Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Art of Deduction: Thoughts on Ecclesiastes 1-2

I have this silly little quirk, which stems from my total dislike of surprises. Every time I pick up a novel, something inside me compulsively flips to the very last page. There I read the end of the story. Never mind that I have no idea who the last words are spoken by or what they mean for the storyline. I just have to know.

From there, I spend the rest of my time with that book trying to put together the clues as I read, the information that will make that final page's picture come together. It's so satisfying when I figure it all out before the end!

I know, I know! It's a silly quirk, like I said. But nevertheless, it is part of what makes me...well me! And, surprisingly, it came in quite handy for my study of the book of Ecclesiastes.

If you begin reading Ecclesiastes in Chapter 1, you will quickly diagnose the great King Solomon as, well, kindof a party pooper. "Poor rich, powerful, brilliant guy, he just couldn't find happiness," we condescendingly and sarcastically charge. "I bet if I had all that stuff, I'd be able to find happiness just fine!"

But if we start at the beginning, what we fail to see is that Solomon is conducting an ingenious experiment, and it's all for our benefit. To understand this book, we must skip ahead to then end, so let's do just that:

The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.
Ecclesiastes 12:13

Since he is clearly making a conclusion here based on what has been written in the previous chapters, suddenly the first part of the book begins to look very different. He's not expressing his own dissatisfaction with his life at all. Rather, he is conducting an experiment, donating his own life and resources as the test subject, endeavoring to prove a point.

Every scientific experiment begins with a question, and his is simple and universally pondered: why are we here, how can we find happiness and what in the world is the point of life? Wouldn't you like to know the answers to these questions? I know I would!

So now that we know what our writer is getting to, and where he will ultimately end up, let's begin again and see what we can discover about this life business.

Life is Frustrating

(1:1-2) The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. "Vanity of Vanities," says the Preacher, "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity."

I warned you: it sounds depressing at first, doesn't it? Vanity is a multi layered word, one we will see again and again in this book. So what does it mean? Well in a literal sense, it means breath. If I say to you "Life is a breath," then you can take that to mean short. Here one moment, gone the next. And what is the nature of a breath of air? Can you hold it, can you control it? No, of course not. It is without substance, it is empty. So you can deduce just from this word that King Solomon is saying life is short, it's empty, and overall, it's very frustrating. I think we can all agree on that.

(3) What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun?

Here Solomon gives us the question he seeks after in this work: What's the point of life? What do we get, what do we accomplish from all that we do in our time on earth?

(4) A generation goes and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.

Thinking back to my mom's generation and her mom's generation, and beyond, I can think of several very significant eras in American history. Each rose up in its time and committed to solving the world's problems in its own unique way. In the 50s it was wholesome American values, family and the home; in the 60s it was space exploration and peace and Woodstock and freedom; now in the 21st century we pride ourselves on our advancements in technology, we have discovered Crossfit and Paleo diets and plastic surgery and cloning, so we will live longer and stay more beautiful with the world literally at our fingertips.

Each new generation believes in its significance; each has its own new and unique way of viewing and living in the world with its own priorities and way of 'fixing' things. But all the causes, remedies, methods and discoveries are soon forgotten and replaced with a younger group's ideals. Nothing, in short, lasts. In the end we will all be survived by the dust under our feet and the mountains over our heads.

The Emptiness Within

(5-7) Also, the sun rises and the sun sets;
And hastening to its place it rises there again.
Blowing toward the south,
Then turning toward the north,
The wind continues swirling along;
And on its circular courses the wind returns.
All the rivers flow into the sea,
Yet the sea is not full.
To the place where the rivers flow,
There they flow again.

In short, time and life are not linear, as we like to think they are. We want to believe that we are moving and increasing and progressing, but Solomon says we live in a cul-de-sac, not on an Interstate. Think about it: you experience that every day. You pay the last of your bills on the 17th of the month just to go to the mailbox and find what? Yes, the bills for the following month have arrived. You put away the last dish from the dishwasher, walk away, and when you return less than an hour later what do you find? A dirty glass in the sink! It's so frustrating, isn't it? Nothing is every completed, ever satisfied, ever fulfilling or fulfilled. There is no real progress, only repeated cycles.

