August 18th, 2018

Unfulfilled Expectations

Job 40:4 “I am insignificant; what can I reply to You? I lay my hand on my mouth.”

Observation: Through all of Job 38 and 39, God had been affirming His unlimited majesty and power using fascinating examples from the natural realm and the animal world. Then He addressed Job directly, inviting Job to reprove God, to find fault with Him. “Will the fault-finder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer it” (40:2). Job’s wise response was to decline the bait: “Behold, I am insignificant; what shall I reply to You?” (v. 4).

Application:     Job is not saying he approves of everything God has recently done in his life. He certainly isn’t saying that he has enjoyed the past season. But he does recognize that he is in the presence of the One who made heaven and earth and all they contain. He knows full well that he is speaking with the One who holds life and death in His hands. So at long last, he seems to have put the “why me” questions behind him, questions that had surely filled his mind and heart to this point, questions spurred on by his remarkably unhelpful friends.

This is a place we must each reach in coming to grips with our grieving, angry hearts over life’s seeming unfairness. We are no doubt each confronted at some point in our lives with unfulfilled expectations that lead us to ask God, why do I have to go through THIS? Why does my life have to be like that? What have I done to deserve this (illness, job loss, disappointing relationship)? Haven’t I loved You sufficiently? Haven’t I given enough or served enough or obeyed enough or, or, or? These kinds of heart-wrenching experiences will never make sense apart from me understanding the bridal paradigm of God, and in my recognition that He became sin for me so He could enter into my suffering. He took my brokenness upon Himself. As I begin to understand that He bled out for me upon the Cross so He might win me as His bride, my complaints are reduced to nothingness; my questions evaporate. The fact is, if my hopes and aspirations are truly in Him, then what unfulfilled expectations could possibly remain? Like Job, I will be reduced to silence as I esteem Him stricken on my behalf.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, when I realize that You have entered into every hurtful place of my life, I have nothing left to say. When I begin to understand more of what is meant by the “sins of the world” being taken upon Your shoulders at Calvary, I am overcome. You did it for love, for me, and to show me how I ought in turn to love. Like Job, I am so insignificant, yet in Your eyes, supremely important. I love You, Lord.

August 17th, 2018

Beyond Muskiness

Job 38:22-23 “Have you seen the storehouses of the hail, which I have reserved for the time of distress, for the day of war and battle?”

Observation: Reading the book of Job has always required fortitude; experience tells us we will have to wade through endless diatribes of bad theology to get to the good stuff. But finally we are rewarded with the crescendo. The thirty-eighth chapter is like coming to the cannon volleys in the 1812 Overture. At last God Himself speaks. Bursting into the conversation with heart-stopping declarations of truth about Himself, His rapid-fire questions wilt the smug arrogance of those who would speak for Him as He thunders, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4). “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (v.2). “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, or loose the cords of Orion?” (v. 31). On He goes, establishing His right to have His words heard and respected as the final authority.

But tucked into a small corner of this litany of God’s awesome powers is one nugget phrase that does more than affirm His attributes as the Creator: “Have you seen the storehouse of the hail which I have reserved for the day of distress, for the day of war and battle?” Who said anything about days of distress, or war and battle? What’s He talking about?

Application: By all accounts the book of Job recounts events that occurred a very long time ago. In fact, it’s easy to read the book with a certain muskiness filling the nostrils. But this business of God’s storing hail for the coming battle is a forward-looking comment that causes me to go to the back of the Book for understanding about when destruction will visit the whole earth. In “the hour of His judgment” (Rev. 14:7), great bowls of wrath will be poured out upon the earth. The seventh and last bowl contains an earthquake “such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth” (16:18), “and huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, came down from heaven…and men blasphemed God because…its plague was extremely severe” (16:21).

I have sometimes suspected that God has been napping when trouble entered my world. The truth is, from the most ancient of writings, God has told me what the end is going to look like. I can rest secure in the knowledge that all things are in His hands. The whole Book is His story…history…written in advance. Before time began, He has already planned every detail of the end of the age; it is settled. Be at peace. He has overcome the world.

Prayer: Father God, You who created all my eyes can see, I bless You and praise You; Your Name is above all names. Let Your kingdom come over all the earth. Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly.

