Posts Tagged ‘Joy’

Looking Unto Jesus

Looking Unto Jesus

© C. O. Bishop 11/10/2017 THCF 11/12/2017

Hebrews 12:1-8

Introduction:

Last time, we finished up our study of Hebrews eleven, and saw the various results of faith in the lives of the Old Testament believers. Some saw great miracles. Others were bereft of all their possessions and loved ones, and were hounded across the land, hiding, and reduced to just trying to survive. Still others were arrested, tortured and executed for their faith, dying horrible deaths. The very last phrase stated that we are part of that same group of people…the household of faith…and we can expect similar things, to one degree or another.

Remember, as we are studying the Bible, that the various chapter divisions, in most cases, and especially the verse divisions, were not part of the original manuscripts, but were added in the sixteenth century to make study easier, just as adding street names and house numbers makes a city easier to navigate. The point is, that chapter twelve is a direct continuation of chapter eleven…So, let’s see what it has to say:

 

God’s Witnesses to Us

1Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

A lot of readers take this verse to mean that “we have a great cloud of people watching us.” That is not the point of this passage at all. When Jesus said “ye shall be my witnesses unto Jerusalem, and all Judea, in Samaria and to the ends of the earth” what did he mean, in that context, by the word “witnesses”? That we were to watch him? Or did He mean that we are we to testify of Him? To bear witness on his account? Of course, we are called to testify! That is what witnesses do: they bear testimony. That is why we look for eye-witnesses when something such as an accident has occurred. We want them to tell what they saw. God doesn’t need us in order to “find out what happened”…He sees everything, and He knows everything. But He has chosen us to testify on His behalf, and for the benefit of the hearers. Our testimony on His behalf is a powerful witness to the truth of the Gospel. And we need witnesses to testify to us of the faithfulness of God. These witnesses are letting us know that God is faithful and that he is worthy of our complete faith and obedience. They are not “watching us”, but rather are testifying, across the ages, to encourage us to trust and obey God, just as they did.

There is nothing at all in Scripture to suggest that the folks who have gone on to be with the Lord have nothing better to do than to “sit around and watch us fumble around trying to walk with the Lord!” They are literally in the presence of the living God! Why would they waste a moment looking at my bumbling attempts at an obedient life? It’s too sad to be a comedy, and too ridiculous to simply be a tragedy. And, honestly, compared with seeing, and worshipping the glorified Christ, surely it would simply be an utter waste of effort.

Those people are physically, visibly with the Lord! They are only remotely concerned with life on earth…some of the martyrs may still be looking to God for justice to be done (see Revelation 6:9-11), but even that will only be temporary: they are with God! They are not watching the struggles of us who are still on Earth. In fact, so far as I know, that passage (along with a few others, also in regard to the time of the great tribulation) is the only one that suggests they even know what is happening on earth. They have other things to do!

So who are the witnesses, and what are they really doing? They are the ones listed in Hebrews chapter 11, among others, and they are testifying to us, by their own lives (already completed) that the Christian life can be done! (There is a old joke that goes “Why did the Oregon chicken cross the road?” Answer: “To show the opossums that it can be done!” I’m sure that in other parts of the world there are other animals who seem unable to successfully cross a road.) Those saints who have gone before us all testify eternally, through God’s written Word, to anyone who will listen, that we can trust Him, and that we, too, can live by faith, and walk in obedience to God. Think about the examples He chose for witnesses: Almost all the ones he named or alluded to were people with fairly serious failures in their lives. They were not “Super-Christians” by any means.

On the basis of their testimony, we are called to lay aside whatever is entangling our feet, and every parasitic weight with which we, by our life-styles have chosen to burden ourselves. Isn’t this race difficult enough without carrying all the baggage we each tend to haul along with us? Isn’t it easier to run when you don’t have your feet entangled in some sort of muck, mud, or rubbish? God calls us to set aside the baggage: examine your own life, and ask yourself honestly, “What baggage am I carrying in my heart, that keeps me from freely serving God?” Am I still holding grudges that keep me from God’s Joy? Am I afraid of losing some possession, so I will not give it up to God? Do I really distrust God so much that I can’t rely on Him to provide the joy in my life? Do I really treasure the clutter of the self-directed life so much that I would rather keep that wreckage than to lay it aside in order to gain the God-directed life?

Every one of those witnesses in chapter eleven is telling us to do these two things:

  1. Lay aside the baggage; the sin that so easily besets us; and
  2. Run with Patience—endurance—stamina, the (long-distance, cross-country) race that is set before us.

It is not a sprint. It is a lifelong up-hill slog, but He is beside us, step by step, the whole way. We can find great encouragement by reading the lives of those who have gone before, and accepting their testimony:

But, for our prime example, we are called to “look to Jesus:”

 

Looking Unto Jesus, the Perfect Example

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

As you are learning to “look unto Jesus”, don’t miss this little phrase: “the author and finisher of our faith”. What does that mean? How is Jesus the author and finisher of our faith?

Though faith is always a personal choice, God laid the foundation for that faith in the Person of Christ. He is the author of faith. He is also the One who moves to perfect its work in each of our individual lives. We are drawn along to trust Him more, as we walk with Him. We grow in our faith, as we learn to obey Him. Who accomplishes that growth? Jesus does!

