Tuesday, January 31, 2012


"Therefore listen to me, you men of understanding. It is impossible for God [to do] wrong, and [for] the Almighty [to act] unjustly." (Job 34:10 HCSB)

Elihu has been like a volcano. The young man has sat dormant, listening, while the cycles of verbal fencing between Job and his three accusers have gone thrust and parry, and the force of emotion increasing each time. Elihu has been silent. He knows that it is not polite for a young man to speak in the presence of his elders, but he feels a rumble deep in the crevices of his heart---a fire grows within. Pressure builds and builds, until an eruption of words pours out from his indignant soul.

He can no longer contain himself. He is angry at Job's friends for their unsubstantiated attacks on Job's character, but is also upset at Job's defensiveness. In particular, he thinks that Job should have been defending God's character, rather than focusing on defending his own.

Elihu doesn't have all the answers either, but he thinks he does. Such is the rashness of passion in youth. I recall when I first entered the ministry--I smugly thought I had everything figured out. I went to Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute and my head was brim-full of Biblical insight, accordingly. What arrogance--and what ignorance!

But, just because Elihu did not know as much as he thought he knew, does not mean that what he did know was wrong. In fact, he understood the bottom line. Job's friends may be wrong in their conclusions and Job may be wrong in his reactions, but God is never wrong in any fashion!

Sometimes, what God may do, or refuse to do, might appear unjust, but it is only the appearance--an illusion--for acting unjustly is an impossibility with God! That's the bottom line. We may struggle with this. Our understanding can be so lacking. If God decided to explain His ways at times, it would be like trying to explain trigonometry to a turtle, or Einstein's theory of relativity to an amoeba!

Trust Him when you don't understand. Don't doubt in the dark what He has told you in the light. Spurgeon said it this way, "God is too good to be unkind, too wise to be mistaken, when we cannot trace His hand, we can always trust His heart."

That is the bottom line!


"let God weigh me in accurate scales,
and He will recognize my integrity." (Job 31:6 HCSB)

In 1615, Cervantes wrote in Don Quixote that "the proof of the pudding is the eating." It is an expression meaning "results are what count; the quality of something can only be judged by the evidence." The Bible says, "But someone will say, 'You have faith, and I have works.' Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith from my works." (James 2:18 HCSB)

Job was condemned by his "comforters." Their reasoning was, "God is good. God punishes sin. Job is suffering. He is being punished by God. Job is a sinner who deserves what he gets." Satan is like a prosecuting attorney. Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar are summoned to testify against him. God is the judge.

As the courtroom drama unfolds, there are arguments and rebuttals. Job pleads for a defense attorney and none appears. "I wish that someone might arbitrate between a man and God just as a man [pleads] for his friend." (Job 16:21 HCSB) So, it is up to Job to make a defense--and in his final argument he serves up, "the proof of the pudding."

Others had spoken well of him: "When I went out to the city gate and took my seat in the town square, the young men saw me and withdrew, while older men stood to their feet. City officials stopped talking and covered their mouths with [their] hands. The noblemen's voices were hushed, and their tongues stuck to the roof of their mouths. When they heard me, they blessed me, and when they saw me, they spoke well of me." (Job 29:7-11 HCSB)

He had helped the helpless: "For I rescued the poor man who cried out for help, and the fatherless child who had no one to support him. The dying man blessed me, and I made the widow's heart rejoice. I clothed myself in righteousness and it enveloped me; my just decisions were like a robe and a turban. I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy, and I examined the case of the stranger. I shattered the fangs of the unjust and snatched the prey from his teeth." (Job 29:12-17 HCSB) "If I have refused the wishes of the poor or let the widow's eyes go blind, if I have eaten my few crumbs alone without letting the fatherless eat any of it--for from my youth, I raised him as [his] father, and since the day I was born I guided the widow--if I have seen anyone dying for lack of clothing or a needy person without a cloak, if he did not bless m while warming himself with the fleece from my sheep, if I ever cast my vote against a fatherless child when I saw that I had support in the [city] gate, then let my shoulder blade fall from my back, and my arm be pulled from its socket." (Job 31:16-22 HCSB)

He grieved over the suffering of others: "Have I not wept for those who have fallen on hard times? Has my soul not grieved for the needy?" (Job 30:25 HCSB)

He recognized the danger of sexual sin and scrupulously shunned it: "I have made a covenant with my eyes. How then could I look at a young woman? If my step has turned from the way, my heart has followed my eyes, or impurity has stained my hands, let someone else eat what I have sown, and let my crops be uprooted. If my heart has been seduced by [my neighbor's] wife or I have lurked at his door, let my own wife grind [grain] for another man, and let other men sleep with her. For that would be a disgrace; it would be a crime deserving punishment. For it is a fire that consumes down to Abaddon; it would destroy my entire harvest." (Job 31:1, 7-12 HCSB)

He was just in dealing with his employees: "If I have dismissed the case of my male or female servants when they made a complaint against me, what could I do when God stands up [to judge]? How should I answer Him when He calls [me] to account? Did not the One who made me in the womb also make them? Did not the same God form us both in the womb?" (Job 31:13-15 HCSB)

He was free from idolatrous materialism: "If I placed my confidence in gold or called fine gold my trust, if I have rejoiced because my wealth is great or because my own hand has acquired [so] much, if I have gazed at the sun when it was shining or at the moon moving in splendor, so that my heart was secretly enticed and I threw them a kiss, this would also be a crime deserving punishment, for I would have denied God above." (Job 31:24-28 HCSB)

He did not hate his enemies: "Have I rejoiced over my enemy's distress, or become excited when trouble came his way? I have not allowed my mouth to sin by asking for his life with a curse." (Job 31:29, 30 HCSB)

He practiced hospitality: "Haven't the members of my household said, 'Who is there who has not had enough to eat at Job's table?' No stranger had to spend the night on the street, for I opened my door to the traveler." (Job 31:31, 32 HCSB)

He confessed his sin when needed and did not practice self-righteous hypocrisy: "Have I covered my transgressions as others do by hiding my guilt in my heart, because I greatly feared the crowds, and the contempt of the clans terrified me, so I grew silent and would not go outside?" (Job 31:33, 34 HCSB)

The proof of the pudding is the eating--Job's profession was matched by his performance. We are saved by faith alone, but faith that saves is never alone.

If you were on trial for being a Christian, is there enough evidence to convict you?

Monday, January 30, 2012


"How can a person be justified before God?
How can one born of woman be pure?" (Job 25:4 HCSB)

Job is a book filled with questions. The one which Job repeats constantly is, "Why?" Why would God allow him to suffer despite his faithfulness to Him? Why do the wicked seem to get off the hook?

His "friends" thought they knew the answer. Job suffered because he was being punished. They wrongfully and repeatedly leveled this hurtful accusation.

While the answers given by Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar are off-target, there is a question asked that hits the bull's eye, "How can a person be justified before God?" That is the biggest question of all--not the why question, but the how question!

We want to know, "Why do bad things happen to good people?"

Job was good--relatively speaking. He was a godly man. Compared to other men, he stood head and shoulders above them. We would not want to join the chorus of critics that condemned him falsely. Yet, we must also face that compared to God's standard of righteousness, Job was not a sinless man--none are.

Jesus declared, "There is only One who is good." (Matthew 19:17b HCSB) Only God is utterly, absolutely good. David stated, " All have turned away; all alike have become corrupt. There is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:3 HCSB) Paul underscores this fact in the first three chapters of Romans--an indictment of humanity's crimes against heaven--where he quotes that Psalm and concludes, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23 HCSB)

Even Job knew that. It is why he offered a sacrifice and prayed continually for his children. "For Job thought: Perhaps my children have sinned, having cursed God in their hearts. This was Job's regular practice." (Job 1:5b HCSB) Even if he knew of no overt sin they had committed, he knew that lurking down in the human heart are evils that may never surface, but which cannot be hidden from a holy God.

It was in Job. It is in me. Sin is in us all--and God doesn't grade on the curve. On Judgement Day, we will not be evaluated compared to other men, but according to a flawless God. No matter how hard we may have tried--no matter how many Jewish traditions we have kept, how faithfully we have honored the five pillars of Islam, how many door to door witnesses to Jehovah we've presented, how many mission trips we've made on our bicycle, how often we've repeated, "Hail Mary" or what positions we held in the Baptist church--none of it is enough. The question persists, "How can a person be justified before God?"

There is only one answer. Jesus is that answer! God in the flesh, conceived in a virgin's womb without a sin nature, born into this world and having lived a sinless life, fulfilling all the righteous demands of God, making Himself an offering for our sin, rising for our justification, ascending to intercede for us, sending His Spirit to change us from the inside out, and completing that transformation into His image when he returns! By faith in Jesus Christ, His work cancels our sin debt and His perfect righteousness is deposited to our account! Have you received Him?

The biggest question of all is asked, "How can a person be justified before God?
How can one born of woman be pure?" (Job 25:4 HCSB)

The question has but one answer, "He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Corinthians 5:21 HCSB)

Saturday, January 28, 2012


"Yet He knows the way I have taken; when He has tested me, I will emerge as pure gold." (Job 23:10 HCSB)

Gold is a valuable commodity. During the refining process, the gold is heated, so that the slag--contaminants--can be drawn off, and all that remains is the precious metal. The gold is not harmed by the fire--only refined.

