Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Job's Friends Part 5

Job's Friends Part 5 

From the book of Job, Chapter 1 verse 5 we read:

Job 1:5
And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.

If you read my last installment, you will be familiar with my understanding that the children were not partying every day, but rather were feasting on particular set celebratory occasions, such as a birthday or a set day for each son.  Here is further proof which supports my understanding. Apparently, each feast would last more than one day.  And when these days were done, that is, the feast was concluded, Job would step in.  Herein is order.  The feast had run its course, there was design about the festivities.  And herein is wisdom.  Job as the patriarch recognizes that when there is wine and food and celebration, occasionally there are things said or done that a more sober mind would have avoided.

Job enters the pictures as a spiritual janitor - a priest to his family.  He would "send and consecrate them."  I appreciate the blanket treatment here.  Job is not acting as inquisitor and judge.  Rather, as a loving father, he send and consecrates all his children.  There is no indication that the children resent this, or rebel against it or avoid it.  After order and wisdom follows obedience.  

The word used by the English Standard Version is "consecrate."  It is not a word we use daily in our lives, and therefore bears a closer scrutiny.  To consecrate something is to dedicate it.  The Wikipedia project defines consecration as "the solemn dedication to a special purpose or service" of a thing or person.  In this sense, Job is dedicating his children, each of them, to a special purpose or service.  I wonder what purpose Job intended for his children.  As we will see, that purpose will not be fulfilled, as God has another plan for Job and his family.  Nevertheless, Job does not know that and he is busy preparing his family for God.

Righteousness does not happen accidentally.  Consecration is not haphazard.  We often hear the words "prayer changes things" when in fact, it is most often not simply prayer, but effectual prayer, prayers of a righteous man, much prayer and fasting, that changes things.  I'll leave for another day the discussion of whether God responds to our prayers in such a way that makes us the ultimate arbiter of our fates and destiny, or whether our prayers when instructed by the Holy Spirit conform themselves to the will of God such that we begin to desire what will be God's will in any case.  For today, it is enough to remark that Job was not satisfied with the baby dedication.  Indeed, he consecrated his children often and regularly and routinely.  This was his habit and his method.  This is reinforced by the last phrase "[t]hus Job did continually."

And what was the result of Job's continual intercession for his children?  As I pointed out in the last installment, his family were still together, they expressed both filial and brotherly love.  There was order and hospitality.  There was responsibility and importantly, there was no outward cause for rebuke.  Remember, Job thought "it may be ... in their hearts."  Job is uncertain as to the spiritual state, at that moment, of his children.  For while he had nothing for which to accuse them, Job was still concerned about the circumstances - as a wise father is.  Even when his children are doing very well, Job is thinking ahead, out of the box, and in protective mode.

How is it that Job consecrated them?  Sin is a brutal matter.  It separates us from God, from the love of God and exposes us to his wrath.  Romans 1:18  This wrath is more intense than anything in all of creation.  God is not put off by sin.  God is not inconvenienced by sin.  God is not saddened by sin.  God is angry, wrathful and furious.  Hell fire was created because of sin.  And the only atonement that will appease the wrath and purchase peace is the blood of Christ - a perfect sacrifice capable of carrying the sins of the world.  Genesis 3:15, 3:21, and 4:3.  Job believes this.  He sacrifices burnt offerings to the Lord in faith that God will relent any anger and hold fast to his own covenant established with Adam, that one day his seed would crush Satan and sin and death.

It is possible to do a burnt offering without killing anything.  One could offer as a burnt offering a prized possession or food or money.  Indeed, the grain offering of Leviticus 2 was a burnt offering.  However, the grain offering usually accompanied an animal sacrifice and the atonement for sin offering was an animal sacrifice.  Job is concerned about sin here and I believe he was killing his livestock here.

This bears noting.  When Job made a sacrifice, it was not an investment in missions or a building or the salary of a pastor.  When Job made a sacrifice - it was simply gone.  The only reason to make such a sacrifice would have been if you earnestly believed in your heart that God was watching, directing and approving of your actions AND that there was an agreement between God and man that would hold God to the relenting of his anger.  This was true sacrifice.  I wonder what it would look like in my life were I to sacrifice something.  Perhaps not an animal.. the family cat is safe.  But what about something that means a lot to me?  What about a dream that means a lot to me?  

It should be noted that the sacrifice Job made was not of something that shouldn't have been in his life anyway.  Giving up television is not that much of a sacrifice.  For while it may be difficult, the denial of television will improve your overall quality of life in any regard.  Similarly, giving up fattening foods or shopping binges will not be much of a sacrifice either, as God will see that you're improving your life through the sacrifice and we will always wonder what our primary motivation for the sacrifice was.  A sacrifice of a healthy productive animal to a farmer is the equivalent of sacrificing a good modern laptop to a computer technician; sacrificing a your best power tools to one in construction; sacrificing your best suit to a minister.  You see, the animal was the rancher's livelihood - not only was it an animal, it was his income.  When Job sacrificed the animal, he realized an immediate poverty of sorts.  There was no remuneration for the animal.  He was not allowed to choose sickly animals.  He also lost the potential within that animal, for it was most likely able to produce offspring for Job as well.

Lastly, I note that the sacrifice was completely unto God.  It was not a sacrifice to God and given to others.  Now, before those of you who may ever read this complain to me about the Levitical rights of the priests, I understand how many sacrifices in Israel were meant to provide sustenance to the priests as well as honor God or appease his anger.  However, many of the sacrifices were whole burnt offerings, as is suggested here.  The text certainly allows that Job sacrificed part of the animal, but the question remains, which part?  He would still have been deprived of the benefit of offspring from that animal.  He would still have been deprived of whatever part was burnt, and a quick read of Leviticus suggests that the best parts were burnt.  God still took the best.  This was a true sacrifice set apart unto God and no other.

Now contrast that with what most of us call sacrifices today.  Giving money to the church is no sacrifice.  It may be a tithe, it may be a gift, but it is certainly no sacrifice, because it is not given to God alone.  Certainly, the widow's mite seems to approach that quality as in her heart the money was lost to who knows what cause and it would never benefit her, a widow.  But how many times have I said in my heart: I don't want to give to this ministry because I'm not happy with what they would do with the money?  Job isn't asking how God is going to use his burnt offering.  The sacrifice is complete when we lose control of the item we are sacrificing.

Finally, before leaving this verse, it is important to my heart to acknowledge the picture of Christ our Intercessory Priest here.  As Job's children were living, Job was interceding.  The allusion is to the intercessory role Christ plays on our behalf.  While Job's sacrifices were animals and continual, Christ's sacrifice was his own body and blood and was once for all.  We see the father's love for his children just as we see our Heavenly Father love us so much that His only son is given upon an instrument of torture and death.  This is what makes Job the kind of man of whom God boasts "[h]ave you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?" Job 1:8

Oh to have my Lord boast over me!  What more can glory afford?  Today my challenge is to continually intercede for my son.  While I no longer make sacrifices to atone for his sin, I can still make intercession for him by calling upon our Great Interceder, our Lord who makes peace between God and man, appeasing and atoning the wrath of God against all ungodliness and unrighteousness.  Fathers, is there something else that more warrants our time and energy?  Note that Job did this early in the morning, before doing anything else.  Before shaving, before brushing our teeth, before working out, before breakfast: the most important thing we can do during our day is to be on our knees before God interceding for our children, turning away from evil, and worshiping God.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Job's Friends Part 4

Job's Friends Part 4 

From the book of Job, Chapter 1 verse 4 we read:

Job 1:4
His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them.

