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Archive for Suffering

Feb
11

Give and Take

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Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship. He said, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave.
The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!”
In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God.
(Job 1:20-22, NLT)

In one day, within a matter of moments in fact, Job went from one of the greatest men on earth to the least of men. He lost his entire wealth, his servants and his family. The loss Job experienced in incomprehensible. We know people who have lost material possessions. And we know people who have tragically lost a child. But to lose all one owns plus all of their children in quick succession is beyond anything we can imagine.

How would you respond?

How did Job respond?

Job responded by defaulting to his spiritual preparation. The man who was noted for his close relationship with God turned to Him for comfort in an act of worship. Job had invested in spiritual resources throughout the course of his life, and had spiritual resources to draw from in abundance when the bottom fell out of his life.

If you closely examine his worship, you’ll see that Job came to God authentically. His body language speaks of his sincerity. There were no masks, no cliches, and no “pat answers.”

In his expression of worship he also acknowledged God as the source of his blessings. He didn’t take credit for what he possessed. Neither did he indicate that his wealth and family was the sum of his identity. The blessings he enjoyed came from the hand of a generous God.

At the same time, Job affirmed God’s right to repossess the possessions and blessings he had bestowed. He didn’t blame God, nor did he call God unfair or unjust. The Lord who had given is the same Lord who reserves the right to take.

Job’s vulnerable act of worship reveals his belief that when life is hard, God remains the same. That’s a powerful lesson for those of us who experience loss. Job worshiped as sincerely during the dark night of his soul as he did when all was right with the world.

If I were to offer a takeaway from this portion of Job it would be this. Don’t let all that’s wrong with life keep you from worshiping all that’s right with God. He may not have understood. But he didn’t abandon faith. His bank account may have been depleted, but his spiritual reserves would carry the day.

Categories : Job, Suffering
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Jan
27

One Day:: 2

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One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting at the oldest brother’s house, a messenger arrived at Job’s home with this news: “Your oxen were plowing, with the donkeys feeding beside them, when the Sabeans raided us. They stole all the animals and killed all the farmhands. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.” While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news: “The fire of God has fallen from heaven and burned up your sheep and all the shepherds. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”
While he was still speaking, a third messenger arrived with this news: “Three bands of Chaldean raiders have stolen your camels and killed your servants. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.” While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news: “Your sons and daughters were feasting in their oldest brother’s home. Suddenly, a powerful wind swept in from the wilderness and hit the house on all sides. The house collapsed, and all your children are dead. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”

(Job 1:13-19, NLT)

Even though Satan is the chief mischief maker in the universe, he cannot operate beyond the boundaries established by God. Having established the boundary of Job’s physical life, Satan left the presence of God and began reeking havoc. In one given day, Job lost everything. His flocks, his servants and his children were all swept away by bad guys and bad weather. None of those forces would have been perceived uncommon in Job’s day, but to happen all at once would have left him devastated. Through it all, the hand of God was concealed and the hand of Satan unsuspected.

What do we make of Job’s situation thus far? What lessons can be applied?

First, life should be lived with a profound sense of humility. Life is a gift that we cannot afford to take for granted. We are not entitled to any of the blessings God has granted. We didn’t earn them and we certainly cannot guarantee that they will remain a part of our lives by our own efforts. As the famous holocaust survivor Corrie TenBoom once remarked, “I have learned to hold on to the things of this world very loosely because it hurts too badly when God has to pry my fingers apart.”

Second, we must cultivate the spiritual resources we need today so we will have those resources available to draw from when tragedy strikes. Think of it as retirement planning. Those who are wise have and continue to plan for retirement by putting resources away for the future. When retirement comes, they are able to do so because they have prepared in advance. The same principle is true of spiritual principles. Job had cultivated a life of character and integrity, fearing God and turning from evil. Because of the spiritual resources he developed as a routine part of his life, he had those resources to draw from during his time of devastating loss. Not even God can draw something from you that you have not intentionally invested. If we have not made those investments into our spiritual lives, we will find ourselves spiritually destitute if and when we need to make a significant withdrawal. We’ll see more evidence of Job’s spiritual investments in the next section of this story.

