Saturday, January 22, 2011

Job's Dilemma

In Chapters 9 and 10 of Job, Job reveals his dilemma, the problem he is wrestling with and yet cannot resolve.

Job recognizes that human beings are inherently sinful, and he once believed as do his three friends , that suffering is a result of sin. But having searched his own heart, Job cannot find any unconfessed sin in his life. He is certain he has dealt with his sin, confessing, repenting, and making his offerings to God. But his torment and suffering continues and deepens.

Stedman describes Job's dilemma this way:

“Since he (Job) is not aware of any sin in his life and since he continues to undergo suffering, the problem must not lie with Job; the problem must lie with God. Yet God is perfect, wise, and loving – so the problem cannot lie with God. It’s a riddle Job cannot solve. It’s unsolvable, Job says, because he has no way to examine and debate God….There is no arena, no courtroom, where Job could be on an equal footing with God.”

So what are we to do when we find ourselves in such a quandry? When we know that we know, and yet cannot resolve the situation.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Study in Job - Part 3

Despite the fact that he has lost his children and all his wealth and possessions, Job does not do as Satan expected, he does not curse God. Rather, Job falls to the ground in worship, saying

"Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised."

Satan has been proven wrong, yet as we see in Job Chapter 2, the testing is not over.

1 On another day the angels[a] came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him.
2 And the LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”
3 Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.”
4 “Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. 5 But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
6 The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.”
7 So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.

8 Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.

Satan's attack is relentless: Despite his loss in Round 1, Satan is unwilling to concede defeat. He complains that Job was protected, and while Job maintained his faith and fear of God through the loss of family and possessions, Satan believes he will not do so if he is physically afflicted. When Satan speaks of attacking Job's "flesh and bones", he means to attack Job in his physical body (flesh), but also in his inner man (bones), his thoughts, emotions, and his spirit. And attack, he does. Satan holds nothing back! As he did with Job, he will take every inch of ground he is permitted. This makes me realize that I (we) constantly have God's protection around us, holding Satan at bay.

Rebuke with gentleness: As if his losses and affliction weren't enough, Job also loses the support and comfort of his wife, who is also suffering the loss of her children. She encourages Job to do exactly what Satan wants, but Job rebukes her gently. Job's wife believes, as many of us probably do, that God somehow owes us a wonderful life, filled with blessings, and if it is not, we should turn from God. Job tells her she is speaking foolishly, out of her pain. He reminds her that when hard times come, we must continue to love and trust God. What Satan wants most is for us to turn from God.

9 His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”
10 He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

Just recently, I have felt like I was gently rebuked by God. I had fallen into the trap of thinking that way too much of my security here on earth came from our bank account. Did we have have enough $ to get us through hard times? And then in Nov and Dec of 2010, we got hit with some huge financial bills that wiped out our savings. Ouch! But through this, God reminded me that we are not to store up treasures on earth, but rather, store up treasures in heaven.

Lessons on friendship: The bulk of the Book of Job covers the dialogue between Job and his three friends, Eliphaz, Bilda, and Zophar, or as Stedman describes them, "Eliphaz the Elegant, Bildad the Brutal, and Zophar the Zealous."

11 When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. 12 When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. 13 Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.

Job's friends make mistakes in their response to Job's situation, but they do manage to do two things right:

  1. They showed up! And this wouldn't have been an easy thing to do. First of all, it would have been some time before the news of Job's troubles reached them, and then they still had to make arrangements and travel some distance to see him. I think there would have been a strong temptation for them to say to themselves "'s too much trouble to go, and by the time we get there, things will be better...." But, they did take the time and make the effort to go to their friend.
  2. They waited for Job to speak: After they arrived, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar sat with Job, waiting silently for 7 days and nights. This is incredible. I don't think I would have been able to remain quiet for 7 minutes. When one of my friends is suffering, the tempation to speak comforting words and offer advice and opinions is overwhelming!

