Saturday, April 30, 2016

"I will speak of the justice of my God!"

Day #122

Scripture Reading:  Job 35 - 36 ...

Very few people know God today; it’s as simple as that.  Like Job’s friends, they know some things ABOUT God, but they fail to truly grasp His wisdom, power, goodness, faithfulness, holiness, justice and truth.  And their lack of knowledge leads to people judging God, accusing God of doing wrong or simply pulling away from the God they think they know. Of course, God can take care of Himself; He doesn't need anyone to defend Him against the accusations of those who complain that He acts unjustly.  Yet, God has called those who know Him to be His witnesses, to testify to His character so that all may know that He is God and that He rules with wisdom and justice over the affairs of men.  God is ALWAYS right!

As young Elihu continues to speak to Job and his friends, his goal is to uphold the glory of God as he corrects the misunderstanding and deception into which Job has fallen with the "help" of those who came to comfort him.  Job has been led astray because of his weakened condition and the accusations of his friends to the point that he now passes on their accusations and directs them toward God!  Elihu's words, and those of God later, should act as a warning to all who would question God's dealings with mankind.

It is sad to remember how Job began when tragedy first struck.  His response was firm and his trust in the Lord appeared unshakeable.  Remember his words?  "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart.  The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised" (1:21).  And when his wife had told him to "curse God and die," Job replied, "Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" (2:9-10).  Though faced with suffering and trial, Job confessed his faith in the God he knew as holy, good, righteous and faithful.  Yet in the absence of encouragement, Job began to slip into doubt and began to question what he knew of God.  Job's fall into temptation in the midst of his suffering was accelerated by the relentless accusations of his friends, but Job over-reacted.  He made the fatal error of beginning to defend HIMSELF rather than God, and he finally arrived at the place millions have since:  "What profit is it to me and what do I gain by not sinning?" (35:2-3).

What a horrible spiritual state in which to find oneself.  Job was now facing not only physical trials, but also emotional, mental and spiritual anguish. Elihu says to Job, in effect, "Whom are you hurting but yourself?" (35:6-8).  He points out that God does NOT hear or answer the cries of those who do not acknowledge Him ... contrary to what many think today.  "God does not listen to their empty plea; the Almighty pays no attention to it" (35:13).  People who have such an attitude toward God incredibly still cry out to Him when faced with a crisis and then demand that He answer in the way THEY know is "best."  Think about this!  Question God, doubt His justice, then demand that He give you what you want ... and THEN complain and question more when He doesn't answer ... and on top of that, accuse GOD of wrongdoing.  That's how many today live their lives.  It is the pathetic reality of those who do not know the true and living God!

In this lengthy account of this “moment” in Job’s life, God now uses a young man to correct the thinking of Job and his friends by speaking truth into the situation.  Elihu begins by speaking of God's character.  This is the place where we SHOULD begin when questions arise in our minds or when the temptation to doubt God is placed before us by the circumstances of our lives, be it trials or suffering or tragedy.  Elihu rightly points out:  "There is more to be said in God's behalf.  I will ascribe justice to my Maker!" (36:2-3).  That should make you want to say, "AMEN!  Finally, somebody is making sense!"  Listen carefully to what he says:  "God is mighty, but does not despise men ... He does not take His eyes off the righteous" (36:5,7).

God watches over those who trust in Him, whom He has declared righteous by faith.  He also deals with sin and its consequences in ways beyond our understanding.  We have heard that before.  "But those who suffer, He delivers in their suffering; He speaks to them in their affliction" (36:15).  God is never far from the brokenhearted as they cry out to Him and ask Him for help.  He does not always take away the affliction, but He gives strength to endure and provides the opportunity to testify to His faithfulness.  When good things happen we say, "God is good, all the time; all the time, God is good!"  We then testify to the good things God has done.  But what about testifying that God is good in the midst of the trials?!  Isn't God good even when times are hard??  God's character doesn't change in the midst of our circumstances.

