Friday, March 27, 2015

My Personal Thoughts from the Book of Job

Look, I go forward, but He is not there,
And backward, but I cannot perceive Him;

When He works on the left hand, I cannot behold Him;
When He turns to the right hand, I cannot see Him. 

 But He knows the way that I take;
When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold. 

 My foot has held fast to His steps;
I have kept His way and not turned aside.

I have not departed from the commandment of His lips;
I have treasured the words of His mouth
More than my necessary food. -Job 23:8-12 (Job speaking)

 I have ended up in the book of Job this morning, for my quiet time.  The book of Job has always been a book I have wrestled to understand, and for years it has made me uncomfortable, to be honest.  I believe that God is good, and that His ways and His plans are good.  But within the book of Job, we see God give Satan permission to take away everything (sparing only his life) from one of his most faithful servants. When I have read the book of Job in the past, I have read it attempting to glean from it what the point of suffering was. But I read it this morning, trying to figure out what God wants me to learn about HIM from this book.  
In my reading through the entire Bible in an orderly fashion, which I am still working through, I have read through Job in the Old Testament and 2 Thessalonians in the New Testament.  What I am discovering anew is that God's ways are NOT man's ways.  God seems to delight in taking the worst possible circumstances and turning them to something He uses to advance His plans and purposes.  That is the "foolishness" of the Cross.  God sent His son into the world.  He fulfilled the prophecies about him, but he didn't send Him to be born into a wealthy, powerful family.  He sent him to a poor, teen girl.  He was born in a barn, or something like it.  The people who attended this occasion were the most common of people-shepherds, and a few wise men who weren't even Jewish.  It was in God's plans that His son, the son of GOD, work as a carpenter, do full time ministry for only three years, and then DIE.  The Jewish people were looking for a Messiah who would come sit on the throne of David here on earth and restore a political kingdom.  But God had greater plans than overthrowing Rome, and he set about to do them through the means of  an instrument of Roman torture---the Cross.  Jesus suffered and died, that God would raise him from death, thus demonstrating God's power OVER death.  And if God can conquer death, how much more can he conquer sin and bring holiness?  
Coming back to Job, I see this same pattern at work.  Again, we have a righteous man, suffering for God.  And from an earthly perspective it doesn't make sense. Job is a righteous man, and God allows the devil to attack him on every front.  Job is in agony, in sack cloth and ashes.  We can see from the passage above the depths of Job's agony; God feels far away from him in his pain.  He feels abandoned by God.  It seems the only thing God leaves for him is a bitter wife, whose foolish advice to her husband is to "curse God and die." Ugh, Lord, help me not to be that woman. Then we have Job's friends who show up to grieve with Him.  At first, they sit with him silently grieving, for days. I have to say that that might have been the best thing they did.  Then Job's companions approach him individually and try to offer what appears to be godly wisdom.  It's the kind of wisdom you get when someone knows ABOUT God, but they don't really KNOW him personally.  They see someone suffering, and they want to make it stop.  They want to solve a "problem" that they see.  It all sounds great on the surface.  These are my paraphrases, but it's stuff like, "Job, you need to repent.  If you would repent, God wouldn't be judging you like this." Or "If you had more faith in God, he would deliver you from this stuff."  Or my favorite: "Who do you think you are to ask God these hard questions? God doesn't answer to you! Quit questioning God!"  The final friend to speak seems to be the best of the lot, esteeming God's holiness and reminding Job why he is unqualified to question God's plans.  There are varying levels of truth to all of these statements, depending on actual circumstances. And the final guy seems to be the most true.  The problem is, Job's friends spout these platitudes off with little to no actual knowledge of what God is doing in this particular situation.  They speak FOR God, without having heard FROM God.  
Job recognizes he is imperfect, and even though he is a righteous man, even that righteousness is as filthy rags.  He longs for a mediator to stand between him and God (Job was on the right track, I think, as this is pointing to God's plan for the messiah).  We see this in Job 9: 32-35:

For He is not a man, as I am,
That I may answer Him,
And that we should go to court together. 

