Suffering is (unfortunately) inevitable, but it’s not the end — instead of temporary happiness, God offers us eternal joy when we look to Him during trials. This week, guest speaker Matt Chandler, Lead Pastor of The Village Church, walks us through the Book of Job to remind us that even though we live in a broken world, God draws close to the brokenhearted.
Josiah Jones: How are we doing, Porch Dallas? I want to welcome you to The Porch. My name is Josiah Jones. I have the privilege of being on staff here, serving with the young adult ministry. If you're watching online, welcome to The Porch. And all of our Porch.Live locations around the nation just placed in different places in our nation, whether that be Porch.Live Des Moines; Porch.Live Boise; Porch.Live Scottsdale; Dayton, Ohio; Porch.Live Atlanta; and a whole host of other Porch.Live locations. Can you help us welcome them?
You picked a really good time to be here at The Porch. We're really excited about what God is going to do tonight. Before I get going and introduce our guest speaker, I just want to say, "Thank you" for joining us here on a Tuesday night. We know you could be in a lot of different places in Dallas, but you're here.
I was having brunch earlier in the week, and I invited my waitress to The Porch, and she said, "Oh, yeah. Like, the restaurant?" I said, "No, no, no. Not the restaurant…the young adult ministry." So, maybe you got conned to coming to The Porch, thinking it was the restaurant and bar, but you're here on a Tuesday night at Watermark Community Church. We're glad you're here.
You're in for a real treat because who I want to introduce you to is really near and dear to my faith. When I came to know Christ several years ago, this man was instrumental in my growth. I found him through a friend who sent me a podcast, and then I read books about the gospel of Jesus Christ which he wrote. This person I'm talking about is Matt Chandler. You resonate with me when I say he was instrumental in my growth because the same is true for you.
I remember picking up a book he wrote in 2011 called The Explicit Gospel where it gave me this robust, high view of who God is, the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The gospel exploded off the pages in my mind and heart and caused me to fall more in love with Christ. Then a year later, he wrote a book called To Live Is Christ, to Die Is Gain where he walked us through the book of Philippians.
If you still don't know who Matt Chandler is, he is a lead pastor at The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas. He is here tonight to bring the Word. Before he comes up, I want to pray and thank God for him. Let me do that right now. Thank you, Matt, for the investment you have made in the kingdom of God. Only heaven knows the fruit that has come out of his ministry and that continues to come out of his ministry through his faithfulness. So, thank you, Matt. Let me pray.
God in heaven, we are honored and humbled that you have brought Matt Chandler to The Porch tonight. God, we know that you don't need us, but you choose to use us in spite of us to accomplish your purposes. I'm thankful for the faith you've given Matt and the way he has leveraged his life to make you known.
God, I'm just excited about the word you have for him tonight, that you would use him in a powerful way, that his voice would be your voice, that, God, your words would explode in our hearts and, God, we wouldn't see a mere man but we would see straight through Matt to you and, God, it would cause us to have a deep faith in you as our Lord and Savior.
God, use him in a powerful way tonight. If there are people here who don't know you, God, may they come to know you as a result of tonight's service. We love you, and we thank you. It's in the holy and precious name of Jesus Christ I say all of these things, amen.
Give it up for Matt Chandler.
Matt Chandler: Hey! It's good to see you. If you have your Bibles, go ahead and grab those. We're going to be in Job, chapter 1. I know you're thinking, "Not on a Tuesday, Matt. You're not doing Job on a Tuesday. You save that for Sunday." Yet I think there's something really beautiful about Job for you and for me. What I'm going to try to do in the next 35 minutes is preach through the book of Job. That's aspirational, and we'll see how it goes.
When my oldest daughter, who's 20 now, was about 4 or 5 years old, we were in our car, heading to Possum Kingdom Lake for a little rest. Apparently, that committee up there didn't get to vote on what to call the lake, and they landed on Possum Kingdom Reservoir. So, we were heading out to Possum Kingdom. Audrey had been bitten by something several days earlier and had a bug bite on her leg. It was bothering her. She was scratching it.
If you've been around kids, you have to go, "Hey, don't scratch that," but you wouldn't be able to stop scratching it, so you're trying to explain to a 4-year-old mind, "I know that feels good. You're making it worse. Leave it alone." She just kept itching at it. Then we stopped for gas. My in-laws were coming with us. That's not a bad thing. I really like my in-laws. Like, jackpot on the in-laws. My father-in-law's given name is Johnny Walker. He played tailback at Southern Miss. I mean, that's jackpot-level stuff.
