The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

“Giving thanks always for all things”


“Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”     – Ephesians 5:20

Sometimes truth gets lost in personal translation. Many times we reinterpret words to fit our own understanding or our own plans. We read subjectively, selectively. We read with subjective selection. We read with a built in auto-correct or auto-edit so that if we don’t approve what we read we instantly dismiss it. There are a lot of reasons for our doing this.

For some subjective selection is a defense mechanism. We get our bank statement that indicates we’ve overdrawn our account and think that just can’t be, there’s no way I did that. We get a notice of employment termination and we respond they can’t do that. We read a blindsiding note from a paramour who wants to end our relationship and we think no, they wouldn’t do that. We read the results from a physical exam that has found a life threatening illness and we think this can’t be happening. In all these circumstances we defend against unwanted information by dismissing the information. But we do so to our perils of reality.

For others subjective selection is the result of rebellion. We read something and dismiss it because we don’t like what we see. We see a notice of a dress code and we take pride in disregarding it. We see, “No bare feet,” and we walk in with bare feet. We see a posted speed limit and callously step on the accelerator. We see “no smoking” and we steam and smoke away. We see signs limiting alcohol consumption and we drink away. The sinful nature is an inherent anarchist.

But admittedly some signs demand dismissing. We live in a better world because of those who defiantly disregarded signs that read, “No Blacks allowed,” or “Jews need not apply.” One day we will see signs like “no Christians wanted” or “Christians need not apply,” or “unisex bathroom.” We will one day se some form of “if you don’t accept same-sex marriage, lesbians, homosexuality, bi-sexuality, transgender you need not enter here.” When we see such words we will need to “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. . . . [and] stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). 

And for others subjective selection is the result of misunderstanding. Maybe we read something and we just don’t understand what the message is. We don’t understand that chemistry formula or how an element is constructed and we cast its worth aside. We’re confused at the form at the Department of Motor Vehicles. We can’t understand the tax code. Who can figure out the car manual? Who can understand (or has the time to read) that online explanation for the newest software or latest IPhone agreement? In this age of information it’s hard to understand and easy to misunderstand.

But for whatever reason, when we come to something in God’s word that we don’t like or can’t accept, or don’t understand it’s never a good idea to go into subjective selection mode. It’s never a good idea to ignore what you simply view in God’s word as negative or not relevant to your world view. It’s never appropriate to delete what you don’t like and parse verses out of your personal interpretation. We see this in the politician’s selectivity when it comes to quoting scripture. They quote a verse that supports their purposes but neglect other scriptures that don’t serve their talking points. We see this when God’s word prohibits immoral lifestyles and people ignore or discount that part of God’s truth. They do that to excuse or even make it appear God condones the sin He so clearly prohibits. You can’t cherry pick God’s word.

We are not in a position to pick and choose what we will and will not accept as God’s word. God exalts His word above His own name (Psalm 138:2). The entirety of God’s word is truth (Psalm 119:160). God’s word is perfect (Psalm 19:7). God’s word is “holy,” it is unique and high above any other form of words (Psalm 119:140; Romans 1:2). God’s word is powerful (Hebrews 4:12). God’s word is effective; it will accomplish God’s purposes (Isaiah 55:11). God’s word defines sin, depicts its dangers and shows us how to avoid it victoriously (Psalm 119:11; 1 Corinthians 10:13). And that is why in His word God commands, “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:2). We would be wise to accept God’s word as it is. If we ignore, omit, purposely misinterpret, or discount something in God’s word because we don’t like what it says, we need to understand God’s word will stand (e.g. Matthew 24:35). Our words will fall when they hit the righteous wall of God’s word. We will wither like grass. God’s word stands forever (Isaiah 40:8).

One example of a portion of scripture that tempts us to question involves the circumstances in which we are to be thankful. Certainly it isn’t wrong to wonder how God would want us to be thankful “always for all things.” In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 it says, “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” When Paul writes this we question what “everything” means. We are tempted to think, that can’t be. We’d like to think that the word “everything” doesn’t really mean everything. We subtly ponder, surely God couldn’t mean for us to be thankful in times of tragedy, pain, hardship, loss, offense, persecution . . . .  But if God’s word says something, just because we question it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. God’s word stretches our understanding. God’s word is written from an eternal perspective. To disregard the “everything” in this verse about thanks would rob us of one of the transcendent glorious truths of God’s word. When God’s word says “everything,” it means everything. That’s the truth.

Look closely at that verse in 1Thessalonians 5:18. The “in” gives us an out. It doesn’t say we are to be thankful for all things but in all things. In other words we may not like what is happening but we are to maintain a spirit of thanks to God in the midst of and through difficulties. I can understand that a bit better. I can get my mind and heart around that instruction. But in light of the many hardships life so frequently comes with, it’s a much harder sell to be thankful “always for all things.” That’s what Paul says elsewhere. He is inspired to exhort his readers “giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). How is it possible for us to give thanks “always for all things”?

There doesn’t seem to be any out or getting around Paul’s words about giving thanks always for all things. Those words seem pretty straightforward and almost provocative to anyone who has experienced or knows someone who has experienced the harsh realities and trials of this life. Is that a heartless call to those who experience pain? What about those words, should we dismiss them; auto-edit them; auto-delete them? Is this a verse for subjective selection? No, I don’t believe so. In fact, if you join me in studying this verse I believe it will open the door to not only being thankful always for all things, but it will open the flood gates of God’s joy for you. Let me share a few things in response to these questions.

First, giving thanks for all things is made possible by God’s grace through faith. The phrase “giving thanks” is translated from the single Greek term eucharistountes. Not to get grammatically technical but the grammar of this term (Present/Active/Participle) conveys the idea of an ongoing life attitude. The idea is to have a spirit or attitude that is always giving thanks. This is an attitude we need to actively pursue by faith. It is a product of God’s grace.

The word from which we get this participle is eucharisteo which means to be thankful, give thanks, return thanks, or pray. This is a word of worship. Worship involves faith expressing thanks to God. Further, this is a compound word the root of which is charisteo. Charisteo means to give freely, bestow favor, gratify. Charisteo is linked to the word charis from which we get the English word “grace.” Charis means grace, attractiveness, or unmerited undeserved favor. For example, we are saved by God’s grace. Grace is undeserved favor. Salvation from sin isn’t something we deserve; it is something God offers us freely as a gift of His grace. He offers this gracious salvation from sin in love (e.g. John 3:16; Romans 5:8). We receive God’s gracious gift of salvation and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).