If you have ever raised a garden, whether flowers or vegetables, you know that the most you can do is plant the seeds in appropriate soil, at the correct time of year, where they will get an appropriate amount of sunshine, and then water them faithfully. But God is the author of life! If the seeds you planted do not germinate, there is nothing you can do to correct that problem except to replant with better seeds, and, hopefully soon enough to still be able to take advantage of the growing season. God is always the author of life, and growth. God, the Son is the author and finisher of our faith.

Jesus stated in John 12:32 that if He himself should be lifted up from the earth (in crucifixion) He would draw all men to himself. His sacrificial death for our sake is the lure of faith. He applied that “drawing power” to the entire human race, through the preaching of the Gospel. We either believed or did not: but the one who provided the object of our faith, the reason for faith—is Jesus.

And, what was the “Joy” set before Jesus? For what prize would he consider it worthwhile to endure the Cross? What future joy was only attainable by enduring the shame and brutality of a Roman execution by crucifixion? What was He hoping to gain? He was purchasing the Bride! He counted His relationship with us to be that Joy, along with the Joy of His relationship with the Father. How do we know?

1st Peter 1:18-20 says, “…ye were not redeemed (“bought back out of the market-place of sin, and set free”) with corruptible things as silver and gold…but with the precious blood of Christ…foreordained before the foundation of the World, but manifest in these last times for you.”

Did you get that? Jesus, the Lamb of God, was ordained to death before the World was created! That is why Revelation 13:8 refers to him as “…the Lamb slain from the foundation of the World.” Peter makes it more specific: the plan for the salvation of Man was made before the creation, not simply before the fall of Man. And the plan was specifically that He would “redeem” us (Greek verb lutrothete—“bought for the purpose of being set free”) by His own blood. Paul took note of this in Acts 20:28 “…the church of God, which He hath purchased with his own blood.” And we see in Ephesians 5:26 that Jesus has cleansed that church “…with the washing of water, by the Word,” in order to present to Himself a spotless Bride. Finally, in Revelation 22 we hear the voice of the Bride with that of Christ, inviting sinners to salvation. This holy partnership is the Joy that Jesus counted so precious that he willingly endured the Cross, and despised the shame as being beneath his attention.

That is hard for me to understand, because we are frankly not that attractive, as sinners. We have all been enemies of God (Romans 5:10), and He changed us, giving us a new nature. But the fact remains that while we were enemies, He chose to love us with the agape love and to extend His Grace to us as a free gift. And, even after we have been born again into the family of God, we are called his “sheep”, and are just about as attractive as the four-legged variety. Very contrary creatures, at best, stinky, not too bright, and utterly defenseless against predators. Yep…it fits! 

And one last point: He finished His race perfectly, and is seated in the Throne with The Father. Guess what: He says over in Ephesians 2:6 that we, too, are already seated there with Him! So it is entirely fitting that we should strive to imitate His walk, His motives, and His faithfulness. We can be encouraged by His example:

For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.

Occasionally, it has really bothered me when someone who absolutely does not know about a subject in which I have been thoroughly trained, argues vehemently that I am wrong about it. I have felt a need to justify myself, and “pull rank”, or something: prove by my credential that I am more of an authority on the subject than they are.

But Jesus came to us as literally God in the Flesh…fully omniscient, and all-powerful, yet temporarily setting those prerogatives aside, in order to live as a human. And, in that “diminished” state, though still fully God, and Holy beyond human imagination, while He was quietly carrying out His eternal plan, He endured not just “contradiction” in the sense we know it (one “ignorant human” calling another human “ignorant”), but He also endured the abuse from the people who claimed to serve and honor him (His own people!) cursing him to his face, and denying everything he said. Even accusing him of being a slave to Satan, the real enemy of their own souls.

Could Jesus have “pulled rank,” so to speak, and, as Elijah did, call down fire from heaven to burn up all of those who sought to kill him? Or, as Elisha did, could He have cursed the people so that bears came out and tore them up? Of course he could have. Actually, that is kind of the point, here: if He, who could have defended himself against all His enemies, and who was the author of all righteousness, chose to endure, for the sake of those sinners (that’s us, just in case you are thinking, “yeah, those nasty Pharisees…!”); If he endured for the sake of the Gospel, and for the eternal souls of the sinners he cared for, and the eternal reward to come, shouldn’t we do the same? I have no righteousness of my own: none at all, in fact, beyond that which He has imputed to me, so I can’t even claim that I am any better than those who speak against me. I am a sinner, too! So I can learn to love the person, in the name of Jesus, and not feel the need to defend my status, my reputation, or my expertise. I can find freedom from my pride, in Him!

I also have no power or authority to force them to stop maligning me, which is probably a good thing…but, remember: He did have all power, and He chose to set it aside for our sake. As it is, He warns us to not seek vengeance. He is the Judge, and He will make things right in His time. So I am to endure, for testimony’s sake, and for the sake of the souls of the very people acting as my adversaries. And God counts that submission and obedience to be precious in His sight.

 

Where do We Stand?

Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.

Evidently those specific folk to whom he wrote had not been physically wounded, so far. There were certainly those in the early church who already had been martyred for the sake of the Gospel, and others who had been beaten, and wounded, as Paul himself had been. Evidently these people simply had not. (Neither have I!) There is a passage (Galatians 6:17) where Paul points out that he “bore in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” He was apparently referring to the countless scars from beatings, stonings, and scourgings, and more. He was aware that, like me, these particular believers had never been physically wounded for the sake of the Gospel. Perhaps they did, later on, or, perhaps not. But I can take this personally, and realize that I have had a pretty easy time, and really have nothing to whine about, though I frequently do so anyway. He goes on to point out that they had a long way to go in their relationship with God, too. So do we, I think: part of our whining happens simply because we really don’t understand the purpose God is working out in our lives. He is building up His church!

