Job – Be Patient

An eighty-two year old mother called her daughter the other day and said, “I’m going to get married.”Ê

The daughter said, “You are what?”Ê

The mother replied, “I’m getting married Saturday.”Ê

“You mean this Saturday?” the daughter replied.Ê

“That’s right. This Saturday my friend and I will be married.”Ê

“Now, mother,” the daughter responded, “please wait until my visit in March. We can talk about it, and I’ll be at your wedding if that’s what you want.”Ê

“No,” the mother answered emphatically, “when you’re my age, you don’t wait. You just do it.”Ê

I guess one would say this mother lacked patience. She wasn’t going to postpone her wedding for anyone, not even her daughter.

Patience is golden, but it is an attribute lacking in many of us. That’s why I want Job to be a member of my spiritual cabinet. He’ll fit with the other three Biblical characters who are helping me grow spiritually this year. The others are:Ê

Abraham who says, “Trust God.”

Samuel who counsels, “Learn to listen to God.”Ê

Joseph who emphasizes, “Learn to forgive.”Ê

Job lived about 600 years before Jesus. Life was good to Job. He was wealthy, healthy, and had a good family. All was going fine until Satan and God got into a heated conversation about Job. “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him. He is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”Ê

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

“Very well, then, everything is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger,” the Lord said to Satan (Job 1:8f). In a short period of time Job’s wealth was taken from him, and then he received word that his sons and daughters had perished in a tornado.Ê

Job was crushed, but he never blamed God for causing all this to happen. Rather, he responded by saying, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (1:21).Ê

That’s patience!Ê

Satan came back and continued the conversation with God. When God reminded Satan that Job maintained his integrity, though his possessions and family had been taken from him, Satan replied, “Skin for skin. A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”Ê

The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands, but you must spare his life” (2:4-6).Ê

Soon Job was afflicted with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. In his suffering, Job’s wife said to him, “Are you still hanging on to your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9).Ê

Hearing this Job rebuked his wife, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?”Ê

That’s patience!Ê

Job could have expected his wife to comfort him, but no one was there to offer him any words of encouragement in an hour of pain and deep need.

Ê

Then came three friends to sympathize with Job. When they saw him, these men were filled with such sorrow, they could not speak to him for seven days. Finally, Eliphaz, one of the friends, said, “You used to tell others they should not be discouraged when difficulties came to them. Now you have been afflicted, and you sit there feeling sorry for yourself and are discouraged.

Have you ever considered why you are suffering? Suffering is a sign of God’s displeasure. It presupposes that the one suffering has done something displeasing to God. What are you hiding from us, Job? What have you done that angered God?”Ê

Job did not claim to be sinless, but he refused to admit that he had been so wicked, God was punishing him. God had permitted great evil and pain to afflict Job, but his faith was strong. At this point, Job spoke these immortals words which are quoted so often by others whose trust is in God, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” (Job 13:15) He was telling his friends that his faith in God was not based on his emotions, which could fluctuate on any given day depending on the circumstances, but on God’s promises. I do not praise Him when he blesses me and deny Him when sorrow comes to me.

God is bigger than my emotions. God does not send the dark hours into my life; but when they come, He uses them to convince me more than ever that He is with me.Ê

That’s patience!Ê

You would have thought the friends would have stopped torturing Job with their arguments, but they didn’t. Job could not explain why all this had happened to him, but once again he came forth with words pointing to eternity that never die: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. After my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes Ñ I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me” (Job 19:25-27). Perhaps we will never know the answer to some of our problems, but one day, when we stand before God, all things will be revealed. Patience, Patience!Ê

Christians never cease to be amazed at how patient God is with us. How often, in rebellion, we turn our backs on God and go our own way. Why doesn’t He give up on us? That’s the big question. How apathetic we often are when God has challenged us to make His will known, but to speak offensive words to our culture would be too costly, so our silence becomes another form of denial.Ê

How then can we, who are the recipients of God’s patience, be so impatient with God when He does not respond immediately to our every request? We’re like the 82-year-old woman who wanted to get married, and was not going to wait for her daughter to come in March. God, I want it, and I want it now.