This is not the most comforting thought, which is why Solomon, in exasperation I'm sure, proclaims in the next verse:

(8) All things are wearisome;
Man is not able to tell it.

Indeed they are! Wearisome is another word for full of toil. We work so hard in life. In our jobs, in our relationships, in the activities we choose to occupy ourselves. But in the end, nothing that we begin is ever really done, and in the end it makes no real impact anyway. It is really depressing to think about this isn't it? Hang in there though; it's tough truth to hear, but Solomon is going somewhere with it (as we know already, since we read ahead, wink!).

(8b)The eye is not satisfied with seeing,
Nor is the ear filled with hearing.

Now this is different. Now not only is he talking about the world, but now he's we find that just like things in nature, like the cycles we see all around us, we as mankind are never really satisfied either. We eat, but we get hungry again. We receive, but yet we want more. John D. Rockefeller, an American industrialist and philanthropist, was at one point the richest man in the world. He felt his purpose in life was to make money to help improve humanity. At one point, Rockefeller was asked, "How much money is enough money?" His answer was "Just a little bit more." It's a human condition. We have a hole inside us from birth to death, that we are desperately trying to fill.

We Can't Fix What's Broken  

(9-10) That which has been is that which will be,
And that which has been done is that which will be done
So there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there anything of which one might say,
"See this, it is new"?
Already it has existed for ages
Which were before us.

In other words, there is really no such thing as a new idea and we don't have nearly as much control as we think we do. There is no new cause, new angle, new innovation - it's all been done or thought of before. Fashion is a great example of how we simply recycle what has come before and repurpose it to fit in the current age. Think you're an exception? In this amazing digital age, we can be more certain than ever that we are totally unoriginal by simply "googling" the thoughts that come to mind. Rest assured, no matter what you put in that little search box, something has already been written, posted and blogged or recorded.

(11) There is no remembrance of earlier things;
And also of the later things which will occur,
There will be for them no remembrance
Among those who will come later still.

To make matters worse, even when some people do come along and make great names for themselves, time erases the memories of these great men. There is no lasting fame or glory. Sure, people have certainly made an impact, there are names we remember as heroes and pioneers, but the vast majority of people on earth are forgotten almost as soon as their obituaries are printed. And the accomplishments, as exciting as they were, did not fill the void that lies within the hearts of men.

(12-15) I, the Preacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem.
And I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven. It is a grievous task which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with. I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after the wind. What is crooked cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted.

Each of us in life says at some point, "I'm going to do something to change the way this frustrating world is!" But Solomon responds here to that longing that no matter what we do, we will die, we will be forgotten, and nothing we do will really change the world. The "crookedness," the emptiness we experience in life and the frustrating nature of the world cannot be "straightened," or fixed, by mankind, no matter how much wealth or ambition or momentum we can muster.

(18) In much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.

Perhaps you've heard it another way: ignorance is bliss. The man who understood the world more than any other human ever had found it very burdensome to realize just how futile and helpless we really are. All is vanity and striving after the wind, he says. Trying to change things, living for a cause, making our mark, all of this is so meaningless; in all our honorable pursuits we are as silly as someone trying to catch a breeze and hold it in their hands.

Beautiful Distractions

So how in the world are we to cope with such dismal reality? If we can't fix things, then how should we be spending our time on earth?

Well, apparently people have not changed much since Solomon's time: we have always sought after something to fill the time with, lists of things to obtain, distractions and life plans, so that in seeking after these, life on planet earth feels more in control and purpose-filled. In short, we fill the hole inside us with beautiful - albeit temporary- distractions. Chapter two consists of a list of man's choicest pleasurable pursuits. They may seem outdated at first glance, but let's examine a few and relate them to modern day activities. Try to think about what it is you want out of life, what you enjoy doing, what you are pursuing as we go through these together.