And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:
For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

People’s parents nowadays vary a great deal in how they raise their kids, so perhaps that example will not resonate with people today. But let’s consider a successful athletic coach: When he sends his team running laps around the playing field, they may feel that it is punishment, but it is not: it is fitness training. It builds stamina for the contest of their sport (whatever it is,) and is a form of discipline—training. But, successful athletes employ self-discipline, and no one considers it punishment, though it serves the same purpose: They push themselves to become stronger and to have greater endurance. We are called to do the same, in the spiritual realm.

One other aspect of discipline, or training: No athletic coach ever turned to the sidelines and called to someone who was not on the team, demanding that they run laps, or get down on the ground for calisthenics. He is not interested in their improvement. If they interfered with the training in progress, he might order them off the field: but he has no interest in their personal betterment. Any person who is on the team, however, naturally expects to engage in the discipline and training coming from that coach. If they are not on the team, they are not under his discipline, nor are they participating in the game, nor will they be entitled to any reward for winning. Their behavior is immaterial to the coach. Can you see the parallel?

The chastening or training God brings in a believer’s life is not punishment. The punishment for our sins—all of it— was taken by Jesus at the cross. What is left (and this is only for believers) is called the “chastening of sons.” When things are getting rough, at the very least, I can rejoice that I am still “on the team”. God never repents of his gift of salvation.

The “chastening of sons” is only for “sons” (the joint-heirs of God, whether male or female, with Jesus, the Son.), so whatever “rough stuff” the world goes through is not for their training, but is just incidental to living in the world. When we go through some of the same things, God uses that experience to build us into his likeness. It may be the very same things that unbelievers experience, or we may feel it is sometimes even worse. But the difference is that we are now in a different family than they are, and our Father chooses to allow these things in our life to teach us to trust and obey Him, as well as to encourage those around us.

We serve with Jesus, the Author and finisher of our faith, and even if it doesn’t look particularly impressive, He rewards our faithfulness, diligence, and obedience. We just need to maintain fellowship so that the Holy Spirit is the one producing the obedience. Otherwise we are only “obedient” in the same sense that Jonah was obedient. He preached, all right, and even had impressive results, but his heart was wrong. We want to avoid the trap of self-powered works.

Next week we will continue the subject of the Chastening that God extends to His children.

Lord Jesus, free us from our selves, and teach us to follow in your footsteps. Teach us to recognize temptation for what it is, and to look for opportunities to exercise faith in your Goodness, your Sustenance, and your Power.

 

 


What Were They Doing on Christmas?

What Were They All Doing on Christmas Morning?

© 12/25/2016 C. O. Bishop THCF 12/25/2016

Hebrews 1:6; Luke 2:1-20

Introduction:

I took some time off from work, to spend Christmas with my family. When I get back to work, people will greet me in friendly fashion, and several are sure to ask, “Did you have a good Christmas?” It is almost a rhetorical question, since the expected answer is always “Yes”, though qualifiers are acceptable. Expansion on what was good or not so good are also acceptable. We are expected to, at most, tell “What we were doing on Christmas Morning.”

So: let’s ask the same question regarding those persons who were present the Night of the Lord’s birth. What were they all doing on Christmas Morning?

We sing, Angels we have heard on High, sweetly singing o’er the plain! Were they? Really? We talk about “We three kings of Orient, etc.” and we usually forget that they were two years away on Christmas morning…not part of the show at all. We say “Shepherds quaked at the sight”, and sing all manner of songs about drummer boys, and donkeys, and Mary and Joseph, and…most of it is very pleasant fiction. Let’s set all that aside for just a few moments and ask, seriously, “What were they all doing on Christmas Morning?”

What were the Angels doing?

What were the Angels really doing? (“Sweetly singing o’er the plain?” Nope…sorry!) Let’s read and see: Luke 2:9-14 The Angel of the Lord appeared (Think about that one! We’ve done a bit of Old Testament study: Who is the Angel of the Lord?) The Glory of the Lord shone around the Shepherds. The Shepherds were terribly afraid. (I’ll bet they were!) And the Angel of the Lord told them to not be afraid, “because He was bringing them good news (Glad tidings—what is the word we usually associate with “Good News?), of Great Joy which shall be (future tense) to all people. (the Gospel)” He went on to announce the birth of the Savior; Christ the Lord. He told the shepherds to go and find the baby (Not Mary; not Joseph: the baby!) and told them where to look, and how to recognize Him.

Immediately there appeared a multitude of other angelic beings (the heavenly host—heavenly army) praising God, and saying (not singing…sorry!) “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth, Peace, Good Will toward Men!”

And then they were gone!

But what were they doing, by God’s command? Let’s read Hebrews 1:6 “…and when He (God) bringeth forth the firstbegotten into the world, He saith, And let all the angels of God worship Him (the baby!)!”

The Angels were worshipping the baby! (Not Mary, not Joseph, or anyone else.) Now: who is the only one (according to God) that can rightfully receive worship? It is God himself! So this is part of the recognition of, and the teaching of the deity of Christ.