But the effect of God’s gracious salvation is life encompassing. We live by grace through faith. We live “from faith to faith” (Romans 1:17). And we live by God’s grace. Paul through whom God chose to write about this attitude of thankfulness also was inspired to write, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). Do you see the sustaining grace in that verse? Do you see how by faith Paul “labored more abundantly”? The first thing we need to understand in “giving thanks always for all things” is that it is something we can only do by God’s grace through faith.

Second, giving thanks always for all things is the result of looking “to God the Father.” God our Father is Sovereign. He is in command. He is in control. Nothing that happens to us happens without His permission. Job was severely tested by the devil. But the devil could do nothing to Job without God’s permission (cf. Job 1-2). While Job was experiencing the devastating hardships shared in the Book of Job, he, his wife and his best friends didn’t understand what God’s purpose and plan was. We the reader are given insight in the spiritual element of these circumstances from the very start. But Job, his wife and family and the friends that came to help him all were unaware of this crucial contextual information about the involvement of the devil and spiritual warfare.

Job and his friends go back and forth throughout the book trying unsuccessfully to decipher and make sense of the tragedy and affliction that had come upon this righteous man Job. Job complained and even got angry, but he continued to believe in God. Job reasons, “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity? (Job 2:10). Though he was severely tested Job persisted, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15). Interestingly, Job and his friends attribute all his hardship to acts of God. God permitted the hardship but the evil instrument was the devil. Job and his friends never consider this. Without this book maybe we wouldn’t consider it either. The Book of Job provides us therefore with valuable insight into reality that proves a comfort of understanding to others in history who suffer.

Along with Job many have been brought to a place where, though like Job they don’t understand all that is going on in their lives, still they proclaim, “For I know that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25). And also, “But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). These are precious eternal insights. But it isn’t until God speaks in chapter 38 that the truth comes out. And even then, God does not provide all the insight we the reader are aware of from the first two chapters. It isn’t until the last five chapters of a forty-two chapter book that God thunders, “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2).

The point here is that even though we may not understand our life circumstances, because we do not have all the facts that God has, we should trust Him and be thankful no matter what. While the trials and tribulations God allowed into Job’s life stretched him to his limits and cost him in many ways, the product of God’s plan was a book included in His canon of holy writ that has proved to be profoundly helpful to others throughout history who are experiencing trials and tribulations.

Third, giving thanks always for all things can only be done “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In Romans 8, the pinnacle of scripture, it states, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31b). It says that nothing can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:37-39). Whatever we go through in this life goes past the approval process of God’s desk. God is writing a poem and our life is part of the many stanzas (cf. Ephesians 2:10). God has a plan for us (cf. Jeremiah 29:11-13). God really is for us. He has our best interests at heart. We may not always understand that or even believe that but it is true. To prove it God inspired, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).

It’s not by accident that in Romans 8:32 God mentions how He, along with His Son Jesus, “also freely gives us all things.” Here is the basis for giving thanks for all things even when the things God allows in our lives do not seem eligible for our being thankful. There is a far greater purpose in life than our comfort, material prosperity, ease, and even our health.  There is a far greater purpose in life than the comfort, material prosperity, ease and even health of our loved ones and others as well.

God’s paramount purpose for all who follow Him is to conform us to the likeness of Jesus (Romans 8:29). The finished poem of which I spoke above is a poem written with lines of Christ-like followers. God is preparing us for eternity with Him. That requires Christ-likeness.  And the bottom line is that being Christ-like involves sacrifice. Jesus came to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Jesus came to serve in death (Philippians 2:5-11). “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Jesus went to and died on the cross and shed His blood for our sins (1 Peter 1:18-19). And we are called to follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21) and walk like He did (1 John 2:6).

We add nothing to the saving work of Jesus. But when we live like Him for His purposes we honor Him and our lives become a living sacrifice of worshipful thanks to Jesus. God’s plan for us is that we come to a place where we can say, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Just as Jesus loved us we must come to a place where the love of Christ compels and motivates us (2 Corinthians 5:14-16). When you get to that place in your walk with the Lord, you will be eternally thankful for all things always.

Lastly, giving thanks always for all things is a work of the Holy Spirit in us. The context of Paul’s inspired words about giving thanks always for all things is an exhortation to allow the Holy Spirit to work in those he was writing to. “Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:17-19). Be wise. Don’t try and drown your sorrows with drinking or drugging. Be continuously daily filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will put a song in your heart. The Spirit will give us songs in the night (cf. Job 35:10; Psalm 77:6; Acts 16). Giving thanks always for all things is a work of the Holy Spirit. It’s not something we do in our own understanding or our own strength. Giving thanks always for all things is a product of the Spirit’s illumination. It is the Spirit’s empowering revelation that enables us to be always thankful.

The next time you go through a trial or difficulty remember what Peter was inspired to write – “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1-2). Suffering doesn’t save us. Suffering does provide us with a greater depth of understanding and ability to relate to Jesus. We draw close to Jesus when we fellowship with Him in suffering (Philippians 3:10).

A faith untested cannot be trusted. A faith tested true will never let you down. It will bring you closer to Jesus. It will be a reason to be thankful. It will be a reason to rejoice. “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith -  the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:6-9).

Now do you understand a bit more why God said to give thanks always for all things? Do you see how it can be done? Now it is up to us to present ourselves to God for help to obediently practice what God’s word says. By God’s grace through faith let’s be “giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen!

 

 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Breaking Legs?


Then Jesus said to them again, . . . – John 10:7a

 

 

Ever had a difficult time understanding something? Boy I remember having a hard time understanding Geometry in high school. Algebra was no picnic either. Chemistry was confusing. In Physics sometimes I was so lost it became funny. Foreign languages left me languishing. (There was no Rosetta Stone back in those days!). But I made it through. And it was to a great extent because of teachers willing to go the extra mile. The most effective teachers were those who patiently made time for extra help to explain things over and over again until it clicked. Back in the day there was summer school for those willing or required to sacrifice some precious recreational time to make up what needed to learn to graduate to the next grade. As a student I only thought about my play time lost. As an adult looking back, I see those teachers sacrificed their play time too. It’s no fun all around when you have a hard time understanding something.