Of the verses that we have examined thus far, this one is perhaps the most interesting and difficult to understand.  But we will take it word for word, idea for idea and I hope to make out the understanding of what the Holy Spirit is communicating to us.

The verse begins with "his sons" referring back of course to Job.  Job had seven such sons and apparently they were all at home.  In today's culture such a phenomenon is unheard of in itself.  To have so many children is one thing, for them all to remain at home is almost ethnic in that it is a stranger to normal American experience.  Today children grow up and move far away, they leave the nest, they move on.  Can one imagine what Thanksgiving would be like in Job's day?  The roads would be abandoned!  Unlike today's world, there would be almost no holiday traffic, as all the children would still be home.

There is something to be said for staying home.  While I can hardly speak to the virtue, having moved more than a thousand miles from my homeland, I can attest to the warmth, comfort and security of having family near-by and the loneliness and solidarity of being separated from those who love you most.  We should not misunderstand the culture of Job's day - not everyone stayed home to live with their parents.  Proverbs teaches us that a neighbor close by is preferred in the day of calamity than a brother far off in another land.  Abram left his kin in Ur.  Jacob and Esau lived in different parts of the world.  Paul left Tarsus.  Jacob went down to Egypt.  Joseph was no longer living in Bethlehem.  While the world was much smaller than it is today, apparently people still moved and traveled and were separated from family.

However, in Job's family - everyone was still there.  And that says a lot, in my opinion, about Job's patriarchal provision.  His children were not confined to the family estate, rather, they chose the family estate.  And apparently, from the next few words, we find them happy to be at the family estate.  As a father I can think of no greater blessing than the idea that my son would find my patriarchal provision sufficient that he would be able to be distinct and protected at the same time.

That last idea bears exploration.  Many children leave fine homes because they feel the need to spread their own wings.  While they are in the nest they live under a shadow of their parents that represses their own individuality and personality and dignity.  They don't dislike home, they just need room to be themselves.  What I find surprising, is that Job among all his other talents and righteousness, knew how to protect his family and at the same time give them freedom to be themselves.  They remained home because Dad didn't suffocate them.  Dad didn't impose himself on them.  In short, Dad didn't exacerbate them.

His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day.  There are no momma's boys here.  See this young men?  None of these sons still live under the same roof as Mom.  We have no clue as to whether they are married or not, Scripture does not tell us.  But each had his own house.  One of the secrets to the harmony of this family, I believe, is without a doubt the ability to sustain a household by each one of the sons.  They, each of them, understood the economics of maintaining a home.  They, each of them, understood the mechanics and stewardship of owning a home.  How many young women would do well to consider this when considering a husband.  Does he maintain his own home?

This is especially important in the matter of bachelors.  I have owned a home as a bachelor and as a married man and they are two very different things.  As a married man, you have someone there who has a vested interest in the home - in fact, often the woman has a superior position in the home.  This is not to say that she usurps her role as God ordained, rather, that her husband wisely understands this role is as a steward, not as a servant.  As a steward, she has more control than the master.  As a servant, she has less control.  A servant does what the master says.  A steward determines what is best for the master.  In any case, a bachelor has no steward, no partner, no one who is at least as interested in the home as he is, if not more.  A bachelor who owns a home exercises something many men don't find attractive - home economics.  Many men I know, if single, and while single, would prefer to rent an apartment.  We simply don't nest well.  

However, Job's sons all had their own homes.  However it was that they came about them, we know them to be responsible, independent home owners - of sufficient sized homes that any of those homes could house a party of 10 with spouses and children and friends and servants.  We find out later that, indeed, servants were present in these homes.  

Our friend Job is a father among fathers.  His sons are not just independent, but full of brotherly love - love for their siblings.  And these boys are gentlemen too!  Did you catch it?  They invited their three sisters too.  This is not stag night.  This is not boy's night out.  These children don't believe in gender based fun.  There were no crude jokes, inappropriate humor, or sexists comments.  

So what do we have here?  Riotous partying?  Maybe.  Excessive libations, indulgences and entertainments?  Perhaps.  Permissive diversions and distractions?  Doubtful in mixed company.  The worst that could be said were that the children were accustomed to excess and wealth on a level that few ever enjoy.  It is not a sin to be wealthy.  It is no sin to party.  However, we will see later, that such endeavors do expose us to the risk of sin.

The confusing part of this verse, the part that is obscure to me, is the frequency of the parties. Scripture does not tell us that anything inappropriate happened at these parties.  We can freely assume the best of these children knowing the Godly nature of their parents.

When I first read this verse I assumed that there was a party on every day of the week - for there are seven sons, and there are seven days.  But is that what the verse says?

"each one on his day" does not necessarily mean Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday...  Does it?  The NET bible says "each one in turn".  The New Living Translation says "when Job's sons had birthdays".  The NIV says "His sons used to take turns."  As I've noted before, I'm no master of Hebrew and I won't attempt an analysis of the original language.  But I will point out that the translators considered most credible and qualified for those translations did not translate the verse to read that the sons were partying it up every day of the week, rather that they had parties, they shared the responsibility of hosting and like good hosts, they made sure their sisters, who may or may not have had a home of their own, would be invited and included.  This looks to me like a healthy, loving, Godly family.  Who wouldn't want to be one of those brothers and sisters?

I think there is something here beyond family harmony though.  There is provision, there is security, there is love, and there is a resource for all of this.  These sons grew up to be like their father.  Job cared for his family and servants, and here we see his sons doing likewise.  My respect and admiration for the man grows every day.  And I can hardly imagine the pain and loss that we're coming to eventually.  In fact, this is the happy part of the story, the part we don't want to end.  For those fans of "Lord of the Rings" this is the picnic celebrating Bilbo's 111th birthday in the Shire.  For fans of "War and Peace" this is Anna Pavlovna's soirée.  For those fans of "The Titanic", this is the party in the lower quarters.  It is difficult to even read further, as one wants this picturesque landscape of family harmony as God designed it to last forever.  God blessed Job, and here we see the deepest blessing, one we may all envy with equal desire.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Job's Friends Part 3

Job's Friends Part 3

From the book of Job, chapter 1 verses 3 and 10:

Job 1:3
He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east.

Job 1:10
Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.

It is not my intent to bounce around Job cherry picking nuggets of wisdom; much less to continue mixing my metaphors.  My point in skipping ahead and including verse 10 is because I believe it gives context and meaning to verse 3.  For we see that Job is a rich man.  Yesterday I was speaking with one of my best friends, a man whom I'm proud to call friend, a farmer who was explaining to me that even today a man who owned so many animals would be a great man indeed.

And herein lies a problem for me personally.  I struggle against those who would preach a prosperity gospel, but here we read about a God fearing man who avoid evil and who is blessed by God in very material ways.  This has got to set free prosperity gospel preachers and give wings to their delights.  I can just hear preachers excusing mansions and mega churches with these two verses.  Indeed, how can we see it otherwise without looking to other Scripture?


