Monday, November 30, 2009

Save Us, We Pray

This video is from Worship House media. It is a rather melancholy look at Advent, but I believe the juxtaposition of the imagery with the music is so disturbing that the point is well taken. How far have our expectations of life drifted from the reality that is promised in Christ. Here are several questions posed by the producers:

Are your expectations for the perfect Christmas sabotaging your chance to experience the real path of Christmas? What will it take to begin a fresh journey? Are you trapped in the same mechanical process of preparing for Christmas year after year? With whom in your life can you start new and meaningful traditions that celebrate Jesus’ incarnation? Are you able to rejoice in the coming of Emmanuel?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Freedom vs. An Unburdened Life

I recently read an article in Time magazine relating the leadership example of Moses on American leaders from George Washington to Barak Obama. The author, Bruce Feiler, made a statement that has stuck with me over the past few weeks. He refers to the burning bush experience as Moses' first leadership test: "will he cling to his unburdened life or attempt to free a people enslaved for centuries?"

Moses had potential as a child, rescued into the Pharoah's family, perhaps a true "Prince of Egypt." His murder of an Egyptian forman brought this to an end, but he'd found a simple and peaceful life in the countryside. Up until now, Moses was nothing special, but things probably weren't so bad either. We don't get the impression that he was just itching for some action, or looking for a way out of the shepherd's life. Then God shows up.

Part of me wonders if most of us experience this same choice with God. We live an unburdened life, or that is our impression at least, we take care of ourselves and our own. But when God calls, his call is to something bigger than that. He calls us to enter into His plan for redemption and restoration. A plan that began when Abraham was called to receive God's blessing so that through him the world could be blessed. When God sent Jesus, the same choice was made, Jesus, the Son of God wouldn't trade the chance of bringing freedom for the comfort of an unburdened life. And today, do we live our lives contented, or shall we choose, as Moses did, the burden of bringing freedom to the enslaved.

Perhaps we can confuse the unburdened life with freedom, but more likely, what we see as the burden is really the blessing. The blessing of Freedom, capital F, not confined to a political ideology or an individual right, a freedom meant to be possess rather than fought for because it is already won, a Freedom so big that an individual can't contain it because it belongs to creation. So what is our choice? To cling to an unburdened life, or join with the Christ in his plan to free a people enslaved for centuries.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

What am I to do?

Monday's mail- Belk mailing for the wife, Vera Bradley mailing for the wife, more Discover card checks for me, an offer to save $35.oo at Lowe's if I spent $350.oo or more, and this:

What has this man earned for me? The ability to save $35 on more home appliances that I don't need. An extra 20% off at Belk extra value days. A stylish purse that makes a statment.

As much as I believe in peace, and wish for an end to US involvement in Iraq and Afganistan, the stack of mail from Monday reminded me that I'm at fault for what's going on. My desires, my consumerism, my pursuit of happiness through consumption. I'm reminded of why Christ commanded those without guilt to cast the first stone, or reminded us to remove the plank in our own eyes before criticizing a brother about a speck in his eye.

Peace. Am I the obstacle.

Oh what am I to do
Just tell me what am I supposed to say -
I can't change the world,But I can change the world in me

Friday, October 02, 2009

U2- The Day After

The concert last night was super. A friend asked if it lived up to the hype, I'd say nothing could live up to that hype, but the show was spectacular. The amazing thing is that 60,000 people could let go and enjoy the madness of a rock and roll blowout,
  • while still taking time to remember a political prisoner thousands of miles away,
  • while recognizing the need to protect the rights of peaceful political protest in Iran,
  • while hearing encouragement from Desmond Tutu reminding us that we are the people who ended slavery and segregation in America, Apartheid in South Africa, that we are the people who will solve the problems of our world today because we are One.
But you never feel burdened or down, it's a rock and roll show through and through, but you get the sense that you're losing yourself to humanity and higher joy-- rocking out with an urge to satisfy- body, soul, and spirit. That's were other rock shows just don't add up.

My highlight of the night? Number two- as a UVa grad, quoting the words of Mr. Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence during Beautiful Day.