For the child of God, faith is the precious spiritual commodity we must have. The profession of faith will be tested by the fire. If it is real, it will endure. More than that, faith is not only proven, but purified in the fire.

Peter spoke to Christians' who were facing persecution, when he said, "You rejoice in this, though now for a short time you have had to struggle in various trials so that the genuineness of your faith--more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire-may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 1:6, 7 HCSB)

Job finds some meaning and encouragement in this truth. There is an occasional shaft of light that breaks through the somber clouds of his confusion. He describes his trials in terms of gold being smelted. His conviction is that his faith will emerge unharmed. His three friends were accusing him of being a hypocrite. They were convinced Job was an egregious sinner and that was why he was suffering. Job knew better--and most importantly Job knew that God was aware of the reality of his faith.

Even in the best of us, however, there remains the contamination of sin to some degree. You can't walk through a coal mine without getting some black on you, and you cannot walk through this dirty world and be totally pure. But, God is refining us, and He uses the fiery trial to purify us. In salvation, the Lord has extracted gold ore from the world, but there remains residue of the world to be extracted from the ore--and that is the work of sanctification.

The hymn writer, John Keith captured this thought in a stanza of "How Firm a Foundation" thusly:

“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not harm thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine."

Are you in a fiery trial today? One thing is certain, God will use this to refine you. If your faith is genuine, all that will remain is precious material--so malleable--that will be shaped into the very likeness of Jesus Christ--placed on display in glory someday--a trophy of grace!

Friday, January 27, 2012


"Why do the wicked continue to live, growing old and becoming powerful? Their children are established while they are still alive, and their descendants, before their eyes. Their homes are secure and free of fear; no rod from God [strikes] them. Their bulls breed without fail; their cows calve and do not miscarry. They let their little ones run around like lambs; their children skip about, singing to the tambourine and lyre and rejoicing at the sound of the flute. They spend their days in prosperity and go down to Sheol in peace. Yet they say to God: 'Leave us alone! We don't want to know Your ways. Who is the Almighty, that we should serve Him, and what will we gain by pleading with Him?' " (Job 21:7-15 HCSB)

The question, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" is a difficult one--a scenario so often seen, that a best-selling book was written by a Jewish rabbi twenty years ago--still reprinted and read today. The answers given in that volume are not adequate, but that someone is trying to solve the puzzle is understandable. Job wrestled with putting it altogether. It seemed there were always some pieces missing.

Another question, just as thorny, is this, "Why do good things happen to bad people?" I suppose someone has written a book about that also. But, the author hasn't been interviewed on Oprah, nor has it made the New York Times best-seller list, so far as I know. No one wants to think they are bad! So, the laws of supply and demand take effect.

Nevertheless, it is another dilemma for Job. The conventional wisdom of that day was that good people were blessed of God--physical health, large family, financial prosperity--all a reward from God. Conversely, the bad people were smitten with sickness, their children died, they were destitute--all a retribution from God.

It sounds reasonable. But, it isn't so! We can point to many examples of godly souls who suffered incredibly--and to awful people who had it all!

Who are the celebrities today? Who is living lavishly? Who holds the reins of power? Who indulges in the pleasures this world brings?

Sure, there is the occasional Tim Tebow who emerges. But, that's what claims our attention--someone who has sincere faith, yet has a measure of earthly success is such a rarity. For every Tebow, there are hundreds--thousands--of people who haven't a thought for God, yet, seemingly, not a care in the world. There are many whose notoriety and prosperity come from their defiance of God! Atheists become best-selling authors and godless comedians who mock all that is holy are household names. Does the name Bill Maher ring a bell?

Why do good things happen to bad people?

Job wondered. Years later, the Psalmist did. It nearly undermined his faith! Ponder this:
"God is indeed good to Israel,
to the pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet almost slipped;
my steps nearly went astray.
For I envied the arrogant;
I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
They have an easy time until they die,
and their bodies are well fed.
They are not in trouble like others;
they are not afflicted like most people.
Therefore, pride is their necklace,
and violence covers them like a garment.
Their eyes bulge out from fatness;
the imaginations of their hearts run wild.
They mock, and they speak maliciously;
they arrogantly threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against heaven,
and their tongues strut across the earth.
Therefore His people turn to them
and drink in their overflowing words.
The wicked say, 'How can God know?
Does the Most High know everything?'
Look at them-the wicked!
They are always at ease,
and they increase their wealth.
Did I purify my heart
and wash my hands in innocence for nothing?
For I am afflicted all day long
and punished every morning." (Psalm 73:1-14 HCSB)

Asaph echoes Job's sentiment. We still wonder. But, Job would ultimately find strength in the presence of the Lord--not all the solutions to the problem, but strength to face the perplexity. So did Asaph. Here is what the Psalmist did:
"If I had decided to say these things [aloud],
I would have betrayed Your people.
When I tried to understand all this,
it seemed hopeless
until I entered God's sanctuary.
Then I understood their destiny
Indeed, You put them in slippery places;
You make them fall into ruin.
How suddenly they become a desolation!
They come to an end, swept away by terrors.
Like one waking from a dream,
Lord, when arising, You will despise their image.
When I became embittered
and my innermost being was wounded,
I was stupid and didn't understand;
I was an unthinking animal toward You.
Yet I am always with You;
You hold my right hand.
You guide me with Your counsel,
and afterward You will take me up in glory.
Who do I have in heaven but You?
And I desire nothing on earth but You.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart,
my portion forever.
Those far from You will certainly perish;
You destroy all who are unfaithful to You.
But as for me, God's presence is my good.
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
so I can tell about all You do." (Psalm 73:15-28 HCSB)

All the "hell" the people of God will know is in this fleeting mortal existence. All the "heaven" the wicked will know is on earth. Which one would you rather experience?

We can deny self, and die to the world, as we take up the cross to follow Jesus, coming to the end and rejoice, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us." (Romans 8:18 HCSB)

Would you rather be this man Jesus told about?

"There was a rich man who would dress in purple and fine linen, feasting lavishly every day. But a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, was left at his gate. He longed to be filled with what fell from the rich man's table, but instead the dogs would come and lick his sores. One day the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torment in Hades, he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off, with Lazarus at his side. 'Father Abraham!' he called out, 'Have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this flame!'
"'Son,' Abraham said, 'remember that during your life you received your good things, just as Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here, while you are in agony. Besides all this, a great chasm has been fixed between us and you, so that those who want to pass over from here to you cannot; neither can those from there cross over to us.' " (Luke 16:19-26 HCSB)

Thursday, January 26, 2012


"When a man dies, will he come back to life? [If so,] I would wait all the days of my struggle until my relief comes. (Job 14:14 HCSB)

Vexed and perplexed--Job searches for hope and seemingly can find none. It has been said that a man can live without many things, but he cannot live without hope. Sifting through the remains of his once blissful life, all this suffering man can feel is that he is abandoned in his misery. Where is God? Why doesn't He come?

Looking beyond the vale of tears, Job doesn't see God, just a grave--the blackness filling his mind with a dread futility. "My spirit is broken. My days are extinguished. A graveyard awaits me." (Job 17:1 HCSB)

He thinks about a tree. Job has seen them cut down, an old stump all that remains, apparently lifeless. But, he has seen that, come spring, green shoots push up from the old trunk. In process of time, the tree lives again. But, Job is not a tree. Is there any hope for him?

It isn't just his impending death that concerns him. His children have died. Job wonders if he has looked into their faces for the last time. The pain of that possibility is unbearable. Listen to his pitiful conclusion,

"My days have slipped by;
my plans have been ruined,
even the things dear to my heart.
They turned night into day
and [made] light [seem] near in the face of darkness.
If I await Sheol as my home,
spread out my bed in darkness,
and say to corruption: You are my father,
and to the maggot: My mother or my sister,
where then is my hope?
Who can see [any] hope for me?" (Job 17:11-15 HCSB)

There is hope! We know something that Job did not. There is an answer to Job's question! Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live." (John 11:25 HCSB)

Standing at the graveside of His dear friend Lazarus, looking into the tear-filled eyes of Lazarus' sister, Martha, Jesus hears Job's question wrapped in different phraseology and voiced in a feminine tone. "God, where are You? Why don't You come to help?" That was what Job wondered. Martha had sent word to summon the Healer when her brother became ill. "Jesus where were You? Why didn't You come sooner?"

Martha's theology wasn't incorrect, just incomplete. She thought resurrection was only a future event. Jesus corrected her. Yes, a future event will come at the end of time, but there was more--resurrection was present in a Person! Standing before her was the One who was life itself. Jesus is the Lord of life, death and eternity. He has absolute authority, and to prove it He summons Lazarus--dead for four days--from the tomb with a cry of command, "After He said this, He shouted with a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come out!' " (John 11:43 HCSB)

Lifeless eyes popped open, rigid muscles flexed, empty lungs sucked in air as a still heart began to thump in the chest of a body bound in burial garb. Lazarus lived!

At last, Job had an answer to his question.

