Daddy blog

I started this blog when I was following the Life Journal Bible reading plan on YouVersion. (I've since completed that plan.) At that time, YouVersion didn't provide any way for people to respond to my notes, other than to "like" them. So this blog is here to remedy that problem. You may comment on my notes here in the comment section.
I also have a general blog.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Problem of Job


S: Job 42:1-6 Then Job answered Yahweh, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be restrained. You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ therefore I have uttered that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I didn’t know. You said, ‘Listen, now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you will answer me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

O: People often recommend reading the book of Job as an answer to suffering, but from the very first time I read it, I have disliked it. What is this nonsense about God playing dice with our lives? Making a bet with Satan, of all things, and causing Job all this needless suffering?

The Bible reading plan I’m following took me through the book of Job this month (April), and I kind of gritted my teeth as I went through it, skimming over all the long-winded arguments between Job and his friends, puzzling over the enigma of Elihu, etc. Same old stuff.

But then towards the end of the month, I heard Pastor Tim Keller on Focus on the Family's International Broadcast. The podcast was actually from last year, but I'm about a year behind listening — I had downloaded the MP3s to my PC and have been listening to them slowly when I can during my commute.

Pastor Keller had some good insights that helped me. So this was a real timely “coincidence”. Haha, God’s divine timing again. 😜

People often point out that there’re many good things that God does with suffering. The Bible’s constantly talking about how suffering is a refining fire and we're like the metal ore that goes through and we come out the other side purer. So, if you were to ask, how does God use suffering in our lives, there’re lots of great answers to that.

  • Purifying us
  • Helping us not to put our material possessions first.
  • Removing pride and encouraging humility
  • 2 Corinthians 4:17, where Paul writes, “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” If there’s no evil & suffering, there wouldn’t be any courage & sacrifice.
  • etc.
But these reasons can’t be all there is to it. After all, not everyone becomes better from suffering. Some people become better, but others become bitter.

When asked why God allows pain and suffering to happen to good people, Pastor Keller replied, surprisingly, “I don’t know”!!!! God has some unfathomable reason or reasons behind it which we can’t see. What is this reason? We don’t know. That’s why we call it unfathomable. Pastor Keller pointed out:

We know that if God is good, He doesn't enjoy our suffering. If He's powerful, He could stop the suffering, but He doesn't. So, if we know … if He said He doesn't enjoy suffering and we know He could stop it, but He doesn't, then the question is, He must have some purpose for us to be going through the suffering, that has to be good, but we have no idea what that could possibly be.

And that's the reason why, if somebody actually says, why does God allow evil and suffering in the sense of, what purpose does He have for allowing evil and suffering to continue, there the answer's gotta be, "I do not know. I have no idea." See, you would never have to sacrifice. You wouldn't have to give your life for someone else. Are we really thinking that sacrifice and courage are, you know, not important things? They're good things. That certainly doesn't feel to me, like enough of a reason for God to allow so much of the stuff that's happening in the world. But you can begin to get a sense of …ok, so because of evil and trouble, there's such a thing as sacrifice, such a thing as courage. Very often people find God because of suffering. People grow into Christlikeness through suffering. You can start to see some reasons. They're not sufficient. But in the end, every time I try to make a long enough list of things I see God doing through suffering, does this justify Him allowing the horrendous pain that we see. No. There's gotta be more reasons that we just don't know about.

And that's the reason why we have to in the end say, "I don't know."

We have to get to the point where, even if obeying God will bring us no benefit at all, we’ll still obey.
When my middle son was around 10, he used to say to me, "Dad, I'll obey you, but you have to show me why this is good idea." That's not obedience. That's agreement and I'm not your father, I'm your consultant. And what you're saying is, as long as I think it's furthering my interests as I see them, as a 10-year-old, brilliant and wise person that you are, who can see the end from the beginning, as long as what you're telling me fits in with my agenda, I'll be happy to listen to you.

And what I said is, "What you're really saying is, you're not gonna obey me." In other words, I am really not your authority at all. You don't trust me more than you trust yourself. You're using me as a way of getting what you want. And as soon as I ask you for something that you don't want, you're outta here.

And basically, as long as you're obeying God and you think you're getting good things from Him, you can't tell whether you're really loving Him. You might be just using Him. What you really love are the things you're getting, not Him.

How do you know when you’ve reached that point?
When you're getting nothing from obeying God, but God Himself, just knowing I'm pleasing Him. I'm getting nothing else out of it and then I know I'm loving God. Then I know that I'm actually serving Him and not myself. We're not using Him to serve myself.
There's no quid-pro-quo.
Until you decide that there isn't a personal benefit, it's really not obedience and trust.

