Suffering and (God's) Silence - More reflections inspired by one of Job's friend...

In the book, Disappointment with God, Philip Yancey tells the story of a man named Richard. He’d met him years ago and they had developed a friendship and working relationship. One day, as Richard’s book on Job was about to be published, he asked to meet with Philip. Richard then told him that he no longer believed in God.

It was a bit of a surprising conversation, but Richard told the story without a lot of the blanks that he’d left incomplete before. He had been drawn to God when searching for ways to keep his parents from divorcing. He’d had a lot of questions but those were set aside by people who told him to simply “trust God”. While that is good advice, the lack of answers only made him struggle more.

Now, for Yancey, these questions weren’t as much of a problem. If you don’t recognize his name, his books have sold over 14 million copies. Titles like What’s So Amazing About Grace and The Jesus I Never Knew have won awards and books like The Problem of Pain and A Skeptic’s Guide to Faith are almost painfully honest in the questions that are presented. 

As Yancey continued to speak with Richard, one of the questions that he shared with him that he had struggled with was simple: “Is God silent?

I will come back to that later, but I want to look at Job first. As we look in the Word and at our theme, we need to make sure that we are addressing the specifics of Who is being called “silent” and why it matters when we are suffering.

At the end of chapter 7, we read Job’s words:

If I have sinned, what have I done to you, you who see everything we do? Why have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you? Why do you not pardon my offenses and forgive my sins? For I will soon lie down in the dust; you will search for me, but I will be no more. Job 7: 20-21

Job doesn’t know why he is suffering. He is crying out to God and asking why. He is asking what he did wrong. He is wondering why God is silent. Why isn’t He answering? Then, as we turn to chapter 8, we hear from Job’s second friend, Bildad. We don’t really know anything about Bildad. As I read through his words – ignoring the text but reading them for their beauty – he sounds like a poet. Picture this:

What he trusts in is fragile; what he relies on is a spider's web. He leans on his web, but it gives way; he clings to it, but it does not hold. Job 8: 14-15

I love that imagery! Even so, Bildad isn’t very nice. His first speech begins:

Then Bildad the Shuhite replied: "How long will you say such things? Your words are a blustering wind.” Job 8: 1-2

Bildad doesn’t know or doesn’t care why Job’s words are not being answered. Imagine if your “friend” told you, after you’d lost 10 children and just about all of your worldly possessions that your words are a “blustering wind”. I’d be very upset! But Bildad tells Job that God’s silence is not something he needs to worry about.

Does God pervert justice? Does the Almighty pervert what is right? When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin. But if you will look to God and plead with the Almighty, if you are pure and upright, even now he will rouse himself on your behalf and restore you to your rightful place. Job 8: 3-6

In Bildad’s opinion, God’s silence shouldn’t be the focus. Job should focus on what he, Job, did wrong. Bildad blames the death of all of Job’s children on something that they had done wrong. Their deaths were the just penalty. Job’s punishment must therefore be happening because he did something wrong too. 

But Bildad begins with one false assumption and then lumps another on top of it.

My reflections in Job were inspired in part by a book called The Fellowship of the Suffering. In it, Dave Ripper and Paul Borthwick phrase Bildad’s thoughts this way:  

Who does Job think he is to expect an explanation from the God of the universe? While Bildad rightly magnifies God in his exhortation, he wrongly minimizes the people of God made in His image, by surmising God doesn’t have time for them. Even though some of what Bildad communicates has theological truth behind it, the cruelly impersonal way he shares this message chokes out any of the life found within it.”   Fellowship of the Suffering p 22

Bildad is right that God does NOT pervert justice. That is not in God’s character and God does not do things that are outside of His character.

But Bildad persists in blaming all of this calamity on Job. Again, with beautiful words that completely lack any heart or compassion, he throws stones at Job.

The lamp of the wicked is snuffed out; the flame of his fire stops burning. The light in his tent becomes dark; the lamp beside him goes out. The vigor of his step is weakened; his own schemes throw him down. His feet thrust him into a net and he wanders into its mesh. A trap seizes him by the heel; a snare holds him fast. A noose is hidden for him on the ground; a trap lies in his path. Job 18: 5-10

If you think that is bad, Bildad’s third speech contains a pretty hefty slam against Job. Thankfully, it is very brief:

Dominion and awe belong to God; he establishes order in the heights of heaven. Can his forces be numbered? Upon whom does his light not rise? How then can a man be righteous before God? How can one born of woman be pure? If even the moon is not bright and the stars are not pure in his eyes, how much less man, who is but a maggot — a son of man, who is only a worm!"  Job 25: 2-6

Has anyone ever heard the expression, “With friends like these…”?

