Job, the Devil, and Me

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“God,” I prayed as I drove home, “every time I think it can’t get much harder, it gets harder. The vice gets tighter. The weight gets heavier.” You get it. I read your posts. I hear your prayer concerns. But as I passed the cotton fields I heard very clearly, “Have you considered my servant Dorcas?” And suddenly I had a glimpse into the unseen world. You probably recognized this as coming from Job, the hard-pressed Old Testament fellow who suffered enormously just to prove satan wrong.

Here’s the story in a nutshell. One day satan came before the Lord who threw down a challenge: “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (1:8). To which satan replied, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has?” (1:10). He then offered up a challenge: take it all away and the man will curse you to your face. Twice God allowed satan to test Job, first taking away everything he had – including his children – then afflicting him with physical pain and misery. The only thing he left Job was his shrew of a wife and his condescending “friends.” And the Scripture says Job “fell down to the ground in worship (1:20) and adds “In all of this, Job did not sin in what he said.” (2:10).

What if satan is still at it? Isn’t he “the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night” (Rev. 12:10).  And what if God really did say, “Have you considered my servant Dorcas” (God speaks to and of me by my given name). Don’t you see?  Satan continues to accuse and press and annoy and abuse God’s people to prove the same point – we only love Him for what He does for us.

And now we understand why that “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) is rooting us on to trust God to our last breath. They are telling us that whatever hardships we face will be worth it in the end. Because our God will never, ever fail us. Oh, Beloved, stand strong with the Lord. Do not curse Him for the hard things you face, but trust in His goodness and faithfulness. Let’s prove the devil wrong to his ugly face.

Jesus is . . .

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“We’re New Testament people, we don’t need to read the Old Testament.” “I just want to know about Jesus, so I’ll stick with the New Testament.” Ever thought or said anything like that? I’ve heard it many times. As Christians – Christ’s followers – we are focused on only what Jesus did and taught.  But the Old Testament looks ahead to Jesus Christ.  Check it out:

In Genesis, He is the Seed of the woman who will one day crush the head of Satan.

In Exodus, He is the Passover Lamb and the one who leads His people out of bondage.

In Leviticus, He is the great high priest and the perfect sacrifice.

In Deuteronomy, he is the Great Prophet to come.

In Joshua, He is the Captain of the Lord’s host.

In Judges, He is the one who faithfully delivers His people from the cost of sin.

In Ruth, He is our Kinsman Redeemer.

He is the anointed King in the line of David in the books of Samuel.

In the books of the Kings, He is the Spirit filling the Temple.

He is the great Teacher in Ezra and the Restorer of broken walls in Nehemiah.

He is the Interceder for His people in Esther and the coming Redeemer in Job.

He is the Shepherd in Psalms and the Source of all wisdom in Proverbs.

He is the Teacher in Ecclesiastes.

He is the Beloved Bridegroom in the Song of Solomon.

In Isaiah, He is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace and Suffering Servant.

In Jeremiah and Lamentations, He is the Man acquainted with sorrows.

In Ezekiel, He brings life to dry bones.

In Daniel, He is the Ancient of Days.

He is the faithful Husband in Hosea, the Hope of His people in Joel, the Judge of the nations in Amos, and in Obadiah the One who warns of coming judgment.

In Jonah He is the preacher of the Good News, in Micah He is the Ruler from Bethlehem.

In Nahum, He is the judge of His people’s enemy,  the Sovereign Lord in Habakkuk, and in Zephaniah, He is the God who is mighty to save.

In Haggai He is the Glory of the House of God, in Zechariah He is the Royal Priest and in Malachi Jesus is the Son of Righteousness.

Beloved, if you want to know Jesus, read the Old Testament. He is all over the place.  Then read the New Testament with a fresh understanding of Jesus who was and is and is to come.

But God . . .

