Isaiah 53: John’s Metaphor

DSCN2889Bareback riders must have a terrible time finding tuxedo’s that fit.  It must be difficult to find a jacket that has one arm 6 inches longer than the other.  Bareback riders wedge their hand into a riggin’ and then hang on for dear life for 8 seconds as their body gets contorted into shapes that make Cirque du Sole seem like beginners yoga class.  When asked: “why do you fight bulls?” my answer is simple: “I wanted to be involved in Rodeo without harnessing my self to any large animals!”  Bareback riding is exactly what I was trying to avoid.  Bareback riders arms is how they make their money.  The bend in the elbow, the compression of the bicep, and the grip in the hand make their arm and their power pay off.  See it wasn’t just Isaiah who saw the importance of a powerful arm.

John uses Isaiah’s metaphor of God’s arm (aka. His power) to understand Jesus’ ministry to this world.

I have written about what this metaphor means elsewhere (here and here) but a short summary is needed to flesh out how John is using it.

The imagery of the arm of the Lord is used throughout the Old Testament.  It is in reference to God’s power to redeem his people (Deut. 4.34), as Creator (32.27), performer of the miraculous (Deut. 26.8), and Judge (Jer. 21.5).  The underlying message, however, is the power and the capability of God to accomplish his purposes.  Be it a showdown with Pharaoh or a conquering people, the Old Testament authors knew their God had the upper hand…or should I say arm.

As for Isaiah, the “arm of the Lord” was one of his favorite metaphors. Fourteen times from his pen, we find this imagery.  In every instance it is used in the context of salvation.  God will save his people!  Isaiah wants to make this overwhelmingly clear.  John would  later expand on one of his salvation passages (Isaiah 40.10-11), where Isaiah is describing the arms of the Lord like a shepherd looking after his sheep.  It is a metaphor Jesus would get great use of in John 10.  Isaiah uses the idea of “the arm of the Lord” as a description of the past and a prescription of the future.  A God who has done wonders for his people and a God who will some day bring back his people from exile.  He would accomplish this future mission by sending a servant with his power described in Isaiah 53.

But why does John use this verse on this occasion in John 12.38?

John 11.37-38 says: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still did not believe in him.  This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: ‘Lord who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?'”

The reason, I think, is because it is in these few verses that all of the book of John comes to a head.  It is a convergence of sorts, where all the aspects of John’s testimony come together.

  • Jesus Ministry:  His worldly ministry began when he first changed the water to wine in chapter 2.  He then spent all of his time in the public eye, doing ministry in the world, but beginning in chapter 13, all of his time will be spent pouring into his disciples.  This quotation is an epilogue to his public ministry in John.
  • Division in John: John might be the only guy ever to center his narrative around division.  Throughout the entire gospel people are divided over the question: “Who is Jesus?”  In our text: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him (37)….Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him (42).”  When Jesus arrives, people divide.
  • Signs in John: Jesus began his public ministry by turning the water to wine in Cana (John 2).  This was the first of seven signs that Jesus would perform in John’s gospel.  The last of the signs was Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11) in the prior chapter, thus concluding his public ministry as mentioned before.  Our text, John 12.37 mentions these “signs”.  John refers to them as signs, where as the other gospel writers use the term miracles.  As it pertains to our text, the word “miraculous” in the NIV does not appear in the greek text…just in case you were wondering.  The sign discussion leads me to the next point…
  • Belief in John:  “Even after he had done all these signs in their presence, they still would not believe…”(37)  Ninety-Eight times is the word translated “believe” (gk. pisteuo) used in John’s gospel.  That is nearly half of the times in the New Testament.  Belief is often used in connection with the signs that Jesus performed.  Jesus even sums it up in John 6, immediately after feeding the 5,000 (sign 4) and walking on the water (sign 5), when he answers the question: “What must we do to do the works God requires?”.  Jesus answered: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”  Belief is paramount.
  • The Purpose:  John’s purpose for writing is stated in John 20.30-31:  “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  Again, “miraculous” is added by the NIV and not in the greek, but still, the signs recorded here were meant to bring them to belief.  But what does our text say?  “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous sings in their presence, they still would not believe…”(12.37)  Diametrically opposite!

