Knowing God Vs. Knowing About God.

Job 41-42

I had heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. Job 42:5 NLT

This is it. The end of the story of Job. He has suffered much – at the hands of Satan, but also as a result of the words of his friends. But as the book comes to an end, we find Job with his fortunes, family, fellowship, and future restored. God has spoken and condemned Eliphaz and his friends as having spoken our of turn. In fact, God tells them, " you have not been right in what you said about me" (Job 42:7 NLT). He commands them to offer burnt offerings for their sin and to have Job pray for them. If they don't, God would be forced to deal with them according to their folly.

But the most important part of the story of Job seems to be what he learns about his God. After all is said and done, and God has spoken, Job responds:

I'm convinced: You can do anything and everything. Nothing and no one can upset your plans. You asked, 'Who is this muddying the water, ignorantly confusing the issue, second-guessing my purposes?' I admit it. I was the one. I babbled on about things far beyond me, made small talk about wonders way over my head. You told me, "Listen, and let me do the talking. Let me ask the questions. You give the answers." I admit I once lived by rumors of you; now I have it all firsthand – from my own eyes and ears! I'm sorry – forgive me. I'll never do that again, I promise! I'll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor. – Job 42:2-6 MSG

Up until this point, Job's understanding of God was based on what he had heard about God. His was an academic, intellectual understanding of God. And it showed up in his diatribes against God. But now that He had met God face to face, he realized that he was wrong. He confessed, "I was talking about things I did not understand, things far too wonderful for me" (Job 42:3 NLT). He had not had a personal, experiential knowledge of God, but a disconnected, distant, and purely academic understanding. As a result, he spoke of what he did not know. But now, he truly knew God. He had experienced God. He had heard from God. And it changed his view of God.

And isn't that what God is always trying to do – reveal Himself to men? He wants us to know Him, not just know about Him. He wants us to experience Him – in all His power, mercy, grace, and love. That is why He sent His Son – as a living revelation of God on earth in the form of a man. In Jesus, we see the character of God come alive – up close and personal. "For in Christ the fullness of God lives in a human body" (Colossians 2:9 NLT). "For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ" (Colossians 1:19 NLT).

God wants us to know Him, not just know about Him. Yet, for too many of us, our knowledge of God is what we have heard, read, or assumed. Our understanding of God is limited to what we have been taught or told. It lacks the personal, experiential touch. Our God ends up being distant and, at times, a little difficult to know. But God wants us to know Him. He wants us to see Him in our everyday life. Over in Psalm 46:10, He tells the Psalmist, "Stop your striving and recognize that I am God!" (Psalm 46:10 NET). That word "recognize" means to know, realize, see, find out, discern, or to know by experience. God wants us to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that He truly is who He says He is. He wants us to know by experience that He is God. It is in the daily experiences of life that God wants to reveal Himself. In our trials and difficulties. In those impossible situations that come our way. In our relationships, finances, health, homes, workplaces, and the moments of doubt and fear. Job didn't come to know God because God blessed him. That didn't take place until later. Job came to know God when he actually heard from God. God spoke to Him. God revealed the truth about Himself. He gave Job a glimpse of His power and majesty by comparing Himself to His own creation. The interesting thing is, He never gave Job an explanation of what had happened. He never defended Himself to Job. He didn't have to. He was God. He simply reminded Job who it was he was complaining to. He reminded Job of His power and sovereign will. God doesn't owe us an explanation, but we owe Him our reverence and respect. He doesn't have to defend or explain Himself to us. He simply reveals Himself to us in His Word and through His Son. That's enough. And as a result, like Job, we should say, "I was talking about things I did not understand, things far too wonderful for me" (Job 42:3 NLT).

Father, You are too wonderful. You are too much for my small brain to understand. Yet You reveal Yourself to me every day through Your Word. I can learn about You and I can experience You in my daily life. I can see You at work, if I just stop striving long enough to catch a glimpse of You. Thank You for showing Yourself to me in my circumstances. Give me an increasing ability to see You more and more clearly with each passing day. Amen.

Don't Criticize What You Don't Understand.

Job 38-40

Do you still want to argue with the Almighty? You are God’s critic, but do you have the answers? Job 40:2 NLT

God finally speaks. Job has heard from his three friends and Elihu, the young, arrogant upstart. But now he hears from the only one who matters. God Himself. And God's response if full of not-so-subtle sarcasm. Over and over again He questions Job. He starts out His response to Job by saying, "Brace yourself, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them" (Job 38:3 NLT). God tells Job to brace himself like a man because He has a few questions for him. "Who are you...?" "Where were you when..." "Have you ever...?" "Can you...?" "Do you know...?"

At one point, God's sarcasm comes out. He says, "But of course you know all this! For you were born before it was all created, and you are so very experienced!" (Job 38:21 NLT). God is questioning Job's right to question Him. Who is Job, a mere man, to question the intentions of a holy, righteous, powerful, world-creating God? Job can't answer a single one of God's questions and he knows it. When given a chance to respond, all he can say is, "I am nothing––how could I ever find the answers? I will put my hand over my mouth in silence. I have said too much already. I have nothing more to say" (Job 40:4-5 NLT). Good answer, Job! You're learning. The moment Job has been waiting for has finally come. His chance to defend himself before God. And all he can do is put his hand over his mouth. He knows he has nothing to say in response to God Almighty.

Once again, God commands Job to gut it up and prepare himself to answer a few questions. And the first one is, "Are you going to discredit my justice and condemn me so you can say you are right?" (Job 40:8 NLT). God seems to be accusing Job of doing the same thing his friends had done to him. In his effort to defend his innocence, he had overextended his understanding of what his suffering was all about. He knew it wasn't about something he had done wrong, so that left him to make false assumptions about the justice of God. He questioned God's goodness and righteousness. Job's perception was limited. His understanding was incomplete. He could not understand all that was going on behind the scenes. He was jumping to conclusions based on circumstances just like his friends had done. And God makes it perfectly clear that Job is just a man.

All right then, put on your robes of state, your majesty and splendor. Give vent to your anger. Let it overflow against the proud. Humiliate the proud with a glance; walk on the wicked where they stand. Bury them in the dust. Imprison them in the world of the dead. Then even I would praise you, for your own strength would save you.  – Job 40:10-14 NLT

Job is NOT God. That seems to be God's main point. Job is just a man. So am I. And I need to remember that. I don't have the strength, power, majesty, holiness, wisdom, judgment, or justice of God. If I did, I could save myself. But the sad thing is, I live as if I do have all those things and I DO try to save myself on a regular basis. But it never works. Because I AM NOT GOD! There is only one God and I will never understand or fully comprehend Him. I do not know His ways. I cannot explain His actions. I have no way of understanding why He does what He does. And He does not have to explain Himself to me. God seems to be trying to get Job to understand who it is he is talking to. God doesn't necessarily condemn Job for his words, but He does blast him for making wrong assumptions about Him based on ignorance or arrogance. Before we condemn God, we should take some time to remind ourselves just who it is we are condemning. He can handle our questions, but He wants us to bring them to Him in fear and respect. We do not have a peer-to-peer relationship with God. We are not His equals. Just because we can come into His presence, does not mean we can do so flippantly or cavalierly. He is still God. And He still deserves our honor and respect.

Father, too often I come to you in anger, demanding answers. I forget just who it is I am talking to. But the amazing thing is, You don't just blow me away. You actually listen to me. But You do want me to treat You with the dignity and honor You deserve. Forgive me for my disrespect. You are God and I am just a man. I don't understand Your ways. I can't see what You see. I can't comprehend what You are doing behind the scenes. But I can know that You are powerful, mighty, just, righteous, and always in control. Let me place my hand over my mouth before I would ever try to answer You without stopping first to remember just who You are. Amen.

The Wisest Thing You've Said So Far.

Job 36-37

Therefore men fear Him; He does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit. Job 37:24 ESV

OK, I've officially had enough of Elihu. He is a highly eloquent, but loquacious young man who just doesn't know when to shut up. While he has a lot of wonderful things to say about God in these two chapters, he still will not relent in his attacks on Job. He accuses Job of wickedness and assures him that he is suffering at the hand of God for his sinful actions. He tells Job to repent of his sins and all will go well with him. "If they listen and obey God, then they will be blessed with prosperity throughout their lives. All their years will be pleasant" (Job 36:11 NLT). Elihu's is a simple and simplistic view of God. He keeps talking about the majesty and incomprehensibility of God, yet he seems to have God boxed in and figured out. He alone knows the ways of God. He even brags that he speaks on behalf of God. "Be patient with me a little longer and I will instruct you, for I still have words to speak on God’s behalf" (Job 36:2 NET). He even brags that his wisdom is perfect and complete. "For in truth, my words are not false; it is one complete in knowledge who is with you" (Job 36:4 NET). But the wisest and most accurate thing Elihu says is found in the last thing he says. "Therefore men fear Him; He does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit" (Job 37:24 ESV).