That's probably the point of the book of Job, that because in the beginning of the book of Job, a very puzzling thing to most modern readers, God is having an argument with Satan. And God says, "Have you seen my servant, Job? There is none like him in all the earth." And Satan says, "Does Job serve God for nothing?" In other words, he's not a servant. He's actually not a servant. He's just using you to get things. As soon as you took away the benefits of service, you'd see that he will not serve you. I heard one person say that the theme of the book of Job that God can make men servants.

Part of the answer is that God allowed free will. He didn't create an evil world. He allowed free will and we screwed the world up, that still can't completely answer the question. For example, may I say, in the future, when we're in heaven, when we will love Him perfectly and all evil will be banished forever, won't we still have free will?

The author of evil is Satan and us and moral agents who have chosen to rebel against God. That's exactly right. But it still doesn't seem that God couldn't have stopped it. I mean, I don't see any reason why God … to say He couldn't have stopped it, doesn't seem to fit in with everything else. So, He's still got some plan and He's still got some purpose that I don't know.

So free will is part of the answer, but it’s not the full answer.
Job never was told. You know that one of the things that's most striking about the whole thing is, that when God shows up at the end, He just says, "Look who I am; look who you are" and never tells him, doesn't tell him anything about the dialogue with Satan. [He] doesn't tell him anything about anything. He just gives him no reason at all. And Job says, "Just seeing You, it's enough." But He never tells him why.

However, think about this. What if God had said in the middle of the book, He said, "Listen Job; I want you to know the reason why this is all happening is, you're gonna be someday one of the most famous people in the history of the world?" Hundreds of millions of people will say, "What a great God. What a great man. How much we've learned." You know, you're gonna be one of the key figures shaping the way people think about evil and suffering until the end of time. Then he would've said, "Oh, wow. Really! Okay, I better … stiff upper lip. I'll be okay." He wouldn't have been serving God.

He wouldn't have been serving God at all. What he would've been saying is, "Wow, okay. It's worth it." And he would've pulled it all together and he wouldn't have been doing it for God, which is the point. The point is, he wouldn't have been turned into the servant of God, who loved God for Himself alone. He loved God for Himself alone and that's what he learned and that's what changed the world by the meaning of the book. But in a weird way, of course, Job has glorified God, look it. You and I are talking about him here, thousands of years later. But on the other hand, he couldn't know that, or he wouldn't have actually grown into the man God needed him to be.

I think every instance of suffering, if you're asking the question how do I handle this? How do I face it as a believer? There's a core for all suffering and then there's always certain specific things that are peculiar to that.

So, for example, if you've been betrayed, you have to work on forgiveness. Whereas, if you're a farmer and the crop didn't come in and you're facing the loss of your farm, you see, in some ways, every bit of suffering is different. You're facing terminal cancer, you're gonna die. You have to deal with fear. If you're going through a divorce, you have to forgive. Everything is different. On the other hand, there's a core and here's where the core is I think. I read years ago a book by David Martin Lloyd-Jones. It was a set of sermons. It's called Spiritual Depression: Causes and Cures. He's got one chapter called "In God's Gymnasium." And he's looking at Hebrews 12, where it talks about trials and suffering, which are discipline for us.

The word for God disciplining us and training us through suffering is the word gymnasto, from which we get our word "gymnasium." And he said, it's a workout and here's how he says, think about, if you're doing an exercise, as you're doing it, you feel like you're getting weaker, right? So, let's just say you pick up barbells and you're doing bicep curls. Do you feel like, after 10, that you're getting stronger and stronger? No, you feel weaker and weaker, as you are actually getting stronger, because you're taxing the muscles, which will bounce back.

The important thing in the gymnasium is to simply go through it even though you feel like you're getting weaker and weaker and weaker, just go through it. Do it all. Do it all and when it's all over, you'll find that you've grown in so many ways. The core of suffering is to stay faithful, don't stop reading the Bible. Don't stop praying. Don't stop going to church. Don't stop obeying the Ten Commandments. Don't get into the medicating behavior we were talking about before.

Don't rationalize. Don't get into bitterness and self-pity. Do everything you can in prayer to simply say, "Lord, I'm just gonna take the next step. I don't know what I'm gonna do, but I'm gonna trust You. I'm gonna take the next step and every day I'm gonna go through my paces. I'm gonna go through the normal things that I always did as a Christian, but in suffering, I don't feel like doing; I'm gonna do them anyway, which means of grace Bible study prayer, fellowship, serving other people, worship. You just do it. That's the core.