 

God’s people don’t always catch on to what God is revealing. They don’t always listen to His proclamations through prophets and pastor-teachers. God’s people don’t always understand His word. Too often they neglect His word. God’s people are like sheep. Sheep are not the smartest animals in the animal kingdom. They aren’t the sharpest knives in the kitchen utensil drawer; know what I mean. And it’s not by accident that God chose sheep to illustrate the nature of His people. While some are smarter and more gifted intellectually than others, there is always a time when each of us are faced with something we don’t understand. We’re human, not God.

 

In the Bible God presents Himself as a Shepherd and His people as sheep. The word “shepherd” occurs 102 times in 93 verses of the Bible (NKJV). The word “sheep” occurs 194 times in 183 verses in the Bibles. Shepherds and sheep are found prominently in the Bible. The book of Job is considered to be one of if not the oldest book of the Bible. Job is said to have owned fourteen thousand sheep (Job 42:12). Abel was a keeper of sheep (Genesis 4:2). Abraham’s wealth was based in part on the sheep he owned (Genesis 12:16). Moses had shepherding experience (Exodus 3:1). David drew a great deal on his experience as a shepherd (1 Samuel 16:11; Psalm 23 etc.). At the dedication of the Temple Solomon offered one hundred and twenty thousand sheep in sacrifice to God (1 Kings 8:63). We see sheep and shepherds used throughout the Old Testament as a means to illustrate truths about God and His people. The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Amos, Micah, and Zechariah all use Shepherd-sheep imagery. One of the greatest and best known Psalms is about God as a Shepherd (Psalm 23). And one of the clearest indictments by God of delinquent self-serving leaders is about false shepherds in contrast with God the true Shepherd (Ezekiel 34). So by using the relationship of a shepherd to his sheep God was using something familiar and known to the people to illustrate truth.

 

In the New Testament the angels of heaven announce the birth of Messiah Jesus to shepherds (Luke 2:8-20). In the Gospels the Messiah is associated with a coming Shepherd who would come to care for God’s people/sheep (Matthew 2:6; Micah 5:2). In John 10 Jesus will show He is the fulfillment of this Messianic imagery. In the Gospels Jesus looks upon the crowds of people and laments they are like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36; Mark 6:34). On His march to the cross Jesus quotes Zechariah 13:7 saying “I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock with be scattered” (Matthew 26:31; Mark 14:27). At the end of the age Messiah Jesus will separate the sheep from the goats or the righteous from the unrighteous (Matthew 25:32.)

 

In relatively recent times stories have circulated about how shepherds would deal with sheep who persistently stray from the flock by breaking their legs and then carrying them on their shoulders from place to place until they heal. This supposedly would serve as discipline and a time of bonding as the shepherd carried the sheep around until it healed. However there is no scriptural evidence for the practice of a shepherd breaking the legs of his sheep. God will test and refine us so that we are enriched and edified (Psalm 66:10-12). Our Shepherd God will at times allow us to experience the consequences of our sinful choices (e.g. Jeremiah 2:19). And God will at some point pour out His righteous wrath on a Christ-rejecting world (e.g. Revelation 6:16-17; 11:18; 14:10, 19; 15:1; 16:1, 19; 19:15). But break the legs of His sheep? Not likely.

 

God does discipline us (Hebrews 12:3-11). But the breaking of a lamb's legs seems to be more cruel than disciplinary. Jesus speaks of a shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine of his flock to go after one stray lost sheep and then of the shepherd’s rejoicing when he finds the lost sheep (Matthew 18:12-13). Jesus speaks of the shepherd then taking that once lost sheep, putting it on his shoulders and taking it home rejoicing all the way. (I’ll bet that sheep would be pretty happy too!) Once home the shepherd calls his family and friends together to celebrate the recovered sheep (Luke 15:4-6). Then Jesus comments, “I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). There is no talk of the shepherd breaking the sheep’s legs. Aren’t you glad Jesus doesn’t break our legs?

 

Breaking a sheep’s leg would be a very dangerous and life threatening proposition. A shepherd would not likely put a sheep under his care at risk this way. Breaking a sheep’s leg and then carrying it for the weeks it would take for it to heal would also be pretty impractical. Carrying a 50-75 pound sheep around on your shoulders until it healed would be a good workout, but not practical. It would tire the shepherd out. It would hinder him from reacting against predators. It would distract the shepherd from proper care of the other sheep in the flock.

 

There is such a thing as braking sheep. That is when a shepherd disciplines (short of severe physical abuse on the animal) to keep them from straying. It may involve tying something to the sheep’s leg to anchor it and hinder it from straying. When the prone-to-stray sheep learns to stay with the flock, the “brakes come off.” But breaking its leg is not an acceptable practice.

 

The imagery of a shepherd breaking a sheep’s legs has no scriptural basis and seems out of sync with the nature of God. Instead we see in scripture, “He tends his flock like a shepherd; he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young” (Isaiah 40:11 NIV). That is more consistent with what God seems to be revealing about Himself and His people by referring to the relationship of a shepherd with his sheep.

 

In John 10 we see Jesus using the imagery of the shepherd and sheep to communicate a welcoming picture of Himself toward the people. Jesus presents Himself as the Good Shepherd. Suffice it to say what we see in John 10 regarding Jesus as the Good Shepherd mentions nothing about breaking the legs of the sheep. Quite to the contrary, Jesus knows His sheep and they know Him. Jesus calls His sheep; He searches them out. The Good Shepherd Jesus lays down His life for the sheep. No leg breaking here. If you get out of line, Jesus is not going to break your legs. Bad shepherds break the legs of their sheep. Criminals break legs. Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd does not.

 

As the Good Shepherd Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.”(John 10:1). Shepherds frequently herded their sheep into the fields and surrounding countryside in order to find green pastures. At night they would keep the sheep in temporary sheepfolds. These sheepfolds were made of branches and surrounding brush. This was designed to keep the sheep together for their protection and provision. This makeshift coral of brush was made with a single opening for the sheep to enter in and exit out of. At night, the shepherd would lay himself at the entryway to block any sheep from wandering out and to be a wall against any predator or thief getting in.

Stealing sheep was a common practice in those days. Thieves wouldn’t bother to break the legs of the sheep. No, they would be far worse than that. One thief would climb over the wall, jump down, grab a sheep, slit its throat, and then hand the dead body over the wall to an accomplice. Breaking legs and blood-letting is not the way of the Shepherd.

But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.” (John 10:2). Each flock of sheep have a shepherd to protect and provide for them. The rightful shepherd of each flock “enters by the door.” He doesn’t climb over the wall. He doesn’t knock down the wall. The shepherd enters one way; the right way to gather his sheep and lead them to where they need to go.