As some have said, "Life is like a marathon, not a sprint."  Judging God's character without knowledge by looking at a small, tiny part of the whole picture leads to misunderstanding and more questions.  Elihu warns of the deceitfulness of wealth and that includes the deceitful promise of only good things happening.  He says to Job, "Beware of turning to evil, which you seem to prefer to affliction" (36:21).  Trusting in the wisdom, goodness and faithfulness of God, we who believe can say that affliction is GOOD for us!  It keeps us from setting our hearts on the things and pleasures of this world and calls us to place our hope in God and in His promises in Christ Jesus.  God uses affliction to teach us lessons we would not learn in any other way.  "God is exalted in power.  Who is a Teacher like Him?" (36:22).

"How great is God - beyond our understanding!"  (36:26).  And since that is true, you and I are called to speak of the justice of our God.  He is just, He is right, He is good and He is faithful to those who trust in Him and who call upon Him in times of trouble.  When you do not understand His ways, trust His character, and proclaim to those around you that God is still just, He is still right, He is still good and He is still faithful!! He IS good ... ALL the time!!!!

"O Lord, my God, I place my trust in You, in good times and in times of trouble, trial, temptation and suffering.  When I am weak, O Lord, You make me strong.  I declare to the world that You are just, that You are right, that You are holy and You are good, now and always.  I find my hope in You alone. Help me to live to glorify You, my Abba, my Father in heaven.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Friday, April 29, 2016

"If you think God has done something wrong ... think again!"

Day #121

Scripture Reading:  Job 33 - 34 …

It is clear after listen to Job and his friends debate the character and purposes of God that they all needed the wisdom found in the words of God as Isaiah recorded them hundreds of years later …

Isaiah 55:6-9:  "Seek the LORD while He may be found; call on Him while He is near.  Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.  Let him turn to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will freely pardon. 'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,' declares the LORD.  'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.'"

Enough said.  It is in trying to understand and explain things that are beyond your comprehension and mine that so many people end up questioning God and doubting His wisdom, goodness, faithfulness, compassion, mercy and justice.  And in doing so, people end up like Job, in a spiritual cloud that often results in charging God with wrongdoing!  When that happens, the most merciful thing God can do is to send someone like Elihu to speak TRUTH into your life.  At first, his words may not appear to be very "grace-filled," but they are like “shock-treatment for the soul.”  So many today want “chicken soup for the soul,” but in reality, they need something stronger!!

Elihu speaks from an attitude of humility.  That's one of the first things to consider when God sends someone to you to correct you.  Is their attitude one of arrogance or humility.  Boldness does not equal arrogance.  Elihu says, "I am just like you before God; I, too, have been taken from clay.  No fear of me should alarm you, nor should my hand be heavy upon you" (33:6-7).  Elihu is not claiming to be speaking on his own and he wants Job to understand that it is God that he has offended.

"You have said, … 'I am pure and without sin; I am clean and free from guilt.  Yet God has found fault with me' …"   (33:8-10).  "But I tell you, in this you are not right, for God is greater than man.  Why do you complain to him?" (33:12-13).  Elihu then goes on to explain that God warns people in various ways and that He disciplines men to draw them away from sin. These are questions that many people have today concerning suffering and trials.  God tells us repeatedly in His Word that "He disciplines those He loves" (Hebrews 12:4-11).  The wicked will perish, but those who have put their faith in the LORD and His forgiveness and cleansing in Christ will live.

James writes, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (James 1:2-4).  And Paul writes that "our suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope" (Romans 5:3-4).  Young Elihu is saying the same thing to Job here.

He says, "If there is an angel on his side as a mediator … to be gracious to him and say, 'Spare him from going down to the pit; I have found a ransom for him' - then his flesh is renewed like a child's; it is restored as in the days of his youth.  He prays to God and finds favor with Him, he sees God's face and shouts for joy; he is restored by God to his righteous state" (33:23-26).  Wow! This is the Gospel!  One higher than an angel is our Mediator and HE has paid the ransom for us!!  "For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all men" (I Timothy 2:5).