Is there any significance to the numbers 7,000, 3,000 and 500?  Again, I think those who see numerology within everything would have a field-day here.  Seven is often the number of perfection.  Three is identified with the triune Godhead.  And I'm tempted to point out that there are five fingers on a hand which allows us to grasp and work.  But is the Holy Spirit trying to teach us anything from these numbers, or are they there just to say simply that Job was a very rich man?  

Sheep are sustenance.  They provide no labor, they consume resources and labor; however, they provide sustenance in the form of wool and food.  In that regard they are God's provision for us.  His provision to Job is marked out by the number 7,000.  Job's sustenance was large indeed.  One might say it was figuratively perfect.  If we believe Satan's representation in verse 10, and it is important to recognize that God did not correct him, then indeed the numbers were determined by God himself and not by chance or fortune.  In any regard, God has blessed Job with a great number of sheep.

Camels can be both sustenance and labor.  Camel hair is of generally fine quality and can be used in the production of felt and other clothes.  Additionally, Job's camels were the ATVs of the day, the farm truck and 4 Wheeler combined into one.  Unlike the relatively smaller herds of sheep that I saw while I was in the area of Northern Arabia and Western Iraq, where presumably Job lived, Job had vast herds which could not be managed by shepherd boys on foot.  Water was scarce so camels were particularly valuable in that climate.  Job had 3,000 camels.  One wonders, how did he feed so many camels?  The sheep would subsist on the grass in that part of the land.  The camels would be able to eat the grass as well, but Job's family would need grain in addition to the meat their stock provided.

In addition to the animals, Job was responsible for a great many servants.  These are people who are, like Job's family, dependent upon Job for their very lives.  One cannot help but remember the story of the prodigal son, who in desperation and fear for his life when starving thought to return to his father's house as a servant when he remembered how his father cared for his servants.  It is entirely reasonable to understand that Job was just as righteous in his dealings with his servants.  It is not only reasonable, but expected that Job's servants were well cared for, that Job loved them and prayed for them and considered their welfare and that of their families.  In this regard Job was more than a family man and a farmer, he was a business man capable of managing the affairs of many.

I suspect that Job was more than a herdsman; that in addition to livestock he also had fields of grain that are not mentioned but which are implied.  How are they implied?  Why else would Job need 500 oxen?  Sure, oxen are a food source as well.  But they require a lot more grass than the desert would provide.  It is uncertain what the climate was like in that part of the land.  Indeed, it is even disputed where exactly in northern Arabia or western Iraq Job lived.  But there are rivers there now and there were rivers there in Job's time.  It is possible that Job lived near enough water to grow crops to support the oxen and supplement the diet of the sheep, camels, donkeys and his own family and servants.  Indeed, I believe it is more than possible, but implied by the numbers themselves.

Better than implications, however, is the notice we are given in verse 14 where a servant tells Job that "the oxen were plowing and the donkeys were feeding beside them."  I am impressed by the diversity of Job's farm operation here.  He is practically self reliant in that his operation provides grain, wool, meat and other food stuffs.  Job is not to be taken lightly.  I imagine if we were to meet Job today, he'd have a Masters of Science degree from Penn State University in Animal Husbandry and Farm Operations.  These are not simple folk from a bygone era, rather, Job is a sophisticated businessman capable of understanding diversification, human resource management, farm management, production capacities, resource management, building design, farm implements, textile production, risk management, and other skills necessary for such a large operation.

This observation is necessary as we will eventually be analyzing Job's arguments and philosophies in light of his intelligence and education.  I believe we will be wise to understand Job as a renaissance man.  

And this renaissance man was the greatest of all the people in the East.  That is quite an observation.  Was it Job's wealth that made him great?  Is the Holy Spirit here stooping to modern valuations of man which look only at the pocket book?  I don't believe that in light of all that we have seen about how Job came about his wealth and the remarkable diligence and skills that were necessary to produce and maintain that wealth.  I have known rich people who came about their wealth with ease producing things of little lasting worth.  I have also known rich people who came about their wealth through diligence and hard work with an ever lasting interest in those whom God has put in their charge, who have a generous nature and a kind disposition but who are intensely interested in being the best steward of what God has given them.  I believe Job was the latter kind.  Job was the kind of man that despised gambling in all forms, who appreciated life and human dignity.  Job was the kind of man who was generous and who looked out for the best interests of others - as we shall see in a few verses.  Job was a righteous man who saw himself for what he was - a steward of God's property.

My last observation on verse 3 is that all that Job had was from God.  Verse 10 teaches us that God blessed the work of Job's hands and his possessions increased accordingly.  Job worked.  He was not a lazy man, or a man given to idleness or trivial entertainment.  When others were playing, Job was working; and then when they were sleeping Job was offering sacrifices.  But hard work alone does not provide anything.  That is what a servant of God is expected to do.  The increase in Job's wealth was entirely from God.  God saw fit to give, and later he sees fit to take away.  In chapter 2 verse 10 we see that Job understands the source of all his wealth to be from God.  And so, that Job was wealthy and powerful and influential were all blessings from God.

Is this prosperity Gospel?  Satan certainly thought so, as we shall see in a few verses.  However, we will suspend our analysis of that question till then.  In the meantime I will pray that God blesses me with a proper understanding of these verses and the question of whether God does or does not bless righteousness with material wealth and power.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Job's Friends Part 2

Job's Friends Part 2 

From Job, chapter 1 verse 2:

"There were born to him seven sons and three daughters."

Scriptures remind us that a blessed man has a full quiver.  Children are a blessing from the Lord, as any new parent can attest.  I wouldn't recommend asking too many parents of teenagers though.  In any case, the first pronouncement of Job's wealth, status and blessing from God begins with a list of his children.  He had seven son and three daughters.

In this age and time it is likely that Job would have had to pay to marry off his daughters, what would later be called a dowry.  However, it is also possible that someone would have to pay him for his daughters, cf. Jacob and Leah/Rachel.  In any case, there is an immediate pecuniary benefit to having seven sons.  We know that Job was an agrarian; a farmer.  In this trade a son would work all day and not require labor wages.  That is to say, there was no out-of-pocket expenditure for his day of labor.  Additionally, the son would be trusted more than a day laborer or hired hand.  I'm of the opinion that private capital leads to better management of resources.  This is certainly not a universally held position, but the Bible supports private ownership and here we see private ownership as a blessing from God.

Having seven sons to help on the family farm, Job had seven captains, if you will, to manage the servants and hired hands.  Instead of having to personally care for everyone, he could delegate and spend his time investing in the education, training and care of seven who would then train and manage others.  In this manner Job was able to have a sizeable farm by any age.  There are farmers today who make a living on fewer livestock than Job had with better technology.

There is an interesting ratio here as well.  In most societies women outnumber men.  They out-live men but are more prone to disease.  However, in most cultures there are more female babies born than male babies and for all of humanity, cultures have embraced males while slighting the female children.  The males were educated, given an inheritance, put in positions of honor.  And other men would judge a man by the number of boys he sired.  Science would later affirm that indeed, it is the father who determines the sex of the child.  It's just human nature.  And this passage is a recognition of Job's masculinity of sorts.

But Job's home wasn't without the grace and beauty of femininity.  He had three daughters to compliment his wife.  Job's wife is not portrayed completely in Scripture.  We know little to nothing of their love, of their commitment to one another, of their fidelity and spirituality.  We know that in extreme hardship - the kind none of us will ever experience - Job's wife doesn't give the best advice.  But neither do his friends, nor does Job hold fast to the best positions and ideals.