The Jewish leaders have found themselves in a collision of greatest importance.  Before them stands Jesus Christ, with all his signs, all his statements, all his accolades…and all his Power.  That is what this is really all about.  Jesus and his power.

In Hebrew prophecy and poetry, there is a literary device known as parallelism.  The second line, in our case “to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”, repeats the message of the first line.  This device equates the two ending clauses.  Therefore, the “arm of the Lord”, a metaphor extolling the “Power of God”, is equated with the “message” being preached in line 1.

If its been a while, you should go back and read John 1 and answer the question that has plagued us the entire book of John: “Who is Jesus?”  John 1 begins: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  Jesus Christ was the message of God to the entire world and in him was the Power of God.  Isaiah 53.1 and John 12.38 is where the message of God, “For God so loved the world…” (John 3.16) and the power of God, “My Father, whom yo claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me” (John 8.54) stand before them in the person of Jesus; and it will soon be shown greater still in his death and resurrection, yet they could not bring themselves to believe.  So John lifts the question from Isaiah 53.1:

Who has believed our message; and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

 

Manlier than most 11-year-olds

Lucas Littles on the Job
Lucas Littles on the Job

I would give anything:

  • to ride a horse like Josh Rushing
  • fight bulls like Lucas Littles and Daniel Unruh
  • rope like Vincent Oullette
  • raise stock like Jake Stubbs, Matt Williams, or Brian Adams
  • teach and preach like Doug Aldridge or Chad Chambers
  • cowboy like Doug Reser or Tyrell McClintock
  • be a husband and father like James Hurla, Clark Boatright, or Tim Schultz.

…but I cant and probably never will. These men have skills that God did not encode into my DNA.

The comparison game is played anytime people converge. For guys it started in grade school where we needed the same shoes, a cooler bike, or lego set that a friend had. In Middle School, it was football or basketball ability, clothes, or game systems. With high school comes car, girl, popularity, college offers, and power index comparisons that command man’s attention. College brings girls, parties, cars, clothes, and talents that arise envy. When they enter the workforce its salary, benefits, houses, vehicles, vacations, and girls and before we know it we are sitting at Bakers Dozen Doughnuts comparing 401 K’s, retirement funds, and our ability to greet more people at Wal-Mart than our doughnut-dinning-buddies.

The cover of the April 2015 edition of Popular Science caught my eye on the magazine rack. The cover showed Corey Kluber, the American League Cy Young winner, throwing a curve ball.. The title of the article, accompanying the cover, read: “42 Things You Should Know How to do at Every Age”.

I will have you know that I knew all 7 things in ages 1-11 (riding a bike, shooting a bb gun, tying my shoes, hammer a nail, pitch a tent, and paddle a canoe) except for properly loading a dishwasher.   Now before you blame my mother, I’m sure she tried to teach me and it didn’t take. I know how to tie my shoes, ride a bike, hammer a nail and do the rest. So rest assured I am more manly than most 11 year olds.

I also have accomplished almost all the skills that should be learned from ages 12-17. I can drive a stick shift, jump start a car, do a donut, survive in the woods, find myself on a map and get down a mountain. The last skill is throwing a curve ball, which I do during softball warm ups just to tick people off. I, however, have not done a flip off a rope swing for 2 reasons: a) lack of opportunity; b) it scares me to death to dive head first into water.

From ages 18-22 it gets a bit sketchy. I know how to safely cut down a tree, plan a road trip, throw a curve in bowling, light fireworks, and fit a couch through a door. I do not know how to unsnap a bra with one hand (didn’t need to know that until 2 ½ years ago) or throw a punch. In a fight I am less than worthless and when it comes down too it, I’m more likely to throw a haymaker than a jab and pray that it lands at its target because my eyes will be closed.

