The Night Sky

“Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion? Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season, or can you guide the Bear with its children?
Job 38:21-32

The starts have been up there in the sky my whole life.

I could stare at them for hours!

The constellations became familiar friends.

The Big Dipper.

Orion’s belt.

The Bear.

And the gentle smear of star dust of the visible arm of the Milky Way galaxy.

One of my favorite places in Chicago is the Adler Planetarium. And my favorite place in the planetarium is the Sky Show.

When I first started writing devotions in the late 1990’s, I used my thoughts that came to me while walking in the predawn hours from my house to my church office.

I called those initial devotions “A Walk in the Dark” and they began with devotions based on looking up at the stars. I followed the Big Dipper into the office.

While I lived in Michigan, I saw my first comet. Hale-Bopp made its record-breaking return to earth’s sky early in 1997. I spent a lot of time in my back yard looking up into the northern sky that Spring.

One year, the Northern Lights made a rare visit to Central Wisconsin and my appreciation for the night sky deepened.

When I look up into the night sky, I am constantly convinced that God is an amazingly artistic Creator.

Genesis 1 tells us that God created the stars, the sun and the moon. He’s the Artist and Physicists of our universe.

And in Job 38, this is part of God’s longed-looked-for reply to Job.

For 35 chapters, Job has been complaining, laying out his case of his innocence and listening to his friends’ accusations.

He’s been calling on God to answer him.

Well, finally God does just that.

But perhaps Job doesn’t get the answer he was looking for.

God points out that He’s the creator of the entire universe. The stars, the planet earth and its diverse life and functions.

And his point is that Job cannot handle the truth he’s been looking for!

Our infinite Creator cannot be understood by our finite minds.

We cannot know all there is to know about God nor about his universe.

The best we can do is to know that we cannot know.

But one thing we can know – God’s love for us. Because God doesn’t explain his love for us. We cannot learn it as we learn science or math lessons.

We experience God’s love in the person of his only Son, Jesus Christ!

That is where this reply of God will lead Job and us. To stop trying to figure out the “whys” and to focus on the “what” of God’s love – Jesus Christ!

©2017 True Men Ministries

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He Lives!

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
Job 19:25

“I Know That My Redeemer Lives” has been a hymn that has been sung at the past 22 Easter Sunday worship services of which I have been presiding or preaching minister.

It also is used at the vast majority of funerals that I have presided or preached at for the last 22 years.

This hymn by Samuel Medley is very popular because of the amazing message that he put in it – the Easter message.

The phrase “He lives” is repeated thirty times over eight stanzas.

Anything repeated that often in a song or poem must be important. And so it is!

That Jesus is alive is incredibly good news. It is the best news of all.

After Jesus died a gruesome death on the cross – and there was no doubt he was dead, no one could survive what Jesus went through – three days later he was alive.

He lives!

But why?

That is the question this hymn answers.

Jesus lives to: save, rule his Church, grant me rich supply, guide me, comfort me, hear my soul’s complaint, silence my fears, wipe away my tears, calm my troubled heart, impart blessings, bless me, plead for me, feed my soul, love me, grant me daily breath, my mansion to prepare, to bring me safely there (to my mansion).

That’s quite a list!

And yet, that’s only part of the Easter message!

Jesus bled and died to save you and I from our sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.

As we learn from the Book of Job, the devil has some pretty powerful weapons in his arsenal. He’s able to destroy Job’s wealth, his family, and very nearly his health.

But God is more powerful than the devil – no surprise there. The creator is always more powerful than his creation.

But what makes God most powerful is not strength, or weapons, or tactics.

It is something that Satan doesn’t have. Something that we desperately need.

What makes God powerful is love.

God loves us. Even amid death and despair, God’s love is more powerful than anything else.

That’s why Job can say, “I know that my Redeemer lives.”

That’s why Jesus goes to the cross to die.

God’s love for us!

And now it’s our turn.

It is Easter Sunday and it is time to celebrate God’s love. Sing a hymn of praise, shout that Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Spend time with your church family. Spend time with your blood family.

But come Easter Monday, it is time to respond to God’s love.

Tell someone else that you know that your Redeemer lives!

©2017 True Men Ministries

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The Countenance of Job

“He delivers the afflicted by their affliction and opens their ear by adversity.”
Job 36:15

It was a cold Wednesday. The harvest had been good that year and it was now stored for the winter.

Everyone was content and waiting for the first snows of the long winter.

Everyone, that is, except Martin Luther.

He had finished an extensive writing project and now walked over to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg and posted his project – the 95 Theses.

Six months later, Luther would defend his position at a meeting of the leaders of his monastic order, the Augustinians.