The Angels, who worship no one but God, were worshipping Him. In fact, that is what we were seeing over in Luke 2:13, 14…they were praising God…the one in the Manger. They knew Him for who he was.

They were not distracted by His infancy, or his appearance of helplessness. They knew who he was, and worshipped Him as their own creator! (Hebrews 1:7 confirms this! “He maketh His Angels spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire.”) They were not impressed for better or worse, by the surroundings, nor the other people present. They were there for one purpose: to Worship the Newborn King!

What was Mary doing?

What should she be doing? She was a young (probably teen-aged) mother, who had just had a baby. She was terribly tired, but probably very happy with her little Baby. She was with her husband, and was probably pretty overwhelmed by the events of the last nine months. We are not told that she even saw or heard the angelic host worshipping her baby. She evidently heard about the events through the shepherds, as we see in Luke 2:19 that she “kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart”.

How did she feel about the surroundings? We aren’t told…but even in that culture, a woman wanted other women around when they gave birth. An aunt, or a mother or a sister, usually…a midwife, if you could afford one. Hospitals weren’t an option, at that time and place, but a stable wasn’t exactly optimal or normal.

How do we know the manger bed and all the rest were not normal? The Angel of the Lord gave those facts to the shepherd as being the signs by which they would recognize the baby. Why would he give the shepherds things that were completely common, as signs by which to recognize the savior? The manger and the swaddling clothes, while not unheard of, were unusual enough that they were the signs given by the angel by which to recognize the savior! If they were that unusual, how did Mary feel about it all? We aren’t told.

Mary probably spent the next few hours alternately sleeping, and tending to her baby. And the visit by the shepherds was probably a surprise. She and Joseph were huddling together in a dark stable, trying to stay warm, and trying to re-group; figure out what they were going to do next, when these grubby shepherds burst in the door, looking for a baby dressed in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger. And there he was! Did they give Mary special attention? Probably so. Most people give special attention to new mothers. But they were there to see the baby! They saw Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the manger, just as they had been told. But the baby was who they had been sent to find, and was the One with whom they were primarily concerned.

What was Joseph doing?

We really are not told, but, consider: He was evidently an older man, as we see him apparently gone before Jesus began His ministry. He was freshly out of work, as he had been forced to travel away from Nazareth, in Galilee, which is where he had lived and worked, because of the new rule from Caesar.

Joseph was probably thinking ahead, wondering what he was going to do for work. He may have also been thinking back to the visit he had had from the Angel Gabriel, telling him that his fiancée had been chosen by God to bear the child who is the Savior. That has got to have been a hard time, as the neighbors were looking at him and assuming that he had committed fornication, and gotten his fiancée pregnant…or worse, that she herself was immoral and he was just choosing to cover for her. The stigma was there, and would not go away. Think about it: they were in the city of his family, of his ancestry, but there was no one he could turn to for a place to stay. How else did they end up in that stable? Why were no doors open to him and his bride? I would guess it was because he was an embarrassment to them. Perhaps they even ostracized him. We don’t know. All we know are the facts.

What were the Shepherds doing?

That is one we are told a fair amount about: They were minding their own business, caring for flocks at night, in the open field. Possibly having a bit of a chat, to stay awake, or walking around the flock to keep them safe from predators. But they were just carrying on business as usual, until the Angel of the Lord dropped in for a visit. When God steps into the picture, everything changes!

That line about “Shepherds quake at the sight!” is probably one of the most accurate in all the stories. They were scared to death! Isn’t it interesting that all the people who really saw angels or met the pre-incarnate Christ, or saw the Lord in his glory, were not all happy and blessed: they were afraid! Why is it that today all the folk who claim to have seen the Lord say what a wonderful, peaceful experience it was, just flooding their souls with Joy? My guess is that they really didn’t experience what they said they experienced. The ones who really did were terrified, pretty much without exception.

The disciples in the boat, when Jesus calmed the storm didn’t look around and say, “Way cool, Jesus! I didn’t know you could do that!” They had been afraid they were all going to drown. These were seasoned commercial fishermen, who were masters at small boat handling, and had been in storms before. But they were seriously expecting to die, in this storm. But when they woke up the Lord, and asked him to take a hand, he calmed the storm, and far from being overjoyed and relieved, they were more afraid! They said “what manner of man is this, that even the wind and waves obey him?” They were more afraid of the very presence of God than they were of death itself.

When the Angel of the Lord appeared, the shepherds were terrified. They had dealt with jackals, bears, and lions by night all their lives (How would you feel dealing with wild predators at night, with only a stick or a sling, or some other rather primitive weapon to protect yourself and the flock?) But they were terrified at the sight of the Angel. His first words were to set aside their fear, so that he could communicate the Joy of Christmas. And that Joy was in the person of Jesus.

The shepherds left their flocks in the field, which is not normal! If you leave the flock, you are a bad shepherd! But they were commanded to do so, and they did. Maybe they figured that the angels could take a turn watching the flock.

They went to Bethlehem, and hunted through stables until they found the Lord and Joseph and Mary. They told others around the area what had happened, about the angelic messenger, and the child…and finally went back to the flock, leaving an amazed village behind them, and having great Joy in themselves, at the privilege they had shared.

