Saturday, November 28, 2020


Sermon by passage included on this blog thus far (November 2020):

Genesis 19:3-8a – God’s Promises: A New Identity
Genesis 39:1-23 – God With Us
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 – Are We All In?
Joshua 24:1-18 – Promised Land Living: Remembering
II Samuel 6:1-5 – The Work of Celebration
I Kings 12:1-17, 25-29 – When Wisdom Wanes
I Kings 18:17-39 – Fire from Heaven!
II Kings 22:1-20; 23:1-3 – Reading the Word Again…for the First Time
Ruth 1:1-17 – Crossing Borders
Job 1:1-22 - Job: A Journey through Suffering - Part I
Job 3:1-10 - Job: A Journey through Suffering - Part II
Job 14:7-15 - Job: A Journey through Suffering - Part III
Job 31:35-37; 38:1-41 - Job: A Journey through Suffering - Part IV
Job 41 & 42 - Job: A Journey through Suffering - Part V
Job 42:1-17 - Job: A Journey through Suffering - Part VI
Isaiah 5 & 11 – A Taste of Hope
Jeremiah 33:14-18 – A King and Priest for Us
Hosea 11:1-9 – As a Parent Loves a Child
Matthew 13:3-9 – Preparing the Soil
Mark 16:1-8 – Exchanging Fear for Trust
John 1:1-14 – A New Beginning
John 1:15-34 - Deflection
John 1:34-51 – New Names and Dreams
John 2:1-11 – Water to Wine: A Wedding Story
John 2:13-25 – Crack the Whip!
John 3:1-21 – Nicodemus Revisited
John 4:1-42 – Jesus and Sam – Water & Worship in Samaria
John 9:1-41 – Blind to the Obvious
John 11:1-44 – Resurrection!
John 12:12-19 – Something to Shout About
John 13:1-17 – 21st Century Foot-Washing
John 18:12-27 – What Would You Say?
John 18:28-40 – An Interesting Conversation
John 19:1-16a – What’s Your Superpower?
John 19:16-30 – A Good Friday Meditation
John 20:19-23 – A Life of Purpose

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Job: A Journey through Suffering – Pt. VI (Job 42:7-17)

Note: I usually post an initial sketch on Monday or Tuesday of each week; then, I come back with a revised piece on Fridays. I hope my thoughts nourish your thoughts, that something here helps you think in the right direction for the congregation you serve. Cheers!


I. Introduction
We have had quite a journey through Job. It’s hard to imagine we began just six weeks ago—it seems like we have been with Job for months! We have followed him from the beginning when he confidently credited God with everything that happened around him…through discussions with his ‘friends.’ We listened with him as God responded to the accusations set before Him…all the way to Job’s final response—“I cannot understand it all.” Amazingly, through all of this, Job’s faith—his trust and confidence in God—has not wavered. His understanding of reality changed, his self-perception has changed, his understanding of God changed—but his faith IN God has remained unmovable. In this, we can admire and learn from Job.

Let’s go the Scriptures once more as we conclude this study of Job and see what we might find….

Scripture – Job 42:7-17
7After the Lord had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has. 8So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.” 9So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite did what the Lord told them; and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.
10After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. 11All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring.
12The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. 13And he also had seven sons and three daughters. 14The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second Keziah and the third Keren-Happuch. 15Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers.
16After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. 17And, so Job died, an old man and full of years.

Here, we find the bad advice of the friends brought to light…and the grace of God in dealing with the friends is clear—here’s how to make things right.

Job is surrounded with family, friends and neighbors…and he is blessed by them.

God restores all of Job’s fortunes and even gives Job a new family.

He lives a long life and comes to the end of his days.

And so the book of Job comes to a close.

Yet, as we come to the end of this series, one question remains…lingers…hovers in the background.
We have learned that God is not the author of suffering. We have affirmed the sovereignty—omnipotence—of God. We have affirmed the unchanging character of God. We have rejoiced in the goodness of God.

If God is not the author of suffering, why does our good, unchanging, all-powerful God allow suffering? Why does our God allow what harms, hurts, maims or kills?

Surely, He could end suffering with a word. Certainly, God could rescue any and all of us from our suffering in a second. Why does He allow suffering?

II. Where does Suffering come from?
Let’s look again at our definition of suffering:

Suffering is enduring, going through, experiencing a prolonged physical, mental and/or emotional pain as a result of illness, injury and/or loss.

Suffering is a result of ‘illness, injury and/or loss.’ In order to rid the world of suffering, God would have to remove illness, injury and loss from our lives. “GREAT!” we’d say, right? “God—do it! Get these things out of our lives!”

Yes, I’d agree.

But, we need to step back and ask why we have these things in our world in the first place. Why do we have illness, injury and loss in this world? Are these things that God in His unparalleled wisdom simply added to our world at the time of creation? Are these some of the things that God simply included in our ‘earth experience’ for some odd reason? No.

Of course, we have to go back to the beginning—again!—to remember why we have illness, injury and loss in our lives, back to the Garden…because that’s where all of these things came in.