We're getting gas, and my mother-in-law comes to the car, as mothers-in-law do when you have grandchildren. Audrey rolls down the window quickly because this usually, for Audrey, means whatever she wants. She rolls down the window and says hi to Mimi, and then begins to explain to Mimi that her leg hurts and that something bit her. Despite this story, my mother-in-law is a very intelligent woman. She raised two God-fearing young adults, one of whom I am madly in love with.
She looked at my little 4-year-old daughter's leg and said, "Oh, that looks like a boil. I hope they don't have to lance that." No, we're fine. My daughter is 4. What does she know about lancing stuff? So she asked, "What is that?" This woman, who raised two God-fearing, well-adjusted, successful adults, said to my 4-year-old daughter, "It's where they take a scalpel and cut it open to let the poison out."
Now, I don't know how well adjusted the 4-year-olds you've been around are, but mine has a lot of Chandler in her, which makes her frenetic with energy, passionate in desire, and stubborn in will. So, for the next two hours, I couldn't get the radio loud enough to cover up Audrey's screams of, "I don't want them to cut my leg! I don't want them to cut my leg! I don't want them to cut my leg!" I'm smart enough now, at the age of 4 for her, to not go, "Oh, baby, they're not going to cut your leg," because they might, and I'm trying not to be a liar, as best you can with kids.
By the time we get to Possum Kingdom, and really by the next day, it's obvious that this is a boil. It has grown. Her leg is hot to the touch. So we go to the hospital and/or vet in Mineral Wells. I think it was both. I'm not sure. We take Audrey in, and the nurses come in and check her out. (If I offended one of you from Mineral Wells, I'm sorry. It was confusing.)
This internist… He's innocent. I mean, he knows nothing of my mother-in-law's medical explanation to my 4-year-old. He walks in, and he's in the room for, like, three seconds. He just looks at it, touches it, and says out loud, "Yeah, that's a boil. We're going to need to lance it." Now, at that moment, my 4-year-old daughter somehow developed the strength of a thousand suns. There aren't enough nurses in the state of Texas to pin that little girl down so they could numb her leg and lance it. She's throwing nurses against the wall. (That's hyperbole.)
Finally, the doctor, this punk kid internist, looks at me and enlists my help. "Dad?" I don't know where Lauren went. Where did Lauren go? Where did my wife go? I had to crawl on this bed and use my forearm to pin my little girl down to the bed with tears streaming down her face, eyes of fire and betrayal penetrating my soul. I'm trying not to cry. I feel like there has to be another way.
I have to pin her down until they put that lidocaine in her leg, lance the boil, and wrap it up. She's in therapy right now, and she's doing fine. No. (Maybe that's true.) There was a moment on that hospital gurney where I was using my strength to let something painful happen to this little girl that the first time I ever held her, I felt I was capable of violence. I felt like, in that moment, that might be the closest I'll ever get to understanding God and suffering.
One of the reasons I love the Bible… I mean, I love the Bible. You're probably like, "Yeah, that's going to be helpful for what you do." There are a lot of reasons I love the Bible, but for the purpose of our 35-minute tour through the book of Job, I love the Bible because it's a grimy book. The Bible never paints a picture of reality that's inconsistent with our lives.
It is not a children's book. In fact, to try to make it a children's book makes you skip over certain stories that there's no childlike way to tell the story. Every bit of pain, hardship, trauma, loss, disappointment, disease, death, crisis, and tragedy imaginable is in the book. If this is meant to manipulate people, it is a terrible work of propaganda. It is grimy from beginning to end. It is a grimy, grimy book.
It's like the God of the Bible wants us to know that suffering is going to be normal, that disappointment is going to follow us, that confusion and disorientation around certain realities of life in a fallen world should be expected among his people. Now, what's difficult in 2023, and maybe what has been difficult for the last 20 years, is that you and I are in this really odd moment in human history.
If you have any kind of education in regard to history or sociology, you know some of this is true. We live in this tiny, little window, in the first window that has really ever existed, where we are shoveling the idea that everyone's reality should be one of chipper gladness and ever-increasing happiness with very little confusion and disappointment.
What sociologists are now finding…not Christian sociologists…is this idea of perpetual happiness, an "up and to the right" life, is actually doing a lot of damage to our souls, because that's no one's life regardless of what they're taking pictures of and posting. There are all of these popular-level books being launched out of this research. One of the oldest ones is a book called Amusing Ourselves to Death, which I just like the title.
