Tag Archives: tragedy

Befriending Job

Today is All Saint’s Sunday on the Church calendar. We talked in our Ministry Moment during worship about the saints in our congregation who have already gone to their reward, but had poured the love of God and the example of their lives into us before their deaths.  Following that, this was the basics of my sermon… focusing on Job, his wife and his friends.

{Job 1:1-12, New Living Translation}

There once was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless—a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil. He had seven sons and three daughters. He owned 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 teams of oxen, and 500 female donkeys. He also had many servants. He was, in fact, the richest person in that entire area.

Job’s sons would take turns preparing feasts in their homes, and they would also invite their three sisters to celebrate with them. When these celebrations ended—sometimes after several days—Job would purify his children. He would get up early in the morning and offer a burnt offering for each of them. For Job said to himself, “Perhaps my children have sinned and have cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular practice.

One day the members of the heavenly court came to present themselves before the Lord, and the Accuser, Satan, came with them.“Where have you come from?” the Lord asked Satan.

Satan answered the Lord, “I have been patrolling the earth, watching everything that’s going on.”

Then the Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.”

Satan replied to the Lord, “Yes, but Job has good reason to fear God.10 You have always put a wall of protection around him and his home and his property. You have made him prosper in everything he does. Look how rich he is! 11 But reach out and take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!”

12 “All right, you may test him,” the Lord said to Satan. “Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don’t harm him physically.” So Satan left the Lord’s presence.

In the rest of the chapter, and then in chapter two as well, we read about Job’s children being killed, his flocks, and herds, and servants being decimated, and, ultimately, even his body is affected by the demonic attack unleashed by Satan who is merely using Job to try to prove God wrong.

Job is the story of a follower of God who endures a lot of stuff.

But isn’t it interesting, that the book of Job starts with a description of Job, but the first action in the book is God and Satan. In fact, God is BRAGGING to Satan… about Job.

Essentially, God is picking a fight with the devil… who’s known here as the Accuser.

God picks a fight!

Job has done nothing wrong. Nothing to justify what happens to him after that encounter between God & Satan.

Satan hears God boast about Job and he takes the bait. He asks for permission to test Job… to prove that the only reason Job is a good follower of God because God has blessed him with so many blessings… God is SO confidant in Job’s devotion and service that He gives Satan permission to remove any blessing Job has received: children, money, wealth, possessions, and, later, in chapter two, even his health. Satan does his very best to try to make Job so miserable that he’ll give in and fall away from God.

God doesn’t cause it… but he allows it. Why? Well, to be honest, Scripture doesn’t tell us God’s reasons… in fact, at the end of the book God makes it pretty clear that “WHY?” isn’t a question He feels compelled to answer.

However, there are at least two possibles I think I see in here:

(1) God knows that Job, if he relies on his Lord, is able to handle whatever Satan tries… Now the question is WILL he choose to handle it?

(2) God knows that Job will come through this time of trouble and trial and be an even better and stronger man of God when it’s over.

Now, on this All Saints’ Sunday, I want to turn our attention and focus, not on Job, but on the people around Job. If you’re going through trouble, you know that you can look to Job as an example and draw strength from his success in enduring trouble without cursing God. If he can do it, so can you and I.

But today we want to look at Job’s wife and friends… because that’s where most of us will find ourselves… Being the family or friend of someone who is enduring great hardship.

The first one, the closest one, to Job is his wife. She cracks under the pressure and finally, in an almost suicidal kind of statement, tells Job in verses 9 & 10 of chapter 2, to “curse God and die.” She gives up and just wants the pain to stop… and is willing to give in to whatever she needs to give in to in order to make it stop.

And there’s a here-and-now warning for us as well. The psychologists and statisticians tell us that when a family endures the death of a child or some other catastrophic trauma, the marriage is likely to be the next victim. Divorce is on the horizon in most cases. You and I, under the same circumstances Job faced, would find divorce as one of the options that begins to look attractive.

If you are married to someone that is going through a tough time, you are the one and only person that can really help, or hurt, the most. Your encouragement, or your discouragement, will be one of the strongest forces in your spouse’s ultimate healing or eventual failure. And in due course, it may be the death, or rebirth, of your marriage relationship based on your choices as the supporter or detractor in the midst of trouble.

