Jesus, life, sermon

Job

The very beginning of Job chapter 1 tells us that  Job was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. 

He had such a healthy fear of God that when his sons held family feasts to celebrate their birthdays, he would get up early the next morning and sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them – just in case one of them sinned and cursed God in their hearts.

That’s the kind of man he was – He sacrificed for his children – acted as their priest – every single time they feasted.

Meanwhile in heaven, the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan showed up. 

The Lord asked Satan, “Where have you been?”

“I’ve been surveying the earth.”

“Have you seen Job? There is no one on earth as blameless and upright as he.”

“Of course he’s blameless and upright,” Satan hissed, “You’ve given him nothing but protection and blessings. Take it all away and he will curse you to your face.”

“Go ahead then, take everything I’ve given him,” the Lord replied,  “but don’t lay a finger on his body.”

So when Job’s sons and daughters were gathered at the oldest brother’s house feasting and drinking wine, a messenger came to Job and cried, “All of your oxen and donkeys have been stolen and all of your ranch hands have been killed!”

Another messenger came: “Fire has fallen from heaven and burned up all your sheep and shepherds!’

A third messenger reported, “Raiders have made off with all your camels and all their caretakers have been killed!”

Yet another messenger hurried in with horrific news, “The roof of your son’s house has collapsed and all your sons and daughters are dead!”

Job tore his robe and shaved his head, fell to the ground in worship and said:

“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.”

“In all this,” Scripture says,  “Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”

Satan basically accused Job of loving God for His money.

But when the money was gone, when his children and his employees and his livestock –  all his wealth – were gone,  Job continued to praise.

You would think that Job’s praise would have shut the accuser up – proved that Job loved God for who He is and not for what He could give him.

Except the accuser doesn’t shut up.  We all have first hand knowledge of that.

Instead of shutting up, he showed up at another angelic staff meeting.

Again the Lord said to him, “Where have you come from?”

Again Satan answered, “I’ve been out surveying the earth.” 

Apparently that’s what he does.  Peter said he prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

“Did you see Job?,” the Lord asked,  “he still maintains his integrity, even though you incited me to ruin him for no reason.”

Integrity is an important word to this story.

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines integrity as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.”  The second definition is “the state of being whole and undivided.”  It’s to have all parts of your life integrated and consistent.  To be the same on the inside and the outside, in public and in private.

Even after all of his tragic losses, Job remained consistent and God was proud of him.

“Anyone can maintain their integrity after losing their stuff,” the accuser spat, “but strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

“Very well, take his health, too; but you must spare his life.”

So Satan afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.

And there was nothing for Job to do but sit among the ashes scraping himself with a piece of broken pottery. Remember the itchy misery of chicken pox?

Seeing him sitting there, his wife had had enough. “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

But Job was committed to God in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. 

He replied to his wife.

“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

Again Scripture reports, “In all his suffering he did not sin in what he said.”

Four of Job’s friends heard what happened and went to comfort him.

When they saw him from a distance, they hardly recognized him; they began to weep, they tore their robes, sprinkled dust on their heads and got down in the ashes with him. 

For seven days and nights they sat with him and no one said a word because they saw how great his suffering was.

And then, after seven silent days,  Job opened his mouth and wondered why he had ever been born.

Once he broke the silence, his friend, Eliphaz, dared to speak.

“Think how you have instructed many,
how you have always strengthened and supported those who stumble
But now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged;
Shouldn’t you be confident in your piety, 
shouldn’t your blameless ways be your hope?”

Eliphaz started well, with words we all want to hear in our distress – “You’re a good person, you don’t deserve this.”

My dad spoke those words to me over the phone when my first husband left. “You are a fine Christian woman, you don’t deserve this.”  And, bless his compassionate heart, he left it that.

But Eliphaz’s words of comfort quickly turned to condemnation.

“Or maybe you’re not so blameless… in my experience,” he continued, “you reap what you sow.”

“So even though it appears that you’re an upstanding citizen on the outside, there must be some hidden sin on the inside. 

Only the wicked suffer, after all, and you’re suffering, therefore you must be wicked.”

Then, to his faulty logic Eliphaz added a spiritual gut punch:

“A word was secretly brought to me,
my ears caught a whisper of it.
Amid disquieting dreams in the night,
when deep sleep falls on people,
fear and trembling seized me
and made all my bones shake.

A spirit glided past my face,
and the hair on my body stood on end.
It stopped,
but I could not tell what it was.

A form stood before my eyes,
and I heard a hushed voice:
‘Can a mortal be more righteous than God?
Can even a strong man be more pure than his Maker?”

Eliphaz assumed that the presence that came into his room and gave him insight was God, but I don’t think it was.

Because God doesn’t accuse.  The accuser accuses.

And God doesn’t twist the truth.

The twister of truth twists the truth.

Job never claimed to be more righteous than God, to be more pure than his Maker.  Job’s words and actions clearly showed that he knew his humble position.