When people are throwing stones at you, the normal responses are defense or to throw stones right back at them. I’m guilty of doing that far too many times. I’m trying to change. I’m trying to absorb what people tell me and prayerfully consider any truth that might be in it. But it’s hard.

It was hard for Job too. You can tell from his words that he’s hurt and upset. That said, I love one of his responses:

If it is true that I have gone astray, my error remains my concern alone. Job 19:4

Think about a simple question: Have you ever offered someone solutions to whatever problem they put before you?

Now, have you ever learned that the person really didn’t want solutions? All they wanted was understanding.

In Fellowship of the Suffering, Dave and Paul state that very simply:

“What Job needs isn’t solution but understanding.” Fellowship of the Suffering p 22

What Job – and probably each one of us – needed was not a bunch of answers. We usually know the answer. When we are suffering, we just need someone to listen. We need someone to tell us that it is going to be ok. We need someone to love us.

And let’s come back to the big question: Is God silent?

In Disappointment with God, Yancey shares his own question and the path that God took him on to find an answer. In Exodus, we read example after example of God speaking. When Moses met with God, the Israelites were afraid. They asked Moses to speak with God for them.

Beyond that direct conversation, the Israelites had a lot of ways that God revealed Himself and the direction to them. If you remember, as God was leading them through the wilderness, He gave them a pillar of fire at night and a column of smoke by day. It’s kind of like checking the weather by stepping outside. Is it hot? Yep. Does God want us to move today? Nope. The cloud isn’t moving.

God also gave them something called the Urim and Thummim that the priests used. They developed 613 laws to guide their behavior. Don’t steal. Don’t murder. Don’t boil a young goat in its mother’s milk. God was very, very clear!

And yet, when we read Numbers, we see how people refuse to listen. The 12 explorers went into the Promised Land and came back with incredible reports of a land flowing with milk and honey. However, 10 of them also said the people were too scary. If they went in, they would be defeated. In spite of Joshua and Caleb trying to tell them to trust God, the people rebelled.

Then, when Moses told them the ramifications of their actions would be to spend the next 40 years in the wilderness, they rebelled again. They decided they’d rather go forward than walk in the wilderness and die. In Number 14, Moses tried to tell them to stop, but they would not listen.

Early the next morning they set out for the highest point in the hill country, saying, “Now we are ready to go up to the land the Lord promised. Surely we have sinned!” But Moses said, “Why are you disobeying the Lord’s command? This will not succeed! Do not go up, because the Lord is not with you. You will be defeated by your enemies, for the Amalekites and the Canaanites will face you there. Because you have turned away from the Lord, he will not be with you and you will fall by the sword.” Nevertheless, in their presumption they went up toward the highest point in the hill country, though neither Moses nor the ark of the Lord’s covenant moved from the camp. Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and attacked them and beat them… Numbers 14: 40-45

I found Yancey’s conclusion to be true, but also kind of upsetting. Yancey said:

I had second thoughts about crystal-clear guidance. It may serve some purpose… but it does not seem to encourage spiritual development. In fact, for the Israelites, it nearly eliminated the need for faith at all; clear guidance sucked away freedom, making every choice a matter of obedience rather than faith. p 46

Let’s think about what this means. What happens if you know, beyond every shadow of a doubt, what you are supposed to do, BUT you don’t like what you are supposed to do? What do you do?

The Israelites knew what they were supposed to do. God told them through Moses, through the Law, through the signs in the sky, through everything EXACTLY what they were supposed to do.

And they rebelled.

What’s my point?

This is a hard conclusion, but I believe it. God is NEVER silent.

Let me say that again: God is NEVER silent.

God has given us the answer – Trust Him. Trust that we are forgiven through Jesus Christ and His sacrificial death on the cross. Trust the Holy Spirit Who is present in us to give us guidance, encouragement, and peace. Trust God.

God is never silent.

We are the ones who don’t listen. To quote something else Yancey said, “The Israelites give ample proof that signs may only addict us to signs, not to God.” In other words, they had clear direction. They just didn’t listen.