At ages 23-30, I plateuaed because I can’t do anything that the age requires of me. Butchering a pig, making a cocktail, or knowing how to plane a door are things that never came up on my to do list.   Even in the next age range, 31-45, the only thing I know how to do there is to work a circular saw. I have never been able to whistle, hate golf, don’t know what a roux is, and the thought of changing diapers makes me throw up in my mouth.

I fare no better in the last two age ranges save one skill: fly-fishing. Sailing seems to expensive, driving over 100 mph too illegal, playing poker for money seems to costly, building a stone wall too extravagant; but I can fly fish. My dad taught me year’s back and I still have my pole somewhere and would love to do it more often. It beats golfing I guess.

All in all, I guess I’m manlier than most 11-year-olds out there. Still the comparison game is haunting.

Before David goes out to fight Goliath, Saul tries to make David like him. He dresses him in the King’s armor, with the King’s sword. Saul is saying “you must be like me to fight Goliath” but David refuses to play the comparison game. He gathers his own sling and stones and goes out to fight (1 Samuel 17.38-40).

In Mark 5, Jesus heals a demoniac. Upon his healing, he desperately wants to join Jesus. He wants to follow and be like the other disciples, but Jesus says “no”. Anyone familiar with Jesus mission is befuddled at this point. Wait, wasn’t that what he came for? To have people follow him? But the former demoniac heads home and tells everyone what Jesus did and the next time Jesus comes back to that place, the whole region comes to him. Jesus wouldn’t let this guy play the comparison game.

I may be behind in my manly report card. My lack of muscles, the smattering of chest hair, and inability to do many manly things are not what stunts my development, leaving me stranded at age 22. What leaves me stranded in immaturity is my inability to drop the comparison game and walk faithfully in the role God has written for me. I desperately want to be like the guys I mentioned…but ultimately God is asking me to be faithful with the skills, abilities, gifts, and people that He has placed in my life. Just as the guys above are doing in their lives.

A Long Distance Call

195157My manual is in the mail and I am strategically planning what tools I need. The project is a Ford 8n that will come in mighty handy as I build my arena. It hasn’t run for 2 years, but even when in weekly use, it wasn’t the greatest of machines. My mechanical expertise being limited, I’m fairly confidant that diagnosing, repairing, and rebuilding the tractor is something I can accomplish for two reasons: (1) I will have a manual in hand; (2) my uncle has fixed anything and everything that has an engine and a cell phone.

There is nothing like having an expert on the other end of the line.

If there was one statement that characterized Moses ministry as the leader of the Israelites (other than Numbers 12.3) would be Exodus 33.11: “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.” David had a heart after God, Abraham’s feet followed the Lord, Job had a covenant with his eyes, but Moses spoke with God like a friend, ‘face to face’.

Steps should be taken at this point to ensure that a proper view of God is maintained, for as of late, the idea that ‘God is love’ or ‘God is compassionate’ has made God out to be a weakened and soft being, who is to be befriended instead of feared. Don’t get me wrong, God is love and He is gracious, but He is also holy and just. Like the kids in Narnia who asked to pet Aslan were told, “He is not a tame lion.” There the metaphor was Jesus, but how often do we do the same with God.

This particular scene takes place at the Tent of Meeting. Set up just outside the camp, the tent was where people would go to inquire of God. I find it interesting that the Old Testament people who inquired of God were nearly universally answered. The exception was Saul, who two times did not receive an answer from the Lord. (1 Samuel 14, 28) When an inquiry was brought to God an answer followed. The responses came from priests, prophets, Urim, and dreams; each a method which God used to communicate with his people.

