Pastor Kevin Sanders

"He must increase, but I must decrease." -John 3:30

Category: Devotional Thoughts (page 1 of 27)

Job: a Testimony Against Easy Answers and Shallow Teaching

Job (oil on canvas) by Bonnat, Leon Joseph Florentin (1833-1922)


I was a high school student when I first read the Book of Job. I had (finally) gotten serious about my walk with the Lord and began reading through the Bible. Job’s story was deeply encouraging to me as I struggled through those awkward teen years.

To be clear, I have a lot of fond (and some quite hilarious) memories of my high school days. But I also learned that walking with God did not guarantee that I would always “win” or that He would give me everything I wanted. I discovered, in fact, that God allows His children to go through trials. The “trials” I experienced seem kind of trivial now, but I suspect all of them will once we reach eternity (Romans 8:18).

Here’s a quick summary of the Book of Job:

Job had everything a man of his era could want. He had the perfect family (seven sons and three daughters) and was the wealthiest man in the region. But Job was also “blameless and upright.” This doesn’t mean he was sinless, of course, but he did walk in the fear and admonition of the Lord. He even made sacrificial offerings to God on behalf of his children.

God allowed the enemy to take everything from Job: his children, his wealth, and even his health. Job never cursed God, but he certainly cried out to Him in his anguish.

His friends offered their counsel, but their insights were based the erroneous idea that bad things only happen to us when we sin (a false notion that many still believe today). Job, they argued, must have done something to deserve the unspeakable tragedies that had come into his life. Needless to say, their words did more harm than good.

The Lord eventually answers Job’s lengthy complaint with an intense rebuke. We could summarize His response one sentence: “Dear Job, I’m God, you’re not.” God never told Job why He had allowed him to experience such loss and misery. This taught me a valuable lesson: God is not obligated to explain Himself to me.

Job’s life does eventually turn around for the better: “And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning.” Encouraging, indeed, but we are never told why God allowed this godly man to suffer.

That’s my feeble attempt at summarizing a magnificent story–I would highly encourage you to read it for yourself. It’s located in the Old Testament of the Bible.

I’ve mentioned how encouraging the Book of Job was for me during my high school years. But I was exposed to some really bizarre teaching a few years later (through television, radio, etc.). It was called by different names: “word of faith,” “name it and claim it,” or more commonly, “the prosperity gospel.” The nuances among teachers vary, but the central message is the same: God’s children should be healthy, wealthy, and prosperous, and a lack of these material blessings in believer’s life means he just doesn’t have enough faith (or has sin in his life).

Job’s life presents a unique dilemma for prosperity “preachers”: How do you reconcile the teachings of this book with claims God’s children should only experience prosperity? They have tried, but their attempts have resulted in some of the most horrendous interpretation of the Scriptures I’ve ever heard. You’d think that even a casual Bible reader would see through it, but the desire to turn God into our personal bellhop can be blinding.

I’ll give you one example. Let’s take a direct quote from Kenneth Copeland, who travels in his own private jet (at ministry supporters’ expense) to avoid “demons.” Here’s a quote about Job, directly from Copeland’s website:

The Bible tells us Job continually made the same sacrifice for his children. The sacrifice was to be made only once. Because he did it continually, he sacrificed in unbelief instead of faith; as a result, the thing he feared came upon him (Job 3:25) . . .

Through all of his life, Job was safe until he feared and lost his faith. And it wasn’t until his faith was restored that God was able to bless him again.

Let’s consider the serious errors you’ve just read:

Yes, Job did continually offer sacrifices for his children: “continually” in the sense that it was his normal practice. But there’s nothing in the text that would lead us to conclude Job “sacrificed in unbelief.” The opposite is true–the Scriptures are highlighting Job’s dedication to God and his concern for the spiritual well-being of his family.

Job laments that his worst fears have come true in Chapter 3, verse 25. But again, there’s nothing in this text that states (or even implies) he lived by fear. This verse is Job’s grief expressed in sacred poetry, and we should simply read it as such.

Prosperity preachers like Copeland propagate the very error that the Book of Job was written to correct–the belief that we can presume God’s favor or judgement based on material blessings alone.

Don’t allow false teachers to rob you of the beautiful, perplexing, awe-inspiring lesson of the Book of Job: God is sovereign, and He allows His children to suffer for reasons we’ll never fully understand this side of eternity.

When God Makes Diamonds

diamond

I preached from this passage in the Book of James a couple of weeks ago:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
-James 1:2-4

I’m not sure why I felt drawn to the first chapter of James, but I suspect I my listeners needed to hear this encouragement.  I know I did–I felt like I was preaching to myself more than anyone in the congregation.

James presents an uncomfortable truth in this text:  there are some qualities God can only develop in us through trials.  Enduring these tests will give us perseverance (“steadfastness”), which will eventually result in maturity (“perfect and complete”).

I wish this wasn’t true–I wish there was some shortcut to being more Christlike and more dependent on the Lord.  But the experience of millions of believers (including yours truly) confirms what the Word of God teaches in this passage.

As I meditated on this text I started thinking about diamonds, which are some of the most precious stones in the world.  My mind wandered back to my whirlwind romance and my quest for the perfect engagement ring for Mare Cris.  I did a little research to get an idea of how these beautiful gemstones are made.  Geologists universally agree that diamonds are formed under crushing pressure and intense heat.