They were glorifying God, and Praising God for all that they had heard and seen, and that all had been as they were told to expect. They thanked him for fulfilled prophecy, in other words. I don’t know whether they had thought through all the other fulfilled prophecies, yet. Micah 5:2 comes to mind, though: The Lord had promised, 400 years earlier, that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. They were the witnesses to the fulfillment of that promise. If they had expanded from that beginning, and considered who that was, and what else was prophesied about Him, they might not have wanted to go back to the flock, at all. I don’t think they put it all together, though…we seldom do today, really.

What are You doing on Christmas?

We have been conditioned to think of Christmas as a time of joy and peace…and we want it to be so. But we also tend to focus pretty much on family, rest, children, gifts, and food…lots of food. I don’t see a problem with most of that. When God commanded his people to throw a party, and have a national feast day, they focused on all those things, too. But they remembered what they were celebrating.

I think it is important that we give some time to considering who Jesus really is, and the fact that, right there in that manger, wrapped up in rags, he was the Creator … He was God! When we sing that song, “Mary did you know”, I have to tell you, I don’t think she could have known! We are looking back from the vantage point (and safe distance) of 2000 years, and we still don’t really comprehend it. If she had seen him as the disciples saw him when he calmed the storm, do you think she would have been snuggling him in her arms and crooning a lullaby? She couldn’t have seen Him that way. But I feel it is imperative that we do! That we experience the utter amazement of the fact of the incarnation, and be blessed by the Grace God has extended to us. We cannot grasp it all, but we can reach out by faith and receive it as a gift. We can place our faith in His Grace, and know the Peace of God in an eternal relationship. We are not dragged in as a waif, and simply called his child: we are born into His family by the new birth, and live eternally as his child…his real child, born of His Grace.

When we think about Christmas, we need to be looking beyond the “manger scene”, and look far enough to see the Cross, and the tomb, and the resurrection. We need to look even further, and see His soon coming, and His eternal reign. We should look beyond the manger, and find Peace and Joy in the fact of the Savior. Mary pondered these things in her heart. It seems good that we should do the same. Think about these things: ponder them in your heart. Consider the enormity of what was going on that first Christmas.

The Christmas story was not about Mary. It was not about Joseph or the shepherds. It was not about the angels…they knew that better than anyone. They worshipped the newborn king: They guarded his humanity (though He certainly needed no help), but they worshipped Him as God.

We can do the same. Christmas is about Jesus, our savior; God in the flesh, our only advocate with God the Father. To the World, He is the Judge, though He offered Himself as the Savior. To us, He is the Savior, though He is still the King, and the Judge and the God of the Universe. Relationally, the fact that He is our Savior, takes precedence over all the rest. We no longer have to fear God’s wrath. We have His Grace.

The Shepherds told others about what they had seen and heard. We can do that, too. But especially because we know who He really is. He is the source of all things, and the key to the Joy of Christmas.

Lord Jesus, allow us, momentarily at least, to see you in your Glory, and to worship you as God. Allow us to love you in your humanity, but to look beyond your humanity and to worship and love you as the faithful Creator. Allow us to serve as witnesses to your glory, as did the shepherds. Allow us to continually ponder these things in our hearts.

 


Dealing with Grief and Avoiding Despair

Dealing with Grief: Avoiding Despair

© C. O. Bishop 12/27/14 THCF 1/4/15

Job 1:1-23, 2:1-10, 19:25; Daniel 3; Habakkuk 1-3

Introduction:

This past week, the week of Christmas, some neighbors around me had terrible things happen. One, an elderly man, the day after Christmas, lost his workshop to a fire, including tools, a classic car, racing motorcycles, and other things that had been his joy and private hobby for many years. One may philosophize, saying, “Ah, but no lives were lost!” Yes, that is true, but we humans hope to leave some heritage to grandchildren (if we have any) and that car and the motorcycles, his skill in building a race-bike, and whatever racing trophies he might have had were part of his legacy in his eyes. His most prized memorabilia were destroyed in the fire. Those cannot be replaced.

Far worse were the circumstances of another family nearby who, two days before Christmas, received the news that their youngest son (16 years old) has inoperable cancer, and that his only hope is very aggressive chemotherapy, as the tumor is on or very near his heart. He is still alive, but only a miracle can save his life. They will remember this grief and pain every Christmas for the rest of their lives. If God miraculously heals this young man, then they will also have the joy of remembering God’s supply.

How does one deal with such things? How can one endure the loss and not collapse under the weight of the grief? How can one find comfort, and even joy, in the face of such circumstances? How did people in the Bible deal with such things?

What about Job?

Job is the first person who comes to my mind: though his “friends” goaded him into some wrong statements, it is good to note that God (prior to his testing) said that he was a righteous man, a “perfect and upright man”. So the accusations later leveled by his friends were completely false. They were wrong, pure and simple. Not only were they wrong about Job, they were wrong about God…God says so, in Chapter 42. So, then, whenever we study the book of Job, we will do well to carefully examine who is talking, to see what God says about their comments.

Since today we are only touching on Job’s initial response, we will only hear four voices—God’s, Satan’s, Job’s and that of his wife, whose name is not recorded here. God makes authoritative statements regarding Job; Satan questions Job’s motives and character, thus saying God is wrong; God allows the test, and both Job and his wife respond. She broke under the pressure: Job did not. It is important that we do not join Satan or Job’s sorry “friends”, in accusing Job. If we differ from what God says, God is not wrong; we are.

