Wednesday, October 31, 2018

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.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Zechariah 4:1-3 (ESV)
[1] And the angel who talked with me came again and woke me, like a man who is awakened out of his sleep. [2] And he said to me, “What do you see?” I said, “I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it, and seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps that are on the top of it. [3] And there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.”

There is a lot more to this chapter, but the thought that keeps coming to me as I read this chapter is that Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. . . . let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:14-16). The light of the lamps in Zechariah 4 are fueled by a direct line to two olive trees. Our light is fueled by a direct line to the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, guides us, and empowers us to truly be the light of the world.

As believers in Jesus Christ we are often passionate about pointing people to him. But we sometimes forget that a significant part of pointing people to Jesus is letting them see Jesus in us first. The light of Christ shines brightest through us. Just as Israel was God’s light to a dark world in the Old Testament, so the Church is to be that light today. The question we need to ask ourselves is: What does the world actually see when they look at us? Do they see light, or do they see just another exclusive, religious clique with nice polished lamps all lined up in a neat and orderly manner?

I fear that sometimes we are more interested in polishing lamps than in letting the light of lamps shine into a dark world. We are often more interested in arranging the lamps and making them look good, than in allowing them to do what they were created to do, which is to shine light. As believers our source of oil (fuel) will never run out. The Holy Spirit is infinite. The question is not whether there is enough fuel, but whether we are willing to trim the lamps and let the light shine.

Monday, October 29, 2018

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.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

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 that 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, but 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 to 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.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

 Zechariah 3:1-5 (ESV)

[1] Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. [2] And the LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” [3] Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. [4] And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” [5] And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the LORD was standing by.

What an incredible picture of the gospel. The high priest is standing before God in filthy garments. Satan, the adversary and accuser, is standing there as well. I can just hear his accusations, “Look at those filthy garments. You don’t deserve to be called a priest. You can’t serve God. You don’t qualify. God would never love you. Look at yourself. How despicable.” But God… 

How often the Adversary, the Enemy, accuses us and points fingers at us. He brings up our past failures. He points out our weaknesses and inabilities. He insists that God cannot use us. But God has a different perspective. God responds by turning to the high priest saying, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments” (Zech 3:4). That is the gospel. He has taken away the filthiness. He has taken away the failure. He has taken away the weakness and the offense. Through faith in Jesus, God clothes us with his righteousness and we are pure.

Joshua, the high priest, is not fit to serve as high priest because he is holy in himself. All he had to offer were filthy garments. He is fit to serve as high priest because God made him holy. The same is true of believers today. As believers in Jesus Christ we are called, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Pet 2:9a). God hasn’t made us a holy, royal priesthood for our own sake. He has moved us from darkness into light, and from filth to holiness “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9b).

We tend to listen to the Accuser. We tend to see our faults and our failures. We tend to see all the reasons that God cannot use us, or will not use us. But, no matter what your past, no matter what you have done, no matter how many times you have failed, God will make you holy and pure in Christ. He wants the world to see his glory in you. Therefore he has “called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9b). Do not live in your past failures. Live in your present holiness for your holiness is the very holiness of God gifted to you by his grace. That is the gospel. That is the good news. That is our hope. Stand in it.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Job 6:8-9 (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)

Thursday, October 25, 2018

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, do 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.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Zechariah 2:1-5 (ESV)
[1] And I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, a man with a measuring line in his hand! [2] Then I said, “Where are you going?” And he said to me, “To measure Jerusalem, to see what is its width and what is its length.” [3] And behold, the angel who talked with me came forward, and another angel came forward to meet him [4] and said to him, “Run, say to that young man, ‘Jerusalem shall be inhabited as villages without walls, because of the multitude of people and livestock in it. [5] And I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the LORD, and I will be the glory in her midst.’”

Two ideas catch my attention in this passage. First, the city will be far greater than the man with the measuring line anticipated. Second, the city is far safer than any wall could guarantee. Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (Jn 14:12). How can anyone do greater works than Jesus? Well, part of the answer to that question is that when Jesus was on earth he was one man, but now that he is with the Father, his Spirit indwells and works through his entire church. One man could never have taken the gospel to the ends of the earth in a lifetime. His church “turned the world upside” (Acts 17:6).

Too often, as believers, our vision is too small. We see what is possible with man. God sees what is possible with God. Jesus said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Lk 18:27). He has commissioned us to make disciples. Too often we settle for survival. Too often we settle for preserving the culture of a generation. Too often we settle for hoping that a few will come in the door and find Jesus. Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Our vision is too small.