It may be that Job's wife was ungodly.  It may be that like all other aspects of Job's life, his wife was a blessing too.  We simply don't know.  In any case, she has borne Job ten children and that much alone is more than any other Godly man I can recollect from Scripture.  Job was blessed.

A family is a precious gift.  We receive it from God and hope that He lets us enjoy them for the entirety of our lives.  I had a sister when I was a child.  God's grace was such that he allowed me to enjoy her for 15 years.  And in God's Providence she is now home with the Lord Jesus Christ and I am left here to carry on.  I had a wife when I was younger.  God's grace was such that he gave me a wife for 8 years.  God has allowed a divorce and broken our family.  So that when I read about Job's family, I know the blessing of family.  I know the heartache of loss.  I don't know these things on the same scale as Job, but the flavor is in my mouth and I can recollect the memories of having a sister and having a wife.  I have a son and he is still a blessing in my life.  I know the love of a son and I know the love of a father.  

Job is not an abstract.  Job does not exist in a vacuum.  His righteousness and humanity is not given to us in parable form, rather it is demonstrated through relationships - real relationships with people who have names and loves and hurts.  His children aren't named for us, as his friends are, but we see something of them and their relationship to their father in the next few verses.  What I find here though is enough for some deep thought.

Job had ten children, seven sons and three daughters.  Job knew the fear that a father knows regarding the safety of his children. Job knew the hopes and dreams of any parent.  Job knew the delight in a daughter or son bouncing on his knee.  Job had a family.  And he was blessed.

This is an appropriate place to start.  I need to remember that Job had a family.  For everything else that I will read about his arguments has to be placed in perspective.  He had a loving family who played together, who worshiped together, who were his very own.  When that family is taken away there is going to be some serious pain.  I think those of us who have lost greatly can empathize with Job; indeed we may be able to sympathize with Job.  I know I can.  After seeing this part of Job's family scrap-book, I am hesitant to condemn anything Job says after he loses his family.  After all, who wouldn't give Job grace upon grace at that time.  Who knows his pain?

We all know the end of the story.  Job loses these children but gets more in the end.  That tells me more about Job's wife - they're in a healthy sexual relationship which produces a lot of offspring.  But he memories will last with him for a life-time.  I have new brothers and sisters today - in the form of my former brothers and sisters-in-law.  But the pain of loss of my little sister, now gone home almost 28 years ago, will never go away completely.

And the two shall become one...  It is interesting to note that Job does not lose his wife.  It may also be instructive that Satan doesn't ask for this either.  Perhaps it is because Satan felt he could use Job's wife against him?  Perhaps it is because the two had become one and God had already said that Satan would not be able to take his life.  If it is the latter, consider the reality of the two flesh becoming one.

When Job married his young bride, they became one flesh.  When one would die, a very real part of the other would die as well.  God sees them as one.  He joins them together, not a preacher, not the State.  God joins them together, he ordains the relationship and it is unique among all others.  They become one in a way that is different.  When God tells Satan that he may not harm Job's body, that includes his wife's body.  When he tells Satan not to kill Job; that includes Job's wife (or at least that is a possible understanding of the prohibition if not an absolute necessary understanding).

Job doesn't get a new wife.  And I believe Job doesn't need a new wife.  Trials come and trials go.  One thing we learn from Job and the trials God allows in his life is this:  Children are not the end-all of families; rather, marriage is.  He lost his children and God gave him new children.  But God never allowed Satan to take away his wife.  Let no man divide or separate what God has joined together - not even Satan.  

Today we are tempted to worship our children, and even to put them in front of our marriages.  I cannot help but see a spiritual truth here in Job though - Job's children were expendable.  Job's marriage was not.  Job's children were a blessing - Job's marriage is a covenant between God and man not to be broken by any man.

Please don't misunderstand me to say that divorce is always wrong; for it is.  But while wrong, it is sometimes allowed - particularly in the case of marital infidelity or sexual immorality.  But marriage is so sacrosanct that God would not allow Satan to severe the marriage so that it could be used against Job in the most severe test of man ever recorded.  For God instituted marriage. He does not break it - even to make a point.  He keeps his promises.

Men, we should treat marriage no less seriously.  Nothing is more important than our marriages.  No career, no child, no personal need is more important than our marriage.  No ministry is more important than our marriage.  When it comes down to it - all else other than the worship of God takes second stage to our marriages.  If we, as men, would do this and honor it, how would it change marriage today?  I'm not suggesting that there would be no divorce.  For women are sinners before God too.  But we have the power men, to at least change 50 percent of the problems in marriage today.

I have lost a spouse.  It hurts more than the loss of a sibling.  It hurts more than the loss of practically anything I can imagine.  And it doesn't stop hurting with time alone.  God's grace is sufficient and He heals all hearts of all hurts in His Providential timing.  I believe God is a God of reconciliation and restoration; but I also believe He is a God of repentance and holiness.  Sometimes he allows reconciliation and restoration - sometimes He does not.  In any case, we are to work for, to aspire for, to yearn for, to long for God's best.  My job is to repent.  My job is to be the best servant of God that I can be - in all my relationships.

Job didn't have ten children in an unhappy home.  There's no indication of an unhappy home here.  My admiration of Job continues to grow.  And we're only two verses into the book.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Job's Friends

Job's Friends 

In course of my current path of repentance, I'm studying the book of Job.  It is not that I see my life as a trial, or that I have experienced any particular hardship.  Rather, what I find is that Job suffered for two chapters and for the next forty chapters we learn nothing more about the trials and suffering of Job.  It is difficult for me to believe that the book of Job is about suffering when I see that forty chapters of the book recount nothing about his suffering, but rather are a collection of arguments about suffering, the nature of God, the nature of man and assorted other topics.  At first blush, there seems to be a lot one could garner from the book of Job about counseling; particularly Christian counseling.  For, if I remember correctly, Job's three friends are that helpful in their well intended efforts to assist their wounded friend.

Accordingly, what I endeavor to do now is to examine the arguments of the book of Job, in turn and with an eye to applying them in my own life.  I am not a counselor, but I am a friend, and a son, and a father.  Perhaps there is something to be learned from these in-artful counselors of one of the most famous biblical characters.

The color of submission suggests that Scripture presents itself in a form which was designed by God.  Thus, I submit myself to Scripture and begin at the beginning, rather than what I wish to do - which is to jump to chapter four and begin with Eliphaz's arguments.

Chapter 1:1

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil. NASB

Introductions in the Bible are various and curious.  We're introduced to Paul - Saul at the time, as a footnote during the stoning of Stephen, the main character.  We're introduced to David in 1 Samuel 16 as the least of his brothers out taking care of sheep whom the Lord had not yet filled with his spirit.  We're introduced to Abraham as one called from Ur.  And here we're introduced to one of the most famous men of all time, for Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Jews and Atheists all know the name of Job.  In introducing Job, the writer tells us that Job was in he land of Uz.  No one knows for sure, but many suggest that the land of Uz was located to the East of Israel and south of Edom.  Today this is a desolate place, but history also suggests that this was not always so.  If this is the patriarchal time, then the date would be between 1400 BC and earlier.  