But once Job begins to speak, things with his friends deteoriated. Out of his deep pain, Job laments the day he was born, and wishes he would just die and get it over with. Stedman writes "Few things are harder to bear than meaningless suffering. If we could see some reason for what we go through, we could more easily endure it. But pointless trouble is corrosive to our souls."

Job's three friends have the same basic argument: "This suffering must be your fault Job. There must be something in your life, some sin, for which you are being punished. Admit your sin, and you will be restored." Stedman reasons that the reason they think this way is because if Job's suffering is NOT his fault, the result of his sin, then it could happen to them, and also to us, as well. This is a terrifying thought!

According to Stedman, Job's friends make three major mistakes in how they treat Job and his situation:

  1. They respond to Job's words without understanding his agony: Job makes many rash statements out of his incredible pain and grief. He regrets his birth, wishes to die, and asserts that he wants to give God a piece of his mind. His friends argue with him and attack his logic, where they should be looking past that to understand his torment. Job's words aren't the words of a man who is thinking clearly, and he doesn't need criticism or a theological debate.
  2. They have an incomplete theology: They speak as if they have all the answers. Stedman writes: "They spoke as if their views were the final word on the subject. They seem unaware that there might be dimensions to God and His plans that they couldn't even imagine. According to their limited view of life, suffering is always caused by sin. It's true, of course, that sin does have consequences in our lives, but trials are not always the result of sin. Their theology was narrow and incomplete." When we dish out Christian platitudes to people who are hurting and suffering, we need to be very careful about what we are saying, and mindful of the fact that here on earth, we will never fully grasp the mind or plans of God. Whatever we might think God is, He is so much more.
  3. They never pray! Amazingly, Job's three friends never pray for or with Job, and they never pray for their own understanding of Job's troubles. They act as though they already have all the answers. This was huge to me - the fact that something as simple as prayer was overlooked.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Study in Job - Part 2

As a reminder, I want to recap some of the insights I gleaned from studying the book of Job, using Ray Stedman's book 'Let God Be God'.
  • Being blameless is not the same as being sinless: The book of opens with a description of Job as blameless and upright, fearing God, and shunning evil. Job was not described as sinless, but rather, "blameless". Stedman writes that the Hebrew word used here is "tam", which means complete, lacking nothing. Job was complete because he confessed, repented and turned from his sin; he dealt with his sin as God requires. And when we have truly repented and confessed our sin, God is faithful to remember it no more. As Psalm 103 tells us,

8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Job shows us that if we repent and confess, we can be blameless, and freed from our sin.
  • We need spiritual help when things are going well: Chapter 1 of Job describes how Job's sons would have parties and feasts to celebrate their birthdays and after their partying was done, Job would send for his children and have them purified, and would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them. Job didn't know for certain how, or even if, his children had sinned, so this was somewhat of a precautionary measure. Stedman also noted that Job did not make sin offerings for his children, because a sin offering cannot made be made by someone on another's behalf . Job made burnt offerings, expressing his desire that his children would belong wholly to God. I found it fascinating that Job's fear was that his children had cursed God in their hearts, which is exactly Satan's goal for Job.

  • Satan roams the earth, he definitely has power, and yet God is in control: The name Satan means "the adversary", and in the Book of Job, while Satan is clearly and adversary of Job and God, he is not consigned to hell as some believe. In fact, he has access to the throne room of God! According to his own words, he roams the earth, presumably looking for someone to devour (1Peter5:8), but Satan is clearly accountable to God, and is explicitly constrained by God in what he may and may not do to harm Job. As Stedman writes:
"Some people seem to think that there are two gods in the universe, a good God and and evil god named Satan, and they struggle against each other on equal terms. The book of Job shows us right from the beginning that God is in control of all things. All the forces of the universe are His to command. All of time and space are under His authority. Nothing ever takes God by surprise. There is nothing beyond the reach of God's will, not even Satan."