August 16th, 2018

Here a Weed, There a Weed

1 Corinthians 9:1 “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?”

Observation: Paul has just finished saying  in 1 Corinthians 8:13: “Therefore if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble.” In other words, when the question at hand is morally neutral, then love should govern our behavior. In 9:1, Paul further illustrates his point by asking the obvious: “Are you not my work in the Lord?” Is this a trick question? 

Application:     If I am Paul’s work in the Lord, if I am his spiritual offspring, grown up in the Lord due to his example, training, and coaching…this is making me nervous, Paul. Where exactly are you going with this question? You seem to be saying you’re willing to be accountable for whom I have become in Christ. Surely you don’t expect me to pass it on, do you?

Deep down, peeking tentatively around the corner of my understanding, a light is coming on. The reality setting in is this: like Paul, I ought to be able to look at those around me, those whom He has given me to protect and train, to shelter and teach. I must be both able and willing to say, “Are you not my work in the Lord?” Ouch. 

I’ve cultivated some lovely flower gardens in my day, but they have never become truly beautiful on their own. If I relent in weeding or fail to properly fertilize and water, things quickly begin to look a bit shabby. So I keep at it because deep down I’m sure there’s an enormous sign somewhere in the sky with a neon arrow, flashing, “Dave’s Garden.  Dave’s Garden.” There are days when I’d like to be able to turn the thing off, to give in to the advancing army of weeds and just wash my hands of the whole mess. But that sign will still be there, won’t it?  “Dave’s Garden.”  For all the world to see. For me to see. For God to see. “Are you not my work in the Lord?” Your life…my child, my spouse, my friend…testifies of me, of my influence in your life. Hmm, I may want to rededicate myself to this project, to spend a little more time and effort knowing that you, my work in the Lord, speak well of me both to Him and to the watching world.

Prayer: Father, thank You for the people You have put in my life, relationships that bless me and challenge me every day.  Stir me to pour myself out for them even as You poured out Your life for me on the Cross.  Give me Your wisdom in this, Father.  I care passionately that those I’m accountable for reflect very well indeed upon me, and upon You.

August 15th, 2018

A Good Reflection?

1 Corinthians 7:35 “This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint on you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.”

Observation: Paul was sharing what he understood God’s desire to be regarding marriage. He addressed whether to marry and the importance of both spouses giving themselves fully to each other. He said what a widow’s next step ought to be, what should happen in the event of a separation, how couples that are unequally yoked spiritually ought to behave, and the merits of remaining single. He even touched on arranged marriages and remarriage…a long litany indeed! But consider what he did not discuss: why God instituted marriage in the first place.

Application:     For at least part of the answer, I need to go back to Genesis 2. God had created male and female versions of all the animals, and Adam. As each pair of animals paraded past Adam so he could name them, his heart must have yearned for something he had never yet known. It is one thing to be in a loving marriage and to experience longing for your mate when separated. But Adam had never been married; how did he know he was lacking? God decided to make a wife for Adam, saying,” It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18).

Yet in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul encouraged singles to remain single. What’s going on here? Everything Paul taught comes down to verse 35, “to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.” That is my primary purpose. God made me, as an individual, in His image. But His image wasn’t just “Him,” was it? No, His image included not just the Father, but also the Son and the Holy Spirit. He intended that my coupling would be in His image: “She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. For this reason a man shall…be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:23-24).

What is that an echo of? Didn’t Jesus say that He and the Father are one? That if you’ve seen Him you’ve seen the Father? He may have created marriage so I would be surrounded at every turn by a walking, talking image of the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If He intended my marriage to be a perfect reflection of His own unity, how hard should I be willing to work on that most important of relationships? It’s not about me only, is it?

Prayer: Father God, I am so thankful for the wife You gave me, but even more thankful for the model of perfect unity You present as I consider Your relationship with your dear Son. Forgive me for ever entertaining the thought of casting aside what You joined together. Thank You for this additional glimpse of Your passion for me.

August 14th, 2018

Pick It Up, Beloved

Job 34:10 “Far be it from God to do wickedness, and from the Almighty to do wrong.”