What is more clear than God’s answering, is the negative outcome when the Lord’s guidance is not consulted. In Deuteronomy 7, God explicitly commands the Israelites not to make treaties with the people of the land (7.2). As Joshua and the Israelites marched throughout the land, the fame and news of conquest spread (Josh 6.27). Word eventually fell upon the ears of the Gibeonites (Josh 9.3). They devised a plan; they put on worn out clothes, packed moldy bread, old wine skins and worn out sacks. They claimed to have traveled from a great distance and begged for amnesty amongst the Israelites. The men of Israel had their doubts about the origins of these people (Joshua 9.7) but heard their story.

The Israelites took note of their supplies but “did not inquire of the Lord” (Joshua 9.14) and made a treaty with them. The priests carried the written law of Deuteronomy (Deut 31.9) with them and they knew the importance of the words of the law and the song:

“Moses said: ‘Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you—they are your life…’” (Deut 32.46-47)

It is a fairly simple equation in the Old Testament. When the Lord is inquired of, He answer’s and obedience follows. And when the Lord is forgotten, disobedience ensues. The same pattern can be seen through my walk. Though I have not hired a priest, used Urim or Thummim, or tried to interpret dreams…how often have I ignored scripture, just as the community of Israel did with Deuteronomy. When decisions arise, scripture is always present but seldom consulted.

Moses set the standard in his relationship with the Lord. His discussions and inquiries (Ex. 33); his relationship and intimacy (Deut 34.10) are things that I once envied, until I realized that instead of meeting with God as though ‘face to face’, I have the Spirit of God living inside of me, speaking with me daily, and interacting actively on my behalf. It is strange to think that Moses would envy me, for even Moses’ call was longer distance than mine.

XIT Windmill Crew: Taking Applications

Penny under the McNorton's Windmill
Penny under the McNorton’s Windmill

Around the turn of the 20th century, the XIT was one of the largest cattle ranches in the world. It was just over 3 million fenced in acres in the panhandle of Texas and was home to around 150,000 XIT branded cattle. Of the 100 or so cowboys that worked the spread, the most important job was saved for a select few. Their title was “the windmillers”. Where as many of the cowhands would retreat at night to camps and shelters, the windmillers were seen once a month at headquarters to pick up supplies. They lived out in the open year round with only a chuck wagon as their home. In summer swelter and winter chill, they were responsible for the upkeep and care of the 355 windmills that gave water to the cattle of the XIT ranch (Evetts, 96).   The most impressive windmill on the ranch and in the world at the time rose 130 ft catching the west Texas wind (Evetts, 167).

Though they got their name from what was above ground, the real purpose of a windmill took place below ground. Though the usually didn’t stand very tall, many of the XIT windmills pumped water from well below the surface. They averaged a depth of 125 ft, with the deepest pumping water from 400 ft below ground. “Sometimes you have to dig deep to find water” is a sentiment not only shared by the wind millers of the XIT but also Solomon, the author of many of the Proverbs.

Near the end of the Proverbs that Solomon wrote, he offers up an ambiguous gem of thought. He writes:

“The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” (Proverbs 20.5)

A man’s heart can be many things, especially in the book of Proverbs. In our scientific thought and western philosophy, the heart is full of emotions and feelings. Occasionally, the heart is equated with desire and passion, ‘follow your heart’ and ‘what the heart wants’. But in the Biblical world, the heart was so much more. It was the mind, the will, the emotions, the passions, the decision-maker, and the life giver of the person. The heart held their personality and character, their morality and their center. So when Proverbs talks about the heart it contains so much more than just the emotions; it entails the man. “As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man.” (Prov 27.19)

“Purposes” have filled this man in Proverbs heart. The hebrew word translated “purposes” is oft used and inconsistently translated. It can mean “advice”, “counsel”, “verdict”, “judgment”, or “consulted”. To cover the range of translations, the noun seems to indicate “a prescribed course of action”. Reheboam, for instance, receives a “consultation” from his elders, then rejects their “counsel” and accepts the “advice” of the young men he grew up around. The decision would ultimately, cost him the entirety of the Kingdom. This illustrates an issue that arises often in Scripture: the origin of the “advice” or “plans”. When the “counsel” came from the Lord or one of His Agents, universally the outcome was positive, however, when man made the recommendation, it almost always turned bad. It remains to be seen as to whether the purposes of this heart are from God or from man.