Stedman goes on to say that while some people have suggested that the book of Job describes a "war" between God and Satan with Job somehow caught in the middle, this cannot be the case, as in war, one side does not have to get permission from the other side to act. Rather, what's going on here is a test. Satan is testing God and His creation (man) through Job, and God, in His sovereignty, permits this test.
  • Satan's philosophy revealed: Satan reveals his philosophy in how he interprets Job's behavior and how he expects Job to respond in crushingly difficult circumstances. Stedman reminds us that Isaiah 14 tells us Satan's desire is to raise his throne above God, " be like the Most High." Satan believes that all Job really cares about is Job, that he (Job) is his own god. Because things are good for Job, he fears God, but if Job was to be put in painful circumstances, he will choose bitterness and resentment, and his heart will grow cold towards God. Job, Satan believes, is really no different than him. Satan's goal is not to turn Job against man, but to turn Job against God.
  • Satan does have power: Shortly after the first conversation between God and Satan, all manner of calamity befalls Job. In four catastrophic events, his children and servants are killed, his flocks and herds are destroyed, and he is left with nothing but his wife and his grief. In two of the four events, "natural disasters" strike (fire and wind) whereas in the other two, Satan uses people, the Sabeans and the Chaldeans, to strike Job. The fact that Satan can act using natural forces was not something I had really thought about before. There are many places in scripture where we can see God controlling the natural world, but apparently Satan can do so as well, with God's permission. Stedman made a fascinating observation about the incident described in Chapter 8 of Matthew, where Jesus calms the storm on the sea of Galilee. Stedman writes:
When Jesus calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee, he rebuked the wind and the waves. This doesn't mean that Jesus spoke to air and water. Rather, he spoke to the forces behind the wind and waves, the satanic power that stirred up the storm.

Stedman goes on to say that "Disastrous forces such as earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and droughts are often called 'acts of God.' Yet we need to realize that Satan, the god of this world, is at times given permission to bring these terrible events about."

  • God does not need a defense: It's troubling to think that God allows suffering, especially suffering as brutal as that experienced by Job. We know God is just and loving, and yet God does allow bad things to happen to people, so we often come up with superficial answers to the difficult questions about suffering, to try and reconcile our anguish about why such things happen. As a Christian, sometimes I feel compelled to give a defense for God in times of tragedy. But Stedman reminded me that God does not need anyone to defend His actions; He is not subject to some higher moral authority. He IS the highest moral athority! Stedman believes that this is one reason the Book of Job was written - to show us God's deeper reasons for permitting tragedy and suffering. The Book of Job will reveal to us that God is not cold and indifferent towards us, and he does not inflict us with pain for his own pleasure, but rather, He is merciful and compassionate.

Much more to come...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Let God Be God - Study in Job - Part 1

Sometime around Thanksgiving, I found a book at a local book store titled ‘Let God Be God’, by Ray Stedman, with the subtitle, ‘Life-changing truths from the book of Job’. Since then, I have read through the entire book of Job, using Stedman’s book as a commentary/study guide. It has been such a revealing experience, and I have learned there is a lot going on in the book of Job, beyond the tale we have all heard of Job’s suffering.

Ray Stedman (see pastured Peninsula Bible Church in California for 40 years, 1950 to1990. His book, ‘Let God be God’, is derived from his sermon series on the book of Job. The book reads very much like sermon transcripts, with introductory and illustrative examples, passages of scriptures, explanations of the scriptures, and applications to the reader’s life. I found it very easy to read and follow, and as an aside, I think I would have loved to hear Ray Stedman preach!

I plan to do a series of posts, aligned to the chapters in Stedman’s book, with key points and learnings from each section in the book of Job. I hope anyone who wishes to study the book of Job will get a copy of Stedman’s book; I think you will be glad you did.

Stedman – Chapter 1: An Overview of Job

We don’t have to search far to find examples of people who suffer or have suffered terrible tragedies. Lives are cut short by terrible illness, people experience horrific loss, and we wonder and search after answers. As Stedman writes:

We know that God is loving and all-powerful. We know He has the power to heal us and take away our suffering, and we know He loves us. Still, we suffer, and we wonder why God doesn’t take us out of our suffering. We wonder why he leaves us in our pain. Doesn’t He care? Has He forgotten us? Has He turned His back on us? There are the questions that throb at the heart of the book of Job.