What it looks like today
V 3
I explored with my mind how to stimulate my body with wine
Stimulants and substances that please the body such as coffee, alcohol, drugs (legal or illegal),
V 4
I built houses for myself
Real estate, cabins and lake houses, big homes
I planted vineyards for myself
Industry, career, work
I made gardens and parks for myself
Gardening, having a sanctuary or a safe place, vacations and travel
I planted in them all kinds of fruit trees;
Food, cooking, dining experiences
I made ponds of water for myself from which to irrigate a forest of growing trees
Nature, the outdoors
I bought male and female slaves and I had homeborn slaves
People who do things for us; they cut our lawn, our hair, do our nails, give massages and fulfill any other whim we might have or convenience we might desire
Also I possessed flocks and herds larger than all who preceded me in Jerusalem
Nice things, expensive toys, clothing, luxury, cars, brand names, status symbols, d├ęcor for ourselves or our homes
Also I collected for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kinds and provinces
Money, and lots of it!
I provided for myself male and female singers
Entertainment, television, shows, comedy, concerts, sporting events, or just music
And the pleasures of men – many concubines
Physical, sexual pleasure, lust, love, being loved or liked, not being alone, relationships
I became great and increased more than any who preceded me in Jerusalem
Fame, renown, status, prestige, or physical health, access to everything
My wisdom also stood by me
Intelligence, education, degrees, being the smartest guy in the room or having the last word or the best story

Look at all Solomon enjoyed. Look at all we are blessed with for enjoyment - were you able to identify some things that you gain pleasure from in life? They are wonderful things, are they not? And yet, with all this to occupy himself with, here is Solomon's response to having it all:

(11) Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold, all was vanity and striving after the wind.
Notice in each of these verses that Solomon was striving to please himself. Everything that he built was self-serving, to fill the longing within his heart. But with every new effort, he felt unhappy, unsatisfied, unfulfilled. Doesn't that happen all the time? We go after things, we make lists, we obtain, and then we instantly have buyers remorse in a sense, because we find it's not really what we wanted. It was not the end-all to our total satisfaction the way we thought it would be. This is why Proverbs says "Charm is deceitful." The world sells us the idea that it has what will fill our longing - but it doesn't. And a self-serving, self-focused life - "looking out for number one," as they say, doesn't actually end well for number one when all things are considered.

The Human Condition

So from Chapters 1 and 2 we see the pretty real and hard-to-swallow picture of reality. Let's look at what we've learned from our Preacher so far:
1. Life is frustrating, fleeting and totally out of our control
2. Nothing is ever finished, completed or satisfied - including us! We live with a longing we cannot satiate all the time
3. We cannot fix the problem - we cannot fix the world and we cannot find a way to be satisfied
Reading and studying this, my heart broke. We serve such a wonderful and just God in YHWH. Why on earth would he put us in a place like this awful, broken world?
Then it hit me. Well, He hit me with His Word. "Actually, I didn't," He says. "As a matter of fact, Beloved, go back to the beginning of My Word - there you will find the world I made for you and what I intended for you."
And sure enough, God created paradise - He called it "good." He made us stewards of creation. We had it all, His presence, a great job, all desires filled. But sin entered the world through mankind. When Adam and Eve willfully disobeyed God, when they failed to trust Him and were led astray, the world changed. There were consequences. We can read about those in Genesis 3:

(to man)
Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life . Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground...
(to woman)
I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth,
In pain you will bring forth children;
Yet your desire will be for your husband
And he will rule over you.
As I read and study and get to know God more and more, I find that His punishments always fit the crime, measure for measure. And the consequences Adam and Eve faced were very intentional. God had made mankind the stewards over animals, over plants, over all the earth. And just as God's creation (Adam and Eve) had frustrated Him in their disobedience, now He would allow them to really understand how He felt, by being frustrated in what they held dominion over. He wanted them to understand how He feels when the work of His hands rebels against Him.
God was teaching Adam and Eve that there are consequences for sin. He wanted them to understand how He feels when we rebel against Him. And He wants us to understand that same thing today, friends. He wants us to experience that life is frustrating when we live in rebellion to Him. God did not create a frustrating world. We made it that way.
We live in this world that seems to offer every pleasure, yet we never find complete rest and satisfaction in anything. We see that good people suffer and bad people thrive, that evil agendas override holy pursuits. We work so hard and nothing ever changes. We try to distract ourselves. And one day we will die and be forgotten. And in realizing all that, God knows that there will be a point in each person's life when we finally we comes to the end of ourselves and cry out to Him for an answer. And that, Beloved, is what He waits for, because when we finally run out of our own answers and begin to listen to Him, He can finally tell us what He has been trying to reveal all along. I imagine it would go something like this:
Life is frustrating because your sins have separated you from Me. You have lived to please yourself rather than to know Me. I am the answer you seek, Beloved. You cannot make it right. I am the only one who can. And I have been waiting for you to come to Me so I can heal you and restore you and fill you.
How do I know that's what he says? Because this, friends, is the Gospel, the Good News message, this is Jesus. Life on earth is all about the art of deduction, about discovering our need for the Savior. We will never know satisfaction until we become less focused on ourselves and put God first; until we accept that we can't fix it and place our trust in Christ. Jesus told us that in the book of John (4:14):
But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

What an amazing hope we have in Him, if we would only believe and repent.


Stuff Versus God

A very important note: there are some believers throughout history who have read Solomon's words and come to the conclusion that all his pursuits to experience pleasure were sinful. Let me say this emphatically: there is nothing wrong with enjoying your life. Food, companionship, laughter, nature, sex (inside marriage of course) and work are wonderful things! James tells us that every good and perfect gift comes from above, and Psalm 16 says in God's presence is fullness of joy and in His right hand there are pleasures forever. Asceticism is not His way. He wants His children to look like they are having a blast while they are here, because that - not misery - draws others who want that same glow and joy. So enjoy it, Beloved!
However, enjoy it all with caution, wisdom and proper perspective. The problem is not with having the stuff. The problem is that we tend to get comfortable and start to worship the things rather than the Giver of them. Stuff is for enjoyment, but God is for satisfaction. So love God, live for Him and experience life in the most fulfilling way, confident that He is all we really need - that way, everything else is merely added blessings.

So, Solomon's conclusion is my conclusion for today: What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? To fear God, and keep His commandments. Do this, and the rest will all fall in to place. I guarantee it.

Blessings to you as we come to the end of the summer season!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Tragedy Navigation Skills: Job 3-28

There's nothing like a big ol' crisis to put things in to perspective and to show you what you're made of. Looking back through an old journal tonight, I discovered a quote I wrote down years ago, just something jotted down that now seems perfect as we look at the book of Job:

It's what happens when your cup is shaken that matters, because what spills out is the core of who you are.

It's so true, isn't it? In our lives it's mostly small things - moments in traffic or in conversation when someone completely cuts you off, when that telemarketer calls after 9 p.m., when we didn't get our way in some matter, when our husbands or children leave a trail of dirty clothes all through the house again, or someone breaks or takes something that belongs to us - it is then that all our claims to godliness and morality are tested. On more rare occasions, it is when we receive news of illness or tragedy or death or great loss that our beliefs and values are put to the test.

Job shows us that great reverence and devotion are the contents in his cup when he responds to the shock of losing his family, health and financial security by honoring and bowing to God's decision. What an amazing and unexpected response!