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Some days I feel like Job – right in the enemy’s bullseye while God just stands back and watches. You know his story. Satan went before the Lord and – well – God kinda baited him: “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job. 1:8). And satan fired back that the only reason Job was so good was because God had put a hedge of protection and blessing around him. God gave satan permission to take everything and everyone (except his wife) away from him to test Job – and he passed with flying colors. In round two satan was allowed to make Job physically miserable. “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said” (2:10). We always talk about “the patience of Job,” but if you’ve ever read the whole account of his story, Job did a lot of whining. He questioned God. He “cursed the day of his birth” (3:1). His wife and friends were no help to him as they verbally attacked him and accused him and counseled him to “Curse God and die! (2:9) (such a lovely woman, Mrs. Job). 

And if you’ve ever read the whole account of his story, you’ll notice that God never explained why Job had to suffer so. He never said, “This is what that season was all about. Thank you for helping me take satan down several pegs!” Sometimes we get glimpses of what God’s up to, but more often, we won’t. I can’t count how many times I’ve cried out, “God I don’t understand why this is happening!” I said it with many tears very recently. And the Spirit reminded me of my two favorite words in all of Scripture: “But God . . .” Six letters that are packed with power and peace and hope. All seems lost – but God . . .  The world is wicked and vile – but God . . . The enemy is all over me – but God . . .  I have no hope – but God . . . my Joy is gone – but God . . .

But God is sovereign. But God is faithful. But God is mighty. But God is loving and gracious and good. Beloved, when you don’t understand – you can always trust His hand. Life is hard – but God . . .

When Life is a Puzzle

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Murphy’s Law says, “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” Robert Burns wrote: “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” In the south, we say, “If the good Lord’s willin’ and the creek don’t rise!” We make plans – big and small – and life happens. In high school, I planned to go to college, get married, have 3 kids, be a writer, and live happily ever after. Five years later I never made it to college, was working at a dead-end job, and going through a divorce. Not exactly what I had in mind. Perhaps you intended to get a big project finished at work yesterday, but a minor hitch derailed your plan. Flat tires, sick kids, an unexpected phone call, or the boss’s priorities can turn our day upside down. Divorce, cancer, lay-offs, rebellious kids, and death can turn our lives upside down.

Aren’t you glad God is not subject to the winds of change and the whims of other people? Job testified, “I know that you can do all things; no plan of Yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:1). God is the perfect planner because He is sovereign; that is He has absolute authority to set a plan and absolute power to pull it off. He also has the advantage of seeing “the bigger picture.” Like putting together a puzzle, He not only sees each piece as it fits into the whole but He’s got the box lid with the finished picture. And what is that picture? “The likeness of His Son” (Romans 8:29). That’s the good that God is working toward in “all things” in your life (v. 28). In hard seasons you and I can take comfort in knowing that God is never taken by surprise when life takes a left turn. He has already determined how this thing that has rocked your world will fit into the completed picture of your life.

God never sits on His throne and wrings His hands over the unexpected. Because nothing is unexpected to the One who rules over it all. You can rest in that, Beloved. Nothing in your life will ever take Him by surprise.

Why the Old Testament Still Matters

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Reading the Bible is paramount for the believer who wants to live and walk as Jesus did – after all, that is the purpose for our salvation – “to be conformed to the likeness of [God’s] Son” (Romans 8:27). I’ll bet you have started trying to read through the whole Bible and found it to be more challenging than you thought. Especially in the Old Testament – especially in Leviticus! What do all those old rules and sacrifices and rituals have to do with us as New Testament believers? EVERYTHING!

The entire Old Testament looks ahead to Jesus Christ. He fulfills every promise and completes every command. In Genesis He is the Seed of the woman who will one day crush the head of Satan. In Exodus, He is the Passover Lamb and the one who leads His people out of bondage .In Leviticus, He is the great high priest and the perfect sacrifice. In Deuteronomy he is the Great Prophet to come. In Joshua, He is the Captain of the Lord’s host.

