Job – an Introduction

This week we will begin a new study in the book of Job. How often have you suffered, or known someone who is suffering and the question that forms most readily is “why?”. Why is this happening? Why God? If there is a common issue that unifies those who can’t believe in God, it’s the issue of cruelty and suffering. How could a good and all powerful God allow so much suffering in the world?

That’s been a question through the ages. It’s really the thematic center of the book of Job.

And yet…Job gives us no real answers. As John Walton puts it in his commentary, Job simply provides us with better questions to ask in the midst of suffering.

This Sunday we’ll be looking at the structure and nature of the book, as well as reading the first two chapters. I’m going to do something different with this study – here on Wonderwhat I’m going to post an audio reading of the chapters we’ll cover – that way, if we don’t end up reading the whole passage on Sundays, you can listen to the whole thing read at your leisure. The audio file is at the top of the post.

Read the first two chapters – or listen to the audio above.

What are your honest thoughts about the set-up to this story? Do you read it as a history, or as a parable? What are some of your experiences with suffering – what questions have you asked during those times? What do you think the significance of the scene in heaven brings to this story?

I hope we’ll have an interesting study on this fascinating book!

Shipwrecks and Snakes

This Sunday we’ll be continuing the story of the Apostle Paul and a ship tossed in a storm. We’ll be picking up where we left off, reading chapter 27:27-28:10.

We’ll be following the same theme of reading the account as an analogy for how we respond to the stormy times we go through in life.

There are several theories that float around as to why Paul warned that the sailors shouldn’t leave the ship. Why do you think he gave that warning? If you were on a ship in peril, how would you feel if you saw the one’s who knew how to steer it to safety trying to sneak away?

When Paul encourages the sailors, soldiers and prisoners to eat, what does he do when he holds the bread? How do you think being thankful for what God has already provided help to encourage our attitude during times of stress?

When they finally get off that sinking ship and get to shore, you’d think that would have been enough trials for one lifetime. Yet the very next thing Paul gets to encounter is a snake dangling off his wrist. The people of Malta are expecting a specific reaction from Paul, but it doesn’t happen. Paul is not poisoned by this trial. How can we keep from being poisoned by the difficult situations we face as Christians? What would a watching world say about you as they observe the way you handle troubles in life?

All of these circumstances lead up to the point where Paul is able to minister to the people of Malta. How has God used disaster in your life for ministry?

I think this study will be an encouragement – hope to see you there!


Transcending the Troubles

Does it sometimes feel as though, in your Christian journey, you take a few steps forward only to get buffeted by some trial or tribulation which seems to set you back? Do you ever struggle, thinking that maybe you’re not doing this right, that you shouldn’t have so many troubles now that you’re a Christian?

We’re going to be reading Acts 12:1-25 this Sunday in our ongoing study of the Ragamuffin Revolution, the book of Acts.

Luke has been developing this story along a regular beat – a rhythm of the gospel advancing and the gospel being opposed. We left chapter 11 on a high note of a new, gentile church who is maturing and demonstrating the values of God’s kingdom, only to walk into chapter 12 and find an increased and deadly persecution.

A mistake is made sometimes, when people give their lives to Christ. An assumption develops that things should go smoothly now, now that I’m on “God’s side”. There are some presentations of doctrine that actually seek to reinforce that idea; that God’s intent is to lead us into a trouble-free life of wealth and prosperity and if we have enough faith, God will grant it to us.

That’s a lovely notion…but counter to the Bible’s explicit statements and implicit narrative. It’s pretty clear that we never really knew we had troubles until we started following this Jesus. The early church experienced that. Trouble happens – it comes from kings and chains and iron gates – it comes in bills and doctor’s reports and a culture’s growing hostility.

What is our response to this? Fatalism? Shrug and say “oh well, everything is awful and there’s nothing we can do about it.”? What did the church in Jerusalem do when Peter was put in prison? What do you think they were praying for, given their reaction at the end of the story? How do you think prayer affects things? Do you find yourself viewing prayer as a first response or a last resort?

Herod had James executed for being faithful to God. How does this end for Herod? Who has the last word (v24)? What does that tell us about the troubles of this fallen world? How can we be encouraged to transcend our troubles from this account in Acts 12?

Hope to see you Sunday!

*by the way – Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, also records the death of Herod: Antiquities 19.8.2 343-361  – it’s an interesting parallel to the Biblical narrative.

Wise Living in Troubled Times

How many times have you faced a crisis situation, or found yourself surrounded by one trouble after another, and your most prominent question has been: “What should I do?”  We are never more in need of divine guidance than when we are faced with difficult circumstances in life.  Sure, life is filled with decisions and choices that must be made and we want to make them all wisely, but the potential for making bad choices or reacting in an unhealthy way increases exponentially when faced with troubles.

That’s the point that James will be making in our study this Sunday as we read James 1:5-8.  How to judge correctly and follow the best course of action when faced with troubles.

As you read these few verses, it is very straightforward counsel that Jim gives. It starts with admitting our lack of wisdom. Why do you think this is so difficult for us as humans?

Once we admit we are powerless, we are encouraged to ask for wisdom…from whom?  What sort of picture does the text paint of God here? Do you shrink in fear from this description, or feel emboldened to approach? Why?

Based on the description you read – when James says “ask in faith, don’t think you’ll receive anything if you doubt.” – do you feel any tension between his encouragement to ask and this warning? I had always been taught that this passage meant that if I didn’t have enough, or the right kind of faith, God had no interest in helping me.  Faith is the magic you use to entice God to respond…without it, he doesn’t care. At least that’s how I had come to imagine it.  Yet as I read this passage, I realize something. This is not about God’s willingness, this is about our ability to  receive the help that God is offering. If I ask you to write me an email, but I never check my inbox to see if you have….what does that say about me and my request?

Maybe what Jim is asking us to do is open our eyes when we pray…look around for the answer God has given and stop second guessing him and ourselves? Have a little trust that he loves us and he wants to help.

It’s stuff to ponder to be sure.  Hope to see you this Sunday!  We’ll be observing communion during the worship time, so don’t be late!