Hear This – Job 27. RBT Notes, 19th January

Hear this. Job is a man on the edge. Maybe you’ve not been close to faith’s precipice. Not yet, anyway. Listen carefully to Job’s turmoil, and be careful not to judge. His friends did, and they’re going to find out soon enough what the Almighty thinks of their words.

What does God think of Job’s words, and his tears? What do you think? It takes faith to cry to heaven, and it takes faith to look into your heart and to see that, sinner though you are, there is no one sin of yours for which heaven has collapsed in retribution upon you. In fact, for us as Christian believers, we know that we will never be judged for any of our sins, no matter how serious and hideous they are. Christ has paid for them all.

Job’s are strong words, aren’t they? “God has denied me justice”, and He “has made me taste bitterness of soul” (v.1). Job is bitter, all the more so because his friends are trying to force him into a confession which he doesn’t have – “I will never admit that you are in the right” (v.5). Self-righteous Job? I don’t think so. Here is a man who knows that God alone is righteous, and that there is no righteousness in confessing what you aren’t guilty of, just to win friends and influence them – and maybe try to influence God Himself, too.

Job knows all that his friends know about God and His justice, as well as about man and his wickedness. It is because he does that he sees their advice for what it is – “meaningless talk” (v.12). The wicked will die, the grave will swallow them, however comfortable and happy their lives are. Job knows that for sure (vv.13-23).

You really can have a great theology and also a terrible life. You can believe true things about God, and live by them, and never see the blessings this side of eternity which you want for yourself, your family, church or world. Job’s example teaches us to be very careful about drawing hard and straight lines between what we have in life and how we stand before the Almighty. God is God. He gives or He withholds, He answers prayer as we long for Him to, or He chooses not to. What we must do is to fix our hearts on the Gospel truth that He has not withheld His best, His Son. Because we are safe in Jesus, we are safe even when life is disappointing or even crushing. There is a happy land. There is a Master who will reward our faith, if we do not give up. Do you believe Him?

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, my faith often sags. I look at what others have, and my heart snarls, not celebrates. I look at the much more that I want in life, and so often complain about what I do not have. Enough, Lord: teach me to treasure Your love in Your Son. Teach me to be content in Him. Do this, by Your Spirit’s power, to Your Glory, I pray. Amen.

 

Hope in the Grave? Job 15-17. RBT Notes, 11th January

Here’s an old friend. But Eliphaz has no new perspective to bring to Job’s sufferings. In fact, his tone against Job is even more strident: “you even undermine piety and hinder devotion to God” (v.4). Eliphaz says what Job already knows – that God is perfect, whilst we are not (vv.14-16), and that life is nasty and short (vv.17-24), that riches bring no security (vv.28-30), and that all life will end with the grave (vv.31-35).  Notice, though, that his words are spoken against Job. In Epliphaz’s eyes, here is the arrogant godless man whom the Lord has laid low.

Poor Job has to listen to this speech, so no wonder he explodes after it: “miserable comforters are you all” (v.2). He’s had enough of their words (v.3), and protests that, if the tables were turned, he would seek to encourage them (v.5). He has no encouragement, now: there is no crumb of comfort from these three men, and Job struggles to give himself any help, either. Chapter 16 and 17 are amongst the most desolate in the whole book. God comes at Job as the enemy (s0 he feels, vv.6-9), men do, too (vv.10), and his misery is a shared project between God and his creatures (vv.11-15). Death is all that there is to look forward to (22-17.1), since this world has no comfort and no comforters, least of all Job’s so-called friends (vv.3-16).

No comfort, or comforters? Not quite. There is one, Job, who is your intercessor (16.20). There is one who has pleaded not just for friends, but for enemies (16.21). The is one who is making a true and eternal home for you beyond the grave (17.13), and there is one who has descended into the dust for you (17.16). Look up, take heart. And that means you, too.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, I am a creature of tears, dust and death. I am a child of Adam. I look, though, to the Last Adam, the obedient and conquering Lord Jesus Christ. Save me, through His glorious merits, I pray. Set my aching heart on Him, and teach me to see beyond the grave to worlds unknown, which one day I shall know, all because of Jesus. Amen.