Formally called The Heidelberg Disputation of 1518, Luther would expand on his 95 Theses and, in doing so, set the path of the Protestant Reformation in Germany and elsewhere – a Reformation that would change the world.

At The Heidelberg Disputation Martin Luther would refer to the Book of Job and make the connection of Job’s suffering to that of Jesus Christ.

It would become known as the “Theology of the Cross.” Martin Luther echoed Elihu’s words extoling the greatness of God, especially as God works through a person’s suffering, in Job 36.

Luther said, in part:

The person who believes that he can obtain grace by doing what is in him adds sin to sin so that he becomes doubly guilty.

Nor does speaking in this manner give cause for despair, but for arousing the desire to humble oneself and seek the grace of Christ.

It is certain that man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ. [“1518 Heidelberg Disputation.” 1518 Heidelberg Disputation. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2017. http://bookofconcord.org/heidelberg.php]

Luther would go on to argue that if preachers and teachers led people to seek God’s grace through good works, they completely misunderstood (either ignorantly or intentionally) how God works through suffering!

He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.

A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.

That wisdom which sees the invisible things of God in works as perceived by man is completely puffed up, blinded, and hardened.

The law brings the wrath of God, kills, reviles, accuses, judges, and condemns everything that is not in Christ (Rom. 4:15).

Yet that wisdom is not of itself evil, nor is the law to be evaded; but without the theology of the cross man misuses the best in the worst manner.” [1518 Heidelberg Disputation.” 1518 Heidelberg Disputation. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2017. http://bookofconcord.org/heidelberg.php]

As Luther would go on to explain these points, he would describe the righteousness of Christ as “‘the countenance of Job’ (AE 31:64). God called wounded and suffering Job to intercede for his friends and avert God’s wrath (Job 42:8). In a similar way, the wounded and suffering Christ interceded for all sinners, averts God’s wrath from us, and grants us His righteousness. The Lord looked upon the diseased and battered countenance of Job and heard Job’s plea for his friends. In a similar way, when the Lord looks upon the battered face of His Son, He hears Christ’s pleas on our behalf” (taken from the article The Countenance of Job, in The Lutheran Study Bible, © 2009 Concordia Publishing House, p 837).

3,300 years earlier, Elihu expresses much the same thought (obviously not referencing Christ, who wouldn’t be born for another 1800 years).

This tells me that this is something that is most certainly true. And since Elihu’s expressed thought is actually part of the inspired and inerrant Word of God, I think I’m on safe ground making this assertion of truthfulness!

This I need to remember when I go through bad times. When I’m suffering pain or sorrow, I must remember – or be reminded – that God is good and that he will use this suffering for my own good and for his glory.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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The Right Thing to Say – the Best Way to Say It

“I will answer you and your friends with you.”
Job 35:4

In a previous devotion, Repentance, we heard about John the Baptist and his words, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2).

John was the “forerunner” of Jesus Christ. In other words, he was the one who was prophesied in the Old Testament who would prepare the way for the Messiah.

John’s last recorded public words were, “He (meaning Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). John is saying that he must now leave the limelight, that his mission is accomplished.

John was soon after imprisoned by Herod the tetrarch. He languishes in Herod’s dungeon for about year when he receives word of what Jesus has been doing.

He sends some of his own disciples to ask Jesus if he is, indeed, the Messiah that he prepared the way for.

During John’s ministry, his message was God’s message. But that didn’t mean that John himself was perfect or anything less or more than human.

He still had his doubts. He must have known that he wouldn’t leave Herod’s dungeon alive and that his death was fast approaching.

Jesus reassures John that all is well. That John’s message and ministry did exactly what they were supposed to do.

Once again, God used an imperfect human to convey his perfect message to his perfect effect!

Elihu serves much the same function as John the Baptist. He’s preparing Job and his friends for when God will show up to speak to Job.

Elihu’s message is intended to turn Job to God so that Job is ready to hear God and receive what he says. This will happen very soon.

But Elihu is still just an imperfect human. His overall message will have God’s effect of getting Job to focus on God. But Elihu also conveys the message in a less-than-perfect way at times.

Elihu berates Job for a lack of faith in God when what is more likely happening is that Job is crying out in grief and sorrow to God.

Elihu – in his youth and level of maturity – misses the fact that Job is a beaten-down man. It is almost as if Elihu is saying, “Buck up, man! It isn’t that bad! Get over it! Don’t cry out to God in complaint and anger! Just trust in God and his goodness!”

This isn’t a wrong thing to say, just a less than proper way to say it. Elihu probably could have found a more comforting way to say to Job, “Trust in God! He is good! He will come through for you!”