To him the doorkeeper opens,” (John 10:3a). Each village had a common sheepfold for when the shepherds brought their sheep home from the fields. It was made of stone walls about six feet or higher. The sheep from various shepherds would stay together in this community sheepfold. This stone sheepfold also had one opening to enter and exit through. The shepherds would herd their sheep into the village sheepfold and then return to their homes to sleep. One of them would be assigned or they would take turns guarding the sheep in the entryway as a “doorkeeper” (John 10:3).

Jesus explained, “and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name” (John 10:3b). With sheep from various shepherds you might wonder how did they know whose sheep belonged to which shepherd? How did they avoid a mix-up of the sheep? Jesus said, “and the sheep hear his voice.” The sheep knew their shepherd’s voice. Some shepherds had a unique call for his sheep. Other times the shepherd would call his sheep with a song. When he whistled, called or sung a song, his sheep would know it was time to go with the shepherd. And Jesus adds, “and he calls his own sheep by name.” The shepherd gave names to his sheep. He knew each sheep personally. He gave them names so he could call them individually. If “Buffy” wandered off he would just call her by name. If “Benedict” was lagging behind he’d call him to speed it up. Names are important. Names enable the shepherd to give instructions to a specific individual sheep. Jesus knows your name. Are you listening when He calls you?

Then Jesus said, “. . . and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:3c-4). When we think of s shepherd we may have an image of a shepherd driving the sheep from behind. We may picture in our minds a shepherd with a stick whacking the sheep in line. But this is not the case. Shepherds lead their sheep and the sheep follow him. If you go to Israel today you will see a shepherd walking in front of a herd of his sheep. Shepherds lead. Sheep follow. They know the shepherd’s voice. Jesus our Good Shepherd is leading. Will you follow Him? Are you following Him?

Jesus gives us further insight. “ Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:5). Sheep are very skittish and easily frightened. They respond to the warm and familiar voice of their shepherd. But they immediately know and fear the strange voice of someone other than their shepherd. Even if the right call is given, or the right song sung, if the voice is not familiar, the sheep will not come. Do you know the voice of Jesus? Can you distinguish His word from the words of others?

John then comments, “Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them. Then Jesus said to them again, . . .” (John 10:6-7a). Jesus used the imagery of a shepherd with his sheep to clearly communicate to the people. But the people didn’t understand. What did Jesus do when they didn’t understand what He was saying? Did Jesus break their legs? Did He berate them? Did He belittle them? No, Jesus simply “said to them again.” Jesus is very patient with us. He will communicate to us in the clearest of ways. And if we don’t pick up on what He is trying to communicate to us, He will patiently speak to us again and again until the message becomes clear to us. That’s what a good shepherd does with his sheep. That’s what the Good Shepherd Jesus does with us sheep.

Breaking legs? Maybe a bad shepherd would do that. Maybe a thief would do that. But Jesus would never do that. That’s not the way of the Shepherd Jesus. He’s the Good Shepherd. He’s not about using His power to break our legs. He patiently and gently holds us to His chest so we can feel His heartbeat for us. He holds us close and whispers His truth into our ears until we come to know His truth. And if we stray, Jesus the Good Shepherd comes looking for us. When He finds us, He protects us from danger, picks us up, carries us home and celebrates our return. Are you having difficulty with something Jesus is trying to teach you or bring you through in life? Stop, wait for His voice. Wait for His instruction. Wait for His arrival. Then jump into His arms. Let the Good Shepherd bring you home. Join Him in the joyful reunion. Aren’t you glad the Good Shepherd doesn’t break our legs?

 

 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

God Always Meets our Needs


"And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus"  
- Philippians 4:19

God always meets our needs. This is the promise of God in Philippians 4:19. God has promised to supply, sufficiently, by His grace, for all our needs (2 Cor. 9:8-10). We may not get what we want. But we will always have our needs met in Christ. God’s promise is that the righteous will not have to beg for bread (Ps. 37:25). If we are lacking “bread” we need to do an inventory and prayerfully come before the Lord to search us to see if there is any outstanding issue in our lives or reason for such a condition. Many times our definition of a “need” is God’s definition of a “want.” God is rich and He is generous. But God is not frivolous. God owns everything. “The earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). If you are missing something make sure it is a “need” and make sure you haven’t overlooked God’s way of providing for you. God also says we need to work and He provides work for us to meet our needs (2 Thess. 3:10). Examine yourself and your situation and be content with God’s supply.

Jesus watched a widow make a less than two cents donation and said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.” (Luke 21:3-4). God’s way of figuring finances is different from ours. This widow expressed her faith with her money. She gave not on the basis of what she had, but on the basis of what she knew God had. The rich gave larger offerings. But their giving required no faith. Their giving cost them nothing. Their giving was safe. Her giving cost her everything. Her giving was risky. The widow gave her meager best and trusted the Lord for the rest. She gave in faith trusting God to support her. How we deal with finances tell us a lot about our faith.

 

The economies of the world are in shambles and on life support. An age of sought after ease is bringing us to our economic knees. Citizens regardless of economic status have been caught up in an evil spirit of entitlement. We are in a national debate over stimulation packages filled with pork and false promises of renewed prosperity. At the root of this dilemma is a love of money; greed. America is amongst the richest nations on earth.  Money is our true god. Money is what we live for. Money makes our world go round. We feel safe or scared based on our savings or pension plans. Our attitude is determined by how our investments are doing. Our moods swing with the mortgage rates. Our heart beats to the rise and fall of the dollar. We are running after riches.  And what really exposes our human bankruptcy is that these things are too often found in the Church.

 

When we run after riches we run away from God (1 John 2:15-17). Money and the things of this world pose a great temptation.  The Christian is called to trust God and invest in heavenly wealth (Matthew 6).  Money is a means to an end. But it often becomes the end. Money is a powerful tool in ministry but not the aim of ministry. The great danger is being compromised by currency.

 

Biblical accounts help us avoid the pitfalls and sins of our predecessors (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:6). Abraham and Lot give us a good example of the dangers of running after riches. In Genesis it states, “And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere . . . . And he [Abram] gave him a tithe of all” (Genesis 13:10; 14:20). The context here is that Abraham, (the uncle of Lot) and Lot had to part ways because of the growth of their flocks. These two verses contrast how Lot and Abraham determined to move. Lot lusted after wealth. Abraham walked in faith.