If you are struggling, it’s ok. It really, truly is ok. It’s ok to ask questions and to wonder what is going on. It’s ok to ask for God to show you an answer.

But you can’t just ask. You have to listen. As God tells you – through His Word, through the Holy Spirit, or through whatever means He presents – you have to listen.

If the answer is clear, praise God and walk with Him. If the answer is not clear, do what Job did – trust God. Granted, Job wrestled and struggled and fought, but in the end, he trusted God.

We have to do the same thing.

Radio Interview: Wayne Grudem #ChristianEthics

Would a 1,200+ page INTRODUCTION to Christian Ethics scare you? While I confess it appears a bit intimidating, the new Crossway book from Wayne Grudem presents ideas of moral reasoning in a careful, and grace-filled manner.

Using a structure rooted in the Ten Commandments, Dr. Grudem takes readers from God's Character to the purity of our hearts. He doesn't shy away from current issues of race, gender, or anything else as he presents the Word with a tender heart in incredibly readable pieces.


Click on the link to listen to a special conversation with one of the great teachers in evangelicalism today.

This interview originally aired on Bott Radio Network KSIV on September 14, 2018.

Radio Interview: Jack Alexander #TheGodImpulse #Mercy

Mercy is a simple word, isn't it? Yes and no. While we may grasp its meaning, living our lives in a way that truly reflects it in our actions can be something vastly different. Jack Alexander joined us on Bott Radio Network #EncounterKSIV to share his book, The God Impulse: The Power of Mercy in an Unmerciful World.

Jack not only draws readers into Scripture, but he also challenges you to think about current issues of social justice, broken relationships, and truly seeking to be like Jesus in opening your heart to others. 

This interview originally aired on Bott Radio Network KSIV on September 14, 2018.

 

Radio Interview: Karen Barnett - Where the Fire Falls

Are you ready to go back in time? Are you ready to visit one of God's great creations? Karen Barnett, a former Park Service worker and now a novelist, takes us to Yosemite National Park for the setting of her newest book in the Vintage National Park series, Where the Fire Falls. (Although it is a series, the novels also stand-alone.)

Click on the link to hear the conversation with Karen as she opens up the novel and a bit about herself to the listeners on #EncounterKSIV!

This interview originally aired on Bott Radio Network KSIV on September 7, 2018. 

Radio Interview: Cindy Woodsmall - As the Tide Comes In

In order to reach the hearts of people, Jesus used parables (stories). We know that this is still a way to reach hearts and minds today. And, although not everyone reads Christian novels, they can be an excellent way to draw people deeper into faith and thinking of things of God. 

Cindy Woodsmall joined us on Bott Radio Network #EncounterKSIV to share her newest stand-alone novel, As the Tide Comes In. Moving between North Carolina and St Simon's Island, Georgia, Cindy weaves a tale of pain and healing as her characters wrestle with issues of life and loss. 

Click on the link to hear Cindy share a bit about her writing and this novel.

This interview originally aired on Bott Radio Network KSIV on September 7, 2018.

Radio Interview: Daniel Henderson #TransformingPresence

Bott Radio Network #EncounterKSIV welcomed Daniel Henderson from Strategic Renewal to discuss a bit of his new book from Moody Publishers, Transforming Presence. This beautiful reflection teaches readers what Scripture actually says about the indwelling Spirit of God. In our conversation, Daniel shared a few of the vital practices that can help you experience the Power of the Holy Spirit.  

This interview originally aired on Bott Radio Network KSIV 1320 on Aug 31, 2018.

Radio Interview: Nancy Guthrie - Even Better Than Eden

Nancy Guthrie is back on Bott Radio Network #EncounterKSIV!

Her newest book, Even Better Than Eden, traces 9 themes that run from Genesis to Revelation. Nancy has engaged and equipped readers for many years with her solid Biblical teaching that clears presents our Triune God throughout the entirety of God's Holy Word. Listen to the interview posted below for some special insights into this newest book to help you in your study and spiritual growth.

This interview originally aired on Bott Radio Network KSIV 1320 on Friday, August 31, 2018.

Radio Interview: Kristen Hatton #GospelCenteredLife #Exodus

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The first in a new series from Surge, the Gospel Centered Life: Exodus, will take teens and young adults through a 12-lesson study in Exodus. However, all roads are carefully intertwined in God's grand tapestry of redemption! Kristen Hatton, author of teen devotional books and frequent contributor to encourage women's blog, has worked to prepare this book to help you and your students connect God's Word to life. Be sure to check this one out!

