Season After Pentecost – Hanging out with Job (The Old Testament Passage)

Then Job answered:
Today also my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy despite my groaning.
Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling!
I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me.
Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?
No; but he would give heed to me.” ( Job 23:1-6)

I have been reading off and on a book about making prayers of lament to God as opposed to praising God. The book’s premise is that we praise God so often that we ignore the fact that we can mourn and lament about our situation to God. There are many biblical passages that make lament to God and can be used in our modern times and situations. This portion of Job gives a good portrait of someone being to God their troubles and difficulties, and expecting to be heard.

“There an upright person could reason with him, and I should be acquitted forever by my judge.” (Verse 7)

The Lord God welcomes all who come to the Divine to contend or plead. Do not think, beloved reader, that the Lord God will turn away or not hear the Lord’s children pleading and crying.

Job, however, feels his experience is different. If you read verses 1 to 6 carefully you will hear that Job has NOT presented his case to God because he does not feel he can find God.

If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.” (Verses 8 – 9)

Later on in the chapter Job says,

God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me; If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face!” (Verses 16-17)

Job talks a great deal about God, but does not often talk TO God. We learned last week that Job made sacrifices to God and had knowledge OF God. But there is not much proof Job interacted with God. And that I find interesting.

I looked more closely at the scripture passages in the coming weeks, and I discovered we do hear more of the story of Job. “Check in” next week to hear more about Job. And, beloved reader, I encourage you to bring all things to God, talking to God about your joys and sorrows. Shalom!

Season After Pentecost – A hard teaching about following Jesus (The Gospel Passage)

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. (Mark 10:17-22)

What we have can mess up what we might become. Does this mean we have to give up all of our possessions and become so poor we have to live out on the streets and beg? Of course not. But when possession become more important than following Jesus’ example, something has to give and go. Jesus saw into the heart of the young man, and saw there a love and need of possessions and position that would not make room for the message that Jesus brought.

How do I know this? Well, to be honest, my interpretation is based on bible commentators, who were not actually there. It is also based on translations made by scholar, who actually, were not there either. But it is also based on the writer of Mark him/herself. We can assume that the writer of Mark (or the person who told this story of Jesus to the writer of Mark) know or knew of the young man. How else would he know that the man had many possessions. Jesus might have known him or known of him too, because Jesus says that this man knows the commandments. And the young man does; so perhaps not only is this man wealthy but educated. And the young man is hoping that his position, education, and wealth qualify him for eternal life. But what humanity values in this life is not of the same value to Jesus.

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” (Verses 23 – 27)

I have to wonder if the disciples meant “if a rich person who has the ability to do and get everything cannot be saved, what chance do us poor schmucks have?” I do not think you would find a bible commentator who put forth that opinion – I looked. Jesus both challenges them and reassures them that, while humanity cannot save it self, God can. That means of course that a rich person and a poor person have an equal chance of entering into heaven. So if your bank account is larger, or if it is small, you still need the saving power of Christ Jesus.

Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (Verses 28-31)

It would have been nice if the RCL scripture selection had ended at verse 27. What are we to make of these last few verses? Peter is trying to explain that, like the camel going through the eye of the needle, they have set aside all attachments and possessions. They travel with nothing, being separated from family and home, comforts and connections. Like the rich young man, the disciples look and think back on what they have left behind.

Was it enough, I wonder, this promise of restoration of what they lost and even greater rewards to come? The bible tells us they continued to travel with Jesus. And most continued to follow out of belief and devotion. Some of the disciples were tested, and some failed the test. But what matters to us, beloved reader, is that we may have to leave behind the things we love – whether it be possession or family – in order to follow Jesus. Will we, you and I, risk being last hoping that we might end up being first? Shalom as you think on these things.