But what about after the shock wears off? What happens to us when we have to live that new reality out, day in, day out, week after week? Job 3 tells us the answer. Here are a few verses that paint the picture of Job's countenance after living with the loss of his family, his estate, and his pride for some time:

v 11
Why did I not die at birth
come forth from the womb and expire?

v 20-26 
Why is light given to him who suffers
And life to the bitter of soul,
Who long for death, but there is none,
And dig for it more than for hidden treasures
Who rejoice greatly,
And exult when they find the grave?
Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden and whom God has hedged in?
For my groaning comes at the sight of my food
And my cries pour out like water
For what I fear comes upon me
And what I dread befalls me
I am not at ease, nor am I quiet
And I am not at rest, but turmoil comes.

Job's former worshipful demeanor has dissolved into an utter despair. From the selected verses above it is easy to observe that he longs for death, he wishes he had never been born, and he feels utterly trapped. His every worst fear has actually happened to him. The whole of the chapter contains a theme of darkness, and in it we find that Job has utterly lost hope.

The pain was so intense that he couldn't even speak for seven days. We know the way that feels, don't we? When the visitors go home, when we are alone, when we have spent months in or by a hospital bed, we analyze and stew on things, we mull over and replay scenarios repeatedly in the theater of our minds, fixating on them. We go through a full range of emotions – anger, guilt, sadness, indignance, a strange aloof giddiness sometimes, laughter, tears. And for Job, this was all inward as he sat on his ash heap. But after some time had passed, what comes out is Chapter 3, this cry of protest.

Job's outburst ignites a whole series of discussions from the three friends who came to his side at the onset of the horric events. From Chapter 4 all the way through 28, we are going to get to eavesdrop on the conversation. At the onset, we think, hey, they must have been pretty good friends to drop everything to come be by Job's side in his time of need. How often are we "too busy" or even indifferent to the suffering of our friends around us? At least these guys showed up. But in this dialogue, we are going to discover some major errors on the part of these friends, enabling us to learn "what not to do" when you find yourself as the consult of someone in a situation like Job's. We are going to see friendships sour and tempers flare over a theological debate at an emotional time.

I want to share the general outline of their conversation because it makes it so much easier to process when we can see it from this "aerial" perspective:

The Debate Begins: Round 1:
Job 4-5 – Friend #1 Eliphaz first speech
Job 6-7 – Job’s response to Eliphaz
Job 8 – Friend #2 Bildad’s first speech
Job 9-10 – Job’s response to Bildad
Job 11 – Friend #3 Zophar first speech
Job 12-14 – Job’s response to Zophar (though He slay me, I will hope in Him)

Round 2 of the Debates:
Job 15 – Eliphaz Second Speech
Job 16-17 Job’s response to Eliphaz
Job 18 – Bildad’s Second Speech
Job 19 – Job’s response to Bildad
Job 20 – Zophar’s Second Speech
Job 21 – Job’s response to Zophar

Round 3 of the Debates:
Job 22 – Eliphaz Third Speech
Job 23-24 – Job’s response to Eliphaz
Job 25 – Bildad’s Third Speech
Job 26-27 – Job’s response to Bildad
The three rounds of debate end without Zophar speaking again.

Notice that the conversation goes in order, around and around three times. As you read, you'll find that all three friends have essentially the same argument, and Job holds firm to his same defense. No new information will come forth, through all these chapters. What are their arguments? Let's take a look at the words of Eliphaz, who first articulates them:

Remember now, who ever perished being innocent?
Or where were the upright destroyed?
According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity
And those who sow trouble harvest it

But as for me, I would seek God,
And I would place my cause before God;
Who does great and unsearchable things
Wonders without number

Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves,
So do not despise the discipline of the Almighty
For He inflicts pain, and gives relief
He wounds, and His hands also heal…

Behold this, we have investigated it, and so it is. Hear it, and know it for yourself.

Wow, what a great, biblical answer we read here in Chapters 4-5. If Job would just own it and ask for forgiveness and stop being so wicked, his situation would improve. How hastily Eliphaz diagnoses Job's problem. In verse 27 he seems to say, there, I've told you your problem, now let's be done with it."

Now let me say right here, these are not anti-biblical statements. The Lord does discipline, chastise, judge and punish. To not recognize that as part of His character is just inaccurate. When God (YHVH) reveals himself to Moses, here is how He describes himself:

The LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.

The LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, "The LORD! the LORD, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness and truth,

keeping lovingkindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and disobedience and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the children's children, on the third and on the fourth generation."
Exodus 34:6-7

The problem wasn't that Eliphaz's statements were incorrect. Sometimes we do experience divine discipline. No, what makes his assertions faulty is that they were misapplied and given without mercy and kindness. While these are very true statements, in this case they were not true about Job. And even if they were, they sure do sound shallow in the face of such depth of pain, don’t they? "Oh just take your problems to God. Don't resist God's punishment. God is sovereign." I know I've said these things to people dealing with loss. And they are true. But we must be careful not to just spit out religious dogma and in doing that, oversimplify what is happening. A shallow, dogmatic, religious response to deep pain is not a comfort - and it repels people. Like Eliphaz, sometimes we just feel we must say something. But if that's all you've got, then it is absolutely okay - and probably better - to just keep your mouth closed!

Also, we must not forget the humanity and love when we counsel or reprove. Job was completely without hope at this moment. What did it profit him to hear Eliphaz's words? Notice, Eliphaz had already condemned Job, right from the start, when that really wasn't his job. We must remember that we cannot discern the hearts of men, we cannot know where they stand with God and we cannot know the whole story. We should be very careful when diagnosing someone's spiritual state. We cannot rightly determine what they deserve. Our job is to speak the truth in love. Eliphaz just skipped over the love part and became a judge, speaking the truth he knew.

Lastly, notice Eliphaz's impatience with Job. It is as if he says, "Okay, Job. Here's the solution to your problem. You're welcome. Now, let's move on." It takes time for such loss and pain to be dealt with. You cannot rush healing, and people are not going to come to grips with their pain on your terms or because of your great words. Be patient in dealing with others in their tragedies - it's not about you!

What Eliphaz has decided makes sense to him - and what all three friends will argue - is that SIN brings about SUFFERING. Job, on the other hand, has a different take on things in Chapters 6-7:

Would that God were willing to crush me,
That He would loose is hand and cut me off!
But it is still my consolation,
And I rejoice in unsparing pain
That I have NOT denied the words of the Holy One

In other words, Job will stand by his conviction that he is innocent, and so sin alone, then, cannot be the only cause of suffering, it has to be something else.

“Have I sinned? What have I done to You,
O watcher of men?
Why then do you not pardon my transgression
And take away my iniquity?

Job concludes his response with a prayer, and we will find that he regularly consults the Lord in his speeches. Job is keeping the lines of communication with God open in his time of suffering. When we experience hardship, do we close our hearts in anger to the Lord? Or do we continue to petition Him for a response, for comfort, and for restoration? Job is a great model for us in this.

And so the battle begins, both sides having declared their point of view. As you read through the arguments you will find that the discussion increases in intensity. It becomes personal and below the belt. These "friends" of Job begin to attack Job, to assault the memory of his children, to trash his character and his reputation. They become so upset that the speeches become increasingly short, until at the end Zophar cannot even answer any longer.

Why do you think Job's friends become so upset by what he says? Why does it become so personal? Have you ever had a disagreement with a friend or family member about a religious viewpoint? There is a reason why discussing this in public is so taboo. People fiercly protect their own beliefs, and it becomes emotional because what you believe often threatens the foundation of their beliefs. That is what is happening here. Job's friends hold fast to the same belief: SIN causes SUFFERING – they cannot conceive that Job has not brought this on himself because if he hasn't, everything that they believe is now on shaky foundation. If Job experiences suffering while innocent, then they also could be subject to it as well, and that definitely not something they are prepared to accept. Their whole understanding of God and His justice system are being challenged. We would be wise to recognize that much of what is behind religious arguments is fear - and that is certainly what is at play here with Job's friends. This is why they become more and more agitated, angry and finally cruel to him.

