Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Blog through the Bible: Elihu- Part 2

In Job 32 a new voice takes the stage. He makes his case for speaking in 32, and then he asserts that while Job says God is silent, he does speak, through dreams and pain. Now he moves on.

In 34, Elihu makes the case for God’s justice. In the first four verses, he says, hear me out. Then in 5-9, he summarizes Job’s argument, Job says that he is innocent, that he hasn’t done anything wrong, but God denies him justice. The implication is that there is no benefit, no “profit,” in trying to please God (34:9). From there, Elihu moves into a defense of God’s justice and impartiality. What’s interesting here is that Job begins by sounding just like the three “friends”. He says “Far be it from God to do evil, from the Almighty to do wrong. He repays a man for what he has done; he brings upon him what his conduct deserves,” and he insist that “It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice. He goes on and on… “If it were his intention and he withdrew his spirit and breath, all mankind would perish together and man would return to the dust…If you have understanding, hear this; listen to what I say.” He then moves on to talking about how God punishes the wicked. He says, “His eyes are on the ways of men; he sees their every step…There is no dark place, no deep shadow, where evildoers can hide…He takes note of their deeds, he overthrows them in the night and they are crushed. He punishes them for their wickedness where everyone can see them, because they turned from following him and had no regard for any of his ways”.

He moves on to chiding Job for his non-repentance and rebellion, for question criticizing God for injustice, and for speaking to him the way he did. He says, Job, “Should God then reward you on your terms, when you refuse to repent? You must decide, not I; so tell me what you know.” He says, anyone who is wise knows that Jobs speeches (in which he criticized God), lacked knowledge. Elihu is correct for chiding job for rebelliously questioning God’s justice, notes Roy Zuck, and for demanding that God answer him and show him where he had sinned, but he seems to share something of the heartless attitude of the friends… however, he is not completely in their camp. While we do see him heading down the road of the three, suggesting the mechanical good for good, bad for bad view that the three had. We also see something else. He leaves place for mystery, for God to work in unexpected ways. As Carson points out, “he adds an element that once again puts his speech in a framework a little different from theirs. Elihu leaves place for mystery. While he insists that God is utterly just, he does not conclude, as the three “comforters” do, that this means every case of suffering must be the direct result of God’s just punishment”. The question Elihu asks in 34:29 tells us that he has left this space, as he say, “But if he (God) remains silent, who can condemn him? If he hides his face, who can see him? What we see here is that he is pretty harsh on Job too, and yet, he leaves wiggle room.  Carson notes that “ while Job flirts with the idea that God’s silence opens him to a charge of unfairness, Elihu assumes God’s justice, even if he (Elihu) does not draw out the inferences followed by the three miserable comforters. Elihu allows room for mystery, for divine silence that is nevertheless just silence”.

From there, we transition to chapter 35, and Elihu’s third speech, where he defends God’s sovereignty. Job had said that God is unconcerned; he does not reward me for my innocence. Elihu says “God is sovereign”. He starts by showing Job’s inconsistency (35:1-3). He says, Job, how can you say that it’s useless to serve God, and that God is unjust? Job can’t hope to be vindicated by God as innocent while saying that his innocent has no value in the eyes of God. He then moves on to speaking of man’s inability to affect God because of his sovereignty. Replying to both Job and the “friends”, he points out that since the heavens and the clouds are higher than man. The implication is that God is higher than the clouds, and therefore greater than man. He says what can you accomplish for or against him?If you have sinned, what do you accomplish against him? And if your transgressions are multiplied, what do you do to him? If you are righteous, what do you give to him? Or what does he receive from your hand?” A person’s wickedness and righteousness don’t affect Him, “Your wickedness concerns a man like yourself, and your righteousness a son of man.” From there, he transitions to speaking about mans inability to influence God because of his pride in 35:9-16. He says when people are oppressed they cry out, but they don’t turn to “God my Maker”, and therefore, God does not answer their cries, because of their pride its empty (35:12-13), and he ignores it. He then applies this to Job saying, “How much less when you say that you do not see him, that the case is before him, and you are waiting for him! And now, because his anger does not punish, and he does not take much note of transgression, Job opens his mouth in empty talk; he multiplies words without knowledge."