If only Elihu would listen to his own counsel. Here is a young man who is wise in his own conceit. Not only does he have Job figured out, he has a handle on God as well. For all his spouting about God's majesty and power, his god is really a small, petty, vengeful and reactionary god. But his god is not the God of the Bible. He doesn't know or understand the ways of God. None of us do. Just about the time we think we have Him figured out, He surprises us. We will never know His ways. We can never predict His actions. But we can rest assured in His character. He is a loving God. He is a holy God. He is a righteous God. He is a God of judgment. But He is also a God of mercy. Where we get into trouble is when we start trying to determine what He is doing in the world or in the lives of those we know. We can jump to wrong conclusions and assume things like the earthquakes in Haiti or Chile were to punish them for their sins. We don't know that. We can't assume that. We cannot claim that. Because we do NOT know. Rather than try to figure out the why, we need to ask God what and how. What does He want us to do about it? How does He want us to react to it? We know God has a purpose. We know He has a plan. Our job is not to try and figure out the cause of what has happened, but to reach out in love and compassion to those who are caught in the midst of it.

I have no problem with Job's friends pointing out that Job MIGHT have sinned and that his suffering is a result of that sin. But once Job denied it, they needed to move on and help Job seek God in the midst of it all. They needed to point Job back to God and keep him focused on the mercy and love of God. We need to do the same with those in our lives. We need to do the same with ourselves as we go through difficult times. Instead of looking for the reason behind what we are going through, we need to look for the God who is ultimately in charge of all that goes on in the world. We need to ask Him to examine our hearts, expose anything that needs exposing, but more importantly, open our eyes so that we might better see Him.

Father, help us to look for you in any and all circumstances. Not as our judge or executioner, but as a loving Father who has nothing but our best interest at heart. Help us to focus on You and not the circumstance. Help us to see You instead of searching for explanations. May we learn to be true friends and godly counselors to those you bring in our paths. Amen.

It Is A Tale … Full Of Sound and Fury; Signifying Nothing.

Job 34-35

Job is an ignoramus. He talks utter nonsense. Job, you need to be pushed to the wall and called to account for wickedly talking back to God the way you have. Job 35:35-36 MSG

Elihu is a bag of wind. He loves to hear himself talk. He is in love with the sound of his own voice. He goes on and on, spouting his words of wisdom, but never really saying anything of substance. Amazingly, he accuses Job of talking utter nonsense. He claims that Job speaks without knowledge or insight, and he opens his mouth in empty talk. But in reality, Elihu is the one who is saying much without saying anything. He is so convinced he is right that he even gets vindictive and hateful toward Job, wishing him harm and not good.

I think we all could learn a lot from Elihu, not so much from what he says, but how he says it. In his pride and arrogance, this young man cares more about being right than being showing love to someone who is hurting. He takes it upon himself to defend God, when God needs no defense. He speaks for God when he has no clue what God is doing or thinking. But I can do the same thing. It is too easy to jump to conclusions regarding situations and circumstances, and make determinations that are neither correct or corrective. We judge too quickly and condemn too easily. Sometimes our declarations of guilt have less to do with the facts than wishful thinking. I have no doubt that there were those who took a perverse sort of pleasure in Job's demise. They had watched him prosper and succeed, all the while harboring jealous feelings toward him. Now that he had taken a tumble, it was easy to dog-pile Job and relish in his apparent sinfulness. They say if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. That's probably exactly what Job's friends were thinking about him. And sometimes we can harbor the same feelings towards those in our sphere of influence who we have watched suddenly fall from grace. Sure, we tell them we are praying for them, while all the while finding their demise somewhat enjoyable. We find pleasure in helping point out their apparent sin. We want to expose their failings. We want to remind them that they are far from perfect. All because if we can find fault in others, it usually makes us feel better about ourselves.

But what Job needed was encouragement. He needed reassurance and comfort. He needed to know that God loved him and had not abandoned him. He needed the calming presence of friends, not the harsh criticism of fair-weather friends. So when we encounter friends who are going through difficult times, will we offer them a tale ... full of sound and fury, signifying nothing? Or will we offer them our unconditional love and unwavering support?

Father, it's easy for me to condemn Elihu, but it's also easy for me to be just like him. Open my eyes and help me see any similarities and confess them to you. Silence really is golden. There are times when saying nothing can speak volumes. Give me the wisdom and discernment to know when to speak up and when to shut up. But whenever anyone I know is going through difficulty, always help me to show up. Amen.

When Know-it-alls Tell It All.

Job 32-33

It is not only the old who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right. Therefore I say: Listen to me; I too will tell you what I know. Job 32:9-10 NIV

Someone once asked the question, "Why does youth have to be wasted on the young?" This somewhat sarcastic and tongue-in-cheek statement, made by an obviously older person, reflects an understanding about the abundance of energy and vitality that come with youth, but the wisdom that often seems to be lacking. In today's reading in chapters 32 and 33 of Job, we get an up-close-and-personal glimpse into just what this looks like in the life of Elihu. This young man, full of vitality and energy, has been biding his time and biting his tongue, waiting for a chance to speak his mind. And once he opens his mouth, what comes out is not exactly flattering. Like Job's three other friends, Elihu is well-intentioned but poorly informed. He is so ready to share his wisdom with Job, he is about to explode. "I am like a wine cask without a vent. My words are ready to burst out! I must speak to find relief, so let me give my answers: (Job 32:19-20 NLT). Elihu is like a volcano ready to explode. That should have been his first sign to take a deep breath and keep his words to himself. It reminds me of the warning of James: "My dear brothers and sisters, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry" (James 1:19 NLT). The Proverbs have a lot to say about choosing our words carefully and using them sparingly: "When words abound, transgression is inevitable, but the one who restrains his words is wise" (Proverbs 10:19 NET). "The truly wise person restrains his words, and the one who stays calm is discerning" (Proverbs 17:27 NET).

Elihu seems to have had a problem with restraint. He also suffered from a bad case of ego. I am amazed at how often he speaks of himself. His use of the personal pronoun has got to be an Olympic record. I lost track after 40. Elihu comes across as an arrogant and prideful young man who appears short on discernment. He has a lot of the characteristics of the fool described in the Proverbs:

The wise person accepts instructions, but the one who speaks foolishness will come to ruin. – Proverbs 10:8 NET

Those who are wise store up knowledge, but foolish speech leads to imminent destruction. – Proverbs 10:14 NET

The teaching of the righteous feeds many, but fools die for lack of wisdom. – Proverbs 10:21 NET

Elihu seems to think that because he was made by God, he was qualified to speak for God. "I speak with all sincerity; I speak the truth. For the Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life" (Job 33:3-4 NLT). That is a dangerous assumption for anyone to make. I can speak sincerely, but be sincerely wrong. I can speak what I think is the truth, but be flatly false in both my conclusions and my words.

Elihu's pride are painfully apparent in the closing verses of chapter 33: "Pay attention, O Job, listen to me; Keep silent, and let me speak. Then if you have anything to say, answer me; Speak, for I desire to justify you. If not, listen to me; Keep silent, and I will teach you wisdom" (Job 33:31-33 NASB). WOW! The boldness of Elihu is amazing. I get embarrassed for him just reading his words. They come across as so pompous and arrogant it's almost unbelievable. But then I have to think how many times I have probably come across the same way. Even in my "advanced" years. Elihu was right in one respect, wisdom doesn't necessarily come with age. It comes from God. And it begins with a fear of God. "Fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge. Only fools despise wisdom and discipline" (Proverbs 1:7 NLT). As I grow in my knowledge of God, I will grow in wisdom and discernment. I will increase in knowledge as well as discretion. I will seek to be wise, but not just in my own eyes. I will seek to be righteous, not just right. I will learn what it means to speak words of comfort, not just correction. I will have the heart of God, not just the words of God.

Father, before I attempt to speak for You, let me get to know You better. Help me bridle my tongue and limit my speech unless I know I have heard from You. Don't let me assume I have the answers just because I have Your Spirit living within me. I know how easy it is to let my pride take precedence. I can speak my own words and fool myself into believing they are from You. And I end up doing more harm than good. So keep a watch over my mouth. Help me be quick to listen and slow to speak. And when I do speak, may I speak for you but because of You. Amen.

What If?

Job 30-31

Isn't God looking, observing how I live? Doesn't he mark every step I take? Job 31:4 MSG

What if I were in Job's shoes? What if I found myself in a similar situation? Could I respond the way Job did? Would I be able to claim my innocence with unwavering confidence? No, I would probably be able to come to come up with more than a handful of reasons for why I was going through what I was going through. I could find plenty of things for which I was guilty and deserving of some kind of punishment. But not Job. Just take a look at his speech in chapter 31. Job continues to claim his innocence, and he does it by giving a list of possible options for sins that might result in the kind of suffering he is enduring.

If I have stolen...

If I have coveted...

If I have lusted...

If I have taken advantage of...

If I have been selfish and unmerciful...

If I have not been generous...

If I have showed no compassion...

If I have abused the defenseless...

If I have been greedy...

If I have made prosperity my god...

If I have enjoyed watching others fail...

If I have not shared with those in need...

If I have tried to hid my sins...