Christ came into this world to die for our sins, and rise to justify us before God. A rugged cross, an empty tomb and the blessed assurance is, "Because I live, you will live too." (John 14:19 HCSB)

Hope cannot die!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


"Wisdom and strength belong to God;
counsel and understanding are His." (Job 12:13 HCSB)


It's the nagging question. It's the burr in our saddle, the pebble in our shoe, the mosquito buzzing in our ear. We never can seem to escape it. It's the elephant in the room.

It was Job's question--and how can we blame him? He had been a man devoted to God--one of the best ever--and it seemed God had abandoned him. Have you ever felt that way?

We don't like to acknowledge such thoughts. We do our best to avoid the dog of doubt nipping at our heels. We hear it barking, but do our best to ignore it. Our deep fear is that we will discover it isn't a bothersome chihuahua, but is actually a lion that will devour us with despair!

For Job, let's face it, that's what it had become. This consuming question, "Why?" was a ravenous roar--and there was nowhere to run in the dense jungle of his depression.

Why? Why? Why? Like a drumbeat of doom it echoes ever louder in the mind.

Why does a drunk ram his car into a family van--the drunk staggers away from the wreck unharmed, while a little child is dead in the mangled wreckage? Why do families grieve still over Ron and Nicole, who were carved up like meat in a butcher's shop, left to die in a pool of blood, while O.J. walks away smiling smugly? Why is a baby stillborn to loving parents who prayed for that child? Why does a godly, young man, with so much potential, die as a result of a horrible accident--despite the prayers of many who begged God for healing? Why does God allow an obscure old pastor, who has served God fervently all his life, to wither away in a dirty nursing home alone, while some smiling, young tele-evangelist basks in celebrity, bathed in luxury whose preaching doesn't hold a thimbleful of Gospel? Why?

It is asked thousands, perhaps millions of times everyday.

Job asked.

His friends answered.

Eliphaz answers from experience. He says,

"A word was brought to me in secret;
my ears caught a whisper of it.
Among unsettling thoughts from visions in the night,
when deep sleep descends on men,
fear and trembling came over me
and made all my bones shake.
A wind passed by me,
and I shuddered with fear.
[A figure] stood there,
but I could not recognize its appearance;
a form loomed before my eyes.
I heard a quiet voice:
'Can a person be more righteous than God,
or a man more pure than his Maker?' " (Job 4:12-17 HCSB)

This mystical encounter had provided the answer. Job was suffering because he was a sinner. But, Eliphaz was wrong. Experience is a very subjective thing. We are warned that the angel that appears may not be sent from God, but may be Satan in disguise (see 2 Cor.11:13-15). We are warned to "test the spirits, whether they are of God" (1 John 4:1). If the subjective experience cannot be validated by objective truth, it must be rejected--no matter how emotionally enticing it sounds.

A man grew up in a house near a train station. Everyday, he would hear the train whistle sound and then the locomotive would begin to pull the cars down the tracks. In his experience, the sound always preceded the movement. He concluded that the whistle was what powered the engine.

The second "expert" answers from tradition. Bildad states,

"For ask the previous generation,
and pay attention to what their fathers discovered,
since we were [born only] yesterday and know nothing.
Our days on earth are but a shadow.
Will they not teach you and tell you
and speak from their understanding?" (Job 8:8-10 HCSB)

Traditions are handed down from one generation to the next. Some of the traditions may be true but they are woefully inadequate as the measure of truth.

A newly married couple were about to enjoy their first meal together in their modest little apartment. She wanted it to be memorable. Her husband watched and began to salivate as she placed a delicious ham on the counter and got out the pan to cook it. His expression quickly gave way to horror, as he saw her take a knife and cut off the ham hock and pitch it in the trash can! "What are you doing? That's good meat you're throwing away!" Her answer, "Mother always did this." He couldn't wait until his next visit to the in-laws to ask her mother why she cut off and threw away the ham hock. His mother-in-law answered, "My Mom always did." The mystery deepened. Eventually, at a family reunion, the young man was able to ask the old cook about this puzzling tradition. "Oh, I only had one pan to cook the ham in and it was too small to hold the whole thing."

A third expert shares with Job from reason. Intellect can furnish the answer according to Zophar. Here is his hypothesis,

"Should this stream of words go unanswered
and such a talker be acquitted?
Should your babbling put others to silence,
so that you can keep on ridiculing
with no one to humiliate you?
You have said, 'My teaching is sound,
and I am pure in Your sight.'
But if only God would speak
and declare His case against you,
He would show you the secrets of wisdom,
for true wisdom has two sides.
Know then that God has chosen to overlook some of your sin." (Job 11:2-6 HCSB)

Unlike the brilliant Zophar, Job is like "a stupid man" (Job 11:12). This "friend" sees Job's complaint as empty talk, ill-informed, lacking logic. He needs to learn, face the facts, examine the facets of the issue and he will solve the puzzle.

The problem is that we don't always have all the facts, and we take the facts we have and reason to the wrong conclusion. That's why Zophar deduced that Job was responsible for his suffering. Yet, that was patently false.

Three blind men were asked to describe an elephant. One grabbed the elephant's leg and said, "An elephant looks like a tree trunk." The second one felt the elephant's ear and argued, "No, the elephant looks like a giant fan." The third rubbed his hands up and down the elephant's trunk and dogmatically stated, "You are both wrong! The elephant looks like a snake." They had facts, but their deductions were incorrect.

Job knows where to look for answers--to look to God and divine revelation. "Wisdom and strength belong to God; counsel and understanding are His." (Job 12:13 HCSB) There is the one true source of wisdom. While it is true that Job didn't have many answers, at least he knew where to look. We, having this book about Job, and given these insights, have even more answers--not all we want, but all we need.

Admittedly we will say with Paul, "For now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known." (1 Corinthians 13:12 HCSB). There is still some mystery about the "why" question of suffering. We'll understand it better, bye and bye. But, let not the mystery of the why override the ministry of the Word. What we do now know for certain strengthens our faith to face what we don't yet know.

[Thanks to Ralph Neighbor, Jr. who first exposed me to these concepts nearly three decades ago in "The Survival Kit for New Christians."]

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


"My days pass more swiftly than a weaver's shuttle; they come to an end without hope." (Job 7:6 HCSB)

Despair can wrap its icy hands around your throat and choke out every ounce of hope--or so it seems. Job felt that way.

We might say, "You shouldn't feel that way! There is always hope in God!" Indeed--but wasn't that the issue? He couldn't seem to find God. Job was convinced he had more questions than answers, more problems than solutions, more troubles than comfort, more burdens than strength. It is too easy to sit aloof from someone else's misery, read about it in a book, know in hindsight how it all started and ended, and judge the one who crumpled under the trial. I wonder how I would have handled it. I hope none of us ever have to find out! But we may, to some degree or another. There will always be some--and often many--dark threads in the warp and woof of life's weaving.

Several times, Job uses picturesque phrases to underscore the frailty of humanity and the gravity of mortality. One such description is of the weaver's shuttle. He has seen a weaver at the loom, quickly moving the shuttle back and forth to create a tapestry of woven thread. Such was the fabric of his life--fragile as cloth, fleeting as the shuttle.

Perhaps you feel like Job. You have come to a place in life where there are burdens that have crushed you to the ground. You look up and all you see is a confused mass of tangled threads and you can make no sense of it all.

Underneath the loom, that's the way it is. If we could only see the other side! God is the weaver. His skillful hands hold the shuttle. His mind has conceived the most glorious tapestry. To Him, it all makes sense. When completed, the child of God can rest assured he or she will be a masterpiece put on display in heaven. If we could only see from God's perspective!

I heard an old preacher years ago quote a poem at a funeral of a textile worker, so appropriate for one who had labored at the loom. It captures this concept quite well:

Life is But a Weaving

My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.
Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.
Not ‘til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned
He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.

If today dawns bright for you, with birds singing and not a cloud in the sky, be glad! I rejoice with you. The thread is a rich color.

But, if dark clouds hang over you like a funeral shroud and you are wrestling with doubt and depression--finding yourself pinned to the mat and wondering if you are down for the count--maybe these words can bring a whisper of grace to your heart and help you struggle on for another day. I pray for you. The thread is a dark hue.

Woven together, this is the tapestry of life.

Monday, January 23, 2012


"Then the Lord said to Satan, 'Have you considered My servant Job? No one else on earth is like him, a man of perfect integrity, who fears God and turns away from evil.'
Satan answered the Lord, 'Does Job fear God for nothing? Haven't You placed a hedge around him, his household, and everything he owns? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out Your hand and strike everything he owns, and he will surely curse You to Your face.'
'Very well,' the Lord told Satan, 'everything he owns is in your power. However, you must not lay a hand on Job [himself].' So Satan left the Lord's presence." (Job 1:8-12 HCSB)

Last summer, my wife and I attended the nation's oldest outdoor drama, "The Lost Colony." Based on the story of the mysterious disappearance of the first English colony in America, it was a most enjoyable evening for us, as we saw this theatrical presentation of those events which happened on North Carolina's coast. Our focus was on the action, music, battles between settlers and natives--drawing us into the story itself. It was quite a production! But, behind the scenes, many people were at work to pull off the play. If you could see behind the scenes, you would find technicians operating lights and sound, you would find those directing the action, actors and actresses making wardrobe changes, sets being moved, props put in place--hundreds of people making it possible for the events on stage.

