Seeking Comfort

Man praying. St Patricks cathedral. New York. USA.

Please turn; let no injustice be done. Turn now; my vindication is at stake.
Job 6:29

During my last year of seminary, I took a class called “Pastoral Counseling.”

I don’t know if it was an elective or a required class, but if it isn’t required it certainly should be!

This class taught us the rudiments of being a pastoral counselor. In many ways, we learned how much we truly don’t know.

And of all the things that I did learn in that class, one of the most important lessons was to never say, “I know how you feel.”

As a pastor, I have sat with mothers and fathers whose child has died. I do not know the pain of that kind of loss. So I could never say, “I know how you feel.”

I have sat with husbands whose wives have left them and moved in with their adulterous partner. Again, I could never say, “I know how you feel.”

That may seem obvious. But there is a great temptation to not only say that but to also try to give an explanation for why these kinds of things happen.

But the stark reality and truth is that there is no way I can readily explain why these things happen.

Why do some parents face the death of their child? Why do some couples choose adultery and divorce?

I don’t know how they feel and I don’t have the answer to why.

Yet still people come to me, “Pastor, can I talk to you?” “Pastor, can you help me through this?”

The best answer I can lead with is, “I can only imagine how you feel.” But even then I find that isn’t very helpful.

So in most cases I will just sit with the person and listen to them. I may read a portion of Scripture if there is one that can specifically bring comfort to the situation they are facing. And I will most certainly pray with them. Right there. Right then.

Eliphaz’s mistake – or, at least one of them – is that he thinks he knows why Job is suffering the way he is. His next mistake is to tell Job this. In no uncertain terms.

Job’s answer is multi-fold.

“I have done nothing wrong.” And in Job’s case, it is true. While still a sinner, Job hasn’t done anything specifically wrong that led to his children dying, his wealth drying up, and his health deteriorating.

“I wish I had never been born.” This is Job speaking in despair. I have found the only reply to this is to tell the person they are loved and just sit with them, be with them, and pray with them.

“Help me.” Job reaches out to his friends for help. He may be seeking answers on some level, but mostly I think Job is just asking his friends to be there for him.

“Please turn….”

“Turn now….”

When Jesus finally showed up in Bethany after his friend Lazarus died, he didn’t approach Mary and Martha with answers or reasons. He simple loved them and was with them.

There is a dialogue between Jesus and Martha – one that only Jesus can have.

But when both sisters were there at the graveside, all Jesus did as first was weep with them.

But then Jesus did only what Jesus could do – he raised Lazarus from the dead!

Job is not seeking miracles from his friends. He isn’t even seeking miracles from God – although that is what he will get … eventually!

Job is simply seeking comfort and togetherness.

That is what we must give to our friends. Not answers. Not reasons. Just love and comfort that we ourselves have through Jesus Christ.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Journey to Calvary – Lent 2016 Devotions available here.

Read past devotions at the True Man Blog here.

Contribute to True Men Ministries to help keep this devotional going here.

Listen to the True Man Podcast here.

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Encouragement

Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty.
Job 5:17

Running the mile in high school P.E. class was never something I looked forward to. I hated running, mostly because I was overweight and couldn’t do it in under 10 minutes (to get a passing grade).

But there was one aspect of running the mile that helped buoy my spirits.

There were a handful of people who, having finished the run, stood around the track, especially at the finish line, and encouraged those still running.

encouragement2“You can do it!” they would shout.

“Keep going!” they would encourage.

Having already gone through the grueling run, they knew what it was like to run it and to complete it, so they would encourage those still running.

When Eliphaz speaks to Job, I imagine this is what he thinks he is trying to do for Job.

He talks about God discipling people. He talks about how the innocent will eventually be saved.

Eliphaz may have been trying to encourage Job to become as one of the innocent or lowly by repenting of his sin that he surely has committed – which is why he’s lost his wealth, his children, and his health.

But Eliphaz is not speaking for God. Whether inadvertently or not, Eliphaz is speaking for Satan.

Satan wants Job to “curse God and die.” He wants Job – and all the rest of us – to believe that God is only to be believed in and worshiped when he actually does good for us.

In Job chapter 5, Satan twists the words of God to try to get Job to fall away from God.

Through Eliphaz, Satan twists God’s word:

[God] gives rain on the earth and sends waters on the fields (Job 5:10).

