3 October 2021

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.”
But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” Job 2:9-10

Who are you?  What is your answer to this question if someone were to ask you this?  There are plenty of reasons for this question to be asked.  Perhaps your answer depends on the context.  If I were to look at your resume for an answer, it might say that you are a hardworking individual who has all this career experience in your field.  If I were to ask you directly, you might think that it is a bit odd.  But perhaps it is like the question “How are you?”  The first time I ask the question, there is often a given answer that everyone gives: “Fine.  Doing Great.  Fantastic.”  The second time I ask the question, it shows that I really mean it.  When the disciples asked Jesus, “Who are you?” in John 8 as he foretold his death, Jesus replied, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning” (John 8:25).  Are you what you have been telling others from the beginning?  Terry Wardle wrote a book called Identity Matters in which he explains that we might define ourselves as a husband, mother, brother, daughter, pastor, teacher, railroad worker, et cetera.  But our most important identity is a child of God.  If we forget that we are a child of God, we lose our focus.  1 John 3:1 states, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”  1 Peter 2:9 further states, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  You are important to God.  Remember that we are inspired to seek God more deeply partly because God’s greatest desire is us.  God’s greatest desire is you.

Our identity can be defined by our greatest desire.  In persecuted regions of the world, there are many Christians who hold onto God as their strongest desire, stronger even than life.  They often live by the motto “I will live for Christ or I will die for Christ, but I will never turn back.”  Countless radical Muslims torture them, trying to get them to renounce God.  Peter denied Jesus because he was afraid of what would happen to him if he didn’t.  God might not blame us if we did.  Enter Kande in India, who told his wife as armed men knocked on the door, “If God is willing to take away my life, it is His will.  If God wants to save me, He will save me.  No matter what happens to me, you should not give up your faith in Jesus.  In difficulties, you must continue to follow Jesus.  Our Lord is able to provide for you even if my life is taken away” (VOM June 2021, 5).  His wife Bindi, now a widow, says that her husband’s life example helps her to keep following Jesus.  Another widow says, “If you look up to God, you will make it in life” (7).  They even pray for their persecutors to come to God.  The most important part of our identity is that we are children of God.  All we need to do is look up to God.  This past week in our book group, we talked about the fourth language that God can speak to us through: dreams.  Habakkuk had a dream of his own that we can all capture as our own: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).  As children of God, we need to capture a vision that has God’s glory at its center.  It is not for our own gain.  It is not for our friend’s gain.  If it is for God’s gain, everyone else’s gain including our own will come from that.  The vision is for the knowledge of God to cover the face of the earth as the waters cover the sea.

When times get hard, especially after the initial excitement wears off, is it difficult to remain faithful?  Job is a well-known biblical story that addresses pain and suffering in this life.  Even though he did not deserve it, one bad thing happened to him after another.  In the end he had nothing left but his wife, his friends, and his faith.  Yet he still chose to turn to God.  The important example that Job gave is that he still turned to God in the deepest suffering imaginable.  He trusted that God would bring him through it.  What is your response when times get hard?  Do you turn to God in prayer?  Do you try to ask God questions?  Do you lament?  Or do you curse God and try to make your way on your own for a while?  How does that work out for you?

Tracy Hartman, a pastor and professor of Homiletics at a Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond, notes the following: “For generations, Israelites believed that if they were living in accordance with God’s will they would be blessed, and if they were experiencing hardship or difficulties, they had displeased God.”  This is why Job’s friends thought that Job had to have done something to displease God, and such was their advice.  “Job wisely recognizes that bad things happen to good people.  The wisdom of Job’s stance is that it allows him to recognize the presence of God in even the most desolate experiences” (NP B.2.189).  Like Job, we may also be asked if we worship God for what we have, or if we will still choose to worship God even when we have not.  First, we are children of God and we don’t stop being children of God when something doesn’t go our way.  Second, as children of God we are given the vision of God’s glory expanding throughout all of the earth.  We remain confident in the fact that this is happening even as bad things happen to good people, and even in the moments when the light of our own faith grows dim.