And so we meet a man not living in Canaan, who was blameless.  And we was turning away from evil.  The juxtaposition of these two statements about Job encourages me.  For Job was not perfect in being, but perfect in direction.  His life isn't blameless in every account, but rather the author is accounting for Job's life with a static forward/present looking perspective.  It is not that Job has lived perfectly, but rather, that Job is turning away from evil.  The NET and ESV versions translate the Hebrew as "turned away from evil."  The NIV reports that Job "shunned evil" and the NLT says that Job "stayed away from evil."  I am illiterate in Hebrew and rely upon the translators to provide an accurate meaning.  The idea that Job repented, and turned away from evil is realistic in experience; consistent with Scripture - all men must repent.  Job is not blameless because he has lived a perfect life.  Rather, just as Abram had to obey God through faith and leave behind the worship of the moon; just as Moses had to repent of murder; just as David had to repent of adultery and murder; just as Paul had to repent of murder and hate - so we now find Job repenting.

He shuns evil, he hides from evil, he is turning away from evil.  Proverbs 22:3 teaches us that the wise man, the prudent man sees danger and hides himself from it.  A wise man anticipates trouble.  The heart of trouble begins with temptation.

Addicts are taught to recognize their own frailty by examining themselves and learning their own nature.  The acronym H.A.L.T. is helpful.  Hungry - Angry - Lonely - Tired.  A man who senses that he is hungry knows that his body is weak, his constitution compromised, his mind distracted, his defenses down.  A wise man sees that hunger and anticipates trouble, he anticipates temptation.  Further, a wise man treats the hunger, in an appropriate way, so as to defeat the enemy before even experiencing the temptation.  If he is angry, he knows that his heart is troubled, his emotions stirred and turbulent, his rationality diminished.  He humbly recognizes the weakened state and shores up his defenses by addressing the anger in an appropriate way.  If a man is lonely or tired, he will again have his defenses compromised.  And a wise man anticipates this and responds accordingly.  Job hid himself from evil.  Job turns away from evil.

Job was both a wise man, and a repentant man.  This makes for an "upright" man.  Almost all translations use the term "upright" here.  The NLT says Job was a man of "complete integrity" and the MSG interprets the Scripture to say that Job was "totally devoted to God."  When I hear the term "upright" I cannot but help think of the evolution charts I saw constantly as a child in school.  You see the monkey to man chart and all but the last one are bent over.  They are not upright.  I also think about tent poles.  Having camped a lot in my life, more than almost anyone I've ever met, I know a few things about tent poles.  I know, for example, that if the tent pole isn't upright - you're going to have problems.  A tent pole at any angle creates imbalance and instability.  They are difficult to stabilize with lines.  They are practically useless.

So, when I think of a man who is not upright, the image in my imagination is that of a monkey - or a creature who is less than man - an instable, imbalanced creature.  I don't believe in the theory of evolution and find the idea remarkable on any level.  So, these are images that are fantastic.  But even in art we see the devious portrayed by the one hunched over.  We imagine the criminal mind hunched over his papers scheming and hiding.  

Recently I had occasion to meet two young boys of 15 and 16 years old.  They each wanted to date one of my friend's daughters and each left a distinct impression upon me by their stature.  The older was taller than the other, but his height was diminished by his stature, for his was shifty, sneaky and devious in presentation.  He did not look you in the eye and if you were successful in soliciting a handshake, it was one of those limp feminine handshakes without eye contact.  In contrast, the younger boy approached me, made an introduction which while presumptive was bold and strong.  He shook my hand heartedly with good eye contact.  The impression was made and will not be easily undone.  The one is upright - the other less than upright.  And less than upright is not good.

Job is an upright man.  We get the sense that he's direct, forthright, honest, able to look anyone in the eye because he has dealt fairly with all men.  He walks straight and tall because he has nothing to be ashamed of, he is hiding nothing.  What he has done wrong, he has already repented of, and he's familiar with his fellow man - he knows what is in the heart of man and knows that no one is perfect.  Having repented he can walk straight.

But walking upright and repenting doesn't occur in a vacuum.  There is within this one verse a raison d'étre.  For Job is not an upright man if he does not fear God.  Job does not repent if he does not fear God.  Job is not blameless if he does not fear God.  In fact, all that Job is, is due to his fear of God.

The Hebrew word here (yare') means to fear, revere, be afraid, stand in awe of, be awed, honour, respect, be dreadful, to cause astonishment and awe, be held in awe, to inspire reverence or godly fear or awe.  I've heard teachers suggest that God is not someone we should fear, but rather revere with honor and respect.  Certainly, the word allows such a limited interpretation.  I believe, however, that when we see how people respond to being in the presence of God - or hearing God call them to account - we will see that the word is more accurately held to mean awe and fear.  One cannot be in the presence of the divine and not be unchanged.  And Scripture teaches us that the most common response of people from Adam to the Apostle John - from Genesis to Revelation - is that a man is overcome with his own sin and want to hide his face.  No one in this world rushes into the presence of the Father like a 2 year old and hops in his lap.  That's just not Scriptural reality.  We are encouraged to call upon the Father with a Daddy like name - Abba Father.  We are encouraged to see his love and his tenderheartedness.  We are pointed to his mercy and his grace.  But these all exist within the power and the being of the most High, the most powerful, the only pure, the only righteous God.  Those teachers can rush into his lap - I'm probably cognizant of my sin enough to hide.

I'm not suggesting that those teachers are wrong - I just believe it to be a super-human ability to know all of our sin - to see his righteousness, justice and power - to see Jesus' propitiation and still stand on our feet, much less hop into his lap.  John the Apostle fell before an Angel!  I agree that we have the right - because of Jesus' propitiation to enter the throne room of God and call upon him as Abba Father, but I also recognize that until such time as my sin is done away with completely in whole in perfect sanctification here on Earth - I'll hide, I'll fear, I'll stand in awe of God.  Rather, hopefully I'll do these things.  If God grants me repentance; if God grants me fear; then I will be blameless too.  Then I will walk upright.

Job is not Superman.  Job is not a movie super hero.  He's a man, chosen by God, to walk in righteousness.  He is what any Christian can be, and what all Christians are called to be.  When I read Job 1:1 I am reminded that I should be able to write in my journal for my son:

There was a man in the land of Pennsylvania whose name was Kevin; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil. JoK (Journal of Kevin)

Later we will examine Job 1:2.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


I welcome any and all persecution and criticism.  Your criticisms communicate that at the very least I’m thinking about something important.  Accordingly, if you wish to point out how ignorant, simplistic, banal or stupid any of my thoughts, opinions or ideas are, I welcome them.  Please send them to my email address which is ljsdaddy with the obligatory gmail portion added on at the end.  But I think we’d all enjoy it more if you’d leave a comment below.

Submitting to God

I am recently moved in heart and mind to the topic of submission.  Submission necessarily involves the act of submitting; usually surrendering ones power to another.  To submit is to yield to the control of another.  In the case of submitting to God it is then to yield our will, our direction, our belief, our passion, our intellect, and our freedom to the control of God.  To accomplish such we require three things requisite.  First and foremost we must be cognizant to some extent of our own will, our own predetermined direction, our own chosen beliefs, our own passions, our own intellect, and our own favored freedom.  With regard to each, but with particular attention to our will, I do not mean to suggest that a complete and accurate information of our own will is necessary, but rather that we must be familiar with and aware of our own will before it can be submitted to another.  Secondly, in order to submit, we must be cognizant of the will of the one to whom we are to yield our will.