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.”

“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

He sacrificed for his children after every party for crying out loud, you can’t get more aware of your need for atonement than that.

Job never claimed to be more righteous than God yet here’s the snake in the dark shadows of Eliphaz’s bedroom hissing and twisting and accusing and planting seeds of condemnation.

You gotta’ feel for Job.  He has lost everything, he’s covered in itchy, oozy sores and now his “friend” is saying that he brought it all on himself.  Hinting that the problem might be his self-righteousness.

It’s ironic that the accuser would plant that particular prejudice against Job in Eliphaz’s mind when the whole reason he got booted from heaven was because he wanted to be above God.

When we point a finger at another, we’re pointing three back at ourselves.

Job replied, “Seriously?  That’s how you are going to respond to the magnitude of my suffering? Give me specific examples of my sin and self-righteousness and I’ll be quiet. But don’t make accusations without proof, my integrity is at stake.”

And then, because his friend got into his head, Job turned his attention to God.

“What is mankind that you make so much of us,
that you give us so much attention,(scrutinize us so closely)
and test us at every moment?

Will you never look away from me,
or let me alone even for an instant?
If I have sinned, tell me what I have done,
you who see everything we do.”

For the next 3 chapters Job lamented his misery and wondered what he did wrong. Have you ever been there?  I have.  When my first husband left.

Eliphaz (with Satan’s help) played into Job’s fear of offending God, he exploited his fastidiousness, leaving  Job crushed under the weight of what he thinks is God’s condemning gaze.

But what Job and his friends don’t know is what transpired in heaven between God and Satan.

Job’s confusion and Eliphaz’s condemnation are all based on a lack of information.

That’s something we should remember when we are in the midst of a spiritual struggle – or a relationship struggle or a work situation:

When things don’t add up, there is more to the equation.

His second friend, Bildad spoke up.

“How long will you maintain your innocence when clearly you are lying?
God doesn’t pervert justice, therefore if you are suffering it must be warranted.

Case in point, your children.  Clearly they all sinned or they wouldn’t all be dead.

But if you will seek God earnestly and confess
And if you are pure and upright,
He will restore you to your prosperous state.”

OMG.  His children were all crushed under the roof of his eldest son’s house at a birthday party and this “friend” is saying it was because of their sin?

If I were Job, and if I weren’t weak with fever and grief, I might have grabbed Bildad’s neck.

Instead Job answered, 

“Indeed, I know that I should plead with God,
But how can mere mortals prove their innocence before God? 

His wisdom is profound, his power is vast.
Who has resisted him and come out unscathed?

Though I were innocent, I could not answer him;
I could only plead with my Judge for mercy.

If it is a matter of strength, he is mighty!
And if it is a matter of justice, who can challenge him?

Even if I were innocent, my mouth would condemn me;
if I were blameless, it would pronounce me guilty.”

Then Zophar, jumped on the condemnation bandwagon:

He, too, had been listening to Job with prejudiced ears. He too was offended by Job’s claim of innocence. 

What all three friends failed to hear is that when Job claimed to be innocent, he wasn’t claiming to be perfect or more righteous than God.

He was saying that he didn’t do anything to warrant complete devastation.

It’s like when some friends from my young marrieds Sunday school class called after my husband left wondering what I did.  Some were looking for scandal, some were looking for rhyme and reason – assurance that a random abandonment wouldn’t happen to them.

When I answered, “I didn’t do anything.” I didn’t mean I was perfect or blameless, I meant I didn’t do anything to warrant being abandoned – I didn’t have an affair, for example – as one of my callers had.  By Job’s friends’ logic her husband should have been gone, not mine.

Zophar said, “Do you really think you’re going to win this argument when it’s three against one and you are clearly wrong because you’re the one covered in sores?

I won’t sit back and listen to you mock God.
You say to God, ‘My beliefs are flawless
and I am pure in your sight.’

Oh, how I wish that God would speak,
that he would open his lips against you.”

Do you ever wish God would open His mouth and speak against someone when you are convinced that you are right and he/she is wrong?

Be careful with that because God did eventually open his mouth and speak against someone, but it wasn’t Job!

“Surely he recognizes deceivers,” Zophar continued,
“and when he sees evil, he takes note.

Yet if you devote your heart to him
and stretch out your hands to him,
if you put away the sin that is in your hand
then, free of fault, you will lift up your face;
you will stand firm and without fear.”

“THERE IS NO SIN IN MY HAND!”

Job was sick of the pat, spiritual answers that didn’t apply to his situation. He was sick of judgment parading as concern.  He was sick of insult being heaped on his injury.

 He replied to Zophar,

“You are miserable comforters, all of you!”

Tell me something I don’t know, something that will actually help.

What’s your problem that you insist I admit to some grave sin?

“I also could speak like you,
if you were in my place;
I could make fine speeches against you
and shake my head at you.
But I wouldn’t, I would speak words of comfort and encouragement.”