 Nor is there any mediator between us,
Who may lay his hand on us both.

Let Him take His rod away from me,
And do not let dread of Him terrify me.

Then I would speak and not fear Him,
But it is not so with me.

Job longs for God to answer him, which he is told is wrong to long for, by his friends.  And yet, lo and behold, God DOES answer.  And the thing is, when God shows up and speaks, people shut up.  All of their reasonings, justifications, and arguments are exposed for the foolishness that they are.  From all we read in Job of God, we can see God cares greatly for Job.  So for him to answer him is a great honor.  But laying out the facts for Job, hearing them from the Creator of life itself, humbles Job greatly.  How could it not, when God says things like, 

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding. 

 Who determined its measurements?
Surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
To what were its foundations fastened?

 Or who laid its cornerstone, 
When the morning stars sang together,
And all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7)

And Job is quick to repent for the wrong attitudes he himself has, because once He is in God's presence, all the questions become irrelevant.  When we finally taste and see that God is good, when we see Him as he is, then it is easy to trust what He is doing, even when it doesn't make sense.  Eternity becomes the perspective, and not just our natural lives here on earth.  Job finally sees, at the moment he is vindicated in front of his friends, that the only audience that matters for how he lives his life is NOT the naysayers, not the culture, not his closest friends.  But the Audience of One.   Job's response after hearing God speak is much shorter, and we see a humbled Job when he says,

Then Job answered the Lord and said:
“I know that You can do everything,
And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 
 Listen, please, and let me speak;
You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’

 “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear,
But now my eye sees You. 
 Therefore I abhor myself,
And repent in dust and ashes.”
Job's response to God makes me long to know God more.  The answers God gives Job for his suffering are not an explanation for the suffering.  When Job gazes upon God, he no longer CARES about the suffering.  Because knowing God is enough.  Suffering is temporary; God is eternal.  Job sees finally views himself with the context of a holy, righteous God, and he realigns his thinking of himself to a place of humility.  What I find slightly humorous is how God handles Job's friends:

 And so it was, after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.  Now therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, go to My servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and My servant Job shall pray for you. For I will accept him, lest I deal with you according to your folly; because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.” -Job 42:7-8

The only one we hear talk after God speaks is the one who knows him---Job.  Job's friends, who had so much to say BEFORE God showed up---are now silent.  And God humbles them by telling them if they wish to approach HIM, they must ask JOB to pray for them.  

Thursday, March 26, 2015

"He must increase...."

Then there arose a dispute between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purification.  And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified—behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!”
 John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.  You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled.  He must increase, but I must decrease...." -John 3:25-30

"If you become a necessity to someone else's life, you are out of God's will.  As a servant, your primary responsibility is to be a 'friend of the bridegroom.' (John 3:29).......Listen intently with your entire being until you hear the Bridegroom's voice in the life of another person.  And never give any thought to the devastation, difficulties or sickness it will bring.  Just rejoice with godly excitement that His voice has been heard.  You may often have to watch Jesus Christ wreck a life before He saves it (see Matthew 10:34)." -Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

This was God's word to me today, and it was a sobering, encouraging, difficult word.  My firstborn child graduates in May.  The graduation gown and cards are ordered, the date is set, and she has been accepted with a full scholarship to the university she wanted.  For all but six months of her education, she has been at home learning under both my and her father's tutelage.  We have watched her grow and change, from an opinioned, small little girl to a still diminuitive, still opinioned, but refined young lady of character.  It has been a joyful journey, and I admit we are blessed that she has received wisdom and grew in it, and I can see her making far wiser choices than I made at such a young age.  We have gazed with pride and admiration,  as she has undertaken to own her faith for herself, and soon she will launch out as an adult, free to make her own decisions, both mistakes and victories.  Free to fly or fall on her own.

