Ordinary Blessings

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 108; 150, Job 38:1-11, 42:1-5, Revelation 19:4-16, John 1:29-34


Divine intervention. We are taught in Sunday School to believe it looks like great reward or great punishment defying the laws of nature – like the parting of the Red Sea or the walls crumbling around Jericho; like the resurrection of Lazarus or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In the case of Job, divine intervention felt both like punishment and reward: God stripped everything he loved and valued from him, then restored his fortunes because he remained faithful. Behind the scenes, the motivations for divine intervention in Job’s life weren’t really about him at all.

We should call God’s involvement in the life of John the Baptist a blessing – after all, he had the privilege of preparing Israel for the arrival of Christ – but his reward for faithfulness was execution. When we hear examples like this, does it diminish our enthusiasm for a divine hands-on management style?

What if divine intervention wasn’t always quite so … obvious? It seems counter-intuitive that God would create a universe in need of constant tweaking, but might it be possible that interaction with God is built into the fabric of creation? That we go through each day touched by God in small ways we may or may not notice? Not that the Spirit is some cosmic personal assistant saving us a good parking space or sparing us from the same financial woes someone else is suffering (though there’s nothing wrong with expressing gratitude for these situations).  Every experience we have is an opportunity to connect with God, but we must choose to make that connection.

When we don’t get that parking space or pay raise, are we just as grateful? When we compare our lives to peers we consider more successful than ourselves (never a good idea, but inevitable), do we acknowledge the blessing of an ordinary life?

Maybe divine intervention doesn’t look like God altering the world for us, but God altering us for the world.

We can’t all be leaders and prophets. We can all be followers of Christ. Surrendering our lives to God makes us the very instruments of divine intervention. If we want to see God at work in the world, let’s look inside first.

Comfort: God is available to us always…

Challenge: … but insisting on our own way can make God seem distant.

Prayer: Holy God, thank you for being present in my life even when I don’t feel you. Amen.

Discussion: In what ways do you feel God has changed you to better serve the world?

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Just Because

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 103; 150, Job 38:1-11; 42:1-6, Revelation 19:4-16, John 1:29-34


Some questions have no answers, or at least none we can understand. Job was a righteous man who’d been greatly blessed by God; he had a large family, lands and livestock, and good health. When Satan (not the devil we think of, but a member of God’s court known as The Accuser) claimed Job would lose faith if God revoked his favor, God took the bet. He killed Job’s family and livestock, struck him down with terrible disease, and left him a ruined man sitting on a dung heap.

Job’s friends tried to explain why these terrible things happened to him. Saying he must have sinned, they blamed Job for his own ills, but he knew he was innocent. Like well-meaning people at a funeral who tell bereaved family members “it’s part of God’s plan,” Job’s well-meaning friends didn’t manage to offer one comforting word. We all desperately want things to make sense, but sometimes they just don’t.

When Job finally gets to confront God, God’s response is pretty unsatisfying: “Where were you when I created the earth, the seas, and the heavens?” In other words: “know your place.” God doesn’t even feel obligated to disclose the wager. Sure God gives Job a new family and restores his fortunes, but can that ever make up for what was lost?

Is there any comfort to be found in this story? If we can let go of our need to explain everything, there is the comfort of a certain harsh wisdom. Sometimes disaster will rain down on you for no apparent reason. It won’t be your fault, and honestly there may not be a silver lining. Trying to assign it a purpose may leave you looking and feeling as ignorant as Job’s friends.

We. Don’t. Always. Get. To. Know.

However, we can know that in the midst of our worst times, and God is with us and rooting for us not to lose faith. If there’s a lesson to be learned, learn it. But don’t let your need to find one be more important than your need to trust God anyway.

Comfort: When bad things happen to you, sometimes it is the unknowable nature of the world, not a reason to believe you are being punished.

Challenge: When you can’t find meaning in tragedy, you may be called to make meaning from it.

Prayer: God, I will trust you always. Amen.

Discussion: What in your life doesn’t seem fair? If you stop insisting that it make sense, does that make it easier or more difficult to accept?

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That’s it?

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 123; 146, Job 40:1, 41:1-11, Acts 16:6-15, John 12:9-19


It’s here! The climactic chapter of the book of Job, wherein God will conclude his explanation of all Job’s suffering – and maybe the explanation of all our suffering. He’s told us about the majesty and wonder of creation that he alone is capable of. He’s made it clear we as mortals can never be righteous or wise enough to comprehend all he has seen and done. His final words of wisdom to Job and those present …

… are thirty-four verses about what may or may not be a super-hippo. Huh?

That’s it, folks. That’s all the author(s) of Job had to offer. Perhaps, in the end, the subject matter was beyond anyone’s ability to address. Maybe there simply is no good justification for a God who allows the slaughter of a man’s family to win a wager. Maybe God is an all-powerful jerk who couldn’t just say “Sorry, that was a rotten but necessary thing to do to you.” No matter what the explanation, we can’t help feeling God just sidestepped the whole issue.

