Tag Archives: Job

“So, You Want a Promotion?”

Then Jeremiah said to the family of the Rekabites, “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘You have obeyed the command of your forefatherJehonadab and have followed all his instructions and have done everything he ordered.’ Therefore this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Jehonadab son of Rekab will never fail to have a descendant to serve me.’”
Jeremiah 35:18-19 (NIV)

Once upon a time, I was asked by an executive with one of my company’s clients to mentor a handful of young people with management potential. The executive was looking for my objective insight and assessment regarding the young employees’ fitness for promotion and development.

At one point in the coaching process I asked each of my protegés to complete a certain strategic task. I provided them with instruction and examples. I also offered to assist as they progressed in their work.

One of them set to work, emailing me drafts and asking for my feedback and assistance. The task was completed on time and had already been fruitful in initiating some other positive outcomes in the person’s work. Meanwhile, I had not heard from one of my other charges at all. When we sat down to review the project, this person shrugged and admitted that the task had simply not been done. My charge then went on to explain that there were other important things that took precedent.

Who do you think I recommended for promotion?

Who do you think received a promotion?

It’s a simple word picture of obedience, which is exactly the point of today’s chapter in the prophet Jeremiah’s works. God asks Jeremiah to bring a nomadic clan called the Rekabites to the temple and offer them some wine, knowing that the Rekabites would refuse. For generations the Rekabites’ entire clan shunned wine because their forefather had been promised that God would bless them if they didn’t drink wine or build houses. As expected, the Rekabites politely declined the wine offered them.

Jeremiah then uses this simple example of obedience as a foundational word picture for his message to the people of Jerusalem and Judah. The simple obedience of one nomadic clan contrasted with the countless prophetic messages God had sent to the people of Judah promising them blessing if only they would stop their worship of local pagan dieties. They continually refused.

This morning I’m reminded of the prophet Samuel’s words to King Saul when Saul flatly disobeyed God’s simple command that a King was not to offer sacrifices (only a priest should do that):

“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
    as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
    and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
    he has rejected you as king.”

Simple command. Simple obedience.

This morning in the quiet I’m taking stock of my own thoughts, words, relationships, and actions. Are there areas of simple, willful disobedience in my life?

I have often observed in this chapter-a-day journey that, unlike today’s educational system, God doesn’t just promote us to the next grade level until we’ve learned the lessons in the stage we’re in.

Are there places in which simple disobedience is keeping me from getting a promotion?

Mysterious Ways

But Balaam answered them, “Even if Balak gave me all the silver and gold in his palace, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the Lord my God.
Numbers 22:18 (NIV)

Wendy and I went to see The Color Purple in Des Moines a few weeks ago. It is one of our favorite musicals. The story of a young African American woman on a journey of discovering just how beautiful and strong she is has been a source of fascination and conversation for us since we first saw it years ago.

The musical begins with a raucous gospel song in which we are told that the Lord works in Mysterious Ways. What proceeds is a story of a young woman who finds herself on an unconventional path out of unspeakable circumstances to discover what a beautiful and beloved child of God she truly is. The Color Purple is not a neat and tidy morality play residing inside the safety of religion’s comfortable box. True to the message of its opening song, the musical reminds us that God, the Creator of this universe, often works outside the boxes we create to put Him in for our our comfort.

Mysterious Ways flitted through my head this morning as I descended the stairs to pour my first cup of coffee after reading this morning’s chapter. Numbers 22 is one of the strangest, most mysterious chapters in the entirety of the Great Story. It is the story of Balaam, an ancient seer. Balaam is not a Hebrew. He is not Jew. He is a non-Jew living Mesopotamia. The Moabites, fearful of this massive wandering nation of Hebrews heading their way, reach out to Balaam to divine some help from the Almighty.

We quickly learn that Balaam takes a night to seek the LORD’s guidance. Balaam says he will report what the LORD tell him. When he reports to the Moabites that the LORD won’t let him curse the Hebrews, they offer him a huge wad of cash. Balaam reports that no matter how much cash he’s offered he can’t go against what the LORD has told him to do.

Time-out. Back the truck up.