Those who have trusted in God's Mediator can testify:  "I sinned, and perverted what was right, but I did not get what I deserved.  He redeemed my soul from going down to the pit, and I will live to enjoy the light" (33:27-28).  Elihu rightly says, "God does all these things to a man - twice, even three times - to turn back his soul from the pit, that the light of life may shine on him" (33:29-30).  Such wisdom from such a young man … wisdom from the LORD!

We must never get to the place where Job was when he said, "It profits a man nothing when he tries to please God" (34:9).   Instead, we must confess, along with Elihu, "Far be it from God to do evil, from the Almighty to do wrong. … It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice" (34:10,12).  He reminds Job, and us, that God could simply withhold His Spirit and we would breathe our last and return to dust (34:14-15).

You and I exist by the will of God, our Creator, and it is only by His grace that our souls are made alive and we are reconciled to Him through Jesus Christ.  Job had testified at one time, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see Him with my own eyes - I, and not another" (19:25-27).  Through Elihu and the work of His Spirit, God is now in the process of restoring Job by confronting him with the truth.  Such confrontation, then and now, is hard and unpleasant, but in the end God accomplishes His purpose in the lives of His children.

Are you facing trials?  Are you enduring suffering?  Accept these things as they come and draw near to the One who hears your cries for help.  He may remove the trial or give you strength to endure it, but either way, trust in Him and give thanks for His constant presence and His abiding love, which endures forever!  God cannot and will not do wrong.  He WILL deliver you, in HIS time and in HIS way … and for HIS glory.  Rest in God's arms … the arms that are mighty to save, and you will find peace in the midst of the storm.  If you think God has done something wrong … think again!  HE is wiser than you and I are.  "Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25).

"O LORD God Almighty, You are greatly to be praised, for You always do that which is right and good.  Help me to trust You when I don't understand Your ways and give me strength to endure discipline, that I may be trained in righteousness and follow the path You have placed before me.  I desire to glorify You and to exalt Your Name, O LORD.  Be my Guide through the storm, that my testimony may point others to You, my God, my Redeemer, my Savior.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Thursday, April 28, 2016

"Wisdom does not necessarily come with age ..."

Day #120

Scripture Reading:  Job 31 - 32 ...

Solomon wrote in his proverbs, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.  Better to be lowly in spirit and among the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud” (Proverbs 16:18-19).  He also wrote, in words repeated later by James, “He (God) mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble” (Proverbs 3:34).  “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).  Pride is always focused on self rather than God and as we have seen, pride was sneaking up on Job.  In an effort to defend himself against the accusations of his “friends,” Job went too far in challenging God’s justice and in Chapter 31 Job continues to lay out his case before God and his friends.  He closes by saying, “I sign now my defense – let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing” (31:35).

Attempting to declare his innocence of all wrongdoing, Job used the word "if" over and over and over again.  He says, "IF I have done this" or "IF I have done that" or "IF I have not done this or that" ... "If ... if ... if ... "  You want to just interrupt and say, "Job, STOP!"  But in Job's defense, it is a bit difficult to ignore accusations being made repeatedly by those who claim to be your friends.  I don't want to make Job out to be "worse" than he was.  He had been through a lot, and his friends were not helping.  They offered him no comfort, did not point him to the God who is faithful and responded as though they KNEW Job better than he knew himself.

Yet, the actions of Job’s friends did not excuse Job’s response.  His friends did not rightly present God’s ways to Job, being more intent on “putting Job in his place.”  But neither did Job come to God’s defense by declaring His justice and faithfulness.  Job gave in to the temptation to defend himself rather than the honor of his God.  Soon God would grant his request for an answer, but first, God used the young man, Elihu, to speak truth to Job and the rest.  Apparently, Elihu had arrived with Job’s other friends, but had kept silent because he was younger than the rest.  He could do so no longer.