Job, on the other hand, experiences a metamorphosis in these arguments. The hopeless Job of Chapter 3 learns to defend his faith and His beliefs about God. He learns to hold to the truths he knows.

I am guiltless
I do not take notice of myself

I despise my life (humility

It is all one; therefore I say

Time and time again, Job reasserts his statement. While he does not know why it is happening to him, he knows that he is righteous before God and withholds no secret or great sin. And he observes in the world that there are wicked people who flourish and righteous people who suffer. So their theology must be flawed in some way.

Then Job responded
Truly then you are the people,
And with you wisdom will die!
But I have intelligence as well as you;
I am not inferior to you
And who does not know such things as these?
I am a joke to my friends
The one who called on God and He answered him;
The just and blameless man is a joke
He who is at ease holds calamity in contempt
As prepared for those whose feet slip.
The tents of the destroyers prosper
And those who provoke God are secure
Whom God brings into their power.

"the misled and the misleader belong to Him”

The more Job's friends assert his guilt, the more strength he seems to find in refuting them. While the arguments of his friends diminish due to agitation and lack of new proof, Job seems to become stronger and stronger in his argument until finally, in Chapter 13, we see the pinnacle of Job's statements and a breakthrough for him:

Be silent before me so that I may speak;
Then let come on me what may.
Why should I take my flesh in my teeth
And put my life in my hands?
Though He slay me,
I will hope in Him
Nevertheless I will argue my ways
Before him
This also will be my salvation,
For a godless man may not come before His presence
Listen carefully to my speech
And let my declaration fill your ears
Behold now, I have prepared my case;
I know that I will be vindicated

Now isn't that amazing. What renewed strength and hope we find here, in such contrast to the Job of Chapter 3. How is this possible? Certainly he draws his strength from the conviction of being living proof of them. But there is more at work here. Sometimes it is not until moments where our faith is really tested that we see what it is we are made of. What cause did Job ever have to question his beliefs when he lived in perfect security? How would he ever know what He was really made of until he was proved and tested? Though Job hasn’t quite got everything worked out, he has grown in this process. He has proven himself loyal, even without great blessing. He has gained confidence and strength as one able to defend His faith. He has found great reserves of strength within, overcoming a desire for death to hope in God's vindication. He has shown that there is more to his heart that religious dogma or rhetoric. He has a relationship with the Living God, and that gives him great hope. I wonder if in that moment he surprised himself with what was really within him. Such resolve could not have been known by Job until he walked through this battle.

I wonder, what is God trying to awaken, reveal and prove in us in our own adversity? Will we resist challenges and refuse the gain of the beautiful gifts within us that God wants to bring to the surface?

Truths We Can Take Away 

On Counseling a Suffering Friend

Its easy to make the suffering of others about you – it’s not! Don’t take it personally.

You don’t have to say anything. Your presence shows your support. 

Temper what you say with LOVE.

Don’t assume guilt or deservedness.

Don’t throw doctrines at people and assume you can fix it. Healing is a process.

On Suffering

There are things within you that God knows can only surface in the face of adversity  that will ultimately bring him glory. Trust him.

Never back down from stating truth or lose confidence in who you are because of your circumstances. Keep seeking, trustin and obeying. He will not forsake you.

Model Job's willingness to continue to consult God during tragedy. Do not close your heart because you are hurting. God will provide healing, and answers.

On Theology - A Word For Us All

How are you when your boat is rocked? Defensiveness communicates insecurity. Know that you know. Don’t react and argue -  seek and know for sure.

Suffering is not always caused by sin – sometimes it happens, as Jesus taught, so that God can be glorified through your life.

God is never in the wrong, and it’s all about Him. When we assume or declare that his actions are wrong or unfair, we are in a dangerous place.

As believers, we should not be surprised by suffering or ever think we are exempt from it. We should take it as an opportunity to serve and glorify God, to live out a very Christ-like call.

A doctrine or set of beliefs will not get you through a crisis - a relationship with The Living God through Jesus Christ will. 