In Judges, He is the one who faithfully delivers His people from the cost of the sin. In Ruth, He is our Kinsman Redeemer. He is the anointed King in the line of David in the books of Samuel. In the books of the Kings, He is the Spirit filling the Temple. He is the great Teacher in Ezra and the Rebuilder of broken walls in Nehemiah. He is the Interceder for His people in Esther and the coming Redeemer in Job.

He is the Shepherd in Psalms and the Source of all wisdom in Proverbs. He is the Beloved Bridegroom in the Song of Solomon. In Isaiah He is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace and Suffering Servant. In Jeremiah and Lamentations He is the Man acquainted with sorrows. In Ezekiel He brings life to dry bones. In Daniel He is the Ancient of Days.

He is the faithful Husband in Hosea, the Hope of HIs people in Joel, the Judge of the nations in Amos, and in Obadiah the One who warns of coming judgment. In Jonah He is the preacher of the Good News, in Micah He is the Ruler from Bethlehem. In Nahum, He is the judge of His people’s enemy, the Sovereign Lord in Habakkuk and in Zephaniah He is the God who is mighty to save. In Haggai He is the Glory of the House of God, in Zechariah He is the Royal Priest and in Malachi Jesus is the Son of Righteousness.

When you read the Old Testament, always look for Jesus, He is on every page, in every verse. Then read the New Testament with a fresh understanding of Jesus who was and is and is to come.

Lead Us Not into Temptation

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James said, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone” (1:13).  So why then, did Jesus include in His prayer: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13)? Isn’t James contradicting Jesus? How are we to understand this? Jesus is teaching us to ask for deliverance from temptation.  He is not in any way implying that God would usher us into tempting situations, although He may, as a step of purification, allow Satan to press us with temptation. Peter can attest to that.  

After the Passover meal, just before His arrest, Jesus announces that all of the disciples will abandon Him in His hour of need. Peter declared: “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will” (Matt. 26:33). What passion! What boldness! What foolishness!  Jesus answered His disciple, “I tell you the truth, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times” (v. 34). Luke noted that Jesus told Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31).  Satan wanted access to all of the disciples (the first “you” is plural), but Jesus permitted him to lean only on Simon Peter (the second “you” is singular).  Why? Because He intended for Peter to be a powerhouse in His church, and there were things in him that needed to be sifted out. Things like pride and arrogance and self-sufficiency. By the way, did you catch Jesus’ promise – “I have prayed for you, Simon. And did you also catch His assurance – “when (not if) you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” It’s as if Jesus was telling Peter, “This will be rough, but I am praying for you, and you will win this battle – you have My word on it.”

Beloved, is temptation and struggle pressing hard against you? Perhaps the Lord is using the enemy to sift out something that could hinder you from becoming a mighty servant in His Kingdom. Gold is purified by fire. If it’s hot where you are right now, trust God in the process. As Job declared, “When He has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).

The Place Where God Dwells

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Sunrise over Jerusalem

It’s hard. This life in a fallen world is hard, challenging, painful, and sometimes downright cruel. Sure there are Joys and blessings and moments of delight. But as Job’s friend Eliphaz opined, “Man is born to trouble, as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). Trouble comes seemingly out of nowhere, sometimes it comes from others, but most often it comes with our own fingerprints all over it. When trouble comes, however it comes, you and I need a refuge; we need a strong helper who will stick with us in it. Thanks be, we have both. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

Psalm 46 is a song, like out modern hymns of encouragement, to bring hope to the people of God. The psalmist talks about troubles that range from natural disasters to wars and enemy nations. I think we can say we’ve seen some of these world-wide issues in 2020. But for most of us, our troubles are closer to home. Financial troubles, health troubles, family troubles, job troubles, relationship troubles. We’re troubled by grief and pain and stress and strain. We begin to doubt if we can stand up under it all. Ah – but don’t forget about your Helper.