As a mom, it is hard.  I remember how I held her in my arms after she was born, so tiny.  And I remember the overwhelming love I felt for this little person, the amazement I felt at how she had instantaneously transformed me---not into an angelic being, to be sure--but that someone else's needs could have so instantaneously supplanted my own.  That I became secondary. I remember the fierce determination and desire that took root in my heart to protect her and nurture her.  To guide her safely through the pitfalls of life, and to help her avoid the hurts and pains which I had experienced.  Such are the joys of motherhood.  Truly, from the first moments I knew she was growing within me, I committed myself to sacrifice in such a way that my child, and later my other children, should benefit.  I do it imperfectly, and often I falter on the way.  It's not that I haven't had selfish moments.  Like everyone else, I contend with my flesh.  And my children have heard their mother utter "I'm sorry" more times than I can count.  But overall, the overarching desire of my heart has been that my children should know Christ and make Him known, and that they would see Him most clearly through me.  Whether I have succeeded in this daunting task remains to be seen, but that has been my prayer.
At the same time, I admit I struggle with being a bit of a control freak in recovery. It is one of the areas of my life where I see the Lord most clearly at work in sanctification.   I recognize God's providential hand in history, and that He is in control, causing all things to work for the good of those who love Him.  But sometimes I struggle to let go and rest fully and completely in that trust.  I struggle to remain silent and let Him do His work in other hearts, when I think I can see so clearly (ugh, such pride) what HE is doing, and how much FASTER and BETTER it would go if only I could TELL them what I see.  I know how foolish that is when I say it out loud, but in the moment, it is so HARD to watch another falter when you feel that you could help them to avoid pain.   The truth, however, is that there are seasons and times for ALL things.  As it says in Ecclesiastes,
"To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:

 A time to be born,
    And a time to die;
A time to plant,
    And a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill,
    And a time to heal;
A time to break down,
    And a time to build up;
A time to weep,
    And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn,
    And a time to dance; 
A time to cast away stones,
    And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace,
    And a time to refrain from embracing; 
 A time to gain,
    And a time to lose;
A time to keep,
    And a time to throw away;
A time to tear,
    And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence,
    And a time to speak;
A time to love,
    And a time to hate;
A time of war,
    And a time of peace." (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

I can see more clearly, at this season of my life, that so much of life is more about discerning what "time" it is, and behaving accordingly.   Too often I am silent when I should speak up, and speaking when I should remain silent.   Too often I am holding on when I should be releasing, and releasing when I should be holding on.  There is a rhythm to life, it seems, and a method to what can appear to be chaos. 
Soon, in my daughter's life, will be a time to step back.  Actually, I can say it has already begun.  It has been a gradual process.  My role is changing.  For a while,  I have been like a coach in a game, intensely involved, giving commands and sometimes training her through drill practice to prepare her for what life will throw her way.  But now, I must fade.  I must decrease.  Now is the time to step back and let prayer be my primary focus, to see the hand of God at work.  I must let go and begin to become less of a coach and more like a devoted, faithful fan, cheering her on from the sidelines,  grimacing at her challenges and cheering her in her triumphs. Still giving what wisdom I have, but only when and if she seeks it out.  Allowing her to experience more fully the consequences--good and bad-- of her decisions and actions.  I must trust in the hand of God to lead her and guide her, independently of myself.  This new phase is going to be challenging for a recovering control freak like myself, but it gets easier the more I KNOW the God I serve.  After all, theology is life.  What I do often speaks more of what I believe than what I say.  So I will consider this truth when I am tempted to hold on.  I will pray not just for my daughter, but for myself.  That when all is said and done, she will see GOD's hand at work in her life, and praise HIM.  Not me.  If at the end of life, everyone says what a great person I have been,I will judge that to be failure.  Because I am not great.  I am merely a servant of the ONE who is.  THAT is what I hope my children see. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Making life count