That’s why, still today, the marriage vows include the promise of staying together through “better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and health…”

You know, we never read anything else about Job’s wife, so we don’t know what she did in the end, but we know that Job refused to give up.

But now, let’s look at the three that make up most of the rest of the book.

Job has some friends. Chapter 2 verses 11-13 says

  1. Eliphaz,
  2. Bildad, and
  3. Zophar

…came to Job when they got the news of all the troubles that had befallen him. Scripture says that they came “to mourn with him and to comfort him.”

In the next few verses we read that they Cried with him, They were present with him, and they were silent.

Those were the good things they did as friends. Chapter 3, finally, Job tells them how he feels and then, and only then, do Job’s three friends start to share and talk and express their feelings.

Unfortunately, they’ve heard the lies that Satan likes to tell that say “if you’re good, then good things happen to you and if you’re bad, then bad things happen to you.” Sometimes, even today, that lie is stated like this: “Everything happens for a reason.” Those are lies that try to make everything either YOUR fault that bad stuff is happening to you or that it is GOD’S fault that bad stuff is happening to you. No grace. No mercy. No blessings. Just a mean old God that sits around cooking up bad stuff because “it happens for a reason” and that reason just might be that you, the one suffering, ticked God off somehow.

So out of their own concern and belief, they start trying to FIX Job and SOLVE Job’s problems. The problem, of course, is that God is working in the background and this attack on Job is an attack from Satan, not God… so they CAN’T solve it!

In the past few years, our country seems to have been having more and more problems… The news has been full of examples of death and destruction… whether it’s a marine base being bombed, a naval ship attacked, an embassy under siege, hostages taken, or the attacks inside our own nation like September 11th and just last week, someone deliberately driving into a crowd in order to kill and cause panic. At the same time, we’ve had drought and flooding, unquenchable fire and unquenchable thirst, disease, earthquake, plane crashes, people shooting other people, and war after war after war. The chances are becoming greater every day that you and I will be impacted by these national and worldwide events.

On top of all that, there are personal stories of tragedy: the stock market plunges and someone loses all they own, a cancer hits home and no cure is found, a job is lost as a company downsizes, or a loved one dies.

In the Church, we are full of stories and examples of how there are people all around us everyday who are essentially Job incarnate. We’ve tried to understand WHY this one gets sick or WHY that one dies and even why does another one get healed and get back on her feet???

And as the friends… we don’t know what to do or what to say… some can’t even stand it to visit at the hospital… because we’re so terrified of saying the wrong thing and making our friend or loved one feel even worse.

I believe we can learn something from Job’s friends about what NOT to do and what we really SHOULD do when we are the spouse or friend of a Job.

Throughout much of the rest of the book of Job, the friends do everything wrong… They try to figure out who or what is to blame for Job’s problems. They try to figure out ways to fix Job’s problems. They try to explain WHY it all happened.

If you’ve ever been in a time of struggle or grief, you know these are the LAST things you want to hear.  In fact, since the first time I preached this message a few years ago, I myself have ended up in the hospital having surgery in order to try to deal with cancer. And I was amazed at some of the things people said to me, trying to comfort ME… Sometimes it was even pastors… and I could tell they were trying to offer comfort, but were struggling to understand and trying to figure out something to say that would make sense.

I’m especially glad that the Bible doesn’t just tell us what was wrong… but also what was right. Look with me at verses 11, 12, and 13 of chapter 2, if you would.

11 When three of Job’s friends heard of the tragedy he had suffered, they got together and traveled from their homes to comfort and console him. Their names were Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. 12 When they saw Job from a distance, they scarcely recognized him. Wailing loudly, they tore their robes and threw dust into the air over their heads to show their grief. 13 Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words.

First of all, they CAME. When they heard their friend was in crisis, they came. He was in SO MUCH distress that they didn’t even recognize him at first. I know of some who are afraid of this part of being a friend to someone like Job because they can’t stand the sight of all the tubes or machines they might see at the hospital… or the grimace of pain on their friend’s face… and they simply want to be able to remember them the way they were…

But just being present is a ministry. It’s one of the promises that consoles us so much in the 23rd psalm… “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for THOU ART WITH ME…” We’re never promised that we won’t face the valleys of life or even get to avoid the pain of death… for us or our loved ones… but we ARE promised that even there, GOD IS WITH US!!! In fact, less than two months from now we’ll be celebrating Christmas, when we hear the Scriptures declare that Jesus is also known as IMMANUEL… which literally means God is with us. If we are friends to a Job, we can minister to them, just by being present like Job’s friends were.

