[June 30]--God’s Solution Phase Three

Rev. 21:1-5; 22:1-5

As I’ve mentioned before, Genesis 3 is one of the most heartbreaking passages in all the Bible, but it’s necessary to read. It’s virtually impossible to understand the world in which we find ourselves without knowing, understanding, and believing it. At the end of the chapter, the Lord exiled Adam and Eve from the garden, which was more than a geographical place. It also represented God’s intimate presence and all that affords: peace, harmony, and eternal life. Outside was strife, futile hard work, and ultimately death. Why? Again, he’s the source of all life, so being separated from him would be like being separated from the sun and wondering why it’s getting cold.

But in the last two chapters of the Bible, we see an absolute reversal of the curse. In Genesis 3 we had the introduction of crying, pain, suffering, and strife between people. An angel was stationed at the entrance to the garden to make sure no one approached the Tree of Life, so death was an inevitability. In today’s reading there’s no guardian to bar our way: It’s open and free to all. And best of all is the reversal of our separation from God. The root of all our problems--sin--will be removed, and with it any reason why we have to be shielded from our Father. Moses pled with God to see his glory face-to-face, and the Lord rejected his request, because no one could see him and live. It would be like ground-zero of a nuclear blast. But here, Moses’ (and our) greatest desire is granted. We won't have to stand apart from him—instead, we’ll bask in his presence like a warm spring day after the ravages of a long winter.

There are a lot of questions about our final home and what we can expect. “Will my puppy dog be there?” “What will we be doing all day?” “How literal  should we interpret this or that passage?” Some of them we can take a stab at, and others are open for a lot of debate. If we needed to know something for sure, then the Bible would tell us.

The last chapter of The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis affords us some perspective. The children and the talking animals just watched their beloved Narnia completely destroyed as they stood watching through an open door. After tearfully viewing the death of their world, they turned around and started exploring the strange new land to which Aslan (representing Christ) brought them. They noticed that the grass was somehow “more like grass” and the sky was bluer than what they'd ever seen. They start remarking how this new land is like Narnia, but “more like the real thing.” A unicorn summed it up for them: “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this!”

Father God, I'm watching as you’re in the process of making all things new, both in this world and in my life. I can’t wait to see the finished product. Please let it be soon.

[June 29]--God’s Solution Part Two

Rev. 20:11-15

Yesterday we talked about phase one of God’s solution to all the evil in the world, and today we come to phase two. One of the hardest things to accept is that in this world bad people tend to get away with bad things. For every murderer who gets the death penalty, thousands more never get pulled into a court. One of the terrible things about war is that it commonly gets used as a cover for atrocities: rape, murder, theft, and wholesale destruction of innocent peoples’ property. Dictators--who've ruled their nations with an iron fist and routinely violated the basic human rights of their citizens—die peacefully in their beds after a lifetime of indulging their own appetites. Probably the most famous of these-Adolf Hitler-committed suicide just as he was about to be captured.

But have they really gotten away with anything? No. There's Someone who sees everything, knows everything, and is recording everything. And whatever these men thought they were getting away with, they weren’t. And one day, they'll get exactly what they deserve. There will be perfect justice.

But here’s the hard part. Everyone would agree that evil men like Hitler ought to be roasting in hell for eternity, but what about “nice” people? What about that nice Hindu doctor who examines me every six months? What about that nice Muslim with whom I do business on a regular basis? What about that nice Jewish guy that I listen to on the radio? They aren’t going to hell, are they?

Regrettably, God’s standard is not “better than Hitler.” His standard is perfection. His standard is his Son. That’s why as you read today’s passage, everyone whose name was not found in the Lamb’s book of Life was thrown into the Lake of Fire. The “books” were opened, everyone’s life was examined thoroughly, and then they got exactly what they deserved.

This isn't a pleasant prospect, especially when we think about nice people whom we know. But it doesn’t help anyone to candy-coat the truth. You wouldn’t want to go to a doctor and have him tell you what you’d like to hear, right? We’d suspend the license of a doctor who did that, but people get offended when they’re told what the Bible says.

God does have a solution to the world’s sin. He sent his Son to die a horrible death in our place, to take the punishment which we deserve. The second part of his solution is to record everything humanity has ever done, and give everyone what they deserve on Judgment Day. We’ll look at phase three tomorrow.

In the meantime, what about me as a Christian? Do I really believe this? If so, are there any lost people in my circle of family or friends who don't know the truth? Have I shared with them? Have I prayed for them?

Lord Jesus, you've loved me so much. Help me to share that love with people around me. May everything I do and say draw them towards you, not away. Please.

[June 28]--God’s Solution, Part One

Isaiah 53:1-6

Let me introduce you to another theological/philosophical term: theodicy. Webster’s defines it as “defense of God's goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil.” Atheists and nonbelievers have long tried to discredit belief in God with this logical thought process:

1. God is good.
2. God is omnipotent.
3. There is unjustified evil and suffering in the world.

According to them, one of these points has to be untrue. The attempt to answer this old argument is called theodicy.

So what's God’s ultimate solution to all the evil and unjustified suffering in the world? Let’s start out, as before, by thinking logically and biblically at the same time. Think about the sun, the ultimate source of heat for us. As we get further from the sun, what’s the natural result? Cold, which really is not a thing in itself but is really just the absence of heat. What is the immediate consequence of sin? Separation from God. Our first parents sinned and immediately experienced emotional and relational separation. If all life flows from God, then what’s the final consequence of being separated from him? Obviously death. This is why the Bible tells us that all sin leads to death. Spiritual death leads to physical death and all the other suffering we see in the world.

So our ultimate problem isn't physical suffering like cancer or natural disasters like earthquakes, and it’s not the “natural” process of aging and physical deterioration that goes along with it. Our # 1 problem is sin and its attendant separation from God. All the other problems are just symptoms, not the disease.

That’s why Jesus came. His ultimate purpose was not to deal with physical suffering or sickness. In fact, I would conjecture that many of the people he physically healed are in hell right now. He came to deal with the root of all our problems.

And he did. Other religions can come up with elaborate explanations as to why the Almighty doesn’t deal directly with evil and suffering. In stark contrast, the God of the Bible did not stand aloof from us. The Father sent his own Son into this dark, nasty, sin-infected world to be rejected, betrayed, tortured, and murdered. When someone comes forward and asks “Where was God when this terrible thing happened?” we can respond “He was on his throne, the same place he was as he watched his Son nailed to a cross.” He took all this world’s evil upon himself and bore it on his back, for you and me.

Lord Jesus, I don’t know what to say, except “Thank you” and “I belong to you.”

[June 27]--Does God Still Heal Today?

Exodus 15:25-26

When we looked at the book of Deuteronomy, we talked a bit about providence, the ways in which God usually works in the world. There are times in which he operates openly, like when the Israelites were in the desert. For forty years, he directly fed them Manna: They walked outside every morning and there was their food for the day, literally fallen out of the sky.

But when they were about to enter the Promised Land, he warned them not to forget him. They were about to enter a land where the Manna stopped, and they'd have to plant, weed, and harvest their food. But when they were eating, they had to remember that it was the Lord who'd given them the ability and resources to feed themselves. He'd provided the sun, the rain, the soil, the seed, and had made the seeds grow. He'd also given them the strength to physically do all this.

It’s the same principle with healing. Do I believe that God still heals miraculously today? Of course I do. But most of the time he works through natural processes. When you catch a cold, the normal process is for your body to fight off the microscopic invaders with a natural defense system: antibodies, white blood cells, etc. Where do you think that process came from? Or when you go to a doctor and he prescribes medicine—Where do you think his medical knowledge and skill came from? Who do you think inspired the medical researcher who came up with the treatment?

Can Christians expect perfect health today? Is that something that our Father's promised us? No, I don’t think so. As you might've figured out by now, we live in a sin-infected word, and disease and injury are part of it. Jesus didn't come to erase all of the immediate physical effects of sin in this world.

On the other hand, being healthier is a benefit of being a believer. If you’re living a godly lifestyle, then what does that mean? You won’t be smoking like a chimney, you won’t be overeating like a glutton, and you’ll be sticking to God’s plan for sexuality. If you practice self-control like the Bible tells us to, in general you’ll be healthier than someone who doesn’t. On the other hand, if you fail to practice self-control, you might be in danger of Prov. 19:3 being applied to you.

Father, I thank you that you are Yahweh Rapha, the God who heals us. I take that for granted so often, and I forget to be grateful for your blessings. You're so good to me.