Number One- Highlight of the night, during Sunday Bloody Sunday I always wait for "and the battle yet begun, to claim the victory Jesus won." We didn't get it tonight. Instead the line was "freedom was born on Christmas." Amazing- "freedom was born on Christmas." How sweet the sound.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

U2 in Charlottesville - Part II

Months later, and they are here. It seems like forever ago that I bought tickets to this U2 show at Scott Stadium tomorrow, but now it's only a day away. I find myself speculating a bit as consistent rumours indicate the release of a new album in several months titled "Songs of Ascent." I've really enjoyed the new U2 album "No Line on the Horizon" but after listening the first few times felt like if the book of Lamentations or Ecclesiastes could be set to music, NLOTH would be the result.

We rarely take the time in our world to lament the lamentable. It seems that bad news and tragedy bombard us day to day through media so much that we protect ourselves by forgeting the art of lamentation. Of meditating deeply on the sorrow and pain and struggle of life. When I hear NLOTH, I find depression, but somehow in that depression, joy springs forth. A joy of hope and new life. A joy of knowing that everything will be alright if I bend my spirit to define alright by a higher standard than my own. A depression that creates suspense, anticipation for redemptiom and restoration.

That's why I'm excited to hear the title of this new album may be "Songs of Ascent." If joy shines through while surrounded by the depression, imagine the power when the cloud of sadness is lifted and redemption is realized; when joy springs forth like a just released sling shot bursting into air. Could it be that "Songs of Ascent" will be the realization of the hope only hinted at in NLOTH.

Or maybe I'm just overthinking this whole U2 thing. I'll let you know how tomorrow goes.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sermon on Job

So I've been posting on Job for weeks now, and yesterday I gave a sermon on Job 38 at our church. Here is a link if you'd like to hear it:

Saturday, July 18, 2009

God Speaks

I'm going to skip a few chapters. 1) I have grown tired of analyzing every single argument from Job's friends and his replies and 2) I'm preaching on Sunday, and my text is Job 39:1-18, so I've dwelt enough on chapters 1-37.

God apparently tires of all the words as well, because after Job's friends take three rounds of speeches, and even a fourth character has a word, God shows up in a whirlwind. Here's how the King James says it: "1Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, 2Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? 3Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. 4Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. "

That sounds so "angry" and harsh; but I don't think so. I'm thinking of Jacob wrestling with the angel, or Moses and Abraham bargaining with God and bringing him to change his mind. Apparently, girding one's loins involves tucking in the loin cloth and preparing for some hard work.

So, I really enjoy wrestling with my son. The two year old is no problem, he runs up to me and I just tussle him around a bit and then he's on his back. The nine year old has become more of a problem. He's a little tougher, and I give it to him a little tougher too. He knows all my tricks, and doesn't just run straight into trouble now. And I can't just engage him in combat without preparing: no wallet, cellphone, or keys in the pocket, sometimes I need to take off a nice shirt and put on a t-shirt. It's not the simple matter it used to be. Wrestling with my 100 lb. nine year old can hurt, and he often walks away limping-- and we LOVE IT!

I wonder if God is inviting Job into a divine match of wrestling. He's warning Job that he'd better not engage if he isn't ready because there will be pain. And for the next two chapters, God manhandles Job (metaphorically of course). How will they come out on the other side?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Satan's Argument

Chapter 22 verse 21; Eliphaz speaks again: "Submit to God and be at peace with Him; in this way prosperity will come to you."

This sounds just like what Satan said to God. Of course this Job loves you, look at what you've given him. I wonder how many Christians fall simply because they expect prosperity in exchange for a little devotion. Is God only worth what I can get out of Him?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Job 20 and 21

I've lost count of what round we're on. Zophar is going to offer another speech to Job in chapter 20 and Job will refute him in chapter 21. Each gives witness to the facts of life that supports their argument. Zophar continues to argue the fact of retribution for evil, but Job counters that if we open our eyes we see that the evil do indeed prosper, that the wages for evil ways are not always found.

I think of the issue of cheating in school. It is not enough to stake its morality in the consequences of the behavior. Many students make it through high school and college (and many adults later in life) through cheating and never see the consequences. It is a case where wrongdoing does not necessarily reap its reward. Individuals have gone to their death bed reaping the benefits of a life earned through cheating. You could argue that a guilty conscience is their punishment, or the loss of esteem through achievement. But the reality is that there is no good reason to avoid cheating other than the higher morality of right and wrong. Job seems to be approaching the understanding of a higher morality, a higher dedication to God that the rewards and punishments of human behavior.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Judge Not

Bildad replies to Job in chapter 18. More of the same. Job offers another reply in chapter 19. Job seems to lament his loss of connection. He believes that he has been deserted by his acquantances, his family, his friends, and even his God. This is what Satan tried to get at in his argument to God. Remove all of man's protection and we'll see how mindful he becomes of You!

