Bread – Calamity

September 29, 2010


Readings for Wednesday, September 8, designated by the Book of Common Prayer:

Job 29:1, 30:1-2, 16-31; Acts 14:19-28; John 11:1-16; Psalms 49, 53, 119:49-72

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Calamity befalls us all. Perhaps it appears in a lost job, in more bills than money, in sickness, in death of a loved one, in a car wreck, in a mistake, in a war of words or weapons, in a lightning strike or tornado, an undesired pregnancy, or in a simple loss of a precious heirloom. However and whenever it appears, it is there and we have to deal with it. How do we deal with our own calamities? It seems to me that there are three basic answers: (1) we can hide from it (retreat, hide in the closet, depressions, withdrawal from the world, becoming afraid to love and engage for the fear of being hurt); (2) we can attack it (“Let me fix it!”, “I’ll just beat the *** out of it!”, blame someone, build active defenses); or (3) we can rest in the arms of the Almighty (let it pass, water off a duck’s back, it’s only a temporary setback, etc.). Options (1) and (2) are dead ends, resulting only in disappointment or despair. Even if we are successful in option (2) to “fix it,” the memory of the “fix it” solution may (and in many cases, will) continue to haunt us and we are enticed into a self-deception that we can fix everything, which will ultimately lead to greater calamity and, more than likely, option (1). Option (3) brings long-term health and happiness.

Job: “Yet when I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness.” Job 30:26. What do I do when bad things happen to me? Who can I blame for my troubles? Maybe it is my wife, maybe it is my boss, maybe it was the derelict who ran into my car when I was parked in a parking lot, maybe it was Satan, maybe it was God. Surely someone must be to blame for my miseries, because I am a good person and only good things should happen to good people, right?

By now you are laughing, because if you know me then you know that my characterization of myself as “good” is probably a little overboard. But how many times have you asked yourself this same question when some calamity has befallen you? How many times have you said, essentially, that you are a good person doing your best to do good things and that what has happened to you is unfair!

In today’s reading from Job, Job has finally gotten tired and has decided to blame God for his troubles. Since it was God (through Satan) who allowed Job to be tormented, the blame is in one sense fairly placed.

…then know that God has wronged me…Though I cry, ‘I’ve been wronged!” I get no response; though I call for help, there is no justice. He [God] has blocked my way so I cannot pass; He has shrouded my paths in darkness; He has stripped me of my honor and removed the crown from my head. He tears me down on every side till I am gone; He uproots my hope like a tree….Have pity on me, my friends, have pity, for the hand of God has struck me.” Job 19:6-10, 21

Would you say that Job finally blames God for his troubles? I would.

We follow Job in so many ways. We know as Christians that it is our sin, Adam’s sin, which has separated us from God’s blessing and that, therefore, the real cause of our troubles is us. Job knew this too and, in earlier readings, he states that we are in no position to judge God, to lay blame as it were. However, he got tired just as we get tired, and he finally blames God for his troubles just as we do. It is so easy to blame someone else rather than the man or woman in the mirror (ourselves). It is so easy to slip into the habit of blaming God, rather than slip into the habit of thanking God for our daily mercies, for our daily bread, for our daily perseverance, for our daily life. So easy.

And yet, as Christians, there should be something else which is easy too. For Job it was easy. Three verses after Job says that the hand of God has struck him, he goes on to say this about Jesus Christ:

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see Him with my own eyes – I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” Job 19:25-27

From despair and blame in one sentence to real hope for all eternity in the next sentence. How does one do that?

Because Job knew what we know, that we can wrestle with God all we want, we can blame Him all we want, and the result is the same – for those who acknowledge that Jesus has died for their sins; that He is resurrected; that He is the Redeemer, having bought our eternal life with His own blood; and that He is Lord of our life, there is eternity where we will, in our new bodies, see Him. And that, my friends, is hope in all circumstances.

From blame to hope. It is a journey well worth taking.

