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“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” -Job 2:10

So I’m totally not being an advocate for God giving us trouble. But this is a very wise comment Job made. At this point, all of his land, his farms, and his children have been destroyed and taken from him. Plus, he has been covered in painful boils from the bottom of his feet to the top of his head. Ew. Job’s wife tells him to just get it over with, to curse God and die. To which Job responds with the above line.

Now, about an hour later he’s cursing the day of his birth. So don’t go thinking that Job is some sort of super-human who can withstand anything. We’re all human. We all have a breaking point.

The interesting thing is that God wants us to get to that breaking point.

He really does. Because it is only when we give up entirely that we are able to relinquish the grip we have on the control of our lives. It is only when we cry out to God in frustration that He says “Yes! Now you’re talking to me!”

So it is true that God does not always bring us good things. But I do love how this translation doesn’t say “shall we accept good from God, and not bad?” Because that would be a different idea entirely. Does God bring “bad” things into our life? I don’t believe so. I think that He will bring trouble, as a sort of sifting process. But that trouble is not inherently bad. It is to be used for God’s good will. So you can’t call it bad. (Even if it feels bad.)

I think Job’s wisdom can help us get through our own lives, when we see the consequences of our actions, or even when something out of the blue happens that shakes our world. It’s not that God is punishing us, rather He is working in, around, and through us, to develop us into better people.

So it’s not like you have to say “Yippee, my house got flooded! Thanks God!” But perhaps you can say “Ok God, this really sucks, but I know you have a purpose in here for me somewhere. Can you show me what it is?”

Because He totally will.

“The king asked Daniel (also called Belteshazzar), ‘Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?’ Daniel replied, ‘No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come.'” – Daniel 2:26-28

Ok, so the title of this post is a little pointed. But I think it’s necessary (for you, for me, for all of us) to go back to the concept that we can’t do anything without God. To give a bit of back story here, Daniel was the son of a noble family in Jerusalem. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon besieged Jerusalem and took back many of the young nobles, to transform them into Babylonian leaders and thus assimilate Jerusalem into Babylon. Daniel had already shown wisdom and faith by asking to not be forced to eat the food they were given, as it did not follow God’s dietary commands. Through this faith he not only survived but flourished on quite bland food, and became known to the king as one of four Jewish young men of wisdom.

Fast forward to this part of the story, when King N. had a dream he couldn’t understand, and when none of his astrologers or magicians could interpret it, he decreed they should all be killed. But Daniel asked for a stay in the execution so he could try. He went home and prayed, and during the night received the interpretation.

And here’s the good part. When he showed up, he did tell the guard that he, Daniel, had the interpretation (most likely to avoid a long philosophical conversation) but when he got to the king, he didn’t say “Look King, I, Daniel the magnificent, was able to use my powers of logic and deduction to figure out your dream. I am so awesome.” No, instead he said that the only One who could interpret the dream was God.

It’s interesting, because even though God interpreted the dream, we still do need Daniel in the story, don’t we? Daniel is the human mouth that is needed to covey this interpretation to the king. So he has a very important role. And yet without the interpretation, anything Daniel says is just fluff. He would be no different from the astrologers.

Remember, always, the One who gives you wisdom, insight, that sudden “flash” of knowledge. Because it is through Him alone that we are who we are and do what we do. Never let yourself get deceived to think that you can do something because of your greatness, your skill, your ability. Because all that comes from God. Always point to God when people call you out for your accomplishments, because they are truly His. We are just His hands and feet in this world. It is an important job, and one you are called to do, but the glory must always be His.

“I do not accept praise from men, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?” – John 5:41-44

Ok, before you get all knotted up about the first sentence, let’s look a bit at the context. (Context is key, after all.) Jesus is speaking to a group of Jews who were persecuting him for healing someone on the Sabbath. God told His people to rest on the Sabbath, and the Pharisees, those who spent their lives studying the scriptures, got to a point where they were nitpicking on what “rest” and “doing work” meant. The man whom Jesus had healed had been told to pick up his mat and leave. That man was then told he should not be “working” on the Sabbath.

So at this point we’re looking at Jesus speaking to a group of legalistic people who put so much faith in their understanding of the scriptures, and their praises of each other, that He has to set them straight. This “praise” then, that He will not accept, is not the kind of “Thank you Jesus for saving my life” praise that we are called to give him, but rather it was a lifting of themselves up higher than the other Jews for their knowledge of the Scriptures, and a total neglect of lifting up the name of God who gave them the scriptures.

