Why I Stopped Writing (and why I’m starting again)

I have been crippled by unbelief.

As soon as I realized my problem, my thoughts wandered back to the story of Jesus casting the demons out of a boy who was mute, foaming at the mouth, seizing and injuring himself. Mark 9 records the story of this boy’s father coming to Jesus and asking him if there’s anything he can do to help his son. IF there’s anything he could do.

That’s the way I’ve been living my life the past few months. Tiptoeing around, wondering IF there’s anything God can do with me. Wondering IF there’s any way he can heal me, forgive me, teach me or use me. But He answers me the same way that He answered that poor, desperate father. “If you can? All things are possible for one who believes.” I found myself in the shoes of that father, asking God to help me overcome my unbelief. “I do believe! Help me overcome my unbelief!”

Could He do it? Would He do it?

I haven’t doubted my salvation or God’s sovereignty or the authenticity of Scripture. The doubt I faced came much more subtly through the puzzled looks on the faces of ladies in my Bible Study group as I taught the Word, through the sincere questions they raised about what I’d just taught, through the times I’d spent alone in preparation, wondering if I was getting it right and feeling the weight of the responsibility I’d been given to handle the Word of God. The last study I taught was James and I admit that I naively went into it thinking that it would be a no-brainer. I was so wrong! I’ve never questioned myself more than I did as I taught through the book of James. “Help me overcome my unbelief!”

So that’s why I stopped writing for a while. That’s why I blogged about James 1 but never published anything more from that study. That’s why I didn’t jump on the opportunity to lead a summer Bible Study with my community of ladies. I’ve been doubting and wondering how God can use me, an imperfect person, a sinner saved by grace, a woman with very little formal religious education, to teach the very words that He breathed into existence. So I stopped.

And now here I am again, writing a new post. Starting over. Trying again. I bet you already know the answer as to why I’m back.

God helped my unbelief! He answered! I don’t have to be perfect or reach some higher spiritual “level” before I’m qualified enough for Him to use me. I just needed to get over all the excuses I offered. Sometimes you just have to be real tough on yourself and tell yourself to quit hiding, quit being emotional, quit acting like you don’t know what God has called you to do. So I quit. I got over it. He helped my unbelief! And now I’m back. I’m not quite sure where we’ll go from here – I’ve always been one to let God guide me in that. But thanks for hanging in there with me in my absence and for joining me again as I do what I know He’s called me to do, which is write and teach the beautiful truth of His Word.


Remaining Under (James 1)

Once upon a time I participated in a study over the book of James by Beth Moore. In the first session she challenged us to memorize the entire book of James. I thought that sounded like a pretty good challenge so I got busy memorizing. I finished chapter one and never got any farther and that was probably five years ago. Of course the verses I repeated the most were the ones at the beginning of the book.
One day I was at the dentist – I hate the dentist – and I was very nervous as they prepared me for the drill. I laid there in the chair trying desperately to think of any Bible verse I could recite to bring me peace and comfort. Immediately my mind went to the book of James – surely there was peace and comfort there! Unfortunately, all I could remember was verse one – James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations, Greetings. James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations, Greetings.
Now while that verse didn’t necessarily bring peace to my heart, it did bring peace to my body as I recited it over and over and over again. God’s word will not ever return void!
I love that our study of James directly follows our study of the book of Job. They go hand in hand! All of the lessons and truths that we learned in Job are affirmed in the book of James. James is a practical book for godly living – some even call it the Proverbs of the New Testament. James skips from topic to topic, giving believers instructions for how to live out their faith every day.
The first topic he tackles is suffering, trials and perseverance. The Greek word for steadfastness literally means “to remain under”. I have some beautiful notes written in my Bible from 2015 when I battled chronic hives for most of that year. I wrote, “Trials develop perseverance and wisdom, making me more like Jesus. When I am more like Jesus, people will see HIM in me! I have had hives for six months so far and I am asking God to allow me to remain under them for as long as it takes to make me more like Jesus!” That note was dated 3/3/15. Another note just after that simply says “Hives gone” 7/15. What a beautiful reminder to me of the beauty that comes to a heart surrendered to God, a heart that remains under a trial until it has produced steadfastness and maturity. If you are under a trial right now, friend, can I encourage you to fully submit to God in it as you remain under it? He may not remove it from you quickly, but you can be sure that he is creating completion in you.