Adam and Eve were created, placed in an amazing Garden that provided all of their needs and probably for all of their joy as well. Yet, God did NOT want His creation to be robots, automatons, so He gave humans the ability to chose, to decide…to rebel even—He gave humanity the gift of ‘free will.’ In the Garden, He placed a tree—one tree among the hundreds if not thousands—and asked His creation, the man and woman, not to eat of the fruit of that one tree. Its presence was the symbol of free will, of freedom. Without the option to chose, there would be no freedom, no free will, no decision to make with regard to trusting God.

You probably remember the story. Satan (or 'Evil' or 'Rebellion') was there, too, in the form of a snake…urging the couple to try just a bit of the fruit, “Surely you will not die as God has suggested…I mean, look, it’s a beautiful fruit…just one bite.” And the man and woman decided NOT to trust God, not to believe God, to do their own thing…and they ate the fruit. They sinned. They rebelled against God’s wishes and hopes and dreams for them. And sin entered the world.

Ah. There it is: Sin—the source of all our brokenness, our pain, our illness, our injury and our loss. And sin…it’s the result of our rebellion…and our rebellion a result of our free will, our God-given ability to decide if we will trust, believe in, follow and love God…or not.

In order for God to remove suffering from our lives, He would have to remove effect of sin that we brought into the world, and this would require removing the gift of free-will…the very thing that enables us to love God, to choose God, to follow Jesus.

III. Suffering on its head
God will not not suffering out of our lives…and if He did, we’d turn around tomorrow, sin again…and we’d have the suffering back again! So, what does God do with suffering?

We learned a few weeks ago from Paul that “suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope.” That is one positive thing the God does with suffering—He uses it to produce hope…to help us to reach farther, to look beyond where we are.

God uses also suffering to temper us a bit. When we see the suffering incurred by those who do not take care of themselves, those who have delved into the world of heroin and cocaine, those who have elected to live on the wild side of violence—when we see their suffering and/or the suffering endured by their families and loved ones, we are less likely to embrace those kinds of lives. Suffering in others can move us away from destructive behaviors and dangerous situations.

And, suffering expands our humanity.

How many of us saw the picture of the little boy, a victim of the civil war in Syria, sitting in the back of the ambulance? When we see his suffering, we are moved...we feel for the people of Syria who are enduring these horrors.

Many of us have seen the devastation in Louisiana due to the flooding. These people are enduring long-term pain from loss. They suffer. When we see their suffering, our hearts are softened…and we are moved to help, to reach out. Indeed, you have given above and beyond last week and this week to help the people of Louisiana.

When we see a loved one suffer, we suffer with them. When we see someone suffering as we have suffered—illness, injury or loss—we can feel for and with the person now going through suffering. Our humanity, our empathy, is expanded.

God takes suffering and makes it a positive force in our lives. Even in suffering, God’s Word remains true and faithful:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.  Romans 8:28 (NKJV)

All things. All things work together. All things work together for good. Even suffering.

IV. The Cross
There is no place that we see this more clearly than in the cross.

Suffering? Jesus suffered…like we can’t imagine. In this morning’s reading from Luke, Jesus sets his sights on Jerusalem even though he knows he is going there to suffer. He even tells his disciples that he is going to suffer.

And there, he endures public ridicule, beatings, a crown of thorns…and finally the most horrific form of execution the Romans can think of—crucifixion: Public humiliation as one is hung naked before the world; physical pain as nails pierce flesh and break bone…as the muscles exhaust themselves and the person slowly suffocates to death. Crucifixion was designed to be a slow, painful death…a suffering death.

God could have saved Jesus—His Son!—from this death, but He knew that only through this suffering death could we—you and I—be saved from our sins. In Jesus’ death, you and I have been given life.

V. Conclusion
As we come to the table today, we come with thankful hearts—through Jesus’ suffering, our sins are forgiven. We come with joy—through Jesus’ resurrection, we have hope for that day when all things will be made new.

As we prepare to come to the table today, let us consider anew the suffering that God endured through His Son…and give thanks that God has redeemed even the suffering of our lives. May our faith, like that of Job, ever remain constant.  May we recognize that our good, unchanging, all-powerful God is ever working all things together for good. Because, God is good…all the time.


Job: A Journey through Suffering, Pt. V (Job 41 & 42)

Note: I usually post an initial sketch on Monday or Tuesday of each week; then, I come back with a revised piece on Fridays. I hope my thoughts nourish your thoughts, that something here helps you think in the right direction for the congregation you serve. Cheers!


I. Introduction
We draw near to the end of this series on Job. We have learned much about suffering in this world, but I have been amiss. I have not defined suffering, and that’s a problem.

Not everything that ‘hurts’ is suffering. We have many things in this world that cause pain—some of it short-term, some of it long-term. Yet, not all of the pains in this life are “suffering.” Discomfort is not suffering. The young men and women in middle- and high-school who go out for football, basketball, cheer-leading, softball, band, color-guard and any other similar extra-curricular activity—all of these know what it means to hurt, to experience pain, to endure discomfort…but we wouldn’t label any of these as ‘suffering.’ There are times we engage is self-improvement—aerobics, weightlifting, running, continuing education, community service, etc.—and while these may include or result in pain and discomfort, would not label any of these as ‘suffering.’ Being disciplined in and of itself is not suffering. As parents—unless we want a house full of hellions—we must tell our children ‘no,’ we must correct their behavior through both positive (Yay! Good job!) and negative (‘smack!’) reinforcement, but in normal, healthy situations, we would not say that the children are suffering. There are indications in Scripture that God disciplines His children, but ‘discipline’ and ‘cause to suffer’ are two different things.