The heart has its own “prescribed course of action” and they aren’t visible on the surface. The text says they are like “deep waters”. The word for deep, ‘amoq, is used in Psalm 64 where the wicked are plotting for David. There the mind and heart of man are described as cunning [‘amoq] (Psalm 64.6). Here the wicked are obviously not led by the Lord but by the counsel of men. The cunningness of the heart is not lost in the book of Proverbs where the heart can be full of deceit, envious, and led astray. Like Jeremiah said: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure…” (Jer. 17.9) The heart can play games, its waters are deep; however (and thankfully for this man), it is not the final authority. This man in Proverbs 20.5a seems to harboring his own plans and actions that are cunning and hidden well below the surface; ones that are not in line with those of God and it would be of serious issue if they welled up and remained there.

Thankfully, the plans of a man’s heart, made in the heart of man, are clearly in submission to the thoughts and plans of God. Proverbs reminds us:

“All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord” (16.3)

“In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” (16.9)

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (19.21)

Since the Lord’s way prevails, it seems as though our hearts ought to align with his purposes, passions, and paths. This is where the man of understanding comes in.

Like the windmills that pierced the West Texas dirt, the purposes of a heart must be uncovered. The perfect person for the job is the “man of understanding” (Prov. 20.5b). He “draws the purposes out” of the heart. Two things pertinent to this discussion are made abundantly clear:

  1. The qualities of a man of understanding. This study began as I tried to figure out the type of man Bezalel was in Exodus 31. He was filled with “ability” which is most commonly translated as “understanding”. Solomon gives background to the type of man Bezalel was by weaving a description of a “man of understanding” throughout the book of Proverbs. He is a patient man (Prov 14.29), who delights in wisdom and good conduct (Prov 10.23) and holds his tongue (Prov 11.12), with an even temper (Prov 17.27) and the ability to make keen judgments, keeping his course straight and on track (Prov 15.21). All these qualities lead to a blessed (Prov 3.13) and prosperous life with God (Prov 19.8).
  2. A man needs community. Proverbs makes many claims to the need for counsel and advice, which only comes from life in community. It is the wise who seek advice, guidance, and counsel from their brothers (1.5; 12.5; 12.15; 13.10; 15.22; 19.20; 20.18). A man of understanding seeks help from others and counsel from friends. It is only those who can bring his true motives, his “prescribed course of action”, to the surface. Without that process, hearts are easily corrupted, ambitions ignored, and motives overlooked. Only in an accountable relationship, is a heart truly understood.

A man of understanding is the man that can draw out the deep waters of another’s heart and honestly take stock and examine what lies deep underground. It was the words of a mentor that showed me how selfish my ambitions were, as I desperately wanted to speak in front of thousands of teenagers about God. The ultimate goal was praiseworthy, but my ambitions were corrupted. It took the honest assessment of a true friend to point out that my dream of being a PRCA Bullfighter had much more to do with pride, than it did with serving God. It was the same man who, as I mourned my own lack of measured success and achievement in the world of Rodeo, pointed out the ministry that God has given me at this point in my career, and the awesome people I spend all summer elbow to elbow with in the arenas and back pens during the summer. These were “men of understanding” who drew out, from the depths of my heart, the “purposes” that I had, and analyzed them.

"The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out." (Proverbs 20.5)
“The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” (Proverbs 20.5)

I spent 3 weeks thinking about this verse because I made every effort to show that the “man of understanding” was able to draw deeply out of his own heart…but the text seems clear to itself. My heart easily fools me and as much as I desperately want to be the man who studies, guides, and asses my own heart, it takes another to do that. I wanted to be in isolation, because I still struggle to see manhood as a group endeavor…but it is. It is a community, a brotherhood, a squad that makes men better, as much as I tried to make it not so.

