Monday, December 31, 2018

Matthew 3:11-12 (ESV)
[11] “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. [12] His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

John the Baptist came with a harsh message for the religious elite. He called them a “brood of vipers,” and warned them to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Mt 3:7-8). But ultimately John’s purpose was to introduce the one who was coming after him. It was Jesus, the one coming after, that was the watershed of the world.

Jesus is the one who baptizes “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Mt 3:11). Jesus is the one who will “gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Mt 3:12). Eternal destiny is determined by one’s standing with Jesus. It is not determined by how well one knows the Law. It is not determined by how clean one appears to be externally. It is not determined by being part of an elite group. People’s eternal destiny is determined by whether they are considered wheat or chaff by Jesus.

That is the message that rocked the First Century world. This is the message that divides the world today. What is fascinating is John’s response to Jesus. Matthew 3:5-6 says of John, “Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” John had a following, but his only concern was pointing people to the one coming after.

When God chooses to use an individual to impact the lives of others, it is tempting to get sidetracked by the attention. John could easily have looked at the crowds coming out to him and been impressed with himself. He could have sought to retain his position of attention and influence. Too many preachers, teachers, and influential Christians have fallen for the attention trap. We must never forget that our goal is not to amass large crowds. Our goal is to point people to Jesus. Our goal is to become nothing that he might become everything. Our message is not, “Come and hear my great preaching/teaching.” Our message must always be Jesus. He is the watershed of the world. Let us never forget that truth. As we approach a new year, may our heart be reflected in this simple statement, "May this year be more of Jesus and less of me."

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Job 42:7 (ESV)
After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.

I find it fascinating that God did not say to Eliphaz, “you have not spoken of Job what is right.” He said, “You have not spoken of me (God) what is right, as my servant Job has.” God is here affirming Job’s innocence. Throughout the book, Job asserted his innocence. In this last chapter one might question whether Job’s estimation of himself was correct. His response to God was, “I despise myself and repent” (Job 42:6). Yet here God says Job was innocent. Job spoke what was right concerning God. Given Job’s innocence, it would have made sense for God to say to Eliphaz, “You have not spoken of Job what is right.” Reading back through Job, their theology seems fairly accurate. It was the application concerning Job where Eliphaz and his friends were off. Yet God says that they have not spoken what is right about God. Why does he say that?

Jesus said that in the final judgment “the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’” (Matthew 25:40). Have we considered that what we say to others and about others, we are saying to God and about God? Could that really be true? What we do to the least in society we do to God? Really!? How often, then, have we ignored God? How often have we spoken disparagingly about God? How often have we been rude to God? How often have we dismissed God out of hand? What Job’s friends said about him, they were saying about God. How we treat others cannot be divorced from how we treat God.

Too often we love God; we worship God; we would never speak disparagingly about God, yet we turn around and mistreat, or ignore others, and speak disapprovingly and unsympathetically toward them or about them. How is that possible that our lives can be so compartmentalized that we can love God and hate others at the same time? Yes, I know . . . hate is a strong word and we would never hate another person. So, we must be okay, right? But the Apostle John wrote these words,

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother (1 John 4:20 (ESV).

God doesn’t just require that we not hate our brothers. He requires that we love them. We cannot separate loving God from loving others. Life just doesn’t work that way. Job’s friends found out that if you disparage and disrespect others, you disparage and disrespect God himself.

Father, today may I see Jesus in every person. May my words, thoughts, and actions reflect love for you that overflows into love for them. Lord, I can’t do that by myself. I’m not resolving to live in such a manner, I am pleading. Only by your grace can that happen. Fill my vision and let me see only you.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Job 42:10-11 (ESV)
And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him. And each of them gave him a piece of money and a ring of gold.

Job 42 is a short chapter, but it raises so many questions. Why did God mention Job’s three friends, but not Elihu? Why did Job’s family not come to him with gifts and help earlier when things first fell apart, instead of waiting until after the fact? Are Job’s children supposed to be replacements for those he lost? That seems to be a harsh thought. No child can replace a child who has died. I don’t believe they are replacements. Rather, they are further blessings. Verse 10 says that God restored Job’s fortunes, but then verse twelve says that God blessed Job’s latter days more than his beginning. He children are not replacements. They are simply blessings.

This chapter raises a number of questions, but gives few answers. But, there is one interesting statement that takes further consideration. Verse 10 says that “the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends.” Job’s fortunes weren’t restored first, and then he prayed for his friends. He prayed for his friends, and then his fortunes were restored. Three thoughts occur to me as I consider this verse. First, this was an act of faith on Job’s part. It would have been much easier for Job if his fortunes had been restored first, and then he was asked to pray for his friends. We often think that we need to have everything together in our lives before we can minister to others. But ministry is ultimately an act of faith. It is trusting that God can use a broken pot to deliver water to a thirsty soul. It is trusting that ultimately the ministry is about God, not about us. It is trusting that I don’t have to have it all together in order to minister to others.

I think that sometimes we expect or assume that pastors are able to minister to others because they have all the answers, and they have their life all together. Things could not be further from the truth. Pastors are just people. They have their struggles. They get weary and frustrated. They are far from perfect. We must not expect that pastors and those in ministry somehow live on a different level of spirituality that is unattainable for the ordinary person. Neither must we fall for the lie that until we attain that level, we are not really worthy or able to ministry. God uses broken vessels. Ministry is always an act of faith.