Radio Interview: Eric Welch #BeautifullyBrokenMovie

Based on a true story, Beautifully Broken, brings to life a gripping account of genocide, the struggles of refugees, and the forgiveness grace can provide. From the beginning, director Eric Welch provides a powerful visual picture of cruelty and persecution in Rwanda - while still not going too far down the road of violence. We then leap across the ocean to see how, even in "safety", there is often danger. Woven throughout the movie are affirming messages of hope and healing as viewers see redemption and grace flowing from potential tragedy. 

Beautifully Broken releases in theaters on Friday, August 24th. Listen to the interview with the director, Eric Welch, for the story of his introduction to the movie and his passion for visual art!

This interview originally aired on Bott Radio Network KSIV 1320 on Friday, August 24, 2018.

Your "truth"? Your friend's "truth"? Does suffering come after sin? #Questions

If you want to make my blood boil, tell me about “your truth”.

Seriously, try to tell me how something is true for you but it may or may not be true for someone else.

Granted, I understand the concept of perspective. For example, the Gospel accounts of Resurrection morning (Easter) list different accounts. However, while that may seem to question the veracity, I believe it only affirms the Story. We have different perspectives highlighting what was pertinent to the respective author. There aren’t different “truths” but rather different points of view, or perspectives.

In the conversations that we read in Job, we have different perspectives on God. There is only ONE God. There is only one Truth about Him. However, as these four (and eventually five) men wrestle back and forth, their perspectives on Who God is vary.

Let’s begin with Eliphaz.

He’s from Teman. It’s a city in the region of Edom (south of the Dead Sea) which was named after Esau (see Genesis 25 ff.). Those details aside, we simply don’t know anything else.

Job is the one who speaks first. After the seven days / nights, he begins by cursing the day of his birth. He calls down curse after curse after curse. He wonders why he was born at all and why he is still alive. He wonders Why, o why, will death not come?

Wow.

Have you ever been there?

Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by struggles that you just wanted to quit? Maybe curl up in a ball and hide? Wave the white flag and surrender?

I have.

To be clear, I’m not talking about suicide. I can’t say I have never thought of it, but even the smallest thought left quickly. Why? Suicide does nothing. The person may feel “free”, but the suffering of everyone else continues. I can’t share the stories I know from others because those aren’t my stories. (Even the ways in which my life has been personally touched by suicide involve the stories that are more heavily felt by others.)

But what I am trying to share is the point of being crushed by circumstances so much that you don’t know what else to do. I know what depression is because I’ve been there. I know what emotional pain is because I’ve been there. I know what it is like to crawl into bed and never want to get out.

And to wonder how much longer it can go on…

I believe Eliphaz had the best of intentions. It’s offensive to think otherwise. [How many of you would be willing to go seven days and seven nights sitting with another person in the depths of his or her grief?] And so, as he began to respond to Job, I think he did it with kindness.

Then Eliphaz the Temanite replied: “If someone ventures a word with you, will you be impatient? But who can keep from speaking? Think how you have instructed many, how you have strengthened feeble hands. Your words have supported those who stumbled; you have strengthened faltering knees.” Job 4: 1-4

Look at it this way. There is the sense of a plea: “Don’t be impatient with me. I have to share.” And then he calls for Job to remember the times in which he, Job, has spoken with others. “You’ve instructed. You’ve strengthened feeble hands and weak knees. You’ve supported those who are stumbling.” Don’t you have the sense that Eliphaz is almost begging Job to listen?

Eliphaz’s next few words hurt. And then they sting. And then they irritate. And then they make me want to say “Them’s fightin’ words!

But now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged; it strikes you, and you are dismayed. Should not your piety be your confidence and your blameless ways your hope? Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed? As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it. At the breath of God they perish; at the blast of his anger they are no more. Job 4: 5-9

It sounds sort-of ok at first. Perhaps a gentle reminder? We don’t know Eliphaz’s heart to know whether the “piety and confidence / blameless ways and hope” are intended to turn his eyes back to God. Maybe there is back-handed love in reminding Job that the innocent do not perish and the upright aren’t destroyed? (I say back-handed because Job would most likely have immediately thought of his children who perished.)