There is a divine drama played out in the book of Job. The story line is not hard to grasp: a good man is beset with heartache, questions God, is misunderstood and wrongfully accused as having brought all this upon himself, and, in the end, is comforted by God. It is a familiar story--on a smaller scale admittedly for most--to one degree or other, this story has been played out again and again on the stage of history. It may be akin to what you are going through now.

But, it is what happens behind the scenes that is vital to understanding the action on stage. God takes us backstage to show us that there is a spiritual dimension, where angels and demons move, and over it all a sovereign God directs the events to bring about His sometimes inscrutable purposes. While we may yet have significant questions about why a good God allows suffering, there are insights given which buttress our faith to withstand the barrage of doubts unleashed when we encounter this dilemma.

One answer we find is that there are no easy answers. We see what happened, we just aren't fully sure as to why it happened. It is likely we know more about occurrences behind the scenes than even Job did. But, we wish to know more.

I can tell you about the disappearance of the Lost Colony. It is a fact that Virginia Dare was the first English child born in America. What happened to her and the other colonists is a mystery. The supposition given in the performance we witnessed is plausible. But, there are some things we don't know. There are some mysteries about the ways of God also.

But, there are some things we do know. There are some theories of suffering which are blasted out of the water by this book:
1) We suffer because of our own personal sin. It is true that suffering is a condition because of living in a world under the curse of sin, and even that suffering can be attributed at times as a direct choice we have made to disobey God. That wasn't the case with Job. He is seen as a man of remarkable spiritual character.
2) Suffering occurs because of Satan. We see Satan had a role in this, but he didn't initiate it--God did. The devil could do nothing which God didn't permit.
3) God is good, but not great. There are those who will not deny that God is good, but they say He can't control everything. It is the basic argument in Rabbi Harold Kushner's popular book, "When Bad Things Happen to Good People." But, God is clearly portrayed in Job--as in the rest of Scripture--as great. He is seen as the Creator, the Lord of all seated in universal dominion possessing infinite wisdom and power.
4) God is great, but not good. He could do something about suffering, but chooses not to do so. He has set the universe in motion and now pulls the puppet strings to entertain Himself--even at the cost of human misery--an almighty tyrant. The book of Job, while underscoring that God reigns over all, still shows Him as vitally concerned, intimately acquainted and directly involved in the heartaches of humanity.

Pat answers, pious platitudes and the like are unsatisfactory. There are some things we don't know. There are real issues we wrestle with, particularly when we are taken from the audience and become part of the drama--and suffering strikes us and those we love.

As we sift through the rubble that was left when disaster struck Job like a tornado, we will find treasures of truth here and there which we will cherish for their help. Best of all, God will show up in the whirlwind, and Job will discover that what we really need is not answers, but God--and that knowing Him is enough to know.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


"Israel settled in the land of Egypt, in the region of Goshen. They acquired property in it and became fruitful and very numerous." (Genesis 47:27 HCSB) "These are the tribes of Israel, 12 in all, and this was what their father said to them. He blessed them, and he blessed each one with a suitable blessing." (Genesis 49:28 HCSB)

Simply shocking--scandalous even--that is the behavior we witness in Genesis. That this would be true of a wicked world before God swept them away in the judgment of the flood or of the perverse populace of Sodom that God consumed with fire is not altogether surprising, but the portrait painted of the people God chose to build His nation--it's mind boggling! We are hit right between the eyes with God's scandalous grace.

Noah gets drunk. Abraham sleeps with his wife's slave. Isaac lies. Jacob cheats. The sons of Israel are violent and vile in their conduct, except for Joseph. These are the people God chooses to redeem. Scandalous!

But, that is the nature of grace. It is what makes grace to be grace. It is God's unmerited favor bestowed on undeserving sinners. That is what we all are. Grace is what we all need. Grace is what we can never earn. The external effort cannot hide the internal evil. The best we can do is try to hide our shame behind a garment of fig leaves, cling to a log while it rains for forty days, build a tower to try to reach heaven--to no avail. Only grace can clothe us in righteousness, secure us in the ark of salvation and place a ladder that extends down to us from heaven.

Adam and Eve being driven from the garden---that's not scandalous. We would expect that. God reaching out to them and clothing them. God giving a promise that through this sinful woman's descendant the Savior would be born--that's scandalous.

Humanity thumbing its nose at God and being drowned in the deluge--that's not scandalous. We would say it's sad, but not startling. It's a just sentence from a Holy God. Noah finding grace in the eyes of the LORD and his family being preserved on the ark, realizing that even though Noah was a faithful man, he was also a flawed man, along with his boys--that fact highlighted in him lying naked in a drunken stupor in his tent and one of his sons mocking him. That's scandalous.

Sodom, so depraved that the name has become synonymous with perversion, for that city to be consumed in God's furious fire--that's not scandalous. For Lot to be forcibly removed and not perishing with them, considering what a carnal, compromiser he was--that's scandalous.

It is the scandalous grace of God.

So, here is the conniving rascal named Jacob. If parents were seeking a model for good behavior to instruct their children, they would not choose Jacob! But God chose Jacob to be the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. What of those sons? Not such promising material from which to construct a nation! Just consider some of their prospective fruit grounded in the root of past behavior and present nature.
Here is a sampling:

Reuben, you are my firstborn,
my strength and the firstfruits of my virility,
excelling in prominence, excelling in power.
Turbulent as water, you will no longer excel,
because you got into your father's bed
and you defiled it-he got into my bed.

Simeon and Levi are brothers;
their knives are vicious weapons.

Dan will judge his people
as one of the tribes of Israel.
He will be a snake by the road,
a viper beside the path,
that bites the horses' heels
so that its rider falls backward. (Genesis 49:3-5, 16, 17 HCSB)

God decided to build a chosen people from rotten timber. Scandalous!

We, the people of the New Covenant, should be exceedingly grateful--for that is what God is still doing. John Newton captured the concept in that most beloved hymn, "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me."

I am Jacob. So are you. In our heart, if sometimes restrained in our actions, resides shameful thoughts, sinful desires, shocking attitudes. God knows what we are often loathe to admit. He sees what we hide beneath the veneer of respectability. Yet, He loves us. He sent His Son to die for us--the only perfect Man paying the penalty for sinners! He saves us and gives us true righteousness in the same way He did for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob--by faith in Him. "Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness." (Genesis 15:6 HCSB)

That's grace abounding to the chief of sinners--the scandal of grace!

Friday, January 20, 2012


"That night God spoke to Israel in a vision: 'Jacob, Jacob!' He said.
And Jacob replied, 'Here I am.'
God said, 'I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you back. Joseph will put his hands on your eyes.' " (Genesis 46:2-4 HCSB)

Everywhere you go, God is already there. Theologians have a term for that--God is omnipresent. But it is not just a doctrinal proposition to lodge in our head, it is a dynamic principle to lift up our heart! As we near the end of our study in Genesis, surely there are so many things we have swirling around in our thoughts, so many feelings rushing through our soul, yet at the core of all we find God--ruling over all we find God--everywhere we see His hand. Often, we hear His voice.

Jacob did. This old man has not had an easy life. Many of the wounds were self-inflicted--the consequence of poor choices. God used the chisel of chastisement to knock off the rough edges and the sandpaper of sorrow to polish him. When we find him nearing the end of his days, there is still more grinding to be done. But, Jacob has come a long way. God loved him too much to leave him alone. After all, the LORD had promised, " 'Look, I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. I will bring you back to this land, for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.' When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he said, 'Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.' " (Genesis 28:15, 16 HCSB) He is there, even when we are unaware. God had been faithful to Jacob, even though Jacob had repeatedly been unfaithful to God. There were stretches of time when Jacob was so wrapped up in himself that he virtually ignored the Lord. Still, God never ignored him.

Genesis begins with God. He speaks everything into existence. What He does not do is send the world spinning into space and sit aloof watching from a distance as things evolve over eons of time from some primordial ooze by hit and miss, random mutation, survival of the fittest, natural selection, until we reach mankind. What He does not do is casually observe the developments of human history, detached from those events. As we read Genesis, we see God everywhere, intimately acquainted with all that concerns us. God is in the garden walking with Adam and Eve. When they sin, He reaches out to them and in their nakedness clothes them. Cain kills his brother and God confronts him. God secures Noah in the ark, while he judges the world for their blatant wickedness. The Scripture speaks of Him coming down to deal with Babel and Sodom. He calls Abraham and enters into a covenant relationship with him and his sons after him--Isaac and Jacob. When Joseph is removed from his earthly father's presence, his Heavenly Father is with him--in the pit, in the prison and then in the palace. From start to finish of this book we see a God who is there!

He has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5)

When you cry, He is there to grieve with you and comfort you. When you toss and turn at night with a heart of anxiety, He watches over you and gives you peace. When you go to the doctor's office for a report you dread, the Great Physician accompanies you. When you walk into the boss's office and he hands you a pink slip, Jehovah Jireh--the LORD our Provider is there. In good times and bad, days that make us glad and those that make us sad, sitting in a waiting room celebrating a newborn's arrival or standing in a graveyard crying at a loved one's departure--everywhere you go, God is there. I love the way the old hymn expresses it:

"Never a trial that He is not there,
Never a burden that He doth not bear;
Never a sorrow that He doth not share,
Moment by moment, I'm under His care.

