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Lessons I’m Learning from Job (Part 1)

brown wooden cross on yellow wall
 
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
 
Lesson number one:  Life is not fair (whatever fair is).
In the book of Job, there are a lot of “why” questions.  The biggest is, “If Job is such a wonderful person, why do so many painful things happen to him?”  This leads Job’s friends to accuse him of some gross sin, reasoning that God rewards good and God punishes bad.  If Job really was such a good and upright person, they explain, he wouldn’t have any troubles.

I hear that a lot today.  There are “prosperity preachers” who falsely teach that if we do the right things the right way at the right time, God will reward us with earthly pleasures and prevent us from having too many troubles in this world.  A friend of mine served as a hospital chaplain for a number of years.  He recalled a time when a college student was admitted to the hospital with a dire diagnosis.  Her friends took turns sitting at the foot of her bed praying.  They broke the 24 hours into shifts, making sure that they were able to offer continuous prayers.  This continued for a week.  The patient passed away.  The Christian friends blamed themselves.  Evidently they didn’t pray hard enough.  Or maybe they didn’t utter the right prayers.   Or maybe their faith wasn’t strong enough.

It is easy for us to fall into this type of thinking.  We have this sinful inclination causing us to believe we must follow some type of prescribed behavior for God to love us and care for us.  This really is the basis for every religion in the world—with the exception of Christianity.

A fact check proves that we are sinful people.  Our thoughts, words and actions prove that we don’t love the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind.  We don’t love others as we love ourselves.  The Good News is that God loves us anyway.  God’s love for us is not contingent on our love for Him.  Because He loves us, we love Him and one another.

We do live in a broken and fallen world.  We continue to live under the effects of a sin.  It just doesn’t seem fair when a young person is struck with cancer, or an elderly person is the victim of a drive-by shooting, or a pandemic separates families.  It wasn’t meant to be this way.  God created all things perfect.  It was sin that distorted perfection.

But ours is a God of love.  Because we cannot go to God, God comes to us.  Jesus lived the perfect life for us.  He took our sin to the cross and destroyed its power by showering us with forgiveness.  His resurrection is proof that the heavenly Father accepted His work on our behalf.  It sure doesn’t seem fair that Jesus would have to leave the glories of heaven and take on our flesh and suffer our punishment on the cross. 

Perhaps the proper “why” question is this:  “Why would Jesus do that for me?”  The answer:  Because He loves us.  He wants us to spend eternity with Him.  He did everything needful for that to happen.

Even though life doesn’t always seem fair, Jesus loves us.  He guides us through the difficult valleys of life and points us to the peaks of heaven’s perfection.
 
Prayer: Almighty Lord, thank You for Your never-ending love.  Though we in no way have earned Your love, You still love us.  Though we cannot save ourselves from sin and death, You came to rescue us.  Thank You for Your mercy and grace, which assures us of forgiveness, new life and life eternal with You in heaven.  Keep us strong in faith.  In Your name I pray.  Amen.

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Psalm 119 (Part 3)

brown opened book on black surface
 
I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments. [Psalm 119:176]
 
We finish with the last portion of Psalm 119 today. I encourage you to take some time to read the whole Psalm for yourself, but I hope this will help you in your devotional life, to see how God can speak through any letter, any word, any person. No matter if you feel like a lost sheep, there is power in God’s Word and a place for you in God’s kingdom.
 
ס
Sick, sinister, sinful people disgust me, and their intolerance for your Word makes me sad.
Sustain me, even though I am tempted to be like those people. You are my only source of life.
Seeing how you deal with sin scares me to death; I stand in awe of your sovereignty.
 
ע
I am your servant; help me to understand your command, so that I can carry it out.
I am doing my part, Lord. I am looking for you in all places and following your law.
It is time for you to act now, Lord. Punish the lawbreakers, and make my reward your Word.
 
פ
Pure light pours forth from the unfolding of your words.
Powerful waters permeate the dry desert where your words were lacking.
Please, Lord, place me in your presence, and let no sin rule over me.
 