Hear this good word of hope as the psalmist lifts his heart for “the holy place where the Most High dwells.” “God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day” (46:4,5). But, you say, he is talking about a city, Jerusalem, where God dwells in the temple. In the immediate context, he is. But this word reaches forward to you and me. When Jesus promised to send His Holy Spirit, he said that “He lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17).

Think about what that means. If you are in Christ, you are “the holy place where the Most High dwells.” Yes, YOU, with all your troubles. Stop for a moment and speak this affirmation out loud: “God is within me, I will not fall; God will help me at the break of day.” That’s not high-minded theology, it’s a promise that is as sure as the Promise Maker. God is with you – within you –  Beloved, He will not let you fall.

Refining and Sifting

“But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold.”

Job: 23:10

 

It seems that lately I write from the struggles of my own life, from the vat where grapes are crushed for juice, from the desert wilderness, and like Job from the smelting pot of the goldsmith. It’s a hard season with pressures coming at me from many different angles. I can understand Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1:8: “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.” I look to the heavens as ask, “God what is this all about? What are You trying to do – break me?”

His answer? “Yes. But not to leave you broken. To make you whole. To purify your faith.” You see, God does not just pull us out of the pit of sin and death to go our own merry way in life. He saves us to transform us, to make us more like His own Son. And it is a life-long process that often requires pain and suffering.

Peter, Jesus’ friend and disciple, is a perfect example. If you know anything about him, you know Peter was impetuous, brash and often spoke before thinking. More than once, Peter’s mouth got him trouble. He could say profound and powerful things, like his great confession: “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29), and a few minutes later, Jesus rebuked Peter for scolding the Son of God because He was teaching them about His coming death (Mark 8:31-33)! Jesus saw things in Peter that would both advance and hinder the Gospel.

At the Passover feast, which we now know at the Last Supper, while the disciples were arguing over their own status in His kingdom, Jesus made a terrifying statement. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31). The statement is given in the plural “you,” meaning Satan had asked to sift the entire company of disciples. And they would all be sifted, to a degree, when they see their Rabbi and Friend being arrested. Yet Jesus’ next statement was very pointed and personal. “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail” (v. 32). In those words Jesus told Simon that he would carry the brunt of the devil’s evil deed, for the “you” here is singular – “I have prayed for you Simon.”

Why would Jesus give His friend and follower over to be sifted by the devil? Because there were things in Peter that needed to be removed. Pride, arrogance, stubbornness. Just like the things that need to be sifted out of me. What was left after Peter’s sifting? Two things: The prayers of Jesus and humble man ready to be used for His glory. Did you catch Jesus’ promise in verse 32 – “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.” Jesus prayed for Peter, that his disciple’s faith would not fail. And we know that whatever Jesus asks of His Father is granted, because He always asks according to the will of the Father. Peter could not fail, because Jesus has guaranteed it by His petition. When I am in the sifter, as I am now, my Savior is before the Father on my behalf – “Father, do not let her faith fail.”

The other part of Jesus’ promise in that verse is seen in one little word: when. “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (v. 32b) (emphasis added). Jesus could assure Peter that he would turn back, because of His own prayers for Peter. Peter would survive the sifting and come through it with a refined faith. Jesus allowed Satan just enough heat and pressure to burn off the dross that lived in Peter, that would fight against the mighty work to which he was called.

The story is told of a woman who, having read in the Bible that God refines His people like silver and gold, visited a silversmith and asked about the process of refining the precious element. The smithy said he put the silver in a kettle and exposed it to extremely high heat that caused the dross, or waste to rise to the surface where he could scoop it out. This process took intense heat and so she asked, “how do you keep from burning it?” The man replied, “I lean in very closely to the kettle and watch it carefully, using only as much heat as necessary until it is just as I want it.” She asked “How do you know when it is ready to be removed from the heat?” The smithy answered, “When I can see my reflection in the surface.” We are called to be the reflection of Jesus Christ to the world and that image must be pure.

