Wednesday, March 28, 2012

God Answers Job

The book of Job is a fascinating, heartbreaking, and sometimes head-scratching account of God's dealings with a man who by all accounts was righteous man. As tragedy after tragedy befell him, Job doggedly held to his trust in God.  At the same time, though, he wanted answers from God. Why, if he had followed God faithfully and passionately, would these things be happening to him? In our ears that sounds like a fair question doesn't it?  However, Job had friends who didn't think so. A good portion of the book is taken with the "comfort" they offered him--which basically amounted to, "Job, God is good and this must be happening because you are sinful. So what have you done?" One young man in particular, a fellow named Elihu, took pains to ask these same kinds of questions. He asserts that God is great, that we can't understand Him. He says in Job 37:23, "The Almighty, we cannot find Him..." God, who is not without a sense of irony, picks this moment as the time to show up and answer Job's questions.
What's fascinating, though, is that God's answers, the explanations that Job has been so hungry for, are shown to be beyond his reach. God doesn't explain; rather, He points out to Job why Job can't understand. With question after question, from chapters 38-41, God says, "Job, you couldn't get it even if I did explain it to you." And those chapters are great for reminding us of the greatness of God, of who He is and who we are.
This morning one specific question stood out to me. And it's not the one I would have thought. There are some amazing questions God puts to Job. Some give us a glimpse into the parts of God's creation in which He delights. In 39:5-12 God affectionately speaks of the wild donkey and the wild ox; He joys in their freedom and in their strength.  In vs19-25 of the same chapter He seems to take special delight in the fierceness of the war horse. Other questions soar poetically, such as 39:26, "Does the hawk fly by your wisdom, and spread its wings toward the south?"
The question that grabbed my attention, though, was the first question God asks Job. 38:4, "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth." Nothing particularly memorable about that, right? No poetic language, no wild and free animals; no power of creation or mysteries of God here. Just a simple, straightforward question: "Job, where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Where were you, Job, when I began building the earth on which you now walk, the earth onto which you were born? Job, where were you when I decided the laws by which this earth would be governed?"
I suppose the reason this question was so memorable to me is because of its simplicity. What would be the answer to it? How could Job respond? "I wasn't yet here, Lord. You hadn't yet knit me together in my mother's womb, fearfully and wonderfully making me. I hadn't yet breathed air (which You created) into the lungs You gave me, thereby drawing the oxygen that is necessary for life (which you breathed into my nostrils) into the body You fashioned from the earth--the earth You created."
God's 1st question to Job could rightfully have been His only question couldn't it? "Job, you are asking many questions. Let me ask you one." And the discussion could have ended there. But God wanted to make the point abundantly clear--both to Job and to us. He is far greater than we are. He is far wiser than we are. He knows things we don't know, He understands things that are beyond our ability. And while it isn't wrong for us to ask Him to help us understand, it is wrong to question Him. Why? Because we are unable to take hold of who He is, much less of what He does.
In 37:5 Elihu said, "God thunders wondrously with His voice; He does great things that we cannot comprehend." Elihu may not have had it all right, but that statement is good theology. God does great things that we can't comprehend. But even when we can't comprehend, we can trust. Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, even though we are led there by the Lord who is our shepherd, we will fear no evil. Why? Because He is with us. We can rest in His presence when we can't understand His plan.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Nothing but the Blood

The following is taken from a sermon preached October 31, 1875 by Charles Spurgeon.  I couldn't decide which particular quote to post so I decided to post the entire quote. 

That part of the line of battle which is most fiercely assailed by the enemy is sure to be that which he knows to be most important to carry. Men hate those they fear. The antagonism of the enemies of the gospel is mainly against the cross. From the very first it was so. They cried “Let him come down from the cross and we will believe in him.” They will write us pretty lives of Christ and tell us what an excellent man he was, and do our Lord such homage as their Judas’ lips can afford him; they will also take his sermon on the mount and say what a wonderful insight he had into the human heart, and what a splendid code of morals he taught, and so on. “We will be Christians” say they, “but the dogma of atonement we utterly reject.”

Our answer is, we do not care one farthing what they have to say about our Master if they deny his substitutionary sacrifice, whether they give him wine or vinegar is a small question so long as they reject the claims of the Crucified. The praises of unbelievers are sickening; who wants to hear polluted lips lauding him? Such sugared words are very like those which came out of the mouth of the devil when he said “Thou Son of the Highest,” and Jesus rebuked him and said “Hold thy peace, and come out of him.” Even thus would we say to unbelievers who extol Christ’s life: “Hold your peace! We know your enmity, disguise it as you may. Jesus is the Savior of men or he is nothing; if you will not have Christ crucified you cannot have him at all.”

My brethren in Jesus let us glory in the blood of Jesus, let it be conspicuous as though it were sprinkled upon the lintel and the two side posts of our doors, and let the world know that redemption by blood is written upon the innermost tablets of our hearts. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Joy of Hardship

Psalm 119:71 says, "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes." As curious as it sounds, there is often good that comes from bad. There is a joy that can be found in hardship--as long as we take hold of the fact that God can and does use those hardships for His glory in our lives.