צ
Tsunami-like zeal keeps me focused on your statutes.
Tsk, tsk, all you who ignore God’s Word! Oh, I’m getting tired of saying it.
Tsk, tsk, you who are distressed and displeased! God’s Word could be your delight!
 
ק
Quietly, in the night, even before the dawn, I meditate on your promises to save me.
Quell the restlessness within me, the fear I have from evil near me.
Quickly have I learned that you are near, O Lord, and your word is in my heart and my mouth.
 
ר
Redeem me Lord, buy me back, even the worst parts of me; I know you are compassionate.
Rescue me from persecution and pain. I know you use them for your purposes, but I am ready,
Ready and waiting for the fulfillment of your eternal promises. Preserve my life!
 
ש
Shudder at the power of people? Never. But I tremble when I hear the Lord speak a single word!
Seven times a day, your words bring me such joy, and I seek to obey them with all my heart.
Shalom, complete peace, comes to all of those who love your law, Lord, and keep your commands.
 
ת
The lips and tongue you gave me can do nothing but shout and sing, pray and praise your name!
These laws you left us sustain me in this place.
Though I wander like I’m lost, seek me out and find me, Lord. Make me yours.
 
Prayer: Lord God, we are Your creation, the work of Your hands. Never leave us nor forsake us. Never leave us without Your Word. Lead each of us, opening up our minds and hearts, spirits and bodies to your pleasing will. Bring us into Your eternal presence, in the name of Jesus, AMEN!

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He Is Your Life

person holding white printer paper
 
“I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.  Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days.”  Deuteronomy 30:19-20  (ESV)

Have you ever wished you could die?  Maybe a heart-wrenching break in a relationship, or the prospect of a long and painful illness, or a series of events that robbed you of your reputation and plans for the future was the reason.  Life on this earth just wasn’t worth living, and heaven is so much better.  The prophet Elijah, depressed by what seemed abject failure in his ministry and a death threat hanging over his head, said it this way: “I have had enough, Lord.  Take my life.  I’m no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19:4)  Self-absorbed and at the end of his rope, Elijah wanted out.  I’ve been there.

Some 700 years earlier God prepared Israel for life and death choices in the land he was giving them.  Death, he said, was following your sinful inclinations and losing confidence in your God.  Isn’t that what happens when we want to die?  We measure the value of our life in terms of our happiness and our goals, the way we look at life.  Life, God says, is loving him enough to obey his will and trust his wisdom.  It’s hanging on to him for dear life when you’ve run out of ideas and strength. “HE IS YOUR LIFE” is the ultimate statement about the sanctity of life.  Look, if you’ll believe God’s promise of heaven, why wouldn’t you believe his promise to be with you now and never leave you no matter what?  If you’ve run out of reasons to go on living, why not hear his promise to strengthen you to face what lies ahead and to bail you out when you’re in way over your head?  He’s got your back and he’s got your future.  Jesus signed that promise in his blood.

So how did God respond to Elijah’s death wish?  First, an angel provided food and a good night’s sleep.  When we don’t value our life, one reason is often neglect of our physical needs.  When Elijah whined his reasons for wanting to die, God didn’t indulge the self-pity with a “There, there, Elijah; I know life is hard;” rather he challenged the prophet. He reminded Elijah that God is at work in our world quietly more often than with pyrotechnics. He assured Elijah that things weren’t as bleak as Elijah imagined and that God was still on top of things.  And then God gave Elijah an assignment, a reason to go on living.  When we remember that HE IS OUR LIFE, we’ll trust when we cannot see God’s hand in our world, and we’ll look for the people and possibilities that are his service projects to give meaning to our life.

Lord, you know my frustrations and fears.  Answer them with your word of promise and strengthen my faith to trust you and to see you at work in my life.  I know you want me to be with you in heaven one day; until then, guide and bless my life with you in the here and now.  Jesus is the reason I dare to ask this.  Amen.