But then the stinger breaks skin as Eliphaz continues with “As I have observed…

In Eliphaz’s worldview, suffering is a result of sin. Job must have done something wrong or else he would not be going through what he is going through right now. Seven dead sons and three dead daughters. His animals and servants all dead. This is not normal so, Job, what did you do?

Eliphaz then justifies his words by claiming to have a secret vision from God.

A word was secretly brought to me, my ears caught a whisper of it. Amid disquieting dreams in the night, when deep sleep falls on people… Job 4: 12-13

In words that make me think of sitting around a campfire while someone tells ghost stories, Eliphaz goes on to describe how his hair stood up when a spirit glided past him. “Fear and trembling seized me and made all my bones shake.” Spooky stuff!

Granted, in this “secret vision” he shares, there was some truth. We cannot be more righteous than God. We should not place our hope in our own abilities and good works. That’s all truth. That is something that we should all believe. God is perfect and we are not.

But some truth doesn’t equal all truth.

If I tell you that I can count to ten and then say: “one, three, five, two, eleven, eight, nine, four, thirteen, six, seven, ten”, have I really counted to ten? I’ve included all of the numbers you need, but I also added in two extras. I also didn’t have the numbers in the right order. So, while you may say that I have successfully counted to ten, I haven’t really, have I?

Eliphaz’s overall theme is wrong. God is not a cosmic hammer-swinger. He’s not waiting to smite us for a misstep (sin). And, if you continue to Job 15 and read his second speech, you see it doesn’t get any better. To summarize: If you are bad, bad things happen. If you are good, good things happen. In the third speech (Job 22), Eliphaz states how Job was really not the greatest man in all the east (which we read in the very beginning of the book). He accuses Job of withholding food and water from those in need; taking clothing from those who had nothing; being cruel to widows and orphans. All of the things that we thought Job had done right, Eliphaz now says Job did wrong.

Eliphaz’s bottom-line: Job sins and Job is punished.

Honestly, there are days when I wish Eliphaz was right.

If he was correct, then I could do some good things and I would feel better. I could tell a friend that the reason he went through job struggles is because he was sinning. If he stopped whatever that particular sin was, the punishment would stop. I could tell friends that all they needed to do to fix financial struggles was to be better.

Poof. Be good and life is good. That would be easier.

But here is the problem. Suffering is not the result of sin. To be clear, it can be. If I decide to rob a bank, get arrested, and thrown in prison, I will suffer. That suffering is a direct result of my sin. If I am in a bank and it is robbed and the robber shoots me, the pain I feel is the direct result of the bank robber’s sin.

There is a difference between the punishments for sin and consequences of sin. While I don’t want to leave the conversation hanging, I do want to take a break now. Email me your thoughts (or corrections to my thinking!) or comment if you wish.

Yours in Christ,

Marty

Radio Interview: Doug Newton #FreshEyes series

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What would the Good Samaritan have done if he saw ANOTHER wounded man on the side of the road? Or perhaps two? Would his kindness (and money) have continued to flow? The Fresh Eyes series by Doug Newton takes us down the path of looking at passages in Scripture with our informed imaginations and asking questions to consider a fresh look. Listen to the conversation with Doug and think of the own questions that this approach might take to bring new life in your response to God's Holy Word! 

What if those who passed the wounded man by saw ANOTHER wounded man on the side of the road? What if one of them saw the Samaritan stop to help the wounded man?

This interview originally aired on Bott Radio Network KSIV 1320 on August 17, 2018.

Radio Interview: Jonathan Malm #TheComeBackEffect

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Wait. What? Why? Huh...

For anyone who has had a "regular seat" in church, the new book, The Come Back Effect from Baker Book, will be an excellent read. Written by Jason Young and Jonathan Malm (combining experiences in church consulting and hospitality), The Come Back Effect shows church, ministry, and even business leaders the secret to helping a first-time guest return again and again. Filled Biblical examples as well as countless stories, the authors explain how service and hospitality are two different things. Jonathan joined us on Bott Radio Networ Encounter to give ideas from the book as well as open the eyes of the host! 

This interview originally aired on Bott Radio Network KSIV 1320 on August 17, 2018.

Radio Interview: Tiffany King #EatAtHomeTonight #EatAtHomeCooks

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"I only have 15 minutes to get dinner on the table!"
"I wish I could plan ahead and cook for the entire week."
"Is there a recipe that would help me make enough for two meals?"