They all knew that was true because that was the first thing Eliphaz said when the silence was broken – “you’ve always strengthened and lifted up the faltering.”

Yet on him they heaped condemnation – all because the accuser whispered in Eliphaz’s ear and took control of the narrative.  If Eliphaz hadn’t been the first to speak would the others have been so quick to pile on?

Job, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar went ‘round and around for 28 chapters.  It’s a long thread.

Job turned his thoughts to the good old days:

“when people listened to him expectantly,
waiting in silence for his counsel.
For his words to fall gently on their ears.

To the days when people were thrilled to receive his smile, when the light of his face was precious to them.

Back to the days when he dwelt as a king among his troops;
When he was like one who comforts mourners.”

When he was treated with respect.

“But now,” he said, “my skin grows black and peels;
my body burns with fever.”

And after lamenting for quite awhile more, the words of Job ended.

Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar’s words ended, too.  There was no point in arguing with Job since he was clearly right in his own eyes and not willing to repent.

Young Elihu, who had been silent up until now, was angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. He was also angry with the three friends, because they had failed to refute Job, and yet had condemned him.  They could produce no solid evidence against him but they still convicted him – all because of their faulty understanding of his situation, their prejudices against him and their limited understanding of God.  

(If you give each friend’s arguments a close reading, you will see their particular prejudices and jealousies bubble to the surface.)

Elihu started by saying something similar to what Eliphaz said:

“God speaks in various ways,
though no one perceives it.

In a dream, in a vision of the night,
when deep sleep falls on people
as they slumber in their beds,
he may speak in their ears
and terrify them with warnings,
to turn them from wrongdoing
and keep them from pride,”

Remember when Zophar claimed God gave him insight in his restless sleep?

This is different.  Here Elihu is saying God speaks to us about us in order to save us from sin.

He doesn’t whisper to us about the behavior of others so we can accuse and condemn.

In so doing, Elihu added salvation and redemption to the equation.

But then Elihu makes an arrogant statement, even as he accuses Job of thinking he’s perfect.

“Be assured that my words are not false;
one who has perfect knowledge is with you.”

Elihu is confident that he has perfect knowledge when he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about – implying that  Job’s problem is he won’t confess his sin and cry for mercy.

“God is wooing you from the jaws of distress.
But now you are laden with the judgment due the wicked;
judgment and justice have taken hold of you.”

And then Elihu reveals his particular prejudice:

“Be careful that no one entices you by riches;
do not let a large bribe turn you aside.

Would your wealth or even all your mighty efforts
sustain you so you would not be in distress?

Do not long for the night,
to drag people away from their homes.

Beware of turning to evil,
which you seem to prefer to affliction.” 

Elihu seems to assume that Job’s hidden sin has something to do with his wealth, with ill-gotten gain.  But if wealth were Job’s problem his story would not have ended as it does.

All this angst, all these accusations, all these prejudices surfaced because Satan couldn’t stand that a human would actually, sincerely want to please God.

It’s all the more maddening because Job was humble to begin with.  It wasn’t until he was forced defend himself against the accusations of his friends that he became puffed up.  And annoyed.

Elihu’s speech was closer to the truth about God than E’s, B’s or Z’s because he recognized God’s focus on redemption where they others were focused on judgment, but he was wrong about Job.  And he didn’t have perfect knowledge of the situation because he didn’t know the whole equation.

The only one who knew the truth about Job was God.

Job suffered because Satan accused God at an angelic gathering.  Just as Jesus suffered because Satan accused God at the base of a fruit tree.  It had nothing to do with Job.

When His disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus replied, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Sometimes our suffering has nothing to do with us.

But in the midst of our suffering, when things don’t add up, we assume that God is angry with us.  We flail around trying to figure out why, beg Him to tell us what we did.  But if the answer isn’t obvious, then maybe we didn’t do anything wrong.

It’s interesting that when God finally spoke, He didn’t tell Job about the wager in heaven, He didn’t address Job’s suffering at all.  Instead He asked Job a series of questions all designed to help him understand mercy. 

To ask for mercy is to look up and beg, to be merciful is to stoop down and bestow kindness.

It’s a positional thing.

Job kept insisting that he had done nothing wrong but the need for mercy isn’t a matter of whether or not you’ve done something wrong, it’s simply a matter of humbly recognizing your size.

A carpenter ant looks up under the shadow of the sole of my shoe and begs for mercy, not because it did anything wrong, but because it is aware that it is small and I am big enough to squash it like a bug. (Actually, if it is in my house it did do something wrong, but if it’s outside, I won’t squash it, even though I can.)

Mercy is recognizing that God can do anything He wants, and trusting that what He wants is good.

God’s questions to Job also revealed Him as a powerful, genius Creator.

Job responded,

“I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

You asked, ‘Who is this who obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.

My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.

Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”

Remember how at the beginning of the book God bragged about Job to Satan – called him upright and blameless?  God wasn’t nitpicking Job’s imperfections, as Job assumed, He was saying, “What about that Job, huh?” Like a proud Papa.

And now Job understood that God isn’t sitting in heaven judging, just waiting for us to mess up so He can pound the gavel.  He’s a Creator who sits in heaven and delights in His creation.  And who cares enough to stoop down in kindness and explain it to us.

After the Lord spoke to Job He said to Eliphaz, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has. Now go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. 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. 

See how God reiterated that Job’s friends were the ones who were wrong?  Perhaps because of Zophar’s wish that God would open his mouth and set  Job straight.

Notice something else here:  God doesn’t give the silent treatment, we don’t have to flail around wondering why He’s angry or if He’s angry.  He was angry with Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar and He said so.  And He said why.  And then He offered them the way of restoration.  Throughout the Old Testament God’s people would anger Him, He would send prophets to point out their sin, they would repent and be blessed.

Nowadays He sends the Holy Spirit.

So stop flailing.

The best thing we can do for a suffering friend is to keep what we think we know to ourselves and simply ask God to tell the person what they need to know.  Because He is the only one who can truly nail it. 

After Job prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. (Obviously his problem wasn’t his wealth.) All 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.

 I’d have a really hard time accepting the fair weather comfort and consolation – at my dinner table – of those who mocked me when I was down, but God was gracious enough to restore Job’s good will toward men.

The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. In addition to his restored wealth, he also had seven sons and three daughters. 

Notice, the daughters are named and the sons are not.

Nowhere 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.

Did you catch that? 

Now that Job saw God clearly, he did what he hadn’t done before, he gave his daughters an inheritance along with his sons.

Seeing God clearly causes the traditions of men to yield to the heart of God.

After this,  Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. 

And so Job died, old and full of years.

Job was seeing God with shiny new spiritual eyes and Bartimaeus wasn’t seeing a thing.

Our Gospel reading today tells us he was sitting along the roadside on the outskirts of Jericho when Jesus and His following went by.   When Bartimaeus heard that it was Jesus, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 

Bartimaeus didn’t ask Jesus why he was blind, he asked for mercy. That was the lesson Job needed to learn:  Knowing why doesn’t make you see, the mercy of God does. 

There’s humility in a request for mercy.  There’s no accusation of wrong-doing, there’s no demand for fairness, just a humble request from the powerless to the all-powerful.

Many sternly ordered Bartimaeus to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 

Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”  Mercy can take many forms – the provision of a seeing eye dog, the invention of braille, friends to assist…

“I want to see!”

And see he did.

When you need mercy, speak up even when others tell you to pipe down.  Be specific about what you want God to do for you.

We could spend a bit of time on the Hebrews passage comparing  Job’s atoning sacrifices for his children party after party with  Jesus’s one sacrifice for every party past, present and future.  I could point out that Jesus is the Redeemer  Job longed for in chapter 19, and the Mediator he longed for in chapters 9, 25 and 33.  But I’d rather end with a personal story so I’ll answer Job’s question from earlier: “How can mere mortals prove their innocence before God?”

We don’t have to.  We have an eternal Mediator who lives to plead our case.

A Mediator who talks us through things and helps us make sense of it all.  He’s talked me through a few hard things.

Back when my first husband left me all those years ago and my so-called friends were breaking my heart – after much Job-like lamenting and Job-like confusion, God finally spoke and said, “You can choose to believe what your circumstances say about my love for you, or you can choose to believe what I say about my love for you.”

It was a defining moment.

Seventeen years later came another defining moment.  My daughter had just gone off to college when a sudden fall set off a string of strange neurological symptoms that baffled a string of doctors.  I sat on my sofa day after day trying to distract my fearful thoughts by watching movies as I waited to die.  It occurred to me that maybe God didn’t care about me as much as I thought He did.  Perhaps I had been foolish to think He cared about me at all.  I teetered between hope and despair until He finally reminded me of His defining moment.  The question of whether or not He loves us, whether or not He cares about us, was answered once and for all the minute He said yes to the cross.

Let that sink in:  The question of whether or not He loves us, whether or not He cares about us, was answered “yes” once and for all the minute He said yes to the cross.

“Okay,” I thought a few weeks later as I was washing my tear-streaked face, “He loves us.  But does He love me?”  I had always felt special to Him because I loved Him so much, but maybe I wasn’t.

As I grabbed the hand towel He reminded me of the day He called my name.  He reminded me of the following night when He revealed Himself to me.  It was a glorious revealing.  He called me into His family knowing that I would let Him down, knowing that I would let myself and others down, knowing every bit of my past, present and future, He adopted me.  

“Why would I call you into a relationship with Me and show Myself to you, only to abandon you?,” He asked.

 I love it when He reasons with me.  