Season After Pentecost – God’s Word and our Great High Priest (The Epistle Passage)

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” (Hebrews 4:12- 13)

Words – my words, your words – are just words. But the Word of God is different. In some cases it is the bible – the words that have been passed down through different languages, dialects, translations and paraphrases – but still retains the authority they had when first penned. But that is because they were words that were inspired and tested by the Spirit. And it is that Holy Divine Spirit that is the modifier and power that is living and active, so sharp that it pierces and divides. Furthermore, that Spirit judges thoughts and intentions. For the Spirit is of God and is God. There is no getting away from it.

What “defense” and “shield” do we have from this sharp piercing word? For we who are fallible and sinful humans need an explanation for how and why we have fallen short of following the word of God.

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Verses 14-16)

We do not have to be afraid of what the Word might show about us and judge us by. It is not by any skill or attribute that we are saved though. It is by the same piercing power of God’s word that we are saved by. Christ our Lord meets and fulfills God’s word. Where our account of ourselves falls short, and we have no recompense to offer, Christ’s offer of redemption meets and satisfies the judgment of God’s word.

Now, you may say, what do we have to worry if Christ “covers” for us? Well, that is the tricky thing. If we do not believe in Christ and the power that Jesus was imbued with by being Divine, we are not covered by it. Our belief confirms and conforms us. As we believe we are counted amongst those who are saved by Christ. And our behavior is to be conformed to Christ’s example. It is at the juncture point of belief that we are judge for – believing and following God’s word and taking God’s word as the template and guide for our lives.

I realized this is a circular argument, and I make no apology for it. God and Christ do not let any ends dangle. Unless of course, we deliberately place ourselves outside of God’s and Christ’s grace. Then we are subject to the full weight of God’s word and judgment.

May you, beloved reader, appeal daily to Jesus Christ who is our Great High Priest. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – A Psalm that is very relevant to Job (The Psalms Passage)

Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.
Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and mind. For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you. I do not sit with the worthless, nor do I consort with hypocrites; I hate the company of evildoers, and will not sit with the wicked.” (Psalm 26:1-5)

Job thought he was a good man, holy, righteous, and deserving of good things. But when God allowed the Evil One to have its/his/her way with Job, Job’s faith was shaken and tested. If you know the story of Job, you know how it all came out. But if you do not, I am not going to tell you. The story of Job continues next week, and at that point I will reveal the ending – but not just yet. If you are curious, read the book of Job yourself.

I wash my hands in innocence, and go around your altar, O Lord, singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, and telling all your wondrous deeds. O Lord, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides.” (Verses 6 – 8)

You may think you are a good person too, holy, righteous, and deserving of good things. But then when adversity and crisis come upon you, your faith is shaken and tested. It would be an unusual life if you did not have adversity and crisis come upon you at one time or another. And how you dealt with it would say a great deal about it you.

Did you weep and wail? Go to the Lord asking the Divine how that could have happened to you, of all people? Did you go to the Psalms, and find comfort there? Or other biblical passages that spoke to your feelings and condition? Did you vent and rail against the Lord in anger? Or plead with the Lord for rescue? Did you have faith and conviction that the Lord would see you through? Or did you abandon God, thinking the Lord has abandoned you? If that is so, then this year is for you, to come back to God.

“Do not sweep me away with sinners, nor my life with the bloodthirsty, those in whose hands are evil devices, and whose right hands are full of bribes.” (Verses 9 and 10)

It is at times of trial and adversity that things could go either way; to be “swept away with sinners” or to draw closer to the Lord. Those are not the only options of course. And we can pick and chose how we respond and deal with our problems. Again, Job is a good story of how one can make those choices.

But as for me, I walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me. My foot stands on level ground; in the great congregation I will bless the Lord.” (Verses 11 and 12)

It takes conviction and faith – not necessarily great because I do not want you to think, beloved reader, that it is beyond you – to praise God in the midst of adversity. Once again, the story of Job . . .

I hope and prayer, beloved reader, that your times of trial and adversity are brief and swift in the passing. I know that God is faithful even when we think all things and hope is lost. I could tell you page after page how I have seen that true in my life and how it continues to be. May you find it so for yourself. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – When hard times come upon you (The Old Testament Passage)

There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” (Job 1:1)

So begins the story of Job.