If Job had done any of these things, he would have understood why he was suffering. But he stood before God and men as innocent. Could I say the same thing? No, I'm afraid not. I would be guilty. In fact, I would never have played the "What if" game that Job played. Too dangerous. Too risky. Too condemning. I have done all of those things and more. I know it and God knows it. Because, just as Job stated in his rhetorical question at the beginning of his little speech, "Isn't God looking, observing how I live? Doesn't he mark every step I take?" (Job 31:4 MSG). God knew every detail of Job's life and He knows every detail of my life. But what is amazing for us as believers is that we get to stand before God as righteous – justified and pure – all because of what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross. God looks at me through the blood of His Son and sees me as righteousness. I have had Christ's righteousness imputed to my account. He sees me as guiltless and therefore, He does not condemn me. I am positionally righteous. But we both know I still sin. Which is why I am called to become progressively righteous. Paul commands us to "lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God" (Ephesians 4:1 NLT). In Colossians he tells us, "So if you're serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, [act] like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ--that's where the action is. See things from his perspective. Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your [real] life--even though invisible to spectators--is with Christ in God. [He] is your life" (Colossians 3:1-3 MSG).

Yes, God is watching us. But He is also indwelling us and empowering us. He is providing us with all we need to live the life of righteousness to which we have been called. Peter reminds us, "Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God. The best invitation we ever received!" (2 Peter 31:3 MSG). We have all we need to live a life of righteousness. And even when we fail and fall, which we will, we have the right to bring our sins before the throne of God and confess them. And "if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong" (1 John 1:9 NLT). So in actuality we can stand before God just as Job did and say, "If I..." The key is confession and repentance. Our sins have been paid for in full on the cross. There is no more punishment for sin. We confess our sins not so we can incur God's wrath and judgment, but so that He can cleanse us and make us more into the likeness of His Son. He progressively makes us more righteous. Over in 1 Peter 1:16, we are told by God to "Be holy, because I am holy." God is not telling us to become something new. He is not telling us to change who we are. He is telling us to become what we already are – holy, set apart, and uniquely His. Peter tells us, "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:10 NIV). We are to live like what we are. We have the power within us to change everything about us. So that we can actually stand before God and say, "If I..."

Father, thank You for the indwelling presence of Your Holy Spirit. If I did not have Him living in me I would have no hope. I would be sin-riddled and guilty as charged – with no hope for ever standing before You as righteous. But because of what Jesus did on the cross, I have a new power within me that allows me to recognize my sin and then confess it to You so that You can cleanse me from it. So as I confess those sins, I can stand before You as Job did and claim my innocence. That is amazing! Amen.

An "I" Exam.

Job 28-29

But do people know where to find wisdom? Where can they find understanding? Job 28:21 NLT

Chapters 28 and 29 are an interesting contrast. Both are the words of Job, but they reflect two extremely different views or outlooks. In chapter 28, Job asks and answers the question, "Do people know where to find wisdom?" We may be able to mine precious metals from the depths of the earth, but we don't have the foggiest idea where to find wisdom. It eludes us and remains a mystery to us no matter how hard we search for it. But "God surely knows where it can be found, for he looks throughout the whole earth, under all the heavens. He made the winds blow and determined how much rain should fall. He made the laws of the rain and prepared a path for the lightning. Then, when he had done all this, he saw wisdom and measured it. He established it and examined it thoroughly. And this is what he says to all humanity: 'The fear of the Lord is true wisdom; to forsake evil is real understanding'" (Job 28:23-28 NLT). God knows where wisdom can be found, because He is its source. And when we begin fear of Him is when we will find wisdom. Solomon put it this way: "Fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge. Only fools despise wisdom and discipline" (Proverbs 1;& NLT). The problem that Job and his friends faced was a lack of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge of the ways of God. None of them truly understood what was going on. They could only guess as to what was the cause of Jobs distress. Job's friends blamed it on some hidden sin in his life. Job blamed it on God's abandonment of him. But they lacked wisdom. Job seemed to know that, which is what is reflected in his speech in chapter 28. He seemed to know that the fear of God is where he would find wisdom.

But then there's chapter 29. In this speech Job suddenly reflects a perspective that many of us have. He took his eyes off of God and focused on himself. Depending on the translation you are reading, there are upwards of 40 uses of the personal pronouns "I," "me," or "my" in the speech. Job develops a serious "I" problem. He can't keep his eyes off of himself and his problem. He dwells on the past. He focuses on the way things were. He recalls how good he used to have it. He sort of brags about all his accomplishments. He longs for things to go back to the way they were. Now, I don't particularly blame him, but he seems to lose his fear of the Lord. Like his friends, he starts to make some unwise conclusions. His speech wrongly infers that God is no longer watching over him. He seems to believe that God is no longer his friend and that God is no longer with him. All based on his circumstances. He still maintains his innocence, but he blames his condition on God because He had abandoned him.

Job wanted his honor back. He wanted to be respected once again. He wanted to be remembered for all the good he used to do. He missed the respect he used to garner for all his good deeds and acts of kindness. There's no doubt that Job had lost a lot. And I don't blame him for wanting things to be the way they used to be. But when he turned his attention to himself, he lost his focus on God. Reminiscing was not going to change anything and it was not going to provide him with any answers to his questions or comfort for his pain. That would only come as he turned his attention to God. He alone had he answers Job was looking for. He alone could provide the comfort Job was seeking. Whenever we get myopic and focus on ourselves, we lose sight of God. Turn to Him. Fear Him. Seek Him. "For the LORD grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He grants a treasure of good sense to the godly. He is their shield, protecting those who walk with integrity. He guards the paths of justice and protects those who are faithful to him. Then you will understand what is right, just, and fair, and you will know how to find the right course of action every time. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will fill you with joy" (Proverbs 2:6-10 NLT).

Father, I want and need wisdom. But I tend to seek it in all the wrong places. I look to myself and I look to others. Instead I need to seek it in You. I need to fear You. Not in a timid, cowering way, but out of awe, reverence and respect for Your power, majesty, and holiness. Rather than question You, I need to learn to trust You. Rather than whine and moan at You, I need to learn to thank You for the fact that You are in control of my life and my future. Help me get my focus off of me and put it on You. Because You alone grant wisdom. Amen.

Too Vast To Grasp.

Job 26-27

See, these are only the outskirts of his ways; and how small is that which comes to our ears about him! But the thunder of his acts of power is outside all knowledge. Job 26:14 BBE

God knows things we don't know. His knowledge is far beyond anything we can comprehend. Just take a look at some of the Hubble Telescope images of the universe and the scope and size of God's knowledge starts to become clear. Job seemed to know that without having ever seen what we have seen.

By his hand the north is stretched out in space, and the earth is hanging on nothing. By him the waters are shut up in his thick clouds, and the cloud does not give way under them. By him the face of his high seat is veiled, and his cloud stretched out over it. By him a circle is marked out on the face of the waters, to the limits of the light and the dark. – Job 26:7-10 BBE

Job tells his friends that while they seem to be speaking for God, they have no clue what God knows. They are presumptuous to think that they have figured out the ways of God. They make assumptions about Job's guilt as if they know for sure what has taken place. But they don't know. Only God does. We can't understand the ways of God. Our understanding is limited. We can't fully comprehend or explain what God does or why He does it. And He does not explain Himself to us. For Job, all he could rest on was his integrity. He stood firm on his innocence. "Let it be far from me! I will certainly not say that you are right! I will come to death before I give up my righteousness. I will keep it safe, and will not let it go: my heart has nothing to say against any part of my life" (Job 27:5-6 BBE). Job didn't understand why he was suffering. He couldn't explain it. All he knew was that he had done nothing wrong to deserve it. At the end of the day, all we can know about God is what He chooses to reveal about Himself to us. We see His aspects of His power and creativity in nature and within the world around us, but we can't fully comprehend how it all works. We can look into the design of the human cell and appreciate its intricacy and complexity, but we can't explain how God made it. There is so much about God that we don't understand. But we do know that He is powerful. We do know that He is loving. We do know that He is sovereign, and righteous, and just, and always watching. Job knew these things and he rested in them. Knowing these things did not stop his pain or eliminate his suffering, but it gave him some sense of hope in the midst of it all. Job's approach to his situation is similar to that of the Psalmist.

I said to myself, “I will watch what I do and not sin in what I say. I will hold my tongue when the ungodly are around me.” But as I stood there in silence — not even speaking of good things — the turmoil within me grew worse. The more I thought about it, the hotter I got, igniting a fire of words: “Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered — how fleeting my life is. You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath.” We are merely moving shadows, and all our busy rushing ends in nothing. We heap up wealth, not knowing who will spend it. And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in you." – Psalms 39:1-7 NLT

My only hope is in You. Is God where you put your hope? Is He the first place you turn to in times of trouble? There is much about life we will never understand, but we can know that God is faithful, just, righteous, merciful, powerful, and completely in control of any and all circumstances. We can trust Him.