Here we see the argument begin to take shape. But more is to come.

Worth checking out: Are Christians in America Under Attack?

James White is a professor at Gordon Conwell's Charlotte Campus, and he recently weighed in on the laims of persecution surrounding the contraception and the Catholic church story. It’s worth reading, you can read the whole thing here.

Here is an excerpt.

There is a great deal in the news of late, much of it fueled by our current political cycle and the contraception debate, about religious freedom.
Are Christians in America under attack?
It’s been said that the U.S. is becoming a “secular country,” that there’s a clash between “man’s laws and God’s laws,” and even that our current president has launched a “war on religion.”
Compared to the violence against Christians in many places around the world, the answer is no. Christians in America experience nothing compared to the persecution of Christians in such places as Nigeria, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt or Syria.
What is happening in America is an increasing hostility and intolerance toward Christian beliefs and values that many perceive to be an attack on religious freedom. In current American culture, you are free to be a Christian as long as you don’t actually live out your faith, vote your faith, take a stand in relation to your faith, or believe others should embrace your faith.
In other words, it can be privately engaging, but must remain socially irrelevant
But there’s more.
There is a real concern that the growing insistence that faith be privatized has now become a demand for faith to be compromised. It’s not enough that your beliefs can’t influence society; you must also embrace society’s beliefs. As Jonah Goldberg noted in USA Today, the opposition to many Christian values has become an “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” mentality.
He goes on later.
The developing fear is that government will make people choose between obeying the law and following their faith. Even further, the argument which states “If you don’t want to serve the public, don’t open a business saying you will serve the public” is equally flawed…What aspect of religious life isn’t, in one sense or another, “public”?  A worship service is a service to the public, is it not? Does that mean it, too, should be subject to government oversight in terms of who it is forced to accommodate and how it is demanded to operate? Will it come to the point that to maintain integrity, all public events of a religious nature will have to become non-public, and thus effectively end any and all outreach? That might be the very desire of some, but it would drive the heart of the church’s mission underground every bit as much as it is in countries where persecution is taking place.
Read the whole thing here. It’s worth your time.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Blog through the Bible: Elihu- Part 1

In Job 32 a new voice takes the stage. A young man named Elihu had been listening. When he see’s that Jobs friends have no answers, he decides that it’s time for him to speak. He looks at Job, who is “righteous in his own eyes”, and he looks at the tree friends, who have run out of ideas and have nothing more to say to Job, but are still condemning Job, and he explodes with anger…up until now, he has been silent, because that is the etiquette of the culture… The summary of his thoughts are, “The wisdom of old age may have failed, but my wisdom comes from God, so let me speak. How can you say that it’s useless to serve God, and that God is unjust? Who are you to demand justice when you’re a sinner? You should learn from your suffering. God will answer, and he will uphold justice, but it’s not for you to demand an immediate hearing. You must wait for him. We can only guess at the reasons for God’s actions. He is far beyond our comprehension and you should be in awe.”

In Elihu’s first words, we find an introduction. He is young, and young men in that culture didn’t speak to older wiser men. But he says, not it’s time for me to talk. Some see this first speech as bragging. But they are not, suggests Roy Zuck, who writes they are “necessary as a way to gain a hearing.” He is an outsider to the conversation. He has to show why he should be allowed to speak.

His argument for why he should speak begins with his defense of his wisdom in 32:6-9, as he declares that understanding is not something that comes from years, but God. "I am young in years, and you are old; that is why I was fearful, not daring to tell you what I know…. But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding. It is not only the old who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right.” He then goes on and says, 10-14 I’ve listened to you for a long time, now, you should give me a hearing. Your arguments have been a disappointed. While you searched for words, none of you has proved Job wrong or answered his arguments. You shouldn’t say “we’ve found wisdom” because you haven’t. Instead, “let God deal with Job, since man can’t refute him”. Job hasn’t been against me, so I won’t use your argument.