 

All in this together – Galatians 6. RBT Notes, 23rd December

People of the Spirit? People called to express their faith in love? Then those people need to know the specifics of Spirit-led loving. Here, Paul gives us four:

1. Hold out grace to the broken sinner (v.1). Paul has restoration in view. That is only possible where there’s repentance. Where there is after sin, we need to work out how to bring that believer back into fellowship with the church, and that’s not highhandedly, but sensitively and carefully. Do we harbour grudges, or are we, as our Master taught us, willing to forgive seventy times seven times?

2. Serve each other (v.2). Kingdom life is shared life. Don’t be lazy, or exploit others (carry your own burdens, if you can, v.5), but don’t remove yourself from others’ needs. You were saved to serve. Are you serving?

3. Stay humble (v.3). Nothing has the temptation to puff us up like service. We serve, and we are tempted to feel smug and important. Servants are nobodies, and they never will be anybodies, at least, not this side of heaven. Remember this.

4. Thank the preacher (v.6). Go on, do it.

This is the Cross-centred life. Avoid it, and you will end up serving yourself, affectively sowing for this world’s uncertain and fleeting rewards. Such efforts come with a massive health warning (v.8). Instead, invest your life in serving other people in the name of Christ – that alone is work guaranteed to blossom in eternity (vv.9-10).

Paul closes with a final appeal, and a final warning (vv.11-18). These Galatians need to make a decisive break with their false teachers and their false message. They need to embrace the Cross: persecution will come with it, but Jesus will be theirs. Life will be hard, but it will be real life, given and guided by the Holy Spirit, a world away from empty religion.

The Letter to the Galatians is a gift. Through it God calls His church to stay close to Jesus, and to Him alone. In Him is life, and that life is the light of men.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Father, thankyou for the gift of Your radiant, triumphing Son. Please show me where I am tempted to slip into the rules of men, away from the freedom of Your grace. And may His life-giving death mean more and more to me as the years go on. Amen.

 

Walk in His Ways – Micah 4. RBT Notes, 23rd November

Noone is safe from disaster, if God decrees it (3.11-12). Equally, noone is beyond blessing, if it is the Lord’s will. Micah has a vision of unimaginable blessing. Our command is to strive to see that vision, to believe its promise, and to come into the blessing, since it’s offered to us in Christ.

Micah sees a future bright with God’s promises. The city of God, which faces God’s judgement and will become a heap of rubble (3.12), will one day be rebuilt and raised up. In language which the great Isaiah was to echo (Isaiah 2), “peoples will stream to it” (Mic. 4.1). And yes, he’s talking about you.

Hard as it was for Micah’s hearers to understand – and they would not – the actual city of God Jerusalem was never central to God’s plans. It was a centre, granted, but its time would be limited. Jesus saw it that way, clearly predicting that God’s wrath would one day fall decisively on City and Temple (Mk. 13.1-2), an event which fell on that generation in the Roman massacre of AD 70. Jesus said that He, in fact, was the centre. Though the buildings of Jerusalem would pass away, His words – and the purposes of God in them – never would (Matt. 25.34). He is the meeting-place of a merciful God and a lost humanity where the two are reconciled, and which the Temple foreshadowed. He is, we could say, the City of God, where God’s people live with their God.

To “go to the mountain of the Lord” (v.2) is, in the fullest sense, not to go to a place, but to a Person. By grace, people all across the world are recognising that Jesus is the Person of wisdom and mercy, as they discover Him through His Gospel. Yes, the Lord’s word went out of Jerusalem in power at Pentecost (v.2), but the Gospel is the Word about Christ, and comes from Christ. He is our grace-bringer, and He empowers us by His Spirit to keep the Law of the Lord in our daily discipleship. In Him, and in no other person, power or place, is there life, and life eternal.