He reminded me of everything I love about His character, His plans, His stick-to-itiveness.  He wouldn’t adopt me as His child and then turn His back on me.  He isn’t a bad parent.  He finishes the good work He begins in us.  He accomplishes His purposes.  He isn’t lazy or distracted.

“But Christians sometimes die in their prime, when their ministries are thriving and there is still work to be done,” I countered.  “So there is no guarantee I will recover.”

“If you don’t recover, it won’t be because I don’t care or because I am not paying attention or because I am unable.  It will be because it is time to come home.  And if it is your time and my will, you will have peace.”

I thought of the palpable peace He gave my sister as she battled cancer and faced death.  I realized that it wasn’t God who was trying to kill me, it was the author of fear.  If there is fear, then God’s hand is not in it.  And since the presence of fear proved the strange illness was from the devil’s hand and not God’s, I was going to be okay because God is stronger.  God loves us.  God loves me.  I rested in that and I recovered.

Job’s defining moment came when he resolved, “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.” 

Peter’s defining moment came not with words, but with action.  After he denied Christ thrice, after he threw his best friend under the bus to save his own skin, he got back up and walked with Him.  Not as one who was just barely forgiven, but as one who was amazing. (See Acts 2:14-41)

Those are the moments the Holy Spirit illuminates when I am struggling.

If you are suffering and wondering what you did wrong, wondering whether God still cares or ever cared, I’m here to say, of course He cares.  Of course He loves you. If nothing makes sense ask Him what’s missing from the equation.

Our defining moments, as tough and heartbreaking and scary as they are, are designed to bring us to the place where we “come to know and believe the love God has for us.”  1 John 4:16a

Does God see you in your suffering?  Does He love you?  Remember your adoption day? That was the day He answered “Yes!”  Forever.

Beth Moore shared a sweet moment she had with God:

He said to her:  “Don’t say, ‘I love you’ to Me.  Say, ‘I love you, too.’  Because I am always saying it first.”

No matter what is going on in your life, He is always saying it first.  Amen.

Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22)
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

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Compassion is as compassion does.

Back in 2005 the hub loaded his table saw, planer and a bunch of other heavy woodworking equipment into a small u-haul.  We were headed to Vero Beach, Florida with a group from the church we attended to help repair a church that had been damaged by a hurricane.  Since the hub had major carpentry skills – and major equipment – he was in charge of that aspect of the trip.

I was in charge of activities for the church’s children.

While we were there we hosted nightly cookouts at a park near the Vero Beach church and invited its members to come, relax, eat and share their hurricane stories.

Because I thought sharing their stories might help.

Turns out it did.  Turns out listening to their stories, hearing what they had been through was the best, most restorative thing we did all week.

It helps to know someone cares.

It was hallowed ground in a Lansing courtroom when Larry Nassar faced his victims.  God bless Judge Aquilina for patiently giving each one of them the opportunity to tell their stories.  God bless her for giving us the opportunity to listen compassionately.

It helps to be heard.

The White House recently invited community members and victims from Parkland, Florida as well as victims from the Columbine and Sandy Hook shootings to a listening session.

God bless our President for giving them a chance to speak and for giving us a chance to hear their hearts.

There are those who hate our President no matter what, who would refuse to give him a nod of credit for an act of compassion, who would refuse him the opportunity to speak and the opportunity to be heard with compassionate ears.

In their minds he is morally “less than” they and therefore he isn’t worthy of their compassion.  They just want to see him destroyed.

Actions speak louder than words.

If we want our country to heal, and it’s looking like the collective “we” don’t, we’ll have to put down our self-righteous hate and pick up an olive branch.  Or at least a hearing aid.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

#branch

 

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faith

Fun With Parables: Political Edition

On one occasion a political pundit stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What does the Law say about it?” He replied. “What’s your read on it?”

The pundit, quoting the Law, answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You nailed it,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But the pundit, wary of the implications, said, “Define neighbor.”

In reply Jesus told His now-famous parable:

“A democratic superdelegate was heading to Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center when he was attacked by a mob. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead in the middle of the road.

A senator from Vermont happened to be walking on the far left shoulder of the same road, and when he saw the man, he inched a little further left as he passed. No way was he going to be seen anywhere near the middle of that road.

So too, a long-time representative from California, when she came to the place and saw him, hugged the far left edge of the left shoulder a little more tightly as she hurried past.

But a conservative republican, as he traveled along the far right shoulder, came where the delegate was; and when he saw him, he braved being seen in the middle of the road.

He went to him and bandaged his wounds and then carried him several blocks to Kindred Hospital.

‘Do whatever it takes to save him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any expenses his insurance doesn’t cover.'”

“Now,” Jesus, asked, “which of these three do you think was a neighbor to that superdelegate?”

The pundit replied, “The one who was pro-life.”

Jesus nodded, “Exactly!”

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life

Pills, Poetry & Prose

I think I have been following “A Journey With You – surviving schizophrenia” for about a year now.   I read every post that comes up on my Reader. Not because I have schizophrenia, or because I am caring for someone who has it, not because I am particularly interested in the disease. I read each post because I enjoy well-written words. I read because the author is a lot like me.