Job is clear by now that he has nothing left but the "skin of his teeth" (v.20) and this is worthless. His life is worthless, there is no value in his even existing except... except this: "I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God." (v. 26) There is nothing in me of value apart from God. Be I rich or poor, successful or a failure, healthy or ill, there is nothing worthy in me but God in me. Job still refuses to deny God despite his earthly condition.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Hope Indeed

Chapter 15 of Job gives us a second round of words from Eliphaz. More of the same. Suffering is a consequence of evil. Job is suffering, therefore, he is reaping his just rewards. Perhaps Eliphaz is not too far off, but in his persecution of Job, he allows himself a free pass. In this theology, one's righteousness may be judged by one's condition of life. Is this true? If so, then wealth and health and prosperity would be the sign of goodness. Lot begins to reply in chapter 16. He indicates that he could also make these arguments if he sat in the place of Eliphaz, but he does not, so what is he to do.

What does Job mean in verses 19-21 in chapter 16: "Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend." There is hope. There is a redeemer. In this world we will have trouble, but take heart for I have overcome this world! (John 16:33)

Monday, July 06, 2009

Is There Hope?

In chapter 14 Job seems to bookend hope with despair. He starts in the first six verses wondering aloud whether or not God could just let humans be. Their lives are miserable and short, why can't we at least be allowed to enjoy the time we're given without suffering. An understanding of the finite nature of life can lead to two outcomes. 1) Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die, or 2) Do something to make your mark because in the end when you're gone, well, you're gone. Either way, their is little redeeming in this life.

But Job seems to take a little lesson from nature in verses 7-12. At least there is hope for a tree, even though it may be cut down, it can sprout again. Could it be true for man? He seems to pray for this in verses 13-17. He waits for his renewal, when God will call him from the grave, is there hope for humanity after all.

But he closes his response in verses 18-22 with little sense of hope. The suffering of this world leaves man concerned only for his own lot in life, leaving little room for hope of the eternal. I'm sure that Job's friends will have more words for this.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Defending God

Job continues to respond to his friends in chapter 13. Job's friends have reacted with empty words and common idioms to define Job's situation. We accumulate much pithy wisdom over the years; and we are free to dispense of this wisdom to maintain our own comfort and to defend the ideal of God that we wish to hold. Job accuses his friends of "defending" God, as if he needs the words of men for his defense. If Job is correct, the world view of his friends cannot be. Job's experience leads him to a new understanding, but his friends continue to hold fast to "tried and true" idioms that make life more comfortable and understandable if nothing else. In turn, they end up mocking a great and mysterious God in the name of defense.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Silent Wisdom

Job continues his response in chapter 13. The first five verses offer us all a lesson in comforting those in grief. Here are Job's words:
1"My eyes have seen all this, my ears have heard and understood it.
2 What you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you.
3 But I desire to speak to the Almighty and to argue my case with God.
4 You, however, smear me with lies;you are worthless physicians, all of you!
5 If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom.
His friends are speaking to him as if they have some special insight on the life of Job because they are on the outside looking in. Too often we take the right to judge because of a supposed objectivity. We look at other people's situation and think that somehow because we're not so directly affected that we have the "true" perspective. But Job says no! He will not give up his right to assess his situation just because he is in it.

We look to those who grieve or mourn, those who are down and out or depressed, and convince ourselves that we have the right reason and logic, that if only they could step outside and look at the situation from another perspective they'd see the reality of their situation. There is some truth in this, but sometimes we are better "comforters" when we allow those who mourn to mourn with all their soul to God. When we allow them to be as sorrowful and sick as they want while we simply stand by their side in silence; because sometimes there is more wisdom in our silence than in our words.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Give and Take

Job continues his response to his friends in verses 7-25 of chapter 12. He tells his friends that God is in control, the very birds of the air and animals can attest to this. Wisdom is not just reserved for the aged, the common sense of our experience can tell us much. He says that just as the tongue discerns taste, so the ear can discern words, and the words in this case do not fit the experience. So what is one to trust?