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Bread – Vectors

September 29, 2010


Readings for Wednesday, September 29, designated by the Book of Common Prayer:

Hosea 4:11-19; Acts 21:15-26; Luke 5:27-39; Psalms 101, 109, 119:121-144

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One of the concepts I learned in school was the idea of vectors, that we could in essence predict what would happen tomorrow by following the direction of what was happening today and in the past. Webster’s Dictionary (Second College Edition, 1974) ascribes three meanings to the word “vector,” being (1) an insect that carries a disease from one person to another, (2) a physical quantity with both magnitude and direction, and (3) a compass setting. Pick which one you like, because all three relate to our readings today.

In our reading from Hosea, God is calling Israel a stubborn nation which is committed to prostitution – “…they have deserted the Lord to give themselves to prostitution, to old wine and new, which takes away the understanding of My people…a people without understanding will come to ruin! …The Israelites are stubborn, like a stubborn heifer. How can the Lord pasture them like lambs in a meadow.” Hos. 4:10b-12a, 14, 16. The initial cause is stubbornness, a refusal to budge toward God, a planting of our feet in our sin, a resistance to truth. The vector (direction) is toward prostitution, a giving of ourselves to the world and its values, a selling of our soul, our birthright, for temporal pleasures, for a bowl of porridge. The end result is a lack of understanding resulting in death. It is a vector of disease. It is a vector of significant magnitude and a particular direction. It is a vector set in the wrong direction and going to the wrong place. It is death.

In our reading from Luke, Jesus is criticized for not requiring His disciples to obey the law like the disciples of John and the Pharisees do. Jesus responds by talking about the new man who is created upon belief in Him, using the parable (analogy) of new wineskins to hold new wine. The initial cause is belief in Jesus Christ, of following Him as His disciple. The vector (direction) is toward God, in obedience to His Word, shedding the old man (the old wineskin) and filling the new man (the new wineskin) with the new wine of new life, empowered by the Holy Spirit. The end result in life everlasting. It is a vector of health, of anti-disease. It is a vector of significant magnitude and a particular direction. It is a vector set in the right direction and going to the right place. It is life.

Notice the connection between Hosea and Luke – In Hosea, “they have deserted the Lord to give themselves … to old wine.” In Luke, the disciples are filling themselves with new wine. In Hosea, the Israelites have filled themselves with the spirit of the age, the spirit of the world. In Luke, the disciples are filling themselves with the spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit.

Now, the question of the day. In your stubbornness, are you bowing to the requirement of the world, to prostitution, to old wine? Or are you bowing to the Lord, to hope and health, to love and truth, to obedience, to new wine? Are you carrying disease or anti-disease? Is your life one of magnitude and direction and, if so, which direction? In what direction is your compass, your vector, set?

Who among us does not fall into the camp of daily stubbornness, of daily resistance to the call of God? What is the antidote? Hosea gives us the answer by describing the person who God can pasture, who God can feed and lead. That person is like a lamb, content where he is, maybe not even aware of how stupid he is (but stupid nonetheless), but trusting in the shepherd. When we realize that are acting like a heifer, it pays to recall that we are really lambs, saved from the world by the grace of God, content in the pasture allocated to us by God, led by the Good Shepherd.

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Bread – Distortion

September 27, 2010


Readings for Monday, September 27, designated by the Book of Common Prayer:

Hosea 2:14-23; Acts 20:17-38; Luke 5:1-11; Psalms 89

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In our reading today from the prophet Hosea, God says “And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’” Hos. 2:16 (ESV; in the NIV, “my Baal” is translated “my master” with a footnote that the word is actually “Baal”).

When I read this, my thought was “Why would the people of God call God (YHWH) ‘Baal’?”

‘Baal’ is an often-used word in the Old Testament and is loosely translated “God;” therefore, on a surface level one might say that the word “Baal” may be substituted for the word “God” without any loss of meaning. However, God rails against the Baals throughout the Bible, and so we know instinctively that the word ‘Baal’ stands for lesser ‘gods,’ gods (or idols) which we understand. Zondervan’s Compact Bible Dictionary says that the word ‘Baal’ in the Old Testament “usually refers to the farm god of the Phoenicians and Canaanites…each locality had its own Baal. The Baalim were worshiped on high places with lascivious rites, self-torture, and human sacrifice.” Therefore, Baal is not the God revealed to us in creation, in Scripture, in His promises to Israel, and, most importantly, in Jesus Christ.