The second thought that occurs to me as I consider verse 10 is that this was an act of humility and repentance on his friends’ part. In verses 7-9 God spoke to Job’s friends and told them to take an offering to Job and ask him to pray for them. Job didn’t initiate this prayer. Eliphaz and company initiated. They had to come to Job with gifts in hand. They had to come to the one they had just been trying to convince of sin in his life. They had to lay aside their own ego, and their own need to be right in order to humbly ask this “sinner” to pray for them. That is not easy to do, but they did it. How often has our own pride kept us from restoring relationships, admitting wrong, and finding God’s blessing. What an incredible experience to have Job’s self-righteous friends come, gift in hand, and ask him to pray for them. How much healing could occur in relationships if we would lay aside our pride and ask those we have offended to pray for us.

That brings me to the third thought, which is that this was an act of love and forgiveness on Job’s part. Job could have been easily offended. He could have decided that he never wanted anything to do with his friends after how they had treated him. They had assumed the worst of him without evidence. They had pushed, prodded, and insisted that there was sin in his life. Who wants to hang out with friends like that? Yet Job was quick to pray for them, even before his own fortunes had been restored. In our own brokenness, we can often see the brokenness of others better. Job was willing to offer to his friends the grace and acceptance that they had failed to offer him. But that is where restoration begins; not with responding in kind, but with responding in grace.

We can’t always expect the story of our life to end like Job’s. Not all of us will become wealthy. Not all of us will live a long and full life after tragedy. That may be the experience of some, but that is hardly the point of Job. At its heart, Job is about God, and it is about humility. Eliza Hewitt’s words come to mind in her 1887 hymn, More About Jesus. It must be more about him, and less about me. That is the lesson Job and his friends had to learn. It is a lesson that is essential for each of us to learn. May the first two verses of this hymn become our prayer:

More about Jesus would I know,
More of His grace to others show;
More of His saving fullness see,
More of His love Who died for me.

More about Jesus let me learn,
More of His holy will discern;
Spirit of God, my teacher be,
Showing the things of Christ to me

More, more about Jesus,
More, more about Jesus;
More of His saving fullness see,
More of His love Who died for me.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Job 40:1-2 (ESV)
And the LORD said to Job:
“Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?
He who argues with God, let him answer it.”

The word translated “faultfinder” means to complain or argue with another. The word translated “argues” means to judge or argue a case in court. The NIV reads, “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!” Job’s friends, including Elihu, insisted that some hidden sin was at the root of Job’s troubles. God never accuses Job of sin. He does accuse him of complaining against God and accusing God of wrongdoing.
Job 40:6-8 (NIV)
Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm:
“Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
“Would you discredit my justice?
Would you condemn me to justify yourself?

There was no sin in Job’s life at the root of his troubles, but his response to his pain was less than stellar. What Job and his friends failed to consider was that the whole issue really had nothing to do with Job. It was really about God. The rest of Job 40-41 describes God’s power. God asks, “Who has a claim against me that I must pay?” He then goes on to say, “Everything under heaven belongs to me” (Job 41:11 NIV). In these chapters God uses the weather, and a description of two creatures, Behemoth and Leviathan, to demonstrate his power. Job 41:10 says "No one is so fierce that he dares to stir him up. Who then is he who can stand before me?" Here are two creatures, a land animal and a sea creature, that are apparently impervious to man’s weapons and powerful enough to never be tamed. They are just creatures. Their power is greater than man, yet God created them. They yield to his will. Even the weather, something man has never been able to tame, yields to the will of God. In all creation, only man stands and argues with his creator.

The more I read Job, the more convinced I am that Job is not about Job. Job is about God. Is God sovereign, or is he not? Is God Lord, or is he not? Can we trust him, or not? We live as though life is about us. We challenge God as though life is about us. We even present the gospel as though life is about us. Maybe what we really need is to see behind the veil and realize that we are not the center of the universe. Life and death, pain and ease, wealth and poverty…it’s just life in a broken world. Despite how our parents treated us, life does not revolve around us or around them. It revolves around Almighty God.

When he is the center of our universe, our perspective changes. That is what Job was learning. It is what Elihu needed to learn. It is what Job’s friends desperately needed to understand. So much pain has been caused, and so much damage has been done because we have the wrong person at the center of our little world. We are like the wheel on a clown bicycle where the axle is off-center. Our world is filled with ups and downs that make riding the bike difficult at best. The ride smooths out when our lives are centered on Christ.

I don’t mean that everything becomes good. I don’t mean that nothing bad happens. I don’t mean that pain disappears. Just look at Job. But when life is not about us, those things take on a different look and a different experience. In the midst of our pain, we find the comforting peace of God. In the storms of life, we find his calming presence. When bad things happen, we look to a God who can be trusted even when things don’t go our way. When God is at the center, our perspective of everything changes. After all, it is no longer about us. Life is about something much higher and grander than we can imagine, and He is at the center of it all. Life is about Him. In all creation, only man stands and argues with his creator. Perhaps it is time to stop arguing, and trust him.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Matthew 2:1-2 (ESV)
[1] Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, [2] saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

People love Jesus, hate Jesus, try to emulate Jesus, misunderstand Jesus, oppose Jesus, redefine Jesus . . . but the wise men came to worship Jesus. This is the time of year when we celebrate his birth. Christmas (Christ’s Mass). Most of what we do around Christmas is more about nostalgia than about worship.