Jesus allowed friend to be sifted, to go through the crucible of intense suffering to remove what was marring His image in Peter. He became a mighty Apostle and preached the first Gospel message after Jesus’ resurrection. The Lord used a humble Peter mightily in the birth and growth of His church.

I did not welcome the suffering and pain of this season in my life, but I know that God is purifying my faith and refining me to be His witness to the world. I trust that He is leaning in closely and watching over me, allowing just enough heat to accomplish His purpose – to see His Son reflected in me. I know that my Savior is praying for me, and when the process is complete, like Job, “I will come forth as gold.”

Jesus, my Savior – as You were in the fire with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, come and stand with me now; carry me through this season of suffering on the wings of Your prayers. Let me come through as a reflection of You in the world. Amen.

A Second-hand God?

“We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” John 4:42
I have been a Bible Study teacher for more than 10 years, it is my passion and my calling from God. I take very seriously the responsibility to “correctly handle the Word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). I take very personally the care and feeding of “my sheep” as Jesus charged Peter after His resurrection (see John 21:15-17). The spiritual health of those God has entrusted to me is my constant prayer. So last night, when one of my “lambs” called me to share a revelation from God as she meditated on the material we are studying, I was overcome with thanksgiving and my eyes welled up with tears of joy! There is nothing that blesses any teacher’s heart – whether a Bible teacher, school or college teacher or even the master craftsman training his apprentice – like when your student “gets it.” When the bell rings in their heart and the light goes off in their head – and the lesson taught becomes a truth received.
Take a few minutes to read John 4:1-42. Go ahead, I’ll wait for you here.
This account of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well is rich with so many wonderful illustrations, one could write a book from all the treasures in this just passage of Scripture. And I may just do that someday. But I want to focus on verses 28-30 and 39-42.
This woman, with her sinful track record and obvious disregard by her neighbors, went back into the town and told the people to come and see this remarkable Man, “who told me everything I ever did” (v. 29). She wondered aloud if this was “the Christ,” the long awaited Messiah of the Jews. They came, because of her testimony and her witness of the Man. Verse 39 says “Many of the Samaritans…believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony.” But verse 40 tells us that they didn’t just take her word for who this Man was, but they urged Him to stay and they listened to His Words. And the beautiful result is in verse 42, our key verse. “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”  They spent two days listening to Jesus, and they came to a personal knowledge and a personal relationship with Him.
Too many of us have settled for a second-hand relationship with God. We go to church every Sunday and listen to the words that are preached. We may go to Sunday School and hear the lesson brought by the teacher from the material of a writer in another place. We may even go so far as to attend a Bible study class and listen to the leader, and read the lesson. But we don’t make it our own. We settle for what someone else tells us about God, and we wonder why He is not so real to us.
God created you that you might have a deeply intimate and personal relationship with Him. Jesus came to interact personally with people, and He sends His Holy Spirit to live in us in the most intimate way. Bible study and listening to godly teachers and preachers is vital to our spiritual growth, but if we don’t take those Words and make them personal, we have full heads and empty hearts.
God knows your heart and your needs, and He has a Word just for you. He has a purpose just for you. You won’t find it anywhere else but at His feet.
I will teach the Word of God for as long as He gives me breath. There is so much to learn, and so much to share, the Word of the Lord never gets stale or boring. But the ultimate goal of every teacher to teach ourselves out of a job – to stir in our students a hunger and passion for the Word, and the God who wrote it. I pray that you make His Word your own, and that you never settle for a second-hand relationship with the God who created you, loves you, and died for  you. I pray that you will be able to say, with Job, “My ears had heard of you  – but now  – my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5).
Holy Father, thank you for godly teachers and preachers who lead us into the riches of Your Word.  Lord, be real to me today. Speak to my heart of intimate things. Draw me to You so that I can know You for myself.  Amen.