Archive for March, 2018


Out of the Ashes

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After the Lord had finished speaking to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken accurately about me, as my servant Job has. So take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer on your behalf. I will not treat you as you deserve, for you have not spoken accurately about me, as my servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite did as the Lord commanded them, and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer. When Job prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes. In fact, the Lord gave him twice as much as before! Then all his brothers, sisters, and former friends came and feasted with him in his home. And they consoled him and comforted him because of all the trials the Lord had brought against him. And each of them brought him a gift of money and a gold ring. So the Lord blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning. For now he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 teams of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. He also gave Job seven more sons and three more daughters. He named his first daughter Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. In all the land no women were as lovely as the daughters of Job. And their father put them into his will along with their brothers. Job lived 140 years after that, living to see four generations of his children and grandchildren. Then he died, an old man who had lived a long, full life.

(Job 42:7-17, NLT)

I heard a story about a man who left his house one day for exercise. As he jogged down the street, he was approached by a man in a mask who had a knife. The man cut the jogger and took his money. Moments later the jogger was found on the sidewalk. Emergency Medical Services soon arrived and took him by ambulance to the nearest hospital. After a brief evaluation in the emergency room, he was rushed into surgery, where he was approached by a man in a mask with a knife who cut him and took his money.

Suffering is a matter of perspective, isn’t it?

I believe the purpose of the Book of Job is to help us frame our questions about suffering. Is God fair? Is God just? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do the righteous suffer? But the answers to those questions are incomplete in this story, especially when everyone lives happily ever after. I’m happy for Job and others whose suffering concludes with a sigh of relief, but for many, if not most people, it doesn’t end that way.

Job helps us frame the questions, but the real answers we seek come from Jesus.

Think about some interesting parallels.

Jesus faced a test from Satan following his baptism.
Jesus met popular acclaim in the early days of his ministry, which was short lived.
Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, while his three friends slept.
Jesus was betrayed, then denied.
Jesus was falsely accused.
Jesus was offered up to the crowds in a popularity contest with a felon, which he lost.
Jesus was beaten, then crucified.
Jesus was buried.

Surely there are one or more items on that list that you can personally identify with. But for the Christian, Jesus rose from the “ashes” of death to proclaim his victory over sin, death and the grave. And because he is risen, we know that we, too, shall rise from the ashes of our suffering. Our happily ever after may not come in this earthly existence, but we can be confident that in eternity, we will indeed rise from the ashes.

There is no singular answer as to why people suffer. Bad things do happen to good people. But the story of Jesus is the ultimate good news story. Bad things happened to him so that good things can happen to us!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series from the Book of Job. My prayer for you is that you maintain hope in the midst of whatever you’re facing today, looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith!

Categories : Job, Unfair
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Out of the Whirlwind

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Affixed atop my county courthouse is a statue of Lady Justice. She presides over those who enter each day, reminding them of two important things. There are the balance scales which symbolize fairness and equity, promising that all judgments will be based on the evidence. Then there is the blindfold, suggesting that justice is impartial.

Throughout the story of Job the reader sees the challenge that Job wrestles. He desired justice. He went so far, in fact, that he requested that God appear in a court room and present his case so that he could defend himself.

Oh that I had one to hear me! Behold, here is my signature; Let the Almighty answer me! And the indictment which my adversary has written, Surely I would carry it on my shoulder, I would bind it to myself like a crown. “I would declare to Him the number of my steps; Like a prince I would approach Him. (Job 31:35-37)

After about 35 chapters of banter between Job and his “friends,” God had enough. Chapter 38 begins with God speaking to Job out of a whirlwind. If Job had an iPhone, the text message would have included an angry emoji. God posed 67 unanswerable questions about creation, the rhythms of creation, and the restraint of evil. God’s questions were so powerful that Job was left speechless. God had no interest in hearing Job’s challenges. Neither was he interested in telling Job why he was suffering.

God’s line of questioning revealed Job’s problem, pride. God said, “Will you discredit my justice and condemn me just to prove you are right?” (Job 40:8) I believe that Job was so good he could no longer see the goodness of God. But when God speaks, you listen. And you learn. And Job learned three important lessons.

First, he learned that God is sovereign. “Then Job replied to the LORD: ‘I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you.” (Job 42:1-2)

Second, he learned that he had spoken from ignorance. “You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me. You said, ‘Listen and I will speak! I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.’ I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes.” (Job 42:3-5)

Finally, Job learned that he needed to repent of his pride. “I take back everything I said,
and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” (Job 42:6)

It is important to recognize that Job repented before his restoration, leading the reader to believe that Job would have been content to live the rest of his life in his current state of suffering and never utter another argumentative word in the direction of God again. The good news for Job is that he will soon rise from the ashes. The bad news? He would never know why he suffered as he did.