Whew! That was almost enough for my first day back after quite a long hiatus.  But this sets us up well for the second half of my post. I’m really looking at that second sentence, where Jesus accuses the Jews of not accepting Him who comes in the name of his Father, while they will accept anyone who comes in their own name. I believe this speaks to the itinerant speakers who go about and teach, and lift themselves up as those full of knowledge. In the time of Jesus, people were known to follow certain well-known teachers, which led them to neglect the idea of following God, but instead to follow man. In fact, Paul had to deal with this in his letter to the Corinthians:

“One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas; still another, ‘I follow Christ’. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? ” – 1 Corinthians 1:12-13

Paul has to remind the Christians that they follow Christ, not the people who give testimony about Him. That is a very important distinction to make, and one the Jews of the day did not quite understand. So when Jesus spoke about those who have come in their own name, He means those people, those great orators, who lift themselves up so high about their own knowledge of God that God becomes little more than a prop.

What the world needs right now is more people to be willing to stand and say “I would be nothing without God. I would be eternally damned if not for Jesus. I do nothing except for what the Holy Spirit does within me.” This is the kind of speaker God wants us to be. This is the testimony we are called to give. Not how cool and amazing and knowledgeable we are in our own power, for who gave us this power? Who created our brain and our reasoning faculties? Who? Not us. When we were born we did not have the ability to choose how smart we would be. When we were born we were not able to say “yes, I will be a great speaker!” No, when we were born we did what babies do; it is God who created us, formed and shaped us, and put into our hearts our potential.

Think about those great Christian speakers of our day, the Billy Grahams, Joyce Meyers, Joel Osteens. And ask yourself if they lift up God’s name, or their own. Do they come onto the stage accepting the applause for themselves, or do they redirect it towards God? If they do not redirect it then they are not people to whom you should be listening, for they are proud of their own voice, not of the One about whom they are speaking. This is true not only of world-wide ministries. Look to your own church. Do not do this to judge and be unforgiving, but look at those who are in a position of leadership. If you are as well, look at yourself as though you were someone else. And ask: does what they say and do lead people to worship and praise of God, or of themselves? Is the testimony they give of how God has shaped their lives, or of how they have done everything by themselves?

If the answer to either of those questions is the latter option, those leaders may need to take some time to remember why they have been placed in leadership.

But before you start pointing that finger of judgement, make sure you look at yourself too. Because even if you are not an official “leader” in your church, you are a leader in your own life, in your own circles. You are the embodiment of the Holy Spirit to those men and women who do not know Christ. It is the words you say and the actions you do that speak of God and Jesus to them. So when you accomplish something, do you receive their praise unto yourself, or do you direct it back towards the One who gave you that ability? Even if you are not able to speak the name of God or Jesus (say you are at work and this is forbidden), you can still show by your actions the fruits of the spirit. And they will speak louder than words, for how many men and women who believe only in themselves can be considered gentle, humble, and kind?

So all that you do, you do because of the Lord Jesus Christ, and God the Father, with the Holy Spirit. Let that be your testimony, let that be your praise.

 

Boast Freely?

“We… boast of our troubles, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance brings God’s approval, and his approval creates hope.” – Romans 5:3-4 (GNT)

So my first thought is, this doesn’t mean half of what you think. You’re totally not allowed to go walking around giving diatribes on how much your life sucks. I mean, these people had troubles because they followed Jesus. It’s not like they were saying “Everybody, listen up, I have jury duty tomorrow. I am trouuuu-bled.”

More likely they were saying things like “Man, I just got beat in the street again for sharing my faith, and some kind-looking elderly woman spit in my face.” That must be the kind of troubles that the Bible is talking about.

Although…

Here’s the deal. I don’t think for one second this verse gives us leeway to walk around complaining about our lives, because that’s not the key to the rest of the verse. You can boat about your troubles only if you are actively working to endure them, and to do so with a good attitude. It is that endurance which is what we should be focusing on, because the endurance is what brings God’s approval and hope.

For example, instead of simply saying “I have jury duty tomorrow, you should pity me” you could say “I have jury duty tomorrow, which is difficult because it’s very much not a good day to leave work. But I stayed late documenting what I do, and I have faith in the other people there. Besides, God knows what’s going on, so I’ll just leave everything in His hands.”

That, to me, seems a little better.

You may ask why I keep using jury duty. Well it’s because I’m actually going to jury duty today. And under other circumstances I’d have been more excited, but it fell on a very difficult time for my job. My boss spent the entire day yesterday fretting and I started reacting to her stress levels, and it was really tough. To be honest, when I got the summons I forgot to tell her, and then I forgot about it completely until last Friday. So she only had a couple of day’s notice, and that’s just not good for her. We’re short-staffed right now, so me being out is a hardship on everyone.