Categories : Job, Suffering
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Jan
24

One Day

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One day the members of the heavenly court came to present themselves before the Lord, and the Accuser, Satan, came with them. “Where have you come from?” the Lord asked Satan. Satan answered the Lord, “I have been patrolling the earth, watching everything that’s going on.”
Then the Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.”
Satan replied to the Lord, “Yes, but Job has good reason to fear God. You have always put a wall of protection around him and his home and his property. You have made him prosper in everything he does. Look how rich he is! But reach out and take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!” “All right, you may test him,” the Lord said to Satan. “Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don’t harm him physically.” So Satan left the Lord’s presence.
(Job 1:6-12, NLT)

On May 1, 1915, nearly 2,000 passengers boarded a luxury ocean liner at Pier 54 in New York destined for Liverpool, England. People were anxious, because Great Britain and Germany were at war, and the charted course would call for the Lusitania to navigate dangerous waters. Germany had placed ads in American newspapers warning them not to travel on British ships, and many heeded the warning. However, approximately 200 Americans chose to take the risk and make the trip. The first several days of the journey were uneventful, but on the morning of May 7, the ship found itself in dense fog and 100 miles from its destination. As the fog lifted around noon, a German U-boat spotted the Lusitania and fired a torpedo into the starboard side of the ship. The explosion triggered a second explosion, and within 20 minutes the ship turned on its side and sank. The tragic event was instrumental in the United States decision to enter what we now refer to as World War I. And it all happened as the result of one day.

The story of Job begins by introducing him as a man who was, in the words of God, “the finest man on earth.” This introduction is followed by a conversation that is staged at the throne of God in the heavenlies. We are presented with “the Satan,” who is pictured as wandering the earth. Though he wanders, his wandering is not aimless. This adversarial accuser stands poised to create mischief throughout the earth. The reader is reminded of Peter’s description in 1 Peter 5:8 where he reminds us that Satan “roams the earth, to and fro, seeking whom he may devour.”

As the conversation unfolds, God points out his servant Job. Satan immediately flung his arrows of accusation, claiming that the only reason Job is devout is because God has blessed him and protected him from harm. Inherent in this accusation is the finger pointed at God, suggesting that God has blessed Job in exchange for his devotion. So a challenged is proposed: take all that he has and Job will no longer worship God. The challenge is accepted, with limitation. Satan is released to undertake his work, but forbidden to touch Job himself.

The essence of the challenge is this. Is God so good he can be loved for himself? Will a person hold on to God when there are no benefits attached? The test of Job is a good question for us. Do we love God for who he is? Or do we love him for the gifts he bestows?

Several years ago I had the opportunity to participate in a mission trip to the rural regions of Haiti. It was less than primitive. We were 100 miles from a telephone. The nearest power outlet was the same distance. The terrain was so rugged it took nearly 17 hours and 5 tire changes just to get to the orphanage where we would stay. It was third world conditions.

To our surprise, the first morning we were awakened at dawn by the local villagers having choir practice. These men and women sang in full voice, brimming with joy and enthusiasm. My friend Greg, who was on the trip, made an observation I’ll never forget. He said, “If these people, living in these conditions, can sing like that at 5:30 in the morning, I’ll never complain about singing in church again!” These Haitian men and women loved God for who he is, no strings attached. And we will soon find that Job did too.

Categories : Job, Suffering
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Jan
17

Once Upon a Time:: 2

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“There once was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless—a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil. He had seven sons and three daughters. He owned 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 teams of oxen, and 500 female donkeys. He also had many servants. He was, in fact, the richest person in that entire area. Job’s sons would take turns preparing feasts in their homes, and they would also invite their three sisters to celebrate with them. When these celebrations ended—sometimes after several days—Job would purify his children. He would get up early in the morning and offer a burnt offering for each of them. For Job said to himself, “Perhaps my children have sinned and have cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular practice.” (Job 1:1-5, NLT)

The Book of Job begins by introducing the reader to this remarkable person. Why is he remarkable? The first five verses give three explicit reasons, the first of which is his character (1:1). The writer reports that Job is a man whose life is marked by blameless thoughts and attitudes as well as behavior that is of complete integrity. He does this by fearing God and avoiding evil.

Not only is he a man of character, he is a man of affluence (1:2-3). He possessed exceptional wealth. Among the inventory of his possessions is the fact that he has been blessed with ten children. Those who lived in the ancient near east believed that prosperity was a sign of God’s blessing. The thought that Job was “lucky” or hard working would have never occurred to his peers. Their evaluation would have been that he was blessed by God.