Job makes his understanding of God's power and authority clear in his reply. His words in this chapter seem to foreshadow later words of a coming messiah, and especially the words of Jesus mother from Luke chapter one-

51He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.

As Job stated earlier, the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord. In his deeds and understanding, if we consider him the object of play in the divine game between God and Satan, he is coming closer to giving God a "checkmate." Refusing to allow his reverence for God to rest upon blessing or favor. How many other mortals can truly say their love for God exists without condition of favor on this earth?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Purchasing God

Job responds once again to his friends, and the points he makes in chapters 12 and 13 are powerful. To start, he gives us these words from verses 4-6 in chapter 12:
It's easy for the well-to-do to point their fingers in blame,
for the well-fixed to pour scorn on the strugglers.
Crooks reside safely in high-security houses, insolent
blasphemers live in luxury; they've bought and paid for a god
who'll protect them.
We are again faced with the theme that too often the downtrodden bear the blame for their misfortune. When we look toward earthly comfort and success as the measure of character, those who don't live up to our standard of living don't measure up to our standards of character either. Job accuses his accusers of enjoying the prosperity of a god they've bought and paid for rather than the spiritual prosperity of the true God. I wonder if we rely too much on the prosperity of a god that is bought and paid for, mistaking the riches of this world for the riches of God. All the while, looking out at the world and seeing its misfortune as a result of its "wayward" ways.

Job is beginning to see his suffering in light of this fact and the world view that he once shared with his friends has been shaken. Perhaps our worldview could use a little shaking as well.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

More of the Same

I'm sure that Job found the arguments of his friends quite tiresome by the time his third friend spoke. (They each have several speeches left) I have found them quite tiresome myself. Here is a sample of what Zophar says to Job in chapter 11:

14 if you put away the sin that is in your hand
and allow no evil to dwell in your tent,
15 then you will lift up your face without shame;
you will stand firm and without fear.
16 You will surely forget your trouble,
recalling it only as waters gone by.
17 Life will be brighter than noonday,
and darkness will become like morning.
18 You will be secure, because there is hope;
you will look about you and take your rest in safety.
19 You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid,
and many will court your favor.

How many troubled souls are bombarded with the admonition to just get right with God so that you're troubles may be lifted. Depression, family strife, troubles at work, we are so quick to blame these misfortunes on a lack of faith or a strong relationship with God. When we put forth these arguments, it's just more of the same. Like the third friend Zophar we are simply telling the Job's of this world that you must not be the right kind of Christian if you're suffering so much because God just wouldn't let that happen.

Prosperity theology is alluring; the idea that a little faith will bring us all the worldly happiness that God wants for us anyway. But even Christ promised- "in this world you WILL have trouble." (John 16:33) He tells us to take heart because he has overcome this world.

Can Job stand firm and take heart that God is truly good?

Monday, June 22, 2009

You Just Don't Know

If you are a regular reader (do I have regular readers?) you know that I've been writing about the book of Job for a few weeks now. If you've gotten behind, feel free to catch up here. I've always appreciated the cosmic question of this book, but I'm only now beginning to really see the scope of Job's relationship to God as it relates to all of humanity's relationship. I've gotten to chapter nine in which Job continues to curse his life, and I'd planned to skip over chapter ten as he does much of the same. But something stood out to me, read these verses:
4 Do you have eyes of flesh? Do you see as a mortal sees? 5 Are your
days like those of a mortal or your years like those of a man, 6 that you must search out my faults and probe after my sin-

If Jacob physically wrestled with God, I think that Job is taking on a mental battle here. In reading these words, I found my own voice crying out to God. How can he see things from our perspective? He is all-powerful God, but how could it be possible for Him to understand the existence of the finite? It might seem fair and just for us to suffer so, but does God really know what we're going through here?

This sounds like a great place for Christ to enter, a messiah that is fully God yet fully human, to not only understand, but to take on the suffering of humans so that we may reconcile with God.

Next we'll see what Zophar has to say.

Friday, June 19, 2009

You Call This Comfort

Bildad speaks, the second of Job's friends in chapter 8. He seems to be a student of "those who forget history are destined to repeat it." He begins with the recent past. This is verse four of chapter eight: "When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin." So Job should see in the example of his children. He tried to intercede on their behalf, but God punished them for their transgressions.