As a man, especially, I need to learn this lesson. When my wife or sons are upset, I want to jump in and make it all better as fast as I can. I will say comforting words to them, hug them, help them.

But if they are still sad or hurting or despairing when I felt that they should have gotten over it, I get frustrated and I tend to be like Elihu and overreact.

Or I can be like John the Baptist and question whether what I had said and done did any good.

Thankfully, God is so much more powerful and wise than I. He gave me the words, yes. But when I botch up the delivery of the message, he is still able to bring out his own desired result.

That’s our encouragement today, to continue to follow God’s leading in our own lives to speak to and help others. Don’t get discourage if you overreact or get frustrated. Keep telling God’s message and let God take care of how that message affects people.

God has given you the right thing to say – in his Word. Always be learning the best way to say the right thing to say.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Repentance

“I have born punishment; I will not offend any more; teach me what I do not see; if I have done iniquity, I will do it no more….”
Job 34:31-32

He approached the river from the wilderness. He looked like he had been living out there for quite some time, possibly years.

Wild, tangled hair. A cloak made of some rough and itchy-looking material tied with a belt around his waist.

His first words were, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2)

At first, the toads and crickets, and whatever animals lived along the river bank, seemed to be his only audience. But that quickly changed!

People from the capitol and surrounding villages and towns flocked to see this strange man with the powerful message.

For it was a powerful message. “Repent!” Why did that resonate with so many people?

Soon after, this man’s cousin – his younger cousin by six months – also began to draw crowds. This time, up in Galilee. His message? The same!

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 4:17)

This message was short and to the point. “Repent” means to turn from your ways to a new way of living. And this is a message that touched people’s hearts. They were yearning for a new way of living, a new way of life. They lived in an oppressed society, ruled over by an authoritarian and ruthless empire. Who wouldn’t want a new life?

This message resonates no less today. Are you looking for a new life? A new way of living? Do you need a change? Are you ready for your life to take off, to become the adventure you always dreamed it could or should be?

I have good news for you! This is exactly what Jesus came to give you!

And it all starts with repentance.

In chapter 34 of the Book of Job, Elihu shows – by the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit – the way of repentance.

While it looks like a 3-Step Plan, I don’t mean to imply that it is a step-by-step process. Not at all! In fact, it is a way of life – a life that Jesus came to give you!

Repentance starts, and maybe this surprises you, with the Holy Spirit and not with you!

You are a sinner (and so am I!) and cannot get to this new life on your own. We are all conceived and born in sin. That is, “by nature [we are] spiritually blind, dead, and an enemy of God, as the Scriptures teach (1 Corinthians 2:14; Ephesians 2:1; Romans 8:7; Ephesians 2:8-9; and 1 Corinthians 12:3); therefore, ‘I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him’” (Explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism, ©1986 Concordia Publishing House, p 150).

The Holy Spirit uses the Law of God (the Ten Commandments) to prompt repentance in us.

And this life of repentance looks like this according to the Book of Job: Stop offending people, be taught, and strive to not sin anymore.

It starts with verse 31: “I will not offend anymore….”

This is a recognition, a realization, that our sins are an offense. They are an offense to other people, especially when we sin against them.

But they are truly an offense to God. God is perfect. God is holy. And God created us to be perfect and holy. But because of our sinful human nature, we offend God’s perfection and holiness. Repentance is realizing this and wanting to stop.

Verse 32 says, “Teach me….”

This is a willingness to learn from God. Who better to learn how to stop sinning and how to live a life free of sin than God? Repentance is putting yourself under God’s tutelage. We learn from God how to live because he is the Author of life itself!

Verse 32 also says, “I will do it no more….”

This is a resolve to live a life of not sinning. I know, I know! Nothing is easier said than done! And while I don’t think we can actually get to this point in this lifetime, the Scriptures do tell us to try!

And I think we can get better at this. It is like getting to the point of being able to lift 300 pounds worth of weights.

When I started lifting weights in earnest a little over a year ago, I could barely lift a 45-pound bar. Now, a year and a month later, I’m lifting over 100 pounds 8 times (repetitions) 3 days a week!

When Jesus said that he came that we may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10), he meant a life lived in repentance to the glory of God.

I pray you and I can do this and will do this by the power of the Holy Spirit!

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Cause and Effect

“For according to the work of a man he will repay him, and according to his ways he will make it befall him. Of a truth, God will not do wickedly, and the Almighty will not pervert justice.”
Job 34:11-12

In the early 1980’s I was fascinated with computers. My dad bought us first a Radio Shack TRS-80 and then, soon after, an Apple ][.

He had his own computer consulting firm and I worked with him. He encouraged me to learn how to program computers and I started with BASIC programming (Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code).