Then he says, “I have to speak.” My spirit compels me. I have to have my say “For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me; inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst. I must speak and find relief; I must open my lips and reply.” He promises not to flatter, declaring “I will show partiality to no one, nor will I flatter any man; for if I were skilled in flattery, my Maker would soon take me away.”

From there, we turn into his responses and thoughts. What’s interesting is that while he is seems somewhat full of himself, he has some very important things to say, and, as D.A. Carson notes, while “at several points he skirts very close to what the others have said, he veers away from their most egregious errors so that the total configuration of his utterance is quite different.

In his first response, chapter 33, he responds to Job’s assertion that “God is silent, he does not respond to me”. His answer is, “God does speak, through dreams and through pain”. After asking for permission to speak (33:1-7), and summarizing Jobs words (33:8-11), “I am pure and without sin; I am clean and free from guilt. Yet God has found fault with me; he considers me his enemy. He fastens my feet in shackles; he keeps close watch on all my paths.” He says that while Job has acknowledged God’s greatness (and he has insisted on God’s greatness), he has gone too far by so insisting on his own righteousness that he has made God out to be some kind of cruel monster. He declares (33:12) “I tell you, in this you are not right, for God is greater than man. But…notice what he doesn’t say. That Job should also admit to being thoroughly guilty. D.A. Carson points out that “Job’s sole guilt, so far as Elihu is concerned, is in charging God with guilt”.

Elihu goes on to point out that God is not inaccessible… he does speak, through dreams (33:15-18), “Why do you complain to him that he answers none of man's words? For God does speak--now one way, now another-- though man may not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men as they slumber in their beds, he may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword.” 

Furthermore, Elihu says, God may be speaking in the language of pain, preventing arrogance and independence (33:19-28). He may do these things more than once to someone, “twice, even three times” so that they might be “Spare him from going down to the pit (33:24), and “turn back his soul from the pit (33:30)”. With these words, Elihu opens up a whole line of discussion on suffering not yet considered by Job or his “friends”. He is certainly not saying that Job deserves all the suffering he is facing; indeed, Elihu insists that he wants Job to be cleared (33:32), saying, speak up… but he says, if you won’t speak up “then listen to me; be silent, and I will teach you wisdom."

What’s refreshing about his words is that he is willing to examine the situation from a different angle. D.A. Carson applies that situation to pastoral ministry, but it could go for any controversy…as he writes “Apart from the importance of the issue itself—that suffering may have for its purpose something other than deserved punishment—the entire discussion reminds us of an important pastoral lesson. Of course, it is not invariably so; but sometimes when two opponents square off and neither will give an inch, neither has adequately reflected on the full parameters of the topic.”

The Most Important Service

Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs--he wants to please his commanding officer. (2Timothy 2:3-4)

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. (1Corinthains 9:24-25)

My sister’s wedding is over. I have to say, I’m glad. Planning a wedding and executing the plan, while she was getting ready to deploy to the Middle East (4 ½ weeks from telling me to wedding day), was intense for all involved. In the time leading up to my sister Rebecca’s wedding; my home became grand central station for wedding planning. Rebecca and Brenton, who had been on the marriage track for awhile (stuck in that horrible saving for… everything-from ring to wedding-stage), decided that they should get married before my sister deploys to the Middle East. So in a matter of a few short weeks a wedding was planned. Understandably, allot of things still needed to get dealt with in the week leading up to the wedding.

However, as they were in the midst of wedding planning, something stood out to me; something that at first seemed odd, and eventually left me impressed. The wedding is not the most important thing in their life (especially his). The most important thing in is preparing for him to return to the military as a member of the Special Forces. He is in incredible, strict, focused training. He carefully monitors what he eats. He’s up at 5, working out. He’s at the gym twice a day, lifting, exercising, preparing. He runs with a rucksack filled with sand. On and on the list goes, because while the wedding is important; the most important thing in his life is being ready for a higher calling. And lest you think he is alone in this, Rebecca is in on this single-minded focus. Together they are aiming at this higher goal a reality. The wedding is important, but there are things that are even more important.