Some of the newer ones… The Happiness Trap. Anybody pick up The Happiness Trap? That just shows you where we are. Nobody is picking up The Happiness Trap. We're like, "Show me the happiness." Or Antifragile, The Coddling of the American Mind, and most recently, Lost Connections. All of these books are saying the idea that suffering is abnormal and happiness is every day of our lives and is always up and to the right is absurd, and the more you actually believe and think that's going to be your life, the more anxious, depressed, and hopeless you will grow.
In enters the book of Job. Well, let me start here. Let me explain Job. It's just a bad book to put in the Bible if you're trying to win converts. Now, it's probably a great book if you're trying to dial people into reality. In the middle of the Bible, there are these four books called the Wisdom Literature. They're like, "This is how life works. This is how human flourishing works." There are these two books in the Wisdom Literature that are telling the same story, but they're telling it from a different vantage point.
One of those books is Ecclesiastes, another chipper little book in the middle of your Bible. What happens in the book of Ecclesiastes is Solomon wants to test if there's anything worth having under the sun, and he goes hard at it. He's a king. He's the wealthiest man on earth. He makes Bezos look broke. I mean, not only does he have cheddar but he has power. He's a king. There's no senate. He can do what he wants, and he has enough cash to make it happen.
The book of Ecclesiastes goes something like this. He starts out, like most young men do, in the party scene. He throws a party, and here's what he found out about parties: they're fun. That's what he says. He's like, "Do you know what I found out about partying? It's actually a pretty good time." So he parties. It goes pretty well. About two, three, four, or five months in (we don't know the time frame), he starts going, "This party is kind of lame."
So, does he quit partying? Oh, no, man. He ratchets it up. He's like, "We're going to throw a bigger party tonight," and he brings live music. "Get rid of that DJ. We're going live. It'll be a live band, more barrels of wine, more food." He throws a bigger party, and he goes hard for another year, another two years, until he goes, "This party is lame." So then he goes even bigger. You can find a list of just what he was barbecuing at these parties. It was something like 200 head of cattle and 400 birds. Like, 400 chickens.
I don't know if you've ever been to a barbecue. You haven't been to a barbecue like that. I know you have your little Labor Day thing you do, but this is something different. I mean, this man goes hard. He goes so hard he can't go harder, and he wakes up in the back of an El Camino with a new tattoo. He has no memory of what just happened. He has to figure out how to get back to Jerusalem. (Maybe that's a prophetic word for one of you.)
He gets back to Jerusalem, and he's like, "It's not going to work. This party scene is not going to work." Then from the party scene, he moves to business. "If party isn't going to do it, then I'm going to build an empire." So he plants vineyards and builds cities. He is wildly successful. If you went to Jerusalem to this day and went east, you would find these craters called Solomon's Pools. They are there because he planted full forests and vineyards. I know you put that little crepe myrtle out on your balcony. This is something different than that.
He got to the place where he couldn't be more successful…the neighborhoods he built, the companies he had acquired, the vineyards he had planted, and the forests he had made. There just wasn't anything bigger, and he said, "Dang it! This is worthless too." In fact, the refrain of the book of Ecclesiastes is "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity," or "Meaningless! Meaningless! All is meaningless." The brother just needs a hug.
So, he starts in the party scene, and it doesn't work, so then he moves to business. He builds an empire for himself so he can't build it any bigger, and it doesn't work. So then he moves over to pleasure. Normally, in 2023, we like to pair up that pleasure with our party phase, but he waits. He's kind of a tycoon now, so he goes pleasure, and he does not hold back on pleasure. There's not body type, position, or experience that he doesn't give himself over to.
And guess what he said about it? "That was awesome…until it wasn't." Then "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity." Then he gave himself over to what he calls leisure, or what we would call self-care. He gives himself over to self-care. He just goes out to the ranch. He's getting a massage. He has a chef cooking meals. He doesn't do anything. He just gives himself over to a life of leisure and says, "This isn't working either."
Solomon exists because you and I will find ourselves stuck on a treadmill because we can't get that level of success. We're never going to have that level of money. You're not going to have that level of power even if you do have that level of money. So, Solomon is there going, "Done it! It ain't going to work. That party scene… I've been all the way to the end. It's just going to leave you with a lot of regret and a broken heart.
Hey, I built an empire. It's not going to deliver. Hey, man, I gave myself to that wildness, and let me tell you what I got from it…nothing. Pleasure in the moment, regret after it's over. Then I just gave myself over. 'Do you know what I really want to do? I just want cucumbers on my eyes, and I don't want anybody to talk to me.' I did that, and it's meaningless. There is nothing under the sun that will satisfy the souls of man."