Never a heartache, and never a groan,
Never a teardrop, and never a moan;
Never a danger but there on the throne
Moment by moment He thinks of His own.

Never a weakness that He doth not feel,
Never a sickness that He cannot heal;
Moment by moment, in woe or in weal,
Jesus, my Savior, abides with me still.

Moment by moment I'm kept in His love,
Moment by moment I've life from above;
Looking to Jesus till glory doth shine;
Moment by moment, O Lord, I am Thine." (Daniel Whittle)

Everywhere you go, look for Him. He is there. Look for Him and the glory will break upon you!

Thursday, January 19, 2012


"Then Pharaoh said to his servants, 'Can we find anyone like this, a man who has God's spirit in him?' So Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one as intelligent and wise as you are. You will be over my house, and all my people will obey your commands. Only with regard to the throne will I be greater than you.' " (Genesis 41:38-40 HCSB)

Life can be a roller coaster with its ups and downs--a speeding ride that we can respond to with screams of terror or shouts of exhilaration. I suppose in large measure, our response to the hills and thrills depends on our confidence in: 1) The designer of the ride; 2) The director of the ride; 3) The destination of the ride. If we know the one who designed it has built it well and equipped it for safety, that the one who has buckled us in has his hand on the switch directing the ride, constantly monitoring everything, and that the purpose of the ride is to bring you to the destination with no harm with a rewarding experience, then you can strap in, hang on and enjoy the rush!

Joseph experienced the roller coaster of life. The chain of God's blessing began to pull him up the hill as a youngster and it was a steady climb toward the sky. He was strapped in, wearing his colored tunic, object of his father's favor and up, up, up he went. Joseph was a teenager and appeared to be at the top--then came the steep drop. His hateful brothers seize him, strip his garment, shove him into a pit and sell him into slavery--down, down he went--all the way to Egypt!

It was a breathtaking change of circumstances, enough to make the strongest heart pound and make you want to close your eyes and scream. But then, the ride began to go back up, another ascent--not as high to be sure--but Joseph begins to succeed even as a slave in Potiphar's house. Relaxing for a moment, catching his breath and then with a scorned woman's false accusation, the bottom drops out again--flying down another hill and into a dark tunnel, Joseph finds himself in a dismal dungeon. It seems the ride will go on forever.

Then, abruptly, everything changes again. Joseph is out of the darkness and into the light, another hill and he is racing into into the sun. Life's roller coaster has taken him from the pit to the pinnacle, from a prison to a palace, from being a slave to becoming a sovereign. God designed the ride, His hand was always on the switch. He had him securely strapped in with His almighty love. This was no runaway train which would derail in a deadly crash! The Lord had this delightful end in mind. Surely, adrenalin surging, Joseph now laughed, "Wow! what a ride!"

In fact, he has so much fun with it, that he decides to design a roller coaster for his brothers! Won't they be surprised! Did Joseph get a chuckle over watching the panic on their faces as they flew down the hill? He knew that in the end that they too would enjoy the ride--eventually.

Life is a roller coaster. When you are climbing, look around and take in the scenery, but don't be caught off guard if suddenly the bottom drops out. Don't give in to fear, but have faith in the Designer of the ride. He is directing it. You will not fly out of the coaster! When you reach the end of it and disembark in heaven, for an eternal day of amusement, you will raise your hands in exuberance and give a shout that reverberates joyfully through the New Jerusalem, "Wow! What a ride!"

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


"So Joseph was there in prison. But the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him." (Genesis 39:20b, 21a HCSB)

It's easy to do. You meet someone, form a first impression and then find out later that they are nothing like what you judged them to be. Then, there are circumstances in life, that when they occur we make an instant evaluation of them, only to discover that the opposite is true. You don't judge a book by its cover.

This truth is written large in a Book that can be judged by its cover--the Holy Bible. It is a Book that is different from any other. It is God's Book and reveals to us the story behind the story as only an all-knowing and all-powerful Being, whose sovereign purposes cannot be thwarted, can do. So many of the circumstances and actions we see unfolding in this divine drama look on the surface to be good, but then turn out bad. Other times what seems terrible is transformed into terrific. In the Good Book we discover that for every other, you don't judge a book by its cover.

Nowhere is this seen more vividly than in Genesis 38-40. It is a sordid saga of sex and lies--of deception and dungeon. But in the dark shadows, a dim Figure stands, directing events so that when man does his worst, the Sovereign Lord does His best. The New Testament puts it this way, "We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28 HCSB) You don't judge a book by its cover.

In Genesis 38, we learn that failure can become God's avenue. The moral failings documented there concerning Judah's family are shocking. The story which unfolds in these verses reads like some steamy soap opera. But the most arresting part is the realization that this family tree, with all its rotten fruit, would produce One by the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior! Tamar, who dresses like a prostitute, to deceive her father-in-law Judah to have sex with her is impregnated by him and then is listed in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:3)! The deeds were wicked indeed. The consequences of sin are ever present. Still, where sin abounds, grace much more abounds. You don't judge a book by its cover.

In Genesis 39, we find that mistreatment can yield God's advancement. Joseph was enslaved in Egypt because of the mistreatment by his brothers who hated him. So, what did God do? He advanced Joseph to a position of responsibility in his master's service. Then, because Joseph rejected the adulterous proposition of Potiphar's wife, she falsely accuses him of trying to rape her and Joseph is thrown into prison. Talk about mistreatment! So, what does God do? The Lord advances Joseph to supervisory status of the other prisoners! What at first seems like setbacks turn into stepping stones to promotion. Joseph is in prison, but the Lord is with him. You don't judge a book by its cover.

In Genesis 40, we see that disappointments can be God's appointments. I don't know what happened--perhaps Pharaoh's butler spilt wine on his carpet, maybe the baker burned the biscuits. All I know is that there were a couple of fellows with pretty cushy jobs in the palace that wound up disappointing their boss and being disappointed themselves, as they found themselves in the bowels of the prison. The disappointment was God's appointment. It just so happened they ended up in a cell with Joseph. Then each had a vivid, bewildering dream. The Lord revealed its meaning to Joseph. The baker would be disappointed--his dream meant his death. Pharaoh would have him executed. Better news was given to the butler. He would get his old job back. Ecstatic, he promises to put in a good word to Pharaoh on Joseph's behalf. Joseph must have thought that things were finally going to turn around for him after much disappointment. Instead of deliverance, what he received was more disappointment! The chapter closes with these sad words, "Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph; he forgot him." (Genesis 40:23 HCSB) Although that is the end of the chapter, it isn't the end of the story. The disappointment would become God's appointment. Don't judge a book by its cover!

So, what are you staring at today? Failure--your own or someone else's? Mistreatment? Disappointment? You reached for the stars, but find yourself behind bars--a prisoner of circumstances. All about you are the shards of broken dreams. God hasn't abandoned you. He is with you in the darkness, as he was with Joseph. Don't judge a book by is cover.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


"God said to Jacob, 'Get up! Go to Bethel and settle there. Build an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.' " (Genesis 35:1 HCSB)

There's no place like home.

NBC News related the story last year about Prince, Myrna Carillo's dog, who wandered off for five long years. Myrna married, had two boys and moved four times during that period. According to the report "Prince showed up on her doorstep... Myrna immediately recognized the furry dog, and more impressively, the dog recognized her. Prince is already bonding with Myrna's sons, and is reacquainting himself with his rediscovered family."

There is no place like home!

Jacob and his family were headed back home--back to Bethel--back to the "house of God" for so the name of the place signified. Jacob is older, wiser, and carries more than a few scars from his years of wandering. But, God has called him to come home.

You may recall that Bethel was the place where Jacob had his first dramatic encounter with God. His first night away from home, he saw a stairway to heaven--angels ascending and descending--and God appeared to him, spoke to him and gave assurance of covenant blessing, "Look, I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. I will bring you back to this land, for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." (Genesis 28:15 HCSB) Jacob made some promises to be faithful to the God who would be faithful to him.

Decades passed. The vision faded and vows were forgotten. Jacob didn't mean to--he just got so busy making a living that he forgot about making a life. He got a job, got married--twice--fathered a gaggle of kids. Gradually, subtly, he had wandered away from God. That is usually how it happens, isn't it? I've witnessed it scores of times. Someone relates to me this moving experience with God. They make effusive promises of serving Him. Then they miss a Sunday--or two--attendance gets sporadic. Out of concern you talk to them. "Oh, I really miss church! It's been crazy. My schedule... (INSERT EXCUSE HERE) but I'm coming back soon." Most are still gone. It can happen to me--to any of us. The downgrade is so gradual that you don't realize how fast you are going until the brakes give way and you run off the road!

Jacob may have lost sight of God, but God never lost sight of him! The loving Father would not leave his prodigal son alone. He unleashed the hounds of heaven to track him down--the dogs of discipline bringing him to his knees. The Lord virtually seized him by the collar, reminding Jacob of who He was and to whom Jacob belonged. That was recorded in Genesis 32. A golden opportunity to get out of the pig pen and rebuild the altar at Bethel presented itself. A fresh start looked so hopeful. He's back in the neighborhood. He intends to get all the way home. He's limping that direction.

