If youâ€™re ever thinking about digging into the Bible for the first time, but donâ€™t know where to start, I highly recommend Robert Murray Mâ€™Cheyneâ€™s Bible Reading Plan, which you can find here. Youâ€™ll read about four chapters a day, and by the end of one year, youâ€™ll have read the Old Testament once, and the New Testament and Psalms twice. Not only was Mâ€™Cheyne a wonderful and fiery preacher of old, but he was also a Scotsman, and the Scots will always hold a special place in my heart.
Mr. Mâ€™Cheyne has directed me to Job this week â€“ well not exactly since I am going through the plan in order, but I didnâ€™t start on the first day of the year. Anyway, Iâ€™ve just started The book of Job, and along with all the things I shared about working through in this post, it just adds to the depth of paradox and challenge that is involved in deeply grappling with a personal faith in God, when bad things happen in the world. (You can see this post for more grappling. And if you thought this post was about faith and your occupationâ€¦sorry about that! Maybe later.)
If you donâ€™t know the story, Job is basically about this really great guy who has a ton of rubbish rubbish RUBBISH stuff happen to him. Heâ€™s really well off, a family guy, a person of great integrityâ€¦ I guess in the South we might call Job a good olâ€™ boy. And in one no good, very bady day, he loses all his stuff and then his family in these terrible â€˜freak accidentsâ€™ which are actually at the hand of the devil, but clearly allowed by God, and then even his health is in such bad condition heâ€™s sitting in ashes cursing the day he was born. (And this cosmic altercation is also stuff for another post, because Iâ€™m still grappling to make sense of it.)
The amazing thing about Job, unlike myself in most â€˜unpleasantriesâ€™ is he asks this simple question that really challenges me profoundly: â€œShall we accept good from God, and not evil?â€ Which I guess is basically like saying, â€œSo itâ€™s all good when everything is good â€¦ and when everything is good we believe God is good. But if anything bad happens, we immediately question the goodness of God. Isnâ€™t that sort of hypocritical?â€ (I chatted more about this in this post a while back.)
I was thinking about Jobâ€™s struggles and saying, â€œGod, why would you allow such a thing? I mean seriously, Job was a really good guy. Why would you allow him to be afflicted to such an extent?â€ It was then that I realised the incredible amount of good that has come over the history of time since Jobâ€™s story was written down. How many people have been encouraged, comforted, and even challenged in a good way, because of what was written about Job? And in the end, it is clear that Job was a righteous guy all along. (I highly recommend reading the story to see what happens.) There is incredible redemption, and Job gets a better perspective of the God He worships than he ever had before. Did the story end with Job saying, Dern, that was so great, letâ€™s do it again? I donâ€™t think so. But God proved and improved his faith because he was willing to suffer and still honour God.Â [This reminds me of the Syro-Phoenician woman Jesus met â€“ the topic of proving and improving faith is something I would like to talk more about tomorrow!]
Whatâ€™s so beautiful is that Job is actually a type and shadow of Christ. The number of people who have read his story â€“ the world will never know. Itâ€™s one chapter of the bestselling book of all time, so odds are the count is pretty high up there. And itâ€™s been around for a couple thousand years. Bonus. Jobâ€™s suffering and the redemption his story depicts have probably challenged billions of people over the centuries, and met other people at the lowest point in their lives, where they could hopefully say, â€œYou know, there was someone once who had it worse than me, and he made it through.â€
Job may not have wittingly suffered for the cause of the millions who would be encouraged by his story, but He does point to the One who would ultimately suffer and die for the sins of the world, the One who was completely righteous and without sin. God Himself came and suffered â€“ more seriously than Job â€“ in taking on the sins of the world. And when He looks back on the experience, I think Heâ€™s the only One who would say, â€œFor you, Iâ€™d do it again,â€ and actually mean it.
The story of Esther always gets me excited. It’s like the Old Testament Jewish version of the Princess Diaries with Anne Hathaway. Sometimes you just need a reminder that if God is for you, no one can stand against you. And in Esther 6, I enjoyed that reminder today.
The backstory is, the Amalekite called Haman worked for the king, and he had a major superiority complex. Haman got a big promotion, and the king decreed that people would have to bow and pay homage to him. However, Mordecai (Esther’s cousin) would not bow down and pay homage to Haman, because he would only worship the true God, the God the Jews believed in. Haman was, shall we say, ‘bovvered’ and began conspiring to take Mordecai out — and the rest of the Jewish nation with him. Not long before that, Mordecai had discovered a conspiracy to assassinate the king — I know, the story just keeps getting better! And he alerted the king’s men, so that the plot was foiled. Meanwhile, Esther (who has risen to the position of Queen because the previous Queen wouldn’t honour the king, and was deposed) is trying to figure out how to save the Jews. Â So that should catch you up, basically.