Then there's Job. Job doesn't gain everything and find out God is enough; Job loses everything and finds out God is enough. Now, this is important, because you and I are stuck between these two brothers. I'm not saying you haven't suffered; I'm saying you haven't suffered like Job. And I'm not saying you haven't been successful; I'm saying you can't be as successful as Solomon, which means you and I are stuck between these two men, and we don't have to follow their trails, because they're telling us, "Hey, it's not going to work, and he's enough." They're both saying, "He's enough" from a different direction.
With that said, let's read the book of Job. Not the whole thing. Let's start in Job 1:1. "There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil." I just want to stop. You're like, "This is going to take forever." Trust me. Job is a good man. He's an upright man. He's a good husband. He never swindled anyone out of money. He is a respected man. He works hard. He loves his wife. He's good to his kids. He's a good, upright man. That's what the Bible says.
Then, from there, this book takes this really weird turn where God is on his throne, and the angels are presenting themselves before God, and Satan comes in. God says, "What have you been up to?" and Satan says, "Ah, perusing the sons of men." God says, "Have you considered my guy Job? My guy Job loves me. He's upright. He's righteous."
Satan says, "Oh, please. You've blessed him with every… He's one of the wealthiest men on earth. He's got like a billion kids. He's got a wife. He's got respect. But if you let me take all his stuff, he'll curse your name." God sets parameters. "Don't touch his body. Don't kill him. Take his stuff." And here's where we pick up the story again.
"Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, and there came a messenger to Job and said, 'The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.'
While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, 'The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.' While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, 'The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.'
While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, 'Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.'
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, 'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.' In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong."
I would like to just state the obvious. Job is better than we are. I made some charges against God just trying to get here to preach this thing, coming down 35 to 635. I make charges against people in the left lane who are going the speed limit. I just have a problem with that, and I think the Lord probably has a problem with that, so I was asking the Lord for justice. He's a better man than we are.
Then what happens is the scene shifts back to God's throne room. God is on his throne, and here are the angels again, and here comes Satan. God boasts on Job to Satan. He's like, "Hey, Satan, do you hear that? 'Blessed be the name of the Lord.' Oh my gosh! Is that Job? That's Job! Did you take all his stuff? You did take all… 'He gives and takes away.' That's about me. He's singing about me." Then Satan fires back. "That's because he has his strength. Let me take his strength, and he'll curse your name." God sets parameters again. "You can inflict him. You cannot kill him." And we pick up the story again.
"So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes. Then his wife said to him, 'Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.' But he said to her, 'You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?' In all this Job did not sin with his lips."
Now, what happens next is Job's friends… Everybody hears about this. This is a famous, wealthy, tycoon of a man who's highly regarded. It's clear that he's favored by God. His close friends come, and when they see him, they weep, and no one says a word for seven days. All they do is see him, and they're heartbroken. They don't tell him that all things work together for the good of those who are called by God according to his purposes. They just see him, their hearts break, and they weep for seven days.
If that's all they would have done, we would know their names and we would celebrate them for being an example of what to do when it hurts, but unfortunately, they opened their mouths. The next major section of the book of Job (we won't read it) is his friends giving him advice, telling him and trying to explain to him why these things have happened to him.
What I'm going to argue they represent is they represent what happens… When we suffer, when we're disappointed, when we're confused, when we're disoriented, when it has happened to us or somebody we love, when we don't understand, when we're disoriented, what happens when we look around?
So, you're looking around. You're trying to figure out, "How do I make sense of this? I've heard that God is good. How do I make sense that this has happened to me, that this has happened to my friend, that this person I love…? How do you make sense of this level of brokenness?" I think there are four things that can happen to us when we start looking around, and I think Job's friends represent those four things.
Here's the first one. If we're not careful, in a world broken by sin, we can become fatalistic. Do you know what I mean by that? I'm going to date myself. Maybe I will, maybe I won't. I don't know. Do you remember Ferris Bueller's Day Off? Remember Cameron? Cameron won't get out of bed. He's convinced he's going to die. "Why bother?"
He doesn't want to do anything. Ferris is trying to coax him out, and he just doesn't want to leave because he knows he's going to be dead at any moment. He doesn't want to try anything. He doesn't care about school. He doesn't care about college. He doesn't care about girls. He doesn't care because he has already decided, "It's over."
