Thursday, February 16, 2006

Rocks of Adversity...

From the beginning verses of our study, Job has longed for an opportunity to plead his innocence before God. Finally God appears in Chapter 38 and gives Job that opportunity. And what does Job do? He remains silent. It had become clear to Job that it was no longer necessary for him to speak. In his first address, God challenges Job with the magnitude and grandeur of His natural creation. From the stars to the ocean to the desert, what does Job know about anything? Job is humbled and ashamed and he concedes his unworthiness. But God is not done….

God moves now beyond the creation and supervision of the elements to the animal kingdom and his care for it in order to further demonstrate how limited Job’s knowledge really is. God has filled the earth with living creatures that are absolutely dependent upon Him for life and for the sustenance of life. God’s zoology lesson was not intended to end with a quiz, but to allow Job to become fully aware that the God who cares for every creature on the earth would most certainly make adequate provision for the one He had created in His own image!

God’s zoology lesson begins and ends with lectures on animals of prey – the animals that in today’s world are considered injurious and of no value. Yet, God cares for them with unerring wisdom. (Do you consider some things in life valueless? God doesn’t.) He speaks of the mountain goat that inhabits the most inaccessible and rugged mountain areas of the earth. Job could hardly miss the point here. Was Job himself not climbing over rugged rocks of adversity? God continues. . . He speaks of the life cycle of the animals -- the moment of birth and the moment of death. Something - again - that God knows and we do not. God moves on to the ostrich – a most unusual and brainless bird as it is devoid of any maternal instincts at all! (Know anyone that fits that description?”) A mistake on God’s part? Hardly! God provides for the young eggs’ protection in the most amazing way and provides food for the young bird in the very eggshell from which it hatches. Chance? No. Proof again of the wisdom of God in caring for his creation. The examples and lessons go on and on. And on. . . . As anyone who has studied the animal kingdom knows, God’s creation is truly vast and incredible and inexplicable.

God had shown Job once again that as a limited human being, he has neither the ability to judge the God who created the universe nor the right to ask the why of anything. God’s actions do not depend on our lack of understanding. God’s challenge to us then, is first to be awed by the natural creation and our insignificance within it, and secondly to realize the magnitude of the task he has in bringing both righteousness and judgment on both his creation and those created in His own image. It is ours to question the rocks of adversity in any way at all? Are you getting the point?

- Pastor Mark

Monday, February 13, 2006

GOD Speaks...

By the time we reach Chapter 38 in the Book of Job, we’ve come to appreciate the depth of Job’s affliction, we’ve wallowed in his misery, we’ve undeniably considered our own suffering, we’ve listened to Job's smart-aleck friends offer their own pretentious and useless wisdom, and we’ve perhaps ourselves questioned God’s role in the whole mess. At this point we are left pretty much famished for spiritual food and drink. Enter: GOD. Not through another “counselor,” but by direct revelation!

God speaks for 70 verses in these next two chapters before Job has an opportunity to respond. And when he does, Job only mumbles words suggesting that God’s speech has undone him (Job 40:3-5). What is it in the words of Job 38-39 that evoke such a change from the defiant Job of 31:35 to the abashed Job of 40:3? Speaking from a whirlwind of a mighty storm, God – surprisingly – does not answer any of Job’s questions. Instead of answering Job’s charge of abandonment, God challenges Job to respond as He defends the design of His creation and the very existence of the entire universe. As we read these poetic verses, it is obvious that God’s questions could not possibly be answered by any human. The Divine questions reveal to Job that he does not know the ways of God. And if Job is ignorant of the earth’s natural order, it’s ridiculous to think that he (or any human) could comprehend the moral order of God. There is a purpose in creation that God knows but Job does not. There is a purpose in human suffering that God knows but Job does not. God's great power and wisdom is certainly a contrast to Job's limited ability and understanding. Overwhelmed, Job admits his unworthiness and inability to answer. But, God is not through with Job yet. God continues for 53 more verses! You could say Job was silenced and humiliated by his own self-centeredness and pity.

Henry M. Morris writes these words

. . . even Christians have become self-centered instead of God-centered. We emphasize personal Christianity, personal experience, self-image, inter-personal relationships, and what Jesus can do to meet our needs. All these have their place in the Christian life, but not when they relegate God and his purpose in creation to only a peripheral role ….

(The Remarkable Record of Job,©1988)

So why is the issue of suffering never directly settled by God? Why does God focus exclusively on His creation and His providential care over it? The entire Book of Job presents a story that moves beyond what it means for humans to suffer. It should lead us to inquire what it means to be an ordinary human at all when God is truly GOD. And if he is GOD, there is little else to do but to submit our suffering to Him and rest in his care.

-Pastor Mark

Friday, February 03, 2006

Weep With Those Who Weep...