If you have ever asked any of these questions, you'll love Eat at Home Tonight, the new book by Tiffany King of Eat at Home. Filled with recipes, pictures, shopping lists, and all sorts of creative ideas, you'll find all that you want in this wonderful new book that is more than "just a cookbook". Tiffany joined us on Bott Radio Network Encounter to share insights from the book and the website www.EatAtHomeCooks.com. 

This interview originally aired on Bott Radio Network KSIV 1320 on August 10, 2018.

Radio Interview: Katie Reid #MadeLikeMartha

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We look to Luke 10 and John 11 to learn about Martha and Mary. But have you ever noticed that they are also mentioned in John 12? As we seek to interpret Scripture with Scripture, perhaps this is something we should also be considering in our understanding of service. It may not be about what Jesus said / did in this passage as much as what He did NOT do! Hmmm....

On Bott Radio Network Encounter, Katie Reid joined us to share from her life and the new book, Made Like Martha. You'll enjoy her honest sharing, her love of the Word, and her admitting of the fact that she is a Martha! 

This interview originally aired on Bott Radio Network KSIV 1320 on August 10, 2018.

Radio Interview: Mike Pilavachi #Lifelines

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Do you ever think of yourself as an "alien"? While that may sound strange, when we pause to reflect on our place in the world - which is NOT the Home of a believer - is suddenly doesn't sound strange.

Mike Pilavachi joined us on Bott Radio Network Encounter to discuss the book, Lifelines, that he authored with fellow pastor, Andy Croft. Drawing from Scripture, their experiences as copastors of Soul Survivor Watford (London) as well as through Soul Survivor, the international movement to equip young people, the book provides examples of faith for readers striving to live in the world today. It isn't all smooth sailing as the authors recount successes and struggles of those who have given a path of faith for us to follow. Click on the link to listen to the interview.

This interview originally aired on Bott Radio Network KSIV 1320 on August 3, 2018.

Radio Interview: Aaron Edelheit #TheHardBreak

cover Hard Break.jpg

Here's a simple question. If Jesus Himself thought the Sabbath was an important practice, why do we think it isn't? And, if you say that you don't think that, then how do you observe it?

In an interesting interview with Aaron Edelheit, a Jewish businessman, we are able to hear a rather unique perspective on why the Sabbath should be a part of our lives. Aaron, after beginning to undergo significant health challenges, realized that he needed to return to his understanding of the Sabbath day of rest and a 24/6 lifestyle. 

Even though there are some faith differences, we think you will enjoy hearing a bit of Aaron's story and why he believes the Sabbath is important for anyone and everyone. 

This interview originally aired on Bott Radio Network KSIV 1320 on August 3, 2018.

I have ALL of the answers! Sit down and let me tell you what they are... #Suffering

I mentally wrestle with the idea of freedom and choices quite a bit. The idea that people intentionally choose harmful things is difficult for me. I won’t share the reasons why because I don’t want to share stories that are not my own. However, from people who choose to stand on street corners to those who steal billions of dollars, I fight the idea of “free will” that allows people to choose things that will cause them or others harm.

I’ve been to Central America several times in the past thirty years. The most recent came as I visited the Micah Project in Honduras. (My last time there was 2014.) This particular mission began 20 years ago when God put it on the heart of Michael Miller to reach out to young men (and women) on the streets of Tegucigalpa.

One of the challenges of meeting with these street-connected kids is to wonder why they won’t choose a better option. If you could choose between living on the street and sleeping on a piece of cardboard or living in a home with food and a comfortable bed, which would you choose? If you could choose between begging and scrounging for food or having a full plate, which would you choose? If you could learn to read and receive an education, wouldn’t you choose that option?

And yet…

Job was offered a suggestion by his wife: “Curse God and die.” It’s easy to see why Job chose to decline this suggestion. But then three friends appeared with suggestions of their own…

Before we get to those suggestions, let’s ask who were these three friends? (We’ll get to mystery guest number four later. Was he already there? Did he arrive later? Hmmm…)  

We don’t know a lot about any of them. 2: 11 tells us that they heard about all the troubles, set out from their homes, and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. Beyond that and the places of their origination, we know nothing.

I am astounded at what they did when they arrived.

Nothing.

For seven days and seven nights, they did nothing.

They didn’t talk.

