Thoughts on Job

In my reading through the Bible,  I am once again in the Book if Job. The following is a re-post of a blog written the last time I read through Job:

Quite honestly, the Book of Job is a disappointment! When we suffer, we go to Job to find answers for why and how to cope. However, all we get are a bunch of grumpy old men arguing, some young guy giving his two-cents, and God showing up and blasting everyone. Then we’re back to where we started, as if nothing happened in the first place.

Reading through the book again, as well as reading a recent book by John Walton and Tremper Longman III, “How to Read Job” (IVP, 2015), I have seen some themes often hidden by our expectations. The book is really about the Wisdom of God, which is why it is included as Wisdom Literature in the Old Testament. The Wisdom of God is compared with the wisdom of the world based upon experience and observation (revealed by Job and his “friends”). The challenge of the book is whether we will trust God’s Wisdom even though we do not understand what is happening to us or going on around us.

The book contains challenges to how God runs the world. If it is God’s standard operating procedure (SOP) to bring prosperity and blessing to people who are righteous, then isn’t he creating a world of “mercenaries” who worship and serve him just to get rewarded? What would happen if God took away those benefits (thus Job’s first trial)? Would people still love and serve him? One can see that this is not just a question about SOP, but an implication that God might not be worthy of worship just for who he is. Hmmm…good question. Is my love and service for God based upon a quid pro quo (this for that)? What about the times of drought and despair when I feel like there is nothing in it for me? Do I still trust in his Wisdom?

The second challenge to God’s SOP comes after Job has already begun to suffer. It questions why God is ganging up on a righteous man when, in fact, he is supposed to bless the righteous. This challenge is replicated over and over again in the Psalms as the writers struggle with why the righteous suffer while the wicked are the ones who seem to prosper.

“These two challenges set up the focus of the book (Job) as it pertains to God’s policies in the world: it is not a good policy for righteous people to prosper (for that undermines the development of true righteousness by providing an ulterior motive). In tension with that, it is not as good policy for righteous  people to suffer (they are good people, the one’s who are on God’s side). So what is God to do?” (Walton and Longman, p. 15).

Thus God is assailed both coming and going. To put it in a sanitized version of a colloquial expression: He is darned is he does (bless the righteous) and darned if he doesn’t (therefore, allowing the righteous to suffer). Will Job still maintain his righteousness (integrity) even though there is nothing in it for him and God’s ways seem so incomprehensible? Will we? That seems to be the biggest issue that needs to be resolved both in the book and in our lives.

“The entire debate between Job and his friends and then God’s showing up at the end and restoring Job’s fortunes, shows us that God does not run the world by justice (at least as we understand it), but by His Wisdom. ‘I am God, who is supremely wise and powerful, so I want you to trust me even when you do not understand.'” (Walton and Longman, p. 16)

As the world cries out for justice and mercy in the face of so much suffering, we are called to trust in a God of Wisdom who is working out his purposes behind the veil of our finite understanding. “Deep in unfathomable mines of never failing skill, He treasures up His bright designs and works His sovereign will…Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan His works in vain; God is His own interpreter and He will make it plain.” (William Cowper) Someday…

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A brief history of (my) cancer

From my journal entries… Today I had my last chemo-radiation treatment for cancer! After my diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in April 2017, the chemo regimen began in early May through end of June; then there were the 28 radiation treatments plus chemo by pill from early July until today, August 11. The treatments have taken their toll, as they should, with the main effects being fatigue and loss of appetite. Scans and surgery await next month…

I’m thinking that I should have gained some deep theological insight in order to show the positive spiritual impact of this trial; something that would produce awe and wonder because of its depth and profundity.  Unfortunately, nothing… Nada…zilch. I just want to sleep and forget all of this. I just want to be back to normal and yet I know that I will never be normal again. This mortal life will have changed forever and I will be living on the edge of eternity…

I should be feeling stronger everyday as I prepare for surgery mid-September, but I’m feeling worse and worse. I have spiked a fever of 103F and we are heading to the ER. I will now spend 5 days in the hospital while the doctors figure out that I have a liver infection most likely caused by all of the poison I have taken into my system through my treatments. They lance the infection and determine the bacteria and send me home with drainage tubes and instructions for my wife to push the antibiotic through me every day using my port and draining my Liver drain. All of this will delay surgery until mid- October…

The infection has been dealt with and I am cleared for surgery. The doctor wants me to gain weight in order to prepare for surgery scheduled for October 18, my oldest daughter’s birthday. It’s ironic that I have spent most of my adult life trying to lose weight; now I have orders to gain it… I feel good for the first time in 5 months. Can’t I continue like this? No, you wuss- you have cancer inside of you and it needs to come out and the only way is through the knife…