But this programing language was too, well, basic to do what my dad wanted his company to be able to do, so he encouragement me to learn Assembly Language programming. I was soon in over my head. I just didn’t have the capacity to learn this more complex programming.

I had a basic (no pun intended) understanding of how computers worked – and still do – but most of what computers do and can do is beyond me.

And that brings us to Elihu’s continued discourse with Job and his three friends.

Elihu’s understanding of how God works is incomplete – as it would be for any human. We simply do not have the capacity to fully understand God.

But he knows enough to tell Job that he (Job) also doesn’t know how God works!

We all cannot understand God fully.

This is why God has revealed what he has in Scripture. God does want us to know him better than we do. So God reveals what he knows we can handle in his Word.

One of those revelations is often misunderstood and Elihu calls Job and his three friends out on one of these misunderstandings.

God will pay back people according to what they have done, good for good and evil for evil.

But the misunderstanding is that if I’m good, I will receive good because of it. If I’m evil, I will receive evil because of it.

The truth, however, is revealed in Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:8-10, and Hebrews 11:6.

Romans 6:23
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Ephesians 2:8-10
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Hebrews 11:6
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

In short, doing evil is equated with unbelief and that is the cause of damnation. But doing good is the result of salvation, which comes from God alone by grace alone through faith alone revealed in Scripture alone.

I admit, I cannot understand how this can be. But I believe that it is how it is. It takes faith, and that is something that is also a gift from God.

And it is comforting to know that God loves me, gives me faith to accept the things I can’t understand, and to be okay with that.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Irony

“Behold, God does all these things … to bring back his soul from the pit….”
Job 33:29-30

Life can be interesting at times. I find it interesting that sometimes you have to do one thing that you would think would have just the opposite effect than what you are looking for.

This would be the very definition of irony: “a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result” (according to the Google).

For example, in order to lose weight you have to eat. You would think that in order to lose weight you would have to not eat. But I have found that if I starve myself, I may lose some weight at first, but I’ll actually end up gaining weight because my body will go into “lifesaving” mode and start storing fat and what-not in order to survive.

In order to lose weight, I can’t stop eating. I have to eat better. Low-fat foods, foods rich in vitamins and low in cholesterol, that kind of thing.

What’s the point in this? Well, for one, it’s been on my mind for the last year or so in that I’ve begun to eat differently (per doctor’s orders) and have lost a significant amount of weight. God be praised!

But it is also a way to illustrate what we’ve been exploring in the Book of Job.

It appears that Job is being punished. He’s been wiped out financially. His children have been tragically killed in a storm. And his health has deteriorated to the point where he’s covered in sores and wants to die.

But this is not a result of God’s wrath, as his friends have been saying. They have spent some time putting forth their philosophy that God punishes the wicked, Job is being punished, therefore Job is wicked!

Job has been answering his three friends with a defense. He has not done anything wicked! Just the opposite, in fact. He’s been upright and blameless. He’s never turned away from God.

Then Job – in his despair – has turned to God and complained about the unfairness of it all.

And this brings Elihu on the scene. Elihu functions as one who prepares the way for God himself to speak to Job. A sort of “John the Baptist”-type of forerunner for God.

In Chapter 33 Elihu tells Job, in no uncertain terms, that what has happened to him has not been punishment. It is so that Job will not fall “into the pit” (a reference to not only the grave but to everlasting death). It is so that Job will be restored, will pray to God, and will be redeemed.

This kind of irony is called the “alien” or “strange” work of God. We’ve explore this in two previous devotions – The Strange Work of God and Can You Hear Me?

Here is the way Lutherans understand this and have for nearly 500 years:

“He calls it the ‘strange’ work of the Lord when He terrifies, because to make alive and comfort is God’s own proper work. But He terrifies, Isaiah says, for this reason—that there may be a place for comfort and making alive. For hearts that are secure and do not feel God’s wrath hate consolation. In this manner Scripture is accustomed to join these two, the terrors and the consolation. It does this to teach that there are these chief parts in repentance: contrition and faith that comforts and justifies. Neither do we see how the nature of repentance can be presented more clearly and simply. God’s two chief works among people are these: to terrify; to justify and make alive those who have been terrified. Into these two works all Scripture has been distributed. The one part is the Law, which shows, reproves, and condemns sins. The other part is the Gospel, that is, the promise of grace bestowed in Christ.” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XIIA, paragraphs 52-53, The Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord, ©2005,2006 CPH).

This is what Elihu is telling Job. You have suffered because God wants to save you! “Behold, God does all these things … to bring back his soul from the pit.

It’s ironic, but it is also true! It is also hard to understand. Strike that, it is next to impossible to understand.

And we’ll explore why in the next devotion.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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