The next section of chapter one deals with brothers who are poor and those who are rich. I just love how God gives me good practical examples to help me understand what he’s teaching me in Scripture. Just yesterday I spoke with two separate believers. One shared with me about seeking the Lord and serving Him in their poverty, trying to trust Him to provide for their needs. Just a few hours later another person came to me to share about how they are trying to trust God in their wealth, seeking ways to serve Him and know Him more without getting lured by the temptation to love their money and possessions. I think that’s what this passage is getting at – no matter your financial situation, seeking to overcome it to the praise and glory of God!
James 1:12-18 takes us back to the trials – Face it, trials were a common, ever-present fact for believers in the first century church, just like they are for us in 2017! James says that the one who remains under those trials will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those that love Him! Again, God doesn’t take the trial away! The person remains under it. When you’re faced with a trial, do you willingly take your place under it or do you beg God to take it? The next time you are faced with a trial, I challenge you to look at it through the lens of the gospel and choose to seek Him in remaining under in it instead of pleading with Him to remove it from you!
But then James goes into temptation, clarifying that God does not tempt anyone. Interestingly enough, he doesn’t say that Satan is the tempter here. Of course we know that Satan is the father of lies and he does tempt us, but here the temptation James mentions comes from a source that we don’t often acknowledge – our own evil desires. When you’re tempted, recognize that sometimes that temptation is from your own sinful flesh and refuse to give in to it. It will only lead to death.
James brings up a topic that hits close to home for all of us next. In verse 19 he tells us that we should be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger. If there was ever any advice to help you in your marriage or in your relationship with your parents or your children or your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, this is it. Listen more. Talk less. Don’t jump to anger.
To follow this up, James tells us that it’s not enough to just hear the word of God – we have to do what it says. Hearing it does nothing. Doing what it says is evidence of a change in our hearts. We look into Scripture, we persevere and we are blessed!
And last but not least, James confronts the concept of religion. He tells us that if you think you’re religious but you’re running your mouth all the time you’ve missed the point of religion. It’s not that religion is bad like our society has tried to tell us. In fact, it’s the opposite. Religion is good – taking care of orphans and widows and keeping yourself pure. All of these things are evidence of a change of heart. When your heart changes because of the gospel of Jesus Christ, you become less and less concerned with the things of this world: constant gossip, money, trials, anger, etc. You become more and more concerned with living out your faith, letting there be evidence in your life of a change in your heart.

James isn’t going to stop here. This whole book is full of ways that we can make little changes in our lives to honor God more and change our lives to be a better reflection of the change he has brought in our hearts. Stay tuned for more, but be careful not to look into the perfect law that gives freedom and then forget what you’ve seen. Don’t be a hearer who forgets. Be a doer who acts!

Finishing Up the Book of Job

As we wrap up our study of the book of Job, one of our questions was “Do you think God ever explained to Job why he had suffered?” Of course this one is a hypothetical question because there’s just no way to know whether God did or he didn’t. But if there’s one thing we learn from the book of Job, it’s the character of God. In fact, we can learn about the character of God all over Scripture, through story after story, on page after page.

Hebrews 11 gives us a bunch of examples all in one place of great men and women of the faith. If we look at these stories in our search for the character of God, we will quickly find our answer to the question posed in our homework about whether or not God ever explained to Job why he had suffered. We have to ask “Is God the kind of god that tells us the reasons for everything?” Let’s look at Hebrews 11.
Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. The answer to our question is given right here in this first verse. If God were the kind of god that tells us the reasons for everything, this whole concept of faith wouldn’t even be an issue. We wouldn’t have to believe because we’d already see. But God wants use to be sure of who He is without seeing the full picture. He gives us lots of examples in this chapter of people who did just that. Take a minute to read through chapter 11 if you haven’t lately. 
We read of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah. In verse 13, we find that all of these died in faith – they didn’t receive the things that were promised to them and still they persevered in the faith! We have the privilege of seeing all of the promises made to them fulfilled, but they didn’t get to see it. We can be confident that God’s promises to us will be fulfilled in the same way, even though we won’t get to see it happen. 
Then we read more of the faith of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab and so many more. These people didn’t see the promises fulfilled either but persevered in their faith that God would do what He said He would do. Hebrews 11:39-40 says 
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Do you know what the “something better” is? JESUS. You see, these heroes of the faith had to walk through trials and tribulations without seeing the fulfillment of God’s promises to them. That’s because God had something so much bigger in mind than the simple answers to the questions I’m sure they asked. Hebrews 11:36 -37 says that many were mocked and flogged and imprisoned and stoned and killed. I’m sure they wondered why. After all, they were human, just like us. But the answer to their question was that God had provided something better – He would send his son to be the answer to every one of the “Why” questions we ask.
Isaiah 55:8-9 sums it up perfectly:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
So why is our natural inclination to ask “WHY?” every time something bad happens? Well, as much as it pains me to say such a simple answer, it’s because we’re human. We want answers. We feel like we need answers. And sometimes we even feel like we deserve answers. But in truth, we will almost certainly never get that answer this side of heaven. And in even greater truth, once we get to heaven, we will almost certainly not care about the answer anyway because we will be face to face with the PROMISE himself, the sovereign Creator, Almighty God.

As we finish our study of Job, take a minute to read 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. How I wish that our friend Job had been able to open his Bible and read these words to find comfort in his affliction. We can rest assured that our pain is not for nothing. God is working all the time to bring about His perfect will and to accomplish things that are far greater than all we could ever ask or imagine.
Thanks for studying Job with me.