Finally, young Elihu, who had been listening to this long, drawn-out conversation, decided that for the glory of God he must end his silence.  He explains that he hesitated to speak because Job and his friends were all older than he and he expected them to speak with wisdom.  He now explains that he was "angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God"  (32:3).  How many have done the same through the ages.  Wanting to maintain our innocence is folly.  "There is no one righteous, no not one!" (Romans 3:10).  We all know that, yet it seems some need to be reminded of that truth.  There is benefit in humbling ourselves, confessing our sin AND in knowing that God is always just and righteous in all He does.  When you try to justify yourself it often results in questioning God and makes you feel distant from Him at the very moment when you most need Him.  How much better to confess your sin, trust in God's grace and draw near to Him.

As believers we know that we have a great High Priest, Jesus, who is seated at the Father's right hand, who is interceding for us.  Job believed in God and in His forgiveness, but somewhere Job and his three friends took their eyes off of God and became entangled in an endless and foolish debate that led only to a dead end.  I have been involved in similar discussions where humility and a simple confession that we don’t know everything would have brought the only resolution possible:  faith in the God who knows everything from beginning to end and who is at work in the midst of every circumstance, every situation, in ways we cannot possibly know or explain.  Mercifully, young Elihu was now moved to speak.

He says, "The spirit within me compels me ..."  Indeed, it was GOD's Spirit within Elihu who prompted him to speak.  He said "It is the Spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding."  This is what Paul wrote in I Corinthians 2, when speaking about wisdom from the Spirit of God:

"For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him?  In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. ... The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God ... he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. ... But we have the mind of Christ" (I Corinthians 2:11-16).

True wisdom does not come with age; it is a gift from God through the work of His Spirit.  As you listen to young Elihu speak over the next few chapters you will hear more wisdom in a short time than you heard from Job's other friends over this whole long discourse.  There are people in this world who are "smart," by the world's standards, but few who are truly wise.  The wisdom of man does not lead to the one, true God; it cannot, because true wisdom requires humbling yourself before your Creator and acknowledging that HE, and not YOU, is God.  Pride gets in the way of people coming to God or receiving wisdom from God because it deceives the mind into believing it already knows everything!  Pride makes people unteachable and leaves them in their own ignorance.

Job and his friends needed to hear from God.  God now speaks to them, first through Elihu and then from the mouth of God Himself.  Young Elihu (we don’t know how old he was) now becomes God’s spokesman.  Later, God would use a young man named, Jeremiah, to be a powerful prophet to speak to His people (Jeremiah 1:6-8) and still later Paul wrote to his young friend, Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young” (I Timothy 4:12). Elihu understood that wisdom comes from the Spirit of God.

As you seek to be wise, always be quick to listen and quick to learn. Wisdom can be yours when you are willing to humble yourself and draw near to the One who holds Your life in His hands.

"Father, it is comforting to know that Your grace and love are sufficient for my every need.  I gladly and willingly humble myself before You, confessing my sin and resting in Your forgiveness through faith in Your Son, Jesus Christ.  Help me, Lord, to seek Your wisdom.  Fill me with Your Spirit so that I can share Your wisdom with others and give You glory for who You are.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

"Pride can sneak up on you ..."

Day #119

Scripture Reading:  Job 29 - 30 …

Job started out so well, but by the time we get to these chapters he was so intent on defending himself that pride began to sneak up on him.  His friends had come to "comfort" him in the loss of his children and his possessions.  Instead, they accused Job of wrongdoing, and maintained that God was punishing Job.  In his attempt to defend himself, Job went too far and did what so many today seem to want to do:  put GOD on trial.

As Chapter 29 begins Job reminisces about his past relationship with God.  He says, "How I long for the months gone by, for the days when God watched over me, when His lamp shone upon my head and by His light I walked through the darkness!  Oh, for the days when I was in my prime, when God's intimate friendship blessed my house, when the Almighty was still with me and my children were around me …" (29:2-5).  Indeed, Job was a blessed man.