Haley, J. Evetts. The XIT Ranch of Texas: And the Early Days of the LLano Estacado. (University of Oklahoma Press: Norman) 1953.

Keepin’ Score: a Lesson from Contract Personnel about Marriage

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A PRCA Judge At Estes Park

The men in stripped shirts in the arena, are some of the most important people at a rodeo.  They are part rule enforcers, scoreboard, recorders, critics, and manual labor.  They are the guys busting their backs setting up the arena, marking the patterns, assembling the barrier, and every other odd job that needs to be done for the perf to go on.  They know the rule book forward and backward in order to make sure that a breakaway rope is attached to the horn right, a goat was tied correctly, a bull riders rope was complete with knuckle-pad, a pole pattern went unbroken, or a mark-out completed.  They keep the official score on their note pads that dangle over the fence.  They award points on what they see on the rough stock end and stop the timer on the timed event end.  When it comes down to it, they are the final say for everything that happens in the arena…and I couldn’t do their job.

Cowboy race judges have the same problems.  Line up 40 horses in a row, and I couldn’t find one conformation problem with any of them.  Have them lope off, spin, lead change or side pass, and I couldn’t pick out a single reason one is better than another.  I am a sucker for color, so the first grey horse I saw would be the winner.  This is the problem with judging, you have to know your stuff.  I clearly don’t.

But there is one area of life that I could compete with their job on every level and its described in 1 Corinthians 13.

“Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking.  It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Loves does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

When it comes to love, I often choose the judge route.  The judge’s job is to enforce rules, keep a tab of the inadequacies, and do everything in order to accomplish the task of running a rodeo or competition.  When it comes down to it, my wife would probably say I do the same thing with my marriage.

In a fight or argument, the first thing that comes to my mind often is a list of her transgressions…because I’m like a judge. Exemplified in keeping a record of wrongs.

When we are getting ready to go somewhere or traveling, often times the time matters more to me than her well being….because I’m like a judge. Resulting in impatience, unkind words, and anger.

In my quiet thoughts our relationship is often compared to others (financially, romantically, familiarly, etc.) and when this happens I often want what others have…because I’m like a judge. Exemplified in envy (I want what you have), boasting (I have what you want), and pride (You need what I have).

If a choice is going to benefit one of us, my first inclination is to make it me…because I’m like a judge.

The rodeo judge serves his purpose so well, but when it comes down too it that is not the role God wants us to play in marriage.  Jesus love for us was explained in his life, exemplified on the cross, and entrusted to his followers.  Ephesians 5 says:

“Husbands love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife, loves himself.”

When comparisons and lists creep into marriages, we begin playing the role of judge.  When our tasks cover up love, we play the role of judge.  When our marriages struggle most is when we put the stripped shirt on and start calling the shots.  I want to be the protector, the one who leads in trust, the hopeful one, and the one who stands with perseverance for our relationship…this cant happen when I assume the role of the judge.

Are you better than my Cowdog?

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We climbed up here ourselves!

Am I better than my cowdog?  I would like to say I’m smarter, but no matter how well hid my wife’s socks are, she can find them and chew them to pieces.  But then again how many times has she been told not to eat momma’s socks…so that’s kind of a push.  She’s definitely more athletic.  I have never, nor has it ever occurred to me to try to catch a Frisbee with my mouth, nor can I, flat footed, jump over a couch.  However, if I tried it would probably do some damage to our house and myself.  But then again, my athleticism has never run me headfirst into our refrigerator. When the scoreboard is checked its closer than I would like it to be.  There are times when Penny is a better friend, more faithful and caring than I am, but sometimes, just sometimes, I stack up better than her.  But there is a book of the Bible where Satan likes to stack up humanity against “man’s best friend.”