Observation: This chapter finds Elihu on a roll, convinced he has the root of Job’s trouble all figured out: it’s Job! Though Elihu’s theories will require some adjustment in future reading, he did make a point worth further consideration when he said, “Far be it from God to do wickedness, and from the Almighty to do wrong.”

Application:     To the casual reader, Job’s situation may seem remarkable for the breadth, the depth, and the extent of his troubles. Yet thoughtful reflection will bring remembrances that I have similar dark places in my life. Without such seasons, how could I ever hope to be conformed to the image of Christ? His life was anything but the cakewalk I so often feel I deserve. Yet lurking in the depths of my spirit is the dawning realization that to get an invitation to the wedding banquet at the end of this deal first requires that I pick up a cross. Not just any cross, but “my” cross, the one He has crafted just for me. The truth is, He knows I would never do that voluntarily. Flesh cries out for comfort and relief; my sense of self is convinced I deserve to have things go my way. 

One of the maddening things about God is that because He lives outside of time, He always remains exactly where I last dug in my heels. I may not freely move on from my last point of resistance though years may have passed. But when petulance has ended, He remains where I last encountered Him, gesturing lovingly toward my cross, saying, “Pick it up, beloved.” 

Elihu got one thing especially right: God’s very nature is justice personified. No unjust impulse ever entered the mind of God. “But if that’s true,” I sputter,” why is this, this…thing I’m dealing with so hurtful? Why do I feel so alone in it?”  Beloved, it is the potter, not the clay, who sets the standard for beauty. It is only in His eternal mind that the image of me made perfect resides. I have captivated the heart of God yet remain staggered by that thought precisely because His view of me is so different from mine. What I view as His unjustness, unfairness, even meanness, He knows to be essential in light of His passion that I would one day be like Christ.

Prayer: Father, Your ways are so vastly different from mine, I wonder sometimes if I’ll ever get it right. I’m so thankful that You see the end from the beginning. Cause me to cooperate with Your processes in my life, Lord. I surrender!

August 13th, 2018

Fathering

1 Corinthians 1:9; 2:14 “God is faithful. …But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God.”

Observation: Paul was spiritual father to the Corinthians, having been first to preach the Gospel there on an earlier trip. Corinth was a remarkably wicked city, and the fledgling church was having a tough time wringing “the world” out of its midst. There were divisions among them as people identified primarily with Paul or Apollos or Cephas or Christ. Paul responded by reminding them that it is only by Christ’s Cross that power is granted sufficient for living the victorious Christian life. He went on to say that there was an irreconcilable gulf between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom imparted by the Spirit of God. He made clear that we can only live in one or the other: “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God. …But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised (1 Cor. 2:12, 14).

Application:     Paul hammered away at what should have been obvious but was lost to their understanding since he had last been among them. He was deeply concerned for their spiritual condition, and called them to an essential reordering of their beliefs if they are to be Christ’s. 

Who among us cannot relate to Paul’s pleading for correction? Which of us does not have friends or family whom we desperately long to see secure in the kingdom, but who need a major course correction in their beliefs? I can learn much from Paul’s loving approach in the letter’s beginning. Despite all he knew of their divisions and bad theology, he affirmed them by looking ahead to how things will be and spoke as though they were. He identified them as having been sanctified in Christ (1 Cor. 1:2), covered by the grace of God (v. 4), and enriched by Him in speech and knowledge (v. 5). He reminded them that God had given them gifts (v. 7), and that God would confirm them blameless in the end (v. 8). 

Here, then, is my model. Paul understood and verbalized what Christ had accomplished before wading into the Corinthians’ alligator-filled swamp. They needed profound correction, but he began by painting a picture of what Christ had done before he began to teach how to walk it out. Gentle yet firm. Loving but direct. How have I grown under that model? How faithful am I to pass it on?

Prayer: Lord God, thank You for the example of Your Father-heart in Paul. You give me here a great example to follow as I seek to encourage and help others grow in the faith. Cause this lesson to sink deep into my spirit and take root, that I might model it for others.

August 12th, 2018

The Key Difference

Job 30:20 “I cry out to You for help, but You do not answer me; I stand up, and You turn Your attention against me.”