The book of Job is probably the oldest book in the Bible. Its author is unknown. Some scholars believe it may have been presented as a stage play, but the book is not just imagery; Job is a record of historical events, and Job was a man who actually lived. Job is also mentioned in Ezekiel 14, and in James 5, and is believed to have lived around 2000 B.C, in the same approximate time as Abraham.

Most people have some familiarity with the story of Job, a man who was described as righteous, buy yet suffered a string of calamities that left him without his children, his wealth and possessions, and ultimately, without his health. Job wrestles out his questions with God, and in the end, is blessed with a double portion of all he had before. But there is so much more to see in this amazing book. I hope you will stay tuned....

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Pondering Treasure

Happy New Year!

I love things new - new chances, new opportunities, a chance for a fresh start, moving on from past mistakes, hopefully with lessons learned. *grin* So I am looking forward to 2011.

For the past several months, starting around October of 2010, every where I went I heard people speaking about "treasure" - the things we are and are not to treasure. Our pastor preached a sermon where he covered Matthew 6:19-21, Beth Moore mentioned this in her teaching at Deeper Still in Birmingham. I heard it on the radio, songs brought it to mind, and then in late November and December, we got hit with some huge financial bills, which essentially decimated our savings. I'm certain God is gently teaching me to reconsider what I treasure, and what I trust, to snuff out any place where I place worldly things above heavenly things, and to remind me that my security is in Him alone.

So, my first scripture memory verse for 2011 is, fittingly, Matthew 6:19-21 NASB

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

I've been mulling this over for a few weeks now, thinking about what are my treasures here on earth and in heaven. And as far as I can tell, the only "treasures in heaven" that we can "store up here on earth" are relationships, people.

I've been praying, Lord - show me what's got to go, and what's got to grow! What are my treasures?

  • My relationship with God - I want to know Him more, so dig deeper into His Word, and to yield my life and my heart to His molding. Lord, I want to love YOU above everything else! Light a fire in my heart to know You, to seek You, and to trust You.

  • My family - I'm embarassed to admit that I have slipped into a pattern of taking them for granted too often, at times putting my own wants and desires above serving them. Lord, I thank you for my precious family. They are the people on this earth that I enjoy the most. Lord, help me to be a godly wife and mom, to keep you at the center of our home.

  • Lost family members - what could be more of a "treasure in heaven" than seeing someone you love come to know Christ? I wish I could remember where I heard the quote that says "1 person in a 100 will read their Bible. The remaining 99 will read the 1." Enough said. Lord, I pray my life will reflect You and reveal Christ to my lost family.

  • My health - This year I will turn 50. I cannot believe it myself, and yet it is true. And I'm feeling my age. Lord, help me take care of this earthly temple, to be strong and healthy for the things I am called to do.

  • Friends - I need people who will hold me accountable in these things! I am blessed to have a few close friends that I think I can share my heart with, but there are things I hold back, out of fear, pain, and embarassment. Lord - give me a discerning heart in my friendships. Give me friends that will help me grow, as they support me and as I support them.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

When coffee becomes art....

My friend Judy and I had lunch together today, and we ordered vanilla lattes. The barista made beautiful swirly feathery designs in the foam, and they were so gorgeous that we decided they should be photographed! Check these out... Aren't they gorgeous???

And they were delicious too!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Happiness Roadblocks

I read an article yesterday on AOL titled “Happiness Roadblocks” (You can read the article here), which stated that happiness is largely up to us. The article claims that “…50% of our happiness is cultivated in ourselves, and 50% is innate,” and that we can learn ways to be happier.

Learn to be happier? I’m all for this! Tell me more!

The article went on to describe “common roadblocks to happiness and a guide for getting around them.” What resonated with me when I read these was the fact that I have heard all of these guidelines before. In scripture. It reminded me that the Bible truly does tell us how to live.