Categories : Job, Unfair
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Searching for Wisdom (part 2)

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God understands the way to it
and he alone knows where it dwells,
for he views the ends of the earth
and sees everything under the heavens.
When he established the force of the wind
and measured out the waters,
when he made a decree for the rain
and a path for the thunderstorm,
then he looked at wisdom and appraised it;
he confirmed it and tested it.
And he said to the human race,
“The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom,
and to shun evil is understanding.”
(Job 28:23-28, NLT)

When we evaluate our suffering through the lens of justice, we are left with questions that focus on fairness, equity, and whether or not we are deserving of such pain. How could a good and loving God allow such tragedy? Why do bad things happen to good people? Those discussions are endless and unsatisfying.

It should be pointed out that some of our suffering may be the result of poor judgment or wrong behavior. And I believe that when those cause and effect relationships are in order, they are recognized. The majority of our questions are directed toward those instances when we cannot establish the cause and effect, such as in the case of Job.

There is an alternative, and that is the way of wisdom. When we look at suffering through the lens of wisdom, three things become evident that may be helpful to the righteous sufferer.

First, there is the consequence of creation. When God created the universe he set forth laws that are immutable and absolute. The creation account of Genesis 1-2 describes an ordering of creation, complete with these laws of nature that have been in place from the beginning. Take, for example, the law of gravity. Sir Issac Newton is the scientist credited with its discovery. And each of us is fully aware of the absolute truth of gravity. What goes up will, without a doubt, come down.

Second, there is the consequence of free will. Not only did God create the universe with laws that are immutable and absolute, he also gave the power of free will. In the same creation account, Adam and Eve, securely situated in the Garden of Eden, are given just one rule with outlined consequences. Don’t eat from the one tree. That was it. They had one rule, and they broke it.

Which brings me to number three, the consequences of the fall. Things went sideways at a breath taking pace following Adam and Eve’s choice to disobey. And the repercussions of that choice impacts each one of us today. The “fall” continues to make its presence known in our lives on a daily basis, and ultimately results in our physical deaths.

So how do we move forward in a positive fashion?

We begin by acknowledging the wisdom of God at work in the world. God is the source of all wisdom, and he is the place to begin. In addition to that, we can cultivate awe and wonder. Contemplating God’s vastness helps our hearts to know that the God who created all things also is the God who sustains all things. God is great enough to hold the universe in his hands, and personal enough to call me by name and know the number of hairs on my head. Which means he can be trusted. And when I learn to trust God, I can then come to him in my moments of pain and suffering and be loved by him.

Think of a small child who falls on the playground and skins his knee. He hobbles to his parent with tears in his eyes and reaches his arms to the sky, signifying his desire to be picked up and held. The parent sees what has happened and immediately sweeps the child up and holds the child. Few, if any words are spoken. The child is in pain and comes to his parent knowing that he will find comfort, compassion and strength to carry on. Healing will take place, but there may be a scar to serve as a reminder of the hurt. But the deepest memory will not be the pain. It will be the comfort felt in that deep and profound moment of suffering.

I am aware that large books have been written about suffering and that this is merely a blog post from a sermon I delivered. For me, though, the lens of wisdom is a valid way to approach our personal pain, and I hope you find it helpful.

Categories : Job, Unfair
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Searching for Wisdom (Job 28:1-28)

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In the middle of Job we find the wisdom chapter, Job 28. It serves as an intermission between Job’s dialogues with his three friends and his debates with a fourth friend named Elihu. In this chapter you will find Job searching for some sensibility as he evaluates his suffering. He cannot grasp why his calamity has happened, so he searches for wisdom.

I grew up in an era where a popular phrase was, “They can put a man on the moon, but they can’t (fill in the blank). For Job, the modern scientific and technological advance was mining for ores and gemstones. The first 11 verses of this chapter is a wonderful description of what human kind could accomplish through brains and brawn, tunneling deep into the earth to discover and retrieve the natural resources hidden from the surface. He states, “But do people know where to find wisdom? Where can they find understanding? No one knows where to find it, for it is not found among the living” (Job 28:12-13, NLT). In other words, “They can mine the depths of the earth for natural resources, but they can’t explain why I’m suffering!”

Job noticed that this elusive wisdom cannot be discovered in the skies nor beneath the surface of the waters. “It is hidden from the eyes of all humanity. Even the sharp-eyed birds in the sky cannot discover it. Destruction and death say, ‘We’ve only heard rumors of where wisdom can be found'” (Job 28:21-22, NLT). Job had searched high and low, and was left empty.