Father, I want to trust You, but I struggle so often with wanting to understand first. I want to have everything explained to me, THEN I'll trust You. But You don't explain Yourself to me. You don't justify Your actions to me. Part of trusting You is learning to rely on You even thought I don't understand You. You've never proven Yourself untrustworthy Lord. So I'm not sure why I struggle so much with trust. But thank You for your patience. Thank You for Your love. Thank You for Your faithfulness. Amen.

Life Is Not Fair.

Job 24-25

From the city the dying groan, and the wounded cry out for help, but God charges no one with wrongdoing. Job 24:9-12 NET

The world we live in is anything but fair. Every day, people suffer injustices of all kinds. Children are born into families where they are unloved and abused. The powerful take advantage of the weak and defenseless. Corrupt governments deny the rights of their citizens. Individuals harm one another. People who have worked all their lives and saved to provide themselves with a decent retirement income, lose it all as the result of unethical corporate executives and greedy lenders. The same was true in Job's day. In spite of his friends' assertions that the wicked always face justice at the hand of God, Job argues that this isn't necessarily so. Plenty of people in Job's day seemed to walk away without a scratch in spite of their unethical and immoral behavior. "There are people out there getting by with murder--stealing and lying and cheating. They rip off the poor and exploit the unfortunate, push the helpless into the ditch, bully the weak so that they fear for their lives. The poor, like stray dogs and cats, scavenge for food in back alleys. They sort through the garbage of the rich, eke out survival on handouts. Homeless, they shiver through cold nights on the street; they've no place to lay their heads" (Job 24:2-7 MSG). This is reality. This is life in a fallen world.

It was true in Job's day and it is true in ours. Job asks the obvious question: "Why doesn’t the Almighty open the court and bring judgment? Why must the godly wait for him in vain?" (Job 24:1 NLT). There are times we ask the same question. Why doesn't God step in and do something. When we read news stories of abuse, neglect, corruption, murder, hatred and bigotry, we want to know where God is and why He isn't doing something about it all. The truth is that the wicked don't always suffer. Sometimes they actually get away with their actions and profit from their behavior. The innocent suffer while the wicked prosper. It happens all the time. We don't like it. And we can't explain it. And the fact is, God doesn't seem to feel obligated to provide us with an explanation. But Job finds comfort in knowing that in the end, God will deal with all those who practice ungodliness. "But God drags away the mighty by his power; though they become established, they have no assurance of life. He may let them rest in a feeling of security, but his eyes are on their ways. For a little while they are exalted, and then they are gone; they are brought low and gathered up like all others; they are cut off like ears of corn" (Job 24:22-24 NIV). His eyes are on their ways. He is watching them. He is not asleep or indifferent. God has His eye on them. And He will act – in His own good time. In the meantime, the righteous will suffer and the wicked will prosper. Christians will face persecution and even death at the hands of malicious governments. Innocent women and children will be sold into slavery or used to feed the insatiable desires of the world's burgeoning sex trade. It's unfair. It's immoral. It's offensive and reprehensible. But it does not mean God is out of control or lacking in interest. He is fully aware of what is going on. And one day, He will act. We can rest assured.

But GOD hasn't moved to the mountains; his holy address hasn't changed. He's in charge, as always, his eyes taking everything in, his eyelids unblinking, examining Adam's unruly brood inside and out, not missing a thing. He tests the good and the bad alike; if anyone cheats, God's outraged. Fail the test and you're out, out in a hail of firestones, drinking from a canteen filled with hot desert wind. GOD's business is putting things right; he loves getting the lines straight, setting us straight. Once we're standing tall, we can look him straight in the eye. – Psalm 11:4-7 MSG

Father, You see all. And You are just. One day You will make all things right. Give us patience to wait for Your perfect timing. In the meantime help us to be salt and light in the midst of a dark world. May we bring refreshment and hope to the thirsty and the hopeless. Life is not fair, but our God is just, righteous, and He will act. Amen.

He Sees Me.

Job 22-23

I do not see him in the north, for he is hidden. I turn to the south, but I cannot find him. But he knows where I am going. And when he has tested me like gold in a fire, he will pronounce me innocent. For I have stayed in God’s paths; I have followed his ways and not turned aside. Job 23:9-11 NLT

Let's face it. We can't always understand what God is doing. His ways are sometimes mysterious and even frustrating. Like Job, we look for Him, but can't seem to find Him anywhere. It is as if He is hidden from our sight. But Job makes a profound statement that should bring us assurance and comfort: "He knows where I am going." One commentator says that this phrase could be translated, "He knows where to look for me." Either way, it reveals the idea that God knows exactly what is going on in my life. He hasn't lost sight of me for one moment. He doesn't get distracted and turn His back on me, only to turn around and find Himself shocked at some unexpected change in my circumstances. No, God knows right where I am. In fact, He knows right where I'm going. He has a plan for my life and that plan includes what I am going through at the moment – even if it is something I don't particularly enjoy or understand.

Job continues to claim his innocence. He declares that he has remained faithful to God and has treasured His words. But then Job states, "Nevertheless, his mind concerning me remains unchanged, and who can turn him from his purposes? Whatever he wants to do, he does. So he will do for me all he has planned. He controls my destiny" (Job 23:13-14 NLT). Job seems to understand that this is not all about his guilt or innocence. It is about the sovereign will of God for his life. God controls his destiny. What He has set out to do, He will do. Nothing Job does will change that. You can detect a little frustration in Job's statement, and I don't blame him. I have been there more often than I would care to admit. I have found myself frustrated by God's plan for my life. Like Job, I know God is in control, and so I get frustrated that He can't come up with a better scenario for my life than the one He has chosen. Sure, I know I contribute to my own problems by bad decisions and outright sin, but sometimes it just seems like things get all screwed up and I didn't particularly do anything to "deserve" it. But that's when I have to remind myself that God's ways are perfect. And His love for me is perfect. He has my best in store for me. I am His child. He is my Father. And I can trust Him.

There are going to be days of darkness. Difficulties will come. Job knew that. In fact, he was in the middle of it. "Darkness is all around me; thick, impenetrable darkness is everywhere" (Job 23:17 NLT). He couldn't see his hand in front of his face. He couldn't see his God either. But he knew that God was in control. That was his hope in the midst of his hopelessness. And it should be ours as well. Our God is both powerful and merciful. And He sees us. Not only that, He loves us, and we are safely in His plan for us – no matter how the circumstances may appear.

Father, Your plan for me is perfect, but sometimes it is so hard to see, let alone understand. I feel like you are not there sometimes. I feel like I can't find you. But You remind me that You can always see me. You never take Your eyes off of me. You hold me in the palm of Your hand. You love me and are looking out for me. Help me see You in the midst of my trials. Help me trust You in the middle of my scariest moments. I know you don't have to explain Your ways to me, but help me to trust them. Amen.

I Beg To Differ!

Job 20-21

The truth is that the wicked live to a good old age. They grow old and wealthy. They live to see their children grow to maturity, and they enjoy their grandchildren. Their homes are safe from every fear, and God does not punish them. Job 21:7-9 NLT

Job's friends have a theology of consequences. Their arguments are based on their belief that Job's circumstances are the obvious result of his sinful behavior. He is suffering the consequences of a life lived in sin. They take a look at his life and conclude that God must be punishing him. All of their speeches are based on this assumption. And the truth is, we can easily find ourselves doing the same thing. When we see someone suffering, we can easily jump to the conclusion that they have done something wrong and are being punished by God in some way. Many of us have the same you-reap-what-you-sow mentality. It creeps into our thinking and influences our views on life. For instance, if something negative happens in our day, we can quickly find ourselves asking the question, "What did I do wrong?" We can easily assume that we are suffering the consequences for some past action or thought. God must be punishing us for something we've done. And, if we're not careful, we can just as easily view the sufferings or trials of others in the same way.

But Job points a very logical argument against this sin-has-consequences theology. He asks his accusers to take a look at the world around them and explain why it is that most wicked people don't ever suffer the way Job has. In fact, they seem to thrive. Job points out that they tend to grow old and rich, and their kids grow up to enjoy the wealth they leave behind. From all appearances, there doesn't seem to be any punishment from God on their lives. In spite of the fact that they tell God, "Go away. We want no part of you and your ways. Who is the Almighty, and why should we obey him? What good will it do us if we pray?" (Job 21:14-15 (NLT). These people don't fear and respect God, but they don't seem to suffer for it. Job knows his accusers well. He answers their objection before they have a chance. He knows they will say that while the wicked may not suffer in this life, their children will. God will punish their children for their sinful lives. But Job responds, "‘Well,’ you say, ‘at least God will punish their children!’ But I say that God should punish the ones who sin, not their children! Let them feel their own penalty" (Job 21:19-20 NLT).