Commenting on this truth, J.C. Ryle said

"Let us mark this well. There is nothing which shows our ignorance so much as our impatience under trouble. We forget that every cross is a message from God, and intended to do us good in the end. Trials are intended to make us think, to wean us from the world, to send us to the Bible, to drive us to our knees.
Health is a good thing; but sickness is far better, if it leads us to God. Prosperity is a great mercy, but adversity is a greater one if it brings us to Christ. Anything, anything is better than living in carelessness, and dying in sin. Better a thousand times to be afflicted, like the Canaanitish mother (Mark 7:24-20) and like her flee to Christ, than live at ease like the rich fool (Luke 12:20) and die at last without Christ and without hope."

No one enjoys hardships. But if we can take hold of the fact that God will use them for His glory, and to teach us of His goodness, and to use them to minister to others, we can learn to embrace these times.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Job's Righteousness

WARNING: This is a rather wordy post. Proceed with caution.

I've been reading through Job as part of my daily Bible readings this year and today's reading was fascinating. In chapter 31 Job is defending himself against his friends' assertions that the calamities in his life were a result of his unrighteousness.

Defending yourself against untrue claims is an awkward proposition. I find it hard to strike a balance between humility and setting the record straight. I want to correct false accusations but I have a bent towards self-righteousness and if I guard myself I can easily begin to not just defend myself but to pat myself on the back a little. Something like, "Not only are you claims untrue, I'm actually a better guy than you realize!" That sort of thing. Anyways, that's why Job 31 was so interesting to me. In this chapter, as Job defends himself, he lays his life out before his friends and before God. He essentially says, "This is who I am. You guys are saying I'm being punished for sin but there's no patter of sin in my life." That challenges me because I want to be able to say that. I want to be able to say, "There is no pattern of sin; you can check this area, that area, and any other you want but my life is blameless."

Job lists 13 areas of his life in which he is blameless before God. Some of them I expected; some of them surprised me. Not because they were bad things, but because they wouldn't be things I would use to vindicate myself.

He says first that he's blameless because he's committed himself to sexual purity, vs1-4. Then he's blameless because he walks according to truth, vs5-6. He doesn't covet, vs7-8, and he's not been guilty of adultery, vs9-12. Then in vs13-15 he says he hasn't been guilty of showing partiality. He says that when his servants complain against him, he listens to them. In vs15 he says, "Did not He who made me in the womb make him?" How about that, civil rights in the oldest book of the bible? And what's fascinating about this to me is that I would never think to point to my impartiality as proof of my righteousness. That isn't to say that I show partiality; I don't think I do, but for Job this was a central point of his argument. And why not? James 2:1 says, "My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." Not showing partiality--something I would never even consider as a fruit of righteousness, is an explicit command in scripture.

Job continues his defense by asserting he is blameless because of his compassion for the poor and destitute, vs16-22. Again, not something I might point to in my own life. But again, we find a clear command in the New Testament. James 2:15-16, "If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled', without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?" If there's anything we don't talk much about it's taking care of the poor. Yet Job points to this as proof of his righteousness; and James commands this of us. Job next says that he's blameless because he doesn't trust in riches, nor is he held captive by materialism, vs24-25. That's a powerful thing for a wealthy man to say. He also asserts that he doesn't follow false religions, vs26-28. These are characteristics that maybe would come more readily to mind. But then he says he's blameless because he loves his enemy, vs29-30. What a convicting defense. Can I look at my life and say, "I know I'm blameless before God, I see fruit of the transforming power of the gospel because I love my enemies. I don't rejoice when those who hate me are destroyed"? Job's final three points of defense are that he is hospitable, vs31-32, he's not a hypocrite vs33-34, and he is honest in his business dealings, vs38-40.

Which of these things would we point to as proofs of a right standing with God? Some of them we might, others we most likely wouldn't. And understand, this isn't an exhaustive list, nor should we judge our righteousness by Job. Jesus is our standard, not Job. However, remember how Job begins. Chapter 1 vs1 says, "There was a man in the land of Uz who name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil." And lest we think this is Job saying what a great guy he is, in vs8 God says of Job, "...there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil..." Job was indeed a righteous man; God declared him to be righteous and Job was able to point to specific things in life, evidences of the righteousness that had been imputed to him.

So here's the point; actually, the points. First, Just as Job was able to point to fruit in his life, I need to be able to do the same. Jesus said you know someone by their fruit, right? So I need to be able to point to fruit in my life, evidence of the indwelling Holy Spirit and of the transforming power of the gospel. And second, I need to reevaluate what I think constitutes righteousness before God. Many of us, I think, would answer charges such as were leveled at Job by saying, "I go to church, I give money, I read my Bible and pray." I don't see any of that from Job. All those things are great but even lost people can do these things. Job pointed to specific, concrete evidences of the work of God in his heart. He pointed to things that are almost completely overlooked in the church today; especially his focus on caring for the poor and destitute, and his claim that he hadn't fallen victim to materialism. Can I say the same? Can you? I need to be certain that the fruit I look to as evidence of the Spirit's work in my life is biblical fruit, i.e., that my life is matching up with the teachings of scripture. Not that I'll do this perfectly. But I should be doing it consistently.