This Great Story we’re journeying through is about God working through the Hebrews. They are “God’s people.” So who is this bit player named Balaam who suddenly appears from the wings for this important cameo moment? Where did he come from? How on earth did he forge a relationship with God, which it is clear he has, outside the box of the Great Story?

And we aren’t even to the strangest part of the story yet; The part where Balaam’s donkey speaks to him.

The further I get in my journey the more appreciation I have for the fact that God is, and does, “exceeding, abundantly above all that I could ask or think.” Whenever I think I’ve got God figured out inside the neat and tidy box of my religious doctrine I, like Job, am confronted on the cosmic witness stand as God stands me up and asks,

“Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades?
    Can you loosen Orion’s belt?
Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons
    or lead out the Bear with its cubs?
Do you know the laws of the heavens?
    Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?”

No, sir.

This morning I am both fascinated and humbled by the sudden appearance of the perplexing character of Balaam and his miraculously anthropomorphic ass. I am reminded that God is not, and can not, be confined. Balaam, much like The Color Purple, reminds me that the Good Lord works in mysterious ways.

Rebuilding

Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them.
Ezra 1:3 (NIV)

The temple in Jerusalem lay in ruins. It had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar’s army just as had been prophesied by Jeremiah and others. Now, time has passed and the wind has changed. God’s people living in exile in Persia have been granted permission by Cyrus to return home and rebuild.

This morning, I’m thinking about the seasons of life. All of us will face times of rebuilding that may or may not be physical. Some suffer the loss of some natural tragedy, but more often than not our rebuilding is  the rebuilding of our lives after the loss of a loved one, rebuilding after a divorce, rebuilding after a significant move, a job change, or the rebuilding of life after our hopes and dreams shatter.

Whenever my life journey has brought me to a season of rebuilding, I have always, always felt overwhelmed by the task. It is the nature of the process. It stretches us, tests us, and generally requires an increased measure of faith. How apt that Cyrus’ decree to the Hebrew exiles included “May their God be with them.”

Facing a time of rebuilding life? May God be with you.

 

photo: FEMA

A Work in Progress

…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Philippians 1:6 (NIV)

Last night was our community theatre’s annual meeting and potluck picnic. It was a gorgeous Iowa evening, and we had the best turnout we’ve ever had with over 50 people attending. At the end of the evening, I gave my final report as President of our group providing a recap of the previous fiscal year. I’m stepping down after a decade in the position. Wendy and two other long-term board members are stepping down, as well. There’s a whole crop of new faces on the leadership team.

I will admit that I had bittersweet feelings about the whole affair last night. I have loved doing the job and I leave the position knowing that I have not accomplished all that I set out to do. I’ve come to realize, however, that unlike the marathon that is our life journey, positions of organizational leadership are actually legs in a relay race. Your job is to run your leg well and then pass the baton off so that the next runner is in a stronger position to win than you were when you got the baton. If you run too long and refuse to pass the baton, then you eventually lose momentum and the entire team suffers.

Both people and organizations are works in progress, as today’s chapter so aptly reminds us. I have a far greater appreciation for this fact today than I did  when I was younger. Works in progress still have rough edges to hone, opportunities to improve, potential to reach, and depths to mine. If I am going to accept this truth about myself (and it for my own good, and the good of the whole, that I must accept this truth about myself) then I must also accept this truth in others. It is a step towards wisdom, forgiveness and grace.

I’m excited about the new leadership team of our community theatre. I’m excited to see what new thoughts, ideas, and directions they bring. I’m excited to focus my energies in different ways. I may have passed the baton of leadership, but I have not left the team. There are other ways to contribute, other events in which to compete, and other opportunities to lift the team. Because we’re all works in progress, we need each other.

featured photo by funnyglowingsmurf  via Flickr

Paving the Way to Person I’m Becoming

paperboyBut they do not know
    the thoughts of the Lord;
they do not understand his plan,
    that he has gathered them like sheaves to the threshing floor.
Micah 4:12 (NIV)

Wendy and I spoke to both our daughters over the weekend. They find themselves in similar situations. Taylor finishes her graduate work in August and then has to figure out where life’s road will take her. Madison finishes her bachelor’s degree in December and has the same questions about direction. It’s a time of both anxiety and excitement for them. I can appreciate that. They’ve both worked hard, done well, and I’m a proud papa. I’ve enjoyed seeing how their experiences earlier in life are framing their current and future directions. Some things I could have predicted, while other things surprise me.