In addition to these two elements we find that Job is also a man of influence (1:4-5). Because of the early nature of Job’s story, there was no central priesthood, but that didn’t stop Job from priesting his family. He led his family spiritually, pointing them to God, making sure that even their potential sins were atoned for. As we read on, we find that Job not only influenced his family, he helped those around him. Job 4:3-4 states of Job, “In the past you have encouraged many people; you have strengthened those who were weak. Your words have supported those who were falling; you encouraged those with shaky knees.”

Everyone loved and respected Job. But even more that the affirmation of his family and peers was the affirmation of God, who called Job “the finest man on earth!” (Job 1:8, 2:3)

Why is this information important? It’s important because Job’s righteousness is essential to the story. Had Job been a rascal we would look at his pain and suffering and write it off as well deserved. But he’s not a rascal. He’s the most exemplary person on earth…and that’s God’s assessment!

Job’s righteousness sets us up to wrestle with some very important questions.

— Why do bad things happen to good people?
— Why do the righteous suffer?
— Is God arbitrary?
— Is God just?
— Is God fair?

That’s the stuff of the story of Job. And its worth

Categories : Job, Suffering
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Jan
15

Once Upon a Time

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What did you read growing up? As a child learning to read, one of the genres of literature that I cut my teeth on was fairy tales. Those fairy tales had a certain rhythm. They began with recognizable phrases such as “once upon a time,” or “long, long ago in a far away land.” There was the main character, usually a castle, and the story involved someone with incredible wealth. The main character was usually beset with some adversity that was rooted in evil such as a magic spell. The main character would be delivered and live, of course, “happily ever after.” Fairy tales are written for at least two purposes. First, the story is written in a manner that allows the reader to insert himself or herself into the narrative. Think about how many “princesses” came to your door on Halloween. Second, the story is written to offer a moralism or a truth that can serve as some form of life lesson.

Job is written in such a fashion.

By making that observation I am in no way suggesting that the Book of Job should be considered fictional literature. There is a lot of evidence that would support that Job was a real person who did indeed suffer greatly. But to my point, it is written in a way that allows the reader to insert himself or herself into the story and find a take away to live by.

According to scholars, Job is one of the oldest books in the Bible. Chronologically it appears in the middle of the Old Testament, categorized with the wisdom literature books of Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. But its interesting to note that some of the oldest Old Testament manuscripts are from Job, suggesting that before God wanted to talk about subjects such as creation, the Patriarchs, or the Exodus, he wanted to address the universal dilemma of human suffering.

Yesterday I began a nine week series on the story of Job. I hope that you will find these reflections helpful as together we try to understand the ways of God in the midst of our own pain and suffering.

Categories : Job, Suffering
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Jan
11

Unfair!

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On Sunday I’m going to begin a nine week study on the life of Job. Check my blog each week for my latest thoughts and interactions from the book that speaks the universal language of suffering.

Categories : Job, Suffering
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Last week I Googled a recipe for a chocolate cake, made from scratch. The recipe was surprisingly simple:
3/4 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
After these ingredients are blended together, the recipe calls for an additional 1 cup of boiling water to be added to the batter. After combining the ingredients and the water, the batter is to be poured into a greased and lightly floured cake pan, then baked at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes.

The thing that struck me was that most of the ingredients in the chocolate cake are not fit for consumption by themselves. Who reaches into the pantry for a big scoop of shortening or a bowl of flour for a snack? No one. Most of the ingredients alone are bitter, but when combined, they make something wonderful.

Now think about your adversity. Those life challenges can be bitter when consumed alone. But God has a marvellous way of bringing them together with “time” and “heat” to create something beautiful. Don’t get lost in the bitterness of the ingredients that accompany adversity. Instead, focus on the product that is produced by the loving hand of a God who is good.

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The building with the deepest foundation in the world can be found in Malaysia. The Petronis Towers, standing some 1,483 feet above ground rests upon a foundation that reaches 394 feet beneath the earth’s surface. For a point of reference, the tallest building in Iowa is 801 Grand, which headlines the Des Moines skyline at 630 feet.

The simple lesson is this: the greater the structure, the deeper the foundation. If you want God to build height and breadth in your life, he will first have to build depth. And more often than not, the way he builds depth into your life is to allow you to experience adversity.

Joseph walked a lonely path of suffering for 13 years before he recognized that his God given ambition would come true. Those 13 years were not wasted years. God used the adversity to prepare Joseph for the ultimate challenge of success. Joseph learned to tenaciously cling to God during those days of character development. He developed a dependence that was so strong that he never lessened his grip when he was exalted and promoted.