But then there’s God.

God understands the way to it
and he alone knows where it dwells,
for he views the ends of the earth
and sees everything under the heavens.
When he established the force of the wind
and measured out the waters,
when he made a decree for the rain
and a path for the thunderstorm,
then he looked at wisdom and appraised it;
he confirmed it and tested it.
And he said to the human race,
“The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom,
and to shun evil is understanding.”
(Job 28:23-28, NLT)

The story of Job shows his struggle to find justice. In this chapter, however, he is concerned with wisdom. What if we took the old narrative about justice and fairness and instead, looked at our suffering through the lens of wisdom? I’ll take that question up in my next post.

Categories : Job, Unfair
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Job’s Complaint (Job 3:1-26)

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1 At last Job spoke, and he cursed the day of his birth. 2 He said:
3 “Let the day of my birth be erased,
and the night I was conceived.
4 Let that day be turned to darkness.
Let it be lost even to God on high,
and let no light shine on it.
5 Let the darkness and utter gloom claim that day for its own.
Let a black cloud overshadow it,
and let the darkness terrify it.
6 Let that night be blotted off the calendar,
never again to be counted among the days of the year,
never again to appear among the months.
7 Let that night be childless.
Let it have no joy.
8 Let those who are experts at cursing—
whose cursing could rouse Leviathan—
curse that day.
9 Let its morning stars remain dark.
Let it hope for light, but in vain;
may it never see the morning light.
10 Curse that day for failing to shut my mother’s womb,
for letting me be born to see all this trouble.
11 “Why wasn’t I born dead?
Why didn’t I die as I came from the womb?
12 Why was I laid on my mother’s lap?
Why did she nurse me at her breasts?
13 Had I died at birth, I would now be at peace.
I would be asleep and at rest.
14 I would rest with the world’s kings and prime ministers,
whose great buildings now lie in ruins.
15 I would rest with princes, rich in gold,
whose palaces were filled with silver.
16 Why wasn’t I buried like a stillborn child,
like a baby who never lives to see the light?
17 For in death the wicked cause no trouble,
and the weary are at rest.
18 Even captives are at ease in death,
with no guards to curse them.
19 Rich and poor are both there,
and the slave is free from his master.
20 “Oh, why give light to those in misery,
and life to those who are bitter?
21 They long for death, and it won’t come.
They search for death more eagerly than for hidden treasure.
22 They’re filled with joy when they finally die,
and rejoice when they find the grave.
23 Why is life given to those with no future,
those God has surrounded with difficulties?
24 I cannot eat for sighing;
my groans pour out like water.
25 What I always feared has happened to me.
What I dreaded has come true.
26 I have no peace, no quietness.
I have no rest; only trouble comes.”

After sitting in silence for seven days with his friends, Job broke the silence with a powerful and disturbing monologue. Picture him sitting in the dirt. His past is lost, his future is empty, his present is painful. How did Job arrive at this dark, emotional state?
Think about it for a moment.

Time had passed and he has had time to think. As kids say today, “he’s stuck in his own head.”

His friends demonstrated they believed his situation was hopeless. Seven days, after all, was the ancient period of silent grief for one who had died.

Maybe he thought his wife was right after all. She had encouraged him to “curse God and die.” Maybe?

The memory of his past was gone. There was no sign of reflection about any of the good he experienced before his profound losses.

Finally, heaven was silent. Where was God? Where is God?

Job conveyed an image of complete and total hopelessness regarding his present state.

Reflecting on these piercing words of grief, what can we apply from his words as we think about our own suffering? I think we’ve all had our moments of feeling lost, helpless and hopeless.

First, his story and his words are a strong reminder that Christians are not exempt from suffering. Jesus, the man of grief, acquainted with sorrows, experienced suffering. And if Jesus wasn’t exempt from suffering, who are we to think we should not have to suffer in life? (Isaiah 53:1-10)

Second, Christians are not exempt from questions and feelings during suffering. Again, Jesus expressed some strong words himself when from the cross he cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

Finally, though Job does not know his end, we know ours, and because of Jesus’ resurrection we shall rise again! We have hope, not because we are good, but because Jesus is God and was raised to life on the third day, obtaining victory over sin, death and the grave!

The good news of the gospel is that Jesus understands our suffering because he suffered.
The good news of the gospel is that Jesus understands our questions because he had a few of his own.
And the good news of the gospel is that Jesus understands our final outcome in life because he is risen!

Categories : Job, Unfair
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