We only have a few things in common: We were both social workers when we were young. She worked in Child Protective Services – investigating reports of abuse and neglect and removing children from their homes if necessary.

I worked in Foster Care, supervising the care of the children once they were placed in foster homes, and working with their birth parents toward the goal of reuniting the family, if possible. It was rarely possible.

We are close to the same age.

We both care. She cares more, I think, because she knows more. She is teaching me.

I read her blog for the wonderful slices of her everyday life. My favorites involve her relationship with her husband.

I’ve thought a few times of buying her book, Pills, Poetry & Prose: Life with Schizophrenia (by Rebecca Chamaa). I thought I might add it to my Amazon cart when I do my Christmas shopping.  And then in late October Rebecca posted that she was giving away a copy of it. So I left my blog address in the comment section of her post and I won the drawing!

My husband brought in the mail Saturday and handed me a padded envelope, “Someone from California sent you something.”

“Oh, oh, oh, it’s the book!” I tore open the envelope and pulled it out. I opened the front cover, “Dang it, I should have asked her to sign it.”

Yesterday, before church I read the first eleven pages. When the hub and I returned home from church, I found my daughter reading it.

This morning I sat down with the book and a big mug of hot coffee. Just as the coffee was growing cold, I finished it.

And I learned that we have another thing in common – rejection by a spouse and the pain of divorce.

If I hadn’t been reading her blog, if I didn’t know that she is remarried and has such a wonderful friendship with her husband, such a strong and supportive bond with him, I would not have been able to bear the poem on page 28.

Saturday, when I let Rebecca know that the book arrived, she replied, “Ohhhhh, please let me know how you like it.”

Okay, talented, sweet, wise and wonderful woman, if you are reading this, here’s how I like it:

I only like poetry when it says a lot, with a few concise, masterfully chosen and arranged words. I only like poetry when it is not so obscure that I can’t figure out what the poet is saying.  I like your poetry, Rebecca. I love it.

And I love how you used prose to flesh out the details. I loved the glimpse into your childhood.

On page 45 you wrote, “I am a ghost that only certain people can see.”

One of the best things about your blog and your book is that you are giving shape and form to ghosts; you are stirring understanding and compassion in people like me.

Your book is your story, artfully told, and I love true stories.

I used to show clips of the movie “A Beautiful Mind” when speaking to high school students as an example of true love. I showed them the scene in which Alicia and one of John’s former co-workers were walking and talking, Alicia pushing a stroller. After talking a bit about John’s current condition and limitations, the former co-worker told Alicia that John was a lucky man (to have her). Alicia replied, almost in a whisper, that John was so unlucky (to have the disease).

I showed them the scene in which John’s psychiatrist advised Alicia to leave home for her own safety. Instead, she decided to stay. She kneeled in front of John, who was seated on the edge of their bed, and said, “I need to believe that something extraordinary is possible.”

And the final scene when John, accepting the Nobel Prize, said to Alicia, “I’m only here because of you.”

I don’t know how true to life the movie is, but “Poisonous Thoughts” on pages 52 and 53 reminded me of those scenes.

And it pinpointed why I read A Journey With You – to watch extraordinary love unfold in the big and small of your everyday life.

To watch love and commitment – in sickness and in health – play out in the lives of two ordinary, extraordinary people.

Pills, Poetry & Prose is a collection of poems and essays that tell a beautiful, poignant, hopeful, insightful, scary, honest story. And I am privileged to have read it.

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Jesus, life, Light

Abundant Love. Abundant Compassion. Please.

A little boy named Isaiah is on my heart and in my prayers.  His siblings are, too.  But not often enough.

The Tuesday after Easter my friend, Linda, who heads up an after-school tutoring program at his inner-city school, asked him why he wasn’t at the easter egg hunt at church.

“We had our own easter egg hunt,” he beamed.

After several years of living here and there, with this aunt or that, with this friend or that, some siblings here, some siblings there, he and his mother and all of his six siblings had finally moved into a home of their own – all of them under a single roof.

Isaiah was so happy, so proud of this step up that his mother had taken.

A few days later the kids were upstairs in their bedrooms.  Their uncle was on the sofa in the living room watching television.  Their mom’s boyfriend walked quickly through the front door.

“Where’s Kenyetta?”, he asked.

“In her bedroom,” the uncle answered.

The boyfriend climbed the stairs to her bedroom and shots rang out.  Kenyetta was dead – shot several times in the chest.  Isaiah’s two-year-old sister, who had been standing next to her mother’s bed, was shot in the leg.  But alive.

The new house is vacant now.

Isaiah and his three siblings-who-share-the-same-father are living with his father now, along with another sibling, who has a different father.  He wouldn’t/couldn’t take the oldest, who is 15 and pregnant.  The seventh sibling is in detention at Children’s Village.  He and his anger issues.