So how did the people of Israel come to view God (YHWH) as Baal? They distorted His name, His character, and His truth to the point that the person they called “God” was really “Baal.” They did it the same way that we do.

To which you respond, “Whoa, hold on a minute, I don’t think of God as Baal. That is blasphemy!” Yes, it is blasphemy because by calling God “Baal” we fail to recognize His holiness, His transcendence, His godliness. However, we do it anyway. We distort the image of God into Baal all the time.

How? When we ask God for the blessing of a business deal, how is that any different than asking Baal for a good harvest? When we say to God that He cannot love us because of what we have done, have we not ascribed to God limited powers, powers which a Baal would have? Is not the popular “prosperity gospel” a demotion of God to the status of a God who brings, again, good harvest? When we believe that we can tell God that He is not doing a very good job, have we not distorted God into Baal, a farm idol which can be criticized for failure to bring a good harvest? When we take God’s Word, His holy revelation of Himself, and subject it to our judgment, rather than subject ourselves to its (and His) judgment, have we not distorted who God is?

Distortions are dangerous, because the main picture is generally not lost, it is just changed a little. And additional distortions can gradually occur and the existing distortions can gradually change until we have lost track of what the original picture looked like. And we never realize what has happened to us until the real image, the undistorted image, reappears.

Why consider the Bible inerrant and authoritative? Because by doing so we have established a baseline of who God is; we have established a standard which cannot be weakened; we have established an image which cannot be distorted (although we try) through “cultural relevancy,” “interpretive lenses,” “gender neutral language,” and the such like. We have left as little room as possible for distortion to creep in. And we have labored against the transmutation of “God” into “Baal.”

The question of the day is this – Do you treat God as Baal, a convenient farm idol to place on an altar of your making to do your bidding, only to be thrown out when the harvest is not plentiful? Or do you treat God as God, as the One who is holy, as the One who creates, as the One who saves, as the One who judges, as the One who sets the standard for us (rather than us setting the standard for Him)?

The beautiful thing about the Hosea passage is that God knows that we have distorted Him into a Baal, and He still comes for us. “In that day you will call me ‘My Husband.’” He came for us on the cross, and He will come again to take His bride to the place of glory. We cannot distort that.

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Bread – Coincidence

September 20, 2010


Readings for Monday, September 20, designated by the Book of Common Prayer:

Esther 4:4-17; Acts 18:1-11; Luke 3:1-14; Psalms 77, 79, 80

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Most people do not like controversy and they will therefore compromise or, in some cases, run away. The sharpness of debate disturbs these people, because in debate there is generally a winner, someone with the superior argument, and a loser. They abhor the battlefield, because someone must die and someone else survives. These people will accuse those who seek clarity, who seek the debate, who seek the battle as intolerant, divisive, destroyers, anti-intellectual, or maybe even racist – anything to shut down the debate and make everyone stop arguing with each other. The truth is that no sane person really likes to do battle – the difference between them and those who avoid it at all costs is that those who will fight for something realize that, on balance, what they fight for is worth more than the cost of the controversy.

In Esther’s time, the king was so sensitive to controversy that anyone who interrupted him by showing up when he wasn’t invited was automatically killed, unless for some reason the king was in a good mood. You can’t have any controversy when you kill the people who argue with you. After all, if there is no one around to argue with you, where is the controversy? If your opponent is dead, where is the opposition? So when Mordecai heard that all the Jews were going to be killed, he went to Esther and asked her, in her position as Queen, to go ask the King to not do that. She reminds Mordecai that, to do what he asked, she would be exposing herself to instant death, as the king had not invited her to talk to him. Mordecai points out to her that she is also a Jew and is therefore subject to the same edict of death, even though she is the Queen. He then says something else which should be meditated upon by all Christians:

“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14

From her position of power and influence, Esther was in a superior position to fight the evils of her day. Her risk was death. To fight she had to confront. There was no soft-pedaling the truth. There was no alternative. She could certainly choose to confront or not, but her failure to fight would result in death of another kind. She chooses to confront, but only after she has prepared herself using God’s methods of preparation.