Second of all, Job’s friends MOURNED… The Bible says they experienced the grief and the emotion and the pain that Job was going through. That’s something we can do when we have a Job in our lives… we can be real. That’s supposed to be the Christian thing to do anyways… We read in Romans 12:15 that we “weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.”

When our friends are facing adversity, they don’t necessarily need our words, they need our empathy… If we are friends to a Job, we can minister to them, just by being real with our own emotions… But that doesn’t mean that we deal with our emotions by telling the one facing tragedy, disease, or suffering about all of our experiences… or Uncle Joe’s wife’s cousin’s second wife’s tragedy that made you so sad because it was “just like this!” When you start using the word “I” you’re no longer comforting… you’re essentially trying to ease your own discomfort by passing it off to the one you’re there to comfort. NOT very helpful. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of helpful. Deal with your own emotions BEFORE you arrive.

Third, Job’s three friends LISTENED. In fact, Scripture says they sat with Job in silence for seven days. And when they started having conversation, it was only because Job himself broke the silence.

I can’t tell you the number of times I have been hailed as a great counselor when all I really did was SHUT UP and listen! Of course, I was involved and talked and asked questions, but the greatest thing I did was be quiet and reflectively listen to the other person. And those are the times that have been healing and hopeful to one in need.

If we are friends to a Job, we can minister to them just by being silent and listening.

Ultimately, at the end of the book of Job, God restores Job to health and restores his status and finances… but Job comes through this period with a better understanding of God and who God is and what God is like… and Job comes out of this time “walking humbly before his God.”

And it’s not that God just gave everything back and took away all of Job’s griefs. His ten children are still DEAD. His original servants are still DEAD. His favorite horse or mule or camel is still DEAD. Yes, God brought a restoration, but not everything is the same.

When we, or those around us, come through a tough time, we too can look forward to a restoration… but it’ll never be the same as it was before. There’s a new reality in place. A new “normal.” And that is another of the griefs and pains Job has to adjust and adapt to.

You know, we, as friends, get to walk with our Job, and we can help minister and help grieve…

SO…

Here’s the question of the day…

WHO IS JOB IN YOUR LIFE & CAN YOU BEFRIEND THEM?

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Filed under Church Leadership, compassion, Death, Disaster Relief, Grief, Mental Health, prayer, Response, sermons

Acts of God?

Recently, I’ve heard, read, and watched different supposed Christians who want to take all the hurricanes and fires and earthquakes and ascribe them to God as if GOD had evilly created a plan to punish people with Hell on earth in the nasty now-and-now…
And other people who try to use these events as reasons to “prove” that there is NO God anywhere, nor has there ever been.
In response, today, I want to share a great resource actually written and published by the denomination to which I belong: The United Methodist Church.

Ask the UMC: How do United Methodists understand human suffering from natural disaster?

A tire swing sways in the wind from Hurricane Rita over the remains of a beachfront home destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in Ocean Springs, Miss. Rita made landfall in East Texas Sept. 24, 2005, nearly four weeks after Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

A tire swing sways in the wind from Hurricane Rita over the remains of a beachfront home destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in Ocean Springs, Miss. Rita made landfall in East Texas Sept. 24, 2005, nearly four weeks after Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi.

Ask the UMC: How do United Methodists understand human suffering from natural disaster?

Sometimes the devastation is overwhelming. The waters rise and the rain won’t stop. The ground shakes beneath our feet, or the wind blows the roofs off homes. Sometimes, even the side of the mountain roars into town. The problems seem insurmountable, the destruction beyond our comprehension.When tragedy strikes, it is common for us to ask why. We turn to our faith for answers, but answers don’t come easily. We wrestle with making sense of the suffering we witness, in light of our Christian faith. Questions are left unanswered. The tragedy is not explained.In a sermon titled “The Promise of Understanding,” John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, says we may never know. He writes,

“[W]e cannot say why God suffered evil to have a place in his creation; why he, who is so infinitely good himself, who made all things ‘very good,’ and who rejoices in the good of all his creatures, permitted what is so entirely contrary to his own nature, and so destructive of his noblest works. ‘Why are sin and its attendant pain in the world?’ has been a question ever since the world began; and the world will probably end before human understandings have answered it with any certainty” (section 2.1).