To illustrate, let us examine the case of an enlisted soldier of inferior rank receiving a lawful order from a higher ranking soldier.  In order for the soldier to obey the order and yield his own will to that will expressed within the order the soldier must be aware of the will expressed within the order and his own will.  Further, in order to yield control there must be a dissonance between the soldier's will and the will expressed in the order.  For if there is no disagreement, no dissonance, no lack of harmony, then the soldier will be able to accompany the terms of the order without yielding control.  In this case the inferior soldier will be cooperating with the superior officer.  There is harmony, there is agreement and there is obedience; but there is no submission in that there is no necessary yielding of control.

In review we see that before submission can be effected there is required: a knowledge of our will; an awareness of the will of another; and, a dissonance between the two.  At this point submission requires an act.  The act required is that of yielding and yielding requires change.  Our will and intention has predetermined a course of conduct or non-conduct and to yield is to adopt a different course.  If we are predisposed to sit and we rise in yielding to another, we are said to submit.  If we are running and we stop in deference to the will of another, we are said to submit.  But if we are running and we find ourselves in agreement with the will of another, we are not submitting; rather, instead we are cooperating.  It is no sin to cooperate and agree with the will of God.  But reality and creation teaches us that our wills rarely coincide with the will of God, and our nature is opposed to the will of God without direct intervention by God himself.  While cooperation is possible, submission is rather the norm in the experience of most.

It might be argued in opposition that to yield control does not require dissonance.  It might be suggested that to yield control does not even require information and awareness, but can be the sort of yielding that a soldier exhibits when that soldier enlists in the service in the first place.  I will admit that this is an expression of the intent to yield.  I will admit that when the armed forces had the power and will to enforce orders under penalty of being shot, that the choice to enlist required a much deeper sense of yielding control.  However, the counter argument is that an intention to yield is not yielding until a dissonance arises.  The soldier may be said to have submitted upon enlistment, but the character of that submission will not be seen until such time as the soldier receives instruction and direction which is contrary to that soldier's own will and persuasion.  If the soldier at that time regrets the decision to enlist and chooses not to yield control and follow the order, the initial enlistment can no longer be characterized as submission.  If the soldier serves the entire term of service without having received an order which creates disharmony but rather serves out the term with complete harmony of purpose and direction, can that soldier be said to have submitted?  Rather, I believe the soldier has cooperated in purpose and direction and provided service.  However, there is no reason to believe the soldier has yielded any control.

With regard to the three requisites, the first - an information and awareness of our own will - comes about by intelligent meditation and consideration.  A haphazard life distracted by the diversions of entertainment and society will not allow for such an intelligent meditation and consideration.  For this reason alone it would be wise to spend some time each day soberly with a mind to know our own intention, bias, predisposition and will.  However, as I hope to demonstrate, this is not necessary to the extent one might suppose if one will spend time daily in a sober reflection upon the will of the one to whom we are to yield control.  For the second requisite is that we have an accurate information and awareness of the will of God.  It is a peculiar aspect of humanity that when we learn the will of another, our own spirit will reveal quickly the extent and breadth of our own will's agreement with that being revealed to us.

In order to understand the will of another we must first be aware of that will.  Subsequent to becoming aware of the will, we must understand accurately the content, import, intention and force of that will.  The content of the will is simply that instruction and character of the will.  The import of the will involves that applicability of the will to our own circumstances and direction.  The intention of the will reflects the purpose behind the will or the expression behind will.  The force of will comprehends those elements of direction such as timeliness and energy.  An awareness of the will of another is rarely complete without some appreciation for the character of the one to whose will we are to submit.  When a hospitable man requires an empty room, his will is reasonably seen as quite markedly different than when a covetous man requires an empty room.  For the intention of those two wills is so diverse that while the appearance of the will of each is similar on the surface, knowing the character of the different men makes the intention, import and force of the wills quite different.  For the covetous man we might appease his will by supplying a simple room for another and opulent room for himself.  For the hospitable man we might appease his will by supplying an opulent room for another and a simple room for himself.  It is in the knowledge of the character of the man that we learn the character of the will.

There are generally recognized two reliable sources of the character of God, and one reliable witness to the will of God.  With regard to the will of God, that will is expressed reliably in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.  With regard to the character of God, that character is revealed accurately in both the Scriptures and his creation unspoilt by sin.  If we agree with these three sources and admit no others as authoritative, then we will confine ourselves to the study of God's Word (Scriptures) with reflection on his creation as well.  If we admit other sources, such as feelings, emotions, experiences and other writings, then we will find ourselves in doldrums; in irons; or even in a circuitous eddy which throws us round about without direction and assurance.

This last point is critical.  We can hardly be said to accurately understand the will of God if our sources do not admit an objective understanding.  Accuracy is lost as well if the sources of understanding are contradictory in nature.  Accuracy is impossible if the source of understanding is enmeshed in subjective and transient emotion.  Accuracy is meaningless if the source of understanding hides within the contradictory, subjective, transient, and oft-misinterpreted experiences of others or ourselves.  Accordingly, when one sets out to understand and comprehend the will of God, one must reject all sources as authoritative except Scripture and creation.  To the extent that other sources do not disagree with Scripture or creation, that source might be accurate - but it is impossible to know with authority the accuracy of that revelation.

Having defined the source of information of God's will we can look at the nature of divining God's will from Scripture.  This is not as mysterious as some might make it out.  First and foremost we must subject ourselves to the authority of Scripture.  We have not the right to take Scripture piecemeal in order to support our own will.  Scripture is a reflection of the mind of God... indeed it is the very mind of God communicated to men.  To hear only parts of the mind of God, disjointed and taken out of context is to do more than misunderstand God, it is to do violence to the authority of Scripture.  And, it is to disregard the will of God.

I doubt that the will of God can be understood without reading it first in context and in whole.  For God begins a thought, God begins an expression of his will; and we read it in part and stop where we believe appropriate and move on to conclusions that may or may not be accurate.  In doing so we risk misunderstanding God.  In doing so we reject the authority of Scripture.  We reject the authority by determining in and of ourselves when and where we will start reading and when and where we will stop reading.  We determine where God begins to express his will and where God has stopped expressing his will. The authority for this determination is no longer Scripture itself but our mean methods and intents.

When we come to Scripture with the intention of finding an analogy or story to illustrate a sermon, we show the utmost disrespect to Scripture for we presume to take it piecemeal in support of our own ideas and conclusions.  This is quite different from divining different analogies and stories from our independent study of Scripture as scripture - verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book, as it was revealed to humanity.

And herein, is the beginning of submission.  God has revealed his will to humanity.  His method of revelation was through the written words of his prophets and apostles.  These words were not given piecemeal and hodgepodge but rather, each was given in the form of a history book, a compilation of songs, a chronological record of genealogies and histories, an oral recitation of civil and religious law, an exhorting epistle, or a revelatory prophecy of future judgments.  While the whole may seem disjointed to the casual observer, one who endeavors to read the whole sees a unity of purpose, a unity of story, a unity of character - indeed a unified message.  This is the will of God.  When we yield control to that will, we study the Word of God as given to us - book by book, chapter by chapter, verse by verse, thought by thought.  We take it as we find it - wholly and completely.  The control we yield is how we read Scripture.