Heal my disease, convert my child, mold my spouse to think as I do that there may be peace and harmony in our home, and the list goes on and on. We become angry with God when He does not fit into our time schedule in answering our demands.Ê

What about our patience with people, especially those who are the closest to us. How difficult it is to be patient with the person whose ways irrate us. My wife describes an evening scene in our home. I arrived home at 6:00. We ate dinner, and I sat down and read the paper. At 6:45 I reminded her that we had a 7:30 meeting. If she was a few minutes late in getting ready, I said, “Hurry up. We have to go. We want to be on time.” I didn’t help with the dishes. I didn’t think about coming home a few minutes early so we would not have to rush. It used to irritate her. Now she laughs about how disgusted it made her. But I don’t laugh. I hate it when she tells this story. How unthoughtful and impatient I was. I am an inpatient person, and that’s why I need to have Job on my board of directors.

Amen.

Joseph – Forgive

How do I learn to forgive? This is a question that all people must answer if they want to live a happy life. In a sinful, fallen world, we will be hurt by others. Some of these hurts will be intentional. How do we react to these hurts? If we let them lie in our minds and souls, they can make us bitter people carrying around a lot of spiritual garbage. Storing grudges is a savings program we cannot have if we want to be healthy, happy people. Just waiting for the day when we can get even with that person who has hurt us badly is not a good long-range-planning program.

Joseph is the person on my spiritual board of directors who teaches me what forgiveness is all about. The story of Joseph’s life is recorded in Genesis 30 – 50. Joseph’s father, Jacob, had twelve sons from two wives and two concubines. Rachel, the mother of Joseph, was his favorite wife, and there is no question that Joseph was the son he loved the most.

This favoritism towards Joseph made the other brothers jealous of Joseph, and the result was a dysfunctional family. The Bible tells us, “Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. When his brothers realized that their father loved Joseph more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.”

Imagine what an unhappy life that was for Joseph. He was shunned by his siblings and not accepted as one of them. To put it in today’s picture, Joseph wasn’t invited to socialize with them. He was ignored and rejected. Can anything hurt more than rejection? It was in that environment Joseph lived.

For years the brothers lived with the dream of one day getting even with Joseph. They lived with vengeance and hate, which added to their unhappiness. Then came the day for which they had been waiting.

Jacob sent Joseph miles from home to check on his brothers who were tending cattle out in the hills. As they saw Joseph coming, they said, “Here comes the dreamer! Let’s kill him, throw him in to one of these cisterns and say that an animal devoured him” (Genesis 37:19-20).

Reuben, the oldest brother, did not want to kill Joseph and convinced his brothers to throw him into the cistern, but let him live. It was Reuben’s plan to return to the cistern, rescue Joseph, and send him back to his father. But while Reuben was absent, some Ishmaelites came along, and the brothers sold Joseph to these peddlers for 20 pieces of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt where he fell into the good graces of Pharaoh by interpreting a dream for the king. He told Pharaoh that, in his dream, God had revealed to him that, during the next seven years Egypt would have a bumper crop, but it would be followed by seven years of famine. He counseled Pharaoh to find a wise man who would collect some of the food during the good years to assure the Egyptians of plenty during the famine that was to follow.

Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you” (Genesis 41:40-41).

Joseph obeyed the king’s orders, and the grain was stored in preparation for the famine. When the famine became serious, people came from the surrounding areas to buy food. In the crowds were Joseph’s brothers.

They did not recognize Joseph, but he recognized them, and later told them who he was. The brothers panicked wondering if Joseph would pay them back for what they had done to him. After all, isn’t that the way this world acts? Maybe Joseph had lived with a grudge toward these brothers who had made life so miserable for him all the years he was growing up. They never spoke a kind word to him. Now it was his

time to make them miserable by letting them live with intense fear in their hearts. Why should he show mercy to these scoundrels who had sold him for 20 pieces of silver? But such was not the case. Joseph had experienced God’s loving and protecting hand over him. He knew that daily God had to forgive him, and now it was his time to show love and kindness towards these brothers.

When Joseph saw their fear, he said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good and to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So don’t be afraid. I will provide for you, and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them (Genesis 50:19-21).

With those words, Joseph’s brothers experienced what forgiveness was all about, and we simply have to believe that they became forgiving people.