I had a nightmare last night, and it was a strange one, so I thought I would share my thoughts about it.  Last night, I dreamed that I was at a modern day slave auction where children of all ages were being sold into slavery, but I was there secretly with some organization which helped free slaves.  The organization I was with had given me 10,000 dollars to try to outbid other buyers, in order to purchase the freedom of as many children as I possibly could.  Well, the first child that went on the block was a sickly young boy, and the auctioneer commented on how pathetic he looked, and how worthless he probably was.  So I immediately angered the auctioneer when I spoke up and said if he was so pathetic, maybe they should just give him away to me.  For the rest of my dream, I attempted to bid on children to get them out of slavery, but time after time the auctioneer would gleefully ignore me or just preen at me when I was outbid.  Finally, an infant went on the auction block, or so I thought (I saw an infant, but did not hear what was said.)  In any case, I was DETERMINED I would win this time.  So I bid and bid, and finally I won the auction. For a moment, I was ecstatic that finally, for all my effort, I would SAVE one life.  But it turned out I had misunderstood the auctioneer, and bid a wastefully high amount on something that wasn't even a person.  The auctioneer, and others around me, laughed at me for being so foolish.  I can't even describe the depth of agony I felt at that moment.  It seemed so real.  I felt a complete and utter failure.  At that point, I woke up because I broke down in tears and felt such agony that I started crying for real, and this was what ended my dream.

Why do I care about something that didn't really happen?  I know it was just a dream.  But I think it was also my brain contemplating very great questions and dilemmas I face in real life, and acknowledging the deepest fears that I have.  First of all, I view trafficking and slavery as one of the greatest evils of our day, so I am sure that represents the battles I wage over much sin and evil, both within myself and within the world at large.  And then there is my fear that I will waste my life on some task or focus that is insignificant.  I thought today about how poorly and desperately conceived  a method of abolition it would be to attempt to buy people out of slavery individually, rather than fighting the entire system.  But when fighting evil, if that is all you have at your disposal to fight with, you use what you have.  So while the method was poor, it was still better than just standing by and watching without helping.  But ultimately, I felt such grief because I had wasted money on something that turned out to be worthless, and still helped not a single, solitary soul.

That is the fear I struggle against:being a failure in the things that matter, not just to me but to God.  I want so desperately to make sure that I am a trustworthy steward of the things that the Lord has given to me, so that in the end of my life, when I see Him face to face, He will be able to say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."  Sometimes the greatest battles of life are fought on what appears to be common grounds, not sacred ones, and we find out only later that perhaps they WERE sacred, and we hallowed or defiled them based on a single, solitary decision that seemed trivial at the time.  Decisions we make sometimes thoughtlessly and carelessly,  like what media with which we will entertain ourselves, or whether we will stop to help someone in need when it's inconvenient, or whether we stand silent when another is unjustly treated, or even whether we pour our energy into  one pursuit or another without ever asking the Creator of the Universe what His will would be, rather than our own.

Another fear I struggle with is one that ties in to the first fear, but is very specific, and that is the fear of not finding the place God made me to be fruitful for Him when I function there.  I believe people have different talents and gifts, and when we determine what God has made us to do, and do it for His glory, only THEN will we experience the fullness of His purposes for us, and the joy we were meant to experience in relationship with Him.  Perhaps this is silly, but sometimes I am afraid that I am spending too much time and effort on all these things I am not that good at, and never functioning in the the THING, whatever that is, that if I figured it out, would make me feel less like a fish trying to ride a bicycle and more like a fish in water.   I don't know if this is right thinking, mind you.  It's something I am still praying out with God, and seeking answers from Him about.  But it's a struggle I have.  I do believe that God is faithful, and I believe I will find the answers I seek as I seek him with my whole heart.  And when I get in His presence and spend time in His word, all of my fears melt away.  He is Love, and love always casts out fear.  It is the truth of Him I know in His word that will always set me free.  That much I know. 