Observation: There are two elements to Job’s lament in chapter 30. First is a comparison of his present devastation with his former life. In the previous chapter he recounted the honor he had among his fellows and how quick he had been to help the needy. Later, though, they taunted and abhorred him and stood aloof.  The second and more dominant element of Job 30 is his honest assessment of how utterly horrible his life is. There are  no more comparisons to his former life or to other men. Simply, he is hurting in every way imaginable. Worst of all, he cannot hear God’s voice no matter the depths of his anguished cries.

Application:     As I think about Job, at least part of my tragic view of him flows from the perceived uniqueness of his suffering. To have lost everything:  children, wealth, respect, health (everything, that is, except a bitter, critical wife!), his loss is greater than the mind can conceive. But perhaps I resist honestly considering familiar parallels. 

Do I not have burned within my mind the images of others who live similarly to Job? The crushed earthquake survivor who will revive only to learn all has been lost, the child running naked from her village ahead of napalming…are these not representative of countless millions around the world who live similarly? (But in God there is no such thing as “countless” millions, is there? He does indeed count.) 

They must choose, as I must, how I will view God in the midst of life’s devastation. But always remember: there is One who lost even more. And the great tragedy is, He was the sinless one. In His loss, heaven itself was forfeited.  Perfect union with the Father was willingly surrendered. He was so brutalized that passersby could only wonder if that mass of blood and flesh had once been human. But in all of history’s suffering, this One was unique. The key difference is that He volunteered for His torment. Isaiah tells me that He turned His face toward His tormenters so they could rip more handsful of beard and flesh from His face (see Isa. 50:6). Job may wonder why. The earthquake survivor and the napalm victim may mourn for the rest of their days. I, too, may struggle to understand God’s purposes. But this One willingly laid down His life; He knew exactly what He was doing. He had a strategy, a plan. His suffering was for love. How willing am I to identify with Him in that?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You ask me to willingly take on Your attributes, which include loss of all that is dear, for the goal of a greater prize. Find me willing, O Lord. As best I know how, I lay down my rights, my pride, even life itself, to become more like You.

August 11th, 2018

Remembering Former Things

Job 29:2 “Oh that I were as in months gone by.”

Observation: Job 29 is a walk with Job back in time to the days before his afflictions began. He recalled what it was like to have been in the prime of life knowing that God’s friendship spilled over and blessed every part of his life. He recalled the joy of being surrounded by children and the honor paid him by young and old alike as he walked through the public square. He had championed the cause of the needy and opposed evil at every turn. He could recall a time when the roots of his life stretched to an endless supply of fresh water, and he remembered having the sense that it would never end, that life would always be as it had been. But then he said, “Oh that I were as in months gone by.” There is no trace of anger or blame over his current condition. Rather, we are simply given to understand that he longingly recalled what life was like, and no doubt wished he could be in that place once again.

Application:  Where it seems that Job departs from me is that in honestly recalling what he loved about his former life, there is not a hint of sin in his words.  There was nothing wrong in Mrs. Lincoln’s wish that they had skipped the play that evening. There was no sin in the Astors’ preference that they had booked another vessel as the Titanic sank beneath them. 

My sin is in not finding contentment in God regardless of my circumstances. Like Job, I may well have known a time when relationships were fresher and more promise-filled. There was indeed likely a season when bodies were firmer and health more sure. There is no wrong in remembering those days with a grateful heart. But as time passes and once-promising futures don’t quite become fulfilled, what enters my heart then? Do I continue to trust in God in the midst of a rotten marriage? Am I still gladly His when death tears my heart asunder? Do I see Him as the God who provides when I have been unfairly terminated late in a career or when being chased by lawyers? Is He only my God in the good times, only the Author of life when I am at ease? How dissonant that would seem to most of the body of Christ in the hovels and shantytowns of the world. 

Prayer: O Lord, cause me today to go deep into You, to get my eyes off outward circumstances. I want to value only what You value, to esteem what You esteem, and that has nothing to do with the outward things of life. I choose today to die to all this, that You might raise me in newness of life.

August 10th, 2018

Submerged into Him

Mark 15:5 “Pilate was amazed.”

