What's the Right Answer?

Today I read Job 40-42. The end of the book of Job is an interesting study in what it means to speak correctly about God and the danger of trying to figure out His motives. Here you have God putting Job in his place. Job has been asserting that he was innocent and this shouldn’t be happening to him. While he was right, even without knowing the conversation that God had with Satan behind the scenes, the issue God had with Job was not that assertion but the assertion that somehow God had made a mistake. It is dangerous ground to tread on when we try to figure out God’s motives and try to put him in the box of our own making that helps to make us comfortable with what he is doing. God spends time educating Job on how powerful he is and that Job doesn’t know enough to question Him. Job of course responds with repentance and new found realization of who God is in relation to who he (Job) is. Then in an unexpected turn of events God turns to Job’s friends and says that they had it all wrong in how they spoke about Him and that if it wasn’t for the sacrifice they were about to give and Job’s prayer on their behalf he would punish them. How did his friends speak wrong of God? Where did they go wrong?

As I shared earlier in my journal on putting God in a box I think Job’s friends relied more on their theology and systems of thought in explaining an unexplainable action of God. Their comfort was not in trusting God’s character and his ways but in their ability to come up with sound explanations that they could trust in. There is a subtle turn that any one of us can take when we make our answers as important as our faith and trust in God. This event was unexplainable so to speak. God had allowed injustice to happen to test Job’s faith and resolve. There was no debate over the fairness of that test. There was not really an explanation as to why God felt it necessary to prove Satan wrong by putting an innocent man like Job through this. Only in the mind of God is there an answer and He wasn’t giving it. Our attempts at coming to terms with the unexplainable things in life show where our faith and trust truly is. Sometimes the only answer is to wait and renew our faith and trust in God.

As I think about all the things I have seen and gone through in life, none of them is as horrific as what we see in the life of Job. Yes some are as painful and do include loss, but not at the magnitude that Job endured. I think of how I have handled some of the situations in a God honoring way with my faith in Him being my only strength. I can also think of situations that I handled terribly and trusted my surroundings, or my own understanding, or my own theology and ended showing how weak I really am and how my faith is very frail. Faith really is a tricky thing because it is a moment by moment thing and just when you think your faith is strong something will happen and your reaction to it shows just how weak that faith really is. I want to be a man whose faith is the mark of who he is. That people are inspired to trust God more instead of look for more answers that make them feel better.

Lord, please strengthen my faith. I want to be strong in my faith and trust in you but I fall so short. Please make a me a man after your own heart and help me to model for my boys and those around me what it looks like to walk moment by moment with you. Amen.

Putting God in a Box

Today I read Job 14-16. I find it interesting how our good intentions to help can many times end up being a disaster. Here you have Job who is going through misery in just about every aspect of his life. He lost his kids, his house, his servants, his health. He has his wife tell him he should just curse God and die. He is going through every loss imaginable and now his friends are stepping in to set him straight on his theology. I almost wonder if they were doing it out of concern for him or in an effort to convince themselves that the right answers still applied given all that Job had gone through. On the surface there was no reason Job should have gone through what he did. He was righteous and lived the life God commanded in every way. Yet even with that, Job experiences all of these losses and pain. The formula didn’t add up. It shouldn’t have been that way. God should have been blessing this guy or at a bear minimum protecting him. Yet here sat Job the guy whose life circumstance couldn’t be answered easily with the standard lines of reason.