What God actually says is:

For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:45).

The twist is that Satan is trying to convince Job that God will only do good for him if he repents of his specific sin.

But Job knows that he has not committed any specific sin! And he’s correct! Job doesn’t know why he’s suffered in this way, but he does know that it is not because he has sinned in any specific way.

Chapter 5 is a subtle twisting of God’s Word by Satan, but it is there.

And Job sees through it. As we’re going to explore in our next devotion.

It is so very important that we understand a few things – like Job did:

We believe in God not because he gives us good things. We believe in God because God loves us.

God doesn’t love us because we do good things. We do good things because God loves us.

When bad things happen to us, it isn’t because God hates us. It is because God loves us and wants us to understand why we love him and how much we love him.

This is where Job is going to get “messy” and difficult. I encourage you to stick with me as we unpack this more in the upcoming devotions.

©2017 True Men Ministries

______________________________________

Journey to Calvary – Lent 2016 Devotions available here.

Read past devotions at the True Man Blog here.

Contribute to True Men Ministries to help keep this devotional going here.

Listen to the True Man Podcast here.

Subscribe to In My Father’s Footsteps here.

Reactions

Who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off?
Job 4:7

When I was a freshman in high school, I had Mr. Seiler for Freshman Physics. It sounds more daunting than it probably was for most students (although I found it extremely challenging because of all the math involved).

One of the things I do remember learning from Mr. Seiler was Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

We learned this by pushing on a small car. The harder we pushed, the further the car went.

Unfortunately, I also learned about the Third Law of Motion while driving my own car when I was 19. No one was hurt, but the other car also went pretty far when I hit it from behind!

The idea that one action leads to another action runs through nature and is not relegated to just motion.

If I hit my big toe hard on the edge of the couch, I will hurt it and be tempted to say bad words.

If I climb a ladder onto the roof my garage and it slips out from under me on a warm February day, I will fall to the ground and break my wrist requiring surgery, pins and a metal plate.

If I study diligently for a test in a Gospel of Matthew Class – after listening intently, doing all my homework throughout the semester, asking questions, and talking often with the professor – I will get an “A” on that test.

But the idea of “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” isn’t universal. And that’s part of the lesson of the Book of Job.

Job lost his wealth, his health, and his ten children. He had gone through a seven-day mourning period.

Three of his friends came and Sat Shiva with him. They followed the protocol of Sitting Shiva by not speaking unless Job spoke first.

Job finally speaks after seven days. He curses the day he was born.

This allows his friends to respond.

Eliphaz is the first to speak.

And what Eliphaz says is not comforting to Job nor would it be to anyone.

He says, and I’m paraphrasing, “If something bad happened to you, you must have deserved it.”

His words: “Remember: who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off? As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same” (Job 4:7-8).

I imagine that if my child had died and one of my friends came up to me and said, “You must have done something bad to deserve this” then that person wouldn’t be my friend anymore.

In Job’s case, his friends are dupes. They are being used by Satan.

Remember, all this is happening to Job because God allowed Satan to do all this. Satan didn’t stop with the taking away of wealth, health, and progeny.

Satan is still at work trying to get Job to give up his faith in God. Or in the words of Job’s wife (also a dupe of Satan), “Curse God and die!”

I don’t think these dupes know they are being dupes, but they are using the words of Satan to try to bring down Job.

roaring-lionIn verse 10 Eliphaz says, “The roar of the lion, the voice of the fierce lion, the teeth of the young lions are broken.”

Interesting! St. Peter said, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

Satan uses similar tactics on us!

Eliphaz might have realized that his words to Job came from a demonic realm if he were listening to himself, “A spirit glided past my face; the hair of my flesh stood up. It stood still, but I could not discern its appearance. A form was before my eyes; there was silence, then I heard a voice: ‘Can mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker?” (Job 4:15-17)

Sounds like a demon to me! And the questions about God? Sounds awfully familiar to Satan’s questions of Eve in the Garden of Eden!

When something bad happens to us, I pray that a man or woman of God will come to comfort us with the sure and certain words of hope that come from God’s Holy Word alone.

Words like, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16-17).

And, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39).

©2017 True Men Ministries

______________________________________

Journey to Calvary – Lent 2016 Devotions available here.

Read past devotions at the True Man Blog here.

Contribute to True Men Ministries to help keep this devotional going here.