[June 26]--Does God Want Everyone To Be Healthy?

John 5:1-15

Like a lot of questions about God, there's no simple yes or no answer to this.

Of course we’re all familiar with “wealth and health” preachers who teach that everyone should be healthy. Apparently it’s the Lord's will to heal everyone, and if you just go to them, then they have special authority, in fact the same authority as the apostles, to heal anyone they encounter. If someone just has enough faith in God’s promises (and gives the right donation to their ministry, naturally), then they’ll be cured of everything from bad backs to cancer. Words escape me to describe how angry I am at these charlatans, and I’ll tell you why.

I remember as a kid going to a movie based on the life of Joni Eareckson Tada. In case you’re not familiar with her story, she dove off a cliff early in her youth and had an accident in the water that permanently paralyzed her from the neck down. Through the help of friends and family, the Lord reached through her bitterness and brought her into a place of incredible ministry. She learned how to professionally paint with her mouth, and her nation-wide ministry has brought countless thousands of people into God’s kingdom and into a higher level of devotion. You can just google her name and see what God’s doing through her. And I think of my favorite hymn writer, Fanny Crosby, who was blinded moments after her birth by a doctor’s incompetence. She wrote such hymns as Blessed Assurance which have brought countless millions over the centuries into the presence of the Almighty. I'd love for one of these con artists one day to meet Joni and tell her that the reason why she’s stuck in that wheelchair is because she doesn’t have enough faith. I’d like to unload about what I really think about these people, but this is a G-rated blog.

But does God still perform miracles today? Of course he does. I have a good friend who was healed from tumors, and the doctors were completely flabbergasted and couldn’t explain it. But is that his normal practice? No. As I talked about before, his normal method is to work behind the scenes and through people. The instances of him operating openly, e.g. during Jesus’ ministry, are few and far between.

And even when Jesus was here, he didn’t heal everyone. Read today’s passage again and take note: There were lots of sick people there at the pool, and Jesus passed most of them by. For his own mysterious reasons he only chose to heal that one man.

He's perfectly capable of healing everyone, but that isn’t his purpose right now. He's allowing us to experience some of the effects of sin, and that includes sickness, weakness, and death. For his own purposes, he does choose to heal some people in this life. Everyone else who believes in him will have to wait until he returns and gives us all new bodies.

Does he have compassion on those of us who have to experience sickness? What do you think? Knowing what you know about Jesus, how do you think he views our infirmities? The Jesus we know is the Jesus from the Gospels, and he hasn’t changed. If you’re going through sickness, especially chronic issues like I am, then it’s good to know that he’s here with us. He hasn’t abandoned us. Like Job, we don’t always understand what he’s doing, but we know him, and that’s enough.

Lord Jesus, you're so full of compassion and grace towards us, but your ways are awfully mysterious sometimes. Please help me to trust. You’re worthy of it, and I know it.

[June 25]--Is There Anything Wrong With Money?

Prov. 30:7-9

Anyone who claims that the Bible isn’t a practical book ought to note how often it talks about money. As someone pointed out to me a long time ago, Jesus talked more about money than he did about heaven and hell combined. It’s a subject that a lot of pastors like to avoid, especially when it comes to tithing, since they would hate to offend anyone. But since we've been studying hardship and affliction, I thought it might be useful to talk a bit about this.

I’ve mentioned yesterday that people tend to go to extremes on this subject. A lot of preachers on TV openly teach that God’s will is for everyone to be wealthy in this life, and if someone's not, then there’s something wrong with their faith. Others teach that wealth is bad, and God’s plan for Christians is for them to have just enough to meet their basic physical needs: food, clothing, and shelter.

What does the Bible say? As you might expect, it doesn’t side with either group, and provides a perfect corrective to both. To the second group, it lists several godly men and women who were very wealthy, and God not only didn't condemn them, he openly commended their devotion to him. Abraham, Isaac, David, Joseph of Arimathea, and of course Job were all very wealthy men who also were righteous and God-centered in their outlook. Nowhere is it recorded that the Lord commanded them to give all their money away to the poor.

On the other hand, the Bible gives multiple warnings about wealth. If I could summarize the Bible’s stance on money, I'd say God’s word doesn't classify it as bad but as very dangerous. Today’s passage is just one such warning. Jesus warned about it (for example here), as did Paul. The main issue seems to be our devotion to and trust in our Lord, in opposition to our tendency to fix our attention on the blessings instead of the Blesser.

By the way, one little phrase leaped out at me the last time I read Jesus' parable of the Sower and the Seeds, which is found in all the synoptic Gospels (e.g. here). When our Lord was describing how one set of seeds were choked out by "weeds," he says that he was comparing the weeds to "the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things." That got me thinking: "Deceitfulness of wealth"? How can wealth itself be deceitful? Well, what specific lies can wealth tell me? I can think of a few off the top of my head (founded in Scripture): 1) "Wealth can provide real security," 2) "Wealth can bring true joy in life," 3) "Wealth is more important than my relationship with the Lord," 4) "If I accumulate wealth, it's my own diligence/intelligence/creativity that got it for me. I don't really need God to provide for my needs.

When you’re poor and are living a hand-to-mouth existence, you trust in the Lord because you have little other choice. But when you accumulate wealth, it’s a lot easier to forget who brought you to this point and to abandon him. It’s not necessarily what will happen (the men listed in the above paragraph prove this), but it’s common enough that Scripture feels the need to warn us about it repeatedly.

So what about me? Is there any way for me to convince the Lord that I can handle more wealth? Well, there might be a way. Read Luke 16:10-12 and ask yourself: “How do I handle what I’ve been given so far? Do I put more trust in my own resources than in my Provider? Do I faithfully give back to God’s work through the church? This is no guarantee that he's going to give you more wealth, but it does raise an uncomfortable question: If I can’t handle a five-digit income, why should God trust me with anything more?”

Father God, everything I have, everything I am, is yours. You've not only created me, you've redeemed me so I’m yours twice over. Every possession I have is on loan, and you'll demand an accounting someday for how I handle it. Please renew my heart and mind, change my attitude. I desperately need it at times.

[June 24]--Does God Want Everyone To Be Rich?

Phil. 4:10-13

If you listen to a lot of preachers on TV, the answer to the above question is obvious: Of course he wants you rich! And if you’re not, then there’s something wrong with your faith. If you went back a few hundred years, a lot of Christian leaders held the exact opposite viewpoint. Jesus wants every believer to live in poverty, just taking enough for our basic needs like food, clothing and shelter. As you might've guessed, the biblical answer is a bit more complicated.

Job certainly knew both the extremes, and as we noticed before, he had exactly the right attitude towards all his possessions. Paul did as well, as we read in today’s passage. No matter what circumstances he found himself in, he had contentment. But this was not something that just dropped out of the blue: he'd “learned” to be content, so it was a process.

Remember what God’s ultimate purpose for me is? No matter what I need, that’s what God will bring into my life in order to make me more like Christ. If what I need is a million dollars in my bank account, then that’s what I’ll get. Regrettably, that’s usually not what I need. What I need is to learn to depend upon my Father, and that usually means I go through some hardship.

What type of God is he, anyway? Is he stingy and tight-fisted, doling out blessings with an eye-dropper, grudgingly giving me things like some miserly Uncle Scrooge? Does the God of the Bible strike you that way? If so, I think you need to read it again. He loves to give good things to his children. Doesn’t every good father? Listen to the words of our elder Brother: “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

Again, the problem is that my definition of “good” and my Father’s definition of “good” can be quite different. He has a higher purpose for me than my comfort level. I just need to trust him. And if his thinking and my thinking are different, then it’s my thinking that needs to change.

Lord Jesus, I do trust you, but I need to trust you more. Please, I want to grow up to be just like you.

[June 23]--Why Do Bad Things Happen? Because of God’s Ultimate Purpose for Me

Rom. 8:28-30

One of the great questions that people ponder in the realm of philosophy is "What is my purpose?" "Why am I here?" Philosophers have long debated the summum bonum, the highest good for mankind. And of course, it’s always good for people to understand and strive for their purpose for which they’ve been created.

This brings us to the last major reason why bad things happen in our lives. When I received Christ as my Lord and Savior, everything changed for me. God no longer primarily relates to me as my Judge. Yes, I'll one day give an account to him for what I’ve done in his service, but my sins are all covered and forgiven. He's now my Father, my Savior, my Boss, and my closest friend. So let’s make this clear. He no longer deals with me according to what I deserve but according to what I need.