And some of us may be asking, “Did I just waste my time? Why is this book in the Bible anyway?” Well, we haven’t wasted anything. We’ve spent weeks pondering the human condition. We’ve been appropriately outraged about injustice, and equally outraged by inadequate – even unloving – efforts to explain it away. We have inquired into the nature of God, and found the conveniently packaged answers lacking. In other words, we’ve done what serious Old Testament scholars have done for centuries: wrestled with our faith. With its lack of a satisfying resolution, Job may seem like the world’s earliest piece of post-modern literature, but – intentionally or not – it does its job (no pun intended) by leaving us with more questions than answers.

We will always seek meaning in our lives. Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, Elihu, Job, and even God represent points of view we work through in our search. Like Job, the best answer we get in life may be: “It’s a God thing – you wouldn’t understand.” And we’ll keep searching, because the search alone holds meaning.

Comfort: The mystery of God is worth exploring our whole lives.

Challenge: Write your own response to Job’s questions.

Prayer: Compassionate God, thank you for your comfort when I suffer. Amen.

Discussion: What questions do you really wish you had answers to?

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How dusty is your head?

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 56; 149, Job 3:1-26, Acts 9:10-19a, John 6:41-51


Job’s three friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, having heard of his tragedy, arrived at his home to console and comfort him. They did so by acknowledging Job’s grief: “They raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads.” Afterward, and more importantly, “They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.”

Then Job, who was faithful but not superhuman, cursed the day he was born. Anger, grief, and confusion poured out of him. He did not reject God, but he was not afraid to demand an accounting for the injustice of the world. After this his friends thought they could best help by trying to make sense of it for him. If they had been as smart as they thought they were and kept silent, Job would have been about thirty-seven chapters shorter.

When we have a friend whose suffering is great, what is our first instinct? Many of us try to make the person feel better as quickly as possible. Others want to offer advice on how to solve or get past the problem. A smaller number suffer in solidarity. And a gifted few are willing to be present but silent. A wonderful ecumenical organization called Stephen Ministries trains people to be present for other people in crisis. Stephen ministers do not fix, and do not counsel. They listen and love.

In the next chapter, Eliphaz will offer Job some unsolicited advice. Like we might, he does this as much to reassure himself as to comfort his friend. The other friends will follow suit. This helps move along the book’s exploration of the nature of suffering, but it does more harm than good for Job. Listening is a gift anyone can give, even without formal training. When someone shares their suffering with us, sometimes the best thing we can do for them is to sit in the road next to them, and let the dust settle on our heads.

Comfort: Each of us can listen, and be listened to.

Challenge: The next time you have the urge to fix someone’s problem or give them advice, spend time just listening to them instead.

Prayer: God of renewal, thank you for ears that help others heal. Amen.

Discussion: Are you a fixer? Are you frustrated by people who try to fix? Both?

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Praising through Pain

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 36; 147:12-20, Job 1:1-22, Acts 8:26-40, John 6:16-27


The Book of Job is sad, scary, and difficult: forty-two chapters tackling the big questions of why bad things happen to good people and in summary it concludes (spoiler alert!) you don’t get to question God. Its “happy” epilogue, if one thinks on it for more than a moment, is as horrifying as the rest of the story (replacement children? really?). But it drives home an important lesson many Christians would rather rationalize away: no matter how good or faithful you are, bad stuff can happen to you and you may never find a satisfactory reason.

By the end of chapter one, because of a wager between God and Satan, Job loses his oxen, donkeys, sheep, servants, camels, and children. Devastated by grief, he shaves his head, tears up his robe, and … falls to the ground in worship?

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.

Have you known anyone to respond to a great loss – or a minor one for that matter – with sin  cere worship? Imagine comforting a grieving mother at a funeral by saying: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” A more common response is anger toward God, perhaps even a period of turning away. Yet Job does not hesitate to worship. A friend once said she gave daily thanks for both the good and bad things in her life. What a faithful prayer!

In all times, in all places, and under all circumstances, God loves us. It’s so very human to want explanations for suffering: God is testing us; God is refining us; God is punishing us. Maybe all of these are true and maybe none are. If there are lessons to be learned from our suffering, we should be open to them. But if there are none … God still loves us.

Worship always. If we must ask “What did I do to deserve this?” let the “this” be God’s undying, praiseworthy love.

For further reading on today’s text from Acts see Run Don’t Walk

For further reading on today’s text from John see Healthy Fear

Comfort: God is with you in good times and bad.

Challenge: Think back to a time you were angry with God. Offer Him now the praise you didn’t feel then.

Prayer: Creator and Redeemer, thank you for the love you bestow on me at all times. I am sorry for the times I couldn’t return it. I will praise you always. Amen.

Discussion: Everyone copes differently with grief. How do you?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!