 

Lot moved according to the wealth he saw before him.  Lot walked by sight not by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7). He made decisions without consulting God (Genesis 13:11). He pitched his tent near Sodom (Genesis 13:12-13). Then he actually dwelt in Sodom, an exceedingly wicked place of sin (Genesis 13:13:14:12). He was willing to put his family at risk for the sake of wealth. His race for riches resulted in being caught in a war and captivity (Genesis 14:11-16). Even after this dangerous encounter Lot never took sin seriously. His preoccupation with wealth led him to a prominent part in the sinful city of Sodom. When Sodom was judged by God Lot barely escaped with his family. His children had lost respect for him. His wife was turned to a pillar of salt because of her lust for luxury in Sodom. After his escape Lot got drunk, committed incest and impregnated his two daughters (Genesis 19). He had run after riches and run down his faith. This is an ugly story. Lot shows us the ragged end of running after riches. What are you running after?

 

Abraham ran God’s course. He acted in faith and based his life decisions on his relationship with God (Genesis 14:17-24). He wasn’t perfect (Genesis 16). But Abraham was a man of faith. He trusted the Lord to provide as He guided him (Genesis 15; 17; Romans 4). Abraham knew all that he had was from the Lord. Evidence of this is seen by his tithing to the Lord after victory (Genesis 14:20). Notice this act of tithing (“tithe” means giving a tenth or 10% of gross income) was before the Law was given. Those who excuse themselves from giving a tenth of their income to God based on a supposed imposition of the Law are mistaken according to Abraham’s example. Jesus encouraged tithing (Matthew 23:23). Abram demonstrated his faith by living the motto where God guides God provides.  He tithed by faith. Do we?

 

We can guard against running after riches by keeping a few things in mind.  Running after riches will make you forget God (Deuteronomy 8:13-14; 1 John 2:15-17). Running after riches hinders your spiritual growth and journey to heaven (Matthew 19:23; Mark 4:19; 2 Timothy 2:4). Running after riches leads to many temptations (1 Timothy 6:9). Running after riches leads to disappointment (Matthew 6:19; Mark 10:17-27; James 5:3). Realize everything is from God (Deuteronomy 8:18; 1 Chronicles 29:12; Ecclesiastes 5:19; Hosea 2:8; James 1:17). Realize what we have belongs to God;  we are merely stewards of it (Genesis 14:20-24; Psalm 50:10-12; Malachi 3:7-12; Luke 16:1-17; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 1 Timothy 6:17-19; Revelation 3:17-18).Rely on God to provide for your needs (Psalm 34:10; 37:25; 84:11; 105:40-41; 145:16; Matthew 6:19-34; Philippians 4:10-19). Stewardship is the management of material, human, and spiritual resources. God speaks a lot about it in His word. For those who doubt God cares about material things, or worse, doesn’t care about how we buy, sell, earn and spend, read the sample of scriptures on this topic laced throughout this study.

 

God will always provide for our needs. But when we confuse wants with needs Satan our enemy and our fleshly sinful nature will use this confusion in priorities to skew our view of God and His loving care for us. When we think our wants are our needs and find that God does not support our indulgences, the enemy and our flesh will whisper in our ear, “See, God isn’t true to His promise. See, He really doesn’t provide for you. See, He can’t be trusted. He doesn’t love you as much as He states in His word. You can’t trust His word!”

 

Good stewardship and rightly separating essential needs from things we merely want will free us from the bondage of things as well as clear our spiritual ear to hear from the Lord. God always meets our needs. He sometimes will grant a want. But more often than not He will save us from our wants. Like a child who thinks a diet of candy and ice cream is best, God sets the sweet temptations aside and puts the solid food of His word on our plate (1 Cor. 3:2; Heb. 5:12, 14). Where God guides, God provides. If you lack provision, maybe you have faulty stewardship vision. Learn to live simply in relation to the things of this world. Jesus said, “Life does not consist in the abundance of things” (Luke 12:15). Be “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). God always meets our needs. “The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow with it” (Prov. 10:22). Remember that.

 
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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Passing by with Purpose and Perspective



“Now as Jesus passed by, He saw. . .” – John 9:1


 


We live in a very busy world. Our lives are filled with tons of stuff and nonstop activities. We’re like high strung Chihuahuas or flitting about mosquitoes. We’re spread a mile wide and have become inch deep shallow people. We’re running so fast that we’ve missed many of God’s sovereign stops. And as we’ve passed by those stops, we’ve missed out on opportunities to minister and the blessings that accompany them.


If anyone ever had a justifiable reason for being too busy to stop and minister it was Jesus.  And yet, when we look at the gospel accounts, we see Jesus was never too busy to stop and meet a need. Jesus literally had the weight of the world on His shoulders. But Jesus always had an eye to see a need. And He made time to meet the need.


The Gospel of John chapter 9 begins with the words, “Now as Jesus passed by, . . .” (John 9:1a). The previous chapter ends with Jesus declaring Himself to be “I Am” in the Temple precincts of God. This was a clear association with the most holy name of God. Therefore it was a clear declaration that He was and is God (John 8:58). His religious listeners, knowing exactly what Jesus was affirming, “took up stones to throw at Him” (John 8:59a). Jesus then, because His mission focus was the cross and not to be stoned, left the dangerous crowd departing from the temple. He didn’t make a scene. He didn’t call down angels to defend Him. He simply departed from there, “going through the midst of them, and so passed by.” This is the context for the transition from John chapter 8 to John chapter 9.


Now notice, it was “as Jesus passed by,” that what follows happens. It was “as Jesus passed by” that “He saw a man born blind from birth” (John 9:1b). There is a valuable truth principle to be gleaned here. Jesus didn’t let attacks, disruptions, difficulties, not even the threat of death (i.e. stoning) deter Him from His mission purpose. Jesus didn’t allow His attention to be diverted by self-preservation or self-pity related to His detractors and attackers. Jesus pressed on, even when physically threatened. Jesus just kept literally “passing by” (Greek paragon: Present/Active/Participle) on the journey of His mission no matter what.


Can you say that? Are you easily distracted from God’s mission for you, His purpose for you, or His will for you? Have you even cared to determine what God’s mission, purpose and will is for you? If not, you’ve already been diverted off course. We need to be like Jesus and keep “passing by” through attacks, trials, tempting distractions, difficulties. We must follow His steps (1 Peter 2:21) and walk as he walked (1 John 2:6) in life.