If you remember how this book begins, this was Satan's contention:  that Job worshiped God only because he was blessed.  Yet, in the beginning, Job had responded with faith and trust in God, declaring that God gave and God took away, blessed be the name of the LORD!  In this, Job did not sin.  Now, however, as he thinks about the past, Job not only remembers his relationship with God (which he thinks has now disappeared), but he also remembers his status in the community.  People looked up to him, they hung on his every word and he was respected by all.  In spite of his friends' accusations to the contrary, Job recalls helping the poor and the fatherless and widows.  Anyone who had need could count on Job.

Job thinks, "Men listened to me expectantly, waiting in silence for my counsel …  they waited for me as for showers and drank in my words as the spring rains.  When I smiled at them, they scarcely believed it; the light of my face was precious to them.  I … sat as their chief …" (29:21,23-25).  This hardly sounds like the man who maintained his integrity at the beginning.  It is one thing to long for the sense of God's presence and to long to feel Him near, but to think about how people looked up to you and listened to you seems to cross the line from humility to pride.  Job wanted to be "on top" again!

He complains (whines) in Chapter 30 that men now mock him … and says in verse 10: "They detest me and keep their distance; they do not hesitate to spit in my face."  Does that remind you of anyone else?  Job was a mere man.  He was facing unjust ridicule and those around him were "kicking him when he was down."  But there was another who received such unjust treatment, and worse, yet opened not his mouth.

"Then they spit in His face and struck Him with their fists.  Others slapped Him and said, 'Prophesy to us, Christ.  Who hit you?'" (Matthew 26:67). "They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on His head.  They put a staff in His right hand and knelt in front of Him and mocked Him.  'Hail, king of the Jews!' they said.  They spit on Him and took the staff and struck Him on the head again and again.  After they had mocked Him, they took off the robe and put His own clothes on Him.  Then they led Him away to crucify Him" (Matthew 27:28-31).

Job says, "I cry out to You, O God, but You do not answer; I stand up but You merely look at me" (30:20).  God says that pride goes before a fall (Proverbs 16:18), and Job was getting close.  He was suffering, he was in agony, physically, mentally, emotionally … He was tired and weary, and we can perhaps understand where he is coming from.  He has not lost his faith entirely, for he still declares, "I know You will bring me down to death, to the place appointed for all the living," (30:23), but is he speaking of the place for God's children or for all men?

Job needs a word from God, and he will soon receive more than one!  WE can learn some important lessons from Job.  The weakness of our flesh and the tendency of our old nature of sin is to grow bitter and to complain during times of extreme trials.  Questions, doubts, fears, complaints all lead us to a dark, lonely place where we are vulnerable to the emotions produced by focusing on ourselves and our problems.  There is but one cure:  looking to the God who saves.  When this is all finished, Job would know God much, much better.  We can know Him today.

The knowledge of God often arises in the crucible of suffering.  Our example is Jesus, our Savior, as Isaiah describes His suffering in Isaiah 53:  "He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering … surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows … He was pierced for OUR transgressions, He was crushed for OUR iniquities; the punishment that brought US peace was upon HIM, and by His wounds WE are healed!"  (Isaiah 53:3-5).

The writer of Hebrews says that we have a great High Priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, for He "has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin … Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Hebrews 4:15-16).   Job needed to remember that God never leaves His children and that in the midst of suffering and trials He IS with us and promises to give us all we need to stand up under the stress and strain of life in this world.

Jesus was the only One who was ever truly innocent, yet He bore our shame and ridicule and suffering, so that we would have hope in the midst of our trials. Jesus didn't defend Himself, though He could have done so.  Trying to defend yourself may lead to boasting and pride, as it did for Job.  Put your faith in Jesus and look to the cross, where He suffered in your place.  Trust in the Lord, knowing He is with you, and don't let pride sneak up on you.  Humbly seek the Lord and He WILL lift you up!

"Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your Name!  Whether in good times or in times of suffering, give me strength to praise You in the midst of the storm, giving You thanks for Jesus and trusting You to lead me through the deep waters to Your very throne.  Do not let pride overtake me, but let humility mark my life, that I may point people to You, my Strength, my Shield, my Hope!  In Jesus' name, Amen"