The lesson in Bible study this morning challenged us to look for the beauty in the ugly.  To thank God in the midst of the mess.

I can’t think of much that is uglier and messier and more heartbreaking than a little boy beaming one week and absent the next.  Crushed.  A happy, proud step up followed immediately by a crushing crashing down.

At Kenyetta’s funeral – at Isaiah’s mother’s funeral – the pastor implored the 500 in attendance to turn the tragedy around – turn it into an end to domestic violence, an end to drugs.  Amen.

I am having trouble seeing the beauty in the ugly right now.  All I see, all my heart feels is the crushing blow to a little boy’s joy.

But I pray that Isaiah will one day see it; that the city will one day see it.

In the meantime, Father, will you fill every caregiver, every adult that Isaiah and his siblings encounter with an abundance of love and compassion for them?  Abundant love.  Abundant compassion.  Not just today, not just this week, but every day and every week and every year until they are all fully healed.  Until they all see the beauty in those fragile ashes.

Thank You for love.  Thank you for redemption.  Thank you for healing.  Thank You for bringing life from death, beauty from ashes, I know You will.

Thank you that we who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.

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More Bad Acting

When I posted Bad Acting the other day, I wasn’t preaching anything and I wasn’t putting forth a theological dissertation.  It was just little old me sharing my little old stream of consciousness.  There were a couple of things floating in that stream: 1. What makes some people mean? 2. Why do some Christians believe that we are all wretched sinners?  I knew when I pushed publish that my thoughts were only a rough draft and I was hoping it would generate some discussion that would help me bring what I really wanted to say into focus.  It did.  So thank you for your comments, they furthered my thinking.

I decided to get a little more serious, bring some quick research into the equation. So first thing I did was bing “Original Sin”.  Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

Original sin, also called ancestral sin, is the Christian doctrine of humanity’s state of sin resulting from the fall of man, stemming from Adam’s rebellion in Eden. This condition has been characterized in many ways, ranging from something as insignificant as a slight deficiency, or a tendency toward sin yet without collective guilt, referred to as a “sin nature”, to something as drastic as total depravity or automatic guilt of all humans through collective guilt.

The concept of original sin was first alluded to in the 2nd century by IrenaeusBishop of Lyons in his controversy with certain dualistGnostics. Other church fathers such as Augustine also developed the doctrine,[2] seeing it as based on the New Testament teaching of Paul the Apostle (Romans 5:12–21 and 1 Corinthians 15:22) and the Old Testament verse of Psalm 51:5.

Okay, right off the bat I learned a couple of things:

First, there is a spectrum of beliefs among Christians about original sin.  We don’t all believe that original sin equals total depravity.  Good to know that leaning toward a more moderate “sin nature” position is a legitimate Christian belief.  Though I’m guessing that some in the “total depravity” camp would say that those in the “sin nature” camp are not real Christians.

The second thing I learned was that the doctrine of Original Sin was not put forth by Jesus (my “go to” for everything God related).  It was put forth by men, based on, of course, Paul.  And David’s Psalm 51:5 confession that he was born sinful.

Okay, so let’s think about that little bit for a second.

Before meeting Jesus, Paul was morally depraved.  Even though he was well-schooled in Jewish law, he had no real understanding of God in his heart.  He cruelly sent Christians to brutal deaths.  All the while thinking he was pleasing God.  He was a terrorist.  So of course he is going to write from a knowledge of total depravity.  But just because he was once totally depraved does not mean that his depravity must automatically be extrapolated to everyone else.

Same with David.  Yes, committing adultery with another man’s wife and then having that man killed in order to cover up his sin was a morally depraved thing to do.  But not everyone commits adultery and murder.  Not everyone is morally depraved (defined wicked).

Look at Abraham.  I find no wickedness in him.  I find no wickedness in Job.  Or Moses.

God tucked Moses into the cleft of a rock, passed before him, and declared His nature.  And of all the things He could have said about Himself, He said this:

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” Exodus 34 NIV

God forgives wickedness, rebellion and sin.  They are three different things.

All wickedness is sin.
All rebellion is sin.
But all sin is not wicked.
And all sin is not rebellious.

Sin is anything that falls short of God’s standards.  Anything that is not-God.
You can sin and not even realize it.

Rebellion is knowing that something is sin and doing it anyway.
You cannot rebel without knowing it.

Wickedness is deliberately causing harm to another.
You can be wicked without rebellion. (If you grew up in a morally depraved atmosphere and you think wickedness is the acceptable norm.) But it is still sin.

Before I became a Christian I sinned every morning without even realizing it.  I read my horoscope.  Then I read Deuteronomy 18 and I learned that reading my horoscope was sin. So I stopped reading it.

I told my mom – who taught me to read my horoscope every morning, who used to read it to me when I was a child – what I read in Deuteronomy. She said, “I know.” I was flabbergasted. She knew and she read it everyday anyway? That was rebellion. And wickedness because she was knowingly causing her children to displease God.