The apostle Paul followed in Jesus steps and exhorted others to do the same. He was inspired to write: “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you” (Philippians 3:13-15). Press on to Christ’s higher calling for you! No matter what!


What was Jesus method to fulfill His mission? Someone has said, “Methods are many, principles are few; methods always change, principles never do.” In principle Jesus came to redeem the world from sin. In principle Jesus took time to minister to people. Those principles never changed. His methods to fulfill those mission principles were many. He took time to feed people God’s word. He took time to feed people miraculously with meager morsels. He took time to walk on water. According to principle Jesus took time to minister. On a number of occasions His principle method was to provide signs testifying of who He was through healing.


Jesus, even though deeply involved in ministry, still “saw a man who was blind from birth.” This blind man caught Jesus’ eye. Jesus always had an eye for those in need. He always had time for those in need. Jesus is never too busy to see us in our time of need. Jesus has His eye on us. Jesus arrives at our point of need. Jesus has time for us.


This blind man wasn’t even looking for Jesus. But Jesus showed up to change His life. And like this blind man, Jesus shows up when we aren’t even looking for Him! That is grace! That’s getting what we don’t deserve. Jesus came to redeem us from our sin when we were still lost in our sins (Romans 5:8). Through Isaiah God states, “. . . I said, ‘Here I am, here I am,’ to a nation that was not called by My name. I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, according to their own thoughts” (Isaiah 65:1b-2). Just as this blind man didn’t have the capacity to see Jesus coming, apart from God’s prevenient grace (i.e. the grace that goes before to draw us; to make us aware of our sin problem and God’s salvation solution in Christ), we are blind to the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But Jesus has His eye on us and comes to help us. If it weren’t for Jesus taking the time to minister to us, we’d all be lost.


Jesus took time for us. We need to steady our pace. We need to stop lagging behind in our earth-locked perspective. But we also need to stop lunging ahead with a stiff necked self-serving focus. We need to be circumspect and alert to God’s divine appointments. When trials, difficulties, hardships arise they are not mere obstacles, they are opportunities. One commentator observes, “Misery always opens the door for ministry.”[1] Jesus was on a mission, but that mission included ministering to those in misery.


“Misery” is a state of suffering or distress of one form or the other. If we see someone around us in some kind of misery we need to see that as a potential divine appointment God has scheduled for us. God is the One who is putting us in that situation and bringing the misery to our attention. It is an opportunity for God to use us. It is an opportunity for us to be His ambassadors of grace, comfort, hope, and salvation.


If we are the ones personally experiencing the misery then we need to understand we are being given an opportunity to learn the “fellowship of His suffering”; the fellowship of Jesus’ suffering (Phil. 3:10). It is an opportunity for us to experience the sufficiency of God’s grace (2 Cor. 12:8-10). It is an opportunity for our faith to be tested so that it can be trusted. A faith untested cannot be trusted. A faith tested true, is a great weapon in God’s arsenal for reaching the lost and bringing glory to Him. The testimony of one whose faith has been tested true is an unstoppable weapon in the spiritual battle. The enemy has nothing to resist a faith tested true.


We are so unlike Jesus. Jesus sees misery and seeks to minister. We see misery and if we don’t callously turn away, we frequently compound the pain of the afflicted by pointing an accusing finger at them. The disciples had that kind of mindset. “And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). The disciples saw a man blind from birth and associated it with either the man’s or his parent’s sin. By asking if the man’s birth defect of blindness was due to his own sin they were expressing the possibility of attributing his deformity to personal sin. Some in that day believed that it was possible for a child to sin in the womb! By attributing this man’s blindness to his parent’s sin they were further expressing the possible cause for the blindness as willful sin. Either way, the disciples associated physical deformity with personal sin.


Jesus speaks of an alternative reason for this affliction. “ Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” (John 9:3a). Jesus throws the disciples a curve. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned.” If the cause of this man’s blindness was not personal sin, then what might it be? There are life trials such as disease and deformity that are due to personal. Sexually Transmitted Diseases, addictions, and various illnesses due to ingestion and consumption of unhealthy things are examples of the consequences of personal sin. If you smoke, the probability of getting lung cancer is far greater than for a non-smoker. If you drink alcohol or do drugs and drive the likelihood of you getting into an accident that results in bodily injury for yourself, your passengers or others is greatly increased. Some physical pain and suffering is due to our sinful willful decisions to disregard God and break His laws and scripture. The same can be said of many heartaches and psychological problems. Having said this, not all physical or psychiatric difficulties can be attributed to willful sinning.


 


Some physical and/or psychiatric (i.e. biological brain disease that affects thoughts and behaviors) pain and suffering are due to planetary sin. The Bible states that the creation itself was impacted by sin at the fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden. “For the creation was subjected to futility” (Romans 8:20a). When Adam and Eve sinned somehow the effects were not merely spiritual but they were also physical/material. “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). All of creation’s DNA and composition was thrown out of whack by sin. “For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now” (Romans 8:22). Those “groans and labors with birth pangs” consist of diseases and abnormalities God never intended to be a part of His creation. These abnormalities entered the world through sin. And these distortions of God’s creation sometimes effect innocent people.


 


The idea of planetary sin does not to remove human culpability. No one is righteous, not one; all fall short of Gods’ glory (Romans 3:10, 23). Whatever state we are in, we are products of God’s grace (1 Corinthians 15:10). We may think we are pretty bad even with God’s grace. But it is only by God’s grace that we are not far worse! By God’s grace He provides the way and means to survive (1 Corinthians 10:13). But we must take the escape route He sets before us.


 


There are people who have never smoked a day in their life and never ingested anything harmful to their bodies who contract cancers of various kinds. We live in a fallen state where planetary sin or the all encompassing effects of sin on creation are at work. Paul well describes this state of being when he is inspired to write, “For we who are in this tent [i.e. our physical bodies] groan, being burdened” (2 Cor. 5:4). He writes, “For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven” (2 Cor. 5:2). In other words, though we live in a fallen physical body that wears out and develops pains, we can press on victoriously in the hope that one day, as God has promised, we will be given glorious heavenly eternal bodies. Heavenly bodies are bodies without the ill effects of sin. That’s why they are called “celestial” or “spiritual” glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15:40-44).


 


When these fallen bodies begin to break down and betray us, we need to look to the Lord for sustaining power. Paul said it like this: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18).  The weight of pain can tempt us to look down. But it is then, when the pain is most intense, that we must look up for the sustaining empowering heavenly perspective.