So what is suffering? How do we understand suffering?

Here is a working definition for us:

Suffering is enduring, going through, experiencing a prolonged physical, mental and/or emotional pain as a result of illness, injury and/or loss.

Key words here: enduring…prolonged…pain.

My dog, Tippy, was hit while crossing a busy highway. He sustained injury…it hurt, I’m sure…but he died very quickly. My father remarked, “Well, at least he didn’t suffer.” Suffering is about enduring prolonged pain…something we endure through time, whether a day, a week, a year, a decade. Many of us here know what it means to suffer.

And, Job has taught us that God is not the Author of suffering. So, while our God does not cause us to suffer, our loving God is able to turn the suffering inflicted upon us into an opportunity for spiritual growth, hope and faith.

Let us continue with our journey through Job. We join the story once again as God is talking to Job, answering Job’s challenge from chapter 31.

Scripture – Job 41:1-11
    [The Lord continued,]
1“Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook
    or tie down its tongue with a rope?
2Can you put a cord through its nose
    or pierce its jaw with a hook?
3Will it keep begging you for mercy?
    Will it speak to you with gentle words?
4Will it make an agreement with you
    for you to take it as your slave for life?
5Can you make a pet of it like a bird
    or put it on a leash for the young women in your house?
6Will traders barter for it?
    Will they divide it up among the merchants?
7Can you fill its hide with harpoons
    or its head with fishing spears?
8If you lay a hand on it,
    you will remember the struggle and never do it again!
9Any hope of subduing it is false;
    the mere sight of it is overpowering.
10No one is fierce enough to rouse it.
    Who then is able to stand against me?
11Who has a claim against me that I must pay?
    Everything under heaven belongs to me.

In this passage, as in the earlier passages (I do hope you take time to read Job all the way though some time), God reveals His power. Yet, He reveals more than His power. In these passages, God also reveals His interests, His areas of concern. And, perhaps surprising to Job, God cares for all of His creation. He’s interested in the earth, the oceans, the mountains, the rivers…He’s concerned about the lions, the ravens, the horses, the eagles…and He is concerned about people as well.

Interestingly, God never demeans or denigrates Job or humanity in general. He says and indicates things like, “You don’t understand; you don’t see it all”…and, “You’re not the center of the world, the only thing I care about.” But, we never hear God saying things like, “You’re a dunce! You don’t matter; You’re useless.” In all of this—in the face of the foolishness of humanity—God does not condemn the man for his ignorance. Rather, like a good Father, he strives to help Job see the truth of reality in a way he can understand it.

Leviathan? A sea monster from some uncertain time. We don’t really know what creature this is, but we get it—this is something with seemingly unstoppable, untamable power, something that everyone fears and dreads. Yet, in the end, this powerful beast, this symbol of all things frightening to human kind, is simply another part of God’s creation. God declares, “Everything under heaven belongs to me.”

What in our own lives seems ‘unstoppable,’ what power seems to threaten our lives and our dreams and goals? God whispers to us, “Everything under heaven belongs to me.” What person or situation in our lives seems like an untamable beast? God reminds us, “Everything under heaven belongs to me.”

III. Job’s Response
And finally, Job gets it. Job responds to the Almighty (Job 42:1-6:)

1Then Job replied to the Lord:
2“I know that you can do all things;
    no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
    Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me to know.
4“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.’
5My ears had heard of you
    but now my eyes have seen you.
6Therefore I despise myself
    and repent of the dust and ashes.”

Finally, Job gets it! God is God and he is not. There are things too wonderful to understand. God has a whole lot more going on that we see on the surface. God’s world and reality is bigger than US. There is a mystery to life that we just cannot see from this side.

God never explains to Job that the Satan was the one who brought all the grief and pain to his life. God never explains Himself to anyone! But, he helps Job see that there is far more to what is going on than we see.

And Job accepts it.

The final words are awkward in the Hebrew—translated in many different ways—but best rendered, I’m convinced—I repent of the dust and ashes. I’m done sitting here. I can do no more sitting here feeling sorry for myself, and I’m not going to understand it all. Ya me voy. I’m outta here.

IV. Jesus?
So, where do we find Jesus in all of this?

That’s the problem. Job lives 2000 years before Jesus…and we are reading this 2000 years after Jesus.

Job is doing the best he can in a pre-Christian world…in a world before Jesus…in a world before the indwelling Spirit of God.

We can have a far different experience from Job’s. We have the life and teachings of Jesus that show so much more than Job could ever see. We have the Spirit of Christ living in us, showing us, teaching us, reminding us, guiding us. We have the written Word of God—that shows us both the world of Job…and the world of Jesus—our world.

I said, “We can have….” There are some who chose to live ‘pre-Christian’ lives, to walk in the same darkness that Job walked in. In fact, they embrace the same twisted theology of Job and his friends…and sit around wondering in midst of their suffering, “Why is God doing this to me?” We have many who have chosen to remain in that pre-Christian world.