One of the things that can happen to us, as Christians, if we're not careful…one of the things that can happen to you maybe especially if you're not a Christian…is we can look around and develop a really fatalistic view of life. You can just decide that it's always going to be bad for you, that it's never going to work out for you, and you can become paralyzed and no longer live into your calling, live into your purpose.
Here's how I experience it as a pastor. I've pastored the same church for over 20 years. Some people will overidentify with their suffering until they are that suffering. They're just the sick one. The only way they know to relate to people is to be sick, so they take it on as an identity. It's not something that has happened to them. It's not something that's part of a broken, fallen world. It's who they are.
"I'm the sick one. I'm the one who always has the migraines. I'm the one who can't get pregnant. I'm the one who's this." They own it. They own the disease. They own the suffering as their primary identity. They stop even knowing how to relate to other people except through the disease, except through the suffering, except through the loss, except through the disappointment. They become jaded and fatalistic. "Why bother? Why get out of bed?" That's one of the things that happens if you start looking around to make sense of life in a sinful world.
Another thing that can happen is actually quite Buddhist. It's this idea that suffering isn't real; you just need to detach. Kind of a popular-level Buddhist teaching is that suffering actually doesn't exist; you're just too attached. If you would detach yourself from the things of this world…you would detach yourself from your stuff, you would detach yourself from relationships, you would detach yourself from the things of this world…you wouldn't be able to suffer because you couldn't lose anything because you've reached divine detachment.
Now, with no smoke toward the Buddhist, what a terrible way to live. Here's what I know. To be attached, biblically speaking, either in friendship or in marriage, puts you in harm's way. To love someone puts you in a dangerous spot. Do you know who I don't think can hurt me tonight? You. I think when this is over, you can be like, "That guy is… I hate that guy." You get on Instagram. "Lame! Study harder." And here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to show my wife and be like, "Look at this guy. This is crazy. Oh, you want to see his profile? Yeah, he lives with his mom."
Like, I win. Yeah, I win. But do you know who could absolutely destroy me? Lauren. Oh my gosh! With just a sentence, she could kill me. And it's worth it. Some of you…I love you…have made unholy vows that no one is ever going to hurt you like that again, that you're never going to allow anybody else to do that to you. In so doing, you have closed yourself off. You have refused to be known. You have refused, in essence, to be loved again or to take the risk of loving another.
I'm not talking about abuse. Yeah, you make that vow. I'm not talking about that. I'm not talking about abuse. I'm not talking about that stuff. I'm talking about general relationships and letting people in, loving, and being loved in return. The person who looks around goes, "No, I'm not going to let anybody hurt me like that again. I'm not going to set myself up for that kind of disappointment. I'm not going to take that risk."
We start to make… I'm serious. They're unholy vows. They're promises in relationship with evil spirits. That might be too much for you. You might be from a Baptist background, like me, and you're like, "Evil spirits?" It's what happens when you say, "No one will ever do that to me again." I'm not talking about abuse; I'm talking about just being known and knowing. I'm talking about being loved and loving. "No one gets to do that to me."
You make this vow, and then you build armor around you so that nobody ever can. You can build that with theology, and you can build it with all sorts of antisocial behavior. You kind of build a wall around you, and it's all for self-protection. You grow increasingly jaded, increasingly angry, and increasingly mean.
Then, gosh, in 2023, you get to brag about that. Right? It's heartbreaking. It's one of the things that happens. We're just like, "I'm going to detach. I'm not going to let anybody hurt me. I'm going to live in such a way that nobody can hurt me." I'm just telling you, all you're doing is emptying your life of meaning. The risk is worth it.
Then the idea of karma. You know, "If I do good things, good things are going to happen to me. If I do bad things, bad things are going to happen to me." You don't actually want karma. Karma is a bad gig. What you want is grace. The promise of the gospel isn't karma, "Be good and I'll bless you"; it's "I have good for you because of me." That's what you want. You want the grace of God in your life.
Then, lastly, if you're looking around, you're going to think that suffering is meaningless and random. Here's what's interesting about the book of Job. Job, throughout the book, although the Bible says he does not sin in it… His friends are like, "This is what happened. If you were righteous, this wouldn't have happened to you."
He's like, "That's not it. In fact, I wish the Lord would come down. I've got some questions for the Lord. I need the Lord to answer me. I've served him well. I've praised his name. I've done good with my money. I loved my wife. I loved my kids. I did what he called me to do. I've got questions for God. Why? How in the world am I supposed to move forward with him in light of this?"