Thursday, July 4, 2013

What Yard Work Can Teach You About God: My Morning Devotion

This morning I had the delight and luxury of being home for the July 4th holiday.

Since I knew lots of people would probably be in and out of our home all day celebrating and visiting, I wanted to take the opportunity in the task-absent morning to give the bushes outside in my front yard a little shaping. I really don't have a green thumb at all, in fact I've been most successful growing cactus and succulent plants. But I do so enjoy the effort and learning process in it all. The Bible uses so many horticultural references that I just can't resist trying.

People often ask me how to discern the voice of God. The truth is, He often speaks to me through Scripture I have read and studied by recalling it to my mind at just the right moment. As I trimmed and tended the plants, today my thoughts drifted to this verse:

Every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.
John 15:2

I couldn't help but liken my morning activity to God's care in our lives as His children. I wondered if, like me, my plant felt hurt when part of it was removed or cut off. I thought about how when I'm changed and shaped up, sometimes I feel disappointed because I had a different vision or notion of what I should be shaped into. Of course it's silly to think that of plants in that sort of light. They are not a life form that experiences pride or vanity like us. They live only to express the creative genius of our Heavenly Father, to lift their branches and reach to Him, to sway in praise as the wind blows, to glorify Him and to testify to His character and personality.

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made...
Romans 1:20

Isn't that what we are all supposed to do? How funny it must be to our Lord that though He created us and has called us out for His purpose, that we would be frustrated or disappointed and want something different. When you think about it, It is as silly as my plant telling me how I should prune it.

Why, furthermore, does one even feel the need to work in one's yard, I pondered? What is the purpose of any work we put in to making our homes or property look nice? Well, I can tell you with certainty that it was not in hopes that everyone would come over today and say, "Man, that's a nicely trimmed plant!" In fact, I don't really want the focus to be on the plant at all. What I hoped was not to draw attention to the possession, but to the owner - me! I want people to look at my yard and my belongings and see something about me. I want it to represent that I am a good homeowner, an attentive caretaker, a capable task-master. I want the plant to reflect aspects of my character, in other words. And isn't our Lord and King the same way? But how often to we want to be the star of the show, the main attraction? Yet Scripture tells us that in everything, we are to point to Him:

For you have been bought with a price; be glorifying God with your body, which are God's.
1 Corinthians 16:20

Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. 
1 Peter 4:11

Would our neighbors, our families, our friends describe that if they were describing us? Is it obvious to everyone that we meet that we are submitting to God's authority and pointing to Him in everything we do? I know I sure have a lot of work to do in that area. So let this be our prayer today, Beloved:

Heavenly Father, 

You have redeemed us, and to You we commit ourselves. We ask that today, you transform us into Your vision and for Your glory. We ask that You "create in [us] a clean heart, and renew a steadfast spirit within [us] (Psalm 51:10)." Lord, Your word says "Do not despise the Lord's discipline (pruning), and do not resent His rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those He loves." We thank You for loving us enough not to leave us as we are. We thank You for allowing us to be a part of Your great plan, for calling us out "for good works, which [You] prepared in advance that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). Oh God we beg that You teach us, give us eyes to see and ears to hear the works You have prepared for us, and bestow upon us humility to receive instruction. We pray for strength to allow ourselves to be shaped by You, that we not resist the work You are doing within us. Give us the wisdom and conviction to flee from sin, to abandon every distraction, to break free from the worry and fear of being different or disliked by others and cling to Your word and our call and purpose, which is this: "Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name! (1 Chronicles 16;29)." We praise you, we thank you, we hope that our lives today will be an act of worship worthy of You and a reflection of our gratitude for what You have already so abundantly provided for us in this life. 

In the name of Jesus, our Messiah, whose sacrifice makes our covenant of peace possible,

Amen, Amen

May we, God's gardens, bend and bow and reach for Him every moment! I continue to pray for your strength, growth and for great joy today as you celebrate the freedom which God has granted us in Christ.


Tweets by @AmandaTadlock