Sunday, February 28, 2010

Nostalgia: Remembering an Idealized Version of the Past

Remembering personal experiences is a tricky thing, primarily because no experience is lived independently. We experience life through the lens of every experience that came before.

We form our identity, the way we see ourselves, through those experiences.

As we remember things that came before, certain details come to the forefront, and other details fade.

So in chapter 29, we see Job, remembering the past. I can't help but thing his view is sort of skewed.

"How I long for the months gone by . . ."
Everything was so very awesome in those days.
God watched over me.
God's intimate friendship blessed my house.
My children were around me.
The young men saw me and stepped aside, and the old men rose to their feet.
The chiefs covered their mouths so I could speak.

Everybody loved me, honored me, respected me.
I took care of widows, orphans, the dying, the oppressed, the lame, the blind . . .
I punished the wicked.

I have to wonder where he found the time to be good to so many people, take care of his business, nurture his relationships with his wife and children.

And was this really an idealized time?
Did everybody like him, or did some resent him for his success?
And I seem to recall that his children spent a lot of time partying at the beach house.

He continues in chapter 30: "Now no one cares about me. They all mock me. And God doesn't listen to me. I might as well die."

And in chapter 31, he becomes completely self-righteous. "I've never lusted after a woman. Ever. If I have, then go ahead and sleep with my wife because I would deserve it." (Apparently men of that time were much more chaste than the men of our time.)

He has never, ever, walked past or ignored a person without food, without clothing. He has never denied justice to anyone. (Here I'm thinking about Matthew 25, when the people defended themselves to Jesus.)

As for his righteous deeds, apparently he has been caring for the poor, the widows, and the orphans all his life, from youth, even from birth.

I get it. He is a good guy. I just don't believe he is as perfect as he sees himself, or that people loved him quite as much as he seems to think.

Maybe. But I doubt it.

My point is this, and at this moment I've sort of forgotten my point . . .
When we remember our idealized versions of the past, or sometimes we do the opposite of idealizing the past and make martyrs of ourselves, we shut God out of the past and the present.

My prayer, when I'm remembering it, is this:
God, help me to see people the way you see them. Give me wisdom in each situation, your wisdom. Help me to remember who you are, instead of who I am. Help me to see you and know you, help me to be like you.

Think Psalm 139.
Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Think Ephesians 1 and 3.
Give me a Spirit of wisdom and revelation so I may know you better. Open the eyes of my heart so that I may know the hope to which you have called me, understand who you have made me to be, trust in your boundless love, and live in your amazing power and truth, which can do far more than I can even imagine.

God's truth, his character, his power, and his love are not caged by circumstances, no matter how unjust, how bleak, how hopeless they seem.

We can't understand God, but we can learn to trust him.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

I'm looking for wisdom . . .

The book of Job is filled with poetic images, metaphors, analogies . . .
That's probably why I didn't like it before. Poetry moves more slowly than prose, and I'm always in a hurry.

Plus, the book includes a lot of back and forth conversations about the same things. Job's friends say, "You're guilty." Job says, "No I'm not. God is after me." Job's friends say, "Well yeah, that just proves you're guilty." And then we start all over again.

Not only that, but some of the things Job's friends say? I've heard them in sermons at church. Spoken as fact. It's sort of confusing.

I'm looking at the book differently now, and it challenges me.

Why does God do what we do? Why do experience disappointments? Is God punishing us? After all, none of us are perfect.

I think of the loss of two pregnancies.
Or of Duane losing his job with UPS.
I think of dear friends of mine who are experiencing significant challenges right now. He took a risk and pursued a career choice he has dreamt about his whole life. Door after door has been slammed in his face, and he has been told he is not suited for the position because he lacks integrity. For a man who has built his entire life on the concept of doing the right thing, as this man has, accusations like that are incredibly wounding. He started in a different direction, and again, opportunity dried up. My heart aches for them. What is God doing?

Job offers a new perspective on these situations.

Chapter 28 is different, though, and I want to focus on that chapter today.

Job begins with a very descriptive passage that sets up a question. He says, "We know where we can find things of value, like silver, gold, iron, copper . . . But we have no idea where to find wisdom. We don't understand wisdom's true worth, and the search for it is elusive."

The personification is beautiful. Listen: The deep says, "It's not in me." The sea says, "It's not in me." Nothing, not gold or crystal, not topaz or rubies, is more valuable.

So where can we find wisdom?
"It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing, concealed even from the birds of the air."

Death and Destruction have only heard rumors of wisdom.
Interesting that Job identifies these two characters as not really acknowledging or understanding the existence of wisdom. It's definitely not found there.

Job demonstrates true wisdom in his next section. He says, "Only God, who created the world, who established the force of the wind, who measured the depth of the sea, who designed the rain, who knows everything . . . Only God understands the path to wisdom, and only he knows where to find it. Only God understands the true value of wisdom."

And then we read the familiar phrase, "The fear of the Lord--that is wisdom. and to reject evil? That is understanding."

Knowing God.
Recognizing his worth.
Celebrating his awesome mystery.

That is wisdom.
There is no wisdom when we focus on ourselves, our strength, our talents.

When we seek God, when we focus on his character and respond to that character, submit to his will, we will catch glimpses of wisdom.

And suddenly I remember the book of James. "If any of you lack wisdom, ask God for wisdom, because he is a generous God who gives his children everything they need."

Friday, February 26, 2010

Reading Job Again

I didn't really give up on reading the Bible from beginning to end . . .
I just stalled while reading the Old Testament. Really. It is discouraging to about people who continually rebel against God, even when they have experienced his deliverance, his glory, and his power.

Why do we continually forget what God has done in our lives? In the lives of the people who came before us?

Because we tend to focus on ourselves, our purposes, and desires.

We are like them. I am like them.
I forget.

And then I lose track of who God is in my life.
I begin to think life is about me and what I want instead of about God's plan for his creation.

And so I got tired of reading through the Old Testament and wanted to see hope.

I had just finished reading Job when Mark Batterson began "Garden to the City," a one-year Bible reading plan. I thought, "Oh, good. They won't go through from beginning to end. They'll kind of stagger the Old Testament with the New Testament." I decided to start all over and read it with community. Check it out at It's not too late to start reading.

They started with Psalm 119. I love Psalm 119.
And then they went into Job. Not my favorite book, and I wouldn't have chosen to read it again, but I think I need to remember the lessons of Job.

Sometimes we experience suffering and have no idea what is going on. God isn't punishing us. We can't see what is happening in the spiritual realm, what God is doing, what he has planned. We can choose to focus on God's character, his goodness, his love, or we can rebel against him and walk away from him.

Do we resent the success of the wicked and complain that God is ignoring us? Do we feel abandoned by him when we struggle with life?

And how do we treat our friends or people in our churches when their kids rebel, when they get sick, when their marriages fall apart? Are we like Job's friends? Do we find fault? Condemn? Assume their struggles are a result of their sin?

How often do we throw Christian cliches or Bible verses at them instead of simply loving them, mourning with them, helping them practically?

I think I have done all of these things at times.