When we study scripture intently on a daily basis without regard to our circumstances, resisting the temptation to use book studies and topical studies, we begin to know the mind of God.  But when we limit ourselves to searching through a concordance finding verses which contain disjointed thoughts about the topic we feel is appropriate in our lives at that moment, we do violence to the will of God.  We presume to know his will by taking parcels of his thoughts and building them into a house of our own making.  We presume to know what the Spirit will say to us when we limit our reading to that which interests us alone.  And in the end, we may very well conclude whatever we like about the will of God.

And in the end, this is what we observe in reality.  Those who reject the teaching of Scripture regarding authority, divination, sexuality, morality, worship or some other teaching do so by limiting their exposure to Scripture.  They begin with the concordance and call it serious bible study.  They incorporate historical writings of other men to interpret the natural reading of Scripture against itself.  They appeal to modern sensibilities to interpret scripture against tradition.  In this sense, those who would do violence to scripture use the same tools as those who submit to the authority of scripture.

For when one submits - yields control - they too will use concordance, historical writings, natural observation and the study of the original languages.  However, these are tools that help them understand what they are already reading and are subject to the natural understanding of the text itself.  They appeal to these extraneous tools when the meaning is unclear, not when they dislike the natural meaning.  To be sure, a study of the original languages assists in understanding any word, sentence, phrase and meaning.  The study of ancient cultures provides context.  The reading of philosophers reveals information that is helpful in applying scripture.  Reading the writings of other theologians challenges us to re-read scripture in a new light, with new understanding.  But in the end, the one who submits and yields control reads scripture and yields to scripture.

A basic illustration is that of the issue of homosexuality.  There are today those who would reject that scripture reveals God's will opposed to that act and lifestyle of homosexuality.  To do so they have to reject many explicit directives in the old and new testaments.  Additionally, they have to reject declarative statements about the judgment of God and the character of saints.  In order to accomplish this they resort to two methods.  First, they take scripture piecemeal.  They appeal to particular verses about the love of God, about the freedom in Christ, about the new covenant.  Secondly, they appeal to ancient writings about culture to limit the import and force of the otherwise declared will of God.  They make the will of God subject to cultural expressions determining beforehand that God's will changes depending upon the culture of the time.  At some times homosexuality is wrong, at other times it is no longer wrong.  With this relativistic view of God's will they interpret scripture in the way that best suits their predetermined conclusions.

While most of those who call themselves Christians will see the obvious violence to scripture and the understanding of God's will with the above illustration, I mean to point out my own failing; a failing I fear is pandemic in today's church culture.  For the meanness of approaching scripture piecemeal, topically with the assistance of a concordance is the norm, not the exception.  I rarely begin with an intent study of scripture as revealed to humanity other than my daily reading of Proverbs.  My own experience affirms the value of studying scripture in a more submissive posture - verse by verse, chapter by chapter.  I have undertaken this endeavor with the books of Romans, 1 John, Hebrews, James, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Revelation, John, Genesis, Proverbs, and a few others.  My understanding of God's will from these books alone have changed from the intent verse by verse study.  As an example, I spent years attempting to understand 1 John 3:9 and found my understanding materially different after a few years of reading the whole book through on an almost nightly basis from that understanding I had upon an initial reading of that one isolated verse.

So today I observe that the beginning of submission to God begins with submission to scripture; in how we read it, and how we study it.  I note that submitting to scripture means comprehending scripture and revelation generally - how it is given and how it is meant to be received.  I note that submitting requires yielding my will to that of another - yielding control.  Indeed, we forfeit all control when we yield to our own temptation to use scripture for our own means rather than approaching scripture humbly with intent to be taught whatever scripture would teach us, whenever scripture would teach us, however scripture would teach us.

In short, to submit to God is to stop using scripture trivially for our own ends, our own messages, our own philosophies, and our own endeavors.  To submit to God is to bend the knee and read scripture, study scripture, meditate upon scripture as it was revealed to us - book by book, chapter by chapter.  We cannot expect to understand the will of God before we are willing to begin here.  And we can hardly submit to the will of God if we are unintentionally, willfully, negligently or recklessly ignorant of that will.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Mad About Haiti; a Respite and Repose in Proverbium

For over six months now I've been working my way through Proverbs on a daily basis reading the chapter corresponding to the day of the month. An unexpected consequence was the sorrow that inevitably accompanied such an endeavor to which I was naively indifferent. The man who sits in the life raft in the midst of the ocean crying “water! water! everywhere! and not a drop to drink!” knows the peril of learning a proverb. For in the revelation of wisdom there is the stark contrast between what ought to be, and what is in my heart. Shock sets in, inevitably followed by despair unless one of two things is accomplished first.

There are those who will invariably have not a little success through the efforts of their own will. These self assured souls might persist steadfastly for years and years, if not a lifetime, in the work of becoming a more wise person. And then there are those who will see something different in the proverb which escapes the natural man. The heart of the man is revealed in proverbs; that is, the heart of a humble man looking into the mind of God. I have looked into the mind of God and it is a fearful thing. And I have been humbled.

For this reason I revisit my frustration with Haiti and those who love sinners more than brothers and sisters. While my frustration has not subsided, rather it is more hot than ever, I see the rashness of my words and understand now that fools will not hear wisdom; lovers of the world will not recognize correction. My words are wasted if I intend to change the heart of one who loves the world more than they love God within their brother. Yet, sadder than this is that I have left myself open to criticism by unnecessarily including harsh language. My speech has not been seasoned with grace and love and patience. I regret this.

And so, after respite I see that energy spent in frustration at fools is energy wasted. After repose I understand that regardless of the rightness or wrongness of an invocation or exhortation – including harsh words risks undermining the efficacy of the encouragement by allowing smaller minds to be diverted into criticism instead of listening. Proverbs has humbled me yet again. I have seen wisdom and played the fool. Shame on me.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Purpose of the Church Part 2

I am a member of one of those churches that believes its mission is to save everyone. They have adopted the mentality that the purpose of the Church is to seek and save the lost – every one of them. They have taken one command of our Lord, a very important command at that, and determined that the last commandment is the most important. More remarkably, they have determined that the last commandment is the only one that shows us our purpose. As if our Lord hid the purpose of the Church from the disciples and apostles until the very last minute. For no where else can I find anything that even approaches limiting the purpose or the primary purpose of the Church to evangelism.

Scripture tells us many things. We are told true religion is to minister to the poor, to the widows and to the orphans. We are told to give to the saints. We are told to love our brothers and sisters. Consequently, we are never told to love the world – in fact, we are told that to love the world is to NOT love God. We are told that if we do not love our brother, we do not love God.

This past sabbath, I heard a good partial message on giving and generosity. The teacher gave a four point message on generosity, pointing out that generosity reflects God, glorifies God, tests our spirits, and blesses each of us. The teacher took as inspiration II Corinthians 8 and 9. It was a good session of teaching but it was incomplete. For in II Corinthians 8 and 9, Paul is specifically speaking of giving to the saints. This is brought out multiple times in each chapter. But the conclusion of this teacher was that our generosity is to be towards unbelievers. Remarkably, the whole point of the object of our giving is missed – rather more than missed in that it is noted incorrectly. An omission would have been better than an incorrect conclusion.