Bildad calls on the name of our fathers and says in verse eight: Ask the former generations and find out what their fathers learned. We see from the past that evil begets suffering so it is only logical to conclude that Job is being persecuted for his transgressions. In many ways, Bildad repeats some of the logic of Eliphaz.

Job responds in chapter nine, affirming some of the arguement, admitting his sinful nature shared with all of humanity, but as for his affliction he still maintains that he has done nothing more than any other member of humanity to bring this upon himself. Job finds himself at a point where his experiences do not match his understanding. His friends are stuck in the "mental sets" of the past, but Job is in the midst of a cosmic "cognitive dissonance." He recognizes his situation on some level for what it is-- a unique circumstance that defies the wisdom and knowledge handed down from the ages.

Too often, we find ourselves in this experience. What we know doesn't fit with what we experience so we continue down a destructive path of business as usual and use the same tried and true strategies for solving problems when those strategies no longer apply. Job is at the cusp of understanding and continues to hold on to faith even in the midst of his suffering.

What will his friends say to this?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Cry Mercy

Eliphaz has advised Job that he should confess his sins and beg mercy from God. If Job cries out now and goes through the empty motions of repentance for wrongs he's convinced have not occurred he's simply reaching out to God again for reward in the form of relief from his trials.

This situation doesn't make every plea to God for mercy or relief an expression of evil, but in this morality story, Job is certain that he has not brought this on himself. To go to God with an empty confession signifies a relationship where one's connection to deity is purely based in what one gets in return. This was Satan's argument to God. So what will Job do, will he take the advice of Eliphaz or maintain his innocence?

We see his reply in chapters 6 and 7. Job's misery invokes great feelings of pain. The man is at his end. He cries out to God in his reply, but not as a bargain begging for an end to suffering in exchange for a plea of guilt. Job seems to cry out that suffering is the plight of humanity. He pleas with God to see his suffering and ease up on him a bit. He doesn't claim that humanity is free from sin and deserving of favor from God, but he questions why humanity would be deserving of such hardship. He seems to be moving toward a reasoned argument with God that perhaps things have gotten out of hand; he understands that this world will bring troubles, but why must we suffer just for being alive.

Eliphaz' words offered no consolation for Job. Lucky for him he's got two more friends among him.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Divine Behavior Management

Eliphaz continues his advice to Job. Here are a few selections from chapters 4 and 5:
8 As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it.
6 For hardship does not spring from the soil, nor does trouble sprout from the ground.
17 "Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.
First he asserts that trouble doesn't come from "nowhere." In his observations of life, those who plow and sow wrong shall reap wrong. Psychologists call this the "Just World Phenomena." Many of us are stuck in the world view that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. Of course our world is full of cause/effect and probability; sex is likely to lead to pregnancy, deceit is likely to lead to strained relationships, aggression is likely to be met with retaliation. The danger of this thinking lies in how it leads us to judge those who face unfortunate circumstances, or blaming the victim.

In our search for meaning in this world, this attitude can serve our society well as individuals are motivated to "do good." But in regards to social justice it also makes it easy to lack sympathy for those who are down and out. So far, we don't seem to have any indication that Job "deserved" this in any special sense. If anything this tragedy comes as a result of him being so righteous.

Eliphaz asserts that God must be putting Job through this trial for some reason, that Job must have erred in some way to bring this misfortune on himself and his only hope is in throwing himself at the mercy of God. This thinking must be tempting for Job, he seems to be at the end of his rope, but wouldn't that play right into the plan of Satan. What will Job choose?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Eliphaz Speaks

Then Eliphaz from Teman spoke up: "Would you mind if I said something to you? Under the circumstances it's hard to keep quiet.
You yourself have done this plenty of times, spoken words that clarify, encouraged those who were about to quit. Your words have put stumbling people on their feet, put fresh hope in people about to collapse. But now you're the one in trouble—you're hurting! You've been hit hard and you're reeling from the blow. But shouldn't your devout life give you confidence now? Shouldn't your exemplary life give you hope?
Job's friend Eliphaz begins by offering hope. How well does he do? It looks good at first, but read carefully. Especially the last two lines. This sounds like ancient talk for "everything happens for a reason" or "I'm sure God had a plan in this" or maybe even a little more harsh, "I know how you feel" or "you're not the only one that's been through this." How many times have these words been used to comfort a grieving soul. Will they bring comfort to Job?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Better off Dead

We find Job in chapter 2 verses 11-13 visited by his friends. He must have been in a bad way. These friends barely recognize him and all of them sit in silence for three days. Imagine a time when things seem so bad that all you can do is pause....

