtain in life.

Health and wealth theology has a new twist on the old heresy. It’s not about being good. It is about the ability to think positively, speak positively, and believe positively. If we believe enough, and think and speak positively enough we can all have health and wealth. That is a new twist on an old Pharisee belief. They believed that if one was wealthy it was because God was pleased with them. If one was poor, it was because God was not pleased. Health and Wealth theology almost ignores God. It is not about gaining God’s favor. It is simply about being, thinking, and speaking health and wealth into existence.

The Pharisees were wrong. That is why Jesus told the story of the Rich man and Lazarus. It is why he commended the poor widow who gave God all she had. He wanted his disciples to understand that outward health, wealth, and comfort have nothing to do with true holiness. Yet the idea is so insidious that we constantly fall into that way of thinking without even realizing it.

It is time to stop judging people by outward appearance. It is time to stop assuming spiritual condition based on what we see. Only God sees the heart. Job understands that. Bildad and Eliphaz do not. Unfortunately, we seldom seem to understand it either. Are you facing difficulties in life? A quick heart check before God is appropriate. A witch hunt is not. Is a friend asking for prayer? A quick question is appropriate. “Are you aware of any sin in your life that might be contributing the cause of your pain?” Incessantly asserting that there is or must be sin in their life is not appropriate. Only they and God know.

There is wisdom in relying on the collective wisdom of those who have gone before us, but it must be tested against the Word of God and the revelation of his Spirit. Without that we do great damage to brothers and sisters in Christ. Never take teaching unquestioningly. We must always test what we hear. Paul’s counsel in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 is worth listening to:

[16]  Rejoice always, [17]  pray without ceasing, [18]  give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. [19]  Do not quench the Spirit. [20] Do not despise prophecies, [21] but test everything; hold fast what is good. [22] Abstain from every form of evil.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Job 6:8 (KJV)
[8] Oh that I might have my request; and that God would grant me the thing that I long for!
[9] Even that it would please God to destroy me; that he would let loose his hand, and cut me off!

In chapter 2 Job’s wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die” (Job 2:9). Job would prefer to die. He would rather his life was over than to continue experiencing the grief and pain that he is enduring. There is an easy way out. At least his wife seems to think so. Just curse God and he will end your life. But Job will not curse God. He would prefer to die but he will not take his own life and he will not curse God. That is integrity.

It is not that he knows things will get better soon. He doesn’t. In his current state it feels as though the pain will continue for a lifetime. In Job 7:5 he says, “My flesh is clothed with worms and dirt; my skin hardens, then breaks out afresh.” Two verses later he says, “My eye will never again see good.” Pain has a way of blinding us to reality. It is like a thick fog to hope. It keeps us from seeing that now is not forever. Now feels like forever. Death is the only hope Job can see for relief. Yet in all of that Job maintained his integrity.

The enemy has a way of pushing our buttons to challenge our integrity. At its roots, that is what this story is about. It all started when God brought Job to Satan’s attention. Satan asserted that Job’s integrity was tied to his comfortable condition in life. But that’s not really integrity. Almost anyone can demonstrate integrity when things are comfortable. It’s not integrity until it is tested. Peter wrote,

[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. 1 Peter 1:6-7 (ESV)

“The tested genuineness of your faith.” That’s what Job is about. His friends were trying to find a reason for Job’s pain. But Job is not about cause and effect. It is not about consequences to sin. It is not teaching that good people experience good things and bad people experience bad things. That is the premise Job’s friends were working from. Bad things happen to bad people. There must be some sin in Job’s life to explain his pain. They couldn’t imagine that Job’s pain was the result of his integrity. Yet integrity is not integrity until it is tested. 

That’s challenging. Will I trust God even when things don’t go as I anticipated? Will I give to God and others even when I’m not sure I have enough for me? Will I serve even when it is not convenient? The truth is, I get grouchy when I haven’t eaten, or when I have a bit of a headache. The truth is, my integrity is much more tied to my comfort than I care to admit. If I have a comfortable chair, a good cup of coffee, the right music playing in the background, and it’s not too hot or too cold, it is easy to think holy thoughts. But integrity shines when everything is going wrong. Integrity is integrity when it is tested.