The problem is that what I think I need and what God knows I need are sometimes two very different things. I think I need a new car. I think I need to get along with my boss better. I think I need more money to pay bills and buy new stuff. There might be nothing wrong with that, but none of that is ultimately what I need.

What do I need? To be more like Christ, in the way I think, in the way I talk, and in the way I act. He will spare no pains to me or to himself to accomplish this goal, to be able to look at me and say “That’s the perfect likeness to my Son.” That's his ultimate purpose, his "goal line" for me.

And how did Jesus learn obedience? Heb. 5:7-9 makes it clear that he learned obedience through eating potato chips and watching TV. Oops, sorry, I read that wrong. It says “he learned obedience from what he suffered.” This doesn’t mean that he was dis-obedient at anytime up till that point; it means that he had never experienced obedience to the fullest extent until the cross. It was there that his obedience to the Father was made complete.

So whatever I need to become more like Christ is what God will bring into my life. I might not understand how he’s using it, but I know why he’s using it. Everything, both good and bad, is being used to conform me to his likeness. In talking about why this process is so painful at times, C.S. Lewis used the illustration of a house. Imagine that you’re a living, breathing house. Jesus moves into the house and starts renovations. You understood all this, since you were pretty run-down before: He fixes the plumbing, repairs the holes in the roof, replaces some broken windows. But then he starts doing something more. He’s banging, sawing, hammering all over the place. He starts adding on new floors, digging up everything in the backyard and putting in a garden, starting a whole new wing on the side. And all of this is so painful as he's cutting off and adding on, and then you start to realize what’s happening. You thought he was going to make you into a nice little cottage, but no. He’s slowly turning you into a palace. He’s a King, and that’s where kings live. And he'll never be satisfied, he will spare no pain or effort to himself or to you, until that happens.

Lord Jesus, I’m ready. Whatever you need to do, whatever you’re asking of me, the answer’s yes.

[June 22]--Why Do Bad Things Happen? My Parents

Ex. 34:6-7

We’ve discussed this controversial point before, but no overview of why bad things happen in the world would be complete without talking about this subject. One of the things I love about America is what Dennis Prager calls the “unimportance of blood.” In older Europe, indeed in all other parts of the world (other than America) and throughout history, your lineage influenced or even outright determined your station in life. If you were born of royal or noble blood, then that meant a lot. If you were born into the “common” class, or “untouchable” class in India, or serf class in Russia, you'd likely be held back from advancing beyond your station. It didn’t matter nearly as much how smart you were, how ambitious you were, or how talented you were.

Not so in America, at least in theory. We don’t have an official “royal” class, and most of the time we couldn’t care less who your grandfather was. As someone once pointed out to me years ago, if Bill Gates approached a homeless man and offered him a thousand dollars to kiss his feet, the street person would likely tell Gates to go a certain warm place! Despite all its lingering problems with race and other issues, I love how this land is an unparalleled opportunity to advance as far as your talent, ambition, and inclinations take you.

But in emphasizing the “unimportance of blood,” perhaps we've gone to the other extreme. Who you are is influenced a lot by where you came from. Either consciously or unconsciously, you're to some degree working out of traditions which were handed down to you. By not even acknowledging this, by not even noticing the family traditions, both good and bad, you’re likely going to be even more swayed by them than if you took them into account.

I don’t want to recount our past discussion about passages like this one, but let’s stipulate that the Lord, in some mysterious way, allows or even perpetuates blessings or curses on families. Is this because he’s capricious or cruel? Let me answer that question with a question. Does that sound like the God of the Bible to you? Of course not.

There are some things to keep in mind when talking about this. First, remember that one of the effects of sin, which God in his wisdom hasn't chosen to erase, is that your sin brings consequences on others, especially on those you care about. This doesn't mean that he's sending anyone to hell because of the sins of their parents or ancestors. Each one of us will give an individual accounting to him one day.

The other thing to remember, as I mentioned in yesterday’s reading, the decisions of others can benefit us as well as help us. Finally, please focus on the fact that in Christ each of us has a new beginning. When we're redeemed by his precious blood, he declares us a new creature in Christ, and the old has gone and the new has come. You might be influenced by the decisions of your parents, but you don’t have to be bound by them. Freedom in Christ—it’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it?

Lord, you're the perfect Father to me. You always give me the perfect balance of discipline, grace, mercy, and love. Thank you Jesus, that your mercies are new every morning.

[June 21]--Why Do Bad Things Happen? Other Peoples’ Bad Decisions

Gen. 4:1-16

I sometimes wonder what was going through the minds of our first parents as they stepped out of the garden. Were they thinking about what they had lost? Did they have any inkling about how bad it would be in exile from God’s presence? I seriously doubt it. I believe that they were horrified by the bloody sacrifice of the animals which had provided them clothing, and they were probably frightened by the Creator’s words about curses and going back to dust. But being able to visualize all the pain and suffering which resulted from one bad decision? I don't think so.

And naturally they never would have foreseen how the results of sin would immediately crop up within their own family. I couldn’t even imagine the looks on their faces as they went out to look for their missing sons and found Abel’s body.

I wish that I could tell you that your sin, your poor decisions, affect only you, but that would be a lie. In fact, that's one of the most effective lies of the Enemy: “Oh don’t worry about that harmless look at that girl. Don’t worry about that little bit of money that your stole. Don’t worry about that little bit of gossip. It won’t hurt anything. No one will ever know.”

We all know that it’s a lie, but we all keep listening to him. I mean, we can see it everyday. An addicted woman gets pregnant, and her baby suffers for a lifetime as a result. Someone steals a little money, and they contribute to a culture that leads to the downfall of major corporations on which depend the livelihood and retirements of thousands of people. Someone lets a little image take root in their mind, and it starts a crack in the foundation of a marriage, which leads to a devastation in the lives of children. Which leads to a worse society, which affects all of us.

That’s one of the major reasons why we suffer in this life. We mentioned yesterday the contributions of our own foolish choices, and they often have an impact on us for the rest of our lives. Thank the Lord, he forgives the moment we confess, but he never promised that the earthly consequences would be erased immediately. In fact, Scripture teaches the exact opposite. And regrettably, those sinful decisions which I make affect you, and vice-versa.

But here’s another reason to thank the Lord. We not only suffer from the sinful decisions of others, but we can benefit from the good decisions of others as well. I just finished reading a book about the end of the Civil War, and how the wise and good decisions made by men (on both sides) in the last month of the war brought this nation back together and positively affect us to this day. But of course the greatest example of this is the Good News: That the one decision made by one Man to obey his Father has the greatest impact in human history, even more than the impact of Adam as he chose to disobey: “For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” Amen!

Lord Jesus, I can’t even begin to thank you for what you’ve done. Help me to hate sin like you do. Help me to love righteousness, like you do. I want to think more like you, talk more like you, and act more like you. Please.

[June 20]--Why Do Bad Things Happen? Our Bad Decisions

Prov. 19:3

From reading the book of Job, you might've gotten the impression that people are just puppets, manipulated by spiritual forces (by Satan and ultimately by God) which are invisible and yet irresistible. There are several passages in Scripture besides that one which make it look like the Lord decides everything and we really don’t have any choices or decisions to make.

I don’t know the details about how God is involved in every situation, but the Bible definitely does not teach that we’re only puppets or pieces on a chess board. He created us in his image, so we have intellect and some degree of choice in what we do.

I really think that today’s reading explains a lot in this world. People make really bad and self-destructive decisions in life, and then they look for someone else to blame when the bill comes due. For example, you'll find no one who's less a fan of cigarettes than I am—they’re nasty and smelly and I'd never touch one. But for someone to smoke for several years and then sue the cigarette companies? Or how about the infamous case of the woman who spilled hot coffee in her lap and sued the McDonald’s who served it to her from its drive-thru window? People like that have some sympathy from me, but I can’t get on board for what they’re doing.

But even worse than blaming corporations for our bad decisions is blaming God for them. He’s done everything short of sky-writing his message, and people ignore it. They start dating someone who's clearly not a good match for them, and end up marrying them. The marriage fails, and they blame the Lord for their troubles. Or they make some really bad financial decisions, and wonder why they have trouble paying the bills every month.

I’ve been guilty of this myself. One of my faults is procrastination, and I’ve lost more than one car because I didn’t maintain it as I should have. I’m on my way to work or an important appointment, and it suddenly breaks down, and I get mad at God!

