Saturday, January 28, 2006

I Know My Redeemer Lives

The Book of Job touches so many issues. If you’ve ever suffered hardship or heartache, you perhaps feel an affinity with Job. There’s no doubt seeing the crafty maneuvers of Satan serves as a great help to know how to better handle temptation. And who hasn't been challenged to become a more intelligent counselor when comforting a hurting friend because of the colossal mistakes of Job's friends? But we need to ask, "What is the chief purpose of Job?" Many believe it is to prepare the way for the work of Jesus on the cross.

Following the long, drawn-out squabble with Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, Job longs for a daysman (KJV). He desperately needs an umpire - a mediator - to settle the score. It’s right about here that Job declares:

"I know that my Redeemer lives"
- Job 19:25

Job is speaking of his Goel. So, our first question is, “What is a Goel?” It’s an ancient concept where members of the extended family were bound to the rest. Each bore a particular responsibility for the others. The Old Testament Law explains that if a man became indebted, the Goel was responsible to pay his debts and thus free the man. (Leviticus 25:25) If a man died childless, the Goel was responsible to marry his widow and produce a child to carry on the family name. (Deuteronomy 25:5) If a man were murdered, the Goel was responsible to avenge his death. (Numbers 35:12) The law further provided an order of priority to determine who of the family members was responsible to fill the role of the Goel. There were, after all, very particular requirements of the Goel. Besides being a near relative, he must be willing and able to fulfill the role. So you can get a sense of how important this whole thing was. The Kinsman-Redeemer had the responsibility of redeeming his relative’s lost opportunities. And in Job Chapter 19, Job's faith launches out and declares that God will definitely provide his Goel!

Jesus answered Job's cry. Jesus ideally fulfills Job’s need for an umpire. Emmanuel is the one true mediator between man and God. Between Job and his affliction. Between righteousness and sin:

"For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all….” (1 Timothy 2:5-6)

As for the requirements of the Kinsman-Redeemer, Jesus fully fulfills that role as well. He is like us – a near relative:

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy… the power of death…” (Hebrews 2:14)

He is willing:

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to
give his life as a ransom for man.” (Mark 10:49)

Finally, He is able:

“…has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual
blessing in Christ.” (Ephesians 1:3)

We have a Kinsman-Redeemer. Someone who will redeem all our lost opportunities. Someone who will take up our cause. Someone who will meet our needs. It’s Jesus. He has bound Himself to us by covenant oath, an oath that was established at the Cross. We may not have the afflictions of Job, but we each live with our own predicaments and it is at the Cross that we can find hope. Whatever your situation, you too can declare, “I know that my Redeemer lives!”

- Pastor Mark

Friday, January 20, 2006

How Do You Comfort The Grieving?

Imagine the unimaginable. You’re home fixing dinner. The television news is on and there’s the breaking story – cameras on the scene: A child is absolutely still. Deathly still. In a pool of blood. Under a pale blanket. It’s just another horrifying, heartbreaking news item. But then your phone rings. Suddenly it doesn't matter what was for dinner. The dead child is your neighbor.

You’re suddenly reeling, as if in a dream. The world around you screams to a halt. The grief of someone very near becomes as close as your own. Your first thought is, “Oh, how my heart goes out to _______.” Your next thought is, “What can I do to help? How can I comfort this family?” You realize that many of the seemingly sincere gestures offered over the next days may be of no “comfort” at all. Some “comforters” may be good candidates for a Job’s counselor – and none of us wants that title. What do you do?

“…the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles,
so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the
comfort we ourselves have received from God.”
- II Corinthians 1:4

God’s Word tells us to comfort others with the same comfort we’ve received ourselves! When we survive a traumatic situation with God’s help, we become uniquely qualified to help others who have the same problem. In a sense, God gives us a special ministry. But simply being comforted by God in any circumstance gives us a message of hope for others with problems, regardless of the nature of their trials. That’s the way God’s comfort is supposed to work. It flows from heart to heart!

The entire book of II Corinthians is a letter of comfort. The word is used twenty-nine times in the letter. But comfort here is not just sympathy, it refers to “calling another alongside to help.” The word combines the ideas of exhortation and consolation. There is comfort and grace available for every problem we face and each of us has – and always will have -- problems and dilemmas and shockingly horrifying things happen to us and to our neighbors because “Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.” (Job 14:1)

So what kind of comforting blanket do you throw around your neighbor to put out the smoldering anger and burning pain and grief?

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

- Romans 12:15

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up….”

- 1 Thessalonians 5:11

“Carry each others’ burdens, and in this way you
will fulfill the law of Christ.”

- Galatians 6:2

“And we urge you, brothers… encourage the timid,
help the weak, be patient with everyone.”