The day of surgery arrives and I scrub myself down before we head to the hospital. Will I return to sleep in my bed again or will this be it?  My son and his wife are there to meet us before they go to work. Hugs all around. We are ushered into a small cubicle and the curtain is drawn while I scrub down again and put on my gown and my street clothes in plastic bags. My brother-in-law and another couple show up and pray with Gloria and me. The anesthesiologist comes in and explains things and starts an IV. I say good bye as they wheel me out and I don’t remember anymore. Some friends came and sat with Gloria in the waiting room and …wait.

Ten or more hours later I wake up in ICU and see my son’s face with a smile on it. I am clear-headed enough to ask if they had to replace the portal vein. They report the surgery went well and that I should rest. I am parched but not allowed to have water. However, my wife gives me ice chips. I crave more and more, even at night when I am alone I constantly suck on ice chips…

A week later I am home, sutures still in and eating very little. I develop a blood clot in the leg from which they took a vein for the resection of the portal vein. I am put on blood thinner which I have to self inject every morning and evening. Together with my daily insulin injection, my tummy looks like a war zone of black and blue marks. I am also wearing a compression stocking and keeping my leg elevated…

My sutures are now out but still a little sore at the incision site. My leg is still swollen. I am trying to exercise but I have little stamina. I cannot sleep at night for more than 2-3 hrs at a time. Awake usually between 3-5 am to have some tea and bowl of oatmeal and have my devotions after I take my blood sugar reading and take my insulin and blood thinner. Then I dose from 5-8 am…

I am still trying to figure out my diet since 18 inches of my small intestine has been removed as well as a portion of my stomach and my gall bladder. I have lots of gas (you probably did not need to know that) and have just been prescribed with enzyme pills to help me in my digestion…

I just went to the oncologist who wants me to have 6 more chemo treatments. I was initially disappointed… Although they believe they got the cancer and the lymph nodes are clean, this chemo is part of the protocol. The doc explained that unlike the six hour sessions that I had before, these will be once a week for 1/2 hr, with a week off  between session 3 and 4. We will start in Dec and finish the end of January so hopefully I can still work…

Here I am, it’s December 20 and I am sitting in an oncology unit at the hospital while chemo is being infused through my port. I feel it; my fingers are already tingling and I’m a bit chilled. It is over and I drive myself home.

And so the story continues and the questions remain. They think they got it all, but who knows. How long do I really have? God alone knows. What I do know with certainty, and this is my de profundis,  that there has not been one millisecond of time throughout all of this in which God has not been present- he is the great Emmanuel!  I have never felt nor have I once believed that I am being punished for past sins.  And this certainty has translated itself into a fearless dependency that can honestly proclaim “for me to live is Christ and to die gain.”

One more thought in reference to the well-meaning way people have responded to my situation. These responses have ranged all the way from thinking I’m some kind of hero to feeling sorry for me. I can honestly respond by saying: “Don’t think I am some kind of hero or saint for going through this. I am still very much a sinner relying on the grace of God and the work of Christ to save me. And don’t feel sorry for me. I would rather be going through this than facing the issues you are facing. The real issue for both of us is that we are trusting in our Heavenly Father and are convinced that nothing comes to us which has not first passed through our Father’s hand.”

Christmas is not very jolly for some…

How easily we are drawn to the mysterious and the supernatural. We love to read books on the amazing religious conversions of some people in history or how others overcame great disability or tragedy to live successful lives.  However, we often skip over the years of waiting, disillusionment, pain, and sorrow that formed the context of these unusual lives. We love to think about the Christmas story in all its beauty and splendor, quietness and majesty but we tend to edit out the pain, the ordinariness, the smells, the frustration and raw conflict which form the backdrop of the Christmas event. It was the people that waited in darkness who would see a great light… Isa 9:1,2.

Could it be that our search for God leads us to the ordinary and the difficult rather than away from it? What I am saying is that God may be more present in the middle of our disappointment, pain, and disillusionment than He is in the mystical or in the monastery. God came into the grinding poverty and harsh reality of a young couple in Palestine and told them that the Son in Mary’s womb would be the Redeemer of the world. God’s Son was not born in a desert hermitage or in the Roman White House but in the back streets of Bethlehem.