Friend, there might be spiritual forces at work in your life. It’s possible that the Enemy is attacking you, or God is specifically getting your attention because of rebellion you need to turn away from. But before you delve too deep into those potential causes, how about you look first at some more mundane reasons, like bad decisions you’ve made? How’s about joining me in boycotting the blame game?

Father, I’ve made a lot of bad decisions in my life, and I can’t blame anyone else for them. I know you’ve forgiven me, but I don’t want to repeat them. Please give me wisdom and the courage to do what I know I need to do.

[June 19]--Why Do Bad Things Happen? Punishment from God

1 Cor. 11:23-32

Job’s friends were wrong in assuming that the suffering occurring in Job’s life was caused by specific punishment from God for secret and heinous sin. Their theology told them that the only reason someone suffers is because of this, and so they naturally applied it to Job’s life. As the saying goes, if the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail. Of course, we know they were wrong in Job’s case, but would they be wrong in every case? Does God ever punish people for sin in this life? If someone's undergoing hardship, can we dismiss out of hand the possibility that it’s because of sin in their life?

No we can’t. In the Old Testament there are several instances in which God punished people for specific sin from which they refused to repent. I can name some examples off the top of my head: Sodom, Noah’s generation, the Egyptian plagues, the Exile in Jeremiah’s time, just to name a few. People sinned, and God punished them for it. He explicitly said so.

But what about the New Testament? Here’s where it gets a little more tricky. There are a few times in which God struck down a non-Christian because of wrongdoing, such as Herod, but they’re not nearly as common (or at least open) as in the O.T.

Before I was redeemed, God dealt with me based upon what I deserved. Of course, I never got what was really coming to me, since I’m not screaming in hell right now. But on Judgment Day, every lost person will finally be given justice for everything they’ve ever done. All of his patience and kindness will be ended.

In the meantime, we see a lot of injustice in this world, and most of the time people seem to get away with it. Regrettably most brutal dictators die in their beds, not like Herod did. The times in which God acts openly and decisively, such as in the passage from Acts, are few and far between. Most of the time, he simply watches and records, and unsaved people are storing up wrath for themselves on the day when he puts an end to humanity’s sinful history.  In the meantime he's working--usually in the background--to bring about his ultimate plan.

But what about believers? Here’s where we need to think very carefully. When I was saved, the Lord dealt with and forgave my sins once and for all. If by punishment you mean getting what I deserve from God, then no. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, I'm never going to get what I really deserve from the Lord. But there is such a thing as discipline in a Christian’s life.

Of all the N.T. churches, surely no church was more screwed-up than the one in Corinth. They were condoning sexual immorality, there were lawsuits occurring between believers, there were bitter factions and divisions, abuse of the spiritual gifts, and a host of other problems. Along with this, they were abusing the Lord’s Supper and partaking of it in an “unworthy manner,” and the Lord of the church wasn't standing for it. Therefore, Paul told them that some of them were sick and some had “fallen asleep” (a euphemism for death). This didn't mean that those Christians had lost their salvation, but it did mean that there came a point in their lives in which the Lord brought them home in order to warn others and get the attention of the church as to what was wrong.

Even though I'm saved and forgiven, if I’m involved in sin and rebellion, then he might get my and others’ attention by bringing hardship in my life, and it might even include physical death. This can happen. The way I can avoid something like this is by paying attention to God’s voice as he speaks through his word and through the Body of Christ. If I listen to them, it won’t ever come to this.

Lord Jesus, when you’re speaking to me, please give me listening ears and a soft heart.

[June 18]--Why Do Bad Things Happen? An Out-of-Whack Creation

Rom. 8:18-22

I’ve mentioned this before when we studied the first three chapters of Genesis, but it bears repeating: There have only been two people in the history of humanity who've ever seen this world the way it was designed to be. Our first parents were living in a perfect paradise, and then they opened the door to sin. Sin walked through the door, and it brought some friends along: guilt, fear, shame, separation from the Creator, and ultimately death. Please keep in mind that this is always how sin operates: Once we open the door to it, it never walks in alone.

From my reading of Genesis, it looks like humanity was meant to be in charge of the entire world. Everything was subject to us, just like we were subject to our Creator. As long as we were under the authority of the Most High, the world would be under our authority. But once we rebelled against him, in effect declaring our independence from him, the creation under us rebelled against us as well. This is what Genesis 3:17-19 is talking about: Where once the garden would freely supply all our needs, now we would have to force it to do so, with back-breaking and frustrating and (sometimes) futile labor.

The standard interpretation of today's passage--and I agree with it--also adds to the subject. Paul says that the creation was subjected to frustration (apparently by God himself), that it’s in bondage to decay, and that it’s “groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” It seems that this is one of the reasons why we have such things as earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes. This is why we have drought when we need lots of rain and floods when we need less rain. This is why our own bodies, affected by sin, are subject to decay and frustration as well: My eyeglasses and diabetes are prime examples of this.

But how does this relate to God’s sovereignty? We know that he’s in charge of everything, including the storms and earthquakes. So if an earthquake hits a town, is that the Lord's direct action or just an “out-of-whack” creation? By trying to figure that out and say definitively what’s happening in a specific situation, I really think that we’re in danger of repeating the error of Job’s friends. Declaring that we know for sure what he's doing and why, without a specific revelation from him, is very risky. But we know that the Lord is sovereign and that creation is not what it’s supposed to be, and sometimes that’s all we can know for certain.

But the good news is that not only is this world not what it should be, it’s not what it will be either. Paul’s main point in this passage is not to describe what’s wrong but to predict what will be right when the Lord returns. Creation was subjected to frustration, not because of cruelty but “in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” That earthquake? Childbirth pains. And when my Savior returns, both I and the world will be rebuilt and remade and given glorious new bodies which will NEVER be subject to decay or death. In fact, Paul considers “that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Think about that for a moment, and live that truth out today.

Lord Jesus, I can’t wait. When I see all the suffering in the world, from starvation in Africa to the minor pains in my own body, it’s good to know that everything is a work in progress. You make all things new, and I thank you for it.

[June 17]--Why Do Bad Things Happen? Satan

John 8:42-44

As I’ve mentioned before, I try to find a sane middle ground between the extremes regarding our Enemy. I don’t look for his direct involvement in everything that goes wrong in my life—If my car breaks down, it’s not necessarily because the Prince of Darkness took time out of his busy schedule to sabotage it. On the other hand, I thoroughly believe that he's alive and well and at work in the world today, and is the immediate cause behind a lot of the destructive lies and evil in the world.

In today’s reading, our Lord was confronting some of the Jews who claimed to follow him (Jesus) but had some very confusing ideas about it. Aside from the main point of the passage, which is the Jews’ rejection of him, there are at least three things we can learn about Satan from what our Lord said about him.

First, Jesus called him a “murderer from the beginning.” What was the basis of this? Whom had Satan killed? The best explanation is that he’s referring to the spiritual deaths of our first parents, which led inevitably to their physical deaths. This doesn’t remove any of their responsibility, but it was initiated by the Adversary. He lured them into his trap, and they walked right in.

Second, he's a liar and the "father of lies." He lied to our first parents (by telling them a partial truth, like he usually does), and all lies in this world can be traced ultimately back to him. He doesn’t care what lie someone believes, as long as it keeps them from the Truth.

Third, people who aren't redeemed by Christ are his (Satan's) spiritual children. I know that this is a hard saying, but only because it’s easy to misunderstand. The Bible doesn’t teach that anyone outside of Christ is a conscious worshiper of Satan and 100% evil. What it does mean is that ever since the Fall, every human being is either a spiritual child of God or a child of the Evil One. The common notion of the universal Fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man is completely contradicted by Jesus' own words here.

So does he actively and personally attack believers? Of course he does: The first two chapters of Job attest to that. And if someone claims that the Enemy is active against their church or in their individual lives, I don’t dismiss it out of hand. But I think that most of the time he works through intermediaries, and someone would have to rate pretty high in importance in order to get his personal attention. But the point is—in the end, it doesn’t really matter. In the practical work of trying to follow Christ in my daily life, whether or not something is a direct attack of Satan doesn’t change a whole lot. All his work needs to be opposed, but the first order of business is to submit myself to God. Then I can resist the Devil and he’ll flee from me.

Lord Jesus, I thank you and praise you that even though we have an Enemy, he is a defeated one. You made a public spectacle of him through the Cross, and your victory is mine.