Others of us have embrace Jesus, we have heard his voice, we have followed him, and we now live in the Christian reality. We know that suffering is part of a broken world, a sinful world. We don’t even have to sin to suffer—it just comes to us for living in this brokenness. BUT, we don’t sit in dust and ashes. We don’t wonder if God loves us or cares for us. We don’t sit around in self-pity. We experience the pain, the agony at times, of suffering. BUT, we have a hope that carries us through. 

We have a Lord who walks with us. We have God’s Spirit who comforts us. We have God’s word that consoles us.

V. Conclusion
Where are you living? Are you living in Job’s world…or in Jesus’ world? Are you blaming God for everything messed up in your life? Are you convinced that God is angry at you and is punishing you for….something!?

Or, have you heard the Word of God? Have you heard the gentle whisper of God’s love for you? Have you noticed that Jesus wants to walk with you in all areas of your life? Have you begun to plumb the depth of wisdom in God’s Word—wisdom for daily living that will help us make better decisions? Have you tried to hear the Spirit’s voice in prayer? Have you silenced the world around, disconnected, turned off the phone, shut-down the computer…for just 10 minutes…and listened for that ‘still small voice’? Have you committed to reading and hearing the words of Jesus in the Gospels?

The choice is before you today. Stay in Job’s world…or step into Jesus’ world? It is as simple as that—an act of faith, a step of faith, a leap of faith…a determination to believe that God loves us, accepts us, wants more than anything to walk with us…and eventually to bring us safely home to Himself.
Job or Jesus? May today be your day of deciding to follow Jesus. After our prayer, as we sing, I invite you to step out in faith, come to the prayer-rail, and recommit your life to Jesus. If you would like, you may come to me—I will be oh so happy to pray with you and for you as you give your life anew to Jesus.


Job: A Journey through Suffering - Part IV (Job 31:35-37; 38:1-41)

Note: I usually post an initial sketch on Monday or Tuesday of each week; then, I come back with a revised piece on Fridays. I hope my thoughts nourish your thoughts, that something here helps you think in the right direction for the congregation you serve. Cheers!


I. Introduction
We are half-way through this journey with Job—an interesting journey to be sure! As we get to this point, let’s take a moment to look back on what we’ve learned from Job about this thing called suffering: 

·       Suffering – common to all of us as people, though in various forms.
·       Suffering – NOT from God; from Satan, our bad decisions, a broken world.
·       Suffering – more bearable when we share the pain with others, with friends.
·       Suffering – may be a good time to talk to the sufferer about God; always a good time to talk to God about the one suffering: We pray for those who suffer.
·       Suffering – can bring us closer to God; opens our ears to hear God.
·       Suffering – produces perseverance, character and, ultimately, hope!

Today, we continue our journey with the man Job through the book of Job. The man Job cries out to God for justice, for an answer….

Scripture – Job 31:35-37
35“Oh, that I had someone to hear me!
    I sign now my defense—let the Almighty answer me;
    let my accuser put his indictment in writing.
36Surely I would wear it on my shoulder,
    I would put it on like a crown.
37I would give him an account of my every step;
    I would present it to him as to a ruler.

Job is frustrated. His friends keep telling him that his suffering is a product of his own sin, that he has somehow offended God. Job has examined his life, looked at it from every angle, turned it upside-down, but he cannot find this supposed offense. He is still operating from his friends’ perspective—God rewards the good and punishes the bad.

Job is about to learn what Jesus’ disciples learned from him some 2000 years later. The world is NOT set up on this good/bad, reward/punishment scale. In fact, if we were to really and truly think about it, would we really want things to work this way? Do we really want the world to function on this kind of justice? Oh, it’s so easy to want it when we see ISIS and violence and injustice around us…but do we want to God to deal with us personally this way? Do I really want God to step in and deal out punishment and suffering on me every time I think and act selfishly? Do I really want suffering every time I short-cut the law or outwit my competitors in business through some “if-y” loophole? Do I want God to send fire and desert winds on me when I arrogantly think myself better than those around me? Do I want God to pin me down with illness and rob me of family and income because I’ve committed a sin against Him or someone else? No way. When it comes to me, I want grace, pardon, forgiveness. I only want that other law when someone sins against me, mine or my world.

But, Job is where he is. He makes his case before God. He refutes his guilt. Listen to these words from the same chapter:

5“If I have walked with falsehood
    or my foot has hurried after deceit—
9“If my heart has been enticed by a woman,
    or if I have lurked at my neighbor’s door…
13“If I have denied justice to any of my servants,
    whether male or female, when they had a grievance against me…
16“If I have denied the desires of the poor
    or let the eyes of the widow grow weary…
24“If I have put my trust in gold
    or said to pure gold, ‘You are my security’…
29“If I have rejoiced at my enemy’s misfortune
    or gloated over the trouble that came to him….

“If, if, if…IF I had done any of these things, God would have a right to punish me, but I am blameless!” says Job.

So, what is GOING ON?!?

That brings us to Job’s cry:
35“Oh, that I had someone to hear me!
    I sign now my defense—let the Almighty answer me;

And God does.