You see, Job understood that life is not always easily explainable. We don't know why some suffer and others do not. We don't know why a massive earthquake strikes the island of Haiti and nowhere else. Sure, we can explain it geologically, but not theologically. We don't know why one person suffers from cancer while another doesn't. We don't know why one couple loses their child in a car accident while another's grows up and lives a long life. There are things we do not know. There are mysteries to life that we can't explain. That is where faith comes in. That is where trust in a holy, mighty, all-knowing God comes in. Rather than turning to our conclusions, we must turn to Him. Even God Himself reminds us, "My thoughts are completely different from yours," says the LORD. "And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT). Job even asks his friends the question, "But who can teach a lesson to God, the supreme Judge?" (Job 21:22 NLT). Can we tell God how to run the world? Can we make assumptions about how God works? Can we judge based on circumstances and build an entire theology about God? We can, but we probably shouldn't. Because we don't know. And neither did Job's friends. So rather than jump to conclusions about Job's guilt, they should have stood by his side offering words of support, encouraging him to trust God, whether he ever understood what was going on or not. Because God's ways are far beyond anything any of us could ever understand. But He can always be trusted.

Father, forgive me for reaching conclusion about You that are based solely on conjecture and poor conclusions based on consequences and nothing more. You are inexplicable and Your ways are always unquestionably right and good. Help me to look for You in any and all circumstances of life. Help me to see the good You are bringing about in my life and the lives of others – in spite of what I may see initially. Your ways are not my ways. Your plans are beyond me knowing and understanding, but they are always right and true. Thank You for that reminder and assurance. Amen.

My Redeemer iLves!

Job 18-19

But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and that he will stand upon the earth at last. Job 18:25 NLT

What an incredible statement in the middle of incredibly difficult circumstances. Job is suffering inexplicably and unexpectedly. He is being relentlessly attacked and accused by his friends for his apparent wickedness. But in the midst of it all, he cries out, "I know that my Redeemer lives!" What is he saying? At the least, he is expressing belief in a God who will one day vindicate him and prove him as being innocent. It will be proved that his sufferings are not the result of sin and are not some form of divine punishment for wrongs done. Job knows that he will be redeemed in the end. He may die, but he will stand before the Lord with a new body and innocent of any wrong-doing. The word Job uses for "Redeemer" isגָּאַל (ga’al, “to redeem, protect, vindicate”). Listen to what the Net Bible study notes have to say about this rich word: "The word is well-known in the OT because of its identification as the kinsman-redeemer (see the Book of Ruth). This is the near kinsman who will pay off one’s debts, defend the family, avenge a killing, marry the widow of the deceased. The word 'redeemer' evokes the wrong connotation for people familiar with the NT alone; a translation of 'Vindicator' would capture the idea more. The concept might include the description of the mediator already introduced in Job 16:19, but surely here Job is thinking of God as his vindicator. The interesting point to be stressed here is that Job has said clearly that he sees no vindication in this life, that he is going to die. But he knows he will be vindicated, and even though he will die, his vindicator lives. The dilemma remains though: his distress lay in God’s hiding his face from him, and his vindication lay only in beholding God in peace."

In the face of the unrelenting onslaught of his friends' accusations, Job is anxious for someone to vindicate him (to clear, as from an accusation, imputation, suspicion, or the like: to vindicate someone's honor). He is longing to have someone stand up for him and he knows that the only one who will do so is God Himself. Job pleads with his friends to show him mercy. "Have mercy on me, my friends, have mercy, for the hand of God has struck me" (Job 19:21 NLT). But they are not willing to show him mercy. So Job is left with God alone as his future source of hope and restoration. Job knows that he may very well die. But he believes that he will stand before God one day with a new body and a clean record. "And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! I will see him for myself. Yes, I will see him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought!" (Job 19:26-27 NLT). Job could face death because he believed in an eternity. He also believed in a God who would redeem him and restore him. As bad as his life was, Job could face it only because of his belief in God and his hope in an eternal destiny.

So what about us? How do we face the trials and tests of life? Where do we focus our attention? Yes, Job was fully aware of his suffering. He was not living some Pollyanna dream where he refused to face reality. He was in pain. He was suffering. But he kept going back to the only thing he could trust – God. There was a lot he didn't understand about God and his own circumstances, but he did know that God was just, righteous, and merciful. He also knew that there was more to life than the here and now. There was a future life ahead of him and he was counting on it. It was there that his vindication would be completed. His honor would be restored. Even his body would be renewed. It was that belief that kept Job going in the face of extreme difficulty. And we have the same hope. We have a Redeemer who will one day vindicate us. He will welcome us into His presence as righteous, spotless, and completely sinless. We will have restored bodies and hearts that are free from sin. And in the last part of Job's statement, I think we get a glimpse of the future reality of Christ's triumphant return to earth as the conquering Messiah. "But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and that he will stand upon the earth at last" (Job 19:25 NLT). There is a day coming when Jesus Christ will return to earth, not to suffer and die, but to rule, restore, and reign. That is our hope. That is our future. That is why we can cry out along with Job, "I know my Redeemer lives!" He will set all things right. He will vindicate and avenge His own. We will be revealed to be what we have always claimed to be: God's children.

Who taught the sun where to stand in the morning? And who told the ocean you can only come this far? And who showed the moon where to hide till evening? Whose words alone can catch a falling star?

Well I know my Redeemer lives I know my Redeemer lives All of creation testifies This life within me cries I know my Redeemer lives

The very same God That spins things in orbit Runs to the weary, the worn and the weak And the same gentle hands that hold me when I'm broken They conquered death to bring me victory

Now I know, my Redeemer lives I know my Redeemer lives Let all creation testify Let this life within me cry I know My Redeemer

He lives To take away my shame And He lives Forever I'll proclaim That the payment for my sins Was the precious life He gave And now He's alive and There's an empty Grave!

And I know My Redeemer lives He lives I know My Redeemer lives Let all creation testify Let this life within me cry I know my Redeemer

I know My Redeemer lives

©2009 Nicole Mullins

Father, thank You for the reminder that my Redeemer lives. And while I may not understand all that happens in this life, and I may not enjoy all that I encounter as I live my life, I can rest in the truth that my Redeemer really does live. And He is going to return for me some day. There is a day coming when I will stand before Your throne and my righteousness will be vindicated and my sinlessness will be validated. Help me keep my focus on that reality. Amen.

We Have An Advocate.

Job 16-17

Even now my witness is in heaven. My advocate is there on high. My friends scorn me, but I pour out my tears to God. Oh, that someone would mediate between God and me, as a person mediates between friends. Job 16:19-21 NLT

There was a lot that Job didn't know in the middle of all that was going on in his life. He didn't know why he was suffering. He didn't know why his friends were attacking him and accusing him of sins he had not committed. He didn't know why all of his children had had to die. He didnt know what was going to happen to him. But he DID know one thing for sure: The answers to all of his questions and the solution to all of his problems was in heaven. He knew that his cries needed to be directed to God, not man. While men can and should provide comfort and support, that can't ultimately solve life's problems. Only God can.

Job cries out that God is his witness. Job may not understand why he is suffering, but he knows he is innocent and in the end, can count on God to testify to that fact. He is counting on it. In fact, he pleads that God would act as his mediator as well as his judge. He is asking God to perform both roles, because there is no one else he can count on. His friends think he is guilty. They wouldn't even be good witnesses, let alone mediators. So Job is left with God as his sole source of comfort and support. Which is right where God wants us. He wants us to lean on Him and no one else. He wants us to come to Him and no one else.

The interesting thing is that, in spite of all Job's uncertainty, he describes a relationship with God that each of us as believers enjoys because of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, He is able to stand before God the Father as the One who met the requirements of the Law perfectly, lived a sinless life, could then act as the sinless sacrifice in our place, and pay the penalty that sin required: death. The result is that we have eternal life and Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father acting as our advocate and mediator. "For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and people. He is the man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5 NLT). We have exactly what Job was asking and longing for – an advocate, a representative who stands before God and speaks on our behalf and defends our righteousness. Because when God looks at us, He does not see our sin, but He sees us covered with the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. Therefore, we are righteous in His eyes. And even when we do sin, Jesus acts as our advocate, reminding God the Father that the price for that sin has already been paid. "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1 NASB).

Job inherently knew that God was the one to turn to in a time of need. He knew that God could be trusted to judge impartially and fairly. He knew that God was the only one who could be a reliable witness. Yes, Job was struggling with doubt and despair. He was questioning everything, but he knew that he could count on God in the end. How much more so should we? We have Jesus Christ as our advocate. He is our faithful representative, standing before God the Father and acting on our behalf, pleading our case before the throne of God. That is where we need to turn. That is who we need to trust. "For Christ has entered into heaven itself to appear now before God as our Advocate" (Hebrews 9:24 NLT).

Father, I can't thank You enough for this reminder that I can come right into Your throne room with confidence that I am well represented by Jesus. He is my advocate, but He is also my sin substitute. I stand before You as sinless and holy, because of what He has done. When things take a turn for the worse in my life, I do not have to stand before You in fear, wondering if You are punishing me for some sin I have committed. My sins have all been paid for. The punishment has already been meted out and Your judgment has already been satisfied. Keep reminding me that I can turn to You and I can trust You to act favorably or propitiously on my behalf. You love me. I am Your child. Amen.

The Destructive Power Of Words.