[June 16]--Why Do Bad Things Happen? Sin

Gen. 3:17-19

Several years ago, there was a book that came out which was all the rage for a while. It was When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold Kushner, and his final conclusion was that God isn't really omnipotent, that he really doesn’t have control over everything, and that although he'd love to prevent all the suffering in the world, he physically can’t. I have a serious problem with that, since the Bible clearly says that he's capable of anything he desires. And I have another problem, and it’s with the title itself. There is a sense in which there are “good” people in a relative way. To say that there's no moral distinction between Mother Theresa and Hitler is nonsense, and the Bible doesn’t teach that. Even the first couple of chapters of Job make no sense if God couldn’t make any distinction between Job and the rest of humanity when he pronounced his initial verdict on the man’s lifestyle.

But the Bible clearly teaches that in an absolute sense there's no such thing as a “good” person. If I compare myself with Hitler, I come out looking pretty good. When I compare myself with Jesus, however, not so much. Unfortunately, God’s standard is not “better than Hitler.” His standard is his Son. His standard is perfection. His standard is to love him with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. Would anyone care to claim that they do that all the time? Any hands raised?

Over the next few days we’re going to discuss all the different reasons why there's suffering in this world, but you could argue that sin is the root of all of it. We were created to live in perfect harmony in a perfect world with a perfect God, and we screwed it up. We had work before the Fall, but it was supposed to be all pleasant work and activity. The “thorns and thistles” in today's reading tell us that sin doesn't introduce work, but futility and frustration to our work. We were created to live forever, and now the grave is our destiny.

As my pastor once pointed out, you’ve never physically seen anything not tainted by sin in some degree. You’ve never seen a person, a family, a church, a business, a government, or a nation not tainted by sin. It’s infected everything around us, and we live and breathe in it so much we don’t even notice it. Just like fish would have no word for “water” because it’s all they know, all we know is a sin-wrecked world.

But as Pogo once put it, “We have met the enemy and the enemy is us.” I can blame our first parents all I’d like, but my greatest problem is me. When I decide to disobey my Father, I add to the problems in this world. The good news is that God isn’t done with this world yet, and he’s not done with me. Both of us are works in progress, and when he completes his work on us, we’ll both be works of art, true masterpieces.

Lord Jesus, I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Please change me. I want to hate nothing but sin and love nothing but you.

[June 15]--So Who Was Right?

Job 42:7-17; Psalm 131:1-3

As you can tell, these verses are the last ones in the book of Job. For almost forty chapters Job and his friends debated and gave speeches about the nature of suffering, sin, and the reasons behind Job’s experiences. But then God finally showed up and gave Job what the man had been demanding: an audience and an opportunity to present his case. After the Lord overwhelmed him with his power, majesty, and wisdom, Job put his hands over his mouth, denying that he had anything more to say. But what about his friends? What did God think about them?

These last few words of God are very interesting to me, because they actually reveal quite a bit about not only his opinion of the friends, but also what he thought about Job. Let’s examine what he said: 1) He called Job his “servant” three times in the passage. 2) He ordered the friends to offer sacrifices and go to Job and ask him to pray for them, and thus receive divine forgiveness. Both of these point to the vindication that Job had wanted, the public acknowledgment that he wasn't harboring some outrageous sin. And to his credit, Job apparently forgave his friends and did as they asked, and the relationships were reconciled.

But another question needs to be asked. The Lord specifically condemned the men as not having “spoken of [God] what was right” like Job did. We’ve already come to the conclusion that their beliefs about the Lord had more than a little truth in them, as far as it went. Remember, the only time that the book of Job is quoted, it’s done by Paul as he quotes one of the friends (1 Cor. 3:19). So what exactly was the problem? There are several theories out there, but here’s mine. Here are some questions to help us get some clarity. They believed that if someone is suffering, then it must be because God is punishing him. Is there more than one possible reason why someone is suffering? Absolutely. In fact, over the next few days we’ve going to examine no less than eight reasons why bad things happen to people. So they were definitely wrong on that score.

Also, there's the fact that they believed that they had God’s plan all figured out. A little humility, perhaps, will go a long way in trying to figure out what he’s doing in a person’s life. I believe that the Lord can give us insight into his plan, but we need to be careful about that, since we can be self-deceptive. The reading from the Psalm today is a great attitude to adopt when probing mysteries like this.

With all his anger and bitterness towards the Lord, Job still was more right than his friends. He was still closer to the truth than his friends were. Instead of just talking about God, Job talked to God, even with all the anger. Apparently he'd rather us be talking to him than just about him. But I think the attitude of the Psalmist is better still.

Father God, I want to have the attitude of the Psalmist. You know everything and have everything under control, and I need to trust and obey.

[June 14]--Job’s (non-)reply

Job 42:1-6

For several days Job had been crying out for an audience with the the Lord of the universe, and he finally got one. God overwhelmed him with his majesty, and Job suddenly forgot about all his complaints and accusations. All his pain, his loss, his grief, his anger, his bitterness, his theological questions, all of it was lost in that one moment. When faced with the Lord himself, Job clapped his hand over his mouth.

But there’s an interesting point that I got from Max Lucado in one of his books which I’d like to submit. Verse 5 made an interesting distinction between Job before the experience and Job after the experience. Job had been a godly man: He prayed, he sacrificed and worshiped, and he tried to do the right thing in his lifestyle. I think that it'd be a major stretch to say that he had no relationship with the Lord before all this happened. But there's s a huge difference between hearing about God and meeting him face-to-face. It’s moving beyond prayer to God into the realm of basking in his presence. It’s the difference between reading about Jesus in your Bible and feeling him looking over your shoulder. Just like I’ve never gone through even a fraction of the tragedies of Job, I’ve never been this close to God in my time alone with him either.

And here’s the amazing thing: It was all worth it. Meeting God face-to-face as opposed to hearing about him? Lucado believes--and I agree with him--that if you asked Job if he'd be willing to go through all that suffering all over again, he would do so in a heartbeat, if it ended in the same way. Seeing God face-to-face.

The question then becomes, what's it worth to me? What would I be willing to sacrifice in order to approach my Father and really experience his presence? A little less TV time? A little less sleep? A little nudging out of my comfort zone? That’s probably not the last sacrifice I'd be called upon to make, but it’s a start.

What about you? You’ve read about him, prayed to him, done good things in his name. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. But what would you be willing to give up in order to move beyond that? Are you ready?

Whatever it takes, Father. If I’m not ready, then please make me ready.

[June 13]--God Shows Up, Part Two

Job 40:1-14

Yesterday we summarized God’s appearance to Job at the end of the book: “Who do you think you are? Look buddy, I’m God and you’re not.” He pointed to creation as proof of his infinite wisdom, essentially saying “Since I know how to run the universe, don’t you think I know what I’m doing in your situation?” I wanted to look some more at something in 40:8, though. The Lord asks Job "Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?" In fact, I think that this one little verse neatly crystallized the Lord’s main problem with Job.

Of course the author made it abundantly clear at the beginning of the book that Job and God were on very good terms with each other. Job was a righteous man; in fact the Lord’s boast about him seemed to indicate that he was the most godly and upright man on the planet at the time. As I mentioned before, if I knew that God said about me what he said about Job, I’d be thrilled! So Job didn’t have any gross sin from which he had to repent, and he didn’t curse God when tragedies struck like Satan expected.

So what was God’s main problem with Job, as indicated by these four chapters of divine speeches? I think vs. 8 get to the heart of the issue. Job knew that he wasn’t guilty of outrageous or secret sin, at least not the type of which his friends were accusing him. He had absolutely no problem believing in the Lord's absolute sovereignty, like some philosophers do today. So therefore God must be unjustly punishing him. the Lord of the universe just had some time on his hands, so he decided to mess with Job. The man, in his absolute agony, couldn’t come up with any other conclusion.

Now, I've never experienced even a fraction of what Job had undergone, and I wouldn’t claim to be anywhere near as righteous as he was. But that doesn’t change what God rebuked him for. His outbursts might have been completely understandable, but that doesn’t make them correct. He discredited God’s justice and condemned the Lord in order to justify himself.

God started out his speech by strongly implying that Job had spoken foolishly, and he hammered home why he knew so much better than Job as to how to run the universe by pointing to creation itself. But I noticed that in all the chapters of God’s speech, this is the worst specific thing that he said about Job’s character. Like the beginning of the book, if I knew that the worst thing that God had to say about me was what he said in vs. 8, I'd be thrilled. I don’t know about you, but there are plenty of things that've come out of my mouth which are a lot worse than anything Job had said.