In Acts today, Paul is preaching to the Jews in a synagogue in Corinth and they reject him. He then confronts them with their unbelief, leaves, and goes next door where there is a Gentile family who listens. God tells Paul that Paul will be protected while he is fighting for the Gospel in Corinth, even though, again, a group of Jews is after him. Paul confronts the Jews with their unbelief and he confronts the Gentiles with the Gospel.

In Luke, we are introduced to John the Baptist, who confronts the world with its need for repentance.

Fighting, confrontation, war, choice – we wish these things would go away but they will not. They will not because we are called to daily battle to proclaim to the world a message which they do not want to hear, which forces choices and which dares to challenge the world and the prince of the world, Satan.

We are a royal priesthood and, as such, regardless of where we are in life we are in a royal position. And who knows, maybe you have been brought to your royal position for such a time as this. And what time is this? It is a time to proclaim Jesus Christ, to speak truth in love, to practice love in truth, and, yes, to confront, to fight, to contend along the way. It is a time to take the message of hope to our houses, our synagogues (churches, mosques, temples), and our next door neighbors. It is a time to be called ugly words, used by people who would rather shut down the debate than participate in it.

We stand at the precipice of choice – stand or run, fight or flee, argue or go along, proclaim or be silent, confront or avoid, love so much that fully engage or love so little that we only talk about it, speak the truth boldly or merely mumble platitudes.

Perhaps the Lord has brought you to your royal position for such a day as this. You know the alternatives. You know the risk. You know the reward. What choice will you make?

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Bread – Coincidences

September 17, 2010


Readings for Friday, September 17, designated by the Book of Common Prayer:

Esther 1:1-19; Acts 17:1-15; John 12:36b-43, Psalms 69, 73

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Something that has always amazed me is our inclination to dismiss miracles as coincidences. Perhaps it is our “scientific” training. Perhaps we are like Thomas, demanding to see first before we believe. Perhaps it is that we think so much of ourselves that we believe it is impossible (or at least improbable) that God intervenes into the natural order to accomplish His purposes. Perhaps we really believe that God is no longer active in the world – that He is the creator but not the sustainer, that all He did was wind up the universe at the Big Bang and let her go. Perhaps we follow a theological, man-made construct of thinking which requires us to deny miracles as not occurring in this time period or as being unnecessary. Perhaps we are afraid of going down the slippery slope of relying upon feelings rather than knowledge gained through Scripture. Whatever the reason, there are many of us who could look a miracle in the face and say, “Wow, what a coincidence!” There are many of us, however, who fall into the opposite trap, thinking that every coincidence is a miracle, that in every grilled cheese sandwich there is an image of something holy.

What is even more interesting to me is that the line is rarely, if ever, clearly drawn. It is almost as if, in order to see a miracle, we have to be looking through the eyes of faith. This is where the intellectual, full of school but absent in wisdom, jumps up and down and says .. “See, I told you that people of faith are irrational.” To which I respond, the fact that I choose to look through the eyes of faith is a rational choice and it is actually an intellectual choice, because the eyes of faith can explain what the mind of man cannot – they eyes of faith adopt as their perspective the mind of God, which is a superior mind. So, I have rationally chosen the best whereas my intellectual friend remains mired in the mud bath of his own making.

Why this topic today? It is because all three of our readings today present situations which, when read through the eyes of man are nothing more than coincidences, but when read through the eyes of faith are miracles.