And herein is the point of all our love. If we do not love our brothers and sisters FIRST; if we do not love the saints MORE; if we do not love the Church BETTER; we do not love God. Jesus came to give his life for his Church. Jesus, in his most earnest hour of need refused to pray for ANYONE other than the church. It is not that Jesus did not have compassion for others – rather, it is that he loves the Church FIRST, MORE and BEST. Should we love differently?

We have taken one command of our Lord and replaced all the commands to love one another with this other command. Our cautionary statement should be found in Jesus’ warning words. To those who were being judged – to those who were to imminently face hell’s fire and God’s rage he says: “To the extent that you did not do it to the least of these my brethren, you did not do it to me.” Let us stop. Let us please stop. Please stop. Consider what is it to visit the ones in prison, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked. Jesus wasn't talking about the reprobate sinners in Haiti – he was talking about our brothers and sisters in Haiti. Jesus wasn't talking about unwed mothers in Seattle – he was talking about unwed mothers who are our sisters in Christ in Seattle.

We live in a country of excess. I believe that no other people in all of human history has had more excess than the United States of America in 2010. If one were to argue to me that our excess allows us to meet the needs of our brothers and sisters AND the unsaved – I would say “amen.” And if I saw my brothers and sisters doing just that I would have no reason to be alarmed. But be honest. This is NOT what is happening. This is NOT what is being taught. And this is NOT what our brothers and sisters experience generally. Generally speaking, Christians are second class citizens when it comes to church giving – it is the world they stand behind hoping to gather crumbs from the table. How far we have moved from Jesus’ teachings. How far we have removed the love of Christ from his children. How sad it is to see our churches refuse to love Jesus instead loving those who are at war with God.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Purpose of the Church Part 1

Today I am pressed down. On all sides there are those who believe, who teach, who forcefully declare that the singular purpose of the Church is to pronounce the Gospel and save souls. Broad evocations of parables and allusions to the so-called “Great Commission” are all used to support what is seen as an inescapable and universal conclusion. In fact, if one questions this teaching one is considered suspect from the very start. The question is not open to debate.

However, I am a child of the evangelical generation. My generation is unique in that a larger percentage of my generation was involved in para-church evangelism during our formative years than any other generation before us or after us. No other generation of Christians has been so separated from the local body while simultaneously growing in doctrine, in understanding, in worship and in fellowship with our fellow believers. No other generation has spent more time outside the local church body than inside the local church body.

Some will be quick to defend the para-church organizations by pointing out that where two or more are gathered, there Christ is with them. They will infer that a para-church organization is a type of church. And if we do not look deeper we may be tempted to agree.

While I do not mean to criticize any particular para-church organization, I do want to distinguish between a para-church organization and the local church as established by the apostles and church fathers. I do not mean to refer to the universal Church as established by Christ, but I do mean to speak to the quality of the universal Church as expressed in the form of the local body of believers as taught by the apostles, by the church fathers and by Christ. This local body was not homogeneous in any way other than location. There is no indication that believers were separated by doctrine, by age, by race, by socio-economic status, by gender, by education or by any other factor other than distance.

Contrast that with the para-church organization which exists solely for the purpose of focusing on something less than the total needs/purpose of the local church body. Whether it be a para-church organization for building homes, ministering to college students, promoting a social agenda or simply providing a unique outlet for worship – they are by their very charter and existence and purpose a means of dividing the local body of believers one from another.

Many para-church organizations will defend this division by encouraging their members to attend a local church in addition to their activities. They will refrain from any type of activity on the sabbath. They will promote attendance by example and persistent encouragement. But in the end, they will divide the attention, the energy and the love of their members from that attention, energy and love they should be giving to the local church.

Other para-church organizations will defend the isolation as necessary due to some deficiency within the local body or some inability for the local body to meet a certain need. However, there is usually a complete lack of evidence of attempts to obtain to their goals within the local body.

However, again my intention is not to deride the para-church in general, but point out that my generation grew up more in the para-church than in the local body. Is it any wonder then that they have adopted the mentality of the para-church when addressing the purpose of the local body? Most all para-church organizations are focused on evangelism. Whether the evangelism is promoted through face to face meetings, through indirect ministries of love, or through worship – the intention is to evangelize. And how, my generation has adopted that mentality wholly into their hearts and minds and having outgrown their para-church organizations have now brought this evangelical focus into the local body.

But is this right? Is this Godly? Am I crazy to question this assumption?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Mad about Haiti

I’m mad about Haiti, but maybe not the way you’d expect.  This week I've been deeply saddened by the so-called Church’s incessant disregard for the needs of our brothers and sisters in favor of ill-suited feelings of love for the world.  I’m speaking of the tragedy involving Haiti.  Although the tragedy I’m thinking of may be different that one most of the world is lamenting.

People the world over are decrying the injustice, the inhumanity, the lamentable suffering the people of Haiti are enduring at the hands of nature this past month.  An earth quake has been blamed for the death of thousands.  People in my church are praying weekly for those suffering in Haiti.  And yet, I’m unmoved.  Why am I unmoved?  Am I heartless, mean-spirited, fanatical?  Indeed, I am none of the above – and I might suggest that those of my so-called brethren who are spending so much time on those in Haiti are all of the above.  They are heartless, they are mean-spirited and they are fanatical.

  1. How so?  Quickly, they are heartless because even the most wicked can be moved to sympathy by thousands of dead people in a very short time.  It is no demonstration of sympathy or compassion to feel the loss and the tragedy.  I mourn as do all sensible people – wicked and righteous alike.  It is no credit to so-called Christians that they pray for the people of Haiti.  But it is heartless to only pray for them when really bad things in this temporal world happen.  This world if fleeting away like a whisp of smoke and the only thing important to these so-called Christians is this life here on earth.  They are not lamenting that the vast majority of the dead are now at this very moment in hell.  They are not lamenting the injustice of those who blame God for this tragedy.  They are not lamenting the blatant refusal to acknowledge God as God even after this tragedy by the vast numbers of Haitians.  They lament that life was lost.  They are life-worshippers -and not the life that God gives that is eternal, but rather, they worship the life of this world.
  2. They are mean-spirited, in that they are right now ignoring the needs of their brothers and sisters whom they know and see every day in favor of strangers whom they neither know nor are related to.  I’m speaking of the tragedy that these so-called Christians love heathen strangers more than their Christians brothers and sisters.  Rather than being known for their love for one another, they are now known for their love for the world, and truly this world is perishing.  They are the most mean-spirited in the sense that their spirits are poor, or insubstantial worth and of suspect quality.
  3. They are fanatical in their pursuit of universal salvation.  In their hearts they decry the injustice in God in that He only chooses a few.  They would do it differently and choose everyone.  And so they work toward that end.  Instead of feeding the sheep, the feed the goats.  Instead of loving the brethren, they love the world.  Instead of praying for their brothers and sisters, they pray instead for strangers.  Instead of loving their neighbors, they love strangers.  They are everything that Christ was not, and they are so passionately.  They blaspheme the name of Christ by associating his name with indiscriminate compassion.  They change the nature of God and exchange it for a santa claus god that loves everyone and is powerless to help them – therefore he needs our help.

I am sick of them.  They are useless and vile.  If some of them were not my deceived brethren I would be done with the lot of them.  They are, for the most part, a glob of senseless unthinking religious zealots who worship Pan and hedonism.