But there's another issue at here worth considering. God’s problem with Job could be simply stated: “You think you know better than I do about running things.” If that’s so, that’s the foundation of every sin and every wrong-headed thought since the beginning of human history. Our first parents thought they knew better than their Creator, and that’s literally when all our problems began. And at the root of every sin in my life is the same goofy idea: “I know better than God.”

Lord Jesus, I repent of any foolish notion that I know better than you about anything. I have a sinful heart that constantly refuses to listen to you, and it hurts us both when I do that. Please change me, do whatever it takes.

[June 12]--God Shows Up

Job 38:1-21

As I’ve read the book of Job multiple times over the years, there’s one thing that seems to be missing. In the first two chapters you had the “veil parted” for us to see what was really going on in heaven. You saw the tragedies that befell Job as he was struck by the Enemy on multiple fronts. You saw the eloquent and insightful speeches of Job and his friends as they debated about the nature of God and suffering. Then, finally, the Lord shows up and meets Job face to face (so to speak). If you were reading the book for the first time, then what would you expect? Maybe, I don’t know, an explanation to Job as to why this whole thing started? Would it be so hard for God to say, “My child, this is why all this happened to you. Satan appeared in my court and was slandering you with all kinds of nasty accusations. So he and I had a sort of contest. . .”

But that didn’t happen at this point or at any other in the book. I suppose at some point the Lord revealed to Job what was going on behind the scenes, since we know, and it was divinely revealed to the author. But that certainly didn’t happen during this first meeting. Several times throughout the book, Job called for an audience with God. He wanted to hear from the Lord's own lips why this was happening to him. He knew that, even though he wasn’t sinless, he didn’t have any gross immorality which he was hiding. And he wanted to hear that from the Almighty himself. What else did he want? Did he actually expect the Lord of the universe to come down and say “Gee, Job, I was wrong for doing all this to you. You really are a righteous man, and you didn’t deserve any of this.”? Based upon the barely suppressed anger and bitterness he was displaying in his speeches, it looks like that to me.

You ever hear the old cliché “Be careful what you wish for”? That certainly applies here. He wanted an audience with God, but it didn’t turn out like he imagined it. As one Bible commentator put it, the Lord doesn’t answer him, he explodes at him. His response to Job could be summed up this way: “Who do you think you are? I’m God, and you’re not.”

Now, I laid out the summary so you can see his main point, but you seriously need to read these chapters. This is God talking, so there’s no guesswork as to how correct the speaker is, as in the speeches made by mere men. You will find absolutely nowhere in Scripture a more beautiful description of God’s relationship with his creation. The first two chapters of Genesis gave the bare-bones details: “He created plant life, then he created animal life, etc.” in an almost ho-hum sort of way. Chapters 38-41 absolutely sing with his pride over his handiwork. If you can read these chapters and not feel a sense of awe, and a desire to fall on your knees before holy God, then I feel really sorry for you.

What, there's a song which captures this wonder waaaaay better than I ever could! Here you go:

Father God, you are God, and there is no other. There is no one like you. From everlasting to everlasting you are God. With my body, with my soul, with my life, I worship you.

[June 11]--Elihu Who?

Job 32:1-5; 34:1-15

If you’ve read the book of Job all the way through (which I highly recommend), you might've been puzzled by this guy named Elihu. If so, you’re in really good company. Biblical scholars for thousands of years have wondered how to interpret his speeches. We know that the three friends’ assertions were flawed at best, since the Lord condemned them at the end of the book, but Elihu is never mentioned, neither at the beginning of the book nor at the end. God didn’t include him when expressing his disapproval of the friends in the chapter 42 (never mentioning him at all), so we have to hold up what he said against the rest of Scripture in order to see how right he was.

First off, what was his main point? The friends all had a simple theological paradigm in which everything fit or was made to fit. They had God’s ways all figured out, and therefore came to the inevitable conclusion that Job’s sufferings were a direct result of his sin. Job ended all accusations with a solemn oath that he was innocent of outrageous transgressions, and since they couldn’t contradict the oath, that ended all the debates. But then stepped in Elihu, and he had one main point: Both sides are wrong.

He started off with a simple proposition: The Lord is always just in his dealings, but we don’t always know what he’s doing. In fact, if he doesn’t reveal himself, we’ll never have any inkling as to what his plans are. Job was not necessarily hiding some gross immorality, but he was perilously close to accusing God of wronging him, of treating him unfairly. Elihu’s main argument was that even if we don’t know what he's doing, we can know that he does, and he’s in charge.

So how right was he? Well, the Lord never condemned him (again, never mentioning him at all), and I personally haven’t seen anything in his speeches which I'd really disagree with. He was very zealous to defend God’s honor from both Job and his friends, and that’s certainly admirable. He seemed to be a little hard on Job, especially considering the agony that the man had undergone, but it seems that Elihu’s speeches were fundamentally sound.

Is there anything missing from his speech about God’s character? Well, there seems to be one major aspect which Elihu didn’t mention, which is pretty important to me: Love. Job might not know for sure that the Lord loved him--in fact, there were plenty of times in which his feelings told him the exact opposite. But even if God didn’t love him, he had to know that the Lord over the universe, who not only upholds the standard, but IS the standard for everything, is perfect in all his ways. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, God is the source of everything, including our intellect. You could never be right and him wrong anymore than water could flow uphill or a tree branch grow leaves while severed from the tree.

The good news is, with Christ, we are much more sure that God loves us. The most famous verse in the Bible is memorized all over the world by children: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Or there’s one of my personal favorites: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Or how about 1 John 4:10: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” The Old Testament saints knew in every fiber of their being that the Most High is sovereign, that his ways are mysterious, and that someday he'll judge all humanity. And they were pretty sure that he loved them. But when Jesus took our sins upon himself on the tree, all doubts on that score were laid to rest.

Lord Jesus, you're not only the God over all creation, you're my brother and my friend. I want to grow up to be just like you. Please.

[June 10]--Justice In This World?

Job 21:6-17

When someone is suffering with no discernible reason, their immediate instinct is to ask “Why me?” This is especially so if they're a godly person who doesn’t have any hidden sin from which they refuse to repent. Job was too good a man to pretend to have never sinned, but he also knew without a doubt that he didn’t have any hidden rebellion or outright disobedience in his life. He thoroughly believed that he was on pretty good terms with the Lord, and he happened to be right. His questioning of God’s justice was further intensified by the obvious fact that people who were blatantly disobedient were doing quite well.

In fact, there are lots of people who are atheists--in practice if not in their profession--who seem to glide through life. They seem to be without any major problems: They're born to wealth, they're healthy through most of their lives, and they seem to get anything they want. Often they gain their wealth and power by stepping onto people who can’t defend themselves. They seemingly thumb their nose at the Lord and still go their merry way, and we never see this supposedly righteous Judge dealing with them as they deserve. There are plenty of national dictators, for example, who die in their sleep after decades of thievery and murder.

But there are a couple of things to consider. First, as someone pointed out to me a long time ago, we tend to exaggerate the wonderful lifestyle of people we don’t know. We might look at a movie star who completely indulges himself, who looks beautiful, and who makes more money in a week than most of us will in a lifetime. Everything seems to be going great for him. . .until it comes out that he’s just gone through his third divorce, or that he's entered rehab. . . again. We just don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors, but I promise you one thing: There’s no true peace outside of Jesus Christ. Why do people who seem to have it all get addicted to drugs, alcohol, etc? Because inside their soul is a God-shaped vacuum, and they’re desperately trying to fill it.

The other thing to keep in mind, which Job and other O.T. saints hinted at, and which is made clear to us under the New Covenant, is that the Almighty doesn’t settle all his accounts in this world. As the saying goes, "the mill of God’s justice grinds slowly, but exceedingly fine."  We know from passages like Rev. 20 that he'll one day call all creation to account. Every human who's ever lived will be judged by him one way or the other: Either to pay for all we’ve done, or as believers to have our sins judged at the cross.

I know that if you’re trying to be faithful to our Lord and times get really hard, it’s even more difficult to see others doing well, especially if they aren’t trying to be obedient. But please take heart. He’s watching, and he knows. And he loves you.

Lord Jesus, I trust you. Help me not to worry about how you bless other people. Please help me to focus on what’s really important—my relationship with you.

[June 09]--Sparks in the Dark

Job 13:15; 19:25-27; 9:32-34

Unlike a lot of devotions I’ve submitted, today’s reading really bounces around. The reason for this is pretty obvious if you’ve read the book of Job: Most of his speeches were mostly filled with despair, anger, lament, and defensiveness, not hope. The passages above constitute what I call “sparks in the dark,” as Job’s faith in his Lord shone through and pierced the darkness of his soul.