Listen to the True Man Podcast here.

Subscribe to In My Father’s Footsteps here.

 

Cursing the Day You Were Born

After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth.
Job 3:1

About thirteen years ago, I was working in my church office when a phone call came in. It was from a family of dairy farmers that were members of a sister congregation. Their pastor was out of the country and I was covering for him in case of emergencies. This was such a time.

There had been an accident at the farm. One of the children had been killed by a farm implement. Could I come and help the family?

I went out there. Mom was at the kitchen table. In shock, she told me what happened. After I sat and prayed with her I went out to the barn.

Dad was out there, taking care of the cows. He, too, was in shock. But you can’t just stop working on a dairy farm. I stood with him a while and prayed with him.

childs-casketA few days later, I presided at the funeral. This little boy was only four years old. Same age as my youngest son. I had never preached at a funeral for a child. It was very difficult for me. The little boy even resembled my son! But my difficulty was nothing compared to this family’s.

What I said to them was that we were not made to bury our own children. Death was not part of the plan at all, but certainly the death of one of our children was not something that parents should have to go through.

Yet, some do. And I told them to take heart, because they have a God who knows exactly how they feel. God the Father, too, buried his own Son, Jesus!

Still, because of the death of Jesus, this little boy was now in heaven living forever. And there will be a happy reunion with him and all those who fall asleep – die – in Jesus.

Job also knew the pain of burying his own children. Losing his wealth and his health, he also lost all ten of his children and after seven days of mourning in silence, Job finally speaks.

He pens a poem that reveals the depth of his grief, at the bottom of which is this thought: he wished he had never been born.

In his depressed state of mind, he feels that if he had not been born – or worse, died in child birth – then none of this would have happened.

In a sense, I guess he’s right. It seems logical that if Job had not been born his children would not have been born and then they wouldn’t have died.

Job becomes quite poetic in spelling out this thought of his.

And then Job says something profound: Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in? (Job 3:23).

Normally, when the Bible says that God “hedges” someone in it is for their protection. But in this context, it seems to mean that God has condemned Job to a prison of pain and sorrow. He goes on living while his children lay buried in the ground.

For all the good things that Job is said to have been, “blameless,” “steadfast,” “not sinning with his lips,” now he is starting to lash out in pain and anger.

He also already said that God gives and God takes away. But now it seems that Job is saying, “But I don’t have to like it.”

Not knowing the reason for all this happening to him, we might be inclined to cut Job a break.

But Job has to go through all of this to learn what he – and we – are supposed to learn from it.

Patience. Trust. Integrity. Faith.

As do we, when we are faced with temptations and trials. We must go through them all the way.

But we go through them with God. He will be right there with us. As it says in Psalm 23, “Yea, thought I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, thou are with me.

And he is. God is with us. Our God who knows the sorrow of burying a Son and the joy that awaits those who have faith in his Son – the joy of resurrection and reunion and never ending life in heaven!

©2017 True Men Ministries

______________________________________

Journey to Calvary – Lent 2016 Devotions available here.

Read past devotions at the True Man Blog here.

Contribute to True Men Ministries to help keep this devotional going here.

Listen to the True Man Podcast here.

Subscribe to In My Father’s Footsteps here.

 

Sitting Shiva

And [Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar] sat with [Job] on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.
Job 2:13

The first time I ever saw a dead body was at the funeral of my grandfather.

It was weird, seeing him just lying there. He kind-of looked like he was asleep, but I knew better.

When my grandfather slept he made all kinds of noises. He wasn’t now. He also tended to jerk around some. He wasn’t now.

Most people go through their whole life seeing maybe a dozen or two dead bodies – attending funerals of loved ones and friends. The number tends to increase the older you get and the older your friends and family get.

But as a pastor for going on 22 years, I have been averaging 30-35 funerals per year. It’s an occupational thing, to be sure.

But I guess I never really thought about how many dead bodies I would see as a pastor when I was in school.

I’ve been to homes just as the funeral director gets there or even before he does. I’ve been in the hospital room or hospice room as death occurs.

And no matter how many times I witness death, I always have the same fear.

What do I say?

sitting-shivaThe best thing to say is … nothing at all. There is a Jewish custom about this called “Sitting Shiva.”

