Thursday, November 29, 2012

God the Wise: Meditations on Job's Hope

Having now finished reading the book of Job, and then re-reading several of the ending chapters, I offer a few observations that I hope will help in getting to the bottom of the book's message(s).

1. Currently standing at the forefront of my mind is the notion that all of the torture from God, via Satan, that Job interpreted as God's hostility, was actually evidence of God's love. This is not expressly stated within the book, so I'm a bit slow to begin with it. However, I have also been studying Hebrews 12. As I look at the two texts side by side, this is what I see. In other words, the reasons Christians use to justify our unbelief in God's love as He has declared and demonstrated it are the very things that prove it. This is easily illustrated by the human parent-child relationship in which a loving parent goes to great lengths to protect his child from ruinous thought and behavior and deliver her unto blessing. God has made this lesson necessarily plain in the world because it is so abominably hard on us to learn abstractly.

2. God's hard dealings with Job began in a conversation between God and Satan. I do not pretend to understand the connection here, nor have I given it much time. But it is certainly worth mentioning and should be considered in the light of the many New Testament texts that connect humans and their activity with the mighty unseen creatures before whom we live. (i.e. Lk 22:31; Ro 8:38; 1 Co 5:5, 11:10; 2 Co 12:7; 1 Ti 5:21; He 1:6)

3. The Heavenly Father, like His Son, does not always give a humanly sensible answer to the question He is asked. When God finally spoke to Job (Job 38-42), He did not answer Job's particular questions; and didn't even mention Job's suffering. He talked a lot about Himself. God, being wise, speaks the words needed, not requested.

4. God's timing is His own. Job has poured out his heart to God over and over and over again with no reply. We read this for 37 chapters. Then, without explanation, we read, "Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind. . ." (38:1). I don't know.

5. I have heard folks try to pinpoint Job's sin. In a way it's quite incredible that one might read Job's story and then insist on finding the wrong for which Job was punished. That he was being punished at all seems to run counter to the book's message. And yet Job "repents" (42:6); but of what in particular? Some use 16:12 and 42:10 to argue that Job was selfish, and therefore punished. But this appears to me far from the truth. And God never indicts Job for such a crime. The wrong activity Job will eventually confess (42:3) is speaking of God and God's ways without adequate understanding. I tend to think this was also the sin of those of Isaiah's day (Is 6:5), but not in exactly the same way. But this sin occurred during his weakness while suffering. It was not the reason for the suffering. The reason for the suffering is not altogether clear to me. But it occurs to me that God does bring hardship upon His people for training purposes, not only in response to unrepentant sinning (i.e. 2 Co 1). Our pain is planned, not arbitrary. And it's aim is maturity and perseverance and holiness and greater usefulness (2 Co 1; 2 Ti 2; He 12; Ja 1)

6. If you want the New Testament commentary on the point of Job's story, there is one verse on the subject, James 5:11. It reads, "We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord's dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful." I'm wondering, concerning those of you who have read Job, is this what you took away, that God "is full of compassion and is merciful." I confess that was not my first impression. We should consider this further in a future post.

7. Job's friends were wrong about him, and worse, about God (42:7-8). It's good to see Job vindicated. Such justice on earth is not altogether common to God's people. It is easy for us to look at a life and/or a situation and think that had the hurting person done this or that or the other, that he or she would not be in such hardship. We don't know that. We don't know very much at all, about each other or about God. And that's my final word here. Job knew God. Job was a righteous man (1:1,8). And at the end of his ordeal his confession is that he doesn't understand God's ways terribly well. This should give us pause in evaluating our own hardships, and before making judgments, or even speculations, when we consider others who suffer. It would be better to seek to comfort and relieve them first, and save our advice for much later, or for never. Job's friends appear to do him the most good when they are simply sitting with him, and mourning with him, in silence (2:11-13; Cf 2 Co 1 & Ro 12:15).