Many people know how to cling to God when God is all they have. But it can be even more difficult to cling to God like your life depends on it when all is well. Do you cling to God when all is well? Or do you only look to God when things “go south?”

Jan
17

The Hole in the Gospel

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Last Christmas my daughter Lauren gave me The Hole in the Gospel as a gift, but I think it would be more appropriate to call it a blessing. Written by Richard Stearns, President of World Vision, U.S., this book serves the reader in two special ways.

The first section of the book is autobiographical. Stearns shares his story of growing up in poverty and putting himself through an Ivy League school, earning a degree in neurobiology then later a MBA. He was an avowed atheist who turned to Christ through the witness of his girlfriend who eventually became his wife. Stearns was successful in his business career and was named President of Parker Brothers at the age of 33. He later became President and CEO of Lenox, Inc., America’s fine tableware and gift company.

During his years in business, the Stearns family lived a committed Christian life. They were active participants in local churches and were especially supportive of missions and mission work around the world. Stearns replays with transparency the struggle he underwent hearing and acknowledging God’s calling to leave the business arena to become the head of World Vision.

Stearns then shared his work with World Vision and provided the reader with a powerful challenge to become engaged in helping to solve real problems among the suffering around the world. There are many talking heads today that are able to share some of the same statistical data that Stearns provides in the book. Some of those statistics are well known while others are obscure and unfamiliar. Statistical data works in this book simply because Stearns has been to the places he writes about. He tells stories from his travels of the people he’s met and the suffering that he’s witnessed first hand. For me, those statistics became more striking because I knew that he knew something that went beyond the numbers. He had walked and lived among the suffering and was able to attach a name and a face to the suffering. Statistics alone can never do that.

I also appreciate Stearns ability to appropriately use Scripture in context to call the community of faith to action. His writing wasn’t filled with peppered assaults on the reader from the Bible. He faithfully interacted with Scripture and called the reader to be open to the Holy Spirit’s call to involvement. This was powerful in the most tasteful way.

The Hole in the Gospel is a wonderful book for those who have a heart for missions and to alleviate suffering in the world. I commend it to those who are passionate about the world, and recommend it to those who realize that there’s more to life than making silverware.

“For I was hungry, while you had all you needed. I was thirsty, but you drank bottled water. I was a stranger, and you wanted me deported. I needed clothes, but you needed more clothes. I was sick, and you pointed out the behaviors that led to my sickness. I was in prison, and you said I was getting what I deserved.” (Matthew 25:34-36, Richard Stearns Version)

So what is The Hole in the Gospel? The Hole in the Gospel is the dispairity between what we say we believe and what we actually do. Until we fill that hole, our religion is an empty religion that God despises.

Dec
01

Suffering and Hope: 1 Peter Seven

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“You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor. And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God.” — 1 Peter 2:4-5 (NLT)

Peter uses architectural language to describe our relationship with God, one another, and the world. Clearly he has the Temple of Jerusalem in his mind as he unfolds this imagery. In the analogy, Peter cites Jesus as the cornerstone. Several years ago I participated in a mission trip to Haiti, where the chief objective was to build a church in a small village. When our team arrived, we discovered that the floor had been poured in preparation for construction of the block building. I stood and watch for what must have been two hours as the team leaders laid the very first cornerstone. It had to be placed perfectly because that first cornerstone was what would bring the entire building to square.

That experience added color to my previous understanding of Jesus as the cornerstone. He is the first stone laid, and his work brings the entire Kingdom to “square.” As Peter fleshes out his analogy, he states that the believing community of faith are living stones as opposed to the dead stones of the Temple. Believers are the living stones of a new temple that house the presence of God. We are built on top of the foundation of Jesus Christ, the cornerstone, and we lean on one another as we rest on the cornerstone.

Peter then switches gears and suggests that the living stones of the new temple also have a second function: serving as priests to the world. Old Testament priesthood was a position of privilege. To be a priest one had to be born of the trive of Levi. Today we are qualified as priests by rite of the new birth. Peter makes the argument that every believer functions in the role of priest, offering the spiritual sacrifices of their bodies in continual service to God (cf. Romans 12:1-2). As living stones and priests, we house the presence of God’s Spirit who empowers and guides our work. We live as the incarnational presence of God in our communities and our world.

As believers, we are to function as priests in a world in desperate need of priesting. How can you be a priest to the world today?
Categories : 1 Peter, Hope, Suffering
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