They didn’t try to do anything.

They did nothing.

Nothing.

Take a moment to put on your sandals and consider different points of view. If you were Job, would you have wanted them to do anything? If you were Eliphaz, or Bildad, or Zophar, what would you have wanted to do? If you were Job’s wife, perhaps observing, what would you have wanted to do?

Remember something important: The Bible was written by real people, living in real places, at real times. If you struggle to use your informed imagination and put your sandals on, think about your own life.

In your own struggles, in your own times of pain, in your own hurt and sorrow, what have you wanted? Did you want a person to “fix” everything? Did you want someone to tell you what you should have done or should not have done?

We will get to the actual conversations that ensued after Job began speaking, but for now, consider not what you want but what you want to be. What kind of friend, brother, sister, employee, employer, spouse, or neighbor do you want to be?

All who know me know I am far from perfect. I can always be better. And this is one of those things I so desperately want to be better at and to more faithfully practice.

Let’s burrow down to the bottom-line: Be present.

That’s it. Don’t worry about giving answers. Don’t worry about saying the right (or wrong) thing. Don’t stress. Don’t fret. Don’t be anxious. Don’t try to give suggestions, improvements, corrections or anything else.

Simply be present.

Be with others. Love them. If someone is hurting, hurt with them. If someone is joyous, celebrate with them. If someone is grieving, grieve with them. If someone is excited, share that excitement.

We’ll explore the conversation next, but let’s keep it simple for now. Be.

Hercules and the Hydra - or - What is your line?

I admit that I like the way Philip Yancey describes suffering and the problem of pain in his book, Where is God When it Hurts. He compares it to Hercules battling against the Hydra. When one head is chopped off, another two or three seem to come up in its place.

Shingles seemed to be bad. Very bad. The rash and pain were extreme. But then, to have that go away but then to have the “invisible pain” continue seemed cruel. I would NOT want to have the visible rash continue, but at least people knew something was wrong. 

But that all seems so trivial in light of God’s Word.

Take Job as an example. His suffering was extremely public. Considered the greatest man in all the east, the news of his losses would have traveled quickly. 1,000 oxen and 500 donkeys carried off by the Sabeans. 7,000 sheep gone from the “fire from the sky”. 3,000 camels taken by the Chaldeans. All of the servants (except three who were messengers) died. And then, the house where his children (seven sons and three daughters) were feasting collapsed and all of them died.

How did he respond?

Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised. Job 1: 21

Over the years, I have experienced a few challenges with jobs, relationships, and even my children. But nothing – NOTHING – could ever come close to what Job experienced. And, I think everyone who knows me knows this: my response wasn’t the same either…

And so, I had my sandals on as I tried to imagine what happened to Job next. The Bible tells us that Job had painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head (2: 7). The Bible is not a medical journal, but I couldn’t help but think of shingles when I read that verse.

Then how did Job respond to this new level of physical pain and agony? He said:

Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble? Job 2: 10b

Some might argue that this is a variation of fatalism – a belief that what’s going to happen is going to happen – but I think it’s better defined as extreme faith.

If you’d like a definition, I’d define extreme faith as “regular” faith that can move mountains (Mark 11:23). This has nothing to do with the twisted teaching that is prosperity gospel (which is no Gospel at all). This has everything to do with a person’s willingness and desire to go boldly as the Holy Spirit is leading.

While I could walk down this road with you for a bit, I want to keep focused on the idea of perseverance through suffering. Therefore, in that journey, I’ll come back in a few days as we continue to walk with Job and three of his friends.

For now…

What would it take for you to stop praising? Is there a “trouble” that, if it came upon you, would cause you to run from God rather than to Him?

While that may seem like a scary question to contemplate, it might be worth it as you are seeking a stronger faith in your own walk. Allow the Spirit to speak into your heart and encourage you to go deeper and grow stronger.

Yours in Christ,

Marty

Pain. Suffering. Honesty. Hope.

The worst suffering in the whole world is my own suffering… Paul Borthwick

As some of my friends and family around the globe know, in January of 2017, I came down with shingles along my trigeminal nerve. The left side of my face was covered in a rash from my jaw line up into my hairline. The pain was incredible. While there were a number of factors, the bottom-line that resulted was a damaged nerve with pain that has persisted 24/7.

Thankfully, the level of pain has not been at the same extreme point.