Not only is our vision too small, but we are safer than we think. Part of the power of the early church was that they knew they had nothing to lose. Paul wrote, “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Ph’p 3:20). Earlier in that same letter he penned these words, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Ph’p 1:21). He had nothing to lose. He understood that his hope was not in this world. He understood that his safety did not depend on what man did to him.

Daniel and his friends understood that they had a hope that went beyond this life. That enabled them to face a fiery furnace and a den of lions. The Apostles understood that they were citizens and ambassadors of a heavenly kingdom. That enabled them to lay down their lives for the cause. I wonder if we really believe that, or just like to talk about it at funerals. Del Tackett, in the Truth Project, asks the question, “Do we really believe that what we believe is really real?” Do we?

Our vision is too small and our hope is too limited. Our eyes are locked on this world and we cannot see what God is really up to. It is not our goal to preserve our personal peace and affluence, our comfort and our culture. It is our goal to storm the gates of Hell with the Good News of Life. Our vision is too small and our hope is too limited. May we lift our eyes off this earth and see Jesus. We need a bigger vision because we serve a bigger God, and nothing can touch us that has not passed through his hands first.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 22, 2018

Zechariah 1:12-14 (ESV)
[12] Then the angel of the LORD said, ‘O LORD of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years?’ [13] And the LORD answered gracious and comforting words to the angel who talked with me. [14] So the angel who talked with me said to me, ‘Cry out, Thus says the LORD of hosts: I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion.

God’s discipline sometimes feels endless. God says, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent” (Rev 3:19). That is what he was calling his people to in Zechariah 1:1-6, but now the message changes. Starting in verse 7 he moves from discipline to protection. God’s principles and promises always come with two sides, discipline and defense. He will not let his people stray without working to bring them back. Neither will he allow them to be disciplined forever, but works to defend his people.

For the Jews in this case it has been seventy years of discipline. God will now act to punish those who opposed his people as he restores them in their land. Not all bad things that happen are discipline in the sense of a response to something we did wrong. Just read Job again. God calls him a righteous man, yet bad things happened to him. Still, God is faithful. He will discipline those he loves, and he will defend those he loves. Those who oppose the work of God will answer to him.

That is why we, as believers in Jesus Christ, do not need to defend ourselves. Who is a better defender than God? As our world turns more oppositional toward Christianity, we need to learn to trust rather than responding in kind. Why is it hate speech to speak of one world religion as violent while on the other hand it is perfectly acceptable to post despicable things about Jesus? How should we respond to this? Do we defend ourselves? Do we demand that such things be removed? Do we go to court? I wonder if we are not short-circuiting God’s defense when we run off to defend ourselves. The world can get angry and lash out in reaction to opposition. That is not the heart of Jesus. The only people Jesus was harsh with were the religious people who claimed to already know the scriptures but missed their point.

Seventy years is a long time to wait for justice, but God is jealous for his people. He will not allow them to be opposed one minute longer that he knows is appropriate, yet he is often giving their opponents time to repent. He says, “I am exceedingly angry with the nations that are at ease; for while I was angry but a little, they furthered the disaster” (Zech 1:15). God gave them opportunity to hear him, but they refused to yield. Maybe the discomfort his people are experiencing is simply because God is giving our enemies one last chance to turn to him. Maybe we need to learn to love our enemies as much as God does. He desires to make his enemies into his friends. Trust him in the hard times. He is faithful. He will defend his own. His purpose is higher than ours.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Job 3:3-4 (ESV)
[3] “Let the day perish on which I was born,
and the night that said,
‘A man is conceived.’
[4] Let that day be darkness!
May God above not seek it,
nor light shine upon it.
Job 3:11 (ESV)
[11] “Why did I not die at birth,
come out from the womb and expire?

This is a difficult chapter. Chapter 2 ends by saying that Job did not sin with his lips, yet here he is cursing the day he was born. Isn’t that sin? Isn’t that complaining against a sovereign God? The verses quoted above are harsh. Anyone who has experienced abuse can identify with Job’s words. Anyone who has lost a child will likely cringe at his words. This is hard stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 20, 2018

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

This was a lengthy affliction that Job experienced. His friends came from a distance. “They made an appointment together” (Job 2:11b). It would have taken some time for word to get to them about Job’s condition. It would have taken some time for messengers to travel between them setting up the appointment, or agreed upon time to visit. It would have taken some time for them to travel to see Job. Once they were there they sat with him for seven days without speaking. This was no short affliction that Job experienced.

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

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

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

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

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus[1]
O soul are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There's light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free:

Turn you eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face;
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.