Think about that for a second: crushing pressure and intense heat.  God uses the most hostile conditions imaginable to create the world’s most exquisite and valuable objects.

He also uses trials and suffering to produce something of eternal value: a saint.  Please remember this if you are in the midst of a painful test.

A Long Week in the USA

I have to say I’m ready for this week to be over.  Watching the news has been emotionally draining in ways I’m not sure I have ever experienced before.

Sunday was the first worship service at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston since a senseless shooting left nine of her members dead.    Worshipers demonstrated grace and forgiveness that is only possible through the power of the gospel.  “No evildoer, no demon in hell or on Earth can close the doors of God’s church,” proclaimed their pastor.  Mourners of all races gathered inside and outside the church building in a powerful demonstration of support and solidarity.

Dylan Roof was trying to start a race war by attacking innocent people in the one place everyone should feel welcome and safe.  His senseless, depraved act caused just the opposite–South Carolina and other states decided to remove the Confederate Battle Flag from state monuments.

I support the removal of this flag from state property.  To me it is simply a familiar historical symbol I’ve seen all my life–part of the landscape here in the South.  But as Russell Moore has pointed out, it represents something completely different to African-Americans.

Having said that, the anti-flag movement I’ve seen this week has reached a level that borders on insanity.  Case in point: Apple has removed all Civil War video games from its app store because the Confederate soldiers in the game march under . . . the Confederate flag.  It seems a gesture of peace and goodwill is quickly turning into hysteria.

Friday the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex “marriage” is a right protected under the US law.  This was no surprise to me, but I was deeply grieved nonetheless (you can check out The Gospel and Gay “Marriage” if you want to know my convictions on this).

I should make something clear before I go any further:  I do not long for America to return to the “glory days” of previous eras.  Our history of sexual sin is as old as the country itself, not to mention our unfair treatment of racial and ethnic minorities.

But it breaks my heart to see people proudly marching to their eternal destruction, rainbow flag in hand.

Friday’s news included President Barrack Obama’s eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney (one of the nine killed in the attack), who was the pastor of the Emanuel AME Church as well as a state Senator.  His thoughtful speech seemed like a sermon at times, and he surprised the attendees by leading them in Amazing Grace, a cherished hymn of the Christian faith.white-house-rainbow-3

Later that evening the White House would be lit up with rainbow colors to celebrate the Supreme Court’s ruling. I find these contradicting messages from our President completely bizarre, though he’s not the first politician guilty of picking and choosing only the parts of the Christian faith that suit his taste.

Both the power of God and the deceitfulness of sin have been on full display in the United States of America this week.

The Lord has reminded me of some important truths through these events.  I’ll share them in hopes of encouraging my fellow believers.

1.  This world and this country are not my home.  Peter admonished the ancient believers to see themselves as “temporary residents” of this world (1 Peter 2:11).  I’ve been reminded not to hold too tightly to anything this temporal life has to offer.   I am just a sojourner, bound to see some ugly scenery on my way home.

2.  Everything that I see was foretold long ago.  Paul told Timothy the last days would include “difficult times” with people “scoffing at God.”  He even said they “will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly” (2nd Timothy 3:1-5).   Unholy acts have fulfilled holy warnings spoken centuries ago.  God is not surprised–neither should I be.

3. Jesus promised His strength in the midst of a hostile world.  Jesus never said following Him would be an easy path that is celebrated by the masses.  He told his followers, in fact, that we will have trouble in this world.  But He didn’t stop there–He reminded us that He has overcome this world (John 16:33)!

As a believer I’m called to take up my cross and follow Jesus, regardless of changes in the political wind.  That’s just what I intent to do.

Scripture quotes have been taken from the New Living Translation of the Bible.

When God Closes Doors

Locked_Door

I was lying awake in bed one night a few months ago.  Earlier that day I had received familiar news: I had been turned down for some kind of work/ministry position.  I don’t really remember the specific position or exactly how I was notified (email vs. “snail mail”).  This kind of thing has happened so many times that it has become a familiar and forgettable event.

But I do remember something different in my reaction: “You should thank God for closing that door,” I said to myself.

So I did.  Maybe I thanked God begrudgingly–the same way a child thanks a relative for a birthday gift he really didn’t want.   Gratitude can be difficult after months (or years) of hearing God say “no.”

But my heart did become more grateful as I pondered the ways God has used closed doors to guide me into His perfect plan.  I’m about a month away from an important anniversary: the day I left American soil for the first time to move to Manila (July 11th, 2002).  But I never would have made it to the Philippines if certain opportunities had opened up for me here in the States back in the late 90’s or early 2000’s (I’ve mentioned this before).   An incredible decade of ministry may have never even happened if God had given me what I asked for.

Lying beside me was my beautiful wife, an exquisite reminder of this truth.  She came to me after years of romantic frustrations and mishaps–some of which happened only months before I met her.  But it was all worth it, and now I’m grateful for every closed door that led me to her.  Here’s a line from my first love letter to her:  “I would take this path all over again as long as I knew it would lead me back to you.”  I meant every word.  I still do.

So I thanked God for closed doors that night.  Since then I have disciplined my soul to thank Him each time a promising opportunity turns into disappointment.  I know I can trust Him.

You can, too.

“What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.”
-Revelation 3:7

Photo courtesy of wiki commons.

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