 


Our focus should not be on the pains of the physical body. Physical pain can be intense and distracting. But as bad as such pain can be it is only temporary. We need to look up for heavenly perspective. God has promised to provide a sufficient amount of grace to get through the pain (cf. 2 Cor. 12:8-10). God will also use painful situations to deepen us spiritually (cf. 1 Peter 4:1-2). Trials and suffering prove, temper and strengthen our faith (1 Peter 1:6-9). God can, does and will bring good even from suffering (cf. Romans 8:28). And when we suffer for His glory or suffer in a way that gives Him glory our suffering then is, “working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”


 


As we live in our fallen bodies our attitude should be, “So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:6-8). We need to bolster ourselves with a heavenly perspective. “For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). That perspective provided by God’s grace is to His glory. And that perspective will lead to tested true faith.


 


Jesus goes on to clarify the purpose of this particular man’s blindness. Sin, personal or planetary, was not the primary point God was planning to make through this man’s blindness. Jesus said, “but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (John 9:3b). This blindness of this man had a purpose; “but that the works of God should be revealed in him.” The immediate purpose and work Jesus refers to here is that He would be healed to the glory of God. Jesus’ healing was a punctuation mark on who He was; Jesus was and eternally is, God. But for all who are born with or who suffer disease or illness due to planetary sin, it can also be said that a purpose can be fulfilled, “that the works of God should be revealed in him.Pain can serve a purpose.


 


There are some who say it is never God’s will for someone to suffer or be sick. But if that were the case no one would ever get sick or die once they accept Jesus as Savior. The Bible says life is a vapor (James 4:14). The Bible states very clearly that everyone will at some point die and then face judgment (Hebrews 9:27). Jesus died. The Apostles died. Everyone dies because death is the consequence of sin (Romans 6:23). What we can affirm though is that Christians don’t die as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). We have a living hope in Jesus that we will be resurrected from the dead! (1 Peter 1:3-5; 1 Cor. 15).


 


But what about sickness? Is it always God’s will to heal someone? God is always able to heal, but God does not always choose to heal. Sometimes His plans require people to suffer. For instance, we might look at this fallen dark world and wonder why God hasn’t simply intervened and put a stop to it all along with all the pain and suffering. But if He were to do that multiple millions would end up in a Christ-less eternity sentenced to eternal torment. Why does God allow the present fallen state to continue? “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God is willing to suffer long with us if it means more people will have opportunity to be saved. And God does suffer with us when we suffer.


God grieves more than anyone about the present state of affairs. He is grieved because He knows things will get even worse before His appointed end. God knows allowing this world to continue the downward spiral it is on will mean people (even His beloved children) will have to suffer longer. But God counts this a necessary cost to provide extended time for people to hear and hopefully receive Jesus as Savior. Only God is in the Sovereign position to ordain this. And He does ordain it in mercy and according to His truth.


 


There are times when suffering is God’s will. Peter was inspired to write, “Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19). Sometimes pain and suffering are a part of God’s plans. We may not fully understand why that is. We most likely won’t like that pain and suffering are being allowed in a given circumstance. But what we do know is that God is good and gracious and His plans are for the best. In all circumstances, even in painful ones, we must commit our souls to Jesus. With Peter we must pray, “But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:10-11).


 


There is particular evidence that not everyone is healed. On one occasion Paul said, “but Trophimus I have left in Miletus sick” (2 Timothy 4:20). It’s inconceivable that Paul would not have prayed for Trophimus’ healing. But having prayed Trophimus was not instantaneously cured. He had to be left behind while Paul went on. Sometimes when we pray people will remain sick. Sometimes it is God’s will not to heal.


 


Personally, Paul prayed three times for a “thorn in the flesh . . . a messenger of Satan to buffet me” to be removed. But instead of removing it the Lord told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” And to that Paul’s response was, “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:7-10). The words “weakness,” and “infirmities” in these verses are translated from the same Greek term astheneia which refers to physical weaknesses, physical sicknesses, and physical distresses. All of this, whatever situation we find ourselves in that involves pain and suffering, our objective should be to glorify God. In everything we need to trust Him. Trust Jesus in and through the pain and suffering. Let your faith be tested true.


 


Jesus went on to say, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.” (John 9:4). Jesus points out that time is limited. Life is a vapor (James 4:14). Jesus would soon be going to the cross. Death is a certainty for all (Heb. 9:27). Sin brings the curse of death (Romans 6:23). But Jesus is the cure for that death (Romans 5:8). He died physically that we may live eternally. Life is a vapor, death is sure, sins the curse, Christ is the cure. Remember that. For once you die your eternal destiny is fixed; no one will be able to do anything to change it.


If we are going to follow in the steps of our Savior Jesus, then we must be alert to every opportunity to minister. That is especially true for times of misery. Every situation and circumstance of our personal lives is an opportunity to be used by the Lord for His mission purpose and glory. And every situation and circumstance we encounter with others is an opportunity to be used by the Lord for His mission purpose and glory. Whether in us or in others, we need to have the same mindset and determination Jesus had, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.” Pass on by; persevere. But keep your heavenly perspective. Misery is an opportunity to minister. All to the glory of God.


 




[1] Courson, J. (2003). Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (p. 514). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ghostly Encounters


"Then a spirit passed before my face; the hair on my body stood up" - Job 4:15

We watch innocent children play in a playroom at home and all of a sudden a child with death in its face pokes its head momentarily through a shadowy doorway behind them. The hair on the back of our necks stands up in response. Self -proclaimed “scientists” go from place to place testing to verify whether or not reported ghostly voices, shadowy figures, scary touches, or emotional impressions are real. It all draws in the curious and makes for popular TV. What is really going on here?

Did you know that there is someone in scripture who experienced a similar ghostly encounter? Read the experience of Eliphaz as recorded in the book of Job:

  • Job 4:12-17 - “Now a word was secretly brought to me, and my ear received a whisper of it. 13 In disquieting thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on men, 14 Fear came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones shake. 15 Then a spirit passed before my face; the hair on my body stood up. 16  It stood still, but I could not discern its appearance. A form was before my eyes; there was silence; then I heard a voice saying: 17 ‘Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can a man be more pure than his Maker?