Our first reading is from Esther. First, I will tell you the end of the story – Esther becomes queen of Persia and does some good stuff. Now, the setup. King Xerxes has a great feast and, toward the end, wants to show off his wife and queen, Vashti, and so sends his messenger to tell her to come to the party. Vashti is having her own party and, for whatever reason, tells the king “no.” He gets mad and deposes her as queen. We know why the king acted the way he did – his wife embarrassed him in front of his buddies. But why did Vashti act the way she did? Was it presumption (he won’t care, he is drunk)? Was it an attitude (he isn’t going to boss me around)? Was it a moment of forgetfulness (you don’t tell the king “no” unless you are ready to be fired or killed)? Was it just a coincidence … or maybe a miracle? All we know is that, in order for Esther to get to be queen Vashti had to be dethroned and, voila, she does something incredibly stupid and it happens! A coincidence or a miracle – your choice.

Our second reading is from Acts. Paul is speaking in the synagogues in two Greek cities, proclaiming the gospel and presenting arguments for the faith. Some jealous people try to get him stoned or imprisoned or at least put down, but when they begin their dastardly deeds, Paul keeps disappearing. He isn’t in the house where he is staying when the mob arrives…he isn’t in the city of Berea when the mob appears there. His close calls – coincidences or miracles? Your choice.

Our third reading is from John. This is where we pick up our reading – “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe Him.” Jesus does miracles – people see coincidences.

What do you see in the history books, including the Old Testament? Coincidences or miracles?

What do you see in Jesus Christ and the outworking of the Church in the New Testament and throughout modern history? Coincidence or miracle?

What do you see in your own life when you first came to know Jesus Christ? Coincidence or miracle?

What do you see in your own life today? Coincidence or miracle?

When you a thinking about someone, caring about them, and you meet them on a street corner in a city where you almost never go – coincidence or miracle?

When you are running late to church or a Bible study and the red light turns green as you approach it – coincidence or miracle?

When you are on an elevator and you see in eyes of a passenger hurt, pain, or a longing for hope – coincidence or miracle?

What are miracles? Where are they? Put on your eyes of faith, look around, and decide for yourself. And don’t forget to thank God for the coincidences which are really miracles and for the miracles which disguise themselves as coincidences. Be amazed, for we worship a God who amazes.

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Bread – Repentance

September 15, 2010


Readings for Wednesday, September 15 designated by the Book of Common Prayer:

Job 42:1-17; Acts 16:16-24; John 12:20-26; Psalms 72, 119:73-96

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My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen You.  Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:5-6

Immediately following this confession and repentance, God restores Job to his former state and in fact improves his state of affairs and the Book of Job ends with Job living a long and fruitful life.

We need to be clear about the order of events, because these repeat everywhere in the Bible. First is the hearing about God. Job’s initial knowledge of God came through his hearing about Him. Whenever one doubts the need or the call to proclaim the salvation of Jesus Christ throughout the world, remember that the first step toward God is hearing about Him … and how will one hear unless they are told? And who is going to tell them but us?

Second in the order of events is seeing God. We meet God through a personal encounter with God in His Word, in the spiritual disciplines, in the sacraments. We also meet God, perhaps most importantly, in a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, accompanied by appearance of the Holy Spirit.

The third step, having seen God, is to recognize how truly dead and lost we are. We want so badly to be something and we are told by our intellectual betters that our self-esteem is based upon our belief that we are something. So, in the process of wanting to be something, we construct ourselves in such a way that we pretend to be God, even so far as to claim that God is a figment of our imagination. However, just like a house built on a bad foundation must be torn down to the ground so that it can be rebuilt on a strong foundation, so we must realize that we are dead to our sins (completely dead, unable to bring anything to the table) in order to be rebuilt into glory. The third step is harsh, but necessary – we must hate ourselves as we are in our flesh, in our sin, so that we do not stand in the way of God’s reconstruction project.

Finally, the fourth step is repentance. Now, what is repentance? The usual definition is to turn away from ourselves (our sin) toward God, and indeed there is a word for “repent” which is often used in the Bible with just this meaning. However, that is not the word which is used in Job for “repent.” The word used in Job 42:6 for “repent” is a word which in many respects is richer. To quote portions of the explanation from the Key Word Study Bible (NASB) (Ed: Zodhiates), it means “to draw the breath forcibly, to pant…to groan; to be sorry; to pity, to grieve…to be comforted.” Most of the uses of the word in the Old Testament refers to a repentance initiated by God.