I thought of that dream today, and it's funny how grieved I was over those children I couldn't free.  Sometimes my heart does break for the way that mankind is constantly finding new and terrible ways to hurt each other with sin.  But I have to believe that the small efforts I make, though they seem so insignificant, are meaningful and deeply significant.  I place my hope not in my pitiful efforts, but in the ONE who sanctifies and blesses them.  And ultimately, more than my feelings, I trust His word, the Bible. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Review of Taken 3

WARNING: THERE are SPOILERS OF the movie TAKEN 3.  So if you don't want to know what happens, quit reading now. 

Joe and I went on a date night tonight, and part of our date we decided to go watch Taken 3 at the Dollar Theater.  Let me say right off the bat that I like Liam Neeson in most of his films, and enjoyed the original Taken movie a whole lot.  I am not sure if I ever saw Taken 2, but we thought Taken 3 would be entertaining.  Well, it was entertaining, but not in the way we expected. 

 I will say that the actual acting in the movie was fine; Liam Neeson did a great job with a difficult source material, in my opinion.  But good acting doesn't make up for a really bad story line.  First off, they make Liam Neeson's character's (Bryan Mill's) exwife Lenore, someone I genuinely liked in the first movie, into a skanky woman who is wanting to cheat on her current husband with her exhusband.  They try to paint Bryan Mills as a sympathetic character by having him basically kiss her and say he would wait to be with her after she gets out of her current relationship, so he's only KIND of honorable.  And these were characters I sympathized with in the first movie.   So from the beginning, it just felt a little yucky to me .  I really felt they could have handled the characters so much differently, and it would have set a context I could be much more sympathetic with.  They could have just kept them as friends, or she could have already been divorced again, or just had him wrongfully accused for murdering her without that particular back story, set up that way. 

 But that wasn't the best part.  I love a good action movie, and I even go prepared to have reality suspended and stretched quite a bit.  However, I lose sympathy for the "good guy" when they are hurting normal bystanders in their methods of attacking bad guys, and it is totally avoidable.  Especially, when they aren't even really defending themselves.  I mean, I honestly can suspend reality if it's a large scale battle scene, like in Avengers, where all these aliens are attacking earth, and they have to fight them off.   But in this case, Liam Neeson is wrongfully accused of murdering his ex wife and he goes on the lamb.   He steals a cop car at one point, and causes the car to go driving the wrong way down the highway.  In the process, he wrecks and hits a ton of cars, including a large truck, which makes the HUGE load on it go rolling off and crush about 3 or 4 cars in the process.  Thus, he is pretty much causing damage to uninvolved bystanders left and right, maiming or killing people, for no other reason than he doesn't want to be arrested. 

In the process of running from the cops, he resists arrest, assaults officers, steals their guns, drives extremely wrecklessly, causing death and carnage to innocent people, kills a BUNCH of Russians which the cops KNOW about, blows up a part of building, etc.  The best line of the entire movie is near the end of the movie, when the main cop, played by Forrest Whittaker, says they COULD arrest him for getting on the cop computers and stealing information about the case, but they won't.  Joe and I were like, What the HECK?  I mean, we just saw him break law after law, and THAT is the thing they focus on? Then there was a whole plot line where one of Bryan Mill's buddies gets shot while they are trying to attack the Russians.  The last scene with that guy in it you hear the cops saying that he was still alive, and then....nothing.  At the end of the movie, you never find out what happened to him.  Is he dead or alive?  It's like the character was just irrelevant.  But he is played through the entire movie as one of Bryan Mill's closest friends.

The other thing that was hard to suspend reality about this time was the fight scenes.  And I give ALOT of leeway in action movies.  I mean, I know Liam Neeson is tough, but he is not as young as he once was.  And the entire movie he is fighting off 30 year old guys like nothing.  But every fight scene, the camera was jerky, so it was hard to follow.  I think they could have had him outsmarting them more, and still fighting them some, and it would have played better. 

Anyway, Joe and I still enjoyed our night out, and the movie had us laughing at the end, though I am pretty sure that was not the intent of the movie.  I have to say I would not recommend this movie to a friend to see, unless one is looking for unintentional comedy.  And those are my thoughts about this movie. :)