To understand what is going on here the context of the passage is very important. Job is a book about trusting God in terrible times of suffering. It is a book about the meaning of true faith. True faith isn’t based on reward or blessing, it is based on a trusting relationship with Almighty God. But the context of this book is often glanced over. The book opens with a description of Job as, “the greatest of all people of the East” (1:3). What makes Job so great? His holy walk with God and concern for the spiritual welfare of his family (1:5). What matters most is God’s assessment of Job. God says, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” (1:8). God is proud of “His servant” Job. We should all desire for God to think and say the same things about us. But who was God speaking to when He said this?

God was speaking to Satan when he commented on Job. The “sons of God” or angelic beings come to present themselves before God. Satan, (a fallen angelic being) joined in coming before the LORD (1:6). Once before the LORD God asks Satan where he has been. Satan’s response is important to note. He says, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it” (1:7). And it would not be presumptuous to say that Satan still goes to and fro throughout the earth with ill intent. The New Testament states:

  • 1 Peter 5:8-9 - Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.

Job is in part, a book about resisting Satan. After the second chapter Satan is not mentioned again in Job. And yet Satan’s encounter with God is the backdrop for the entire book.

Spiritual warfare is the setting for the book of Job. God brags on Job, Satan responds with a ridiculing retort:

  • Job 1:9-11 - 9 So Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for nothing? 10 Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!”

God accepts the challenge and removes His hedge of protection from Job (1:12). Satan ruthlessly removes Jobs wealth and family (1:13-21). Job’s faith proves steadfast. “In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong” (1:22).

Satan wasn’t satisfied. He again goes before the LORD and again describes his dealings as, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it” (2:1-2). This time God again boasts on Job saying, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and suns evil? And still he holds fast to his integrity, although you incited Me against him, to destroy him without cause” (2:3). God glories in the steadfast integrity of His servant Job. Notice Job is referred to by God as “My servant.” Job lives for the LORD. Job sees His life and the circumstances of it as fully surrendered to the LORD. This is verified by the description of Job’s response to his loss. The passage states:

  • Job 1:20-21 - 20 Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

None of us in our right mind would want to experience losses like Job did. But if we ever do, we should pray for Job’s attitude as expressed by God’s inspired word here.

Satan wasn’t satisfied; he never is. He proudly challenged God’s words again with rippling rebellion saying, “Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will surely curse You to Your face!” (2:5). Ah, there is Satan’s motive and goal. He wants to get Job to curse God. God gives permission for even this (2:8). Notice God is sovereign; nothing happens to Job; no attack is made without the express permission of God. Satan and God are not equals. Satan is under the sovereign control of God.  But God gives Satan permission to physically afflict Job in an effort to test his faith.

What strategy does Satan rely on besides the actually destruction of Job’s wealth, health and family? We see it in the reaction of Job’s wife. After having lost all and being further physically afflicted Job’s wife encourages him to do exactly what Satan so desired, “Curse God and die!” (2:9). Job’s wife is culpable in that she stopped be a helper to Job and turned to being a defeated antagonist to her husband. Satan often works to divide and conquer in the marriage relationship. Remember Eve and Adam (Gen. 3). Job’s response to his wife is suited for any spouse who acts like her; “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” The summary assessment of Job is, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (2:10). Satan will stoop to anything to accomplish his cursed plans. And he didn’t stop there.

Job, the biggest loser on earth at that time, having been ridiculed by the one closest to him, his wife, he is then joined by three friends (2:11-13). At first they didn’t even recognize Job so torn was he by his circumstances. But when they did see who it was, they wept with their friend and tore their clothes in empathy. Then they sat down with him for seven days of silent sorrowing together (2:11-13).

Job then speaks and starts what will become an incredible dialogue with his friends and ultimately with God in an effort to explain his circumstances. Who is to blame? Why has this happened? These are the questions addressed in this incredible book. That is the context of the ghostly appearance mentioned earlier.

The first of Job’s friends to respond in an effort to explain Job’s circumstances and set him right, is Eliphaz. And it is Eliphaz who bases his words on “a word” that “was secretly brought to me” by the ghostly figure in the night. Eliphaz and the other two friends Bildad and Zophar, as well as a fourth young late comer named Elihu are all in the end rebuked by God (42:7). Now we can’t attribute all of their response to ghostly apparitions, but at least we can do so for Eliphaz. The account given by Eliphaz concerning the ghostly appearance in the night is not coincidental. There is spiritual warfare going on here. This ghostly appearance is also not solitary in its occurrence.

When we look in the Bible we find other incidents of spirits influencing people. A spirit of ill will had an ill effect on Abimelech (Judges 9:23). King Saul was distressed by a spirit after he had disobeyed the LORD (1 Sam. 16:14-15; 19:9). Lying spirits influenced false prophets (1 Kings 22:23). Satan himself influenced King David to momentarily not trust in God but instead trust in his own earthly forces (1 Chron. 21:1). Jesus cast out evil spirits from people in the New Testament (Mat. 8:16; Mark 1:23-27). And Judas’ heinous betrayal of Jesus is linked to Satan entering him (Luke 22:3).

A point to be made here is that the “friend” of Job who should have encouraged him became a source of discouragement and aggravation in part as a result of passing on words he had received from a ghostly figure in the night. It is not farfetched to associate this ghost with the work of Satan. His desire is to compound Job’s pain with relentless accusations from those closest to him over the bulk of the book of Job. It wasn’t that Satan entered his friends. They believed in God and had a relationship with Him. But they allowed themselves to be influenced by Satan through a ghost inspired (satanically motivated) response as well as their own proud presumptuous reasoning based on very limited information. Proverbs states, “Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; when he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive” (Prov. 17:28). They should have kept their peace.

The broader point to be made is that Satan worked to manipulate and influence others for his purposes by way of a ghostly appearance. The Bible says:

  • Ephesians 6:12 - 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Job’s enemy was not his friend; it was Satan and his demons. Satan is an intelligent being. He was once a gloriously beautiful cherub but he fell in pride to become ugliest of adversaries of God (Ezek. 28:12-17). Satan is a defeated foe. Jesus defeated him publically and decisively at the cross (Col. 2:15). But he is still at work and he will stoop to anything to work his plan to bring people to curse God. Today we see his work in the proliferation of ghostly occultic interests. Satan plays on the curiosity for the unknown in people yet blinded by Him (2 Cor. 4:4). He wants to distract people from the reality of God and His love and grace and salvation by creating an environment where people seek ghosts instead of God. Our response should be to, “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Eph. 5:11). Look at what happened with Job and his friends. Shine the light of truth on the deceptive darkness of Satan. Expose the ghostly encounters for what they really are, a work of Satan. May God help us by His Spirit in this task. All to His glory. Amen.