"Where Were You?" God Puts Us In Our Place

These are the chapters we’ve been waiting for! (Job 38:1-40:5) Throughout our study of Job we have had to wade through the murky waters of chapters 1-37. The story of Job is one that doesn’t make a lot of sense to our human understanding, except that most of us can relate to him on some level. We’ve all experienced grief and tragedy and suffering and pain. Beyond that, we’ve all experienced those times when it feels like God is so far away. We know in our heads that he has not moved, but our hearts sometimes feel so far away from him and he just seems so silent.
But He doesn’t remain silent forever. Here in Job, God has let the drama continue long enough. Job and his friends have been spinning round and round debating the cause of Job’s suffering. They’ve been accusing Job and Job has been defending himself, over and over again. Now it’s God’s turn to speak and when he does, Job is left speechless.
Now is a good time to remind you that this is definitely not a portion of Scripture that we can read selfishly. Remember, this is a book ABOUT GOD. These chapters will drive that point home, potentially more than any other portion of Scripture.
Read Job 38:1-11. All the way through verse 15 God questions Job about Creation. Of course the answer to every one of these questions is that Job was not there at all. And it’s a rhetorical question anyway – God knew this. He is sovereign over all.
God continues this round of questioning in Job 38:16-38 by asking Job questions about the weather. Read Job 38:22-27. We get such beautiful pictures of places we know nothing about. Of course God knew that we would discover many things in our scientific quest for understanding. So he gave us verse 36 in there to remind us that even the things we know, we understand because of the wisdom and understanding he has given to us.
Once you consider all of creation, the fact that God made it all and controls it all, you’d think that would be enough to put us properly in our places. But no, God continues with this questioning and Job remains silent. Next he asks Job to consider the animal kingdom in Job 38:39-39:30. Read Job 39:1-4 and 26-30. God reveals his sovereignty over all of the animals – the fact that he knows when the mountain goat gives birth is amazing! Have you been following the story of April, the giraffe that everyone has been watching? They’ve installed a camera in her pen at the zoo to show us all the exact moment when she gives birth, but the problem is that she hasn’t yet and it’s been several weeks. They keep saying it’s coming soon and the whole world wants to see, but it’s obvious that none of us are in control of any of that because people have been watching and waiting for days and have found absolutely nothing!
But here’s the most interesting part to me. This is the part where God asks Job about the lion’s prey and the hawk feeding its young. We like to focus on the fact that God is tenderly taking care of his animals, but we can miss the fact that he’s using some of them for food! The lion’s prey most likely did not die of “natural causes”, but was viciously attacked and eaten up by a pride of hungry lions! Does that mean that God is not a good, good father? Of course not! The little eagle babies that are high in the nest waiting for their daddy to bring them some food are delighted to suck up the blood of their prey! That blood came from an animal that God created, an animal that God was watching with the same amount of care as he watched those eaglets. From this we learn the truth that the suffering that we experience does not change the very nature of God. He is still good. He is still sovereign. Sometimes we’re the predator and sometimes we’re the prey and either way God is still very much sovereign on his throne and his love for us has not changed. Beautiful.
After this in Job 40:1-5 God gives Job a chance to speak. But again Job remains speechless. He’s gotten the point that after all this debating who’s right and who’s wrong and who’s sinful and who’s righteous, he is left with the answer that he can never be wise or righteous enough to God. God is so sovereign, omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent that to even consider saying anything “right” about himself is just silly. Job is properly put in his place.
So I want us to end this session just thinking about how awesome God is and how little we are, even on our best days.
Read Colossians 1:15-23.
Now watch this: Laminin
And now watch this: 
How great is our God!!!

Spiritual Warfare or God’s Discipline?

I have talked to several people a lot this week about spiritual warfare. It’s caused me to take a step back and get a wider picture of this suffering that Job endured. So today our homework is over Job 27-37, but I’d like to zoom out a little bit and talk about the difference between spiritual warfare and God’s discipline and why it’s important to know the difference.
We know that the story of Job is a story about intense spiritual warfare happening in the heavenly realms between God and Satan. Sometimes we’re tempted to view Satan as God’s evil-equal, but it’s important to note that’s not the case at all. Satan definitely is evil, but he’s not at all equal to Almighty God. God is so much greater, so much wiser, so much more powerful than Satan ever could hope to be. Satan is a created being (created by God!) and he is pure evil. He roams the earth seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). He comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). He hopes to cause us so much suffering that we curse God and die, as suggested by poor Mrs. Job. But he is definitely not as powerful as God, nor is he omnipresent like God (able to be present in more than one place at a time), or omniscient like God (knowing all things).