Every Christmas movie claims to reveal the “true meaning” of Christmas. According to the movies, Christmas is about demonstrating and expressing love. It is about unity. It is about family. It is about setting aside our differences. It is about warm, fuzzy feelings. But the wise men came to worship.

Someone will remind me that the wise men came up to two years after Jesus was born. They came to a house where Jesus and his family were, not to the stable. All of that is true, but it is still part of the Christmas story because Christmas is not about a day in history. It is about an event. It is about God entering into time and space in the form of a child in order to redeem us, a people who have opposed God and rejected him at every turn. That deserves worship.

May we take a moment this Christmas, in the midst of presents, food, family, and feasting, to turn our hearts to that truth. There are many for whom Christmas is not a time of joy. It is a time of sorrow, loss, and brokenness. May I simply remind you to worship in the midst of your brokenness. That is the true meaning of Christmas. The wise men came to worship. May we do no less.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Matthew 1:22-25 (ESV)
[22] All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
[23] “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). [24] When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, [25] but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

We know the story. Jesus was born into the line of David. God became man in order to redeem mankind. We know the story, but reflecting on the story again it occurs to me that God could have chosen a better bloodline. This family tree includes prostitution, deceit, foreigners, adultery, and murder. Couldn’t God have picked a better family than this? But maybe that is the point.

God did not become man in order to save the best of us. He came to save the worst of us. He came to identify with sinners. He came to forgive, wash clean, and transform. He did not come to pick a few good people. He came for the worst of the worst. Jesus said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mk 2:17). That is why it is called good news.

Unfortunately we too often act as though God came for the righteous. We want people to come to church, but we want them to clean up first. We want them to look, think, and act like us. We are not comfortable when “real sinners” walk through the door. It was said of Jesus, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Mt 11:19).  As believers, we often pride ourselves in living in such a way that no one could possibly say that of us, yet that is what Jesus was called. It makes me wonder why we live so differently from the one we call Lord and Savior.

Maybe this Christmas season we should reflect not only on the miracle of the virgin birth, but on the miracle that God would be willing to be seen with the likes of us. Maybe we should step out of our comfort zones and befriend a sinner. By the way, Jesus time with sinners was never one where he showed pity or superiority, or looked down on them. He embraced them. He listened to them. He genuinely loved them. And when they saw that his love was genuine they were drawn to him.

This Christmas, may we genuinely love the ones for whom Jesus came: sinners in a broken world. Jesus could have picked a better family line. But, he didn’t. He came for the broken. It is time we recognize how broken we really are, and reflect the heart of God.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Job 38:1-4 (ESV)
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.”

It occurs to me that when we read Job we make the same error that Job and his friends made. They speak as though the issue was about Job. Job cries out for justice and an explanation. Job’s friends insist that the explanation is that there is unconfessed sin in his life. When God speaks, he doesn’t reference either Job’s physical condition or his spiritual condition. The truth is, it is not about Job. And that is what bothers us the most.

We want life to be about us. It isn’t. We want Job to find relief, but what he really needs to find is God. Like Job, we think and act as though we are the center of the universe. If there is pain in our lives, it must be the consequence of some great sin. If there is pleasure in our lives, it must be that God is pleased with us. “Why me?” is one of the most common prayers uttered around the world. Perhaps God’s answer is, “Why not you?” After all, life is not really about us; we just think it is.

God never answers Job’s question of why. That leaves us feeling unsatisfied. We want to know why. We want to know that Job’s suffering had some higher purpose. We read Job as though it were about suffering, but I am beginning to think that it is not about suffering at all. It is about theology. It is about who we believe God is, and what we believe about him. If we believe that he is the Celestial Servant of mankind, then that question of why Job suffered is the ultimate question of life. If he is the Sovereign Creator, then the question of Job’s suffering is hardly the point. The real question is, who is God?

There is the bottom line. When we insist on answers and explanations, then we have put ourselves in the place of God. When we insist on a gospel that is primarily about feeling good about ourselves, then we have placed ourselves at the center of the universe. Granted, we are the only part of creation that was said to be made in the image of God. Granted, God placed people over the rest of his creation. Granted, we were designed to rule and oversee creation. But, we were not designed to oversee creation as gods. We were designed to oversee creation under God. Ultimately it is all about him.