- 1 Thessalonians 5:14

When one person comforts another, something is poured out of one and into the other that has the power to encourage, restore and heal the deepest hurts. It’s God’s design! Ordinary people intersecting to share and reveal HIS Comfort!

- Pastor Mark

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Problems or Pearls

The little pearl oyster receiving accidentally into its shell a rough fragment of rock or sand tries in vain to expel the intruding and irritant substance and only suffers in the struggle until rasped and bleeding it gives up in agony and helplessness. Then a new force comes into play. From its peculiar physiological system the little mollusk sends forth a crystal fluid which covers and coats the rough piece of rock with a soft crystalline cushion and as this grows and hardens it becomes a beautiful pearl. It ceases to irritate and soothes and rests the wounded side of the little creature until the curse has become a blessing, and some days later the pearl fisher discovers the hidden treasure, opens the shell and takes forth a gem of purest luster and boundless value which is worn in the coronets of kings and adorns the highest rank and grandest occasions. So someday our sorrows, irritations and wrongs, having first been sweetened by the Holy Spirit into heavenly virtues, will become the jewels of an immortal crown and will shine in the diadem of Jesus and adorn our brow forever!

(A. B. Simpson, Volume V in the Christ in the Bible series - Christian Publications, Inc.)

A.B. Simpson’s words are tender and poignant. The pearl oyster embodies so many human problems, sorrows, and emotional suffering. Like the oyster, we encounter “irritants,” but we have a tendency to try and avoid them. We’re human – it’s inborn. Christian counselors will tell you that the basis of almost all mental illness is the tendency to avoid problems and the emotional suffering inherent in them. It was renowned physician Carl Jung who said, “Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering. “

The tragedy of course is that the substitute for our suffering ultimately becomes more painful that the original suffering we are trying to avoid! Does this explain why the wisest saints among us are often the people who endure pain rather than escape it? These saints are men and woman who are “acquainted with grief.” I believe this describes Job. How about our Savior Jesus Christ? “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.“ (Isaiah 53:3) “…yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8)

Are you trying to avoid problems and the suffering that comes with them? Maybe you have several dozen problems today. If you listen to the voices around you, you’ll search for a substitute – an escape route. You’ll miss the fact that your problems are God-appointed – fashioned to stretch you and challenge you and deepen your walk with Him. Growth and wisdom come with each irritating-piece-of-sand-kind-of-a-problem. And what emerges is an exquisite gem of purest luster and boundless value!

- Pastor Mark

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Gift or The Giver

The quandary of undeserved suffering… It’s a puzzling mystery and an age-old question. Why does God allow the righteous to suffer? It’s the question that the Book of Job addresses:

In just a matter of hours an especially righteous and notably wealthy man loses all of his material possessions, each of his children, and his good health. Next, to add misery to despair, Job’s friends condemn him rather than console him and then his wife gives up and turns on him. Worst of all, the God he loves and serves refuses to answer his cries and rise to his defense and do something. The question of suffering has been addressed in countless ways through the centuries since the time of Job. Why do we suffer? Who or what causes it? Why does God not do something? Not all of our questions are answered and it’s worthy to note that Job himself did not receive a direct answer to his own suffering.

In Job’s story, the accuser suggests that Job serves God only because of the things he receives from God in return for his service – that if Job suddenly lost all his rewards, his reverence and respect for God would surely wane. Satan proposes that Job does not serve God out of love or devotion at all!

Satan’s suggestion clobbers the human race right at the heart of our basic, inner, egocentric existence: Selfishness. Do we only worship God for self-seeking reasons? Would we serve the Lord if we enjoyed no personal gain from it at all? The accusation was an attack on God as well for it suggests that the only way that the Creator can get people to worship Him is to promise them health and wealth and worldly treasures.

Surely God knew Job’s heart and understood his devotion. Indeed God allowed Satan to buffet and beat Job, so as to silence the accuser. And to be sure, God was in command of Job’s mystifying journey – a journey that would forever change his spiritual insight.

How about you? Are you in it for the blessings? Or are you worshiping the Blesser? The gifts are nice, but do you love the Giver? Have you reached the point where you can recite the words of A. B. Simpson as your own? . . .

Once it was the blessing,
Now it is the Lord.
Once it was the feeling,
Not it is His Word.
Once His gift I wanted,
Now the Giver own.
Once I sought for healing,
Now Him alone.

Once it was my working,
His it hence shall be.
Once I tried to use Him,
Now He uses me.
Once the power I wanted,
Now the Mighty One.
Once for self I labored,
Now for Him alone.

All in all forever,
Jesus will I sing.
Everything in Jesus
And Jesus everything.

- A.B. Simpson

- Pastor Mark