2 Corinthians 10:3-4 says:

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.”
We got a glimpse into a part of this spiritual war that Paul tells the Corinthian church about when we read about Satan’s conversation with God in the book of Job so we can actually picture the negotiations between God and Satan. We know that Satan asked permission from God to attack Job and that he only got to do it because God allowed it to happen. This is a battle for Job’s faith, a battle for Job’s life. Job was able to stand firm in the middle of it because his faith in God was solid. And God, in his sovereignty, knew it would be.
Sometimes the suffering we are enduring is because of an attack from the enemy.

While there’s no debating that Job’s attacks were grounded in a spiritual battle in the heavenly realms, there is another form of suffering we sometimes face that is worth mentioning here. This form of suffering is God’s discipline. We must be able to distinguish between a spiritual battle being waged against us and the firm and gentle hand of discipline of a loving Father.
Hebrews 12:5-11 says:
              “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when   reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” 
Sometimes the suffering we are enduring is because God is disciplining us.
How can we tell the difference?
The first question to ask is “Am I submitting my whole life to the lordship of Jesus Christ?” If you can genuinely answer with a “YES” (not a yes because you go to church a lot or follow lots of rules, but because you are genuinely walking in fellowship with the Lord), then it’s likely that you are experiencing spiritual warfare. But if you answered “NO” to the above questions, the suffering you’re experiencing could possibly be due to the discipline and correction of the Lord. Often when a person comes to Christ, she readily accepts Him as Savior but is hesitant to make him Lord. I remember my mom putting it to me in terms an eight-year-old could understand – Jesus wanted to be my boss. If Jesus is truly your boss and you are submitting every part of your life to him, when bad things come your way you’ll be suited up in the armor of God, able to take your stand against the schemes of the devil. But if you’re struggling with the idea of making him your Lord, your boss, the struggles you’re facing could very well be the hand of the Lord’s discipline on you.
So what do we do when we know that we’re being attacked?
Ephesians 6:10-20 says:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

If we want to have any hope of standing firm against the schemes of Satan, we must have the full armor of God. We need the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the readiness of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit (which is God’s Word). When we are fully equipped and prepared, we are able to stand firm when the flaming darts of Satan’s arrows fly.

So why is it important to distinguish between spiritual warfare and discipline? The answer is simple – We must stand firm against Satan’s attacks but we must willingly submit to the Lord’s discipline. If we submit when we should be standing or stand when we should be submitting, we may miss the lesson God has for us or even worse, give the devil a foothold in our lives.

James 4:7 tells us, “Submit yourselves therefore to God, resist the devil and he will flee.” This submission requires us to die daily to ourselves, meaning that we no longer just go around doing whatever we feel like doing, whenever we feel like doing it. Total submission to God means that every morning we wake up and we surrender our days to His guidance. We walk through our days asking him to point us to the jobs he has for us and obeying when he tells us what to do. It’s a radically different way to live life because it requires a complete change in perspective from one that is self-centered, to one that is completely unconcerned with self. When we submit ourselves to God and then see trials come our way, we can easily be shaped into the women that God wants us to be because we can recognize the hardships as God molding and shaping us to look more and more like Jesus Christ.

John 15 compares us to branches growing on the vine of the Father. Jesus tells us here that any branch that does not bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. Learn to recognize the pruning process in your life. (Now is a good time to remind you about Job’s wife – remember her trials were due to the testing of her husband. God certainly was at work in her life as well, pruning her, molding and shaping her, even though the test of faith was specifically for Job. While we do know that her first response to curse God and die was not a “submissive” response or even a “stand firm against the devil” response, we have to wonder if old Mrs. Job ever had a change of heart as she watched her husband resist the devil. Who knows?)

We’ll need that full armor of God to be able to resist the devil. A soldier doesn’t quickly throw on his armor when the enemy arrives and expect to win. In order to effectively resist Satan’s attacks, we must already be dressed! Interestingly enough, if we ever hope to submit ourselves to God, the same amount of preparation is needed.

The preparation required to resist the devil is the same as the preparation required to submit to God.

Both acts of preparation require us to spend time in God’s Word and in prayer every single day, not just when the trials come. How can you be ready to submit to God and his discipline? How can you be ready to resist the devil when the attacks come? By spending time with the God of the universe every day in prayer and in His Word. Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee.

(Please also consider that sometimes we suffer due to medical problems – a condition that happens to every one of us because of the fall of man. Our bodies are our temporary homes, not meant to last forever. Sometimes our physical suffering has nothing to do with spiritual warfare or with the discipline of the Lord but from the very fact that this world is not our home.)

[1]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Heb 12:5–11.

How Good Is Good Enough?

