Posted in Devotions

You probably don’t know what God is up to

As a parish pastor, the majority of my conversations contain some reference to God. Lately, the majority also include information, comments and opinions about the Covid-19 pandemic. And many of the folks I talk with want to know if there’s a connection between the two.

Some interpret the millions of positive tests as a sign of the end, since biblical images of the end times includes pestilence. Some view the virus as punitive, God’s judgment on an ungodly world. Still others see it is a call to repentance, urging unfaithful people to turn back to God.

I’m extremely cautious about trying to connect the dots between current events and the actions of God. I remember a few guys in the Old Testament who tried to figure out what God was up to. Job and his friends thought they had all the answers. Boy were they wrong!

At the beginning of the book of Job, God grants Satan permission to test Job’s faith. Satan thinks Job is only faithful because he is blessed. Take away the good stuff, and Job will fold. He’ll curse God to HIs face. God says, “OK. Give it your best shot.” Job suffers the loss of his house, all his livestock and his house. In response, Job went to church. He worshiped God.

Satan raises the stakes. If you take away Job’s health, Job will curse God to His face. God says, “He’s all yours. Just don’t kill him.” Job breaks out in sores all over his body. He is miserable. Yet he still doesn’t say one bad thing about God.

Three friends come to sit with Job, and for the first week, no one says much. But then they all begin to offer explanations as to why Job is suffering as he is. Their theories don’t sound that bad.

Job must have done something to deserve this. God must be disciplining Job. Get your act together and God will once again bless you.

That theory makes sense to me. If you get caught speeding, you get a ticket. Pay the fine, go to traffic school, drive more carefully in the future. Case closed.

Job’s not buying their diagnosis. His big question is, “What did I do wrong?” He follows up by asking, “What did I do to deserve this?” He my not be perfect, but did Job really deserve so much misery? And finally he wonders, “If I’m that bad, why doesn’t God save himself a lot of trouble and just let me die?”

Job’s words make sense, too. At the very beginning of this book, wasn’t God just boasting about what a good guy Job was? Surely there must be others that needed discipline a lot more than someone like Job. Job makes a good point when he points out many despicable people that aren’t being disciplined. It just doesn’t add up.

In the end, they are all wrong. They have no idea what they are talking about. Every attempt to explain God and how things work is misinformed. They are oblivious to what is happening in the spiritual realm.

I am very aware that I am not aware of everything God is up to. For me to speculate about God’s judgment on some and not others is far above my pay grade. My best guesses about the end would be ridiculous. All I know for sure is what God has told me in His Word. I know I deserve to punished for my sins. I know I’m not punished because Jesus was crucified for my sins. I know I’m going to die one day. I know I’ll be resurrected one day.

Those truths get me through good days and bad days, health and illnesses, hurricanes and beach days, unexpected bills and unexpected blessings. What is God up to on days like that? Who knows?

Posted in Ministry, preaching

I didn’t feel like preaching today

You read that title right. I really didn’t feel like preaching today. For some reason, I just got up and felt like a blend of Jonah and Jeremiah. My sermon was ready, it spoke to me when I practiced it on Saturday, and I slept well. But frankly, I just didn’t feel like getting up and going to work.

But…but…Pastor Bill, you’re called and ordained and inspired and privileged to preach God’s Word every week. I know. I’ve been doing it weekly for over thirty-three years. Some days I can’t wait to get there. Other days I just wish it were over and it was afternoon nap time. Some days it’s a joy. Some days it’s a job.

Maybe the congregation could tell. Maybe not. Some know me pretty well and can tell it’s one of those days. I’m OK with that. The guys who run out on the field for 162 regular season baseball games aren’t always pumped. the football players who are still aching from last Sunday’s game line up at the line of scrimmage on a Thursday night because that’s what they do. The cast of a successful Broadway show do their singing and dancing over and over again, week in and week out, whether they feel like it or not.

I’ve recently been reminding myself that those who come to worship each week are hungry for God’s Word. They desperately need His words of forgiveness and grace. They are like the people of Israel wandering out of their tents each morning to gather manna from the ground. My job is to preach the word, essentially feeding them. It’s not about me. It’s about them. It’s my task to fill their plates, if you will, with some good news and food for their souls. It’s my job to speak to the bones, like Ezekiel, so that the Spirit of God might blow and bring dead bones to life.

