The Changing Scenes – Job 29-30. RBT Notes, 23rd January

One of suffering’s worst torments is the memory of happier days. One of life’s biggest mistakes is the thought that the good things we’re currently enjoying will always be there. But life is uncertain. Nothing is guaranteed, apart from the constant presence of God’s grace. That grace, though, does not always manifest itself is a trouble-free life. Far from it. Now all Job has of the material and this-worldly blessings God showered upon him are the memories of them. That is so much anguish for Job.

These two chapters are a study in the contrast of Job’s life, past and present. First he remembers the good times, in ch.29, “when I was in my prime, when God’s intimate friendship blessed my house” (v.4). Job had plenty: the Presence of God, the respect of others, the opportunity of serving the needy in the community, and the comforts of feeling that none of it would never end. “I dwelt as a king among his troops” (v.25).

But now? Ch. 30 spells out his wretched life is: mockery, hatred, fear, illness, degradation, unanswered prayers, loneliness. “I have become a brother of jackals, a companion of owls” (v.29). He has nothing.

What worst of all in Job’s life, then? It’s his own feelings about all he has lost. His anguish about his privations gives the bitter sting to his miseries. Yes, he’s always known that life is short and uncertain: “naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall depart” (Jb. 1.20).  Now, he has time to see and feel all of suffering’s indignities. And it’s all wretched.

Man of sorrows? That is who Job is. Remember another Man of Sorrows. He never ever complained about how the Lord dealt with Him, but he underwent every imaginable suffering, womb to tomb, and heaven to hell. Because of Him, and His abandonment, we are never alone, not ever. We may know our share of anguish and loss; but His Presence, whether felt or not, is a treasure no believer will ever forfeit. Sometimes God uses the worst of suffering to bring this, the best of truths, home to us.


A Prayer to Pray

Lord, I have to confess that I am scared of suffering. Lord, left to myself I would rather have the comforts of life wrapped tightly round me than the lonely road of fellowship with you in my losses. Father, give me a deepening confidence in Your goodness and care, and a more willing heart, should you remove my treasures, to seek with more confidence the treasure of Your love in Christ. Amen.

Loving Wisdom – Job 29. RBT Notes, 20th January

Where can wisdom be found? School? Life experience? A few University degrees? A few hard knocks? Wisdom, for Job as well as for the entire Bible, isn’t beard-stroking cleverness; it’s knowing how to live with faith in a Good God in a world which is full of injustice and suffering, where horrible things happen to us. “Wisdom”, which seems so unimportant us when life is easy, is the thing we crave most of all when everything goes wrong and all we have is the temptation to despair.

So how do we get it? That’s Job’s question. In fact, he says that that’s the question we all need the answer to.

People go to great lengths to get what’s valuable to them. They face up to all sorts of danger in mining precious metals, digging into dark and dangerous places (vv.1-11). Wisdom, however, is of far greater value than gold. How do we get it, then? We can’t buy it (vv.15-19), and we can’t even search it out (vv.12–14, 20-22). God alone knows where it is, and He alone explains to us how to get it: “the fear of the Lord – that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding” (v.28).

This is the open secret, the mined truth which deep-down we already know. Honour God above everything, and do what He tells you. Simple, then? Yes, and no. Apart from grace, we can’t, and we won’t. We are too proud, and too foolish. We are too in love with the so-called wisdom of self. Also, we are too afraid to trust ourselves to a God we cannot see, and who doesn’t bring easy remedies to our lives, when everything is hard and painful.

Pray. Pray that God would impress on your heart the need for wisdom. Pray that He would give you a sight of the One who was laid into the depths of the earth, His Cross-work completed, to make a foolish world wise. He is the source of all wisdom. Discover Him afresh. In Him really are the treasures of heaven’s loving wisdom.


A Prayer to Pray

Loving Father, thankyou that You gave Your Son as wisdom for a dark and foolish world. Thankyou that I never need to earn Him, or be clever enough to understand Him. I open my mind and heart again to all that You want to give me in Christ, and by faith I receive Him. Amen.

In every trial – Job 1-2. RBT Notes, 2nd January

Welcome to your worst nightmare.

We all know the book of Job, or at least, we all think we do. Believers fear it (this God could do the same to us), while unbelievers loathe it (this monstrous, game-playing God, if He exists, is to be rejected). Job is a book of scant comfort, we feel. All of us would gladly avoid even a tenth of Job’s trials, regardless of the size of the rewards which might follow, earthly or eternal.