When we pick back up in Job 2:11, Job is sitting in the dirt, covered in sores all over his body, mourning the loss of his ten children and all his livestock and possessions, having shaved his head in grief. His wife has just told him to curse God and die because she too has just experienced the same losses. We are privy to the heavenly conversation between God and Satan, but Job and his wife were not. They don’t know why any of this tragedy has struck. They are dumbfounded.
Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar come to visit Job to show him some sympathy and comfort. They wailed and wept and tore their robes and sat in ashes in silence next to Job for seven days. These are some dedicated friends – not just acquaintances that offer Job a few platitudes, but true friends who mourn with Job in his greatest despair.
In chapter three, Job curses the day he was born, wishing that he had died at birth instead of going on to live a life in which he would lose everything precious to him. Then in the following chapters, Job’s three friends take turns telling him why they think he has suffered so much. They all three agree that Job’s suffering must be due to some sin in his life. As they argue back and forth, Job insists that he is righteous, that he has done nothing wrong.
We know the truth. Job was a righteous man and God had full confidence that Job’s faith was strong enough to withstand the tests that he endured. Even God called Job blameless and upright! We also know that in all of Satan’s efforts to get Job to curse God and die, Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. But we also know that Job wasn’t perfect – there’s only one man who has ever been perfect. So what was the standard by which God judged Job as “blameless and upright”?
Job was judged against the Law. He kept most of God’s commands and laws and made sacrifices continually for him and his children in case any of them had sinned. Job worked really hard to stay in right standing with God because he loved God and wanted to please Him.
This leaves us wondering if we too have to work hard to meet God’s “acceptable” standard. Job was good – do we have to be as righteous and blameless as Job in order for God to deem us righteous?
The answer is NO!
So what’s the difference? The difference is Jesus.
God is perfect and He cannot tolerate sin, but all of us have sin! Romans 3:23 says that we’ve all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. So back in the Old Testament, people had to follow the law and make sacrifices for their sins in order to atone for them. They could even make sacrifices for the sins of other people! (Do you ever wish you could do that???) Job sacrificed for his kids in case any of them had sinned! Sin requires punishment. It requires a sacrifice. This is the good news! God’s plan all along was to show us our need for redemption and for Someone to pay the price for our sin. He did that by giving the people of the Old Testament the Law. It shows us that we can never measure up. We can never be good enough or do enough good things to be righteous on our own. We need another way!
So the GOOD NEWS is, the GOSPEL is, that God provided another way. He sent Jesus to pay the ultimate price for our sins – to make the sacrifice once and for all so that we wouldn’t have to follow the law and make the sacrifices any more. Jesus paid for all of our sins when he died on the cross. But there’s more – Jesus didn’t stay dead! He rose from the grave on the third day and revealed himself to his disciples and many others as he walked the earth. Then he ascended back into heaven.
So Jesus paid the price for all of our sin. We know that. So why do we still feel the need to be good all the time? To make sure we’re checking off all the boxes and doing all the right things? God created each of us with this desire, so it’s not an accident. This desire, instead of pointing us to work work work work, is supposed to point us to our desperate need of Jesus. When you feel the urge to do good and be good and say all the right things, when you beat yourself up because you’re just not getting it right, remember that this is supposed to remind you to look to Jesus!
Job was a righteous man because of his sacrifices under the law.

We are righteous women because of the sacrifice of Jesus!

Blessed Be Your Name: Job 1:6-2:10

As you’re cracking open your Bible in preparation to study Job today, you may be tempted to try and figure out just how this book applies to your life. You might be tempted to make it personal and draw some parallels. But before you do, remember to ask yourself, “What does this say about God?” I hope that you’ll be encouraged by the two clear attributes of God that we find in this passage. Remember, the Bible is about God! Now go ahead and read Job 1:6-2:10 and then keep reading here.
This portion of chapter one opens in God’s heavenly throne room when the sons of God (angels and other divine beings), and Satan come before the Lord. God asks Satan where he has come from and he confesses that he has been wandering around the earth. And then the strangest conversation happens. Check back to 1:8. 
Who suggested that Satan should consider Job?