To make matters worse, this guy starts challenging the pat answers and points out the seeming injustice of the whole situation. When your world is built on your ability to understand it and have answers for all the anomalies the last thing you want is someone to challenge those answers. What if they are found wrong? How will you explain life? The problem was his friends put their faith and ability to navigate life in their answers not in God. This is a very dangerous place to live because putting your faith in your own understanding and having the right answers makes your faith vulnerable because it only takes one circumstance that you can’t explain to cause you to doubt and ditch your faith. This is what I see all the time in people who want to debate and fight over theological systems of thought. There is a desperation and anger in many cases with anyone who threatens the system. We have seen it though the centuries as men have murdered others over cries of heresy or fiercely ruined reputations and fortunes because the ideas that were shared were threatening. I believe that our faith should be in God and him alone. Our understanding does come from his Word and can be understood and applied. But when it comes to understanding God’s reasons for allowing things or working miracles, that is the realm we can’t enter because there is no way to fathom God’s thoughts. When our understanding of God’s reasons and our answers become more important that simply trusting God’s heart, we have wandered to a place of living under our own control dressed up in theological reasons and answers. There is value in having some answers or thoughts on why things happen but when those thoughts HAVE to apply in all cases, we put God in a box of our own creation, a box he refuses to stay in.

Lord, help me not to put you in a box. I want to be in awe of you every step of my life. Please help me to let go of my attempts to explain everything you do and trust you more. Let me faith be evident in my life and please help me to seek you every step of the way. I want to follow you with all I’ve got. Amen.

Replacing Despair & Frustration

Today I read Numbers 3-4, Acts 25 and My Utmost for His Highest. Despair and frustration are a couple of things that I personally struggle with from time to time. In reading about Paul this morning and his circumstances, he had every reason to despair. He had the Jewish religious leaders wanting him dead, he was kept in prison even though there was no reasonable charge brought against him, and he had to appeal to Caesar just to save his own life. As I think about his situation it definitely is unfair. How is it fair that these guys could have him held hostage and kept from his mission by making false accusations that everyone in the government at the time even knew were false and not punishable by death? How did Paul keep from feeling a deep sense of frustration and despair?

The one thing that strikes me in all of this is Paul’s sense of greater purpose and direction. He was in the game for the ride. He didn’t really care where the train was headed just that he was on the train and that God was in it. He didn’t stress over the details (that we know of) or get depressed and down. We don’t see him dwelling on what he was gonna say to get back at those guys or how he would “confront” them. He just saw every step of the journey as one more thing that God had for him to go through and he would take each thing in stride and assume it was all a part of the plan.

In my own life I don’t think I trust God enough to see everything as part of His bigger plan. I see the humanness around me and the bad decisions and selfish things that I and others do and I get upset and my own sense of fairness leads me to a place of despair and frustration when I can’t seem to solve or help fix the problem. I rehearse in my head how I am going to respond to the issue or person and that sometimes drives me to a deeper place of frustration because I know at some level my conversation will not change the situation around me. Yet in the midst of all of this, as Oswald Chambers says, Jesus is there telling me to move on and not let the past keep me from doing what he has for me in the present. Even when I fail and miss an opportunity, instead of dwelling on it, I am to pick myself up and keep moving in step with His Spirit. What an encouragement it is to know that my Lord loves me that much!

Lord, help me not to be a man who dwells on the past with its hurts and failures, but rather looks to the future with hope and continues to walk with you. Because of the gift you have given me for empathy and relationships I have a tendency to want to fix things instead of rolling with them. Help me to roll with life depending on you and not my gifts. I love you Lord. Amen.

Growth in Tough Circumstances

Today I read Genesis 31-33. Here is Jacob who goes to a foreign land, works for his uncle for 7 years for one wife, is tricked into marrying the wrong woman, works another 7 years for the one he intended on marrying the first time, then works another 6 years to get a flock for himself. All the while his own uncle is trying to double cross him and take the best possessions for himself, his wives are fighting over who is having more kids, they each have him marry their servants to have more kids, and when he tries to leave his uncle is upset and calls him a thief. There was enough in those 20 years to make many people give up or want to escape all the drama. I can’t imagine the problems he faced and the mental anguish he must have gone through all the while staying honest and faithful to his uncle, his wives, and God.