I still have to thank a dear old friend and pastor, Roy Bohrer, for some of this wisdom. He was my pastor for the few months I lived in Austin, TX, when I was considering studying for pastoral ministry. When I asked him what he thought about me becoming a pastor, he said, “Remember, this is a job. Your job. Every week. Day in and day out.”

Noah spent many days, weeks, months and years building an ark. Moses led a nation on a trek through a desert for forty years. David got up day after day and went into battle against Philistines. Paul made tents six days a week. Were they excited about their job every day? I don’t know. Oh, yes I do. They had their good days and bad days. We all do. Even pastors.

I give thanks for both. Hey, I have a job. I have a job I enjoy. Most of the time.

Posted in Grace, Life

God’s whirlwind answer to Job’s profound questions

hurricane-irma-satellite-noaa-ht-jc-170905_12x5_992Sitting here, waiting for Hurricane Irma to traverse the length of Florida, I couldn’t help (because I’m a pastor) think of Job’s encounter with God in a whirlwind in the bible (Job 38:1).

Job had three really good questions for God while he was suffering from the loss of his family and health. His so-called friends tried to help him figure things out, but they weren’t much help.

Job asked, “Why was I even born? If I have to suffer this much, why didn’t I just die at birth?” (Job 3:11) Great question. If life includes suffering – and it usually does – then why even bother? I know from my own turning forty experience that if you hurt bad enough, you just want it to be over.

Second question: “How can you be in the right before God?” (Job 9:32) Job’s well-meaning friends offered him their best advice: “You must have really screwed up. Just turn back to God and get past this.” Job knew he hadn’t done anything to deserve what he had to go through. And how are you going to get in good standing with God anyway? He does what he wants. What chance do you even have to argue your case with God?

“If a man dies, will he live again?” (Job 14:14) Good question. If life is hard and too quickly comes to an end, what’s the use? Cut down a tree and it grow back. Terminate a life, and that’s it. Game over. No second chance. No redo.

God answers God from a whirlwind. (Was it a ¬†hurricane? Or a tornado?) And he simply asks a series of questions. “Do you know how this world works, Job? Were you there at creation, at its inception? Do you even have a clue?”

So when the whirlwind comes, we remember that He is God and we are not. We can’t do much to control the weather. All we can do is flee or hide. Our vote doesn’t count. We just ride it out the best we can.

But we know why we were born. We were created for good works (Eph. 2:10). We’ll have plenty of chance to do that on Tuesday, when recovery begins and we can be there for our neighbors.

We can be right before God, but only by faith. “We maintain that a person is justified by faith” (Romans 3:28).

And, there is life beyond the grave. The Lord will come, the trumpet will sound, and the dead will rise (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

So let the hurricane remind you of our Lord’s power, grace and return. It’s one of the best object lessons ever!

Posted in Life

Into the real world

My daughter is moving to Atlanta in a few weeks, to being her post-college life. Having landed a job, she is off into the world. I am trying hard to remember my transition from college to the real world thirty years ago.

To the best of my recollection, it was a long six weeks that I spent living back at home after finishing college. Finally, my letters and applications were noticed, and phone calls came. I was off to full-day and multi-day interviews at places like New Jersey Bell and Bell Labs (yes, I am old enough to have worked for Bell Labs).

There are few experiences as rewarding as someone calling you wanting to schedule an interview. One would be actually getting a job offer! The days following the job offer were spent trying to find an apartment, moving, and setting up a place to live. My first apartment had a table, a chair, a dresser and a bed. I’m pretty sure that’s all I had. I don’t remember if I had a bed frame or not. I may have begun with a mattress on the floor. In time, I added a piece of carpet and some shelves. But you know what? I really didn’t care. It was so cool to be on my own and have a job.

After I visited a local church, I remember the day the pastor came to visit me. I had nowhere to sit, so we sat on my new piece of carpet in the living room. Eventually I got a TV, a stereo, a sofa, and a dog. Life was good. And life was cheap, too. One person to feed. No cell phones. No laptops. And an amazing feeling of freedom, identity, and purpose.