Job’s story is about faith, and about the agonies that come to people who believe – seemingly despite what they believe. The book is so important, though, because it takes us to the heart of reality. It probes our hopes and fears about what this world really is: is there any one or thing out there beyond us; is there justice; why do awful things happen, sometimes, to the best people; and is belief in God a childish impulse, or a fool’s wager? This book throws up many questions – and brings with it not a few answers, many of them quite unexpected.

So, welcome, brother Job, godly, wealthy, respected and enjoying a beautiful life (vv.1-5). His life is the envy of prosperity preachers. Everything is going his way. The trouble is, that Satan is coming his way, too. Satan enters the divine court, fixated by Job’s happy life, and convinced that Job is only a man of faith because his faith is paying rich returns, a faith he will quickly abandon if his life goes wrong (vv.6-11), And so begins this most dreadful misery, as God permits Satan to test Job to within an inch of his life (v.12).

Out of a seemingly blue sky disaster strikes, and it comes again and again – theft, devastation, death: all that is dearest to him, children included, is wiped out (vv.13-19). Think about it. All that you have worked for, worried over, enjoy and treasure, all ripped out of your hands and destroyed forever. Your heart’s deepest joy, your children – all gone, too. This is suffering. And it comes with no explanations, and no instructions.

Job somehow holds his faith, and confesses it – God, in all of this anguish, is in charge. Life is a gift, the grave is as empty as the womb, and none of us deserves anything (v.21). Job refuses to curse God (v.22), though heaven, it seems, is about to curse him again. Satan reasons that Job is only hanging onto his faith because he has his health: once that goes, faith will go with it (2.3-6). Job then loses his health, and sits down, a picture of wretchedness. Adding to his misery is his wife, who makes her only appearance at this point, urging Job to stand up, shake his fist at heaven, and curse God (v.9). Job snaps at her (v.10), but he will not speak up at God. God is in heaven, and though His ways cannot be understood, He is the All-wise giver of all that He sees fit – good as well as trouble.

So welcome to this book, and these uncomfortable chapters of tears, arguments, and their wise and foolish advice in the face of suffering. Sit with Job and his friends (vv.11-13), and weigh their words. Learn from Job. Keep in your sights the Man who took from God all of the trouble you deserve for your sin, in order to bring you all the good you could never deserve nor earn. The Lord Jesus is the Lord of suffering, and if we listen to and imitate Him as we learn from this book, we have make so find comfort in.


A Prayer to Pray

Lord, I recoil and run from suffering. I am human. I treasure my comforts, and fear to lose even one of them. Teach me to consider Your servant Job, and to consider the One his suffering and faith point to. May I know more deeply the Man of Sorrows, and treasure Him as my lasting riches in an uncertain world. Amen.

Fool’s Gold – Galatians 2. RBT Notes, 19th December

What fool could take the inestimable riches and beauty of the Gospel and trade it in for something cheap, fake, powerless and totally worthless? I could, and probably so could you. There is something about our hearts which is so foolish that we could take God’s best and give it away in order to take something else. Those in the Galatia were doing just that. Paul writes this chapter, and this letter, to get our hearts valuing what is God’s precious truth for us. And that is the Gospel.

And so, he carries on with the story of his own Gospel journey. This is a crucially important part of that journey: Paul goes to meet with the other leaders of the church, and his concern is about whether they have compromised on the Gospel, and given to the pressures of a merely cultural religion (vv.1-5). To his relief, the meeting is a happy one, and the brothers recognise that Paul is a bona fide apostle to the Gentiles (v.7). They endorse his ministry, and all is well (vv.8–10). Why is he telling the Galatians this? Because he wants them to reflect on the fact the the Apostles themselves have recognised that he is as a minister of the true gospel.
That means, therefore, that he will fight for the true gospel, even if the most surprising and influential people go soft on it. Look at Peter’s hypocrisy (vv.11-13). Peter’s Gospel seems to be only for the Jews, something Paul cannot countenance. This is obviously no Gospel at all, and it’s having a damaging influence (v.13). Paul bravely challenges Peter, that he is not “acting in line with the truth of the Gospel”(v.14). And Paul is right: no amount of law-keeping saves anyone. The Jews are as much in need of the Gospel of Jesus as the Gentiles, and the Gospel is exactly the same for both. We are justified alone by faith in Christ (v.16). Even if Peter should lose sight of that, Paul has the integrity to challenge him, and thereby to try to stop the rot in the church.
Here is the heart of the gospel, then: we die to the law because Jesus has kept the law in our place. He gives us a brand new life through our faith. We live out that life every moment through faith in Him. He is our good news, our confidence, our life. There is literally nothing God is asking for from us except faith in Jesus and faith-driven living for him (vv.17-21).
This is the glorious Gospel, powerful, free and true. A fool would swap it for a squalid, effort-based message and life. The Good News is that God offer his Gospel to those who are fools. Have you taken it? Are you holding onto it? If you are, never, ever let it go. By God’s grace you won’t.
A Prayer to Pray
Father, what an amazing Gospel. What an incredible plan You have revealed through Your Son, to give forgiveness and new life in Him. Thankyou for such a Saviour. Teach me to know and love Him more, and to fear ever disowning Him. Amen.