Job 14-15

Those who live by their own rules, not God's, can expect nothing but trouble, and the longer they live, the worse it gets. Job 15:20 MSG

Over in Proverbs 15:4, we find the words of Solomon that seem to have been written with Eliphaz and his friends in mind. "Kind words heal and help; cutting words wound and maim" (The Message). In Psalm 140:3 he says, "They practice the sharp rhetoric of hate and hurt, speak venomous words that maim and kill" (The Message). As the dialogue continues between Job and his three "friends," the rhetoric gets dialed up and the attacks on Job's integrity get more intense. Eliphaz is now attacking Job with a vengeance. He seems frustrated at Job's continued claims of innocence.

These guys are now on a mission to convince Job of his guilt and they will stop at nothing to accomplish their objective. Any concern they may have had for Job's feelings are long gone. This has gotten personal. They know they are right and that Job is wrong. He just refuses to admit it. But they are not going to give up easily. They tell Job he is wicked, deceived, defiant, stubborn, and doomed if he doesn't confess his guilt. They even go so far as to blame the destruction of Job's children on his sinfulness. They attempt to soften it by using farming metaphors (shriveled weeds, a vine whose grapes are harvested before they are ripe, an olive tree that sheds its blossoms so the fruit cannot form, etc.), but the pain hurts just as bad. Now Job not only has to mourn the loss of all his children, he must listen to accusations that he is the one responsible for their deaths.

What can we learn from this? What lessons are there in this passage for us? The simple one seems to be the destructive power of our tongues. We can use them to encourage and heal or to discourage and do lasting harm. Sometimes we may not mean to hurt others with our words, but when we fail to think before we speak, we can end up doing lasting damage. Job's friends could have used the advice of James: "My dear brothers and sisters, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry" (James 1:19 NASB). They weren't listening to Job and they didn't seem to be interested in what God might have to say about the situation. They had already reached their conclusion. And when Job refused to agree with their assessment, they became angry. And their anger led to even harsher words for their suffering friend.

These exchanges between Job and his friends remind me of the remarkable power contained in my words. With them I can bring about blessing or cursing. I can use them to build up or tear down. I can speak words of kindness and compassion, or I can speak words of criticism and accusation. Job needed true friends who cared more for his heart than for their need to be right. He needed compassion, not correction. I am reminded of that famous passage from the pen of Solomon: "There's an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth: A right time for birth and another for death, A right time to plant and another to reap, A right time to kill and another to heal, A right time to destroy and another to construct, A right time to cry and another to laugh, A right time to lament and another to cheer, A right time to make love and another to abstain, A right time to embrace and another to part, A right time to search and another to count your losses, A right time to hold on and another to let go, A right time to rip out and another to mend, A right time to shut up and another to speak up, A right time to love and another to hate, A right time to wage war and another to make peace" (Ecclesiastes 3:1-9 MSG). There's a right time for everything. And the time was right for Job's friends to shut up, listen up, and lift up. May I learn to know the difference.

Father, give me the wisdom to know when the timing is right. And then give me the discernment to know what to say so that may words will be uplifting and edifying to those You bring across my path. Amen.

Honest To God.

Job 12-13

Isn't it clear that they all know and agree that GOD is sovereign, that he holds all things in his hand – Every living soul, yes, every breathing creature? Isn't this all just common sense, as common as the sense of taste? Job 12:9-11 MSG

For Job, the idea that God was somehow responsible for his condition was a no-brainer. Whether or not God had caused it was not the issue. God was in control and so, ultimately, God was responsible. He could have prevented the disasters and disease that had impacted the life of Job, but He hadn't. Job fully understood the power and might of God. He knew that God was providentially in control over the affairs of all men – rich and poor, strong and weak, righteous and unrighteous. Job goes on to say, "True wisdom and real power belong to God; from him we learn how to live, and also what to live for. If he tears something down, it's down for good; if he locks people up, they're locked up for good. If he holds back the rain, there's a drought; if he lets it loose, there's a flood. Strength and success belong to God; both deceived and deceiver must answer to him" (Job 12:13-15 MSG). Job knew that God alone had the answer to why he was suffering. He was convinced that it had nothing to do with his sin. Job's friends kept blaming his condition on his sinfulness, but couldn't tell him what he had done to deserve it. Job knew he was innocent, and he knew God knew he was innocent. So there had to be another reason for his suffering. And all he wanted was the chance to ask God face to face, so he tells his friends, "I'm taking my case straight to God Almighty; I've had it with you – I'm going directly to God" (Job 13:3 MSG). He was done listening to them and he tells them so, "You graffiti my life with lies. You're a bunch of pompous quacks! I wish you'd shut your mouths--silence is your only claim to wisdom" (Job 13:4-5 MSG).

Job wants to go directly to the source of his hope and help – God Himself. His friends have proven to have poor bedside manners. They have been more hurtful than helpful. Job knows they can't answer his questions or solve his problem. So he turns to God and asks, "Please, God, I have two requests; grant them so I'll know I count with you: First, lay off the afflictions; the terror is too much for me. Second, address me directly so I can answer you, or let me speak and then you answer me" (Job 13:20-21 MSG). I love Job's brutal honesty. He doesn't hide his request with fancy "thees" and "thous." He doesn't mask his frustration with flowery prose or pious-sounding prayer-speak. He just tells God exactly what is on his heart. He asks for relief and answers.

What a reminder that we have a God who is big enough to handle our toughest questions. He can handle our frustration and the honest expression of them. In fact, I think God would rather have us honest with Him than to cover up our fears and frustrations with religious-sounding platitudes that we don't believe or understand. In the middle of a trial when things are going severely wrong and your frustration is mounting, I don't think God wants to hear you say, "Oh, Mighty God, maker of all things and ruler over all mankind, thank you for putting me through all this pain and suffering. Thank you for all the hurt and the heartache! You are a good God!" God knows our hearts. He knows what we are thinking. He wants us to confess what is on our heart to Him. He can handle our honesty, but He can't stand our poor attempts at fake faithfulness. If we can give God a heart-felt "I trust You!," so be it. But too often we express words to God that we don't feel or believe. Job was telling God exactly what he was feeling. And tough times tend to make us more honest. During trials, it is harder to keep up the fake veneer of faithfulness. Job's faith was being tested and he was looking for answers, for proof. So he turned to God.

Psalm 119 could have been written by Job. It is full of honest expressions of fear and frustration, doubt and disenchantment. But the writer of Psalms 119 knew he could turn to God and openly express his feelings. "I choose the true road to Somewhere, I post your road signs at every curve and corner. I grasp and cling to whatever you tell me; GOD, don't let me down! I'll run the course you lay out for me if you'll just show me how. GOD, teach me lessons for living so I can stay the course" (Psalms 119:30-33 MSG). Where do you turn in the tough times? Do you turn to God? Do you tell Him what you're feeling or do you try and cover it up with pious-sounding words and false expressions of praise? Be honest with Him. Tell Him what's on your heart. Share your hurts. Open up about your doubts. He can handle it.

Father, I want to come to you more quickly, but also more honestly. I am tired of trying to hide what I'm feeling and thinking as if, somehow, you might be surprised and offended. You know everything about me. You simply want me to come to you in complete dependence and trust, knowing that You love me and have my best interest in mind at all times. Amen

Good Advice, Gone Bad.

Job 10-11

If only he would tell you the secrets of wisdom, for true wisdom is not a simple matter. Listen! God is doubtless punishing you far less than you deserve! Job 11:6 NLT

Wow! What an encourager Zophar is. He steps into Job's miserable life and offers up carefully chosen one-liners designed to shake Job out of his self-righteous self-denial and forice him to confess his obvious guilt. Zophar, like his friends before him, has taken a look at Job's circumstances and concluded that Job has done something terribly wrong. He is being punished by God for his sins and all Job has to do is confess and turn back to God. God will forgive him and God will restore him.

Sounds great, but there's only one problem. Job is innocent. He has done nothing wrong to deserve all that has happened to him. He has nothing to repent of. He is confused, hurt, alone, and suffering from unimaginable grief. And all he gets from his friends is accusations of his guilt. Zophar takes the rhetoric to a whole new level, accusing Job of being deceitful, evil, and witless. "Surely he [God] recognizes deceitful men; and when he sees evil, does he not take note? But a witless man can no more become wise than a wild donkey’s colt can be born a man" (Job 11:11-12 NIV). In Zophar's mind, Job is nothing more than a dimwitted, stubborn sinner who refused to admit his guilt. In Zophar's world, all pain and suffering was tied to sin. Righteous men don't suffer. Good men don't lose all their worldly wealth. Sinless men don't have all their kids killed in a single freak accident. Therefore, Job was NOT a righteous man. Case closed.

But once again, Zophar didn't have all the facts. He was operating off of conjecture and faulty conclusions. The one thing he should have known and somewhat assumed is that God is in control. But the issue was not whether God had caused what had happened to Job, it was that God was aware and that He cared. Zophar would have been much more help to Job if he had simply reminded Job that only God knew the real reason behind his suffering. So he needed to take his situation to God. Only God could help. If Job had sinned, God would reveal it to him. If Job was innocent, God would ultimately disclose the reason behind his suffering. Bottom line? There was a purpose behind it all. And God was behind the purpose.