There is one more thing about pain and disappointment; not only do they often reveal God but they reveal our own “unsanded” natures. A seventeenth century French mystic, Franois Fenelon wrote, “Slowly you will learn that all the troubles in your life- your job, your health, your inward failings- are really cures to the poison of your old nature.” Thus the very difficulties of my life which I abhor are the very means of grace in which I can find God and are the raw materials of my spiritual development. Pain is often God’s megaphone (C.S. Lewis).

Many of you are facing difficulty this Christmas; financially, emotionally, relationally and spiritually. Don’t give up hope, God is present and He is doing a deeper work in you. May the light of Jesus Christ shine into your darkness this Christmas and may the grace of our Lord be with you as He uses your difficult circumstances to sand smooth the rough surfaces of your inner life.

O Thou in whose Presence my soul takes delight

Are you suffering or grieving or just being overwhelmed by the stuff of life? Let me suggest a hymn which will nourish and comfort your soul. How do I know? Well, I don’t but it has been a great encouragement to me and that why I want to share it with you.

 May the Lord bless you with joy in his Presence even if you are facing the death of a loved one. Rest assured that if they belong to Christ they will soon experience unspeakable joy in his Presence. 

The Childrens Bible in a Nutshell

I posted this one awhile ago. Here it is again because a little humor is good medicine. (Prov 15:13, 15; 17:22) 

In the beginning, which occurred near the start, there was nothing but God, darkness, and some gas.  The Bible says, ‘The Lord thy God is one, but I think He must be a lot older than that.

Anyway, God said, ‘Give me a light!’ and someone did. Then God made the world.

He split the Adam and made Eve.  Adam and Eve were naked, but they weren’t embarrassed because mirrors hadn’t been invented yet.

Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating one bad apple, so they were driven from the Garden of Eden…..Not sure what they were driven in though, because they didn’t have cars.

Adam and Eve had a son, Cain, who hated his brother as long as he was Abel.

Pretty soon all of the early people died off, except for Methuselah, who lived to be like a million or something.

One of the next important people was Noah, who was a good guy, but one of his kids was kind of a Ham.  Noah built a large boat and put his family and some animals on it. He asked some other people to join him, but they said they would have to take a rain check.

After Noah came Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Jacob was more famous than his brother, Esau, because Esau sold Jacob his birthmark in exchange for some pot roast.  Jacob had a son named Joseph who wore a really loud sports coat.

Another important Bible guy is Moses, whose real name was Charlton Heston.  Moses led the Israel Lights out of  Egypt and away from the evil Pharaoh after God sent ten plagues on Pharaoh’s people.  These plagues included frogs, mice, lice, bowels, and no cable. God fed the Israel Lights every day with manicotti.  Then he gave them His Top Ten Commandments. These include: don’t lie, cheat, smoke, dance, or covet your neighbor’s stuff.

Oh, yeah, I just thought of one more: Humor thy father and thy mother.

One of Moses’ best helpers was Joshua who was the first Bible guy to use spies.  Joshua fought the battle of Geritol and the fence fell over on the town.

After Joshua came David.  He got to be king by killing a giant with a slingshot.  He had a son named Solomon who had about 300 wives and 500 porcupines.  My teacher says he was wise, but that doesn’t sound very wise to me.

After Solomon there were a bunch of major league prophets.  One of these was Jonah, who was swallowed by a big whale and then barfed up on the shore.

There were also some minor league prophets, but I guess we don’t have to worry about them.

After the Old Testament came the New Testament.  Jesus is the star of The New.  He was born in Bethlehem in a barn. (I wish I had been born in a barn too, because my mom is always saying to me, ‘Close the door! Were you born in a barn?’ It would be nice to say, ‘As a matter of fact, I was.’)

During His life, Jesus had many arguments with sinners like the Pharisees and the Democrats.

Jesus also had twelve opossums. The worst one was Judas Asparagus.  Judas was so evil that they named a terrible vegetable after him.

Jesus was a great man.  He healed many leopards and even preached to some Germans on the Mount.

But the Democrats and all those guys put Jesus on trial before Pontius the Pilot.  Pilot didn’t stick up for Jesus.  He just washed his hands instead.

Anyways, Jesus died for our sins, then came back to life again.  He went up to Heaven but will be back at the end of the Aluminum.  His return is foretold in the book of Revolution. I can’t wait, canoe?

 

 

July 4th: A Call for Concern 

A rewrite of an earlier blog post:

This is July 4th and I am re-reading the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution written eleven years later; amazing documents. While many consider them to be “inspired,” they are not inerrant; the 28 amendments to the Constitution are witness to that. Also the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th Amendments in particular prove that the Constitution has blind spots and must supported by something more if it going to provide the foundation for continuing freedom.