A human father, when he sees his children learn to do something right, is pleased.
And I think our heavenly Father does that – have you seen My servant Job? There's none like him in all the earth. And then Satan goes out and screws up his life. The next day, you know, like he comes before God again and God says to Satan, "Have you seen My servant Job? There's none like him in all the earth. You've done this and this and this and he's still serving Me."

The end of this, whatever "this" is and we don't know in full what this life is truly all about. We have glimpses of it. We have the Scripture to look at. But when it's all done, if we have pleased the Father's heart, in the end, we've done well.

(For the full transcript of the discussion, go to these links on the Focus on the Family website: [Part 1] [Part 2])

A: So the end of it is that you have to do what Job himself had to do: trust God even when you don’t understand why these things are happening. Just like the little boy had to trust that his father understands things better, and loves him, and wants the best for him, so he has to obey even when he doesn’t understand the reasons. Sometimes God cannot tell us because we do not have the capacity to understand. At other times, like Job, God cannot tell us without spoiling the growth God wants for us. And unlike a human father, God is perfectly loving, and knows perfectly, so He doesn't make mistakes.

P: Father, when things seem out of control, help me to continue to trust and obey. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

What was the Abomination of Desolation of Matthew and Mark?


S: Matthew 24:15-30 “So when you see the abomination of desolation – spoken about by Daniel the prophet – standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains. The one on the roof must not come down to take anything out of his house, and the one in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing their babies in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great suffering unlike anything that has happened from the beginning of the world until now, or ever will happen. And if those days had not been cut short, no one would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe him. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. Remember, I have told you ahead of time. So then, if someone says to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe him. For just like the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so the coming of the Son of Man will be. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

O: What is this “abomination of desolation”? Daniel 11 & 12 first spoke of this: His forces will rise up and profane the fortified sanctuary, stopping the daily sacrifice. In its place they will set up the abomination that causes desolation. — Daniel 11:31. This prophecy was fulfilled when Antiochus IV Epiphanes tried to wipe out the worship of Yahweh and instituted idol worship in the Temple: On the fifteenth day of the month of Kislev in the year 145, King Antiochus set up The Awful Horror on the altar of the Temple, and pagan altars were built in the towns throughout Judea. — 1 Maccabees 1:54 (This quote is from the Good News Translation, unlike the other quotes, which were from the New English Bible, because the NET doesn't have the deuterocanonical books. “The Awful Horror” is GNT's translation of “the abomination of desolation.”

When I first read this passage in comparison with the historical records of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, it puzzled me, because the Romans destroyed the Temple -- they didn't set up pagan worship there like Antiochus did. Some theorized that it may have been the Roman Eagle being brought into the Holy of Holies.

However, by the time the Roman Eagle was brought into the Holy of Holies, it was too late to take Jesus' advice to flee. You would already have suffered through the horrible siege of Jerusalem.

The solution to this puzzle may be in the parallel passage from Luke. Unlike Matthew and Mark, he didn't write “Abomination of Desolation”. He wrote, “And when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you will know that the time of its destruction has arrived." — Luke 21:20.

Ah! This suddenly makes more sense! Luke was writing to a Gentile audience, while Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience. Mark was the “Readers' Digest” Gospel — the earliest one, quickly produced so that the believers would have some kind of written account. So Luke took more time to explain certain Palestinian Jewish idioms of the time — one of which is that what Jesus meant by “when you see the abomination of desolation” was “when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies”.

Image taken from here

This, then, also explains why the Christians fled Jerusalem when they saw the Roman armies starting to encircle Jerusalem, instead of staying to fight like patriotic Jews. Partly as a result of this, the non-Christian Jews regarded them as traitors.

A: There are many passages which are puzzling in the Bible. It's not surprising, because it's such a big collection of books, and was written in a different time centuries ago and in a different culture. Things that were obvious to its original audience could easily be puzzling to us here and now.

So, we shouldn't be dismayed when we come across stuff we have difficulty understanding. There are many websites out there that discuss various difficulties. And of course, there may be things that nobody knows right now.

P: Father, thank You for Your Word. When we have difficulty understanding various passages from it, help us to understand, and be at peace when we don't understand. In Jesus' name, amen.

Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Be Holy Inside


S: Matthew 15:8,9 ‘These people draw near to me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. And in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrine rules made by men.’

Matthew 15:16-20 So Jesus said, “Do you also still not understand? Don’t you understand that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the belly, and then out of the body? But the things which proceed out of the mouth come out of the heart, and they defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual sins, thefts, false testimony, and blasphemies. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands doesn’t defile the man.”