Job’s response is one of the best recorded, in terms of handling grief: Job tore his clothes and shaved his head, in the classic reactions to grief for that time; but rather than railing against God, he fell on his face and worshipped God for His unchanging goodness, and for his authority. He made the statement that we so often piously quote at funerals: “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away…”, but he continued with the part we very seldom include: “…blessed be the name of the Lord!” This was not a religious platitude; it was pure worship. He confessed that his maker had the authority to take away, as well as to give: he worshipped God, in spite of his grief. God’s comment, twice in these chapters is that “…in all this Job did not sin with his lips.”

Later, under goading from his friends who wrongly believed that “bad things only happen to bad people”, Job made another famous statement of faith: “I know that my Redeemer liveth and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth…and that… I shall see him with my eye, and not another…” Job rested his faith in the coming final justice. Eventually, it is true, the friends goaded him into self-justification, but they and not he were judged for their actions. God corrected him, but rebuked them, saying, “My wrath is kindled against thee…for you have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath.” That is a good final note on Job’s life and discourse, and a cautionary note about Bible study. It is important to check who is talking in scripture…about two thirds of the book of job is recording the words of his friends, and God says they were wrong! We need to read carefully, and not make assumptions.

What can we learn from Job? First, that he was submissive to God’s will in his life: if he could have changed the circumstances, he would have—he loved his children and prayed for them daily, and offered sacrifices on their behalf; but when they were taken, it was through what even today, many people call “an act of God” (or, as the atheistic, secular world may say, an “act of nature”.) Job knew that there was nothing he could have done to ward off such an occurrence, nor certainly anything he could do to undo the damage. He was grieved at the loss, but accepted it as being from God, and stated that God had the authority to bring calamity as well as blessing.

He also knew that calamity is not always the result of sin…which his detractors had not learned. This is a hard one for us, too, even as New Testament believers: we tend to think that bad experiences must be punishment for some sin, even though both the Old Testament and the New Testament clearly teach that this is not necessarily the case. In Job’s case he had the confidence of a steady walk with God to bolster his spirit: he knew that the calamity was not punishment. It was only the accusations of the men he thought were his friends that moved him to defend against false accusations, and eventually he was bordering on self-justification, so God stepped in and stopped the test.

I can either rest in the character of God (bless God for his goodness, as Job did) or I can tear myself apart, looking for the hidden cause, the secret sin that must be the root of the calamity. I can worship, or I can wail. In a sense, as long as I choose to worship, I can still wail…but to God, not at Him.

One more thing to point out, here: Job evidently understood positional truth and the security of the believer, because he said that he knew (not just believed) that he himself, with his physically resurrected body, and his own eyes, would see his redeemer “at the latter day” when his redeemer was to stand upon the earth. How could he make such a statement if not for knowing the security of the believer? He did not just know that Jesus would make a triumphant return to Earth as the king (he is referring to the second coming, not the first) but he also stated that he himself would be there to see it, in a physically resurrected body. That is confidence…that is faith, the assurance of things hoped for; the sure knowledge of things not seen.

What about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego?

This is may not seem exactly the same thing, as what they faced was execution for Godly behavior, under an ungodly King. But consider: any “fiery trial” we may imagine can be seen in parallel to theirs. They had no children, nor would they ever, as they had been made eunuchs by this king’s decree; they were captive servants under a terrible regime. They were in imminent danger of being burned alive for refusing to commit idolatry, but they stood fast. Remember what they said: “We know that our God is able to deliver us…but if not (in other words, if He chooses not to deliver us)…we still will not worship your idol!” They chose to stand fast whether or not God would defend them. They were willing to die before disgracing their God.

We can choose to stand fast against the temptation to abandon faith, to question God’s character, to deny Him His due in our lives. Or we can give in, hoping to gain some peace of mind, as at least we will no longer find ourselves trying to justify God in circumstances that are beyond our understanding. I have known a number of believers to fall prey to this very thing. They felt they could no longer defend God’s actions so they joined his attackers.

God doesn’t need my defense. He is perfectly capable on His own, and has proven it on countless occasions throughout history. The three Hebrew youngsters were right and they knew it, but they also knew that God had made no promise to them, personally, to deliver them from harsh circumstances. So they took their stand with God, choosing to risk being incinerated rather than deny the God of their salvation. It seems that they shared Job’s confidence in the goodness of God, regardless of circumstances, and, that, like Job, they knew that the things that God does are not always explainable in human terms. Many times they are beyond our comprehension. I can either accept that truth, or, childishly, insist on an explanation.

God is not obliged to explain his actions, any more than I am obliged to explain to a saw-blade why I am filing away a portion of each tooth, to make the remaining portion sharp and usable. God can prune his vineyard, shear his sheep, sharpen his tools, and discipline his children. Discipline, again, does not mean punishment—it means training. Even in school, we might ask what discipline a student is pursuing…it means “what specific training are they hoping to attain?” A wrestling or football coach may demand that the members of his team run laps around a practice field as part of the discipline of their sport. It is not punishment at all, though it may feel like it. It is training, and has the goal of excellence in the sport.

In the case of Job and the Hebrew teenagers, we saw that God did reward them with a defense and a response of blessing. But what if He does not? Can we find joy in the person of Christ, even when the circumstances admit no compromise, and will certainly end in ruin?

What about Habakkuk?