Observation: Jesus found Himself in the belly of legal and religious systems run amok. Religious leaders clamored for His crucifixion while Pilate, the political leader, knew what a premium Rome put on keeping the peace at all costs. So what we have here was a merging of political and religious streams, both unrighteous, into a river of agreement on one thing: Jesus must die. Inexorable movement toward that decision, motivated and fed by their own insecurities, lead political and religious leaders to attempt to extinguish the purest source of love that had ever lived. Pilate seemed to have had some clarity about what was happening, but in his own weakness and fear, he willingly participated. He knew that envy motivated the chief priests (Mark 15:10). He knew Jesus had committed no crime worthy of death (verse 14), and he seemed to have some sense of what was at stake when he insisted that the dying Jesus be identified as “King of the Jews” (John 19:21-22).

Application:     The Word says, “Pilate was amazed.” He had questioned Jesus as to the claim of His kingship, and Jesus had agreed with him (see verse 2). But after that, despite Pilate’s best effort to persuade Jesus to mount a defense against the growing demands for His death, Jesus remained silent. Pilate had never encountered a man like Jesus. Accustomed as he was to making life and death decisions over countless prisoners, he surely expected to hear pleas for mercy or protestations of innocence. But this prisoner, whom Pilate knew to be innocent, did not protest. He remained silent. There would be no pleading from the Lamb of God; in silence, He would become my scapegoat. Pilate could not know that Jesus looked beyond the cross, beyond the grave. In his ignorance, Pilate was amazed.

Jesus is silent before me, too. When I want to rail again life’s unfairness, my debates with Him are maddeningly one-sided. I do all the talking, staging defenses for my position, trying to justify past or planned behavior. But despite my best efforts, He will not be drawn into such conversation; the kingdom of God is not won by effective debating points. He simply waits.  Arms open, He waits. He waits for me to go through my own death experience, to lay down my rights, to finally extinguish “self.” He waits for me to become so submerged into Him that we become indistinguishable. To decrease, so He might increase. Like Pilate, I am amazed.

Prayer: Lord, I am struck once again as to how completely finished is the work You came to do. Nothing remains except for me to yield.

August 9th, 2018

Finding God’s Seat

Job 23:3 “O that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come to His seat!”

Observation: In this reading, Job declared his great longing for God. The security, comfort, and health he had once known had been stripped away, and the counsel of his friends, while well motivated, had issued from their impoverished reservoirs of the knowledge of God. So Job cried, “O that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come to His seat.” See how honest Job was in his cry, and how well he expressed the longing of every honest heart in the midst of trials? Later, in verse 16, he acknowledged that his suffering is in God’s will: “It is God who has made my heart faint, and the Almighty who has dismayed me.” Still, the deepest desire of Job’s heart was to again find himself in God’s presence.

Application: Imagine the disciple John, reclining at dinner one evening with his body pressed close in front of Jesus, his head resting on Jesus’s breast, secure in a position of intimate touch that would be unusual between men today. That’s where Job wants to be. Isn’t it interesting that Job’s heart longs to be with the very One whom he knows has made his heart faint and who has dismayed him? 

Where else am I to go? What other source of true comfort and pure love is there?  The nearest example I can think of is the laboring woman who, between hard contractions, glances sharply at her husband and exclaims, “You did this to me!”  But later, she gladly surrenders to his loving embrace with their newborn between them. Job longed to be nestled once again in the warm cocoon of God’s loving embrace. He stubbornly clung to the only thing he was certain of as he said in verse 10, “When He has tried me, I will come forth as gold.” Yes, Job. You did understand. 

O that I would have such clear vision of God’s purposes behind the testings that come to me today. But even with the benefit of New Testament writings that clarify the purpose of suffering, I can easily lose sight of His reasons for the difficult processes He takes me through. Let Job be my example, even as he foreshadowed the still more profound sufferings of Christ. For it is through Christ’s suffering and my identification with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection that the cry of Job’s heart, and mine, is fulfilled. “O that…I might find Him, that I might come to His seat.”

Prayer: Dear Lord, You do have a plan for my life, don’t you? It unfolds without surprise to You; You are never caught off guard by what we experience. How great must be Your love for me, as You wait for my race to be completed. Thank You, Lord, for loving me as You do, through every painful circumstance of life.