God. Not Satan. God suggested that Satan consider Job.
John Piper explains it this way: A robber goes into a jewelry store with a gun and a mask, demanding all of the fine jewels and precious stones. The jeweler says, “Well how about this one, my biggest and best diamond? Would you like to have that one?” Now logic would lead us to conclude that if we were being robbed, we would not want to give the robbers suggestions about more things they could take from us. How interesting that all of this was God’s idea, not Satan’s. 
In 1:9, Satan brings an accusation against Job, saying that the only reason he remains faithful and fears God is because God has protected him and blessed him. He challenges God by saying that if he took all of that away from Job, he would curse God to his face. So God gives Satan permission to take away all that Job had as long as he didn’t touch Job himself. This brings us to the first thing we learn about God in this chapter:
God is sovereign.
He is completely in charge of every bit of what happens. Does this mean that God sometimes allows bad things to happen to us? Yes. He did it when he sent the flood that killed everyone but Noah’s family. He did it when Jonah got swallowed up by the great fish. He did it when Job lost everything he had. We don’t always know WHY, but we do know that God causes all things to work for good for those who love him.
In 1:13-19, Job loses everything he has because unbeknownst to him, God has placed him and all of his possessions and family in the hands of Satan. In verse 20 we see that Job grieved and then he fell on the ground and worshiped. Job had this interesting perspective that the name of the Lord should be praised when He gives and when he takes away.  In all of it he didn’t sin or blame God.
As if all this weren’t enough, it happens again! The angels and Satan come before the Lord and God has the same conversation with Satan. Only this time Satan accuses Job of remaining faithful only because he wasn’t allowed to touch his actual body. So God, in his sovereignty, tells Satan that he can touch Job’s body, as long as he spares his life.
So immediately Satan goes out and strikes Job with a terrible skin disease.
Some of you may remember when I battled 9 months of chronic hives. I was covered from head to toe with incredibly itchy red welts that nearly drove me out of my mind. I saw every specialist possible, changed my diet, went through all kinds of tests, including skin biopsies, blood tests, and allergy tests. Nothing worked. The only thing that gave me any relief was a steroid that had terrible side effects. I was miserable and itchy and in pain. One day it stopped and hasn’t come back since. I still don’t know why that happened, but I know I can trust that God does!
Now Mrs. Job is another important character in this story, but we are left mostly wondering about her because Scripture doesn’t tell us much. In fact, it only gives us a few lines of what she has to say. This woman has also lost all of her livestock, her livelihood, her servants and worst of all, every single one of her children. She doesn’t have the same response as her husband because she tells him he should curse God and die.  Job refuses to do that, of course. Mrs. Job had to suffer all of the consequences of her husband’s test. She wasn’t privy to God’s conversation with Satan. She didn’t even have any idea that it was her husband’s test and she sure wasn’t passing it if it had been hers. She was just suffering through a test that was meant for someone else. Sometimes that happens to us too.
So this week we leave Job and his wife, possessionless, childless, bald-headed and in ashes, scraping his skin and worshiping. Quite a place to be.
But this leaves us with one looming question. If God, in his sovereignty, allowed bad things to happen to Job (and Jonah and Noah and so many others), could he do that to me too?
The answer is our second point.
       God is unchanging.

Malachi 3:6 says “For I, the Lord, do not change;”. James 1;17 tells us that the Father of lights does not change like the shifting shadows. Hebrews 13:8 says Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.
So the fact that God is unchanging means that the same God that allowed Jonah to be thrown into the ocean and sent a flood to destroy the earth is the same God that you and I serve today. He has not changed. If he wants to allow struggle and pain and hardships in your life, he will do it. If he sees fit to allow suffering to come upon you, for sickness and disease to ravage your body, he can do it. He has not changed.
But here’s the kicker: The same God that allowed Jonah to be thrown into the ocean is the same God that sent the whale to carry him safely to shore. The same God that allowed the earth to be destroyed by a flood also sent the ark to carry Noah’s family to safety. The same God that allowed sickness and disease and suffering and disaster to come to Job is the same God that (SPOILER ALERT!) will reveal himself in a mighty way to Job at the end of the book, restoring his home, his wealth and his family.
The same God that allows suffering and painis the same God that gives grace in the midst of it.

He is Sovereign.
He is unchanging.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Now listen and worship!  Sovereign and Blessed Be Your Name

A Purpose in Suffering

As we cracked open our Bibles this week to the Old Testament book of Job, some of our ladies began to ask some very thought-provoking questions. One asked how we could possibly know that word for word conversations between Job and his pals are exactly word for word. Was there a little court reporter sitting in the wings, typing all the dialogue? Another question arose about the sovereignty of God and why the Old Testament paints him in a sometimes terrifying way while the New Testament paints him in a more gentle, loving way. I love all of these questions because it means that we are digging deep in God’s Word, not just scratching the surface. If you’d like to study Job with us, I have plenty of extra books you’re welcome to purchase. It’s easy to follow along on the blog and study on your own! I hope you’ll join us in digging deep into this story of a righteous man who had everything stripped from him and had to decide if he would stick with God or turn away.