The short answer is: We do not know why natural disasters and other suffering are part of our world.

Did God do this?

While Wesley admits we cannot know the complete answer, he clearly states that suffering does not come from God. God is “infinitely good,” Wesley writes, “made all things good,” and “rejoices in the good of all his creatures.”

Our good God does not send suffering. According to Wesley, it is “entirely contrary to [God’s] own nature, and so destructive of his noblest works.” Suffering is not punishment for sin or a judgment from God. We suffer, and the world suffers, because we are human and part of a system of processes and a physical environment where things go wrong.

God with us

In another sermon titled “On Divine Providence,” Wesley again writes of God’s love for humanity and that God desires good for us. He then adds how God is always with us, even in the midst of tragedy. Wesley shares,

“[God] hath expressly declared, that as his ‘eyes are over all the earth’ [see Psalm 34:15; 83:18], so he ‘is loving to every man, and his mercy is over all his works’ [Psalm 145:9]. Consequently, he is concerned every moment for what befalls every creature upon earth; and more especially for everything that befalls any of the children of men. It is hard, indeed, to comprehend this; nay, it is hard to believe it, considering the complicated wickedness, and the complicated misery, which we see on every side. But believe it we must” (paragraph 13).

This is good news. While we cannot fully comprehend the why, we know that God is with those who suffer. Note that Wesley says God cares for “every creature.” We are never alone in our suffering.

In our experience, we know that tragedies happen to Christians and non-Christians alike. As Jesus said, “[God] makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). The good news we proclaim is that God is with us through it all.

A different question

When Jesus and his disciples encounter a man born blind, the disciples ask Jesus the question we are asking. “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?” (John 9:2). Jesus, why does seemingly arbitrary suffering occur?

Jesus’ answer, “Neither he nor his parents,” tells us that the disciples are asking the wrong question. “This happened,” Jesus continues, “so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). Jesus asserts that it is in our response to suffering that God is found, in moments of everyday grace and in grand and sweeping gestures of care and solidarity with the suffering. God’s mighty works are found in hospitals and nursing homes and shelters.

Jesus is calling his disciples and us to a ministry. We are to join Jesus in displaying God’s mighty works. We are an extension of God’s presence in the midst of the tragedy as we come beside those who are suffering in ways we don’t comprehend. We are to be agents of healing, working to restore God’s order to people’s lives and communities. We are to be representatives of the day of resurrection to come, as we seek to rebuild and renew.

In our United Methodist congregations, we join together in these ministries. We assemble flood buckets and work alongside those who shovel the muck from floodwaters from the floors of their homes. We rebuild homes. We stand in the gap alongside the suffering. We support our local food banks, help build houses in our communities, take care of one another’s cars, visit those who are ill and imprisoned, and so much more. We are also active in our communities, working to change systems that inflict suffering on people in our communities.

In the aftermath of tragedy, we give witness to the love of God. In our outpouring of support, we proclaim the value of every human life. As we grieve with those in mourning, we share the love of God. When we send supplies through the United Methodist Committee on Relief, we witness to God’s provision. When medical professionals bind up wounds, Jesus is shown as a healer. When homes are rebuilt, we proclaim resurrection.

We may not know why things happen, but we embrace the ministries of healing, renewal and reconciliation to which Jesus calls us, and in doing so, God’s mighty works are revealed.

Related:

Turning to the Bible when sorrow strikes

‘Jesus wept’: Finding God’s comfort when times are bad

 

Have questions? Ask the UMC. And check out other recent Q&As.

This content was produced by InfoServ, a ministry of United Methodist Communications.

First published Aug. 31, 2017.

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Accidental Evangelism

I originally shared this in another setting several years ago. The events described occurred in October 2006.

My daughter Sarah and I were in an accident this past week.

It was Tuesday night and we were on our way to pick up my 2 year old son from the babysitter. Sarah, 16, for some reason had decided to sit in the middle seat in our mini-van, and I, of course, was driving.