So what I was trying to say on Wednesday is that everyone sins. We all like sheep have gone astray. We all like dumb, clueless sheep have gone astray. Sheep aren’t wicked, they are just greatly in need of a Shepherd to guide and care for them. Lest they get lost and maimed.

And I would dare say that everyone is rebellious at times because none of us obey God perfectly, even when we know what He wants us to do/not do.

But I find no Scriptural support that everyone is wicked. That everyone has a mean side.

Jesus called some people – even some generations – wicked, but He did not call everyone wicked. And He didn’t preach self-condemnation. He preached from a place of compassion and restoration and gentleness. He led by positive example – showing us what His Father is like.  And that is what I would love to see some of the young bucks who climb the pulpit on Sunday morning do.

And that is what I would love to see the harsh doctrine-loving bloggers do: Lead by gentle, loving example. Without all the browbeating.

The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

What about you guys? Would you say that you are ever mean or cruel? I’m guessing the majority of you are not.

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faith, Light

Selma, Kinda’

This post isn’t really about Selma, and it’s not really about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  But it occurred to me as I watched the movie the other day, as I watched this scene:

Coretta:  If I ask you a question will you tell me the truth?
Martin:  Yes.
Coretta, mustering courage: You know I’m not a fool. Do you love me?
Martin:  Yes.
Coretta:  Do you love any of the others?
Martin, with a slight gulp: No.

Apparently that scene stood out to my daughter as well.  As we were discussing the movie (which was hard to watch but which I highly recommend) on the way home she asked, “Why are leaders so often cheaters?”

“I don’t know, some women throw themselves at power and perhaps it’s too much to resist.  Perhaps powerful men think they deserve a few perks. It’s too bad the moral character and determination of which Dr. King so eloquently spoke did not extend to his own sexual  conduct.”

I thought of King David as I watched that scene, specifically I thought of God’s words to David, via Nathan:

Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul.  I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more.  Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes?

And if all this had been too little, David, I would have given you even more. 

That is one of the saddest sentences in the entire Bible.

I wondered if God would have given Dr. King even more.

How many of us have missed out on the more?  How many of us have disqualified ourselves from doing, having, being more because of sexual sin?

Reuben did:

While Israel was living in that region, Reuben went in and slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard of it. Genesis 35:22

Perhaps Reuben thought it was no big deal, his dad heard about his antics but may not have done anything about them.  Scripture does not record a confrontation, or consequences, until chapter 49:

“Reuben, you are my firstborn,
my might, the first sign of my strength,
excelling in honor, excelling in power.
Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel,
for you went up onto your father’s bed,
onto my couch and defiled it.”  Genesis 49:3-4

And then there’s Esau:

See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son.  Hebrews 12:16

It’s interesting that Scripture pairs sexual immorality with squandering an inheritance.  I can’t help wonder how many young people, who are squandering their purity, will one day weep bitterly, “Bless me—me too, my Father!”

I’m not saying that God doesn’t redeem and forgive.  I’m just saying that there is a constant tension in my heart and mind between God’s holiness and His compassion.  And I think that tension is supposed to be there.  Holiness is the vertical beam and compassion is the horizontal beam.  Tension and balance hold them in place.

[Duncan], Creative Commons

[Duncan], Creative Commons

Without holiness there is no need for compassion.  Without compassion there is nothing upon which Jesus can outstretch His arms.

I love Christians like Glennon Doyle Melton who encourage us to embrace and enjoy our messy lives.  Who show us that it’s okay to give ourselves a break and accept that our lives are going to be hard and good, that we are going to make mistakes and it’s okay.  Because there is no joy in serving the taskmaster of perfection.

At the same time I cannot ignore the Nazarite vow.

And I cannot ignore Jesus when He said,“When much is given, much is required.” And, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”

Or His Father, who said, “Be holy, because I am holy.”

There is a beautiful scene recorded in Revelation chapter 5.  I highly recommend reading the entire amazing chapter.  Here’s a snippet:

But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain….And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.

I wonder if this heavenly scene took place just as Jesus was fresh from the cross.  The Lamb, looking as if He had been slain.

“I wept and wept because no one was found worthy.”

There were a whole lot of people who were not mentioned in the Bible.  A WHOLE LOT of God’s people who did nothing to contribute in any notable way to His purposes.  I don’t want to be one of those people.

“Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in His eyes?”

“I would have given you even more.”

Sexual sin diminishes spiritual effectiveness.  It just does.

There is freedom, grace and joy in cutting myself some slack and there is power, effectiveness and close fellowship with God in pursuing personal holiness.  May the tension within me maintain an effective balance.

I don’t know whether this stream of consciousness will make sense to anyone but me, but may we all maintain an effective balance.

Because this dark world needs SO MUCH more.

© 2015, The Reluctant Baptist

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