The thing is, we’ve kept saying things like “God forbid we’re audited” or “God forbid one of us gets jury duty on a bad day” or “God forbid someone’s sick on our busy days” and some of the stuff we’ve dreaded has come to pass recently. (Which tells me we have to stop saying that!) But it also makes me think that God knows exactly what’s going on, and that He’s going to use this situation to work through something in us. Maybe it’ll be what my boss needs to learn to keep her cool during stressful times, because there are very few non-stressful times these days.

I can already say that I’ve learned that documenting what you do as you’re creating the process is a really good idea, because saying at the office late the night before jury duty, putting together screenshots and directions, kinda sucks.

So my goal is to learn from this situation, to continue holding on to my faith that God knows what is happening, and He knows whether or not I’ll be picked for a jury. So I really don’t have any worrying to do. And I suppose that’s something I can boast about.

Sing for Joy

“Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord, let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.” – Psalm 95:1 (NIV)

This is awesome. Ever since I woke up I’ve had this song running through my head:

Come, let us sing a song
a song declaring that we belong to Jesus
He is all we need.

Lift up a voice of praise
sing now with voices raised to Jesus
Sing to the King!

– Sing to the King
Passion

So you can imagine my delight when I open my Bible verse journal and see this Psalm listed as the daily reading.

We are called to lift up glorious praise to God through our worship. I believe that there are many more types of worship than just singing, but almost everyone I know finds a distinct joy in singing, even if they cannot sing well. Imagine you’re at a concert, and the band is so loud and awesome that when you sing along you can’t even hear yourself. Do you sing louder, with more passion, because you know no one can hear you? I think so–I do, anyway. So God wants us to sing like that when we worship him, unfettered, unashamed, and with unbridled passion.

Now, please don’t take that as a release to go screaming out the lyrics at church next week. I guess we do need to match the overall volume of the place we’re in. But take that idea of being unfettered, unashamed, and full of unbridled passion. That is what God wants to see from us. Let us lift our arms and open our hearts to the One who created us and saved us.

And, in your own personal times, turn up the music, dance in your socks, yell and laugh. Spin in circles. Allow yourself to be fully present in your worship of God.

Because I think He rather likes it.

Mr. Fix-It

“God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.” – John 3:17 (The Message)

You know, I bet most of us could quote John 3:16, right? For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only son, that whosoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life.

So it’s interesting to see what the next verse says, isn’t it? It’s a total parallel. God loves us, so instead of accusing us, He sent his Son to put the world right again, and allow us to have eternal life.

In Jewish/early Christian writings, you’ll see parallels in writing a lot. They do this to emphasize a point. So whenever you see someone who seems to be repeating themselves, that’s the point. It’s to make sure that you get their point.

What , then is John’s point here? God loves us so much that He’ll do whatever it takes to fix us.

Thank God for that!

On Guard

“God guards you from every evil, he guards your very life. He guards you when you leave and when you return, he guards you now, he guards you always.” – Psalm 121:7-8 (The Message)

I find this scripture very comforting, don’ t you? There has never been, there is never, and there will never be a time when God is not looking out for your best interests. Wow! Sometimes I think that we forget that. I know I do. I know that I can get lost in my head, in my thoughts, in my emotions, in my circumstances, and start believing that somehow I have to “fix” everything by myself.

But I don’t. God is there with me, even though I can’t see or hear him. And the lack is on my side, not his. Too often I believe we ask God why he isn’t speaking, but it’s really us who aren’t listening.

Every step, every day, whether we are in right living or wrong, God loves us, and provides for us. Now, if we’re in wrong living, we can’t just assume that God will make everything better whenever we ask. We can’t be in an immoral relationship and ask God to keep us from the results of it. God always loves us, and always protects us, but will not always shield us from the results of our own choices. Life isn’t a freebie.

To that end, I think about other verses in the Bible where we are told to guard our heart. If God is guarding us for us, why then do we need to guard our own hearts–wouldn’t he be doing that?

Not at all. Our heart is our responsibility. God gave us free will, and with that freedom comes responsibility. He will guard us from outside attack, he will protect us against evil, but we must take the helm of our inner thoughts and attitudes. The good thing is that we can rest assured God has our back while we are dealing with all of this inner turmoil. (Ok perhaps you don’t have inner turmoil. Maybe it’s just me.)

So thank you God, for guarding my comings and goings, so I can be safe while I deal with my heart. Together we are working for my good, which in turn is a testimony to your good and perfect will. Let it be so. Amen.