O: In Malaysia, people often get caught up in an outward display of piety instead of inner holiness. But before we gloat at the Muslims, remember that we Christians are also susceptible to this disease of the Pharisees.

In fact, Jesus' condemnation of the Pharisees as whitewashed tombs — beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people's bones and all sorts of impurity (Matthew 23:27) often applies to people in the church as well.

So we must be careful to examine our hearts and our motives. Andrea Whitson wrote this convicting observation:

One upon a time, I was a young 20-something with all the answers. I had had a great education; I'd married my grade school crush; and, even converted to this cool, new Orthodoxy thing. I was ready to be right about just about anything at the drop of a hat. And, I'll admit, being right is still my most favorite thing and most frequent sin. I was walking home from work one sunny day on Galveston Island — worried about finances. Our lab had just lost a big grant and things were precarious. And, I ran into 2 homeless men on the seawall. They asked for money. They were hungry. And, one was honest enough to say he needed a drink as well.

Full of the "I am a fully paid-up, church-going Christian" righteousness, I ran home to fix them something to eat. From my years of working with the homeless (almost a decade by this time), I knew that it needed to be something that the alcoholic stomach could digest and that someone with poor teeth could eat. While I was searching through the fridge, I came upon two mini bottles of expensive champagne we had been saving. Combining my newly researched Orthodox understanding that I was to give alms and not judge people about their addictions or sinful state and my understanding from working with the homeless that an alcoholic who suddenly has no alcohol can suffer terrible withdrawal, I bundled the mini bottles with the lunch and headed back to the seawall. They were still there. They were happy with what I had for them and started to eat the yogurt immediately. Then, the honest-about-needing-a-drink one saw the champagne and something changed. He looked up at me as a person looking at another person. We were no longer players in his little repeat performance skit of begging. He smiled. And, drank the cool, expensive champagne. And, we talked for a while.

After a few minutes, I took my leave and from my position as his spiritual better — happy with the results of my beneficence — I said, "Well, I better get going. I have church tonight. I'll be praying for you, Anthony." And, he very kindly replied with a voice that gently corrected me for my false pride and fake righteousness: "If you will pray for me, I will pray for you." And for reasons I didn't understand yet, I walked away, silent and ashamed of my behavior.

When I walked into the house, the message light on the answering machine was blinking. It was a message about some additional work and funds for John. My worries about money had miraculously disappeared.

Weeks later, I ran into another homeless person. A woman begging at the local laundry mat. When I passed her about a dollar in change, the words just came out of me: "Please, pray for me." She sighed. Sat down and bowed her head and waited. She thought I was going to pray over her or lead her in the sinner's prayer. When she looked up, I explained, "No, I need you to pray for me." And that moment happened again. The moment when suddenly we weren't actors in our roles. We were people talking to each other. And tears were instantly spilling out of her eyes and she hugged me without shyness as if we were family who were greeting each other at Christmas and she prayed over me. No miracle phone calls followed. Although, there was a particular homeless man who prayed for me for years while I was going through infertility treatment in Boston. I saw him 3 days before I found out we were pregnant with Kate. He said it was going to be OK this time. And, I never saw him again.

This week, I encountered the damage that can happen when people see you as their mission field. There is praying for a person. And, then there is praying for the object of your personal outreach program. The eyes tell the difference. And, the damage to both souls in the second case can be considerable. If I was ever pompous enough to "pray for you" in the second way, forgive me. If you know me well, you know that I can be an idiot. And, on behalf of all idiots like me, I am so sorry if someone did that to you. I apologize for our united federation of pompous idiots. But, if you are the Christian with your life all together and bundled up in a neat package of goodness, please, I beg you — stop praying for people in this way and beg them for the favor of their prayers instead.

I'm sure the situation I found myself in this week came from a real desire to good in the world and help me — well, not particularly me, really. But you know, me as one of "those people who need praying over". And, I am sure that when these particular friends who were praying for me for so long look at my crazy life choices and all the evidence of my mistakes that follow me everywhere, that they think of me with the same pity that I had for the homeless for the decade I spent volunteering with them before I met Anthony on the seawall. (Yes, I still volunteered after that. But, it was very different.) But, it's dehumanizing. And, anything that dehumanizes another person separates us from God. Both of us. The pray-er and pray-ee.

A: Let us examine our motives when we do the “right thing” that we're also doing it in the right spirit. Let's not be so caught up in “tithing mint and cumin” that we neglect justice and mercy. (Matthew 23:23)

This morning on BBC News, I heard that Pope Francis, while not changing any Catholic doctrine, published new guidelines on family life that encourages Catholic officials to exercise careful discernment over "wounded families" and be merciful, rather than judgmental. I very much agree with Pope Francis on a lot of things. He is doctrinally orthodox but always seems to remember to interpret it in the light of Jesus' teachings about mercy and love.

Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:13)

P: Father, help me to be holy inside. Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. (Psalm 139:23-24) In Jesus' name, amen.

Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Democracy v.s. the Divine Right of Kings


S: Proverbs 30:21-23 (Agur the son of Jakeh wrote) “For three things the earth tremble,
and under four, it can’t bear up:
For a servant when he is king;
a fool when he is filled with food;
for an unloved woman when she is married;
and a servant who is heir to her mistress.”

O: When I first read these verses, I thought to myself, “This is written by a royalist and is nonsense to justify the idea of the Divine Right of Kings. As a democrat, I totally reject this as a wrong and evil idea. It's just the opinion of Agur the son of Jakeh, not of God.”

I am also reminded of the story of Hang Tuah v.s. Hang Jebat from the Hikayat Hang Tuah. Here is a summary from Wikipedia:

The most memorable chapter in the work concerns a duel between Hang Tuah and his closest friend, Hang Jebat. Hang Tuah was falsely accused of adultery with one of his sultan's maids by his jealous rivals. Upon hearing the accusation, the sultan ordered Hang Tuah killed, without an investigation of his alleged offense. Hang Tuah was secretly saved, however, by his executioner, a bendahara. Hang Jebat was aware that Hang Tuah was being unjustly punished and in a show of support and deep loyalty for his friend, revolted against the sultan. The sultan's forces were unable to suppress Hang Jebat. The sultan later came to realize that Hang Tuah was innocent, and immediately regretted sentencing Hang Tuah to death. The bendahara then told the sultan that Hang Tuah was still alive, and that only Hang Tuah could overcome Hang Jebat's rebellion. Hang Tuah was immediately recalled and given amnesty. After seven days of fighting, Hang Tuah managed to kill Hang Jebat.

To me, Hang Tuah was no hero — he was a fool. The Sultan was wrong, and the Sultan was an evil dictator who should be deposed. Hang Jebat was right, and was unjustly killed by his friend Hang Tuah who was misguided. This kind of incorrect thinking is partly what enables modern politicians in Malaysia to continue to hold on to power in spite of the evil they do.

However, Matthew Henry, a 17th century Welsh Nonconformist minister, in his Commentary gives a different perspective on the passage:

Four sorts of persons are very troublesome. Men of low origin and base spirit, who, getting authority, become tyrants. Foolish and violent men indulging in excesses. A woman of a contentious spirit and vicious habits. A servant who has obtained undue influence. Let those whom Providence has advanced from low beginnings, carefully watch against that sin which most easily besets them.

So, perhaps this is not an approval of the Divine Right of Kings, but rather, an admonition that, if God allows you to advance from low beginnings, do not allow it make you proud and haughty. If you're allowed to become a king, then act nobly. Not that class mobility is prohibited, but rather, that we should act rightly when we are elevated.

Toby Sumpter, Pastor of Trinity Reformed Church in Moscow, Idaho, has another take on this:

Here the servant is probably a member of the king’s cabinet, another subordinate official who has usurped the crown (Gen. 24:2, 1 Sam. 27:12). If the king is supposed to be a rock, a steady leader for the stability of his people, a revolt causes great tumult in the earth. The seizing of glory and power is rarely a good sign, and rarely are those who do so prepared for the task. Frequently, rebels who oust tyrants merely establish more tyranny or worse. People who are not ready to rule, who are suddenly given great power and authority frequently abuse it.

A: Both Henry's and Sumpter's interpretations have bearing on authority and democracy. As Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

We must hold our leaders accountable, lest they become corrupt and abuse their power. We also must police ourselves when we get into any position of authority — even many pastors have ended up abusing their power over their congregation and become dictatorial. I myself in my authority over my students and my family must keep in mind that I am accountable to the Master above me.

S: Father, in my exercise of authority, keep me humble and accountable to You. May I not abuse any power you give me. In Jesus' name, amen.

Note: The illustration is from The Tyranny of King Washington, an alternate-history video game which explores how things may have turned out if George Washington did not do the noble thing of instituting a democracy and relinquishing power after he won the American Revolution. George Washington could so easily have made himself king, but he was apparently motivated by nobler ideals, perhaps from his Christian faith, and so instead helped found a nation built on freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom for citizens to critique the government and hold their leaders accountable. I wish we and the rest of the world had these freedoms!
Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)