I read the book of Job in its entirety as a young adult when I had my first job after graduating high school. I was nanny to four children – 4 month old twins, a three year old and a five year old. How I managed that job, I will never know. I last 4 months. It was not the childcare that finally got to me; it was having to assume more and more responsibility for running the household. Because the mother of the four children had started schooling for being an RN, I had charge of the children all day, and than some evenings I had them too. The father of the children also worked during the day, and did what he could to help out in the evenings. But as any parent knows, parenting that many children and at those ages is a two person job. And I just had not bargained for that!

But, back to the point I was making; I started reading Job when I encountered my first stressful situation after high school. It helped to read and know that I was not the only one in history who felt burdened and pressed upon. And that even older and more mature adults can and need to say “uncle!” I give up! Also, that older and more mature adults felt that someone was just plain “out to get them!”

One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.” (Job 2:1-3)

It is important to note, beloved reader, that God still finds Job innocent and undeserving of what happened to him – the loss of children and property. It was important to me, when I was exhausting myself daily doing that job. I felt that I had lost all of my innocence and naivete about working. I just was not prepared for it, just as Job was not prepared for what happened to him.

Then Satan answered the Lord, “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.” (Verses 4-6)

I caught a cold, and because I was on the go all day the cold just kept getting worse and worse. Ask any young parent how easy it is to get better from a cold while you are tending to children and household tasks. Fortunately I went home weekends. But in the two days of being home, I would just start to get better when Sunday night I had to go back out to the farm (did I mentioned they lived on a farm in a drafty farmhouse?) ready to pick up my duties for the next day and week. I had that cold for over four weeks until I finally started to recover!

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” (Verses 4-10)

What I went through was probably no worse than any other young parent – although having to do care for 4 children under the age of 5 years old is probably not something a typical 19 year old would have to do. It certainly prepared me for parenthood! But it also brought me closer to God. The 4 month old twins started to bond with me, and I with them. The three old also became my shadow. We had cuddle and storybook time. The five year old knew enough that I was not her mother and we had many tough times. But I was told by relatives of the family that they could see a difference in her, and that she was becoming a more pleasant child. Those same relatives asked and begged me not to quit at Christmas time. But I just could not do it anymore!

I did not “curse God and die” although some nights I felt exhausted to death. But I knew in those four months I had done something important, and something important happened to me. I “grew up” in a way I had not done before. I had been saddled with more responsibilities than any nineteen year old should be, and I survived it. I saw first hand and close up that children and parenting is hard work, and that parenting does not necessarily come naturally. And I drew closer to God, which has stood me in good stead in the intervening years. When you have no one to rely on, and there are innocents who are relying on you, you quickly come to know where to turn to for true and lasting strength.

We have one more week of the story of Job. And we will see how Job is faring with his trials and tribulations. May you, beloved reader, find strength and endurance in God. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Pointing to a God and a Christ Beyond All Other Things (The Epistles Passage)

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” (Hebrews 1:1-4)

For some people, then in biblical times as is now, there is strong believe in angels. Angels are capable of many wondrous things. The belief of angels has a wide spectrum, and I am not going to get into a discussion of that spectrum, nor am I going to say which is the better belief set. Because what Hebrews says, and I believe, is that Jesus is not just an angel but a part of the Divine. This passage from Hebrews has two important things to say: first, that Jesus was, is, and ever will be a part of the Divine. Jesus, or that part that became Jesus, was with God and was God at the creation. And as such has as much oversight and control over all things as God. And second, as I said, Jesus is not an angel but has as much oversight and control over angels as does God. Now, there may be a lot more “theological” stuff in this passage but I think that covers the major points.

Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. But someone has testified somewhere,
What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
or mortals, that you care for them?
You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned them with glory and honor,
subjecting all things under their feet.”

Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters,saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”(Hebrews 2:5-12)

More theology from the writer of Hebrews. I could help you, beloved reader, navigate through all the theology and meanings, and the rationale for the writer of Hebrews in saying what was said, and why it was said in the context of the times that the book/letter to the Hebrews was written. And that would make me one fine bible commentator, which I am really not. So let me skip to the “end” and ask the question, “What does this mean for us?”

At a point in Jesus’ life, he was just like us – human. And as such “a little lower than the angels.” And because there was this equality moment, we have kinship with Jesus. Just imagine that for a moment – WE have kinship with Jesus. A connection to a piece of the Divine. Not only created in “God’s image” (however you want to understand that) but having something in common with the Divine. Not that we, in our human weakness and frailty, have suddenly been promoted up the Divinity ladder; but that Jesus stepped “down” the ladder so as to encounter us. Is that not love poured out by the Divine?

And having that common point with us, even for just a relatively short time, Jesus calls us his “kin” – brothers and sister of Jesus under the same Lord who created, continues to create, and watches over all creation and humanity.

It can be confusing at times – perplexing and paradoxical – that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are God, that God creates and redeems through different aspects of the Divine, that Jesus is both the Parent and the Child Divine, that Jesus was human and Divine, and all the other tenets of faith that all religions and denominations hold to be true. Only with a God who can be all things at all times to all people. THAT is the God I, and I hope you beloved reader, believe in. And it is this God I call you to renew your faith to and recommit too. As I have said on other occasions, it does not need to be a renewal that is done after having been a long distance or a long time away from. It can be as simple as praying to God at the beginning of the new day – which is one of the reasons I set this posts for early, early in the morning. At least it is my hope that they come to you early in the morning. Or perhaps you read them at night, at the end of your day and so commend that day that was past to God and ask for the Lord’s presence in the day to come.

We have access to a large and overwhelming God, invited by our brother Jesus Christ. How can you pass that by?! Shalom!

Season After Pentecost – Of Marriage and Children – Sort Of (The Gospel Passage)

Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” ((Mark 10:2-9)

This is a “hot topic” right now – what a marriage is supposed to be and what configuration of people constitutes a marriage. Not only is it a “hot topic”, it is also a “political topic” according to the way I categorize topic, issues, and subject matter. And . . . I don’t do politics, so I am not going to comment on verses 2 to 9.

Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Verses 10 – 12)

I looked up this passage in The Message because I wanted to read the mostly easily understandable version but still authentic to the original text. That version says the Pharisees wanted to give Jesus a hard time, and in Jesus’ time religion and matters of religious practice were very political. That is how I knew to leave it alone. But verses 10 to 12 are Jesus speaking to his disciples, and the political overtones are not there. But the teaching ones are. I have read these verses often, but I am understanding them in a slightly different way. Or more possibly, do not remember seeing this way before. The point that Jesus is making is not that of issue-filled divorce – that is, one marriage partner has breached the faith and trust of the union. We knew of this as domestic violence, infidelity, desertion etc. What Jesus is referring to is one partner saying to another “I would rather be married to someone else now” for no cause other than being uninterested in being married, or married to that particular partner. It is an outgrowth of lust that Jesus also condemns. And it is the “hardhearted” out that Moses gave the people. And that is all I am going to say on the topic.

Moving on . . .

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.” (Verses 13-16)

Jesus welcoming the children – think a saintly Santa without the suit.

We like to imagine children know implicitly who they can trust and who they cannot. That was easy in a world that was populated with trustworthy people; the era when children played in their yards and playgrounds without fear. Now both predators and neighborhood watch hawks prowl the streets looking for unattended children. And their intentions are a very mixed bag. Jesus has a very simple perspective; bless the children, cherish the children, and protect the children from those who wish them ill. The trust, faith and eagerness of a child are the very things required to enter the kingdom of God.

Beloved reader, it is my hope and prayer that you protect all children, and protect the “child” within you, so that we all may be welcomed into the kingdom of God. Selah!