Does that make him a megalomaniac? Hardly! It makes him creator, designer, sustainer, and upholder of all that exists. Without him we would not be here. Without him this universe would not hold together. The Apostle Paul quotes two Greek poets in Acts 17:28 to make this point. “For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’” Colossians 1:16 says it like this,
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Bottom line? Life is not about us. Maybe that is the real message of Job. Maybe we would be better off if we could just learn that simple lesson. I am not the center of the universe; nor will I ever be. Bishop Noel Jones wrote a simple chorus around these words, “It's not about us, But it's about Jesus.” His response to this truth follows:

I present my body
A living sacrifice
Holy, acceptable
Unto You now
Everything I am
And everything I'll be
I lay it all at Your feet

May that be my prayer today!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Malachi 4:1, 5-6 (ESV)
[1] “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.
[5] “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. [6] And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

Judgment is coming, but God never sends judgment without warning and opportunity to repent. That is the good news. Before the coming day of judgment, God promises to send Elijah to turn hearts. Angels visited Sodom and Gomorrah before their destruction. Noah was called a “herald (preacher) of righteousness” (2 Pet 2:5). He warned people before the judgment of the flood came. The Canaanites were given 400 years to repent before God sent the Israelites in to take over the land. God never sends judgment without warning.

The question in not, How can God judge? It is not, What gives him the right? The question is, Will we heed the warning? He has the right to judge because he is the creator and maker of all that is. He has the right to judge because “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (Jas 1:17). He has the right to judge because he has given every opportunity to respond to the truth, yet in our arrogance we insist on doing things our own way. The question is not, How can God judge.? The question is, Will we heed the warning?

Christmas ought to be a time when we are reminded that God, who will judge, actually loves us. It is a reminder that God himself entered space and time to redeem and restore us. It is a call to repentance and new life. But, we have made it about us. We have self-medicated with buying, giving, receiving, partying, and searching after the false and fleeting joy of nostalgia, while ignoring the brokenness of our own lives.

Judgment is coming, but Christmas is a reminder that God still loves us and offers a life that is more lasting than that of nostalgia and self-medication. The God who will judge prefers to restore us rather than judge us. That is why he sent his son. His good news is eternal. Maybe it is time to let go of your own agenda and trust him.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Job 36:4 (NIV)
Be assured that my words are not false;
one perfect in knowledge is with you.

This phrase, “perfect in knowledge,” is used to describe God in the next chapter.

Job 37:16 (NIV)
Do you know how the clouds hang poised,
those wonders of him who is perfect in knowledge?

Job 36-37 contain picturesque and powerful descriptions of the supremacy of God. Yet something feels just a little off about these chapters. This is Elihu’s final speech in Job, and I’m just not sure what to think of Elihu. He is a young man driven by passion and frustrated by Job’s friends’ inability to convince Job of his sin. Elihu speaks much truth about the greatness of God, yet it is built on a foundation of arrogance that colors everything he says. Ultimately his conclusion is no different than that of Job’s friends.
Job 36:11-12 (NIV)
If they obey and serve him,
they will spend the rest of their days in prosperity
and their years in contentment.
But if they do not listen,
they will perish by the sword
and die without knowledge.

Elihu falls right back into the argument that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. He then goes on to challenge Job’s appeal to God.

Job 37:14, 19-20 (NIV)
“Listen to this, Job;
stop and consider God's wonders.

“Tell us what we should say to him;
we cannot draw up our case because of our darkness.
Should he be told that I want to speak?
Would any man ask to be swallowed up?

He is telling Job that he should not be so bold as to ask to speak with a God who is powerful and unapproachable. Yet in the very next chapter God will respond directly to Job. Elihu understands that to approach God is to invite death. God is unapproachable. Yet here is Elihu claiming to have the same kind of perfect knowledge that God has. It makes me wonder how many times I have had my theology slightly tilted and yet was arrogant enough to think I had it all right. Probably more than I care to know.

There must be a humility to our faith that we too often fail to embrace. Truth is important. Correct theology is vital. What we believe about God matters. Yet we can have our theology almost perfect, and still have it tainted by arrogance. In chapter 38, the unapproachable God draws near to the very one Elihu and company claim is undeserving of God’s attention. Elihu’s theology was pretty accurate, although I wouldn’t call it “perfect knowledge.” Any time we think we have it all figured out, we are standing in dangerous waters. Humility is preferred above theology in God’s economy. That is what separates Elihu from Job. Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). Nowhere has God said that he exalts those with perfect theology. Humility is preferred above theology. I think we often have that backward.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Malachi 3:14-16 (ESV)
[14] You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the LORD of hosts? [15] And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’”
[16] Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name.

“You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit…?” (Mal 3:14). Really!? That is why we serve God? Because he will make life easy for us? There are two truths here that we need to remember. First, we do not serve God for what we can get out of him. We serve him because he is God. Back in the 1970s it was common to hear someone saying, “God is the greatest high.” The problem with that is that it uses God for selfish means. God just becomes a means to another form of high. When the high wears off, we’ll look for another source to make us feel good. Yet too often that is exactly what we are doing with God. If things don’t turn out the way we think they should, if pain or rejection becomes a part of our life experience, if we don’t feel God close to us, then we assume he has abandoned us or is not worth following. We look for another way to find happiness.

We don’t serve God because of what he can do for us. We serve him because he is God. We serve him because he brought us into existence. We serve him because we belong to him. We serve him because he formed us, called us, redeemed us, and loves us beyond anything we can imagine, even when we can’t feel it. We serve God because he is God.