We started our study with the basic facts of Job. This book was most likely set in the time of the patriarchs – think Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Bible isn’t written in chronological order. If it were, Job would most likely be found early in between the first few chapters of the book of Genesis. Job and his peers lived in the land of Uz, which today is the northern portion of Saudi Arabia. While no one knows exactly who wrote it, it was probably passed down orally for a while before it was written down. (This is what birthed the question about the little court reporter!) We can’t discount the fact that all Scripture is literally God-breathed. Meaning, even stories that were passed down orally, like Job or the story of Creation itself, are the literal words of Almighty God. 1 Peter 1:21 tells us how these prophets were carried along by the Holy Spirit as they spoke and wrote the words of God.
The first and last sections of Job are written as prose, like a story being told. But the many chapters in between can be read as poetry. Many scholars believe that this is because of the way the book of Job was passed down orally over the generations. Poetry was easier to remember!
So why is this book included in the Scriptures? What purpose does it serve? There are several purposes. Old Testament Law was set up with a system of justice and fairness – an eye for an eye, if I kill your donkey, you can kill my donkey, etc. Job shows us that this is not always the case anymore- a new way is coming. We can never atone for our sins on our own – Someone would need to pay the price. This changes the whole system of “justice”. Second, the book of Job shows us the absolute sovereignty of God. Nothing that happened to Job happened without God specifically allowing it. Every single detail passed through his fingers before it came to Job. God is sovereign over all.
As we looked at Job 1:1-5, we discovered the character of Job – noble, upright, righteous, wealthy, rich, the greatest of all the people in the east. Job feared God and turned away from evil. And yet in the middle of his great worldly prosperity, Satan took it all away from him.
Before we go any farther, I want to acknowledge that many of you today are in the midst of painful situations. Maybe you’ve just gone through a painful time or maybe you’re in one now. If that doesn’t describe you then you can be sure that your painful time is coming. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know all the reasons for your pain and I’m certainly not trying to make assumptions about what you’re going through. If you’re hurting, I’m so sorry. I hope that our study of the book of Job will bring you comfort and encouragement.
As we read Scripture, we must remember that this is a book about GOD. Don’t read Job and immediately ask yourself how it relates to you. Instead, ask yourself “What does this say about GOD?” If we come at Scripture from this stance, it shines an entirely different light on every single thing, including suffering. Here’s what we can learn from the first chapter of Job. 
Your suffering has a purpose.
When it comes to suffering, there are two very similar purposes:
1.     Satan desires to destroy your faith.
2.     God desires to strengthen your faith.
When you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, your faith will either be strengthened or destroyed. Here’s the key: the direction your faith takes in suffering will depend largely upon the strength of your faith beforethe storm ever comes. That means the time you spend with the Lord now, when everything is fine, will have a large impact on the strength of your faith when trials come. The stronger your faith when things are going well, the stronger your faith will be when things are going badly. What will happen to your faith when the trials come? Will it be strengthened or destroyed? 
Another theme I see emerging in the book of Job is this:
Suffering always reveals who and what you worship.

Where is your treasure? In chapter one of Job, we see the most prosperous man in the east lose everything he holds dear. Yet in his grief, he worships. How can this be that in the midst of incredible pain and suffering, Job worshiped? This man valued God above his possessions, even above his children. He was ready to weather the storm because he had not put his possessions or his children or any other thing in the place that only God was meant to occupy in his heart. God was already on the throne of Job’s heart, so when everything fell away, Job’s faith in God remained steadfast.
That is not to say Job didn’t hurt. He tore his robes and shaved his head! He truly grieved over the losses he experienced. But in grieving the loss of his livelihood and his children, he didn’t sin. In his despair he remained true to the One who is Faithful and True.
As you read and study the book of Job, keep one thing at the forefront of your mind. This book, despite its name, is not about Job. This book is about God. What can we learn about His character through this book? Who is He? What are His attributes? What is He like? Why is He trustworthy?Remember, the whole Bible is about GOD and it was written so that we can know Him better. A benefit to knowing Him better is that we will rest in the shadow of his wings as the storms swirl around us.

I’d like to close with something from my own time with the Lord. Read Psalm 18. As you read this passage, ask yourself what this says about God. You’ll find so many attributes of our great God that I hope it will leave you hungry for more.