In the midst of all his pain, Job knew that God was there. He called out to Him. He appealed to Him. He acknowledged that God had made him (Job 10:8-9). But Job was confused. He hung on to his innocence, but was having a hard time understanding why he was having to go through all this pain. He was going through a terrible time of questioning and doubt. He needed comfort and all he got was some pretty callous counseling. He needed empathy but all he got was impatient friends demanding that he confess. Job's suffering was so intense that he longed for death. At this point in his life, he needed friends who would point him to the mercy, grace, and sovereign power of God. He needed guides to God, not the grand inquisition. He needed to be reminded that God loves him, not loathes him. The only remedy for anyone's pain and heartache is God. We need to point them to Him.

When darkness falls Temptations call And all around me seems undone You hear my pleas Supply my needs And tell me of Your wondrous love

You are the joy in my morning You’re my song of praise Just like the new day dawning Flooding my world with grace

Though trials come And every one Can take me further from Your truth You calm my fears Dry all my tears And draw me closer, Lord, to You

In You there’s no shadow of turning Constant in all Your ways You’re growing my faith And I’m learning to lean On You all of my days

© 2008 Sovereign Grace Ministries

Father, help me a friend that points others to you, instead of always trying to point out their faults or their sins. You alone know their hearts. You alone can heal their hurts. I am simply a guide who can show them the way back to You. In the midst of the pain that enters my life, may I always turn to You first. And when I find it hard to do, please bring friends into my life who will remind me of Your love, grace, and mercy. Amen

Mercy In the Midst of the Madness.

Job 8-9

So how could I ever argue with him, construct a defense that would influence God? Even though I'm innocent I could never prove it; I can only throw myself on the Judge's mercy. Job 9:14-15 MSG

Imagine yourself in Job's sandals. How would you have handled all that had happened to this man? He had lost everything, including his health, and now he was being "comforted" by his friends. They have looked at the circumstances of Job's life and logically, but wrongfully concluded that is all a result of sin – the sins of his children as well as his own. In the middle of a tremendous time of pain, loss, and suffering, Job finds himself having to defend himself against the attacks of his friends. I know they mean well and their conclusions seem logical, even biblical, but they seem to have overlooked a few of the character qualities of God. They stress His justice, but leave out His mercy. They have their God in a box. They have worked out their theology of God and it determines their interpretation of the world. Bildad begins his counseling session with Job with a rhetorical question, "Does God twist justice? Does the Almighty twist what is right?" (Job 8:3 MSG). Of course, the answer is no, so Bildad concludes that what has happened to Job is the result of God's justice. God is a just and righteous god and is simply dealing with Job's unrighteousness.

Job's assumed guilt is what drives the messages of each of his friends. Was Job sinless? No. He is a man living in a fallen world. But God declared him blameless. "The LORD said to Satan, 'Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil'" (Job 1:8 NASB). Again, Job was not sinless. He was blameless. Lehman Strauss describes Job this way: "Job was known for being faithful. He was not sinless, as the word perfect in verses 1 and 8 might imply. A better word might be blameless, meaning that he was ethically upright, morally above reproach, and religiously devoted to God. Job had a deep and devout reverence for the Lord. His consistent practice was to hold God in highest awe and respect. He was faithful."

Yet something tragic had taken place in this man's life. He had suffered tremendous loss. Job's friends conclude that it is the result of sin. And they are partially right. Anything that happens in this world is the result of sin. It is the result of the fall. We live in a fallen world where sin reigns and even the creation is impacted by the presence of sin. Disasters happen. Earthquakes take place. Wildfires consume thousands of acres and hundreds of lives. And every person living on the planet is exposed to the affects of the fall. Good men and evil men all suffer. Righteous men get cancer. Godly women lose children. Faithful Christ-followers lose their jobs. Innocent children are born into abusive homes. That is life in a fallen world. In his commentary of Job, John Gill states, "Job's view in saying this is to observe, that a man's state God-ward is not to be judged of by his outward circumstances, whether he is a good man or a bad man, since they may both be in the same afflictions and distress, and which he opposes to the sentiments and sayings of Eliphaz and Bildad." We can't judge based on circumstances alone.

Job's greatest dilemma was that he couldn't defend himself. He knew he was innocent. He knew he had done nothing that would have led to this kind of suffering. But how could he prove it. Who was he to argue with God. If he tried, even his words condemn him. He would say something he would regret. How do you argue with a God you can't even see? How do you stop God from doing what He wants to do? God is just and can do whatever He wants to do. And because He is just, whatever He does is always right. So if God IS doing this to Job, then He must be right and Job must be wrong. But Job knows he is innocent. Do you see his point of frustration? Even if Job accepts his lot in life and puts on a happy face, his friends will never let him live in peace. "Even if I say, 'I'll put all this behind me, I'll look on the bright side and force a smile,' All these troubles would still be like grit in my gut since it's clear you're not going to let up" (Job 9:27-28 MSG).

So what is Job supposed to do? How is he supposed to respond. He appeals to the mercy of God. "I can only throw myself on the Judge's mercy" (Job 9:15 MSG). Rather than argue with God, he trust IN God. Rather than defend himself, he decides to let God defend him. Job turns to God as his merciful judge. "though he is a just God, and a righteous Judge, yet a Saviour; and it is one of the privileges of his people that they can come to him, not only as the God of all grace, and as their God and Father in Christ, but to him as to God the Judge of all, and lay their case before him, and entreat his protection; and this Job chose to do rather than contend with him" (The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible).

So what do we do in times of difficulty? Do we turn to God as our righteous, yet merciful God? Do we appeal to His mercy and "entreat His protection"? Or do we try to contend with Him? Job was worn out from suffering. He was beat down from his friends' words of wisdom. He knew he would lose a war of words with God. So he simply decided to turn to God as his ultimate judge. He knew God was righteous, but he also knew God was merciful. He could trust Him.

Father, life has a way of throwing us curve balls. It doesn't always work out the way I think it should. We live in a fallen world and are surrounded by sinful people. I sometimes screw up my own life and reap the results of my own stupidity and sinfulness. But I can always come to You as my righteous and merciful judge. And I can rest in the fact that I have someone Who stands before You as my representative - Jesus Christ Himself (Romans 8:34). Thank You for allowing me to come before You. Thank You for Your mercy. Amen

You Said What?!!!

Job 6-7

And so I'm not keeping one bit of this quiet, I'm laying it all out on the table; my complaining to high heaven is bitter, but honest. Job 7:11 MSG

Can he say that? Is it OK for someone to talk like that? I mean, it sounds so unfaithful. This guy sounds so pessimistic. Where's his faith? Just listen to his words: "I hate this life! Who needs any more of this? Let me alone! There's nothing to my life – it's nothing but smoke" (Job 7:16 MSG). A believer isn't supposed to think like this, is he? Let alone talk like this. Just listen to the way he talks to God: "Let up on me, will you? Can't you even let me spit in peace?" (Job 7:19 MSG). How can he get away with that? Shouldn't we say something? Shouldn't I quote a verse to him? Doesn't he need a good dose of Romans 8:28? "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." Or how about 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18? That's a good one. "Always be joyful. Keep on praying. No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus." This guy just needs someone to straighten him out!

Whoa! Wait a minute. Before we blow into another person's despair with our gems of wisdom and some ill-placed Scriptures, let's try to understand where they're coming from. Let's enter into their situation and feel their pain. Let's share their grief. Let's get into their shoes and try to experience what they are going through. Too often, we try to alleviate someone else's misery because we want it to go away for our sake, not theirs. We want the other person's pain to go away, because it causes us to doubt. It tests our faith. Listen to what Job said about his friends: "They arrive so confident – but what a disappointment! They get there, and their faces fall! And you, my so-called friends, are no better – there's nothing to you! One look at a hard scene and you shrink in fear" (Job 6:20-21 MSG). You see, pain is – well, painful. It is hard to watch. It is difficult to walk into someone else's heartache and simply be there for them. We want to fix it. We want to pray them out of their situation. We want to counsel them back into wholeness. And while there is nothing wrong with prayer or biblically based counsel, God may just want us to go through this moment with them to provide love and concern. He may not want us to fix them. He may just want us to care about them.

There is something uncomfortable about Job's words in these two chapters. He is being brutally honest and it attacks our Christian sensibilities. He is saying things that "good" Christians should not say. He is being TOO honest. And it makes us squirm. But in the midst of his pain, Job has lost all his pious inhibitions. He is beyond worrying about what others think about him. He is fighting for his life. Loss has a way of peeling away the layers of pretense and getting us down to reality of life. It causes us to question. And those questions make others uncomfortable. Why? Because we don't have the answers. Oh, we have the standard Sunday School answers. We know a handful of verses we can throw out there. But most of us don't know from experience. We haven't been there. Job's friends had never been through what he was experiencing. They couldn't relate and it made them uncomfortable. But if any one of them had suffered loss like he had, they would probably have said less and hugged more. They would have allowed him to vent, understanding that this is part of the healing process.