Counseling is an often-used word today, but what do we really understand of it from a Biblical perspective? The Book of Job is replete with lessons on suffering, but one of the greatest that we can apply to the church body is that of how to counsel and how not to counsel those who are hurting? Counseling can do harm. Job evidently took some time to recover from his friends’ “counseling.” Recovery only came after Job forgave and prayed for his counselors. (Job 42:10)

Let’s revisit Job’s counselors: They wept. They mourned. They sat with Job in the dirt, in shocked grief, speechless, for seven long days. Great start! They might have done well to just pack up their stuff and leave at this point. But, like so many of us, they became impatient and instead of filling their divinely appointed role of comforter, they chose the world’s preferred alternative of claiming godlike knowledge. They focused their efforts on becoming superior-advice-giving-therapists, rather than comforting and counseling their friend as a peer.

When they saw him…they began to weep aloud …they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.

- Job 2:12-13

Like Job’s friends, we also tire of being in the dirt with our hurting, depressed, and often-irritable sisters and brothers. We want to dust ourselves off and show that we’re above that sort of thing. We refer our hurting friends to secular therapists and best-seller books. We rely less on God and our divinely appointed role as comforters and defer to a therapeutic culture, that looks beneath every hurt, pain and struggle in life and finds a psychological disorder that needs repair; and more often than not: a pill. What’s really going on is a soul crying out for what only Jesus Christ can provide. We need to quit relying on professionals to fix damaged “psyches.”

The problem is disconnected human souls. The church is designed to “grow and build itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:16) Just as spiritual gifts are to be used for the entire church body – so is its capacity to listen, understand, empathize, and nourish. If you’ve ever received comfort from God – no matter how small - you have something in you that could deeply impact someone else who is hurting.

…. 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

You can stimulate the lonely, revitalize the discouraged and introduce hope into the lives of people who feel rejected and useless. Even if you yourself feel rejected and useless. Look at Jesus for inspiration. He is – after all - the Wonderful Counselor. (Isaiah 9:6) He was the Son of the God of the Universe! Yet he was humiliated his entire life. He was despised and rejected. (Isaiah 53:3) He was physically vulnerable, weak, tempted, subject to pain, and as the final disgrace, rejected by God. (Matt. 27:46) We see him tired, thirsty, in tears, impoverished, ridiculed. Scripture stresses that the thing that equipped Jesus for his ministry was that he became like those he was called to help. Today, we’ve somehow established that only those exalted to godlike status holding PhD’s are empowered to minister and counsel. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even, the most renowned Christian counselors have said that they are only able to truly help people when they put aside their academic training and rely upon the Lord to direct them. And isn’t this what each of us is called to do?

Much heartache could be averted in the body of Christ if we could learn to “weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15) Not necessarily shed liquid tears, but unashamedly embrace the pain of others, and let it be obvious that “if one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it.” (I Cor.12:26) It’s a huge shift in thinking, but the greatest need for the hurting and depressed in our community is not to have more counseling centers or psychotherapists, but a church body where Christ is exalted and ordinary people learn to shepherd the hurting because, Biblically speaking, simply being a friend, confidant, and sympathizer, is a lofty role that not even angels or God himself can fully fill. Only we, for instance, can give a hug or share coffee with a friend. People in pain need to know that they are not alone - they need people with whom they can relate. They don’t need advice as much as they need company and comfort. We don’t see Jesus asking his disciples for advice, but we often see Him asking for their company. Advice is cheap. Comfort is precious.
-Pastor Mark and Esthermay Bentley-Goossen

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Elihu To The Rescue

Anger and youth are not qualities valued in the wisdom traditions of the Old Testament. But in Job Chapter 32, we’re introduced to Elihu as an angry youth, frustrated with Job and his three friends and Elihu might just have the answers for which Job is desperately searching. Was God at last using someone to speak truth to Job? Elihu is presented as a “Buzite” and this lineage is important to his character. The Hebrew noun “buz” means contemptuous or contemptible and occurs several times in the Book of Job (Job 12:5, 21 and 31:34) with the same meaning. Is the author trying to tell us that Elihu is a little bit out of control? We have to wonder what kind of “counselor” this new kid is going to be.

Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar were lousy counselors who repeatedly brought accusations against Job trying to convince the poor guy that he was suffering because of his past sins. They were of no consolation at all! Now here’s Elihu: He does speak very clear, plain words, but his attitude is a bit obnoxious. He assuredly maintains that Job’s suffering will leave when Job realizes his present sin. He maintains that Job wasn’t suffering because of sin, but was sinning because of suffering. While Elihu’s speech was on a much higher plateau that the others, he still wrongly assumed that a correct response to suffering always brings healing and restoration and that suffering is always in some way connected to sin. The new kid did bring Job to an awareness that he ought not exalt himself so piously, but imagine how you’d feel – having gone through all that Job had -- being put in your place by a smug, overbearing teenager!

So what can we learn from Elihu? Correctly, Elihu exhorts that suffering is not meant to punish us as much as it is meant to correct and restore. And the bulk of Elihu’s counsel focuses on the justice of God, which Job has repeatedly criticized. He concludes his session with an effort to speak on God’s behalf …. He admonishes Job to sit still and consider the wondrous work of God. Elihu seems to be preparing Job for what is about to follow.

To be continued. . .
- Pastor Mark