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Little Help on the Road

I have not written for a while. And before that I was writing sporadically. And today I have little to say. There are reasons for this that I share not. Let's move on. I have been on the road a lot lately and during this past week found myself reading from the famous devotional book "My Utmost for His Highest" by Oswald Chambers. I used to read Chambers in high school and college. Then I stopped. But, while staying in my parent's house for the week of Thanksgiving I picked it up again, since a copy of the book was on the bedside table. Here are a few highlights for your edification, amusement, and progress in the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

Commenting on John 17:4: "The death of Jesus Christ is the performance in history of the very Mind of God. There is no room for looking on Jesus Christ as a martyr; His death was not something that happened to Him which might have been prevented. His death was the very reason why He came."

Commenting on 1 Corinthians 10:31: "Our safeguard is the shallow things. We have to live the surface common-sense life in a common-sense way; when the deeper things come, God gives them to us apart from the shallow concerns. Never show the deeps to anyone but God. We are so abominably serious, so desperately interested in our own characters, that we refuse to behave like Christians in the shallow concerns of life."

Commenting on Psalm 123:3 (This one, for me, was worth the trip and the week; if only I could do it):  "The thing of which we have to beware is not so much damage to our belief in God as damage to our Christian temper. 'Therefore take heed to thy spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.' The temper of mind is tremendous in its effects, it is the enemy that penetrates right into the soul and distracts the mind from God. There are certain tempers of mind in which we never dare indulge; if we do, we find they have distracted us from faith in God, and until we get back to the quiet mood before God, our faith in Him is nil, and our confidence in the flesh and in human ingenuity is the thing that rules.

Beware of  'the cares of this world,' because they are the things that produce a wrong temper of soul. It is extraordinary what an enormous power there is in simple things to distract our attention from God. Refuse to be swamped with the cares of this life.

Another thing that distracts us is the lust of vindication. St. Augustine prayed--'O Lord, deliver me from this lust of always vindicating myself.' That temper of mind destroys the soul's faith in God. 'I must explain myself; I must get people to understand.' Our Lord never explained anything; He left mistakes to correct themselves.

When we discern that people are not going on spiritually and allow the discernment to turn to criticism, we block our way to God. God never gives us discernment in order that we may criticize, but that we may intercede."

Commenting on Galatians 6:14: "If you want to know the energy of God (i.e., the resurrection life of Jesus) in your mortal flesh, you must brood on the tragedy of God. Cut yourself off from prying personal interest in your own spiritual symptoms and consider bare-spirited the tragedy of God, and instantly the energy of God will be in you. 'Look unto Me,' pay attention to the objective Source and subjective energy will be there. We lose power if we do not concentrate  on the right thing. The effect of the Cross is salvation, sanctification, healing, etc., but we are not to preach any of these, we are to preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The proclaiming of Jesus will do its own work."

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Way of National Repentance

Read about it here.

 "Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance." 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Voting in Jesus' Name

Well, how would Jesus vote? I say at the beginning I am aware that I do not speak with any kind of flawless authority. And as a man I am prone to error. My effort here is simply to give voice to biblical values, and briefly. Having said that I offer this:

1. I think Jesus would vote to protect the unborn. The Source of life is pro-life. For a really good word on this, and on our standing before God in judgment for how we vote, hear my pastor's sermon from yesterday. Click here. (Hit the "sermon" link and look for the message dated 11/4/2012).

2. I think He would vote against debt. The freeing God is for financial freedom. A president that continues to borrow to placate constituents while increasing the financial load upon citizens should be fired. In addition, there is nothing good about increasing a society's dependency upon its government. If Jesus tells the truth, how we relate to work and money says as much about us as anything, and more than most things.

3. I think He would vote for a truth teller. Jesus is Truth personified. Obama continues to tell flagrant lies about Romney's automobile company bail-out plan, among other things. And when corrected our president simply revs up the lying. Romney may be lying about things too. But if so, I don't know what they are. In my opinion, our president should have resigned due to the Fast and Furious scandal. And now we have the Benghazi debacle to settle. Again, a resignation is in order, not a re-election. I have a host of other dishonesties in my mental list, but I digress.

4. I think He would vote for humility. Jesus is not proud.

5. I think He would vote for a leader. Jesus gives sound direction and counsel. He's also not effeminate.

6. I don't think He would vote with His own financial interests as the primary matter. He's not selfish.

7. I think He would vote for heterosexual marriage, the way He designed it. He is true to His purposes.

8. I think He would vote for the same tax rate on all people - rich, poor, and otherwise. This is how God governed His people Israel. Surely we realize that a particular percentage on more money is more money; meaning that the greater one's income the more taxes she pays. So the wealthy do pay more, but not wrongly, as they would by being required to contribute a higher percentage of their income. A government's taking money from the wealthy and using it to supply services for the poor is a form of stealing. Robin Hood is a thief. He is simply one the poor love. Voting a higher tax rate for others than we would vote for ourselves is not just, or loving. And Jesus is both.