Yet in the midst of those 20 or so years, God blessed everything he did, growing his flock despite his uncle’s sabotage, growing his family despite his wives arguments, and preparing him for the day he would leave to go back to Canaan. He even had a wrestling match with God who messed up his hip and was able to reconcile with both his uncle and his brother Esau. Despite what seemed to be a messed up situation, God was using it to grow and prepare Jacob for all that he had for him. Jacob’s character and faithfulness are a testament to his character and having gone through all of that, he was ready for what God wanted to bring his way.

Reflecting on my own life it makes the problems and situations I face seem so small in comparison. I don’t have the uncle problem, the brother rift, or wife problems that he had. I have problems with ministry situations not going the way I want them to, waiting for decisions to be made and even having to go along with one’s I don’t agree with. I have issues with my boys and their medical issues and the other challenges that come with raising children. But those are nothing compared to what Jacob faced. Yet I find that I complain about these things from time to time instead of seeing them as challenges to face and character builders that will continue to refine and prepare me for all that God has for me. I need to move beyond cynicism and complaining to staying faithful and displaying character in those situations. I may not agree with everything and even feel stifled by decisions made or directions taken by the team but that does not mean I have to complain or check out. I need to engage and work as hard as if I had put the strategies in place myself. Sure it is difficult to go with certain decisions when I am not passionate with the direction or outcomes, but there are times when I lead and times when I follow and in these cases I am the one who needs to follow.

Lord, help me to be a man of faith and character. Help me to see situations that don’t go my way as opportunities to grow in my faith and character, knowing you are continually preparing me for what you have ahead of me. Help me to move forward in all I do with passion knowing that I am serving you not other people. Amen.

Struggle and Faith

Today I read Genesis 12-14, Luke 5, and part of chapter 10 in Integrity. In Genesis we have Abram a man that God chose because of his great faith and trust in God. God tells him that he is going to bless him and make him the father of many nations. He has him look around at all the land as far as he can see and that he will give it all to him. Abram builds an altar to God and has this great moment of vision as God lays out the future for him. Later on he has great integrity in allowing his nephew to pick the best land for himself, and even rescues his nephew from invaders and refuses to take the plunder because he doesn’t want anyone to say they made him rich. All because he had faith in God. If that was all I read this morning it would almost make Abram untouchable or mythical in some way because of his seeming perfection in how he responded to life’s circumstances. Now Abram did have great faith but he was human as well. Right in the middle of these great things he has an incident in Egypt that shows he was human. He basically tells his wife Sarai to put herself at risk to save his neck. He asks her to pretend to be his sister because he knows they will want to take her for themselves because of her beauty. She most likely would be taken into a harem and who knows what else. So this great man of faith had his own faith fail him right in the middle of these passages.

The fact that Abram was human and struggled with his faith is refreshing to me because there are times I struggle with trusting God myself. In one breath I say I trust him and have faith in his leading in my life. In the next breath I am upset with things not going my way and I have anger and fear over what might happen or the timing of things. It can be so frustrating sometimes to not have things go my way or to have to wait on God. Yet I have found over and over again that his timing is perfect and if things has happened my way in my time that they would not have gone well. I don’t know why I do this and why I keep learning the same thing over and over again, but it is refreshing to see a great man of faith’s own struggle to let me know that I am not a hopeless case.

In the integrity book he uses a phrase he saw at a company he worked with: No problems, No profit. That really speaks to me today as I look at facing the new year with all the challenges I know are in front of me. I will struggle with my faith, but I know that struggle is what strengthens my faith. I will struggle with the direction of things not always going my way, but I know that struggle always leads to better solutions. I will struggle to be a good parent and make mistakes, but I know that being real and honest about my struggles with my kids will shows them what real life if like. I will struggle a husband to Cheryl, but I know that working through that struggle will only lead to deeper intimacy. Faith and struggle or problems seem to go hand in hand and have the effect, if I work through the struggle to strengthen my faith in the Lord.

Lord, help me to have the integrity to work through the problems and issues in life and not shrink away from them. Please help the inevitable problems I will face to further strengthen my faith and character so I can be more like Christ. Give me your eyes to see the issues in life. Amen.