In Chapter 6, the king finds out that Mordecai saved his life, and realises, “Ugh, guess I oughta do something for the fella who done saved my life.” So he asks Haman for some suggestions. Since Haman thinks the king must want to honour him, (a la, “Who is more honourable to the king than me, awesome Mr. Haman?”) he comes up with this awesome idea to parade the fellow the king wants to honour around the town in a royal robe the king has worn, and on a horse the king has ridden. And one of the most noble princes should go before him saying, “This is how it’s done when the king wanna honour someone!”
So, guess what? Mordecai receives the honour that Haman thought he was planning for himself, and Haman ends up being the guy who has to holler all around town, “This is how it’s done when the king wanna honour someone!” Haman is totally ashamed and runs home to his wife to cry his little eyes out. Â When he shares the whole story with his wife, and his wise friends, their response is this (pay attention this is the best part!) “If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of Jewish descent, you will not prevail against him but will surely fall before him.” The people in Haman’s day recognised that the Jews had a certain invincibility — the blessing of God was on them, and the curse of God was on their enemies. Haman was actually a descendant of the Amalekites, who were enemies of the Jews in generations previous — so he basically stood no chance.
This was such an encouragement to me because the promise of God for His children thousands of years ago is the promise of God for His children today! Even the things your enemies might fashion against you, God can use to bring about good for you. Â (See also Psalm 91. If you read on in Esther, you’ll see how amazingly well all this comes together). Carrying on from the theme yesterday, God is able to work all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. And as the story continues, He does, in amazing ways, in Mordecai’s life. That means that we can trust God, even in situations that look difficult, even in situations that are hard, awful, sad or even life-threatening, because He intends to take care of His children, whom He loves. And He will!
Mordecai loved God and risked His life in obedience to Him. God honoured him, and brought about the demise of his enemies. Take the tough route today! Honour God no matter what doing so might cost you, and trust Him to bless you for it. If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat the good of the land. That’s a promise.
A lot of thoughts have been swirling and twirling around in my mind lately. And they are thoughts that have created fear in me. And that is not pretty, and is not from God. One reason some of these thoughts have been joining my mental conversations is that some friends of mine lost their child just a few weeks ago — their four month old little boy. When you have a little one yourself, the stark and sudden reality that your little one could be here today and gone tomorrow — or anyone you love could be — can do a lot of different things in your soul. You can trust that God will take care of you and your family, but when you see what on the surface appears to be Him not taking care of friends of yours who also love Him, you might begin to think, “Well, there’s no reason that would happen to them and not to me.” And that is a scary thought.
I don’t think I realised what this thinking had begun to do in my mind until today. I’ve been praying for the family who lost their child, thanking the Lord for my family, and trying to do a better job of enjoying life each day, remembering we aren’t promised tomorrow. But today I was reading in the Bible, and came across Proverbs 10:22.Â The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, And He adds no sorrow with it. As I pondered this verse I began to think…gosh, I am struggling to actually believe this. In my mind I am disagreeing with it. Where has that come from? I realised it had something to do with the loss my friends experienced. I prayed, “Help me understand, Lord. In light of my friends and the loss of their son.” Â And these are the thoughts that came next.
Loss and death come because we are in a fallen world. God’s blessing brings prosperity to our lives — and true richness, which is richness to our souls. He does not bring death or sorrow to the righteous. Death and sorrow are a consequence of life in a fallen, broken world. This was not God’s intention, He did not create the world to be this way, but He can still bring even these difficulties about for good.
The disciples once questioned Jesus when they saw a man who was blind from birth. (John 9) “Jesus, did he sin or did his parents? Somebody must’ve messed up for him to be born blind.” (This was the Jewish way of thinking about disabilities and birth defects.) Jesus said, “Neither. He didn’t sin, His parents didn’t sin. But this happened so that the works of God should be revealed in Him.”
In a perfect world, the world God initially created, for example, there would be no blindness, and four-month olds wouldn’t fall asleep and never wake up. But we are in a fallen world, where things are broken, and messed up things happen. The Good News is that the works of God — including His goodness, mercy, and kindness — can still be displayed in this broken world. God is still actively at work, and can bring good out of these hurtful, painful and tragic moments in life. In fact, He promises to work all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.
Financial or monetary richness is not always a sign of the Lord’s blessing. Statistically speaking, lottery winners often end up very, very unhappy people. (Examples) We are truly rich when we learn to be content with and thankful for what we have. The richness that comes from God can teach us this lesson — to see how rich we already are, because of the gift that we have from God in Christ Jesus. (That’s even better news — our time in this world is incredibly brief. If we love Christ, and are following Him, we will spend eternity with Him, where weeping and sorrow will not exist for even a moment. Hallelujah!)
While sorrow, trials and tribulation will come in this fallen world, (that’s a promise). We may not always understand why God allows them, but I am still certain that God is good, that He can bring beauty from ashes and turn mourning into dancing. I’m thankful to say, as well, I am confident that the Lord’s blessing makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow with it.