Job, a successful and happy man, is living his life in the land of Uz (1.1).  He lived his life with integrity and devotion to God (1.5).  He was rich both monetary (1.3) and familial (1.2).  His family, wealth, integrity, and all the things surrounding Job made him the greatest man among the people of the East (1.3).  Job’s fame, fortune, but most of all his integrity caught the eye of Satan.

Satan comes to God after a long day of chores on earth (1.6) and God confronts him.  God says: “You set your heart on Job because…” (1.8) The NIV depicts God putting Job up on a pedestal for Satan to shoot at, but the Hebrew displays God telling Satan why he has it out for Job.  Satan has set his heart (hb. Leb), his will, against Job.  God understands why Satan has picked him out of the masses as he continues: “There is no one on earth like him: he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (1.8)  God knows why Satan has picked him out, because of his integrity, because of his love for God.

Satan responds to God by saying: “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied, “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has?  You have blessed the work of is ands…but stretch out your hand and he will surely curse you to your face!” (1.9-10)  Satan responds by saying God is holding the doggie treats!

Penny the Cowdog is a smart animal who picks things up quick.  She can do tricks, like sit in a chair, rollover, play dead, high five and various other pointless things.  She can work a cow, ride in the truck and Im trying to get her to sense when my blood-sugar is low (that’s a tough one).  She is also well trained enough to walk her into Wal-mart with a service vest on (not that I have ever done that).  Penny, though a year-and-a-half old, is going through a stage where she needs to see a bag of treats in hand before she acts, kind of a show-me-the-money-upfront mentality.  With jerky in hand, she makes lassie look like a dummy, without them, she makes me look like I am speaking in tongues.  This is the same relationship that Satan is accusing Job of having with God.

Satan is putting on trial the sacrificial relationship between God and Job.  Satan says, “Job is doing what you want him to, following your commands, because you are shaking the dog treats in front of him.  Put the bag away and he will curse you to your face!”  Job’s success, his family, his fame, his fortune, is simply the treats God has given for doing a trick.  Satan approaches God and argues “if the bag of treats is dropped, Job will drop God!’  Job is playing the literary role of the Everyman here, so Satan’s attack really involves us.  The question: “Is man capable of sacrificial, unrequited, love?”  God made man in his image (Gen 1.26-28), Satan making a claim that somehow that image isn’t really a reflection of God.  The chips are down on Job to see if man can really reflect God.

If you don’t know the rest of the story, Job passes the test.  Man is capable of sacrificial love and our creation in the image of God is upheld and proved legitimate.  Satan goes back to his chores and Job continues to serve God.  So what is God’s relationship to man?  Is man really in it for himself?  Is God really the cosmic vending machine, we put in service he gives us what we want? No.  Is man really just a dog waiting for a treat? No.  Satan has it wrong on all accounts, man and God really are capable of sacrificial love, and that is where I distance myself from my dog!

Problems to Solve: God and Ultimate Horsemen

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A good cowboy on a good horse is incredible to watch. This partnership between cowboy an horse happens at every Extreme Cowboy Race.  When I turned 30 this year and realized that I couldn’t fight bulls forever, I began a search for an event to be a part of, that will fill in the gap between fighting bulls and socially acceptable 6:30 a.m. Tee-times at the golf course and long hours at the doughnut shop when I turn 65.  Essentially a timed obstacle course on horseback, extreme cowboy racing challenges the horse and rider to accomplish a certain number of tasks as quickly and efficiently as possible. Josh Rushing (pictured here) is a former Extreme Cowboy Racing World Champion in 2010, and he has shown me an awful lot about the sport and what it takes to win.