But there is a second truth. For believers in Christ, God will not forget us. “A book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name” (Mal 3:16). Even though the people to whom this prophecy is being written had robbed God, disgraced God, doubted God, and questioned whether it might be better to reject God, still God promised to remember them. His love is not grounded in our obedience, but in his very nature. God is love. His grace is not rooted in who we are, but in what he did by sending his Son. That is the beauty of Christmas and Easter. 2 Peter 3:9 reminds us that, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

We have become a people that are so controlled by the concept of instant gratification that the idea of waiting for reward has become almost repugnant. Yet things are worth waiting for. Despite the agony of anticipation, Christmas is worth waiting for to open presents. That is what makes it special. If Christmas were every day it would simply become routine. Similarly, without the pain, we would take God’s grace for granted and we would not grow in faith. He has not forgotten us. There will come a day when all will be set right. In the meantime, serve him not for what he has to offer now, but because he is God, and because he has not forgotten us.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Job 35:9-10 (ESV)
Because of the multitude of oppressions people cry out;
they call for help because of the arm of the mighty.
But none says, ‘Where is God my Maker,
who gives songs in the night,

Elihu’s observations here are correct. I believe that his assessment of Job is still faulty, but his assessment of mankind in general is right on. People cry out for help when they are oppressed, but few actually seek God. I’ve watched this in the political debates regarding elections and the good of the country. I heard little discussion about what is good for the country as a whole. Most discussion was about what is good for me, for those I love, or for those like me. What about those who are different from you? Most people seem to be oblivious to the hurts, needs, or realities of anyone other than those in their own little circles.

Similarly, our focus in evangelical Christianity has been more about me, those I love, and sometimes those like me. Evangelism and discipleship have been about a personal relationship with God, but it is about much more. We seek peace. We seek relief. We seek a better life. We seek comfort. But do we seek God? Being a believer is Jesus Christ is about a personal relationship with God, but it is also about a corporate relationship with his people. It is about being the presence of Christ in a broken world. It is about dying for the good of others. It is not about us.

That is the issue that both Job and his friends seem to have lost sight of. Life is not about us. In the early days of the United States of America the founders of this country put their lives, their fortunes, and their reputations on the line for the sake of others. Many of them lost everything for the sake of others. Today, my impression is that most politicians are about power and position. The idea of sacrifice for the good of others is foreign in our political world. But it’s not just politicians. It is rare to read or hear anything these days about personal sacrifice for the good of others. We are quick to take offense for ourselves and our friends, but we are unwilling to serve those who are different. Yet that is exactly what God has called us to.

Discussions of Biblical principles of marriage, for example, almost always focus on what we “have” to do. Do wives really have to submit? Isn’t that demeaning? How can we hold to such an old fashioned, outdated perspective of gender roles? What if our discussions around these passages asked a different question? What if they focused on what we are being asked to sacrifice for the good of another? What if we didn’t ask about what we must give up? What if we asked how to better serve others? What if a husband quit worrying about whether his wife was submitting, and concerned himself about how to best die to his own will in order to serve his wife’s best interest? What if a wife quit worrying about whether she was loved, and concerned herself more with how to die to her own needs in order to serve and show respect to her husband? Isn’t that what those marriage passages are really about?

As believers who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ, it is time we stopped worrying about whether we will be safe. It is time we stopped worrying about whether we will be comfortable. It is time we stopped worrying about whether we are finding joy. C. S. Lewis reminded us that when we search joy we never find it. Maybe that is why we have churches full of grouchy people. Because we’re all trying to find happiness. What a different world it would be if we sought to serve others instead of seeking to be served!

Elihu is right. Everyone seeks relief from pain, but nobody really seeks God. In the name of following Jesus we have become incredibly self-centered people. My challenge for today is to seek the good of others and stop worrying about me. Try it. It might just change your world.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Malachi 2:1-2 (ESV)
[1] “And now, O priests, this command is for you. [2] If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the LORD of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart.

The problem Malachi is addressing is not one of disobedience so much as empty obedience. The priests are not performing their duties from the heart. Worship has just become a job. They are going through the motions without true worship. The result is that blessings have become just words. Sacrifices have become compromised. Inferior animals are being presented because it is more convenient for the priests. “But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the LORD of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the LORD” (Mal 1:13). Worship became about them, not about God.

We read this and say, “Shame on those priests!” But then, we do the same thing. Our worship becomes about us. It is judged by how much we were moved emotionally, or how we felt during the music time, or whether we felt guilty during the sermon. But none of that is worship. That is all about us. It is about how we feel. Worship is about God. Worship is to bow the knee before him no matter how we feel. Worship is to listen for him, hear him, and yield no matter who he uses to give the message or how painful it is to receive.

In the day of making sure that everyone is comfortable and no one is offended, we have moved away from worship of the Almighty to worship of our own experience. But God chastised the priests in Malachi for that very thing. He said that he would turn their blessings into curses. Their homes, families, and interpersonal relationships reflected their lack of true worship. They not only failed to honor God, but they failed to honor their own covenants and responsibilities. When we fail to honor God, we fail to honor people as well. As a result, God said that he would make them “despised and abased” before the people (Mal 2:9).