Here's what's fascinating about the book of Job: God never answers his question. It's almost as if the creator God of the universe, who's Alpha and Omega… He is outside of time. It means the future isn't something he knows about; it's a place he is right now. Let that bend your brain a little bit. God is not a prophet, per se. He's not prophesying about the future. He's there right now in his fullness while being here with us right now in his fullness.
He is outside of time; we are inside of time. He knows all things and how all things lead to other things, creating other things, moving other things that create other things without ever getting tired or having his brain seize up. How could we possibly comprehend life in a fallen world, as limited as we are in our flesh?
Augustine, who's my ancient friend, described life in this world as having your face pressed up against a stained-glass window. He's like, "You're going to see some colors. It's going to look like things are broken, and we just can't get far enough back to see that it makes something beautiful." I've been pastoring a church for 20 years. I know all of the horrific things that can happen to people.
I understand what Augustine means. Sometimes you look around, and all you see is shattered glass. At least that's what it appears to us. It's as though God knows our brains are too small to comprehend, that there's no way for us to possibly put all of that together, as limited as we are in our flesh. He has always been and will always be, and we're like a half a second. We really are.
You know the old adage, "Here today, gone tomorrow"? Do you know the Bible doesn't even give you that? The Bible is like, "Here in the morning, gone by lunch. You're like the dew on the grass that's here in the morning and by afternoon is gone." So, you're not even here today, gone tomorrow. It's like you were there in the morning, and by brunch you're gone. That verse is meant to orient us around God's "godness" as opposed to our frail humanity.
So, what God does do, instead of explaining how this leads to this that creates this that brings this about that does this that creates this, all the way down the line of human history, he says, "Quit looking around and look up. Stop looking around to make sense of all of this and get your eyes up on me."
That's all he does with Job. Job is like, "I've got questions," and God is like, "I've got some questions. So how about you dress for action like a man, and I'll ask you some questions?" From Job 38:4 all the way to the end of the book, God just starts asking Job questions. Here's a little taste of it. I'm not going to read all of that.
"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, 'Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed'? Have you commanded the morning since your days began…"
He goes on and on. This might sound cruel, but what God is doing for Job is orienting him around God's power and God's goodness, because here's what, in the rest of the Scriptures… Here's how God works when we look up. Let me give you just a couple of these. Here are the promises of God when we look up rather than look around. So, rather than being fatalistic, rather than detaching, rather than armoring up, rather than just going, "Ah, it's inevitable; everybody suffers," look at these promises.
Here's what we're promised: Jesus is with us in the mess. Psalm 23: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…" Why? "…for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me." So, what's the promise when we look up rather than look around and try to make sense of all of this? That Jesus will be near and Jesus will comfort.
We see in Hebrews, chapter 4, that Jesus is an empathetic high priest. A good friend of mine says this verse like this: "He knows it's scary to be us." We see in John 11 that Jesus sees the lament of Lazarus' sisters, and he weeps. We see in the book of James that nothing is wasted and that suffering produces character, endurance, perseverance, and maturity. It makes us strong.
Contrary to popular opinions, we are not candles that need to be protected from the wind lest we get snuffed out but actually are like fires that the wind heats up and helps burn hotter. You could take the story of the Bible, Genesis to Revelation, and boil it down to three words: God with us. That's the story of the Bible.
What's happening in Eden at creation except God with us, walking with them in the cool of the garden in the morning? Then what happens when God leads his people out of slavery and sets up the tabernacle right in the middle of their encampment, all of their tents? When you opened up your tent, you looked at the tabernacle, and the manifest presence of God was there…not by faith but by fire and smoke…the presence of God.
What happened at the temple? The glory of God fell, and all of Jerusalem oriented around the temple…God with us. What happens at the incarnation of Jesus Christ except God with us? Then what happens at the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost? We're indwelt with the Holy Spirit, become temples of the living God, and God is with us. Suffering does not mean we have been abandoned or forgotten. It's not what it means. God is with us in the mess.
There's a great deal of mystery around the brokenness and hardship of life as a human being. It'll break your brain it can get so awful. Again, I'm not naïve to those things. I've pastored a large church for 20 years. A lot of small coffins, and there shouldn't be small coffins; a lot of sicknesses that have ravaged a body long after you would think; a lot of random loss that feels insane. I'm just talking about one local church. I'm not even talking about lifting your eyes up globally.