Personally, I'm not excited about either of the candidates. I prefer a Ron Paul Revolution, which has its own flaws, but not nearly so many. With the Democratic and Republican Parties, we are forced to choose between big Democrat government or big Republican government. I'm for neither; nor were the founders of our country.

How much does any of this matter? It matters in that we all do stand in the the light and fire of God's just judgment upon us for our choices, which flow from our hearts. And it matters because who the US President is does affect people, including God's people. But it doesn't matter in any saving sense. I have no hope invested in Obama or Romney to be to me and my family any sort of savior or provider. God is God alone. God alone saves, and takes care of His people. So I'm not counting on Uncle Sam for much of anything, including my children's education, my income, or our health care, to mention only a few.

What's sad to me is that tomorrow I will, God willing, vote for a professing Mormon over a professing Christian. What's more sad is that the Mormon's values are seemingly more in line with those of Jesus than are the "Christian's". I vote values, not titles.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sunday Post for Shepherds -- Courage & Reformation

Wednesday was Reformation Day; for on October 31, 1517, German Augustinian monk Martin Luther inadvertently, but somewhat formally, began the Protestant Reformation. And while his intention to begin a world changing movement was not present, his courage certainly was; courage to challenge long held beliefs precious to his own church. May God grant Christian pastors of our day the same kind of protestant courage, a courage rooted in Bible doctrine and our certainty of God's trustworthiness when He speaks. We will know this has come when God's men "do not shrink back from declaring the whole counsel of God" (Ac 20:27); when God's approval means more than that of the congregation (Mt 10:28); when we lean on God's grace and not our paychecks (Mt 10:31); and when we see the fruit of such preaching -- thriving and dying churches. For the Word of God is a hammer (Je 23), both softening hearts unto repentance and hardening hearts unto damnation (Ro 9). The chief weapon in the growth of one church and the killing of another is the same -- the proclaimed Word of God.

And when hearts are moved unto repentance and faith by God's Word, our outward practices also change to reflect what has happened on the inside. For pastors this means our gatherings begin to look and sound and feel different, because we are trusting God the Holy Spirit and detesting man-centered religion where numbers and reputations reign.

So go on brother pastor, preach the Bible systematically. Say about God what God says about Himself. Teach doctrine and stop with the "how to" sermonnettes, for we are designed to know Him (Jn 17:3), not "success." Abolish the altar call which forever ties God's saving work to something we do. Rid your congregation of the songs that could be more fittingly sung to our pets. Take that American flag out of the auditorium and teach your folks that Christians, not structures, are the Lord's sanctuary. Set up a book stall filled with resources that help your flock better understand the Bible. Design your gatherings in a way that enables your people to do all the "one another" commands of the New Testament. Establish a council of biblically qualified elders to rule the church under Christ's headship (You might want to do this first, so that you aren't trying reform alone). And then lead them to mercifully excommunicate faithless members of the flock. Begin to sit together at the Lord's Table often enough for it to actually serve its good purposes. And when you do, use the elements our Lord consecrated for the meal, including wine. And if the elements do not matter, and therefore a shot of grape juice is sufficient, then we might as well serve Coca-Cola and Little Debbie oatmeal cream pies.

In other words, we must pray and labor to see both ourselves and our flocks reformed by Scripture. This is not only what Luther would do, but what Jesus commands (Mt 28:18-19). Trust the Lord of the Church enough to do it all His way. Move at a reasonable pace, and with great patience (2 Ti 4:2). But by all means, do move! For to do so is to love Christ and His people (1 Pe 5:1-5; Jn 14:14-22).

It is quite possible, and even common I think, for a pastor to preach the Scriptures but then not lead his folks to do them. Doing them (reformation) gets worked out in the meetings and conversations and decisions. It is not enough to say what God says. Doing what God says is our vocation (Ja 1:22).