II. God Answers Job
Let’s just hear what God has to say…. (Job 38:1-11; 31-41)

1Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:
2“Who is this that obscures my plans
    with words without knowledge?
3Brace yourself like a man;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.
4“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
5Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone—
7while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels shouted for joy?
8“Who shut up the sea behind doors
    when it burst forth from the womb,
9when I made the clouds its garment
    and wrapped it in thick darkness,
10when I fixed limits for it
    and set its doors and bars in place,
11when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
    here is where your proud waves halt’?

31“Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades?
    Can you loosen Orion’s belt?
32Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons
    or lead out the Bear with its cubs?
33Do you know the laws of the heavens?
    Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?
34“Can you raise your voice to the clouds
    and cover yourself with a flood of water?
35Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?
    Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?
36Who gives the ibis wisdom
    or gives the rooster understanding?
37Who has the wisdom to count the clouds?
    Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens
38when the dust becomes hard
    and the clods of earth stick together?
39“Do you hunt the prey for the lioness
    and satisfy the hunger of the lions
40when they crouch in their dens
    or lie in wait in a thicket?
41Who provides food for the raven
    when its young cry out to God
    and wander about for lack of food?

As I read these words, I am reminded of what God says to Isaiah in Isaiah 55:8-9:
“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.

Job (and we!) has no clue about the greatness, the power, of God. We are mere specks of dust on the face of one of one billion balls of rock floating in a universe that we have no way of understanding. Oh, scientists make out like they know so much, but it’s mainly guess-work and hope and good intention. But does anyone really know where we have come from, how we hold together, and where we are going? Our best and brightest scientists talk about a “Big Bang”…but none of them dare to speculate what caused that ‘bang’ or why all the matter of the universe gathered in one place. Their ideas only go back so far…but our God goes back even farther.

Who is this God? Thankfully, in these words from God found here in Job an image of the Creator and Sustainer of all things emerges. God is a Maker, Giver, Builder and Provider…not a destroyer, killer, an ‘unmaker.’

III. Jesus as God’s Image
Jump with me to the New Testament for a moment. Paul has some very important words for us as we strive to get this image of God into our minds.

In his letter to the Christians in Colossae, Paul writes these words as he strives to help them understand more about both God the Father and Jesus Christ:

15The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (1:15-20)

According to Paul, Jesus—the Son—is the image of the invisible God. And when we think of Jesus, when we see Jesus in the Gospels, what do we find there? Do we find a destroyer? A killer? A peddler of suffering and pain? An unmaker?

In Jesus we find a maker, a healer, a restorer, a guide, a teacher, a friend. He has opportunities throughout his ministry to act out that law of good/bad, reward/punishment. He has plenty of chances to bring suffering to the evil and bad. But, no. He could have called down armies of angels to deal with those who meted out injustice. He could have just as easily cast disease on the evil ones. But, no.

In our New Testament reading today, we get a glimpse of God and the ways of God:

43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ (reward/punish!) 44But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48).

Jesus here gives us his own understanding of the ways of God. He calls us to be like the Father… ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute us’—sharing good and blessings with all…regardless of their goodness or righteousness (right-ness). And, not only is God like this, Jesus calls us to do the same!

IV. One and the Same God
Jesus is maker, healer, giver, provider…the image of the invisible God.

As we began this study, we affirmed our belief in the sovereignty of God. Today, let us also affirm our belief in the unchanging nature of God’s character.  If that is so, and if Jesus is the image of God…then the God we see in Jesus is the same God we find in the book of Job. And that image of God reveals a ‘good’ God.

If you saw the recent list on FB about Methodists, one of the commonalities among Methodists is our recognition of the goodness of God. In fact, we have a little practice common to our churches:

               God is good…all the time; all the time…God is good!

Let’s try that again—GOD IS GOOD! (All the time!)  ALL THE TIME! (God is good!)

This is not only fun to practice, but it also reveals a truth we need to lay hold of. When we see Jesus, we know this is true. Job is learning that this true….

V. Conclusion
My brothers and my sisters in Christ, we have got to latch on to this idea—the Goodness of God. We cannot be led astray by the Satan, by bad theologies, by well-intentioned but mis-guided teachings. Our God is GOOD. He is MAKER, BUILDER, SUSTAINER, PROVIDER!

As we go into this new week—in spite of the struggles we face with school traffic tomorrow morning, the frustrations—teachers—that you encounter in the classrooms this week, the difficulties—students!—you face in the classrooms this week or this semester, the trouble—parents!—you have getting those kiddos out the door each morning, the day-to-day challenges—business men and women—you face in the work place and on the work-site, the roller-coaster husbands and wives experience in their relationships—as we go into this week, let us face the hardships with ‘clear eyes’ knowing that God is not the source of our problems. Rather, God is the answer to our problems…because GOD IS GOOD (All the Time!)…ALL THE TIME! (God is Good!)

When you face the trials, struggles, tensions and sufferings that come to you this week, this month, this year, claim the truth: God is Good…all the time. When you get confused as to who’s causing what in your life, and you get turned around like Job thinking the bad stuff is from God, claim the truth: God is Good…all the time. And remember that our good God goes with us, hears us, strengthens us…and never forsakes us.

This, my friends, is God’s Good News for us today.


Job: A Journey through Suffering, Pt. III (Job 14:7-15)

Note: I usually post an initial sketch on Monday or Tuesday of each week; then, I come back with a revised piece on Fridays. I hope my thoughts nourish your thoughts, that something here helps you think in the right direction for the congregation you serve. Cheers!