Why do you persist in your faith?  Why, in this troublesome world, are you among the ones who keep coming to church, who keep praying to God, who keeps trying to serve one another?  Is it because you feel God present when you do these things?  Is it because you feel God making a difference even in a world that is stressful and sometimes depressing?  For anyone who has ever felt the presence of God in this space, that is reason enough to know that it is worth persisting.  We don’t worship God just so that we can get a ticket to Heaven.  We worship because we know that God prevails over violence.  God prevails over suffering.  God prevails over worry.  God prevails over death.  God has already proven this to us.  We persist when times get hard because doing otherwise admits defeat to Satan who is always trying to get the best of us.  We persist because we want to be a part of the vision of God’s ultimate will being realized on this earth.  When you feel the light of your faith going out, know God is still here.  And when God is still here, the battle is not over.  In fact, the battle has already been won.  God will see us through to the finish if we do not turn back.  Let us also say, “I will live for Christ or I will die for Christ, but I will never turn back.”  God is still God.

We all have moments where we feel discouraged.  In my case, I never finish my to-do list for any given day.  When I keep pushing things back from day to day, it can at times feel like I am not getting anything done.  It is not a good feeling to feel like you are always trying to catch up and not succeeding.  I am sure that we all have had this feeling in varying contexts.  There are also different reasons for it.  What do you do when you find yourself discouraged, or perhaps even defeated?  You could continue to fall deeper and deeper into that feeling, or you can take it to the Lord in prayer.  Somehow, when you take that concern to God, it matters less.  All that matters is what is ahead of you.  God wants us all to recognize that we do need God to get by; we cannot do it on our own.  Our discouragement may be God’s wake up call that we are relying too much on our own means.

As I am telling myself to do at this moment, when you ask yourself how you are, also ask yourself who you are.  Ask yourself whose you are.  Because you are God’s and because God desires you, you never have a reason to be discouraged while you are with God.  Job didn’t think so.  He had every reason to be discouraged and defeated, but he still rejoiced as he came to God.  Kande and his widowed family had every reason to be discouraged and defeated, but they did not blink one eye in seeking God.  Though I often seem to fall behind and sometimes feel discouraged and defeated by time, God renews my spirit and my energy when I decide that it is time to pray about it.  God never fails us.  We knew that there would be suffering.  But we can return that suffering with the joy that we experience through Christ.

“While beating a Christian, a Communist officer told him, ‘I am almighty, as you suppose your God to be.  I can kill you.’ The Christian boldly replied, ‘The power is all on my side.  I can love you while you torture me to death.’” (VOM June 2021, 12).  We have the power of God with us.  Let us rejoice as we break bread together and feed ourselves with the much-needed body of Christ, to free us from the discouragement that we experience from suffering and fill us with the assurance that God is still God.  One of my professors, Shane Johnson, said to me, “Faithfulness is a decision, not a feeling.”  Another commented that faithfulness is clinging to God, and yet another stated that it is difficult to remain faithful only when we focus on the problem instead of the problem solver.  God still has the power.  Let us choose to turn to God, and be a part of that power.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

Scripture Readings:

Job 1:1, 2:1-10
1:1 There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.
2:1 One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD.
2:2 The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”
2:3 The LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.”
2:4 Then Satan answered the LORD, “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives.
2:5 But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.”
2:6 The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.”
2:7 So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.
2:8 Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.
2:9 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.”
2:10 But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12
1:1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets,
1:2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.
1:3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
1:4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
2:5 Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels.
2:6 But someone has testified somewhere, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them?
2:7 You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor,
2:8 subjecting all things under their feet.” Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them,
2:9 but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
2:10 It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
2:11 For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters,
2:12 saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”

Mark 10:2-16
10:2 Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
10:3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?”
10:4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.”
10:5 But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you.
10:6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’
10:7 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,
10:8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.
10:9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
10:10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter.
10:11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her;
10:12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
10:13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them.
10:14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.
10:15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
10:16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

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