Os Guiness has written in A Free Peoples Suicide that there are many people in America today who scorn religious fundamentalism but are hard at work creating “a constitutional fundamentalism. It is being done through lawyers and judges rather than rabbis, priests, and pastors. Constitutional and unconstitutional have replaced orthodox and heretical.”  First amendment rights are being argued as the basis for opposing agendas and the interpretation of the Constitution itself is at the whim of political bias. Thus this incredible document alone cannot form the foundation for sustainable freedom. It needs to be supported by something else.

Guinness offers; “What the framers believed should complement and reinforce the Constitution and its separation of powers is the distinctive moral ecology that is at the heart of liberty.” French historian Alexis de Tocqueville called this moral ecology the “habits of the heart.” Guinness calls it “the golden triangle of freedom…freedom requires virtue, which requires faith, which requires freedom.”

What resonates with me, as we have seen time and again in the political arena is the diminishing importance of virtue (character) that we see in our nation. We stress a written Constitution over the moral constitution of our nation’s citizenry and leadership. Unfortunately, examples of this are not hard to find.

Look at the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 when he was the sitting president. He was not convicted by the Senate of “high Crimes and Misdemeanors”(Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution), and the overall consensus to the whole “affair” was that the character of the president was irrelevant as a public issue. What really matters to our society is competence (or getting things done)– not character.  

Look at the unrestrained greed and unfettered capitalism  of the Wall Street crisis and the recession of 2008. Look at our most recent presidential election (sorry to bring it up again) which basically boiled down to which untrustworthy candidate America trusted more. Our nation has sown the wind by making faith and virtue a private matter; it is now reaping the whirlwind of having a President who is a loose cannon with personality flaws.

George Reedy, special assistant to Lyndon Johnson looked back on his experience in the halls of power and said, “in the White House, character and personality are extremely important because there are no other limitations…. Restraint must come from within the presidential soul and prudence from the presidential mind. The adversarial forces which temper the action of others do not come into play until it is too late to change course.”(The Twilight of the Presidency, 1970, p. 20)

In spite of their importance, experience and competence are not the most important ingredients to what we should look for in a leader. We need a person of character who has demonstrated trustworthiness in his/her private world as well as in the public square. It is not the rhetoric or the promises for the future, but it is what they have done about keeping their promises in the past, both privately and publicly.

I think Os Guinness borders on the profound when he says, “Externally character is the bridge that provides the point of trust that links leaders with their followers. Internally, character is the part-gyroscope, part-brake that provides a leader’s deepest source of bearings and strongest source of restraint when the dizzy heights of leadership mean there are no other limitations.”

Our Constitution is a magnificent document and we can be thankful for it. But let us not fool ourselves into thinking that our nation can be sustained by a document alone without the virtue of its leaders and citizenry. “A good government may hold the rotten materials together for some time, but beyond a certain pitch, even the best constitution will be ineffectual and slavery will ensue.” (John Witherspoon, the only minister to sign the Declaration of Independence.)

Let us commit ourselves to pray for our country and for our President, regardless of your opinion (1 Timothy 2:2). And may God have mercy on America!

Do you see Giants?

I just read the account in Numbers 13 and 14 of the thirteen spies sent by Moses into the land that God had promised to lead them. This was after a miraculous deliverance from Egypt a year earlier. 

Read over these two chapters very slowly. They are filled with timely lessons for us. I want to briefly mention just one of those lessons that resonated with me at this time in my life. Notice the “bad report” of the eleven spies in 13:27-33 and compare it with the “good report” of Caleb and Joshua in 14:6-9. 

The eleven saw the giants, who kept getting bigger and bigger the more they told their story, inciting fear in the hearts of the people. The other two saw the Lord and His protection and presence,  encouraging the people not to fear and to claim God’s promise. 

So let me ask you a simple question as you look at your life and what you are facing or going to face. What do you see? Do you see the giants and are filled with fear or do you see the Lord who has delivered you from jaws of sin and death and will be with you to the end? 

It really does boil down to who do you trust: yourself and your ability (or lack thereof) to control your circumstances, or the Lord? The writer of Hebrews in chapters 3 and 4 would say it was the difference between “an unbelieving heart” and one who “holds fast to our assurance firm to the end.”

So I ask myself, “Dave, who do you see as you face your present circumstances and an uncertain future?”  I can honestly say, by God’s grace, that I see the Lord and am not afraid! How about you?