Rights – and Wrongs – Nehemiah 5. RBT Notes, 5th December

Where there’s work there are workers. Where there are workers, there are always people who are trying to exploit them, to make their own profit. Nehemiah has to see the harsh realities of this.

Right in the midst of the communal efforts of sweat and toil, Nehemiah becomes aware that things are desperately unfair. There is a shortage of food, and some are having to scavenge for food, others need to mortgage their property to stay alive, and others are taking out loans and even selling their children into slave labour, in order to have enough to eat (vv.2-5). What should have been an exercise in shared work and mutual support has quickly turned into a familiar story of self-interest from the rich, and a survival struggle for the poor.

Nehemiah is angry (v.6). Calling together the wealthy officials, Nehemiah calls them out over this heartless exploitation. There is an uncomfortable silence – “They could find nothing to say” (vv.7-9). The leader’s courageous stand of blunt honesty and clear command works, and they agree to return what they’ve taken, as well as the interest on payments (v.12), and he secures a promise on future dealings (v.13).

The Jerusalem community knows that Nehemiah is the right man to serve as governor (v.14). Eager though he is to lead them, Nehemiah knows that leaders are servants. he gets on with the work in hand, forgoes his allowance of good, and ensures that all are looked after (vv.15-18). His insistence that he must forgo his rights remind us of the Apostle Paul, serving the Gospel at his own expense and inconvenience. Moreover, we remember the Lord Jesus Christ, who became a servant of all, at the cost of His own life. This is service.

Who do you want to lead you? The Bible says that leadership is never a title, it is always a transparently commendable lifestyle. “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (Heb. 13.7). Leaders serve, and those who follow them are to dedicate themselves to serving others, too. This is life in the kingdom.


A Prayer to Pray

Lord, in a world of self-interest, teach me by Your Spirit to become last, and the servant of all. I confess that I enjoy people’s approval, and having things go my way. Give me integrity, Lord, that I may wish to serve my Saviour and those He died for, fired by His love, and eager to do good for the household of faith. Amen.

Hard hearts – and broken ones – Micah 6. RBT Notes, 25th November

“What have I done to you?” (v.3).

Do you have a problem with God? Has He failed you? Has His grace not been enough? Are His commands a burden? Is your redemption tedious? Is heaven a drag?

Israel was bored of God. And God knows it. He is bringing heaven and earth as His witnesses, that for all He has done for His people, they just can’t rouse themselves to get excited about God, and certainly can’t manage to obey Him (vv.1-2). Just look ahead to verses 9-16. Sin and warning are presented to this lazy people. The Spirit of God brings the same warnings to us. I wonder, are we guilty of just the same sins? Are we slouching our way through life, hard-hearted towards others, cold-hearted towards God, and excited only for our own pleasures? We have been warned.

Beware of how your heart murmurs. Your sighs and complaints say everything about your real spiritual condition. Take some time today: write a list of the things you’ve heard yourself complaining about recently. Then write a list of reasons why you have no mandate to complain – ever. You are a child of God in Christ. He has won you at a great price. You belong to Him, heart, mind and body. Complaining hearts are cold hearts, and need the fire of Gospel grace again.

The heart that knows this, that it belongs to grace, lives in awe. We know that we can bring God nothing, we can earn no favour, we can never out-sacrifice Him, make Him our debtor, or feel that anything we do merits His love. He is the Lord, holy, majestic, awesome. We come, and we worship. Simply that. And then we rise off our faces to go and do His revealed will, in the power of the Spirit, to the praise of the Son: “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God” (v.8).


A Prayer to Pray

Oh Lord my God. You are truth, life, righteousness, love and peace. And You give all that You are to me through Your Son. Forgive me granite heart, and break it open in praise and humble thankfulness once more. Teach me to love You, to serve others, to be humble, to delight, really delight, in Your grace. For You are delightful. Amen.