It also has me reminiscing about my own experience. I started working when I was a kid. Paper route, lawn mowing, doing inventory for my dad’s company, and babysitting were my first endeavors before I became a teenager. I even  worked at a campaign during the Iowa caucuses. At thirteen I was allowed to bus tables in a restaurant and eventually I made my way to retail. But I still had a lot of odd jobs like pollenating and lifeguarding.

As I’ve continued on through life I’ve come to appreciate all of my experiences. The biggest lesson was the development of a work ethic, but I also learned things like what I really don’t want to do for a living if I can help it. At the same time, it gave me a tremendous respect for those who really do like jobs that I could never do and gave me a huge appreciation for those who do whatever they can, because that is where they find themselves on life’s road.

I’ve come to accept on this journey that I rarely know or comprehend the plan. I find myself in this place going through these circumstances with little knowledge of how this is going to be of great help to me further on down the road. But they do. If I am wise and continue to walk this path intentionally, then I will someday look back and see how my experiences today pave the way for the person I will be tomorrow.

No Friend of Mine

friends notMy relatives have gone away;
    my closest friends have forgotten me.
Job 19:14 (NIV)

Job’s frustration with his three ash heap companions is growing. I had to laugh when I came across Job’s statement “my closest friends have forgotten me.” What about the three friends who have sitting there with him and having this conversation? So, what was Job’s intention with this comment?

He could be implying that after hearing their words and arguments the three compatriots are no longer considered close friends. After spewing their self-centered diatribes of judgement, Job finally sees their hearts and motives with clarity. He recognizes that they are really not his friends. Their status has been lowered.

Job might also be making the point that Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar have never been considered close friends. If true, then it tells me something about the three of them. The three amigos feel some self-righteous compulsion to visit a suffering man they hardly even know and convict him of his sin. As the old saying goes, “with friends like that, you’ll never need enemies.”

Either way, we continue to see that Job feels increasingly distant from his companions. He claims that even if they were correct that he harbored some secret sin, it was none of their business:

If it is true that I have gone astray,
    my error remains my concern alone.

I see a foreshadowing of the showdown to come between Job and God.

Foreshadowing

job

You will call and I will answer you;
    you will long for the creature your hands have made.
Surely then you will count my steps
    but not keep track of my sin.
My offenses will be sealed up in a bag;
    you will cover over my sin.
Job 14:15-17 (NIV)

The book of Job is an epic poem (bookended with a prose prologue and epilogue). It was likely an ancient story and scholars suggest that the protagonist of the story lived sometime between 1000 and 2000 B.C. The story of Job and his three friends was likely shared through oral tradition for many generations before a Hebrew poet and scribe penned it in the form and structure we read today. The date is unknown, but historians place the books writing anywhere between the reign of Solomon and when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and forced the Hebrews into exile which would put it roughly 600-1000 years before Christ.

Realizing that we’re reading a poem penned so many centuries before Jesus was born, what struck me in today’s chapter was the foreshadowing of Jesus that came out in Job’s words:

You will call and I will answer you;

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” – Jesus

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Jesus

You will long for the creature your hands have made.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…. John 3:16

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” – Jesus

Surely then you will count my steps,

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” – Jesus

but not keep track of my sin.
My offenses will be sealed up in a bag;
    you will cover over my sin.

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” – Jesus

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

God is telling a story, and it is woven through His Message. Job is a part of that story. His ancient words not only speak to me of my very present human condition, but also foreshadow a chapter of God’s story which would not unfold for many millennia.

This morning, I’m thankful for the rich layers of story and of meaning told through Job, and through the books of law, and history, and wisdom. I’m thankful for the ways I daily relate to them these thousands of years later, and the ways they richly reveal God’s story as it unfolds across time.