Shiva is the week-long period of mourning following a loved one’s death. During this time, family members traditionally gather to receive visitors. The word “shiva” means seven, signifying the seven-day mourning period in which mourners are supposed to sit low to the ground.

This is what Job’s three friends initially do upon hearing about the death of his ten children.

Take a look at this video from Matt Popovits on “What do say at a funeral.” Make sure your speakers are on and your sound is turned up on your computer.

The best thing about Matt’s video is when he says:

Death sucks.

God is good.

Jesus is fixing it.

When someone you know suffers the death of a loved one, just be there for them.

Sit with them. Pray for them. Offer them specific help, “Can I bring you a casserole on Thursday?” (I’m Lutheran, so casseroles are my go-to comfort food.)

Job’s three friends Sit Shiva with him for seven days. They get down in the dirt with Job. They grieve with him.

And that’s a good thing.

But after they are given permission to speak – because Job speaks first – they do some rather unhelpful things. That’s coming up in a future devotion.

©2017 True Men Ministries

______________________________________

Journey to Calvary – Lent 2016 Devotions available here.

Read past devotions at the True Man Blog here.

Contribute to True Men Ministries to help keep this devotional going here.

Listen to the True Man Podcast here.

Subscribe to In My Father’s Footsteps here.

Thinking Ahead

Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes.
Job 2:7-8

Wealth is fleeting. Health is perishable.

The only thing that is eternal is our soul and God.

So, what do we focus on?

In a recent family devotion, I asked my family the question, “If you knew this was going to be your last day on earth, what would you do?’

My sixteen-year-old said, “Eat junk food.”

My eighteen-year-old said, “Drink a lot of soda pop.”

My wife said, “Spend time with family and eat cheese cake.”

chips-and-cheese-dipAnd I said, “Spend time with family.” I didn’t tell them that I would also eat an entire bag of potato chips with jalapeño cheese sauce.

The truth, however, is that we never really know when our last day in this life will be. It could be today. It could be 80 years from now.

When I was a teenager, I was immortal. Well, at least I felt I was immortal. I never thought of my own death. I ate pretty much what I wanted to. I didn’t really take care of myself physically because I wasn’t thinking of “down the road.”

It wasn’t long, however, that I discovered the truth, “You are only immortal for a limited time.”

I was at the doctor’s office the other day. In the last year, I’ve started to take my health seriously. With the doctor’s advice, counseling, and prescription pad I was able to lower my cholesterol to a safe level. I was also able to lower my weight to more manageable and healthy poundage.

But being nearly 52, some things are too late. I asked about the sagging skin around my middle. “Will that shrink back into shape?” I asked him.

He said no. It had been too long and I’ve gotten too long in the tooth for that to happen. If I want to get rid of the sagging skin that used to be propped up by fat, I will first have to commit to keep the pounds off and then see a plastic surgeon.

He said that if I had committed to this healthier lifestyle when I was younger, I wouldn’t have this problem.

If only I had listened to those who were trying to tell me exactly that when I was younger.

But I was “immortal” and didn’t think about the future so much. I just didn’t think, period.

The Book of Job in the Old Testament is meant to help us to think about our future. Wealth is fleeting. Health is perishable.

But we can count on two things. We will live beyond this life if we continue to remain faithful to God Almighty. And God will never stop loving us! He is our Redeemer who lives eternally!

There are some things that I’m going to have to live with even as I get healthier now in my early 50’s.

But I also have faith in Jesus Christ and that is going to let me live eternally.

And someday, I’ll be seeing Christ my Redeemer with my own eyes and never have to worry about cholesterol, fat, wealth and health again.

I wonder if there will be chips and cheese dip in heaven?

©2017 True Men Ministries

______________________________________

Journey to Calvary – Lent 2016 Devotions available here.

Read past devotions at the True Man Blog here.

Contribute to True Men Ministries to help keep this devotional going here.

Listen to the True Man Podcast here.

Subscribe to In My Father’s Footsteps here.

Lenten Devotional Resource from True Men Ministries

Journey to Calvary is a reprint of the 2003 Lenten Devotions I wrote for Lutheran Hour Ministries (and journey-to-calvary-book-coverused with permission).

Starting with Ash Wednesday, March 1, you can take a journey to the cross of Christ through the Penitential Psalms.

Culminating on Easter Sunday, this journey will – God-willing – bring you closer to Christ.

You can pick up a copy of Journey to Calvary here.