I have heard of a distinction between “repentance” and “true repentance.” Perhaps the two Hebrew words for “repent” begin to describe the difference between our terms of “repentance” and “true repentance.” If you have it, “repentance” is our turning toward God. “True repentance” is initiated by God, accompanied by the physical demonstration of our realization about how bad we are and how good God is [the drawing of the breath forcibly as we realize the true gift we have received in eternal salvation in Jesus Christ], followed by a sense of pity and grieving for our old self and for how lost we were, followed by a sense of comfort that we now are really worth something (because we are God’s and not just ourselves’).

Unfortunately, words do not do justice to the process I have described, because it is a hurtful and glorious process, all at the same time. It hurts to despise ourselves, but it is comforting once we have repented to know that we are God’s and that we are worth so much that God the Son died for us so that by belief in Him we might have eternal life.

The connection between repentance and eternal salvation is best summarized by Jesus Christ in His own words in today’s reading from John: “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” John 12:25.

Hearing, seeing, rejection of the worldly and recognition of your pre-Christ dead condition, repentance. Four steps toward a destiny worth having.

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Bread – Blame

September 3, 2010


Readings for Friday, September 3 designated by the Book of Common Prayer:

            Job 19:1-7, 14-27; Acts 13:13-25; John 9:18-41; Psalms 31, 35

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Who is at fault when bad things happen to me? Who can I blame for my troubles? Maybe it is my wife, maybe it is my boss, maybe it was the derelict who ran into my car when I was parked in a parking lot, maybe it was Satan, maybe it was God. Surely someone must be to blame for my miseries, because I am a good person and only good things should happen to good people, right?

By now you are laughing, because if you know me then you know that my characterization of myself as “good” is probably a little overboard. But how many times have you asked yourself this same question when some calamity has befallen you? How many times have you said, essentially, that you are an essentially good person doing your best to do good things and that what has happened to you is unfair!

In today’s reading from Job, Job has finally gotten tired and has decided to blame God for his troubles. Since it was God (through Satan) who allowed Job to be tormented, the blame is in one sense fairly placed. I love Job’s language:

…then know that God has wronged me…Though I cry, ‘I’ve been wronged!” I get no response; though I call for help, there is no justice. He [God] has blocked my way so I cannot pass; He has shrouded my paths in darkness; He has stripped me of my honor and removed the crown from my head. He tears me down on every side till I am gone; He uproots my hope like a tree….Have pity on me, my friends, have pity, for the hand of God has struck me.” Job 19:6-10, 21

Would you say that Job finally blames God for his troubles? I would.

We follow Job in so many ways. We know as Christians that it is our sin, Adam’s sin, which has separated us from God’s blessing and that, therefore, the real cause of our troubles is us. Job knew this too and, in earlier readings, he states that we are in no position to judge God, to lay blame as it were. However, he got tired just as we get tired, and he finally blames God for his troubles just as we do. It is so easy to blame someone else rather than the man or woman in the mirror (ourselves). It is so easy to slip into the habit of blaming God, rather than slip into the habit of thanking God for our daily mercies, for our daily bread, for our daily perseverance, for our daily life. So easy.

And yet, as Christians, there should be something else which is easy too. For Job it was easy. Three verses after Job says that the hand of God has struck him, he goes on to say this about Jesus Christ:

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see Him with my own eyes – I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” Job 19:25-27

From despair and blame in one sentence to real hope for all eternity in the next sentence. How does one do that?

Because Job knew what we know, that we can wrestle with God all we want, we can blame Him all we want, and the result is the same – for those who acknowledge that Jesus has died for their sins; that He is resurrected; that He is the Redeemer, having bought our eternal life with His own blood; and that He is Lord of our life, there is eternity where we will, in our new bodies, see Him. And that, my friends, is hope in all circumstances.

From blame to hope. It is a journey well worth taking.

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