....when you're so stuck that all you can do is "be" and the only reason you're doing that is because you can't "not be." Job would prefer to "not be." After three days, Job finally speaks, and for all of chapter 3 he curses the day he was born. He has finally assessed his situation and determined that he would have been better off having never been born. He still refuses to curse God, but listen to this. "Why is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter of soul, to those who long for death that does not come, who search for it more than for hidden treasure, who are filled with gladness and rejoice when they reach the grave? Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in?"

Quite an eternal question. I've heard many people raise the same question. Why would we even bring children into this world questions, or I don't even know why we're here any more questions. Job wanted to know why we were even created if our lives were destined for so much pain and sorrow. This is the same theological question that seems to prevent so many athiest thinkers from considering the Judeo-Christian God.

Luckily for Job his friends are there, maybe they will give him a good answer.

Monday, June 08, 2009


Satan has approached God once again. In God's response we hear that Job "still maintains his integrity." So given the power, Satan strikes the health of Job. He afflicted the man with sores from head to toe, surely Job would realize that God is not worthy of his praise after this.

But his wife says to him using some of the same language as God "why do you maintain your integrity." I have found that word intriguing. In my search I've found meanings including honest, perfect, whole, blameless, and many others. The original Hebrew word is only found five times in the Bible. Integrity is more than telling the truth and being honest. Those things ruin integrity because the "holistic" nature of our "selves" is broken when we deceive others and put on a face. Integrity is the perfection of completion, of being whole and unified.

In the beginning, God created and it was good. As humans we desire a connection with something bigger and many of us find that in God. We know inside that there is something bigger and we desire to be a part of it. Job recognizes that apart from God he is nothing. We see this in his words of "naked I came and naked I go, the Lord gives and takes, blessed be the name of the Lord." Job's wife encourages him to give up his integrity, to curse God and die, but Job realizes that to curse God is to deny his own identity. Job follows God not because of prosperity and not because of life, Job follows God because he knows that is what he was made to do.

So now, Job's challenge is even greater. My wholeness is in God, I am because of Yahweh; I in God and God in me. Apart from God I am nothing, but why do I suffer so?

The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life."

So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.

His wife said to him, "Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!"

He replied, "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?"
In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Sabeans, Fire, Chaldeans, and Wind

It all seems to come down in an instant. (Job 1:12-2:6) Life just works that way sometimes. One minute everything is great; the next, well you know the story. So Satan's question is put to the test. Do we only consider God because of the rewards he offers?

As Job's children gather to celebrate, the bad news begins to flood in. First the oxen and the donkeys: all that would plow the fields and make it productive, his source of produce and nourishment gone. Next it is the sheep: for fleece and meat, his source of clothing and sustenance gone. Then the camels: his means of travel and trade of surplus goods, his source of income and wealth gone. Finally, his children: who would have been the heirs of his labor but after this tragedy perhaps they would have been the strength and help for rebuilding, but no, they too are gone, along with all of his servants.

Job has lost nearly everything. His earthly possessions, his source of income, and his very children. Surely Satan has won. How could God (especially a just and loving God) do this? Why should I worship a God who cannot keep me from tragedy such as this? But not Job. Naked I was born and naked I will die, blessed be the name of the Lord. Maybe there is hope for humanity's relationship with God. I don't just love him because I'm blessed with many treasures. At least I've got my health, I woke up and drew breath this morning, I'm glad to be alive.

I guess it's time for Satan part II. Organisms are designed to survive. Of course a righteous man can bear losing everything without cursing God, skin for skin, he's still just interested in saving himself, even in tragedy he wouldn't risk that by cursing God. But touch his body, take his health, take his comfort, and you will see. This man of yours is only yours because of what he gets in return.

Is it so? Maybe I can release my treasures, but deep inside, do I long for God out of a sense of self-preservation and survival instinct? Perhaps Job has an answer.

Job 1:12-2:6
The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger."

Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.