[1] Songwriters: DAVID HAMILTON, HELEN HEWARTH LEMMEL, © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group, For non-commercial use only.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Job 2:9-10 (ESV)

[9] Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.”
[10] But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

This is one of the most incredible questions posed by a man or woman in the Bible. “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In Matthew 5 Jesus instructed his disciples to love their enemies. He then reminded them that God sends good things, like sun and rain, on the good and the evil (See Mt 4:44-45). One of the common issues we wrestle with is the question of why good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. Why does God bless evil, unjust people with sun and rain? Why does he allow bad things to happen to people like Job?

There are several answers to the question, but it starts with the nature of God. He is good, and he is no respecter of persons, therefore he gives good to all. Secondly, we are not good. Yes, God describes Job as righteous. In fact, he calls Job “a blameless and upright man who turns away from evil” (Job 1:8). That is a description of Job in contrast to other people. But, in contrast to God the Bible says that there is no one who is good. Jesus said, in Mark 10:18, “No one is good except God alone.” Quoting from the Psalms, Paul wrote in Romans 3:10b-12
“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
“Good” is a relative term in our usage. We look at others and determine who is good and who is not good based on who is “better,” or by some personal standard of what we consider good. But “good” is never a relative term when used of God. Good equates with the nature and character of God himself. By that definition there is no good person on earth. We do not deserve God’s blessings. We deserve his wrath. Yet “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). What an amazing truth, that God would love sinners. Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? There are no good people. There is only a gracious God.

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

His eyes were focused on the good God who had blessed him beyond what he deserved. He lived in gratitude. He understood that if he was to enjoy the good blessings of God in his life then he must be willing to accept the bad things that God allowed to happen in a fallen, broken world. His eyes were fixed upward. His wife’s gaze was fixed downward. Maybe the words to that old gospel song written by Johnson Oatman, Jr., Count Your Blessings, is the advice we need to listen to.
                                               When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost 
Count your many blessings, name them one by one 
Who knows, we might just be surprised at the goodness of God even in our darkest hour. With Job we can say, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”

Thursday, October 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Zechariah 1:4-6 (ESV)
[4] Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.’ But they did not hear or pay attention to me, declares the LORD. [5] Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever? [6] But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers? So they repented and said, ‘As the LORD of hosts purposed to deal with us for our ways and deeds, so has he dealt with us.’”

Zachariah doesn’t pull any punches here. He reminds the People of God that their ancestors refused to listen to God’s warnings through his prophets. That generation is gone. Their prophets are gone. But the word of God stands. God’s warnings were not heeded. God’s judgments were experienced. God’s people eventually repented in response to his judgment. People come and go. Prophets, preachers, and ministers of God come and go. God’s word stands.

There are several applications here. 1. Heed God’s warnings now, before it is too late. 2. Learn from the past failures of those who have gone before us. 3. Pay attention when God speaks. 4. Don’t get enamored with the prophet, preacher, or presenter of the message. Get enamored with the word of God. It is this fourth application that catches my attention.

Too often congregations are focused on their pastor. Some live in the past, remembering a former pastor’s influence in their lives. Some live in the future, waiting for God to send a “good” pastor so their church can move forward. Some give up on their church because they don’t see eye-to-eye with their pastor or their pastor’s family, or are somehow offended by them. Some are looking for the perfect pastor. Here is a hint, he doesn’t exist. Some are waiting their pastor out so that when he leaves they can do what they think should be done in the church. We could go on and on with this, but the point is that no pastor is here forever. Pastors come and go. Pastors live, grow, get old, and die. And by the way, so do congregations. No hope, no biblical church, no ministry rests on the shoulders of the pastor or the congregation.

Pastors need to get over themselves too. They need to remember that they will not be here forever. Their goal is not to be important, or to build a great work. Their purpose is to point people to God through his word. It is only his word that abides forever. Too often people and pastors make too much of themselves. Isaiah 40:8 reminds us that, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” Jeremiah would echo that thought with these words, your ancestors die, your prophets pass away, but the word of our God will stand forever. Let us not put our hope in our pastors or our congregations, but in God’s word alone. That is the only thing that lasts forever. God’s word stands.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

Romans 5:19 says, “By the one man’s (Jesus) obedience the many will be made righteous.” How can many be made righteous by the death of one? Death is not a thing. Death is simply the absence of life. Death can be passed from one man to many. Life, on the other hand, is something. There is only so much life in one being. Life can pass from one man to one man, but how can many be saved? Hebrews 9:28 says, “So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” As a man, Jesus is an acceptable, once for all sacrifice for a man. As God, Jesus is an acceptable sacrifice for “the sins of many.” The value of one man is equal to one man. The value of God is more than equal to the value of all humanity. Does it matter that Jesus is God? Yes! If he is anything less than God, then his sacrifice is not sufficient for more than one.

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

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

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

Reflections on Psalms 77-78

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