To look around and try to make sense of that is crushing to the soul, so the Lord says, "Look up. See me." See what, in particular? I think, primarily, see Christ on the cross dying for your sins. If God is for you, who can be against you? To look up and see that God has moved toward you in his love regardless of your rebellion and my rebellion against him.
From Genesis to Revelation, God moves toward his people with grace, moves toward his people with forgiveness, moves toward his people with the promise of life, moves toward his people with the promise of joy, gratitude, belonging, hope, and one day, glory and a sense of understanding. One day, we get far enough back to see it. One day, there's no remembrance of former things. One day, there will be no more tears in eyes. One day, there will be no more sickness and death.
In the "already, but not yet," in this space in between, the Lord would say, "Look up. Look to the cross. See my love for you. See how I've moved toward you. Trust that I am at work in the mess." I think that's the story of the Bible: God at work in the mess. It's not that there's not a mess; it's that he's at work in it in a way that's mysterious to us. We can get lost in it if we try to look around and make sense of it.
So, here's what I want to lay before you. I think here's why I've come. It has been my experience, in Christian circles in particular, that if we're not careful, we begin to move toward fatalism. Even though we have the hope of the gospel, the hope of eternal life in us, what ends up happening is we start turning fatalistic. I think one of the ways that looks is we cease to be prayerful. We cease to be able to see what's good in our lives, and all we can see is what's wrong.
I don't know if you know anybody like this right now, or maybe you find yourself in that place. Listen. I've been tempted to go there myself, where I'm so aware of everything that needs to be fixed that I can't see just how good and beautiful and kind God has been to me. I haven't recounted his goodness because I see these five or six or eight or ten or twelve things that drive me nuts that I don't understand that seem cruel and unjust. I can't see any of the beauty and grace in my life for all of the railing against what's broken.
I wonder if you find yourself there. You can feel yourself growing jaded. You just feel it. You feel yourself growing jaded, slipping, getting angrier, wanting to create distance from the Lord and from other believers. Part of what I want to do in coming tonight is to say, "Look up." I'm not trying to take away from you how frustrating hurt is. I'm not trying to take away from you confusion. I'm not trying to take away from you even not understanding. What I'm trying to do is lift your eyes up to God's love for you in Christ.
So, I want to call you out of that fatalism. Or maybe you're not fatalistic at all. Maybe you've gone the other way. Maybe you've made some unholy vows. Nobody is going to hurt you again. You're not going to lose anybody you love anymore. You have your whole world so locked down… You are so trying to control your entire environment that you are redlining.
You are anxious and afraid and barely hanging in there as you try to make sure nothing happens to anybody. You've taken on "mother hen" responsibilities for your whole crew. I want to call you out of detachment. I want to call you back into being loved and loving, trusting again, leaning into the risk of being fully known and fully knowing others, to give love another shot.
Then, if I can, I want to bag on karma a little bit, because you're not under wrath; you're under mercy. I was talking to the leadership before this. The big struggle of my life… I think it'll be my struggle the rest of my life. I think I have some family of origin issues that make this flare. It is really easy for me to believe that I'm useful to God. I think God finds me useful. "I like this kid. We're going to use him." It's harder for me to believe that he just loves me and delights in me. That's a hard sell for me.
I mean, I can read it in the Book. I can wrestle with it in the Book. It's just hard for me. I'm an achiever. I'm a doer. I receive affirmation and affection by accomplishment, not by being. The Lord is always like, "No, it's you. You're what I like. I like you." I'm like, "Well, I did this for you." He's like, "Great. But why don't you come hang out with me?" "Well, I would, but I've got to do this stuff because I know you like that." He's like, "I didn't even ask you for that. I want you."
I wonder how many of you feel stuck in this idea of karma. You're incessantly trying to work to please the Lord, incessantly trying to be good so he'll bless you, incessantly trying to check this box and circle this box and accomplish this so that he'll finally love you. I've said this for 20 years almost every time I've preached: God is not in love with some future version of you. I wish, by the grace of God, you'd drive that out of your head.
It's not like once you get that right, you and God are finally cool. You're cool because of what Christ did, not because of what you do. You're reconciled because of the finished work of Jesus, not because you're figuring some things out. Now, you figuring those things out can lead to greater intimacy and experience of his presence, but there's nothing salvific in your behavior or Christ didn't need to die on the cross.
It was his death that justifies you, his death that makes you whole, his death that heals you once and for all. So, all I wanted to do in our limited time tonight… Hardly anybody talks about suffering anymore. We always talk about the joy of the Lord. What's amazing about his presence is that people in the Scriptures who endure some horrific things still seem to have a joy…not a happiness, a joy…that's rooted in something bigger than their circumstances.