But sinful habits are stubborn things. Surely almost home is close enough. Jacob hunkers down among the heathen in Canaan. It was a disaster! His family suffered most for their father's failed spiritual leadership. They plunged into violence and vileness--lives marked by immorality and idolatry. That is often the case.

Still God was faithful. Jacob may have broken his promises--and become a broken man accordingly--but God cannot break His. It had been a while since it is recorded that Jacob had spoken to the Lord, so God shatters the silence with a summons, "It's time to come home--back to Bethel--back to the house of God, the place of faded vision and forgotten vows!"

You don't make the trip with a load of junk! The baggage of a sinful past must be buried. "So Jacob said to his family and all who were with him, 'Get rid of the foreign gods that are among you. Purify yourselves and change your clothes.' " (Genesis 35:2 HCSB) This is repentance.

" 'We must get up and go to Bethel. I will build an altar there to the God who answered me in my day of distress. He has been with me everywhere I have gone.' Jacob built an altar there and called the place God of Bethel because it was there that God had revealed Himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother." (Genesis 35:3, 7 HCSB) That is revival.

Isn't it time to return back to the house of God? Isn't it time to remove the idols and soiled garments and restore your spiritual leadership in the family? Isn't it time to rebuild the personal altar so long neglected? Isn't it time to revive the vision and renew the vows?

"I’ve wandered far away from God,
Now I’m coming home;
The paths of sin too long I’ve trod,
Lord, I’m coming home.
I’ve wasted many precious years,
Now I’m coming home;
I now repent with bitter tears,
Lord, I’m coming home.
I’m tired of sin and straying, Lord,
Now I’m coming home;
I’ll trust Thy love, believe Thy word,
Lord, I’m coming home.
My soul is sick, my heart is sore,
Now I’m coming home;
My strength renew, my home restore,
Lord, I’m coming home.
Coming home, coming home,
Nevermore to roam;
Open wide Thine arms of love,
Lord, I’m coming home." (William J. Kirkpatrick).

There's no place like home!

Monday, January 16, 2012


"Jacob then named the place Peniel, 'For I have seen God face to face,' [he said,] 'and I have been delivered.' The sun shone on him as he passed by Penuel--limping because of his hip." (Genesis 32:30, 31 HCSB)

Jacob was broken to be blessed; crippled to be crowned.

God is the Potter and we are the clay. He will shape us according to His design for us. When He puts us on the wheel, He begins to apply the pressure of circumstances--sometimes gently caressing the clay and often more firmly. The Potter may even have to break us and start over.

This lesson was learned in art class. I recall some measure of joy as I began to mold the wet clay, spinning on the wheel, the clay beginning to yield to my hands--a vessel taking shape. Then, to my dismay, it started to come apart! Some grit had gotten mixed in with the clay and to continue meant the impurity had to be removed, the clay broken down, and starting the process again.

That was what God had to do to Jacob. The man had such stubbornness in him; the schemer always had a plan percolating in his cranium. No matter whether it was God's will or even if it was God's will, but done in the wrong way--Jacob had an agenda and he was going to achieve it. He wanted God's blessing and like so many of us was able to rationalize that what Jacob desired was according to God's plan. This folly was not just a lapse, it was a lifestyle--stubborn grit embedded in the human clay. To be the vessel God would use to bless the world, the Potter would have to break him.

It happened one dark night. Jacob's mood was darker still. He sat alone, bowed under a burden of doubt, his mind muddled with fear. What to do? How could he find a way out of this corner he had painted himself into? Esau was on the road to meet him--the brother whom he had cheated--this sibling he had fled Canaan to escape from--with his violent, vengeful hands longing to be put around Jacob's throat. The reports were that a small army was with him. With Jacob, there were mostly women and a lot of children. The odds were stacked against him.

Those thoughts were suddenly interrupted when strong hands did grab him! Jacob reacted instinctively to the threat. He did what he always did--he fought back. Surely, it was Esau come to get even.

No--not Esau, neither one of Esau's men--it was God Himself--taking the form He sometimes did in the Old Testament era, as the Angel of the Lord. The wrestling bout was a microcosm of the patriarch's life--wrestling with the will of God, clay resisting the Potter's hand. It was time to break Jacob.

Why did God not quickly impose His will on the man? Surely, He had the power to overcome Jacob! Yet, God condescends to wrestle with Jacob. It had been that way for decades, but now it was coming to the final round. God wants to do more than overpower Jacob and have him cry, "Uncle! Uncle!" God wants his heart, his love, his worship and for him instead to cry, "Father|"

The decisive moment comes as God puts Jacob's hip out of joint. The wrestling match essentially over--the grappler became a clinger, the fighter became a beggar. Jacob is a defeated, desperate man--right where God wanted him!

"What's your name?" That was the Lord's question. He wasn't seeking information; God was soliciting confession. So the answer comes: I am a cheat, a scoundrel, the twister, supplanter, heel-grabber--Jacob. That was his name--that was his nature. But, that night everything changed! God changed his name to Israel--the Prince of power with God--and, more importantly, that signified his change of nature. God still had some shaping to do--more pressure to apply--but, now He has good clay.

A new day dawns! Jacob--Israel--walks on the rest of life's journey with a limp. Every step was a painful reminder of the transformation in his life. Each step was to be a step of faith and not self-reliance. He was broken to be blessed; crippled to be crowned.

That painful circumstance in your life, the frustrated plans, the family strife, the financial struggle, the physical sickness--it could be a host of things--pressures you have prayed and asked God to remove. The prayer is unanswered and the blessing has been withdrawn. Maybe. It might be that your prayer is being answered in a better way and the blessing you desire is coming disguised as a burden. The darkest night in your life may yield to the dawn of your brightest day! It did for Jacob.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


"Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He reached a certain place and spent the night there because the sun had set. He took one of the stones from the place, put it there at his head, and lay down in that place." (Genesis 28:10, 11 HCSB)

It was a hard bed--a mattress of sod, a rock for a pillow and covered with a blanket of dew. Jacob had made his bed--now he would have to lie in it.

There are consequences for our actions. In Biblical vernacular, we reap what we sow. For most of his life, Jacob would work diligently to scheme his way around this principle. It came naturally for him. God would eventually break him--but it would be a long and painful process.

Perhaps you have been the recipient of a special gift called "the strong-willed child." Days were marked with discipline. It was a battle over everything! If you are currently trying to raise such a child, he or she is likely climbing over you as you wrestle with him or her in exasperation, vainly trying to read these words--a Tasmanian devil on your lap!

That was Jacob. He entered the world by grabbing his twin brother's heel. Esau might be the first-born, but Jacob would fight him over it. Conniving, plotting, cheating--whatever it took--he wanted the birthright and the blessing, which came to the eldest son. He got it. God had foreordained it. But, rather than rely on the Lord to fulfill His will in His way, Jacob would "take the bull by the horns." He could have adopted the Frank Sinatra lyrics as his theme song, "I did it my way!"

He made his bed, now he would have to lie in it.

Conspiring with his mother, concealing his identity from his father, cheating his brother--that made for a hard bed. Jacob left home, leaving behind a disappointed father, a broken-hearted mother and a brother seething with fury. Jacob was a "mama's boy" but he would never see his mother again. It would be many years before Jacob would finally make it back home. His dear mother would be long dead.

He made his bed, now he would have to lie in it.

Jacob finds his way to kinfolk in Haran. There things seem to work according to plan--at first. He chooses a bride--a beauty named Rachel. But, Rachel has a father--Laban--every bit the scoundrel that Jacob was. Rachel also has a sister--Leah--as plain as her sister was pretty and to no one's surprise still unmarried. Laban would fix that. The wedding is over, the "bride" is waiting in a dark tent to consummate the marriage. Jacob waits up the next morning--surprise! It was Leah! The cheater has been cheated; the deceiver deceived. You reap what you sow.

Make your choices today carefully--prayerfully. Submit to God's will rather than strive for your will. When you make your bed, you will have to lie in it.

Friday, January 13, 2012


"Abraham said to his servant, the elder of his household who managed all he owned, 'Place your hand under my thigh, and I will have you swear by the Lord, God of heaven and God of earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I live, but will go to my land and my family to take a wife for my son Isaac.' " (Genesis 24:2-4 HCSB)

Eliezer was Abraham's servant--and it would be difficult to find one more faithful. He provides a model for all who would serve the Lord.

His qualities are on display in Genesis 24. There he is sent by Abraham on a mission to seek a bride for his son. God is doing that--sending us out to find a bride for His Son. Paul explained his assignment in a similar way when he said, "For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, because I have promised you in marriage to one husband-to present a pure virgin to Christ." (2 Corinthians 11:2 HCSB)

Eliezer sets the standard for servants in his PREPARATION. His faithfulness in little things had prepared him for the larger task. He had consistently served his master in the mundane activities of the daily grind. This is why he had risen to be the senior steward of all Abraham's many servants. You will not be ready for the big assignment until you have proven reliable in the smaller ones.