The point of this sermon is to learn from scripture. You don’t learn forgiveness from a book or sitting in a classroom or church, no matter how talented the speaker might be. You learn how to forgive people who have hurt you only when you have experienced what it is to be forgiven yourself.

Jesus talks often about forgiveness. Remember the day Peter asked Jesus how often he had to forgive a person? The Law said he must forgive seven times, but Jesus said, “No, Peter. Not seven times, but seventy times seven.” In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Only when I see myself as a sinner who has broken God’s Law and experiences His forgiveness, can I become a forgiving person. God’s Law tells me to forgive, but only His grace can give me the power to forgive. This forces us back to the cross. There we see the price Christ paid that our sins might be forgiven. There we begin to understand how often He, in His boundless love, forgives us. The offenses of others might anger us. We might entertain thoughts of getting even with those who have harmed us, but to carry that spirit for a period of time is impossible if we walk daily with the Lord. So, as a person who is always anxious to be forgiven, but not always ready to forgive, I must add Joseph to my spiritual cabinet.

Now each day:

Abraham says, “Trust God.”

Samuel counsels, “Keep still and listen to God.”

Joseph emphasizes, “Forgive, forgive, forgive.”

With those mighty voices surrounding me on a daily basis, I become a new person in Jesus Christ. The old is passing away.

Samuel – Speak, Lord. Your Servant Is Listening

Last Sunday in my sermon, I referred to a devotional article that caught my attention. It mentioned that all corporations have a board of directors who share their expertise and experience in helping the executive officers make wise decisions in running the company.

Would it not be wise for a Christian to have such a board of directors who bring their experiences with the Lord to him or her? This counsel might be helpful in growing spiritually. I thought this was a good idea, and I have chosen eight people to serve on my board of directors for 2001.

Last Sunday I introduced my first director. His name is Abraham, known in the scriptures as a person of faith. Even when life didn’t make sense, Abraham trust God for the answers. Today I introduce a second director. He is a lesser-known Biblical person, but one who needs to be heard. He tells us to be quiet and listen, for the Lord is speaking and has something to say to us.

For years a woman named Hannah prayed that God would bless her with a son. The Bible tells us, “She made a vow, saying, ‘O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life’” (I Samuel 1:17f).

The Lord answered her prayer, and Samuel was born. When he was old enough to be separated from his mother, Hannah brought him to the temple and introduced Samuel to Eli. The mother said to Eli, “As surely as you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord. I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life, he will be given over to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord there (I Samuel 1:24f).

One night Eli was in bed, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord where the ark of the covenant was. Then the Lord spoke to Samuel, but he thought it was Eli calling, so he ran to Eli’s room and said, “Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I didn’t call; go back and lie down.” This happened two more times, and Eli realized that it was the Lord calling Samuel, so he said to Samuel, “If you hear the voice again, say, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’”

Sure enough, the Lord spoke to Samuel again, and Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” God told Samuel that Eli’s sons had made themselves contemptible, and their father had failed to control them. Now he was going to punish Eli and all of Israel.

In the morning Samuel was hesitant to tell Eli what the Lord had said to him, but Eli demanded that he be told everything. So Samuel shared with Eli what God had told him. Israel would be punished because Eli’s sons were wicked, and the father knew of their wickedness, but did not correct them.

When Eli heard this, he replied, “He is the Lord; let Him do what is good in His eyes” (I Samuel 3:18).

From that day on, Samuel was destined to become Israel’s leader. The Lord was with Samuel, and Israel received him as a prophet of the Lord. Samuel’s strength as a leader was his ability to listen when the Lord spoke to him. Because Samuel first listened to the Lord, and then spoke, he had a message to bring that had meaning.

One of the hardest lessons some of us have to learn is to listen. We would rather talk. Because of this fault, we cheat ourselves out of receiving the Lord’s counsel thinking. We think we can run our own lives. Or, we may look to humans for guidance, which is not always adequate.

God continually reminds us of the need to listen when He speaks. He used Solomon to bring us the same message, “There is a time to be silent, and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7). It is in this quiet time that God speaks. But if we are so busy that there is no quiet time, when does God get our attention?

James writes, “Everyone should be quick to listen and slow to speak.” This is the same advice that comes to us. Don’t you think that Samuel should be on the board of directors for every Christian to hear his counsel on listening? I wonder how many times each day Samuel will need to tap us on the shoulder and say in language we understand, Shut up and listen. God is giving you the answer. Do you want to act this way, or say these things after listening to him?