I. Introduction
We began our journey through Job just three weeks ago, a journey through suffering. We all experience suffering, pain, loss, hurt. And, we all want explanations. If we can figure what causes the pain in our lives, we might be able to avoid the suffering…lessen the suffering.

Job the man dealt with pain and suffering. As we go through the book of Job, as we walk along with Job (and his ‘friends’), we gain a deeper and better understanding of both suffering and faithful living.

At the beginning of the book, Job loses his property, his herds, and his family—his children. In the face of all his loss, he mistakenly thinks that God is the author of his suffering and declares, “The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!”

He has it half right. The Lord does give, does bless…but what was taken from Job was taken by the Satan.

We may or may not get things ‘half right,’ but we often get things upside-down. How many times have we moaned when things didn’t go our way, “Why is God doing this to me?!” Our son, Andrew, was learning to ride his scooter when he was three or four years old. He had practiced a route that ran from the driveway, around the big oak tree and down the sidewalk in front of the house. He had done it time and again…and one day, we were outside with the video camera. “Dad, record this!” So I did. As he rounded the tree, his little front wheel fell right into a crack and stopped dead. My son and the rest of scooter spilled over head-first smack on to the sidewalk. He came up wailing. As we consoled him, he declared, “God made me do it!” Grateful for the theological moment, I steered him in a better direction.

But, some folks never grow out of that—when bad things come along, they cry out, “Why is God doing this to me!”

Perhaps just as bad as blaming God for every hurt and pain, when good things come along in life, we tend to take a deep breath, put on a little swagger, and declare, “Man, I am GOOD!” That special someone agrees to go out on a date, and it’s, “Yeah, I’m the man!” We work a good deal on something we need—a car, a fridge, a suit—and it’s, “I can deal it, I can deal it!” For some strange, mixed up reason, we think we’re good…or great! We think we make the good things happen in our lives.

We have things so upside-down. The bad is from God, the good is from our own amazing selves? In a right-side-up world, we would recognize that “every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of heavenly lights,” and every pain, mess, disaster grows out of the work of Satan, our own foolishness, or the brokenness of this world.

Job the book teaches us that God is the Author of all things good…and that there are forces—spiritual forces—in this world that wish us any and every harm, and that our own decisions leads us to disaster at times.

Today, we resume our study of Job. Let’s see what God has to teach us today….

Scripture: Job 14:7-15 (NIV)
7“At least there is hope for a tree: If it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail.
8Its roots may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil, 9 yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant.
10 But a man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more.
11As the water of a lake dries up or a riverbed becomes parched and dry, 12so he lies down and does not rise; till the heavens are no more, people will not awake or be roused from their sleep.
13“If only you would hide me in the grave and conceal me till your anger has passed! If only you would set me a time and then remember me!
14If someone dies, will they live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come.
15You will call and I will answer you; you will long for the creature your hands have made.

II. A Shift—from Lament to…?
Vs. 7-9: Job considers a tree. Job points out that the tree seems to find new life even after it seems dead. 

I saw this to be true very recently, in fact. When we returned from youth camp, I noticed that there had been small fire at the edge of a field near the Stripes down near where we live. The land was scorched black. I remember thinking, “Ah…bad time for that in the middle of the dry season—that’ll be there until the next rains in September.” I was wrong. Just this week as I passed that patch of ground, I was surprised and pleased to see that new grass had sprouted, the mesquite tree there was covered in green leaves, and other weeds were slowly covering over the scar of the fire. Evidently, the fire had burned off the surface of the ground, but the roots and seeds in the ground were still there. Job was right—these plants and trees can return with new life.

Vs. 10-13 – Job considers humankind.
But, people? No new life there! Once we are knocked down, once we’re stripped of life, there is no renewal. When we’re done, we’re done. When we’re burned out and cut down, we humans don’t tend to rise again. And, we can easily imagine that Job feels burned out, stripped bare, cut down…and he senses that when he is dead, he will be dead.

BUT…in  vs. 14-15 – We sense a change…a shift. Job realizes that he is NOT dead yet. He may be sitting in ashes, but he is not completely burned out. His world has been cut down…but he is not cut down completely. He has voice, he has thought…and as long as he is alive, he has HOPE! The tree may live again and humankind may find no new life…but, AS LONG AS I LIVE, THERE IS HOPE!
We hear this again clearly later in Job’s discourse (Job 19):

23“Oh, that my words were recorded, that they were written on a scroll,
24that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead, or engraved in rock forever!
25I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
26And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God;
27I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!

In the midst of his sorrow, loss and suffering, Job holds on to HOPE. In fact, we should not even be surprised. He is a man of faith…and a large measure of faith has to do with hope. Do you know the words Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome?

“…We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

Suffering produces perseverance which produces character which produces hope! Job knows what suffering is…his suffering resulted in perseverance…character and…Hope! His journey through the darkness, the loss and pain has brought him to a new place. Job has HOPE! And hope…well, hope is everything.

III. The Power of Hope
Patrick Seger was the Samaritan’s Purse team leader in the Philippines for the first month after Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. “It’s been said that a person can live 40 days without food, four days without water, four minutes without air, but only four seconds without hope. Why? Hope provides the power that energizes us with life. Hope is a powerful thing. It keeps us going when times are tough. It creates excitement in us for the future. It gives us reason to live. It gives us strength and courage.”