We came to the spot on route 322 where I needed to turn left onto Thunderbird Road. There was a lot of traffic coming from the opposite direction, so I stopped and waited for them to pass. Another car came from behind, unaware that the traffic ahead of her had come to a stop, and she rammed into the rear of our van. She apparently had been busy with a cell phone or maybe the radio, because there was no braking at all… She just drove into the back of our stopped car.

Both cars are probably totaled… although the insurance companies are still working on that end of things. As for us, we had seat belts on and, other than a bit of neck strain and some soreness, Sarah and I are fine. The ambulance trip and a couple hours at the ER confirmed that. The girl that hit us had a few more injuries, but I saw her later as she was being discharged, so I know she too is OK.

All of that is merely background.

Because when I saw her, when she was being discharged, she came to my ER room (I was last to be discharged), she again apologized and then she thanked me!

I was blown away! She simply thanked me for “being so nice.”

It’s moments like that that remind me that God really is still working on me. Family and friends can tell you that there were times in the past when my anger would have flared up and I would have expressed that anger… in not necessarily kind ways. But it didn’t even enter my mind this time… I knew that Sarah and I were pretty OK… but this girl (and her car) had taken the brunt of the damage. I literally was scared that there was something wrong with her… and afraid she might go into shock (or worse) at any moment.

Other than a praise for safety during the “giving thanks” part of our prayer time, I didn’t really bring my experience into the sermon today. Instead, we focused on the Scripture text from Acts 16 where Paul and Silas have a bad day. They had been harassed by a slave girl with a demon for days on end, until Paul finally turned around and cast the demon out of the girl… which upset the slave owners who had been making money off of her ‘talents.’ Paul & Silas were hauled in front of the magistrates, were stripped, were beaten with rods, and were thrown into the inner prison, bound and in stocks. To me, that would really be a bad day!

Frankly, I imagine I would be somewhere between loudly protesting and whining, moping, and crying. But according to Acts 16:25, Paul & Silas were “praying and singing hymns to God…”

WOW!

The thing that caught my attention even more was the next phrase: “… and the other prisoners were listening to them.” And a few verses later, after a Divine intervention occurs, the jailer himself notices the godly behavior of these men of God… and asks them how he might have what he notices in them. He says “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And we read in verse 31, their answer: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…”

Paul & Silas, in the midst of a bad day, were godly. They prayed and they worshipped God… even in the midst of the ‘stuff’ of life that was going on around them. And everyone around them was noticing!!!

My pastor, right before I entered ministry, was Rev. David Bunnell, and I once heard him use an analogy of a teacup. He said that each of us are like a teacup… possibly ornate or ordinary, delicate or rugged, fancy or plain, small or large… but it doesn’t really matter what kind of teacup we are… it matters what our cup is filled with.

He then said that you can never really tell what’s in each other’s teacups… until your cup is bumped. When something happens that upsets you or messes up your day… then it’s like your cup gets bumped… and whatever is inside spills out a bit.

Many of us, when our cup’s bumped, have rage, bitterness, or sarcasm spill out. I’ve been guilty of this myself at times. But Jesus Christ offers us the chance to be ‘refilled’ by His Holy Spirit continually. You know this is reality when your cup gets bumped and people around you can see what you’ve filled your cup with.

This week my cup got bumped… and some of the love and grace of Jesus spilled out… But unfortunately that isn’t always the case. If it were a bigger bump, and more spilling occurred, I’m afraid the sludge and YUK that’s in the bottom of my cup might have spilled over too.

That’s why we need to make sure we’re allowing Jesus Christ to continue to fill us. It’s not enough to ‘be filled’ when we get saved and then we walk through life and the dust and dirt and debris of life settle into our cups. That’s why we need to be in a constant refilling, like a cup that’s attached to a garden hose… even if dirt falls into the cup… it’s swept away by the constant infilling from the hose…

That’s what I want. Not to be filled with Living Water or the Filling of the Holy Spirit like it was some one-time event in the past at which I can wistfully look back and remember. NO! I want to filled and refilled and renewed all the time… so the sludge of life doesn’t have a chance to settle in… and even the stuff that was already there is eventually washed away.

Guess I’ll know even better how that’s going the next time my cup gets bumped. How about you? It’s absolutely vital that we get this right, because as my week showed and Paul & Silas learned… the world around us will notice!

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