Learning to listen comes early in life. During the Christmas holidays, I was in a large department store. A three-year-old and his mother were doing some shopping, and the little guy was tired. He wanted something that the mother was not going to give him. As usual, he began to cry and shout until she took him firmly by the arm and say, “Now listen to me.” She was not successful in getting his attention, so the mother picked him up and hurriedly left the story feeling, I am sure, that all eyes were on her and the unruly kid who had not yet learned to listen.

There is some of that attitude in all of us. How hard it is to listen to what is being said. God often is telling us to listen to Him. You see, it is more that just listening. It is listening to the right voice. If you are listening to the wrong people, you can be in a lot of trouble. That is where some of our problems come. Many of us do not want to listen to anyone. We are sufficient unto ourselves, but if it is necessary to get some other ideas on the subject, we turn to those who will only lead us down the wrong path. How sad to let His voice remain silent in our lives.

God speaks to us clearly in His Word. That means each day we need to get a word from Him. Simply put, we need to pick up our Bible just as regularly as we pick up the newspaper and learn from Him. He speaks to us through the voices of those who have lived with Him a long time, and have something to tell us. My wife has often been the voice of God when I impulsively was doing something contrary to God’s will. While the sermon might be lacking in many ways, I always find that God is saying something to me that I need to hear. As we were preparing for our Christmas service, the pastor placed in the bulletin a well- worded invitation for people to come and hear the Christmas Gospel. He then asked us to send this invitation to some unchurched friend. What a great idea, and I vowed to do it. But to my chagrin, I found the invitation on my desk the day after Christmas. God had spoken through the pastor’s suggestion. I had listened, but did not act. How sad. Is there any wonder that more people do not hear the Gospel when others act as I did?

My prayer is that I will do a better job listening to my counselor, Samuel, in 2001. I also pray that God’s voice may find its way into many listening ears this year. I pray that leaders of our nation will give God time to speak to them. It is my prayer that the Bible will be open and read in the oval office. I pray that it will be taken seriously by the leaders in our denomination headquarters. Help these people to focus on the primary mission of the Church — to bring the Gospel of Christ to our world. Help them to hear God’s voice speaking when the difficult social issues of our day must be addressed. May it be God’s voice, and not the voice of the sociologists and psychologists, that lead us as a Church. It is my prayer that parents will listen first to the voice of God in raising their children.

It is my prayer that, in people’s personal lives, Christ may be heard. If the person lives outside of a relationship with God and is not saved, he may hear the voice of the Savior calling him. May those who are contemplating marriage hear the voice of the Lord telling them not to be yoked to unbelievers. May those young people wondering what to do with their lives hear God’s voice counseling them to serve Him in whatever they decide to do. And for those of us who are the retirees, let us remember that God speaks to us also. These are years when great things can be done for Him, or they can be wasted in self-centered living. God has more in mind for us than golf and bridge.

When it is so natural for me to talk, and so unnatural to listen, I need Samuel. He has to be around the cabinet table telling me on a daily basis to keep still and listen. Only after I have listened to what my Heavenly Father has to say, will I have much to offer others when I speak.

Trust Him – It will Work Out

During the past few weeks we have observed our President-elect, George W. Bush, nominating his cabinet. He looks for people with expertise and experience who will assist him in making critical decisions which will affect our nation. President Bush lacks in knowledge and experience in dealing with international problems, but Colin Powell knows many of the world leaders well and is acquainted with the ongoing conflicts, so the President will look to him for help as the Secretary of State. The final decisions will be made by President Bush, but expert counsel will be extremely valuable.

The November 1, 2000 devotion in “Our Daily Bread” had an interesting thought which caught my attention. It reads, “All corporations have a board of directors. So do most churches, schools, and nonprofit organizations. But do you have one? Richard Leider, a career consultant, encourages individuals to choose a personal board of directors as part of a plan for maintaining health and vitality. They can be people who are alive today or who lived in the past, known to you personally or only through their writings and accomplishments. They are people from whom you would seek advice.”