I found myself thinking about this in relationship to the Christian life. As Christians, we are called to a service that is greater than the U.S. Military. We serve the King of kings, and Lord of Lords, the One “who was, and is, and is to come”. And yet, often, our faith in Christ is treated like an add-on, rather than the thing that shapes and defines who we are and how we live. But if this is how one lives as they prepare for special forces and service to the nation, how much more focused should our preparation and lives be as we seek to be prepared to live for Christ? The rest of life is important, but some things are of the utmost importance and demand incredible focus.

Here’s the point. It’s a question that’s started to form in my mind as I’ve watched Brenton train. How is your life arranged? Is serving Christ the most important thing? Or are other things of the greatest priority? You were created for His Glory (Isaiah 43:7), and commanded to “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). You were “called out of darkness and into his glorious light” (1 Peter 2:9) by the one who died the death you should have died. Can you see the cross, and is it driving you to grateful service to Christ?  And are you aimed at serving your commanding officer with your life shaped and molded by the gospel; or are you so involved in the day to day cares of this world that you find that you lose sight of the cross, and service to Christ is something you never get around to? Are you so busy that you never get around to training, preparing, growing? Ultimately, you can chase a crown that will not last, or you can seek the crown that will last forever. What is the aim of your life? And what are the things that are the greatest priorities in your life? Ponder this as you go about your week.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The wedding sermon cutting room floor

I'm performing my sisters wedding today. Here is a thought that I had to cut from the sermon. I find it helpful, I hope you do as well.

Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD. (Song of Solomon 8:6)
If you think about what a seal does, you’ll find this image profound. A seal does two things. It shapes, and it protects. First, it shapes, it reshapes. A seal is stamp, you take it, you pressed into hot wax that is covering the meeting point between two surfaces, and it leaves a mark in the wax. Love does that in our lives. Every now and then I’ll take my ring off, Veronique hates it when I do, but when I do, I’m reminded that it’s not there. It’s left a mark on my hand. A visible mark, but also, it’s changed the way my hand feels. If it’s off, I know it. Just a few months after we got married, I took my ring off, set it by the bedside table, and put on moisturizer, and then, in a rush, headed off to class. At some point, I went to raise my hand to ask a question, and I realized, it’s gone. It felt different. My hand felt different.

In marriage, the love that we have for each other, in relationship with Christ, the love that will hold your marriage together and causes a couple to hold fast to each other, reshapes us. It redefines how we approach things, how we think about things, how we go about every day, as it draws us deeper into relationship with each other and with Christ.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Repentance- The Key To Marriage Lasting

 My sister is getting married this weekend, and I'm performing the wedding. As I prepared for the wedding sermon,  I ran across a couple of profound and interesting quotes on marriage that every couple should remember.
“The key to a marriage is simply re-enacting the gospel to each other. You can talk about communication skills or other stuff, and they’re all good, but basically knowing how to forgive and knowing how to repent… If you both can forgive and repent, it doesn’t matter how different you are, you’ll be okay. Two Christians who are married can make it, no matter how incompatible… if you can repent and forgive.”
          Tim Keller, The Gospel Coalition National Conference, 2009.
“the most damaging statements that have ever been said about us are those things we have said about ourselves to ourselves. Many people have a never-ending loop of self-talk that berates them for being foolish, stupid, a failure, a loser. But now into your life comes someone who has the power to overturn all the accumulated verdicts that have ever been passed upon you by others or by you yourself. Marriage puts into your spouse’s hand a massive power to reprogram your own self-appreciation.”
          Tim Keller
Wow. Preach that to yourself on those days that your spouse is a heel. Better yet, preach it to yourself on the days that you are a heel.