It would do us well to ask ourselves occasionally how we are doing. Is our worship true worship, or are we only going through the motions? Is our worship honoring to God, or is it only about how it makes us feel? Have we been compromising in our obedience because it is more convenient for us? God desires worship from the heart. Maybe that is why the Psalmist cried out, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” (Ps 139 :23). That should be the cry of our hearts every time we bow our heads before him, for “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9). This Sunday, this Christmas let us worship from the heart.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Job 34:10 (ESV)
“Therefore, hear me, you men of understanding:
far be it from God that he should do wickedness,
and from the Almighty that he should do wrong.

Job 34:34-37 (ESV)
Men of understanding will say to me,
and the wise man who hears me will say:
‘Job speaks without knowledge;
his words are without insight.’
Would that Job were tried to the end,
because he answers like wicked men.
For he adds rebellion to his sin;
he claps his hands among us
and multiplies his words against God.”

A little bit of theology can be a dangerous thing. It is amazing that Elihu can understand everything correct about the character of God, yet totally misapply it to Job. Everything Elihu says about God is correct. There are some powerful words in this chapter. Speaking of God, Elihu observes, “If he should set his heart to it and gather to himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust” (Job 34:14). What an amazing picture of the power of God and the absolute dependence of every living thing on that power.

Elihu takes his understanding of God and misapplies it to Job. He accuses Job of speaking without knowledge and rebelling against God. Elihu applies eternal principles in a temporal way that brings him to faulty conclusions. In one article attacking Christianity, the proof the author offered that Christianity is ignorant and evil was several verses taken out of context and misapplied. Yes, there are some difficult verses in the Bible, but everything must be understood in context. Similarly, Elihu takes his theology and misapplies it.

We get upset when people put words in our mouths that are not accurate. Yet, we do the same thing. We turn around and draw conclusions about our brothers and sisters in Christ based on our understanding of Scripture and theology. But do we truly know their heart? Aren’t we doing the same thing we accuse our attackers of doing? Perhaps the problem lies in the reality that we have turned Christianity into a series of truth statements that we all agree on. If you agree with me, then we can fellowship. If you disagree, then we cannot worship together. But Christianity is more than that.

The real problem occurs when we agree on all our theology, but disagree on its application. Or, perhaps more correctly, when we agree, but realize that none of us have arrived at maturity yet. So, when the areas in which I have matured are different than the areas in which you have matured, I take that as evidence that you are not as mature as I am. We neglect to understand that common faith is not about agreeing on every point of theology. It is about coming together around the essential theology of the gospel. Maturity is not about looking like me. It is about believers working together to become more like Christ. When we start with our understanding of theology, it often involves arrogance, pride, and a judgmental spirit. Theology is important, but true faith starts with humility and grace.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Job 33:12-15 (ESV)
Behold, in this you are not right. I will answer you,
for God is greater than man.
Why do you contend against him,
saying, ‘He will answer none of man’s words’?
For God speaks in one way,
and in two, though man does not perceive it.
In a dream, in a vision of the night,
when deep sleep falls on men,
while they slumber on their beds,

Young Elihu is speaking to set Job straight in this chapter. Job's friends insisted that he was sinful because bad things happen to bad people. Elihu has a slightly different take. Job had been crying out a desire to present his case before God, and to hear from God. Elihu calls Job to present his case before Elihu, and claims that God has already spoken. Job just isn’t listening.

Two thoughts catch my attention as I think on Job 32. First is the arrogance of Elihu to think that he can hear Job’s case on behalf of God. I have to wonder how many times I have displayed that same arrogance. How many times have I treated others as though I were the ear and voice of God? I can be an ear for a brother. I can give counsel based on my understanding of God’s Word, and the indwelling Spirit of God. But, I am not the voice of God.

As believers, we must be careful not to step across that line and put ourselves in the place of God. That is what cult leaders do. That is what abusive church leaders do. That is what abusive family leaders do. That is not what humble servants of God are called to do. Peter says of false teachers that, “In their greed they will exploit you with false words” (2 Peter 2:3). Elders, on the other hand, are to, “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2). I need to regularly reassess before God how I am leading.

The second thought that came to me relates to Elihu’s insistence that God has spoken to Job; Job just isn’t listening. Rather than recognizing that sometimes God allows his people to walk through a dry and barren spiritual and emotional wasteland, we insist that any bad experience must be the fault of the individual. We cast blame. We try to find quick fixes. “If only you would confess your sin, then things would be okay again. If only you would be honest about your sin, then God would lift the emotional fog and you would experience his glorious presence.” But the truth is, sometimes dark times in the life of the believer have nothing to do with sin in our lives. Sometimes it does. We need to honestly ask God to search our hearts and reveal any sin that may be lurking there. But, sometimes dark times are just the path God has called us to walk.