I have chosen eight people from the Bible who would serve well on my cabinet or board of directors. During the next eight weeks, God willing, I would like to introduce my board of directors to you through the sermons. I would encourage you to draw up your own list. Yours would not be the same as mine, but I challenge you to look through the Bible and select people who could help you in living the Christian life on a daily basis.

These Biblical personalities have their counterparts in today’s society. You are acquainted with some of these people. They might be called your assistant cabinet members.

My first cabinet member is Abraham. His counsel to me is, Trust Him. It will all work out. God will provide.

Many people use this statement carelessly. Oh, don’t worry. It will all work out.

It is the expression of some who lack responsibility. They are often undependable and unreliable people. There is no rationale for their behavior, but they pacify their reckless decisions by sweeping their actions under the carpet saying, “So what! It’ll all work out.” I know of a person who is hopelessly in debt. She has used three credit cards to the maximum. Most of the purchases were items she did not need. When asked how she hoped to pay this debt, she responded, “I don’t. This would be impossible on my income, but I’ll take the next step by filing bankruptcy.”

When Abraham says, “It’ll all work out,” he was not advocating irresponsible behavior. God had given him a promise. The covenant between God and Abraham is recorded in Genesis 12 where God says, “I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you. I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing” (verse 2). What a promise. How was it all going to happen?

Abraham had no idea, but God had spoken and he would trust Him. During the years when Abraham was given no children, he began to ask God some questions. “You have given me no children, so a servant in my household will be my heir.” (How can I become the father of this great nation you have promised to me?) (15:3)

Then the Lord took Abraham outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars Ñ if indeed you can count them. So shall your offspring be.”

It didn’t make sense to Abraham, because Sarah was well beyond the age of child-bearing. But living with God’s promise, Abraham said, “It will all work out.” Sure enough, it did. Then came the day when Sarah gave birth to the child, and he was named Isaac.

Abraham watched Isaac grow, and he loved him. What a shock it must have been when the Lord sent another message saying, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

While Abraham must have thought, “It doesn’t make sense.” God had spoken, and so the next morning he, Isaac, and the donkey were on the way to do what the Lord had commanded. Finally, Isaac began to have questions. “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” he asked.

Abraham replied, “God, Himself, will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” In other words, Abraham said it will all work out. This was not reckless thinking. His faith was based on the promise of God.

Arriving at their destination, Abraham built the altar and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his arm and took the knife to kill his son. But an angel of the Lord cried out, “Abraham, do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Abraham looked around and saw a ram caught by its horns. He took the ram and sacrificed it as the burnt offering instead of his son. (From Genesis 22)

This is the story of Abraham, a man of faith. Two thousand years later the writer of the book of Hebrews refers to this incident and Abraham’s faith in the Lord. Abraham had defined faith with his actions. It is us placing ourselves in the hands of Almighty God and trusting Him, believing that, on the promise of His promises, “It will all work out.”

Are there people today who trust Christ in this way? To some degree there are.

I saw this faith in the life of Pam and Jim when they left for an outpost in the Cameroons. They went to translate the Bible into the native language of a particular tribe so that those people could hear the story of God’s love in Christ.

I saw that kind of faith in the life of Joan when her husband walked off and left her with four lively children and few financial resources.

I saw that faith in the life of Paul when the oncologist told him it was not whether or not he was going to die, but when. “I know that I might not be here long, but it will all work out.” I have stood in his pulpit now for a year and watched that faith grow stronger and stronger. It is not irresponsible thinking. It is trusting the promises of God.

I saw it in the life of my mother-in-law. She had raised ten children. Now they were adults. When difficulties came her way, as they do to all of us, she simply said, “It will all work out alright.” It did. At 78 years of age, she made a brief visit to the homes of all her children. Returning home, one of her sons went to the train station in Omaha to greet her. He saw her get off the train and then he lost her in the crowd. She had fallen to the ground and died of a massive heart attack. Now she was at home with the Lord. She trusted the promises of God and it all worked out well. Her continual counsel to the family was, “Trust Him.”

Those who do trust Him live much happier lives. We get rid of a bundle of cares as it becomes evident we are not in control of our lives when it comes to the big matters of life.

Yes, for a person who often wonders about the future, I need to be told to accept God’s promises. Trust Him. Then everything will work out alright. Abraham demonstrated that faith. That’s why I need him as a part of my cabinet or on my board of directors.