Also in 2013, Time magazine published an article called “How Hope Works.” The author points to scientific data, psychological experiments…and the very real, everyday experiences of people to show first of all that there is a direct link between HOPE and work productivity & academic achievement. The author points out that hope is NOT the same as wishing. Hope is a deliberate process that recognizes where one is…where one wants to be…and a willingness to take the steps to get from one place to the other. In the studies, they found that people with a higher level of hope had a greater tolerance for discomfort, inconvenience…and suffering. Hope has power!

In 2015, The New York Times published “The Power of Hope is Real.” The author points to multinational studies that have shown that people who are stressed, impoverished and hopeless can have their lives turned around when they are given hope. While Karl Marx, one of the founders of the communist movement, once said that ‘religion is the opiate of the people,’ these studies found quite the opposite…that religion—a hope-filled religion—is the amphetamine of the people! In the end of the study, what did they discover works to lift people out of extreme poverty? The power of hope!

These 21st Century writers, newspapers, magazines, and studies all serve to confirm what the Scriptures told us 2000 years ago. Hope gives life. Hope carries us through suffering.

IV. A Faith of Hope
Jesus is the author of hope for us. What could we do without God’s forgiveness? What could we expect without the work of Jesus on the Cross? Who would we be today if not for the life-changing faith that God gives us in Christ Jesus? Jesus’ call to repentance is a call of hope—we can change! Jesus’ call to discipleship is a call of hope—we can live differently. Jesus’ call to mission (“Go therefore into all the world….”) is a call of hope—we can change the world…as God’s people.

V. Conclusion
So, where has Job taken us today? We see that even in the midst of suffering, even when we feel we may have lost EVERYTHING, there is still a place for hope. In fact, Paul reminds us that hope comes out of suffering. We see where we are. We see where we need to be. We determine to do whatever is necessary to get from point A to point B—and hope is born. As Christians living three or four thousand years after Job, we know that two of the greatest things we can do as followers of Jesus: 1) Hold on to the hope within our own lives; 2) sow seeds of hope in the lives of others—help them to see that our God is a God of change, that change is possible. What is your hope? What seems ‘hopeless’ in your life? Where there is hope, there is possibility.


Job: A Journey through Suffering - Pt. II (Job 3:1-10)

Note: I usually post an initial sketch on Monday or Tuesday of each week; then, I come back with a revised piece on Fridays. I hope my thoughts nourish your thoughts, that something here helps you think in the right direction for the congregation you serve. Cheers!


I. Introduction
Last week, we began a this journey with Job, a journey towards understanding more about suffering—in the world, in our lives. The opening chapter of Job gave us two truths that can help us endure the suffering, the pain, the hurt of this world: first, God is not the Author of suffering; and, second, God allows the suffering because God has faith in us. This world—created by our omnipotent, all-powerful God—came with two things that bring us suffering…the Satan (the Adversary, the Accuser) and free-will—a free will that has led to a ‘broken world,’ a world beset by suffering. These truths help us in that we know that our suffering is not some move by a capricious God out to torment us, and we know that there IS one in this realm who wants us to suffer. Knowing WHERE the suffering comes from helps us to walk more confidently, faithfully, trustingly as God’s people.

Let’s see where this journey takes us today as we look at the third chapter of Job.

Scripture: Job 3:1-10 (NIV)
1After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. 2He said:
3“May the day of my birth perish, and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’
4That day—may it turn to darkness; may God above not care about it; may no light shine on it.
5May gloom and utter darkness claim it once more; may a cloud settle over it; may blackness overwhelm it.
6That night—may thick darkness seize it; may it not be included among the days of the year nor be entered in any of the months.
7May that night be barren; may no shout of joy be heard in it.
8May those who curse days curse that day, those who are ready to rouse Leviathan.
9May its morning stars become dark; may it wait for daylight in vain and not see the first rays of dawn, 10for it did not shut the doors of the womb on me to hide trouble from my eyes.

First all, we hear some very different words from what we heard from Job last week.
When the raiders, soldiers, fires and winds robbed him of his vast flocks and herds and children, how did our faithful man respond?

    The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

What happened to his calm response? What happened to his non-committal answer?

Well, let’s catch up with the rest of the story….

Between Chapter 1 and Chapter 3, even more has happened. The Satan—Adversary, Accuser—returned to God yet again with a complaint and a challenge.

“Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.”

We then find Job covered with sores, from head to toe, sitting in ashes, scraping his skin with a shard of pottery. Even his wife is so horrified by the scene that she begs him, “Curse God and die already!”
He responds, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

Job still thinks the “trouble” of his life is from God. Though his theology and worldview are flawed, his faith, his trust, is real and powerful. I mean, to believe that the horrors of one’s life are from God…and to remain faithful to that God? That IS trust!

Then, his three friends arrive—
Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.

II. Three Friends
The three friends come and sit with Job, sit in silence…they hurt with him, they suffer with him for seven days. This is good. This is what friends do. They come in the moment of need, they come alongside us in the midst of pain…and they hurt with us. For this, the three friends of Job must be admired.