The pain begins at the same origin point (center left bottom tooth) and can run all the way up to about the top of my head. I can have a ringing in my ear, a feeling of “itchiness”, and other random ‘what the heck was that’ moments that happen anywhere in that impacted zone.

I can deal with that whatnot. The frustrations that also join the party are actually a bit more annoying. I can’t chew on the left side of my face. I shouldn’t chew things like chips or other crunchy items. (I really can’t chew on the right for long without the pain increasing.) I can’t hold the phone on the left side of my face, sleep on the left side of my face (without an odd form of propping I figured out), or shave without a lot of jolting, shock-like pain.

Beyond those annoyances, there is one thing that befuddles, perplexes, and frankly, agonizes my heart, my mind, my emotions… WHY? 

My calling (ministry) involves talking. I teach. I preach. I counsel and encourage pastors and lay leaders. There are days when my speech is impacted as the swelling on the inside makes me a bit “slurry”. Other days, I have trouble with conversations because it starts to hurt after the start-stop nature of dialogue. Since a big part of the ministries I serve require speaking, it’s frustrating.

Honestly, that is probably the most challenging part. I need to be on the phone. I need to be visiting people. I need to be out and about, having conversations, and doing what I’ve been called to do. And yet, I’m hindered. And it hurts.

All of that said, there are still a lot of GOOD things. For example, most people have no idea that I’m in pain 24 X 7. (I’m happy about that because I don’t want to look like I feel!) Or, if I am careful about what I order, they don’t know that I can’t chew well. It may look a little odd if I order a sandwich and have to cut it up, but maybe I’m just strange. (Think Seinfeld + Snickers bar.)

Now that I have said all of the previous thoughts, what then is the conclusion of the matter? The Teacher at the end of Ecclesiastes summarized it by saying “Fear God and keep His commandments.” That seems like a pretty good conclusion to me also. To be clear, that does NOT mean I think I’m being punished. It simply means this: GOD IS SOVEREIGN. I trust Him and I choose to walk in faith. If that means I walk forward for the rest of my life with this, so be it. If it means I am healed tomorrow, so be it.

I’m not being naïve. I’m not choosing to put some form of fatalistic hope in an unseen deity. I’m simply trusting my Heavenly Father. I’m a little child choosing to step off the edge of the pool – knowing that my Father is right there, arms open, and ready to catch me.

I also know that I will fail. There will be days when I try to say a word, and my mouth won’t twist the right way and let it come out. There are days I might give in and have a moment of grief, or anger, or crawl under my desk. But I pray that those moments will be fewer and fewer as I trust more and more.

The quote above comes from a book called The Fellowship of the Suffering. The preface begins with a question:

What causes you to suffer?

And I think of my wife who had a tumor in her spine but overcame it through God’s grace. I think of my son who deals daily with Tourette but has overcome challenge after challenge in God’s grace. I think of my tough-as-nails and pretty as a princess daughter who battles mighty dragons but continues to overcome in God’s grace.

Whatever that cause might be, Father is right there for you too. He loves you. If you have received the gift of saving grace given through the death of Christ on the cross, then you know that Love in a profound and powerful way. And you should also know that the Father will never leave nor forsake you. Your ability to overcome in God’s grace is exceedingly, abundantly powerful.

I’m going to share a few thoughts in the days ahead based out of the Book of Job. If you aren’t familiar with this Book of the Bible, it tells of a man who enduring incredible physical, emotional, and spiritual pain. While he suffered, he continued to recognize that God was present. Even in the depths of his agony and frustration, he sought help from his God.

And so, as I end this testimony, I hope you will join me in walking forward, trusting God. If I can pray for you, please let me know. I appreciate your prayers for me and for my patient and loving family. I appreciate your prayers for Lay Renewal as we seek to continue to serve the Church. There is no hurdle that is too great if God is for us. In that fact, I rejoice!

Radio Interview: Michael Miller #MicahProject #Honduras

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Although our main goal was to discuss the Labor of Love walk / run on September 3rd, Michael Miller joined us on Encounter to share a few updates from the Micah Project in Honduras. Click on the link below to hear some incredible blessings - including how young men, once addicted and dying on the streets of Tegucigalpa, Honduras have now become missionaries in Brazil, Jordan, and yes, even within their own communities! 

This interview originally aired on Bott Radio Network KSIV 1320 on July 27, 2018.