If I could give you anything, as you keep running the long journey home, it would be maybe just a little bit more understanding that the world is broken, that suffering is going to be normal, and that Jesus is good, and to not try to look around and make sense of it as much as you look up and gaze upon the beauty of God in sending the Son to die for your sins and resurrect to show the bill has been paid in full, and that life, real life, full life, is available to you in Jesus now.
Why don't you do me a favor. Bow your heads and close your eyes. If that's weird for you, I promise nobody is going to touch you or take your stuff. Well, I don't think they will. I'm sure there are some shady people in here. Bow your heads and close your eyes but just keep your stuff close to you. Just a couple of questions. It's really between you and the Lord. It's not between me and you, I promise. I'll head to a meeting after this and then back up to Flower Mound.
I just wanted to ask, like, maybe in a moment of vulnerability between you and the Lord… If you find yourself in this season of life growing jaded, growing frustrated, growing distant from the Lord, and it's tied to some heartbreak, some disappointment, some disease, some death, some confusion, some bit of brokenness that you just don't get, and it's hard for you to reconcile that he's good and that this is possible…
You're just in a season where you're like, "Man, I can feel my heart growing colder toward the Lord because of these things." If that's you and you're in the room, would you raise your hand high? Just get it up high. You don't have anything to be embarrassed by. You are among almost everybody in the Bible. Yeah. Let's get them high like we're not Baptists. There we go. Praise God. There are so many of you in here. Go ahead and put your hands down.
Now I want you to look up at me if you had your hand up. I mean, all of you can look up at me. The Lord sees you. I would just press a little bit that you might think about the rest of the night tonight like this. This message isn't getting me a lot of followers on Instagram. This message isn't like, "Oh, that was awesome tonight." This is more of a disorienting thing to come in here and talk about. It's certainly not a popularity one. I would have done dating if I wanted that. But this is the thing that will strengthen your soul for life as it is.
So, here's what I'm going to ask. I'm going to pray for us. We have some more singing to do tonight, but there are going to be men and women up here, and they're going to pray. If you raised your hand tonight, I just want you to be so bold as to come and receive prayer. Just come and let people who aren't in that season…they either have been or they will be one day, but they're not in that season right now…just pray for you, pray courage back into your bones, pray life back into your bones.
I don't want you to walk in shame right now. I want you to be so bold as to say, "I need someone to pray for me because I am slipping here, man, and that's scaring me. I want somebody to pray for me." So, I'm going to pray, and then there's going to be a group of men and women who come up front. They're already coming. Then we're going to stand and sing.
If you raised your hand (I'm telling you, there are, like, 100 and something of you), that you not talk yourself out of it, that you not justify, "I'm fine. That was enough. Just raising my hand was enough," and that you would (this might be a little too charismatic for you) activate some faith in your heart by moving your body. You might come up and grab their hands. You're not going to make anybody gasp up here. You're not going to say something that makes them go, "Gasp! We don't know what to do with you." That's not going to happen tonight. We know exactly what to do. They're here for you.
I'm going to pray. We're all going to stand together. Then I just want to make one last appeal. I know you're in your head right now. I know it because I've been in that seat. The first seven years of my marriage were a train wreck. Don't gasp. If she were here, she'd say, "Yep." I got to battle brain cancer for 18 months. I was told I had two years to live. I've been down there.
I've buried little boys and little girls. I've seen good men die of cancer and scandalous ones stay alive. Come and receive the kindness of the Lord to you in this season, in this moment. He sees you. Why am I here except that he sees you? Why this for you tonight if he doesn't see you? Will you receive from him now what he has for you…blessing, hope, and courage from someone who's not in that spot right now?
Father, I bless these men and women in the name of Jesus. I thank you for your goodness and grace. Even the ones who aren't in this room, and they're all over the country… I can't see that room. I just see this one. But I know humanity enough to know… Gosh, my friend is right. It is scary to be us, and you know it. I don't pretend to know all the hurt that's in here, all the disappointment that's in here, but I know it's real, I know it hurts, and I know it's disorienting.
I know we can feel stuck in it, and I know we can feel like we're never going to get out of it. I just rebuke the Enemy right now, because we will get out of it. This moment is not our lives. So, I ask, Holy Spirit, minister to your sons and daughters. Minister to our hearts tonight in a profound and beautiful way. Grant courage and boldness to those who are in the pit. It's for your beautiful name I pray, amen.