You might recognize these verses, since they tend to be famous passages that people cling to when they are experiencing tough times. If you’ve ever heard Handel’s Messiah in its entirety, you’ve heard Job’s belief that “My redeemer liveth” in its third section. They’ve been used in several Christian songs of hope.

As I mentioned a couple of posts prior, the saints in the Old Testament had a much more vague understanding of the afterlife. Theologians use the term progressive revelation to mean that the Lord has, over time, revealed more and more about himself and his ultimate plan for humanity, so that David knew more than Moses, who knew more than Abraham, and we know more than all of them. The common word for the grave, sheol, was a generalized term which was used for the abode of both the righteous and unrighteous after death. They knew that God Almighty as just, and they could see with their own eyes that most of the time justice is not even close to perfect in this life, so they believed that there was some form of reward and punishment dispensed in the afterlife. But the Lord hadn't laid out many details about this.

In the book of Job, however, we have the clearest expressions of hope found in the entire Old Testament. Despite what everything was telling him, he believed that God still loved him and was worthy of complete trust. He knew that one day he'd be resurrected, and would see the face of his Lord, and all would be made right. Notice what he called his Lord—Redeemer. Yes, that’s same word we talked about in the book of Ruth. God was his goel, his Kinsman-redeemer who'd avenge what had been done to him and would pull him out of this pit. The NIV actually has an alternate translation: "Vindicator," the One who'd eventually prove Job right. Job had trusted in his Lord, and eventually the Lord would prove that Job was right to do so.

Per usual, C.S. Lewis put it so well: "Faith... is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods." And that's nowhere better demonstrated than in the life of Job right in these verses. He'd believed all these things about the final Resurrection before all this calamity had happened to him, and he chose to believe it and act on it now, despite what his wife, his friends, the circumstances, and his feelings told him.

But there was a problem. God was up there, and Job was down here on earth. How could he possibly plead his case in God’s court? The Almighty, as the title suggests, is all-powerful, and there was no appeal from his judgments. Job needed an advocate, someone who could be his representative before the Almighty. The good news is that what Job was longing for, we have in Jesus. He's our High-Priest, our Advocate, our representative, our go-between. Job was asking for a representative for different reasons than we do, but the principle remains that “if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” Aren’t you glad?

Lord Jesus, you're the perfect High Priest for me. I trust you, and I thank you, and I love you. I don’t have to rely on sparks in the dark. Your coming has lit up our world like the brightest noon-day sun.

[June 08]--So Were They Wrong?

Job 5:9-27

We’ve had a lot of harsh things to say about Job’s friends, so today I’m going to speak a little in their defense. A lot of readers and commentators make it sound like they were completely wrong in their approach and severely deficient in their theology, but I don’t think so.

Let’s just keep this clear by asking some simple questions. Is God holy? Does he care about our conduct? Absolutely. Is each of us a sinner who deserves judgment from him? Without a doubt, since the Bible plainly tells us so. Is all judgment delayed until the next life, or does he sometimes reveal his displeasure in this world? There are cases, both in the Bible and in history, in which evil people were cut down and their lives ended by what can only be described as divine intervention. The city of Sodom was wiped out, along with an entire generation of humanity during Noah’s time. All the land of Canaan was under God’s death penalty, and the Israelites were forbidden to leave anyone alive. If you believe (as I do) that the book of Revelation is some type of description of what will happen just prior to Jesus’ return, reading it can be pretty sobering.

Here’s a bit of trivia for you. Job’s story is only mentioned a few times in the rest of the Bible, and the book is only quoted one time. There are some other verses that are paraphrased, but there’s only one unambiguous direct quote from the book in the entire New Testament. 5:13 is found in 1 Cor. 3:19, when Paul is praising God’s mysterious ways. And who was making that original statement? Eliphaz.

I’m not saying that their view of God is without fault. The Lord himself rebuked them at the end of the book. What I am saying is that their majestic view of the Lord almighty, who has inscrutable plans and who raises up kingdoms and casts down kingdoms for his own purposes, can be a corrective for us. He's the judge of all mankind, and Eliphaz’s call for repentance in today’s reading is not a bad altar call for sinful humanity which thinks it’s the center of the universe.

Again, our God is both immanent and transcendent. He's as close as a heartbeat for those of us who humbly trust him and repent, but he's also the sovereign Lord over the universe who's going to someday call all creation to account. Everything and everyone in all creation is accountable to him, and he's accountable to no one. I think we in America, with our emphasis on a “personal relationship with Jesus,” need reminders of who he really is.

Father God, you use imperfect people all the time to reveal who you are. I bow before you, humbled by your awe-inspiring majesty. You are God, and there is no other.

[June 07]--When Good Friends Do Bad Things

Job 4:1-9, 17-19

I thoroughly believe that every follower of Christ should read the Bible from cover-to-cover on a consistent basis. This isn't commanded by Scripture itself, but I also think that it’s a good idea for believers to be on some type of plan by which they systematically go through the entire Bible, so that they don’t miss a single word. Remember that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for making us like Christ.

Having said that, I’m going to use today to summarize about half of the book of Job for you. You still need to read the entire book, but we’re not going to spend a whole month doing a verse-by-verse commentary. One of the reasons I’m doing this is because the friends’ arguments can be summed up in two sentences: “Job, you’re going through this because God is angry with you and is punishing you for some secret heinous sin. Once you repent, everything will be made right again.”

Now, I don’t say it nearly as eloquently as they do. In fact, even nonbelievers acknowledge that the book of Job contains some of the most beautiful poetry ever recorded. The friends are very good at putting their arguments in flowery phrases that sound very persuasive, but those two sentences are the essence of what they’re saying.

There are a couple of things that should be noted. First, they started out stating their position in very indirect ways. As Job responded to them and protested his innocence, they became less and less subtle and started outright accusing him of specific transgressions. What you need to know is that in this culture, to accuse someone directly would be a major breach of etiquette. Even now, in Non-Western cultures like in the Middle East and Asia, you never come out and tell someone “No” or that they’re wrong. You say it in very subtle and indirect ways. “Saving face” is extremely important. In America we pride ourselves on being upfront and even blunt in our dealings: “Quit beating around the bush!” is a common complaint. Not in this setting.

So why were they leaping to these conclusions about the reason for Job’s suffering? Over the next few days we’ll examine how correct they were in their theology, but for now we’ll just see where they’re coming from. Most people in the Old Testament period believed in an afterlife of some sort, and they hoped that the Almighty Judge would eventually make things right, but they weren’t as sure about it as we are today, and they certainly were hazy on the details. The Lord Jesus--especially through his Resurrection--has “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” For people in Job’s time, however, their idea of what happens after death was somewhat murkier, so they held to a “Justice in this life” type of mentality. In other words, they expected that people would get what they deserve in the here and now, and the concept that someone could suffer for some reason besides punishment was completely foreign to them.

Lord Jesus, I’m reminded again of how important it is for me to use my words carefully. When I do have to confront a brother in Christ, help me to speak the truth in love. In other words, just take over my mouth, please.

[June 06]--Woe

Job 3:1-16; 23:1-9

After a week of suffering in silence, Job finally cried out and let loose some of his frustrations. He had no idea that there was a dispute going on between Satan and God, and he might not have cared even if he did know. He'd lost everything: all his property, his children, his health, and the support of his wife. He was in such agony that he was using pieces of pottery to get some fleeting relief from the sores. Satan and heaven’s hosts waited to see what Job would do, whether he would curse God and formally sever all ties with him. And Job opened his mouth and cursed. . .the day of his birth.

Let's not misunderstand. This is pretty bad, since it implied that God didn’t know what he was doing when he knit Job together in his mother’s womb. But this is definitely not what the Enemy was hoping to hear. This is the closest that Job ever got to really cursing God, and it can be somewhat excused by his circumstances. I know that if I experienced what Job was going through, I'd be tempted to say a lot worse things than this.

But what was the worst loss for Job? As we noted before, he had a perfect attitude towards his lost possessions, and his response to his wife seemed to indicate that he could bear the physical suffering. I thoroughly believe that the worst part for him was God’s silence. Job thought he was on pretty good terms with his Creator (which was actually true), so these calamities made absolutely no sense to him.