Here’s the recap, of the happiness roadblocks as listed in this article, to which I’ve added corresponding scripture references.

1) Expecting the worst: According to this article, pessimism and expecting the worst elicits a stress response, that wears us down, prevents us from enjoying the moment, and robs us of our happiness. Perhaps this is why In Matthew 6:25-27, Jesus teaches us not to worry, saying “…do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” and in Matthew 6:34, he says again, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

2) Passing the buck: I struggled to understand this one the first time I read it in the article, but what it boils down to is this: we cannot expect someone or something to be responsible for making us happy. And if someone or something does make us happy, it simply won’t last. Lasting happiness does not come from our circumstances. It simply cannot. The writer of Ecclesiastes knew this all too well. In Ecclesiastes Chapter 2, he declares pleasure, wisdom, folly, and toil meaningless. Happiness, he said, comes from God. Ecc 2:24-26 says “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness.”

3) Thinking life should be perfect – and yours is not. Oh boy. This is a huge stumbling block for me. I would so love for my life to be perfect, and believe me, it is a long way from perfect. But rather than focusing on what’s wrong or missing from our lives, the article suggests that we focus deliberately on what is good and right in our lives. Gratitude, the article goes on to say, has been found to decrease depression. Scripture tells us this in so many places. Ephesians 5:20 tells us we should be “…always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And scripture reminds us of the many things we have to be thankful for! First and foremost, for the indescribable gift of Christ (2 Corinthians 9:15), and Psalm 106:1 tells us to simply be thankful for God, that He is good and His love endures forever. Scripture also tells us to be thankful for the material things we do have. In John 6:11, Jesus gave us the example when he took the loaves, and gave thanks. I’m trying to be more deliberate in remembering and counting my blessings, and encouraging my children to do the same, as I know we have so much to be thankful for.

4) Not thinking of others. Ever. Acts of kindness, both big and small, make us happier. The article claims that “…in doing these things, we activate the part of our brains that give us a little endorphin boost so we feel better.” Jesus told us that next to loving God, the greatest commandment we are to follow is to “love our neighbor as ourselves”, which encompasses loving, caring, giving, and doing for others. Can we be truly happy, completely isolated from ever doing anything for anyone? I don’t think so….

5) Expecting life to be fair. News flash for anyone out there that is still expecting fairness out of life: LIFE IS NOT FAIR. It’s just not. Good people suffer. Good people hurt. But even thought we know better, don’t we still expect fairness? In many ways, I know I still do. Years ago I read somewhere that over 90% of fights between siblings could be boiled down to two things: a perceived unfairness, or a need to prove oneself to be right. I see this all the time in our two children. When they were younger, it was over little things, like, who got the bigger cookie, or whose turn it was to pick a TV program. But now, as they have grown older, they are still arguing over what they perceive to be unfair. In the book of Job, we see a dramatic illustration of how horribly “unfair” life can be. Despite the fact that Job was an upright and blameless man, terrible things happened to him. In Job’s case, the unfair calamities that beset him were orchestrated by Satan, but Job didn’t know that. From Job’s persepctive, I think it must have seemed that life was just one horrendous unfairness after another. Yet despite the unfairness he experienced and his subsequent temptation to blame and curse God, Job remained faithful. Aren’t we to do the same? To not look at the unfairness of life, but instead, to look at the goodness of our God? And along the way, to alleviate some of the unfairness and suffering of others that we see? And if life was fair, we would bear the burden of our sins and Jesus the sinless savior would never have died for us. So along with being grateful even though our life is not perfect, we need to bow in humility and not demand or expect that life treat us fairly.

Are you looking to bump up your happiness level? (Boy does that sound like an informercial!!!) Well, I think we would all like to be happier. And we can start with being positive, recognizing that people or things cannot be responsible for making us happy, getting rid of our expectation that life should be perfect or fair, and taking our focus off ourselves and instead, focusing on doing for others. I’m happier already.

Have a wonderful day...