Habakkuk was confronted with the evil of his own nation. He cried to God for Justice, but what he got was Judgment…and it was Just. God let him know that He, God, was about to judge the nation of Judah, using the Chaldean nation as the instrument of His judgment. Habakkuk knew that this judgment would result in utter catastrophe for Judah, as the Chaldeans (also called Babylonians) were a ruthless people. He protested that the punishment was too great, and that the “cure” was worse than the “disease”. But he was wrong and God was right (no surprise there….) God corrected his thinking, and declared that the judgment was coming.

Habakkuk accepted the coming judgment and declared that, though all the circumstances in which he usually found happiness and sustenance should fail, he himself would still find joy in the LORD (Jehovah); and that he would rejoice in the God of his salvation. That may seem a “pat answer” but you want to remember that Habakkuk was going to be right there in the judgment…there was no guarantee of a free pass through the judgment for him. He was about to see his whole way of life destroyed, and a high percentage of the people he knew and cared for destroyed, and all the rest enslaved. (By the way, this is the captivity that took Daniel and his friends, resulting in their castration and enslavement…this is not a theoretical test. It was the real thing.) We never heard from Habakkuk again. We don’t know what happened to him, whether he even survived the siege or possibly died before it began. But he had taken his stand with God, and chose to find joy and comfort in the person of his Creator and Savior.

The last phrase in chapter 3 of Habakkuk states that “He maketh my feet as hind’s feet, and setteth me upon my high places.” A “hind” is a type of deer that loves to climb in mountain crags. It is extremely sure-footed, and so “stays above” all the trouble below it. We might liken it to a mountain goat, here in the Americas, or an ibex (steinbok) in the Alps. The point is that while Habakkuk set himself to find Joy in the eternal God instead of the circumstances, he also placed his trust in his savior to keep him confident in Christ, not affected by circumstance.

That is easy to say, of course, but remember that these fellows made these statements while confronted with the loss of all that was dear to them, and probably their own lives, as well. Job had already lost all his children, and all his belongings, and his wife and  friends seemed to conspire against him…she begging him to give it up and die (possibly, from her perspective, for his own good) and his friends urging him to confess nonexistent sins. The Hebrew children were facing the furnace in person. They could feel the heat, and knew that execution was imminent. Habakkuk only knew for sure that the destruction and captivity of his people was inescapable, and that everything he loved in life was about to be taken away. This was not a “maybe”—it was a definite event about to happen. Each of these believers chose to find their peace in Christ.

So…What about Us?

We, too, can choose to trust God. We can choose to find our joy in Christ. We can choose to believe that His Justice is greater than our sense of what is “fair”. We can choose to believe that His Love (demonstrated at the Cross!) is greater than our feeble affections, though we may love with all our hearts. Feelings may be strong, but actions are what get things done, and God acted! He went to the Cross in the person of Christ, and personally paid the price of our sins. Just “feeling sorry for us” would not have accomplished anything. He acted on our behalf.

I don’t know whether I would choose well under the circumstances I listed above: The loss of a shop building or other belongings might discourage me for a while, but the loss of a child or of my wife would surely destroy me, if it were not for the person of Christ. I hope that I would be faithful to trust Him even in hard times. So far, I have been able to do so…but, honestly, my circumstances have been pretty easy compared to what some believers endure.

We can pray for one another, and go to one another in time of need, encouraging those who suffer, helping those in need. We can support one another as we endure hard times. We can share with one another, working together to overcome adversity. But ultimately, our trust has to be in the One who created, saved and sustains us. We have to practice this daily, in the small things, to prepare ourselves for the hard things to come. Can you do it? Will you?

Ultimately we have to be committed to trusting Him even if he chooses to not rescue us from our trial. Job said (Job 13:15), “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” That has to be the “bottom line” for us as well, or we will be enslaved to circumstances. When we only recognize blessing if it is something we like, we are enslaved to circumstances. That is not OK.

The blessing and mercy of God may include our early “graduation” from the “school” of life. The son of Jeroboam, in 1st Kings 14:13 was rewarded for his good by an early death, as the prophet said: “because there is some good found in him toward the LORD God of Israel.” He was the only one of Jeroboam’s household who received a proper burial, and his early death was provided so that he escaped the coming judgment. We do not always know God’s purpose, but we do know His character.

Learn early to trust the Lord in every circumstance, so that when the hard times come you are already fortified against them. Otherwise they will come without warning, and you will be overwhelmed. Choose continually to find your Joy, Comfort and Peace in the Person of Christ.

God give us Grace to trust you in every trial, to seek your Light no matter how great our darkness, and to seek your Love though all others have deserted us, and to find our Joy in You.

Amen!


Comfort through Christmas–all Year

Finding Comfort in Christmas Throughout the Year

© C. O. Bishop


To those of us who have lost loved ones, as well as those who suffer from depression, or the loss of a job, etc., Christmas is not the most wonderful time of the year. It’s the worst. Our society has taught us to expect sunny feelings of joy and happiness, and to expect to give and receive wonderful gifts, and that everyone will love one another, and politicians will all tell the truth… and that Santa Claus is coming

To those of us who hurt, or who have suffered loss, all of the above seems a cruel hoax. And in some ways it is, even if those responsible meant no harm. We have been given false expectations, and have been taught to turn our eyes away from the real truth. Let’s see if we can turn that around, just for a moment, today…

The First Christmas

Consider the first Christmas…the real one…the one no one really noticed except some farmer types…shepherds, actually. It happened in a barn; a stable, if you want to be specific. No tree, no tinsel, no eggnog. “No crib, for a bed”…the only “gift” in sight was a baby. “For God so loved the World, that He gave his only begotten son…” (We don’t think of it often, but the wise men showed up quite some time later—not that day…probably not that year. But when they did, they brought gifts to HIM, and not to one another.) But those who were there—those shepherds— were overwhelmed with joy. Why?