Is there a time to speak up? You bet. But sometimes it is enough just to show up. To give those who are going through tragedy a chance to express their grief, their anger, and to ask their questions. God can handle it. Why can't we? I think it is because, in the back of our minds, we don't like to see suffering or hear difficult questions. Because it causes us to doubt. It tests our own belief system. But that's OK. Part of the plan for the body of Christ is for us to go through difficulty together. I can learn from the heartache and hurt of others. I can grow from their difficulty – alongside them. Job's friends could have learned a lot – if they would have only listened.

Father, give me a compassion for those in pain. Help me to know how to share in the grief of others (Romans 12:15) without having to feel like I have to fix them. Let me understand that I don't have to be in a hurry to heal everyone. I just need to come alongside them and provide a listening ear and a loving response. You don't always fix my problems right away. You don't always quote Scriptures to me. And You are never in a rush to get me out of the situation I am in. But You ALWAYS patiently listen, love, and encourage me. May I learn to do the same. Amen

With Friends Like These...

Job 4-5

Can a mortal be just and upright before God? Can a person be pure before the Creator? Job 4:17 NLT

We all have them – well-meaning friends who step alongside us during times of difficulty and seasons of suffering spouting sanctimonious sermonettes on our condition. They're the Scripture quoters who tend to quote passages they don't fully understand and draw conclusions based on scant information and little or no experience. These people don't intend to do hurt, but in their zeal to "encourage" they do more harm than good. Job's friend, Eliphaz, was one of these types of individuals. In the midst of all of Job's grief and suffering, he shows up on the scene lobbing all kinds of theological and psychological hand grenades into Job's pity party.

He has taken one look at Job's circumstance and reached a conclusion: Job is guilty of something! He has to be. Otherwise, why would he be suffering so much loss and pain? After all, he concludes, "evil does not spring from the soil, and trouble does not sprout from the earth. People are born for trouble as predictably as sparks fly upward from a fire" (Job 5:6-7 NLT). Bad things don't just happen he tells Job. They're the result of bad choices made by individuals. In other words, you reap what you sow. And Job must have sown some really wild oats at some time in his past. Sure, Eliphaz confesses, Job was a pretty good guy. He had be an encouragement to a lot of people over the years. He had been a source of comfort and strength to others when they needed him. He had always been there with a kind word and a listening ear. But he must have done something to deserve this bizarre turn of affairs. These things don't just happen.

The problem with Eliphaz's speech is that there is a lot of truth in it. He has a lot of good things to say. He just has bad timing and an even worse understanding of reality. He is speaking of things he doesn't know. He is making assumptions about things he doesn't understand. He is judging based on the circumstances, but can't see what God sees. He can't even see God working behind the scenes. And isn't that how we work? We draw conclusions. We make assumptions. And we pass out words of wisdom like they were so much Valentine candy. We mix a touch of biblical truth with a little bit of our home-spun wisdom and then baste our friends with this toxic marinade of self-righteous piety. Eliphaz was dispensing truth like a doctor handing out prescriptions for a condition he had yet to diagnose – making perfectly safe drugs potentially deadly. We do that when we reach hasty conclusions about the spiritual condition of others based on circumstances alone. It reminds me of the story in the Gospel of John. Jesus is walking with His disciples and they encounter a man blind from birth. His disciples reveal a lot about their theology when they ask Jesus, "Teacher, why was this man born blind? Was it a result of his own sins or those of his parents?" (John 9:2 NLT). To their surprise, Jesus responded, "It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins, he was born blind so the power of God could be seen in him" (John 9:3 NLT).

The truth is, we don't know what God is doing behind the scenes. We don't know why certain situations are as they are. But like Eliphaz, if we are not careful, we can hastily draw wrong conclusions and hand out poor advice. When Job needed comfort, he got unnecessary conviction. When he needed a listening ear, he got a lecture. Was a lot of what was said true? You bet. But it was misapplied and mistakenly meted out. In his commentary on the book of Job, John Gill says this about Eliphaz's little speech:

"and he "said" not anything by way of condolence or consolation, not pitying Job's case, nor comforting him in his afflicted circumstances, as they required both; but reproaching him as a wicked and hypocritical man, not acting like himself formerly, or according to his profession and principles, but just the reverse: this was a new trial to Job, and some think the sorest of all; it was as a sword in his bones, which was very cutting to him; as oil cast into a fiery furnace in which he now was, which increased the force and fury of it; and as to vinegar an opened and bleeding wound, which makes it smart the more"

A big part of ministering is learning to listen. A big part of providing comfort is in saying nothing. But if you're going to say anything at all, maybe we could take notes from the words of Isaiah. "Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, 'Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you'" (Isaiah 35:4-5 NIV). Strengthen, steady, encourage, and point them to God. Lift them up, don't tear them down. "A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need" (Proverbs 17:17 NLT).

Father, may I be a friend who encourages and lifts up. Give me discernment to know when to shut up instead of speaking up. May I wait for you to direct my words. May I not be hasty to hand out advice, but instead be quick to hand out love and compassion. Amen

Praise in the Midst of Pain.

Job 1-3

He said, "I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be stripped of everything when I die. The LORD gave me everything I had, and the LORD has taken it away. Praise the name of the LORD! Job 1:21 NLT

We've all had seasons of pain in our lives. We've all experienced a time when we have had to face extreme disappointment, unexplained suffering, or devastating loss. And in those times of trouble, we are always tempted to question God regarding His love, power, faithfulness, or at times, even His existence. So the story of Job is one with which we can relate. Here is a man who had it all: Wealth, material possessions, a lovely family, and a vibrant relationship with his God. Then tragedy strikes. Not once, but four times. In a series of catastrophic events, Job loses everything. All of his livestock are stolen or destroyed. In a matter of hours, his net worth drops like a rock. He is broke. On top of that, he receives news that every one of his children are killed in a freak accident. All ten of them. Job's world was rocked. His life would never be the same. And everything he knew about his God was about to be challenged. Understandably, he sinks into a depression, even cursing the day he was born. "At last Job spoke, and he cursed the day of his birth. He said: 'Cursed be the day of my birth, and cursed be the night when I was conceived. Let that day be turned to darkness. Let it be lost even to God on high, and let it be shrouded in darkness. Yes, let the darkness and utter gloom claim it for its own. Let a black cloud overshadow it, and let the darkness terrify it'" (Job 3:1-5 NLT).

Job even seemed to be ready to die. "Oh, why should light be given to the weary, and life to those in misery? They long for death, and it won’t come. They search for death more eagerly than for hidden treasure" (Job 3:20-21 NLT). Yet in the midst of all his pain and darkness, Job cursed the day of his birth, but NOT HIS GOD – even when his wife suggested he do just that (Job 2:9). No, Job did not turn against God, in spite of his personal loss and physical suffering. At the loss of all his possessions and his children Job exclaimed, "I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be stripped of everything when I die. The LORD gave me everything I had, and the LORD has taken it away. Praise the name of the LORD!" (Job 1:21 NLT). He was able to praise God even in the midst of it all. In fact, God testified that Job "still holds firmly to his integrity" (Job 2:3 NET). Even whenhe found himself covered with sores from head to foot, he responded, "Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?" (Job 2:10 NLT). Through it all, Job held on to his integrity and His God. He understood something about the character of his God. He knew that God was good. He knew that God must have a purpose behind all that had happened. It didn't make it any less painful or any easier to accept. In fact, Job would spend the next days wrestling with his concept of God. He would be challenged by his well-meaning friends. Job's suffering was going to reveal a lot about himself and a lot about his God. Job would wrestle with concepts regarding God's sovereignty and His love. Job would have to come to grips with whether God could be trusted. As his suffering continues, Job will go from resting in God to blaming God. He will even accuse God of wronging him (Job 19:6-7). But God never blasts him for his doubt or punishes him for his hasty words. Instead, He comforts Job, and eventually restores him. All throughout this story, we see a picture of a faithful, loving God who is active behind the scenes. He is aware of our suffering and has a plan for them. He is not caught off guard or found asleep at His post. He is fully aware and He cares. Suffering is a part of life lived in a fallen world. Will we allow it to change our perception about God, or learn to see Him in the midst of it? "We take the good days from God--why not also the bad days?" (Job 2:10 MSG).

Shall I take from Your hand Your blessings Yet not welcome any pain Shall I thank You for days of sunshine Yet grumble in days of rain Shall I love You in times of plenty Then leave You in days of drought Shall I trust when I reap a harvest But when winter winds blow, then doubt

Oh let Your will be done in me In Your love I will abide Oh I long for nothing else as long As You are glorified

Are You good only when I prosper And true only when I’m filled Are You King only when I’m carefree And God only when I’m well You are good when I’m poor and needy You are true when I’m parched and dry You still reign in the deepest valley You’re still God in the darkest night

© 2008 Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI)

Father, use this book to open my eyes to Your presence in my life – during the good times and the bad. Give me a heavenly perspective that lets me see You in ALL of my circumstances, not just the ones that I enjoy. You are a good God – all the time. Not just when things are going well. You're still God in the darkest night. Amen