The blessings Micah foretells are ours to enjoy in part now, but we look forward to enjoying them most fully in the future, when Christ takes us to be with Him: justice (v.3), peace (v.3), contentment (v.4) and freedom (v.5).

Just think: when Micah’s news could not get any worse, suddenly, it can’t get any better. You may be struggling with some hard things right now. The present might feel miserable, and the future might look even harder. Take heart: grace never mocks you, is always real, and is always there for you to take hold of. Come to Jesus. Fill your sight with the vision of His majestic love, enter into the Gospel’s blessings once more. In Him is life for evermore.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Loving Lord, I deserve nothing from You but condemnation for my sin. Through Your Son I receive nothing from You but welcome, and all because Jesus paid for my sin. Teach me, teach me. Teach me that in Jesus is all that I need. Teach me til my heart overflows, and my life shines with His glory, and I walk in His ways. Amen.

 

 

True Ministry – 2 Corinthians 11. RBT Notes, 15th November

“Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord” (10.17). Paul knows where his confidence should be, when life gets tough, and he recommends that the Corinthians shift their own allegiances away from mere men to their Lord. We need the same challenge. It’s so much easier to put our trust in people who look impressive, and who seem to offer immediate solutions to our problems, and hope in our discouragement. Paul would counsel a little realism: a slavish devotion to leaders, however gifted they are, will lead ultimately to a deep, deep disappointment. It will only be a matter of time.

Until this church gets that important lesson, Paul cannot rest. Foolish, jealous, afraid (vv.1-3). Not words we associate with an Apostle, perhaps. Maybe we think of swan-like serenity, the appointed man of God gliding through his problems without any ripples. No, this leader is a Christian, not a Buddhist. He cares very deeply for those he serves. And care costs us emotional peace. He sees in them an alarming gullibility, as they are willing to look for and trust in the impressive, rather than the authentic (vv.4-6). Could we share their foolishness in this?

So here is authentic ministry: it refuses to put burdens on others (vv.7-12). A worldly, self-seeking leader is looking at the size of salary, and with it, the kudos of the position. A servant of Christ is looking to live without putting financial strain on others, even working to alleviate them further, and cares very little for titles or prestige. He does care, though, passionately about the work of God. Paul is not afraid to call out the Corinthians’ favourite leaders as insincere men, more the agents of Satan than of Christ (vv.13-15). And he doesn’t shrink from pulling back the curtain on just how much he has endured in the service of the Gospel (vv.16-33).

Here’s the recommendation: read vv.16-33 out loud, slowly and carefully. Let these sufferings sink in, and challenge you. They are the marks of authentic ministry. It’s your time, your comfort, your savings, your health, your status, your emotional equilibrium. It costs. It always will. The seed must die, Jesus said, of His own life. He was speaking about you, too. And like Him, your death will bring life to others. Let’s get living, like Paul, by dying.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, I am so Corinthian, in what I want, and in how I look at others. Forgive me. Fix my eyes upon Jesus. Fill my vision with His love-driven sacrificial life. Teach me its beauty, and shape my life in its image. That others might find life in Him. Amen.

Darkness – Psalm 88. RBT Notes, 9th May

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1.    Read vv.1-9; could the Psalmist’s situation could be any worse? Then read the verses again, and apply them to Jesus’ sufferings. Does that change the way we often think of God as being ‘far-off” when we suffer?

2.    What is it about death which troubles the Psalmist most of all (vv.9-12)? How does believing in the Resurrection of Jesus change how we think about the finality of death, as well as the significance of our lives?

3.    Vv.13-18 show a man in anguish. Reflect honestly on where life is painful to you. How do the Cross and the Empty Tomb both give you hope now, as well as steer you away from a shallow triumphalism?

 

A Prayer to Pray

Father, I have to cast my sorrows on You. Life is so complicated, and difficult. Forgive me when I want to from You deeper into my own darkness. Forgive me, too, when I sometimes want to pretend that life isn’t so hard. Keep my eyes fixed on Your Son, the Man of Sorrows, but also the Man of Love and the Lord of Hope. Amen.