One day when Job's sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother's house, a messenger came to Job and said, "The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, and the Sabeans attacked and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!"

While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, "The fire of God fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!"

While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, "The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!"

While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, "Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother's house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four
corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!"

At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:
"Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the name of the LORD be praised."

In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

On another day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them to present
himself before him. And the LORD said to Satan, "Where have you come from?"

Satan answered the LORD, "From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it."

Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless
and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason."

"Skin for skin!" Satan replied. "A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face."

The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life."

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


For the last year or so, the story of Job has continually found its way into my thoughts and I'm not really sure why. It is an intriguing story raising many questions about the nature of God and humans and our relationship with each other. I haven't really taken the time to explore my thoughts or try to figure out why it has been such a recurring idea in my brain lately, but I'm going to give it a try over the next several posts. So here we go.

Reading Job 1:1-12 Job is first described as so good it is almost sickening. He is blameless and upright, his kids seem to be courteous and kind, he even offers a sacrifice every morning thinking "just in case my kids have offended God." We see that on top of this, he is also richly blessed. Ten children, thousands of livestock, many servants, and the wealth and time to enjoy regular feasting. I see a Ned Flanders type in Job, but I don't think old Ned had nearly the life that Job did.

That's one thing that makes Flanders such a funny character; he doesn't really get anything for his piety except for a hard time from Homer. So far, this story of Job makes perfect sense. He was "blameless and upright" therefore he was "the greatest man among all the people of the east." Good things happen to good people, right? If it didn't work that way then there is no sense in trying to be "good people." That seems to be Satan's arguement.

Satan says to God "does Job fear God for nothing?" Satan seems to challenge God's faith in humanity, at least as it is represented in Job. Of course these people who you bless are going to love you, but do they really love and respect you? I think not, they merely seek your favor in hopes of prosperity and comfort.

Is Satan correct? Do people really love and honor God or do they simply play the game in exchange for a comfortable life or perhaps for eternal security? Maybe Job will know the answer. We'll see next time.

In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. He had seven sons and three daughters, and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.

His sons used to take turns holding feasts in their homes, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would send and have them purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, "Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts." This was Job's regular custom.

One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. The LORD said to Satan, "Where have you come from?"

Satan answered the LORD, "From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it."

Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil."

"Does Job fear God for nothing?" Satan replied. "Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face."

The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger."

Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

Forget June 21, we all know the real first day of summer is Memorial Day. The sales, cookouts, beaches and pools; I'm glad that I took the time to attend a Memorial Day service today. You know, men and women in their uniforms, formal presentation of the flag, patriotic songs, and speeches.

I always have this compelling urge to actually observe a holiday for what it was meant, not just a day off or time to do what I want to do, but when it comes to Memorial Day, I've been a bit ambivalent in the past. I struggle with military ideas and war. I'm somewhat of a pacifist especially in regards to certain recent American endeavors. How do I honor those who represent something that I do not honor?

"Greater love has no one than this, that he would lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) There is the answer. Do they really represent something that I do not honor? I don't think so. The men and women we honor on this day would consider me their friend, they have laid down their life for me. I may not have asked for it, and I may not approve of it, but they have considered me more valuable than themselves. They have served me by giving of themselves in life and in death. I will not be critical of men and women who choose to forgo their own plans, safety, and comfort in the service of others. On this day and all others I will choose to respect and honor those who give themselves through service to their nation.

God bless us all.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Created for the Pleasure of God

Lately I've been quite encouraged by Job 39 and have found new meaning for praise and worship in its words. It begins by God asking "Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?" God goes on to speak of parts of his creation that man would hardly consider-- "who let the wild donkey go free?"-- and when He speaks of this creation I see a smile on his face that says "look at what I have done, it brings me joy to watch my creatures do what they were made to do." Consider the ostrich he says, compared to a stork it doesn't seem very efficient; and wisdom and compassion, well the ostrich is just as likely as not to step on its own eggs and not even care, but HAVE YOU EVER SEEN IT RUN! Oh, I can't even put words on it, it puts the horse to shame, but the horse, have you considered the horse. Check this out....