We see his standard in his PASSION. There is no hesitation in his response. Abraham calls and Eliezer enthusiastically embraces the mission. He doesn't pause to question, or to seek excuses. His life was about service. He ate, drank and breathed devotion to his master. What I have seen often in Christian service is people who know in their head what they should be doing, but often lack in their heart the passion for serving. It requires both knowledge and zeal. Knowledge without zeal means you don't show up. Zeal without knowledge means you will blow up. Zeal with knowledge means you will grow up. Do you have a passion to perform for the Master?

There is the standard set in his PRAYER. He seeks God's direction. Over and again we find Eliezer calling upon the Lord. Humble reliance upon God marked him. When Christ commissioned His disciples to go into the world and seek His bride, He commanded them first to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit. So, they prayed and the power came. It was a church birthed, bathed and built in prayer--and the world was turned upside down! We don't need better methods today, we need better men--men and women of prayer!

Then we see Eliezer's PERCEPTION. Arriving at a strategic spot, he waits--and watches. He is looking to see where God is moving and then he will move. He spots Rebekah, casts out the bait, she bites and he reels her in! What a catch! Think about the people Jesus saw: some fishermen tending their nets, a tax-collector doing his work, a thirsty woman drawing water, a crippled man begging for help, a short fellow perched in a tree--and so many more. That perception led to transformation! Christ's followers did likewise. Peter and John see a cripple begging outside the temple, Philip sees a man reading the Scripture while riding in a chariot, Barnabas sees the gracious activity of God among Gentiles and Paul sees pagans worshipping at the altar of an unknown God they need to know. Jesus said, "Open your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ready for harvest." (John 4:35b HCSB)

We hear Eliezer set the standard in his PROCLAMATION. He has some good news to share! Isaac--a most eligible bachelor--is presenting a marriage proposal to a potential bride through his servant. Thus, we go with a message of love to the world, calling people into a relationship with Christ. Like Eliezer, we cannot limit our audience to our neighborhood, but be willing to journey far and wide. God has sent us into the highways and by-ways of life to invite people to the great marriage supper.

Abraham's superlative servant shows his PERSISTENCE. From start to finish, his journey was arduous without assurance of success. But, we find him pressing on. Even after finding Rebekah, her brother Laban tries to slow things down, but Eliezer feels such an urgency about completing his assignment that he persists and insists on a decision. Seeking souls to bring to Jesus will not be an easy job. There will be plenty of opportunities to give up. One of the subtle temptations is procrastination. "I know I need to share the Gospel with my Dad." "I'm going to talk to my neighbor about Christ--soon." But delayed obedience is disobedience. Your persistence will not guarantee a favorable response--no more than Eliezer could have been certain of it--but, failure is assured if we don't make the effort!

Mark the model of Eliezer's PRESENTATION. He presents gracious gifts--riches and robes. "Then he brought out objects of silver and gold, and garments, and gave [them] to Rebekah. He also gave precious gifts to her brother and her mother." (Genesis 24:53 HCSB) As we share the Gospel we are calling people to new life in which they will be rewarded with the riches of God's grace and robed in the righteousness of God's justification. Best of all, he presents a beauty to the bridegroom. It was love at first sight! What joy the old servant must have felt in a job well done!

That is the temporal joy of the servant of God and the eternal bliss he or she will know when we have been faithful. Let us go and do likewise!

Thursday, January 12, 2012


"And Abraham lived as a foreigner in the land of the Philistines for many days." (Genesis 21:34 HCSB)

"But it's not Thanksgiving!" you might be thinking. When we hear the word "pilgrim" you may tend to think of people who wore stove top hats with belt buckles on them, who took their blunderbuss and shot a turkey, then invited the Indians to join them for a Thanksgiving feast. Those were pilgrims, but not for those reasons. These had come to the New World fleeing religious persecution, traveling so many weary miles with a longing to worship God according to the dictates of their conscience. They had the sense they were being directed by God and moved out in faith and obedience. That's what pilgrims do. That's what Abraham did.

"By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed and went out to a place he was going to receive as an inheritance. He went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed as a foreigner in the land of promise, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, co-heirs of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God." (Hebrews 11:8-10 HCSB)

The lives of the patriarchs--Abraham, Isaac and Jacob--are marked by their movement from place to place--strangers in a strange land, tumbleweeds blown by the winds of God's will. Always on the ready to pull up the tent pegs, pack up and head out--ever with the longing for their real home in heaven--these are pilgrim paths.

Those paths take Abraham and his family into several places and differing challenges in Genesis 20-23. The pilgrim paths lead them into peril, promise, provision and pain, each with its unique crossroad between crisis and opportunity--an occasion for the pilgrim's progress or regress.

Genesis 20 is about LIES. We've heard this song before. "It's deja vu, all over again," as Yogi Berra said. "From there Abraham traveled to the region of the Negev and settled between Kadesh and Shur. While he lived in Gerar, Abraham said about his wife Sarah, 'She is my sister.' So Abimelech king of Gerar had Sarah brought to him." (Genesis 20:1, 2 HCSB)

It was the same devilish dead-end Abraham had taken before (see 12:10-19) and he winds up in the same ditch! Thankfully, God pulled him out again. We may react in shock. The liberal and skeptic scornfully says this is just another version of the same story. The reality is that we are slow to learn. Our head can be so hard and our heart so unbelieving. Sin is a stubborn thing. Once certain patterns develop in us, it is easy to slip into that rut again. Like an old logging road, where heavy trucks travel repeatedly, the driver doesn't have to try to get the wheels in the ruts. It's easy. As pilgrims we will face repeated detours and dead-ends. We had best heed the warning of the children's song, "Be careful little feet, where you go!"

Genesis 21 is about LAUGHS. "Abraham was 100 years old when his son Isaac was born to him. Sarah said, 'God has made me laugh, and everyone who hears will laugh with me.' She also said, 'Who would have told Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne a son for him in his old age.' " (Genesis 21:5-7 HCSB)

What did they name the boy? Laughter! That is what the name Isaac means. When God promised Abraham that he would have a son in his old age, Sarah was eavesdropping, and laughed scornfully at the possibility (18:10-15). Now, a year later, the old couple is giggling with delight as they look into the face of "Laughter." God gets the last laugh! There is more laughter in the chapter--not of those being merry, but one bringing mockery. Ishmael scorns his younger half-brother. There is strife in the home. Hagar is driven out. The conflict continues to this day between the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael--the Jews and Arabs. That struggle hasn't brought any smiles, but a lot of sorrows across the years--many tears! But, again, God will get the last laugh. Peace will come to the Middle East (and the world) when the Prince of Peace, Jesus of Abraham's seed returns and reconciles His brethren to God and to each other in the Millennium. The church has a role in this today as we share the Gospel with Jews and Arabs and the laughter resounds, "there will be joy in heaven over one sinner who repents" (Luke 15:7a).

Genesis 22 is about LOVES. "After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, 'Abraham!' 'Here I am,' he answered. 'Take your son,' He said, 'your only [son] Isaac, whom you love, go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.' " (Genesis 22:1, 2 HCSB)

How Abraham loved Isaac! The test: did he love God more? God demands that there be no higher love. Jesus said that to love God with all our being was the Great Commandment. We must love Him so exclusively and extravagantly that even love for family would seem as hate in comparison (Luke 14:26). God isn't really asking us to love family less, just to love Him most. The greatest gift we can give our children is a life sold out to God. This opens up the avenue of God's provision. Abraham passed the test and God revealed Himself as Jehovah Jireh--the LORD our Provider (22:14). It is an incredible picture of substitutionary atonement--of God providing a sacrifice in Isaac's place--a preview of the Father's love for us in giving His only Son to save us--all on another mountain--not Moriah, but Golgotha! Give Him your love--your life! "Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship." (Romans 12:1 HCSB)

Genesis 23 is about LOSSES. "Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her." (Genesis 23:2 HCSB)

It was the loss of a darling wife for Abraham and of a dear mother for Isaac. The pilgrim path sooner or later takes us into the cemetery. Being people of faith doesn't shield us from the sorrows of our frail mortality. God will wipe away the tears, but that is because there are tears needing to be dried. We are grateful for the grace that sustains us in the graveyard and for the glory that awaits in the heavens--but we are not home yet. We are pilgrims, looking for a city--the New Jerusalem whose Builder is God. We look for a city, but often through eyes dimmed by tears. Press on pilgrim! God walks with you!

"While we walk the pilgrim pathway,
Clouds will overspread the sky;
But, when trav'ling days are over,
Not a shadow, not a sigh.
When we all get to heaven,
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
We'll sing and shout the victory!" (Eliza Hewitt)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


"Then out of the sky the Lord rained burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah from the Lord." (Genesis 19:24 HCSB)

Malcom Gladwell wrote a best-selling book called, "The Tipping Point." He draws the theme from the realm of physics and sociology where the word is used, as he frames it, "the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point." In terms of societal change, Gladwell wrote, "ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread like viruses do."

In the nineteenth chapter of Genesis, we see that Sodom had exceeded the tipping point. Evil had become an epidemic--a virus of vileness that cried out to the heavens for judgment. The disease, untreated, was terminal.