The event challenges both the horse and rider to be Problem-Solvers.  A great horse for this event can do cow-work, side pass, lead-change, back, spin, jump, and about everything else that can be imagined.  Every course is different, with different obstacles, so a horse that is truly in tune with their rider is required to excel.  The horse has to trust its rider in every situation.  Just like any other sport, championships are won in the practice pen.  A great cowboy needs to figure out, to problem solve, how to teach his horse to cross bridges, move an inflatable ball, stand still when a shots fired and a thousand other things.  Each obstacle has to be broken down in practice into manageable steps in order to get a flight-first animal to trust the human’s judgment.  Some of the best problem solver’s I know are horseman, and though I don’t know how these trainers do it, God does because He is the great problem solver in our lives…

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This is Mini Dusty, the horse that Josh won the EXCA World Championship on in 2010

He solved our sin problem.  When man sinned and ate the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3, God was quick to enact a redemption plan.  “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3.15)  This verse is God starting the task of redeeming man, of restoring the relationship that was broken just a few verses before.  For the next couple thousand years, God would be orchestrating and solving this issue of our separation from God because of our sin.  Reading the Old Testament is watching the Great Problem Solver in action, prophesying thorough men, working in familial lines with the whole purpose being to bring Jesus onto the scene to die for our sins.  God’s answer to our sin problem was the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  God, the great problem solver, provided the solution in Jesus.

He solved our Ignorance problem.  Romans 1.18-20 makes the case that God can be found through general revelation.  General revelation is God’s working in the world and His fingerprints on the world. Looking at the stars, seeing a sunrise, the design in the structure of a horse, or smile of a newborn, these are all natural things that Paul says point to God’s existence.  Jesus, the one who saves us, can only be learned about through special revelation.  Special revelation is the words that God has spoken to us, the words of scripture.  Genesis 5.1 is the first mention of a written document in the Bible.  Moses writes down the law that he is given on Mt. Sinai. (Exodus 24.4)  Jeremiah dictates his prophecies to Baruch. (Jer. 45.1)  Luke writes his Gospel for Theophilus (1.1-4) and Peter mentions Paul’s letters as Scripture (2 Peter 3.14-17).  God has spoken to us (Heb. 1.1-4; 2 Tim. 3.16) to communicate His love to us, as shown through Jesus Christ, in order to solve our ignorance problem.

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Josh on his horse Carter at a UHCA Event

He solved our Isolation problem.  It was no coincidence that the first thing Adam did when questioned by God about his sin was to throw Even under the bus.  “The WOMAN, that YOU, put here with me—she gave me some to eat.” (Gen. 3.12)  Sin isolates us from one another.  Often times if I had it my way, I want to be left alone, but for the good of my spiritual life and my relationship with God, I need people around me. God’s solution was the Church.  Simply defined, a church is a group of people devoted to worshiping and loving God and living out their lives in honor to Him.  How that looks may be very different depending on the group of people.  Some Cowboy churches wear boots and hats to worship in a barn, other churchgoers wear three-piece suits listening to a choir till 2 in the afternoon.  Some meet on Tuesday nights in a barn, others in an arena before a weekend rodeo.  Others meet in a building that is 100’s of years old, some in a Morton building, but regardless of how, when, or where they meet, God has provided the answer to our isolation problem in these local congregations.

He solved our leadership problems.  Jesus promised that God would give His Counselor, the Holy Spirit to the disciples once he is gone. (John 14.16-17)  We too have been given the Holy Spirit, to live inside of us, to convict us of wrong doing (John 15.8), to guide us into the truth (John 15.13), and to help us bring glory to God through his work in Jesus.  We needed “God with us”, Jesus to come and take away our sins, and now we have “God in us” to renew us, challenge us, grow us, and lead us.  The Holy Spirit was sent to animate our lives, to speak in our lives, and to show us God’s power in our lives. We needed a leader; God provided the solution by sending His Spirit to dwell in us.

In the same way a great horseman can solve the problems with his horse, God has solved our issues in his own creative, active, and partnering way.  It was never God’s plan, to go it alone.  In every step of the way, God partnered with us to solve our problems.  He sent us His son asking us to believe, He spoke to us His word asking us to write it down, He gave us churches asking us to love one another, and He gave us His Spirit asking us to obey.  God truly is the Great Problem Solver.