He goes on and on about how each of His creatures with whatever scorn we cast upon them are made for His pleasure. There is clarity and insight in recognizing in one's self that I am made for God's pleasure. Rather than beating our chest at a lousy lot in life or puffing it up over great success, if all that we do is grounded in the understanding that I live for the pleasure of my God we can find new meaning in the life we live and all that we do. God smiles when I do what I was created to do. When God smiles, I smile with all my soul and the light shines into the darkness.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

U2 in Charlottesville

So I've got my General Admission Tickets for Scott Stadium, now I've got to wait until October 1 and figure out how to get close to the stage. What is it about U2?

I remember when I was a child, looking out at the stars with a sense that this universe somehow made sense. The stars and moons and planets all seem to move in an well planned dance; no struggles no problems, just harmony. But when my gaze found a line on the horizon- and yes, there is still a line on our horizon- and shifted from the heavens to the earth, it all just changed. Children going hungry, women being abused, men slaving for scraps it just wasn't right.

Well, do you ever sing along with the radio? I try my best to keep up with Bono, and every now and again, we'll hit the same note. When we do, my head seems to vibrate as if to say "that's it!" "You're on the same wavelength now." My first U2 song was "Pride" and when I heard "one man betrayed with a kiss" "they took your life, they could not take your pride" "in the name of love" my heart started vibrating in the same way as if to say we're singing from the same book. The feelings of my soul found a voice in these lyrics and melodies.

From Gloria to Magnificent, my heart beats with the conviction that something in this world is not right. Things are broken and something is waiting, perhaps even begun, to fix it. Payback and human justice just haven't cut it and we've somehow dropped the ball on the idea of jubilee. My heart cries out, and when I hear U2 I hear my heart hitting the same notes as this band and I realize that I am not alone. That together we can search for what we haven't found, that we can wait with hope for love to come to town, to claim the victory Jesus won. Love is real and its fruit is faith which gives us hope to face our days. Love, faith, hope. It is all quite...


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Candle Story

It's been a while since my last post. Posting every day through Lent was quite a difficult endeavor. But last Sunday, I shared with our church during a "Men's Sunday" service. Three of us gave a short testimony, and I shared a story that I'd written several years ago when I participated in a Bible study called "Companions in Christ." The story is a metaphor of my faith journey. It is about a ball of wax that grows up to be a candle. It lasts about eight minutes, so I thought I would link the audio here so that folks who are interested could listen. So here it is, "A Candle Story: the Faith Journey of Steven Turner." (click the title to listen, or right click to download)

Sunday, March 01, 2009


I know that I have at least a few people who check in on the blog regularly, so here is an introduction to what is going on. I haven't made an issue of it, but this year for Lent I have decided that rather than giving something up that I will spend time reflecting on a passage of Scripture each day and then writing about it in APOS (nice new nickname for the blog). I've chosen Psalm 37 simply because it has 40 verses. That makes one verse a day for each day of Lent. So look for a new reflection on Psalm 37 every day but Sundays between now and Easter. God bless, and please feel free to comment on any of these if you wish.

Friday, January 16, 2009


One of the joys of teaching youth is the ability to share with them the experience of truth, beauty, and goodness wherever it may be found. I recently shared the movie "Awakenings" with my AP Psychology students and it reminded me again of the depth of humanity that we too often disregard.

Jesus promised in John 10:10 abundant life, but too often we get stuck in an understanding of abundance that is stuck in the shallowness of the existence we know. God's commandments explicitly point us toward the poor and the oppressed, and they are easily identified in our world. But many people don't fit these categories so clearly, and because they make us uncomfortable we too often overlook them.

Whether it comes from the effects of succombing to Alzheimer's or Parkinson's while aging or cognitive impairments from Down's and other genetic disorders, most of us who don't directly deal with these individuals give them little thought. Some of the more callous among us may write them off and wonder why we bother with them. Because they don't experience the same type of consciousness as us we assume that their experience of consciousness is not relevant to the human experience.

Our obligation to the sick and the poor is about more than just making them well and rich. Jesus said that we will always have the poor among us. I'm convinced that our duty to the poor and the sick has something to do with our faith experience as much as the temporal salve provided others. Perhaps many of us are missing out on the sheer abundance of human life that God knows we can experience by passing over and avoiding those whom we assume have no soul.

"the human spirit is more powerful than any drug- and that is what needs to be nourished: with work, play, friendship, familiy. These are the things that matter. This is what we'd forgotten- the simplest things."

last lines from "Awakenings"