Friday, January 31, 2020

Job 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May that be true of me today.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Job 14

While reading Job 14:10-12 caught my eye.

But a man dies and is laid low;
man breathes his last, and where is he?
As waters fail from a lake
and a river wastes away and dries up,
so a man lies down and rises not again;
till the heavens are no more he will not awake
or be roused out of his sleep.

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

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

Jesus changes everything. The hopelessness of death is turned to victory. The sting of death is removed. The death and resurrection of our savior moved us from death into life. So, when this was first written it was dark, damp, and drear out my window. My wife was away from a few days. I was tired because I had been up late finishing a paper I needed to write. It was time to leave for my office, but I still needed to fix breakfast. I had every reason to be dreary as well, but, because of the truth of the resurrection, I celebrated life. The empty grave is my victory. Just the thought of that leaves a smile on your face. Think on it. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Job 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 27, 2020

Job 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 24, 2020

Job 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Job 10

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.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Job 9

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 times 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.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Job 8

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 have 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, January 18, 2020

Job 6-7

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. That is what this story is about at its roots. 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, January 16, 2020

Job 5

Job 5:8, 27 (ESV)
[8] “As for me, I would seek God,
and to God would I commit my cause,

[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, January 15, 2020

Job 4

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 with him in his pain. In chapter 3 Job finally speaks, decrying the day of his birth. He is expressing his pain. His friend 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 is 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 God 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 of Job 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.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Job 3

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.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Job 2 (Pt 2)

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). For all Job’s afflictions, “Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:10).

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

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

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus[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 HOWARTH LEMMEL, © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group, For non-commercial use only.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Job 2 (Pt 1)

Job 2:9-10 (ESV)

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

This is one of the most incredible questions posed by a man or woman in the Bible. “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In Matthew 5 Jesus instructed his disciples to love their enemies. He then reminded them that God sends good things, like sun and rain, on the good and the evil (See Mt 4:44-45). One of the common issues we wrestle with is the question of why good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. Why does God bless evil, unjust people with sun and rain? Why does he allow bad things to happen to people like Job? There are several answers to the question, but it starts with the nature of God. He is good, and he is no respecter of persons, therefore he gives good to all. Secondly, we are not good. Yes, God describes Job as righteous. In fact, he calls Job “a blameless and upright man who turns away from evil” (Job 1:8). That is a description of Job in contrast to other people. But, in contrast to God the Bible says that there is no one who is good. Jesus said, in Mark 10:18, “No one is good except God alone.” Quoting from the Psalms, Paul wrote in Romans 3:10b-12

“None is righteous, no, not one; [11] no one understands; no one seeks for God. [12] All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

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

God is good. We are not. That in itself ought to bring us to Job’s conclusion, ““Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” That is the foundation upon which we must stand as we wrestle with this age old question of why good things happen to “bad” people, and why bad things happen to “good” people. So how do we respond? Do we walk around feeling bad about ourselves all the time? No, I don’t think that is the point at all. I think that we need to revel in God’s grace. We need to see expressions of his blessing every day. We need to recognize his good gifts. When Job answered his wife, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” he was not focused on the bad. She was focused on the bad. All she could see was her husband’s pain. But Job remembered the good. His eyes were focused on the good God who had blessed him beyond what he deserved. He lived in gratitude. He understood that if he was to enjoy the good blessings of God in his life then he must be willing to accept the bad things that God allowed to happen in a fallen, broken world. His eyes were fixed upward. His wife’s gaze was fixed downward. Maybe the words to that old gospel song written by Johnson Oatman, Jr., Count Your Blessings, is the advice we need to listen to.

When upon life's billows you are tempest tossed 

When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost 
Count your many blessings, name them one by one 
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

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...