Why The Joy?

How is it that without any of the things we think ought to be there, the partakers of the first Christmas were filled with joy? Mary was having her first baby…do you think maybe she would have liked her Mom, or an Aunt, or someone to help her? How do you suppose Joseph felt about the accommodations? And the shepherds still had to go back to those sheep, and the smelly, hard job that was their whole life. No day off for Christmas…no bonus; no free turkey, or ham, or whatever. Just… great joy.

Do you suppose they understood a little about what had happened? They were all orthodox Jews, and they, with their forefathers, had been waiting for the Messiah for thousands of years. The promises were there, for anyone to read. And the angels that showed up clearly told them that this was it: The real fulfillment of God’s real promise. Did they understand it all? Nope. They almost certainly did not. In fact, they may have had some real disappointments a few years down the road. They thought he was come to be a king (He was!), and a deliverer (he was!). But they thought he would throw the Romans out of Israel, and reign there in Jerusalem in their lifetimes. (He did not, and He never said he would.)

Their disappointments were based on false expectations, just like ours. But those who remembered could look back with wonder and recall the voices of the angels, praising God, and announcing the Holy birth. They did not cease to believe in the goodness of God, and his faithfulness.

Remember the Promise

We have forgotten what was really promised, and more specifically, how we are to take part in it. There is no promise that we will live lives free of pain. Quite the opposite…we are told that it is given unto us “…on the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on His name but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29) That’s not what we really wanted to hear, huh?

So what really was promised, and how do we take part in God’s real Christmas? How can we find Comfort in Christmas?

To begin with, immediately after Adam and Eve fell into sin, as recorded in Genesis, God provided a plan of redemption. He said that a person would come, called the “Seed of Woman”, and this person would undo Satan’s work, done through the serpent.

The promise was repeated, with more and more details, until just before the time of Christ (actually, the last detail was given 400 years before his birth), when they pretty much knew all that was to happen regarding the Messiah. They did not understand it all, any more than we can claim to understand it all today.

But the believers, mostly Jews, had come to believe in the character of God, and they believed His Word was true. They believed his promises. When he told them to place their trust in His redemptive plan, and it involved a blood sacrifice, they brought that blood sacrifice, as directed. Did they understand it? Did they really know that all those little Lambs were pointing forward to the True Lamb of God? Somehow I doubt it.

The Promises Were Fulfilled

When Jesus was introduced by John the Baptist, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” some people may have understood the intent; most folks probably did not. But many believed that He was the fulfillment of God’s Promise. We can look back and see that they were right. He fulfilled God’s Word to the letter…even that thing about the “Seed of Woman”. (Who else in history has only one human parent?)

Jesus was born in obscurity, with shepherds rejoicing, and precious few others even taking notice. He preached in a tiny nation for three years or a bit more. He had twelve devoted followers, about ten times that who were part-timers, and thousands who claimed allegiance to him. But he was betrayed by one of those “inner-circle twelve”, Judas Iscariot, and he died a criminal’s death, condemned by Jew and Gentile alike. He was attended at His death by only one of his twelve disciples, and a few women, including his mother.

He was lent a tomb by a rich man who secretly believed. It turned out Jesus only needed it for three days and three nights, just as predicted. He was physically resurrected that third day, in spite of efforts aimed at preventing such an occurrence, and he showed himself to all his disciples, on one occasion to 500 people at once. He ascended back to God, physically; bodily, and promised to return in the same manner: Physically…Bodily.

Believing the Promise

We, who do find comfort in Christmas, whether Jew or Gentile, do so because that day was the beginning of all that was to follow. We find hope in the Christ, in the Cross, and in the empty tomb. We find hope in his resurrection, and in his promised coming again.

We find hope in His written Word, where He promised personally, that “Whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16)

We look back to that first Christmas and the unspeakable gift of God’s Son, and we find comfort in the Goodness of the God who gave the Gift. When we suffer losses, we look back to what our redemption really cost our Lord, and our Heavenly Father.

How can one take part in God’s real Christmas? Jesus said “He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but has passed over from death into life.” (John 5:24)

Notice the tenses there—he covers my present, saying that because I have heard his word, and believed the promise of God, I have eternal life now…I don’t have to wait ‘til I die to see if I got “good enough grades”. He covers my future, promising that I will never be condemned by God. He covers my past (perfect tense), saying that I have permanently crossed over from being spiritually dead, to being spiritually alive.

Finding Comfort in Christmas

This is the hope of all believers. And those of us who believe, and who have lost one or more believing loved ones, have the sure hope of seeing them again. Some we are not sure of, because we can’t see their hearts, but God knows, and His justice is perfect. He loves them more than we ever could; and we rest assured that he has done right by them.

Christmas, the way the World presents it, can be very depressing, quite honestly. But the way God presents His gift it is a never-ending source of joy—not seasonal at all.

If you would like to know more about how to experience God’s joy, I’d be happy to chat with you.

To each of you, in the name of the Christ of Christmas, I wish a truly joyous Christmas season that will last throughout the year.

Blessings upon you all.