When someone is undergoing loss and they ask “Why is this happening to me?” I don’t really think that information is what they're really looking for or need. If some prophet had revealed to Job what was happening behind the scenes, I’m not sure at all that this would've helped him at this time. But what would've really eased his suffering would be a sense of God’s presence, just knowing that the Lord was there, that he was in charge and that he loved Job more than the man would ever know. I've never gone through even a fraction of what Job experienced. But when I have undergone unpleasant things in life, the most important thing to me is feeling my Savior's presence. That's the one thing that makes it bearable.

Of course, he often makes his presence known through his Body, namely the church. When my siblings in Christ surround me to comfort me and tell me that we're going to get through this together, that’s the Lord speaking through them. But Job didn’t have that at all. His wife urged him to curse God and die (in other words, give up), and after the week-long silence his friends started accusing him of harboring secret sin. And worst of all, God was silent. Everything in his life pointed to the obvious conclusion that the Lord was extremely angry with him and was punishing him, or at the least had abandoned him altogether.

But whatever the evidence was telling him, whatever his feelings were telling him, it was all misleading and wrong. His Redeemer hadn’t abandoned him, and he wasn’t angry at him for any particular sin. When God seemed furthest away, that was the moment when he was actually closer than ever before.

Friend, I don’t know if you’re going through a Job-like experience right now or not. But I promise you two things. A) There will come a time in your life where it feels like God has abandoned you and hates you. B) He hasn’t and he doesn’t. If you’re his child, he's promised never to leave you or forsake you.

Lord Jesus, I thank you for your great and precious promises. Please help me listen to your voice and your word, not my feelings. The Enemy can use my feelings to deceive me, and I can even deceive myself, but you never will. Thank you.

[June 05]--With Friends Like These. . .

Job 2:11-13

In today’s passage we meet the infamous friends: Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. Apparently they believed in the same God as Job, since he never questioned that fact in the entire book. However, if you’ve read the book of Job, you know that neither Job nor God was impressed with their work. They said a lot of things and made a lot of long flowery speeches, but most readers of this book, even if they don’t remember the friends’ names, will forever perceive these men as well-intentioned people who absolutely stunk at what they set out to do.

But not at first.

What are you talking about, Keith? Today’s reading says that they came to comfort and sympathize with Job, and everyone knows that they utterly failed at their self-appointed task. Yes they did, but I don’t think they started out as failures. I thoroughly believe that when they came to Job and sat with him in silence for seven days and nights, they did the best job of comforting that they--or anyone else--could do. The problems started when they couldn’t keep their traps shut and just had to talk.

I certainly believe that they had the best of intentions regarding their friend. There’s no indication from Scripture that they meant to hurt Job. But just like his wife, they were being used as pawns of Satan to try to tip Job over the edge into abandoning the Lord once and for all. We’ll examine their main arguments and points in a couple of days, and they weren’t all wrong in what they were saying. But my point here is that if Job had listened to them, he would've believed that his relationship with God was severed because of sin, and he might've finally given into despair. I could be wrong, but I think that these friends were Satan’s absolutely last weapon in his arsenal to bring the man of God down.

So what lesson can I draw from this? As a guy, when I see someone in trouble, I want to jump in and solve the problem. When someone is experiencing tragedy, my first instinct is to quote Scripture that applies to their situation. There's a time and a place for that, but a lot of times I just need to keep my trap shut. When someone is mourning a loss, the most important thing for me, at least at first, is just to offer a shoulder to cry on and promises that I’ll be praying for them. I might have the best of intentions, but you know from the cliché concerning where that road can lead.

Lord Jesus, I desperately need your wisdom to know when to speak and when to be silent. When it’s time to let loose my tongue, may my words be few and full of humility, grace, and truth. Let them be your words, not mine.

[June 04]--Phase Two

Job 2:1-10

Satan is our mortal enemy, but there are some qualities he displays which are worth emulating. One of these qualities is his persistence. If one aspect of his strategy doesn’t work, he’ll try another. He has several thousand years of experience with humanity, so he knows our weaknesses.

Today’s reading is phase two, not just of Satan’s plan, but God’s. The Accuser had his plan, but he'll always find out that the Lord accomplishes his purposes not despite Satan’s best efforts, but because of them. The angels presented themselves before the Lord’s throne again, and notice again how vague Satan was about what he’d actually been doing. The Lord repeated his verdict on Job’s character, and observed that Job had not turned away.

Now the Enemy presented the strongest weapon in his arsenal. People can do without a lot of possessions if they need to, but if something takes away their health, they'll usually do anything to get it back. This especially applies if the sickness is painful or debilitating. The Lord gave him permission to strike him physically, but again laid out parameters which the Accuser couldn’t breach.

And when Satan got permission to afflict Job, he didn’t mess around. I’ve had a mild case of the Chicken Pox when I was a kid, and it was agony, or at least it seemed like it at the time, having itches all over my body and not being able to scratch it away. I can’t even imagine the physical suffering that this man of God was going through.

And then his wife came forward to provide her version of comfort and consolation. This is the only scrap of information we have about his wife, and it’s not very flattering. I'd hope that a godly man like Job wouldn't be attracted to a woman who didn’t have a relationship with the Lord. It’s quite possible that most of her life she was a godly, supportive wife, and this was a fluke brought on by extraordinary circumstances. However, whether this was a pattern of negativity or just a one-time deal, we do know one thing: At this moment in time, Job’s wife was being used by Satan. I don’t mean she was possessed by the Devil like in The Exorcist, and maybe she had his best interests at heart. But at this very moment, in her only recorded words in Scripture, she was being used as Satan’s mouthpiece, urging him to do the very thing that the Enemy was working for behind the scenes.

This is a very sobering thought. I don’t believe that believers can be possessed by the Enemy, but can they be used by him? Can they be manipulated by him to draw other Christians away from God’s plan? Absolutely! Even with the best of intentions, we’re all capable of this. This is why we need to be earnestly praying constantly that the Lord will set a guard over our lips.

For today’s prayer, read Ephesians 4:29-30 and ask God to help you obey these commands.

[June 03]--When It Rains. . .

Job 1:13-22

Well, no one ever accused Satan of being the model of restraint and self-control, and he never does anything halfway. For years he hated this man, watching him as he did good in the community, gave to the poor, prayed for his children, and generally lived a godly lifestyle. When the Almighty gave him permission to take away the man’s possessions, he went all-out.

But notice the intense cruelty of the Enemy’s strategy. When several tragedies happen in our life, most of the time they come at different times. Someone might lose a family member and also their job and their car, but usually not all at the same time. Even when we experience several losses, we can handle them better if we have some time to mourn and to process them mentally and emotionally.

Not so with Job. The Enemy struck on many fronts at once, so that as one messenger was telling him one piece of terrible news, another one came racing in. Also notice that in each circumstance there was only one survivor, one person to tell Job.

In one stroke the Enemy reduced him to utter poverty. I’m sure that almost every parent would give up their fortunes in an instant rather than lose their children, but there was more at stake here. In that time, much more than today, children were considered a blessing from the Lord because they were the way to carry on the family name and traditions. So this was not merely the loss of his children, but the loss of his future.

So what was Job’s response to all this? He shaved himself and tore his robe, common signs of mourning in his day. But note his verbal response. He recognized two very important things about our possessions, which we desperately need to emulate, both in good times and in bad. The first thing he acknowledged was that all his material blessings (including children) came from God. He had come “naked” into this world, and the Most High had chosen to give him a lot of material wealth and children, and the Lord didn't owe Job anything he'd received. Since the Almighty had given them, it was his absolute prerogative to take them back anytime he wished.

The other thing Job realized about his wealth was that it was all temporary anyway. I know it’s a cliché that “You can’t take it with you,” but clichés are repeated and common because they’re largely true. He was eventually going “naked” back into the realm from which he had come, and all his wealth would be dust and ashes one way or another.

This is another place where Job’s character shines through, because his attitude towards material blessings (by which I mean anything the Lord gives us in this life) is exactly what I need, both in times of prosperity and in times of hardship. It’s not just that he refused to curse God (as Satan had predicted). Why did he not fall into the Enemy’s trap? Because of good theology and a right perspective on life. That's our key to preparing ourselves to suffer loss, to hold onto our possessions very lightly.

And now for your enjoyment and edification, here's "Blessed Be Your Name," which sets a lot of these concepts to music.

Lord Jesus, you've blessed me in so many ways. If I really counted my blessings, I'd be doing nothing else for the rest of my life. Help me to have the right attitude towards my blessings, and take away anything that takes my eyes off you. Yes, I mean that.