God’s Got This

Hard to believe this month we will see democracy at its finest moment as “We the People” take to the voting booth to cast our votes for the next President of the United States of America. To say this is a tumultuous time in our nation would be an understatement. But you know, every four years is “the biggest election we’ve ever experienced”. The path of our great nation continues or resets every four years. Some of those years have been our greatest moments and some would be considered only a small flicker of light. I remember Ronald Reagan as a young boy. I remember watching him, even though I really didn’t understand what all this political stuff meant at the time. He commanded attention and he was a great leader. I remember in 1986 when he spoke on the Challenger Shuttle explosion. He was my president then and at age nine, I knew it.
My parents played an informative role in my political views. They never missed a beat when it came to elections and they made sure I knew how and why they voted. They also taught me the meaning of Romans 13:1-7. That passage weighs heavy on my heart the closer we come to approaching November 8thand the change of power that will occur in January. For me to say that we have two virtuous people of character and high moral standing running for office would be…well…overstating the truth like a bass fisherman who caught a minnow but says he landed a 15 pound monster. I’ve heard many times over through the process, “This year, it is the lesser of two evils.” But that is not a great Biblical worldview approach to what we face. Evil is evil and it does not come in degrees or stages. What we have this year are two fallen people who profess one thing and do something completely different. Sound any different than people we’ve met in the Scriptures? Moses was a murderer, David an adulterer, Solomon loved too many women…yet God used each one of them.
Ultimately, this is how Paul weighs government authority in Romans 13:1-7. (Read it!) 
·      Everyone is to submit to the governing authority.  It is a command that Paul gives the church. To submit to the authority of the government is to submit to God.
·      There is NO authority except from God, and those who exist have been instituted by God. God is sovereign and His rule is sovereign in the affairs of this world.
·      To help illustrate Romans 13, Daniel concludes from King Nebuchadnezzer’s dream that God is in control, setting up and taking down kings to accomplish His perfect will. Daniel 2:27-44 &: Daniel 4:17-27
·      Paul wants you to understand that “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; He directs it like a watercourse wherever He pleases.” Proverbs 21:1. So the tyrant Roman Emperors (who were NOT Christian) like Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, had ascended to power with God’s permission, actually by His direction. According to Romans 13, they were even “instituted by God.” The three emperors mentioned above were the emperors most likely alive while Paul is writing Romans. Nero was notorious for burning Christians in his courtyard for light at night. Yet Paul can write Romans 13, and inform us to submit to the governing authority…interesting isn’t it?
So, however the election turns out, on November 9thwe, The Church, will carry on because Jesus will be on His throne, and all these issues we face today will one day be subject to Him and placed under His feet. So be encouraged, and do not let your soul be downcast.
But is there ever a time for rebellion? We do have precedent in Scripture that we can resist if the government ever decides to force us to act contrary to God’s will. In Acts 5:29 Peter stands and says, “We must obey God rather than men.” Peter was not defending marriage or the unborn or lower taxes or gun laws or free trade. Peter just wanted to share the gospel.
On moral issues and in life, we win when we share the gospel. The key to changing our nation is not a Christian in the White House, though that certainly would help. But what will change our nation is a consistent witness of the gospel with proclamation and life-style witness. What we say and what we do must match up and we do this with the power of the Holy Spirit as we surrender ourselves to God’s will.
So pray before you go and vote on November 8. But also pray after you vote! Pray and ask the Lord to stir and awaken the Church in the United States of America. Pray and ask that God will return to our Oval Office the characteristics of a Christ follower…but remember…man will always disappoint us, but for those who call on Jesus as Lord, we will not be disappointed.
I pray this has caused you to think a bit, and I hope you have prayed about your decision. I know I have agonized over this entire election cycle. But God’s got this…no matter what…God’s got this.
Dr Chris Irving
Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church of Gonzales

Redemption Received: Gomer’s Story

It may take you a few minutes to find the book of Hosea in the Old Testament, but I promise it will be worth the time to read it. Hosea isn’t one of those books we go to often, but the story we find there is a tale of love and redemption and the relationship between Hosea and Gomer will leave you in awe of the redemption God offers me and you. I really want you to read it for yourself – if you don’t have time for fourteen chapters and want to read the condensed version, just read this:

Hosea 1:2-10, 3:1-3, 6:1, 14:1-2    
Hosea was a prophet who lived and ministered sometime between 753BC and 687BC. He was a mouthpiece for the Lord during a time when people didn’t have Bible apps on phones in their pockets. God commanded him to marry a sexually immoral woman – a prostitute, an adulteress, a harlot. Probably not quite the match that Hosea was anticipating. He obeyed the Lord (willingly? bitterly? We don’t really know.) He took Gomer as his wife and together they had three children, Jezreel, “No Mercy” and “Not My People”. What names! It might’ve seemed to Hosea that he was being punished by the Lord with a harlot wife and children who weren’t loved. 
But God had another plan.
You see, Gomer’s life was not about her. Neither was Hosea’s about him. God wasn’t concerned with their happiness or their prosperity. He wasn’t bothered with their reputations, their social standing or their positions. Gomer and Hosea were put on this earth to illustrate the redemption story of God’s people. Gomer and Hosea point us to Jesus’s redemption of you and me. They were made for something bigger than themselves.
Hosea took Gomer for a wife but it wasn’t long before she went back to her old way of life. Promiscuity seemed more alluring to her than faithfulness. Most men would’ve washed their hands of such a “dirty” woman, but Hosea pursued Gomer. My favorite words in the whole book of Hosea are found in chapter 3, verse 2 when Hosea says, “So I bought her”. God told him to go get her back. She came at a price though and Hosea came ready to pay up. He bought her back from the pit she had chosen and redeemed her again. 
The whole idea that God loves us so much that he would find us in the midst of our sin, the pit that we have deliberately chosen, is an idea I have a hard time wrapping my head around. But just as Hosea paid the price to redeem Gomer, Jesus Christ has redeemed us on the cross by paying the price with his own blood. There’s nothing good in you or me that makes us worthy of such redemption and that’s the beauty of it. It’s a gift. Free. We can’t earn it and we don’t deserve it. Gomer didn’t deserve it, but Hosea bought her back. You don’t deserve it but Jesus bought you back.
Hosea 6:1 says,
Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.

The pit that you may find yourself in is not one that is too far to receive the gift of redemption. There’s nothing too bad, nothing too terrible that God will not redeem. He gave his only son, Jesus, so that he could pay the price for you, even while you were still in that pit. Don’t stay torn and struck down. Turn to him and he promises to heal you and bind you up. What a precious promise!
And keep in mind that your story is not about you. It’s all about Him and His redeeming love.