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Psalm 119 (Part 2)

open book in shallow photography
 
In Your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth. [Psalm 119:88]
 
We continue in working through Psalm 119, seeing how every letter of the (Hebrew) alphabet sings the praise of our God and the power of His Word. An acrostic poem, we are guided through each sound, reminded that we can pick any word or letter and relate it back to God’s Word.
 
ח
Counting on you, I am sure I will have more than enough- forever.
Consider my ways – so much different from the wicked – as I walk, guided by your face.
Continue to fill me with your love, oh Lord, as the whole earth is filled with your love.
 
ט
Teach me knowledge, teach me goodness, teach me service.
Tainted, tarnished, tattered: when you afflicted me, God, it pushed me to trust in you even more.
Tons of cash, tireless fame, or time in the spotlight couldn’t keep me from keeping your decrees.
 
י
You are the maker of the earth, You are the giver of wisdom, You are the reason for hope and joy.
You love me without fail, even when others don’t.
You are life-giving, life-sustaining; give me life and sustain me. You are “I am.”
 
כ
“Keep going, keep going!” I tell myself, as I press on, tired, toward your salvation.
Kindness is a byword in the mouth of my enemies, and I’m tempted to say the same about you God…
Keep me in your Word and remind me of your love, especially in these troubling times.
ל
Lord, your word and faithfulness carry on forever.
Laws of yours endure unto eternity, preserving my life for just as long.
Limits are put on everything- wealth, fame, goodness- but your commands are without limit.
 
מ
Meditating on your words, Lord, brings such richness to my life.
More wisdom, more insight, more understanding, more life: all mine because of your word.
My mouth drips with honey when I taste the morsels of Truth and goodness found in your Book.
 
נ
Now I can see on my path, thanks to the light of your Word!
Not only do I struggle from my own faults, others are doing their best to knock me off your path.
Nevertheless, I have set my heart on keeping your decrees, on sticking to this path forever.
 
Prayer: Lord God, without You we have no chance at a meaningful and purposeful life. Speak life and power into all of our actions, and help us to ground every action, pattern, and behavior in Your Word, in Your Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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The Value of Human Life

grayscale photography of crucifix
“Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”  Genesis 2:7  (ESV)  “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”  Genesis 9:6  (ESV)

Are you really just a higher form of animal life, the most recent iteration on top of the evolutionary chart?  Think about what that means to the value of human life.  No transcendent purpose to your life.  No absolute moral principles to live by.  Nothing beyond the grave.  On an increasingly crowded planet life is cheap; and who determines which of us deserve to live?

God changes the calculus. Unlike the plant and animal life he spoke into existence, human life was hand-made.  The very breath of God animated Adam.  (Breath and spirit are the same word in Hebrew.)  We have a soul.  While the most important element of God’s image – perfect holiness – was lost in the fall into sin, there remains the reasoning and feeling echo of our God.  Love is the over-arching ethical principle that God bequeathed humanity, a reflection of himself.

Human life is so valuable that God protects it.  Only he has the right to end human life.  Capital punishment is the deterrent he mandated for the post-flood world, life for life.  That bit of divine irony confirms the sanctity of life.  There are no qualifiers to the value God placed on life, as though viability outside the womb or contribution to society establishes our worth. 

So priceless is human life that our Father in heaven sent his Son to death in our place, his blood shed to redeem us from everlasting death for our sins.  The sanctity of life established by the Creator is multiplied by the life given for us by the Savior.  You are worth the price God paid for you – the innocent blood of his Son.  That’s greater meaning to what you see in the mirror each morning.  And that changes how you see the people you meet during the day.

Forgive me, Lord, for demeaning the life you gave me and failing to care for it as your precious gift.  Forgive me, Lord, for diminishing the value that Jesus’ death has placed on the lives around me with thoughtless words and actions.  Thank you, Lord, for your love and for the significance you have given my life.  Guide my life with your Word and by your Spirit.  Amen.

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