Then they open their mouths—and it all falls apart.

They—with best intentions!—begin to offer advice…advice that is based on their faulty, cause-and-effect theology, a theology that says that God rewards good and punishes bad. If we’re suffering—according to their theology—then it’s because of sin in our lives...and that’s what they tell Job. However, we have already seen clearly in Chapters 1 & 2 that the suffering in Job’s life is not from God but from the Adversary. These friends would also agree whole-heartedly with Job’s declaration in chapter 1: The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.

How do we apply that to the seven-year-old girl at my friends’ church who was at VBS one day…and two weeks later died of an amazingly aggressive disease? How do we say such words to the parents whose child is suddenly snatched by an alligator at Disney World? How can we utter such words to the families of officers cut down in a moment of madness in Dallas? How do we quote these words to the family in our own community whose son, brother took his own life just a few weeks ago? Really? The LORD did all of these things? The LORD God, the Author of life, the Creator, committed these horrific acts? Blame disease, blame inadequate signage, blame an unbalanced veteran, blame mental illness, blame the brokenness of our world, blame the Adversary…but STOP BLAMING GOD for the evil and suffering of this world!

These well-meaning friends do talk to Job about God. But, they never get around to talking to God about Job. True friends pray for one another. They bring the hurts and pains of those they love before God.

This last week, Denise, one of our faithful members in the 9am service found herself quite suddenly in the hospital facing surgery. One of the first things she and her husband did was to contact me…and ask me to pray. The day of the surgery, she asked that we put a post on FB asking people to pray. In our moments of pain and need and hurt, we want people to pray for us. It may or may not be a time to talk to the person in need about God, but it is always the right time to talk to God about the person in need.

III. Job’s Lament
So, that catches us up to chapter 3 and Job’s lament. He is crushed, empty, hurt. And he lets us know it. He allows his feelings to rise to the top. He is honest—painfully honest. His pain is so great, his loss so incredible, he wishes he were never born. I think he makes that very clear!

How do we react in our suffering?

Too many times I’ve seen Christians who carry around this false piety or misguided teaching that says something like, “I have Christ in my life; I have to be ‘up’ all the time!” Have you known those folks? Nothing is ever bad or wrong. Never will they let their guard down. They put on a smile…and not even the horrors of Job’s life will wipe it off their faces.

Job teaches us a different way. He shows us that it is okay to hurt, to mourn, to suffer out loud.
How do you react to suffering—your own or someone else’s?

Are we honest—like Job—or do we say what we think we should say?

Job’s honest lament, his candid response, allows us to bring our deepest hurts, fears, and anger to God, knowing that He will hear us…and love us.

IV. Jesus on Suffering           
In our New Testament reading this morning (John 9:1-5), Jesus’ disciples ask him, “Why is this man blind—because of his sin or his parent’s sin?”

They are still disciples of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, still thinking that if someone is sick or hurt or suffering, it’s because they have sinned. Jesus is very clear in his answer. He’s blind because he’s blind—no blame to go around. BUT, God can work in the midst of the sickness, pain and suffering of our lives. In fact, when those times come, God’s usually gets more of our attention than on those sunny, care-free days of life.

Who of us has not found ourselves sick—the flu or worse—and suddenly our prayer-life moves up to the next level! When we lived in Venezuela, I contracted dengue fever—also called ‘bone-break fever.’ The pain was so excruciating—I didn’t curse the day of my birth, but I did pray for the Lord to take me, to just let me die! I can promise you, my prayer life went from a four to a ten in no time flat!
God does not cause illness, God does not cast pain and hurt and loss into our lives, God does not rob us of health and happiness—He, as Scripture tells us time and again, is the Author of life and hope and goodness! There is an Adversary, the Satan, who is crouching in wait to devour us. We do live in a broken world that includes illness, sickness, injury, and heartbreak. Our own free-will brings us to self-destructive, harmful decisions. BUT, God is there to care for us, to hear us, to bring healing, to bring hope, to give us strength.

In our New Testament reading, God used a young man’s blindness to reveal the truth of God in Christ Jesus…to open spiritual eyes of the people around this man…and two thousand years later, to open our spiritual eyes.

V. Conclusion
Job is teaching us a lot!

·       Suffering, pain, hurt and death are not gifts that God gives—quit blaming God for bad stuff in your life.

·       There is a very real spiritual force arrayed against us in the Adversary, the Satan—blame him!
·       Friends can be an amazing source of comfort—don’t pass up the chance to be with someone in their moment of pain and suffering.

·       When your friends and loved ones are in pain, don’t just talk to them about God; talk to God about them.

·       When we are in pain, it’s okay to cry out, to scream, to yell, to lament—pain and suffering are part and parcel of this world…and we do well to express it. God can take it. In fact, God often speaks to our hearts most clearly when we are in those times of pain, suffering and hurt.

Today, we come to the table to remember One who has suffered beyond anything we can imagine. And, he suffered not because he was evil or wrong or bad. He suffered for us, suffered that we might know and have life through him. It’s a mystery. Somehow, the work of Jesus on the Cross made a way for us to know God and become a part of God’s family and God’s mission to the world…a mission of hope, peace, grace…of love.

Let us prepare our hearts as we remember what Jesus has done for us (Communion Sunday).