When a culture surrenders all pretense of decency and embraces deviancy as normalcy --even giving it celebrity--that society has reached the tipping point. Without timely and thorough repentance--a tipping point in turning to God from sin--judgment is inevitable. That was Sodom, where homosexuality had become synonymous with the city. This is the tipping point. Paul wrote,
For God's wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse. For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles.
Therefore God delivered them over in the cravings of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served something created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen.
This is why God delivered them over to degrading passions. For even their females exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. The males in the same way also left natural relations with females and were inflamed in their lust for one another. Males committed shameless acts with males and received in their own persons the appropriate penalty of their error.
And because they did not think it worthwhile to acknowledge God, God delivered them over to a worthless mind to do what is morally wrong. They are filled with all unrighteousness, evil, greed, and wickedness. They are full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful. Although they know full well God's just sentence-that those who practice such things deserve to die-they not only do them, but even applaud others who practice them. (Romans 1:18-32 HCSB)
Can we read this and deny that America is at the tipping point? We are marching toward the abyss. We are perhaps teetering on the brink.

That's the bad news--but, there is one golden shaft of sunlight that breaks though the clouds. Abraham interceded for Sodom. He prayed for God to spare the city for the sake of Lot and his family who dwelt there. God said that if in the perverse populace only ten righteous people might be present, He would withhold His wrath! This is the hope--the difference God's people can make--as they function as light in a dark world. It doesn't take many to make a difference. They must begin to lead the nation to the tipping point of spiritual awakening.

The problem in Sodom wasn't really the corrupt culture, so much as a carnal "Christian." Lot had miserably failed to lead even his own family to faith, much less influence the city for God. Will such nauseating lukewarmness be the mark of our generation of church members? Lukewarm is comfortable. We become like our environment--not disturbed about the conduct of the world and the world not disquieted about the claims of the church. Old Vance Havner said it this way, "Baptists are many, but not much."

We are at the tipping point.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


"After these events, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: 'Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield; your reward will be very great.' ...Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness." (Genesis 15:1, 6 HCSB)

Change is a part of life. We may like the change, resist the change, ignore the change, but we cannot avoid it. Change happens. The only decision we have is how we will respond to it. That will determine whether the change takes us forward or backward.

This is what we are seeing in the life of Abraham and Sarah. God uprooted them from home, planted them in Canaan and gave them the promise of fruitfulness. All seemed well until famine came and from there they fled to Egypt--driven by fear rather than being directed by faith. Returning back to the Promised Land, they settle into the daily round and blessing starts to flow. But, the prosperity brings potential strife between Abraham and his nephew Lot over the shortage of pasture. The next thing you know, the kinsmen part company. Nothing ever stays the same. Today will bring changes for you and for me. Whether they move us forward in faith or our steps falter in fear depends on our choice in those inevitable changes.

For Abraham it seems he takes two steps forward and one step back. He trusts God--mostly. He fails God--occasionally. Overall he makes progress--gaining ground in his journey toward the Celestial City, but sometimes taking a detour and even a dead end. Then it's time to turn around and get back on the right road. Thankfully, he had GPS (God's Providential Steering) to put him back on course. That is so descriptive of our own experience!

In chapters fourteen through sixteen of Genesis, we see this pattern in Abraham's progress. He takes two steps forward and one step back.

He steps forward with a courageous response of faith in chapter fourteen. Abraham received the report that his nephew Lot was taken in battle. Lot had moved near Sodom for financial advantage, but didn't stop with being in proximity to the wicked city. He and his family took up occupancy. Lot is gradually being pulled into the world--assimilated. Though a backslider, he was a believer and his crisis was meant by God for correction--discipline by a loving Father to his wayward child. Abraham acts with courageous faith, raising his own militia and marching out to rescue his kin. There are many of God's people who are held captive by the enemy. We ought to respond as Abraham did. "Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won't be tempted." (Galatians 6:1 HCSB)

He steps forward in a covenant relationship of faith in chapter fifteen. Abraham refuses the corrupting offer of reward from Sodom's vile rulers. God is pleased! God assures him that He is the reward! Abraham receives the promise by faith and enters a covenant of grace. "Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness." (Genesis 15:6 HCSB) Nothing is more important than to be in a right standing before God. The New Testament uses this verse to underscore that this is the only way--a personal relationship with God through faith.

But, he steps back in a consequential rejection of faith in chapter sixteen. Pressured by his wife, Abraham decides to help God out. God has promised a baby to this old couple--and still no infant son has arrived. According to the custom of that culture, a servant could become surrogate parent and the child become the heir. "You've got to put feet to your prayer!" Perhaps that was the thinking. While there can at times be an element of truth to that--in this case it was an absolute disaster! It seemed at first as though God had blessed this scheme. Hagar has Ishmael. Abraham has a son. Things degenerated from that point, and the world still suffers the sad consequences of this rash action. Later, when Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah, the half-brothers get into conflict--and their descendants have been fighting ever since: Ishmael's descendants, the Arabs and Isaac's line, the Jews! Choices have consequences and what may seem at the time to be a small thing can have enormous implications!

We would do well to follow the counsel of the old hymn:
"Have faith in God when your pray'rs are unanswered,
Your earnest plea He will never forget;
Wait on the Lord, trust His Word and be patient,
Have faith in God, He'll answer yet." (B.B. McKinney)

Monday, January 09, 2012


"There was a famine in the land, so Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine in the land was severe." (Genesis 12:10 HCSB)
"and there was quarreling between the herdsmen of Abram's livestock and the herdsmen of Lot's livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were living in the land." (Genesis 13:7 HCSB)

Faith untested is faith unproven. It is rather easy to profess faith when one walks through a lush meadow--a gentle breeze carrying the fragrance of flowers and the lyrics of larks to us--beneath an unclouded sky. The challenge is to possess faith when we must climb a steep, rocky path--a howling storm assailing us! While we thank God for the times of tranquility, we had better be prepared for the days of difficulty. The latter will come to those who purpose to walk by faith.

And so, the test arrives. God will permit it. In His sovereign wisdom, He allows the difficulties to develop us. Faith is hammered out on the anvil of adversity and forged in the fires of difficulty. Faith is such a precious thing that God will do what it takes--painful as it may be--to form such a faith. The devil is also keenly aware of the potential of the man or woman who taps into the power and provision of God by faith. Thus, the flip side of the test is the intent of Satan in the difficulty--not to develop faith, but destroy it! When we walk by faith, the rocks on the road will either become stepping stones or stumbling blocks--depending on our response.

In Genesis twelve, we find Abraham and Sarah beginning a journey of faith. God has called them to a new land--a new life, really--and off they go, trusting in His Word. They arrive safely and appear to abide serenely. Wherever they pitch their tent, Abraham builds an altar. Communion with God is a consistent experience. How blessed--and how brief! We discover the Sunday pinnacle of praise is followed by the Monday valley of problems. Faith is always tested.

The blessedness of Canaan is supplanted by the barrenness of famine! Abraham soon encounters a difficult problem, as documented in the last half of chapter twelve. Difficult problems call for endurance--for not rushing into hasty decisions, but abiding in faith. But, Abraham did not. He foolishly chose to walk by sight instead of faith--and the results were costly--nearly catastrophic!

He goes down to Egypt. It is always "down" when you follow your own path rather than God's. Abraham drags his wife into danger with him. The effects of our choices are never limited to us, and when we stray from faith, it is those closest to us who suffer most for it. His disbelief leads to deception and the discrediting of his testimony. How could a pagan king believe anything a hypocrite like Abraham would claim about God? In fact, without the intervention of God, the blessing God intended to bring upon the world through Abraham is in jeopardy as his wife has become part of a heathen harem! Of course, God proved faithful even when His servant proved faithless. God is true when every man is a liar. His will, ultimately, cannot be thwarted. But that doesn't mean we may not suffer consequences from our folly.

Abraham was a saved man, but not a sinless man. None of us are. Yet, even though there was not perfection in his faith, there was progression in his faith. Back in Canaan, we find him facing more difficulty. This time, not so much a difficult problem as a difficult person. The need wasn't endurance by not rushing into a hasty decision to the problem, as in Genesis twelve, but the need of forbearance by not responding with a hateful action to the person in chapter thirteen.

It is a record of strife and stress--again played out on the public stage where the heathen are watching. This time, Abraham chooses to walk by faith and not by sight. He refuses to assert his rights, but accepts his responsibilities. The end result is the reward of God! Faith rests in the Lord's promises.

Lot, on the other hand, walks by sight--leaning on human reason rather than seeking heavenly revelation. Abraham's nephew never bothers to pray, nor defer back to his uncle. Why look a gift horse in the mouth? But, there is this matter of Sodom. The pasture was just what Lot needed for material prosperity--so, what if some of the neighbors had a bad reputation? We know how that worked out.

So, here we are, assured that difficult problems and difficult people will arise suddenly like a thunderstorm bursting on your summer picnic. You have no choice about whether your faith will be tested--it always will. You do have a choice in whether you will pass or fail the test. It is smart to learn from your mistakes, but smarter to learn from the mistakes of others. What have you learned from Abraham and Lot's decisions? Bear this in mind, "so that the genuineness of your faith-more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire-may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 1:7 HCSB)