Times of great rain cause trees to grow big, but times of drought make trees strong. We like to quote verses like Isaiah 45:8, “Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit; let the earth cause them both to sprout; I the LORD have created it.” We love verses like, Deuteronomy 32:2, “May my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, like gentle rain upon the tender grass, and like showers upon the herb.” We rejoice in verses like, Hosea 10:12, “Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.” What we don’t like are passages like Job that reveal the darker side of the spiritual life. God sometimes allows dark times for no apparent purpose. The good news is that God uses those dry seasons of life to work his holiness and character in us in ways that seasons of blessing could never do. Perhaps we would do well to reflect more on passages like 1 Peter 1:3-9:
 [3] Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, [4] to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, [5] who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. [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. [8] Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, [9] obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

The truth that Elihu could not understand, the reality that Job’s friends could not imagine, is that sometimes God does not speak. What they cannot grasp is that even when God does not speak, he is still present. In the darkest times, in the driest seasons of life. God is there. We may not see him; we may not hear him; we may not sense his presence, but he is there. We can still trust him. In those times, we need to worry less about blame, and focus more on the faithfulness of the God we cannot see. He is there and we can trust him.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Malachi 1:13-14 (ESV)
[13] But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the LORD of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the LORD. [14] Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the LORD of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.

Earlier, in Malachi 1:10, God sighs, “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain!” Why would God want the sacrifices stopped? Because no sacrifice is better than sacrifice that is burdensome, man-focused, and insincere. The people were bringing inferior, sick, and lame animals as offerings to God. They were viewing the sacrifices as another burdensome activity to get through. They were not worshiping.

It makes me wonder about our own worship. Do we come dragging in late, distracted, uninterested, and out of obligation? Or do we come together with hearts eager to meet with God? Ultimately the depth and power or our worship services is not dependent on the worship leader, the music chosen, or the effective planning of the worship team. Worship is about the heart. How might our corporate worship times look different if we came together with hearts inclined to bow the knee before the King and truly worship, not just go through the motions?

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Job 32:1 (ESV)
So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes.

Job 32:1 is really a summary of Job 31. In chapter 31 Job recites a number of possible sins. He lists infidelity and immorality, mistreatment of his workers, not helping the poor, lack of hospitality, trusting in his wealth instead of trusting in God, false worship, and pride. If any of these are true of him, Job is willing to accept the consequences. He acknowledges that he would deserve the consequences. Yet, he continues to insist that he has committed none of these sins, and no witnesses come forth to prove him wrong.

I find two things particularly interesting. First is Job’s list of sins. Infidelity and immorality, and perhaps false worship would make our list of Top Ten Sins, but the rest are often viewed as secondary sins. Yet when Job is talking about the worst sins he could possibly have committed, he includes things like trusting in his wealth, pride, lack of hospitality, and not helping the poor. Clearly his perspective on sin is different from ours. This ought to at least cause us to take a second look at the Scriptures to see what God’s view of serious sin is. Does our view really align with God’s?

The second thing I find interesting is that Job is more than willing to accept the consequences of any sin he has committed. I can’t tell you how often I have heard or seen believers using every means possible to avoid the consequences of their actions. To my shame, I can’t tell you how many times I have done that myself. Wouldn’t it be more honoring to God to just stand up, be honest, and take the consequences of our behavior? Wouldn’t it be more honoring to God if we were to admit and acknowledge our complicity rather than looking for excuses and casting blame? We don’t want to look bad. But let’s be honest. The more we try to excuse sin, the worse we look. We don’t want to defame God’s name. But, the more we try to cover sin, the more we defame the name of the God we serve. We don’t want to live with the consequences. We’re not sure we can live with the consequences. Since when was following God about keeping us happy and comfortable? It is time we honestly accept the consequences of our own behavior.

Is Job’s integrity intact? It appears so. No witnesses came forward to verify that he had done any of the sins he listed. We, on the other hand, too often try to excuse our sin, water down the reality of our sin, or ignore it altogether, and expect to avoid the consequences. Maybe we need to add dishonesty to the top of our list of Top Ten Sins. As I read Job, these questions haunt me: Am I willing allow my life to be openly probed and evaluated like Job was inviting? Am I willing to face the consequences of my actions? What would happen if Christians stopped trying to maintain an appearance of righteousness and just owned up to our brokenness? How might the world see us differently? These are questions worth considering. It is time that we, as a people who claim to value honesty, start living honestly.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Zechariah 14:6 (ESV)
[6] On that day there shall be no light, cold, or frost. [7] And there shall be a unique day, which is known to the LORD, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light.
[8] On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter.
[9] And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one.

“On that day…” The last few chapters of Zechariah keep using that phrase, “On that day…” They are chapters of hope. There will be a day when all things will be set right. There will be a day when the King will come. There will be a day when the nations, willingly or unwillingly, will bow before the king. There will be a day when God’s people and God’s city will be at peace and the world will know that he is God. “On that day…”

Christians are people of hope. We are people of faith. We do not live by sight, but by the promises of God’s word. We do not live for today, but for eternity. We do not live for ourselves, but for the King. We do not live for now, but for then, for “On that day…”

So why do we so often act as though now is all there is? Why do we act as though the world is out of control. Throughout the Old Testament, from Genesis 3 on through Malachi, there was the promise of a Messiah. They didn’t see him. He didn’t come. The world was spinning out of control. From man’s perspective it appeared that the Serpent was winning. But… But, then came Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Then came Jesus. Then came the fulfillment of all those Old Testament prophecies. On that day what had begun to look hopeless came to fulfillment. That is why we celebrate Christmas. Because the King was born. The promises were about to be fulfilled. The Serpent wasn’t winning after all. So we celebrate.