Integrity is what truly reflects God to a fallen, broken world. Many people talk about the patience of Job. It is not Job’s patience, but Job’s integrity that is significant. May our lives reflect that same integrity of faith. May Peter’s words be true in our lives:

[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. 1 Peter 1:6-7 (ESV)

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Job 5:8 (ESV)
[8] “As for me, I would seek God,
and to God would I commit my cause,
Job 5:27 (ESV)
[27] Behold, this we have searched out; it is true.
Hear, and know it for your good.”

Job lost everything but his wife and his life. He lost his wealth. He lost his family. He lost his health. He is feeling rejected, abandoned, and even attacked by God. He would rather die than continue in this condition. His friend Eliphaz counsels Job, “If it were me, I would seek God and commit my cause to him.” I can just hear Job thinking, “YOU THINK I HAVEN’T SOUGHT GOD IN THIS!?” Eliphaz’s assumption is that if Job had really sought God then he wouldn’t be in this condition. How often, based on our own experience, we assume and accuse rather than seeking to understand. Eliphaz’s final words in this speech are, “It’s for your good.”

Too many wounds have been inflicted over the years with this words, “It’s for your good.” Too many harsh words have been preceded by, “I know you don’t want to hear this but, it is for your own good.” Granted, there are times when people need to hear things they don’t want to hear. There are times when someone needs to be confronted or challenged.  But our own personal frustration usually moves us too quickly to harsh words without first seeking understanding. Job didn’t need to be told to seek God. He was already seeking God. Job didn’t need a lecture on the sinfulness of man. He was well aware of it. That’s why he regularly offered sacrifices on behalf of his children. Everything Eliphaz said, Job already knew and was doing. Eliphaz words, designed to help Job, increased his pain.

The evangelical church is filled with Bible studies, good preaching, and excellent resources. What it is too often lacking is discernment. Eliphaz had his theological and philosophical understanding of the world. 1. Good things happen to good people. 2. Bad things happen to bad people. 3. Nobody is good. 4. Job’s painful experience is evidence of these truths. Therefore, 5. If Job would only quit complaining and seek God everything would turn out okay. These are the boxes Eliphaz lives in. He can’t see outside his boxes. He can’t imagine another possibility like, God is testing Job, or Satan is attacking Job, or Job is seeking God, but it’s not God’s time yet. These things take discernment. They are outside Eliphaz’s boxes of understanding.

Most of the policies churches write are based on past problems. Most of the answers churches offer are based on past questions. Most of the problems churches face are outside the box of their experience. When we, like Eliphaz, continue to offer answers to yesterday’s questions, without discerning today’s issues, we cause pain instead of bringing healing. Yes, it is true that nothing is new under the sun. In some ways the problems we face today are the same problems faced yesterday, and last year, and 5000 years ago. But when we rely on our rules devised out of our experience, without Holy Spirit provided discernment, we are no longer walking in living faith. We are walking in dead orthodoxy.

This is not a call to new theology. This is not a belief that truth changes. Truth is always truth. The scriptures never change. It is a call to reevaluate our own understanding. It is a call to look past our rules, policies, and procedures. It is a call to wisdom and discernment that flows out of a living dependence on the leading and direction of the Spirit of God. I have sat through too many Bible studies in which we were more interested in curious details of an isolated text then about hearing from God. Eliphaz knew his theology. No one can dispute the truth that there are no good people, that we are all inclined to evil, and that we ought to seek God. What we can dispute is whether that is what Job needed to hear. Easy answers rarely serve godly purposes. Maybe we need to learn to listen better to the Spirit instead of memorizing pat answers and rote solutions. May God grant us discernment.

Proverbs 4:5-7 (ESV)
[5] Get wisdom; get insight;
do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.
[6] Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;
love her, and she will guard you.
[7] The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,

and whatever you get, get insight.

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...