Today is the same. The Savior, Messiah, came, lived, died, and rose from the dead. He commissioned us to make disciples, and left us with the promise that he would come again. Today the world appears to be spinning out of control. The Serpent seems to be winning. But… God’s promises are never forgotten. He does not work in our time, but in his. Whether we see the fulfillment in our day, we will see it “On that day.” Because of that truth we live in hope, by faith. Because of that truth we get on with our mission. Because of that truth we celebrate even in the darkest of times. Because “On that day” we will see his kingdom come and his will done. Christmas is not about what happened 2000 years ago. It is about the hope of what is coming. Because he came, because he died, because he lives, we know he will one day come again. And then, what a celebration!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Job 30:5-10 (ESV)
They are driven out from human company;
they shout after them as after a thief.
In the gullies of the torrents they must dwell,
in holes of the earth and of the rocks.
Among the bushes they bray;
under the nettles they huddle together.
A senseless, a nameless brood,
they have been whipped out of the land.
And now I have become their song;
I am a byword to them.
They abhor me; they keep aloof from me;
they do not hesitate to spit at the sight of me.

Job’s suffering is made worse by the fact that even those whom people despise now despise him. It is one thing to suffer without understanding why. It is another thing to suffer and be despised by those around you. It is worse yet to suffer and be despised by those who are themselves despicable. How do you deal with that?

That raises an interesting question in my mind. How do you suppose Jesus felt while being judged, beaten, and nailed to the cross? I don’t know that I ever saw the parallels between Jesus and Job before, but here is a perfect man being despised and rejected by the most despicable of mankind. Job said, “They do not hesitate to spit at the sight of me.” In Matthew 26:67 and 27:30 the gospel recounts that the soldiers spit on Jesus and struck him. How did Jesus respond? While hanging on the cross he looked to heaven and cried out, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).

The truth of the matter is that most people acting in sin, hypocrisy, and despicable behavior are blind to their own brokenness. Jesus didn’t say, “Father, forgive them for they really didn’t mean it.” He didn’t say, “Forgive them, for they are really pretty good people. They just got carried away.” He didn’t say, “Forgive them, for they thought they were doing the right thing.” He said, “They don’t know what they are doing.” Sin is connected to blindness. The soldiers knew exactly what they were doing. Job’s tormenters knew exactly what they were doing. Evil, dishonest, and hypocritical individuals usually know exactly what they are doing. And yet, they don’t. They are blind to truth. They are blind to their own hypocrisy. They are blind to the righteousness of those they torment. They see the world through a twisted lens that distorts truth, and turns right into wrong and wrong into right.

It is one thing to suffer for something we deserve. It is another thing entirely to suffer at the hands of the ungodly. The book In His Steps, by Charles Monroe Sheldon was based on the last part of 1 Peter 2:21, “…that you might follow in his steps.” Based on that passage, the main character in the book began to order his decisions around the question, “What would Jesus do?” It is a great question that prompted the WWJD phenomenon within Christian circles. The problem is, the question fails to take the first part of the verse into consideration. The whole verse reads, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21 ESV). What would Jesus do? He would suffer unjustly for those who do not deserve it.  Are we willing to follow in those steps? That is where Job walked. That is where Jesus walked. That may be where he is calling you to walk as well. WWJD? “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Colossians 2:6-9 (ESV)
[6] Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, [7] rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. [8] See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. [9] For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.

We have an enemy that wants to hinder the work of God in any way that he can. He will distort truth, distract us from our purpose, divide us over things that seem important but really aren’t, and discourage and dissuade us through weariness, opposition, and even apparent failure. One of his primary strategies is the use of plausible arguments. Almost every one of the ways he uses to distract and distort has plausible reasoning behind it, yet it takes our attention away from our true calling. In fact, he will link it to our calling to make disciples, and then subtly get us so busy doing something “good” that we lose our passion for Christ and his call on our lives, yet we are convinced that we are serving Christ.

It is like a person in the wilderness who realizes that in order to eat he must first have fire to cook the food. He then gets so obsessed with starting a fire, keeping it going, and putting up enough wood so that he will always have a fire, that he forgets to actually cook. In this second chapter of Colossians there are at least four plausible arguments that are apparently distracting and distorting the Colossian believers’ faith. Gnosticism (2:8-10), legalism (2:11-17), mysticism (2:18-19), and asceticism (2:20-23) all sound reasonable when presented in combination with the right Bible verses, yet each of them draws us away from the truth of the gospel and centers our focus on us. We could add to the list almost infinitely: nationalism, socialism, traditionalism, emotionalism, stoicism, and on and on the list goes. Each with a semblance of rationality. Each ultimately distracts us from the gospel.

We always need to come back to the central truth of the gospel. That is what keeps us grounded. Following Christ is not a system to be worked, a religion to follow, or a passionate mission to accomplish and protect. It is about being in Christ and Christ in us. In him we have life. In Christ we are new creations. The flesh always seeks to earn favor with God and to conquer the passions of the flesh by works of the flesh. That just cannot work. As believers in Jesus Christ, we walk by faith because we are in Christ. And for that we super-abound in gratitude (Col 2:6-7).

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...