Category Archives: Quotes

“He does not waste his children”

Much of 2020 for us so far has been waiting for God to show us what’s next. Some days have been hard. On one of those days, a good friend sent a timely and encouraging article, where John Piper describes his transition experience:

“I was 28 years old.
I was jobless. I was eager for ministry and had no place calling me.
I was in Germany at the time, so it was hard to make contact with people back in America, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.
I had a wife and a child to support, and there were no doors opening. What am I going to do?”

And [a friend] wrote to me and he said, “Read 2 Corinthians 4:1 in the Greek, and what you’ll notice is this: ‘Therefore, having this ministry [and then he translated it this way], just as we received mercy.’” “Having this ministry, just as we received mercy, we do not lose heart.”

(Yep – it reads literally: Διὰ τοῦτο ἔχοντες τὴν διακονίαν ταύτην καθὼς ἠλεήθημεν, οὐκ ἐγκακοῦμεν. The NET translates it this way, though they change the divine passive in “we have received mercy”)

And he said in the letter, “‘Just as we received mercy’ means that just as God was merciful, John, to save you and keep you, so he will mercifully give you a ministry.” And I was so helped by that in my faith. Yes, amen! If your heart is all-in to fill your days with good works as God has given you gifts and health, God will not leave you without a significant work to do. He does not waste his children.

Amen! I was so helped by this article too.

The whole article is great — not just for retiring pastors, but for friends who’ve just been made redundant in ministry, and fellow graduates whose plans are likewise all on hold or reshuffled post-COVID.

Another reception history article on Job

In the second COVID-19 volume from the Stimulus journal, there’s another interesting article on Job and reception history. Nicholas List (postgrad student at Otago and intern at Grace Bible Church in Dunedin) dives into early church writers’ extracanonical interpretations of the book of Job for some insights on how to grapple with suffering in our present moment. I appreciated Nick’s point that reception history is an intimately pastoral endeavour. The “Job the wrestler” that early Christians pondered on is fascinating too. The more I think about all the back-and-forth between Job and his friends, the more it sounds like a couple of wrestlers duking it out in the ring! Some snippets below.

On Job the wrestler:

“Viewed in a different light, there is a sense in which Job’s athletic endurance can be seen as the struggle against the temptation to curse God in the face of tragedy.”

Should we approach our suffering in martial terms? According to early church writers,

“To see Job’s rent garments as both an expression of grief and preparation for combat is one way to faithfully negotiate the tensions of blessing the good Creator while living within a fallen creation.”

Reflecting on early writers’ embellishments on Job hoping for a resurrection:

COVID-19 has no regard for the gods of our society. Like Elihu in the Testament of Job, we may be tempted to mourn for the faded glory of these earthly thrones. Yet the early church reminds us that Job’s hope did not rest in the re-establishment of earthly thrones, but the inauguration of a heavenly one. Job’s hope in the resurrection reminds us that the true God has called us in Christ out of destruction to re-creation.

And an encouragement to look back to look forward:

“By reflecting on the pastoral applications and innovations of Job in the early church, we are better placed to reread scripture ourselves, continuing the deeply biblical practice of meeting the pressing issues of the present with insight from the past.”

I do wonder why these early church writers felt the need to play down the raw honesty of Job’s protests and to reimagine him as God’s defender against Satan (he’s plainly lamenting and protesting to God in the Hebrew text). Nick suggests it’s because these writers wanted to “mitigate the role of divine agency in probation” (i.e. let God off the hook for causing caused Job’s suffering). Job is not easy reading, and our tendency is to want to water it down or skip over it.

Anyways, it’s an interesting read. Go check it out! You can also read my own attempt at Job’s reception history here. I think there’s definitely more gold to be gleaned from this kind of study.

Lockdown thoughts from Job 7:1-21

Day thirteen. Nearly halfway through our nationwide lockdown! I’m enjoying the pace but do let me know if it’s too much of a drag. Job is continuing his reply to Eliphaz.

Previously: 1:1-5 | 1:6-12 | 1:13-22 | 2:1-6 | 2:7-13 |
 3:1-10 | 3:11-26 | 4:1-21 | 5:1-7 | 5:8-27 | 6:1-30 |

Translation:

1 Is there not hard service for humanity on earth?
And [are] their days like a hired one?
2 Like a slave longing for shadow [of nightfall],
like a hired hand waits for his wages.
3 Thus I have been made to inherit months of emptiness,
and nights of misery are appointed to me.
4 If I lie down and say: “when will I arise?” yet the night stretches on.
And I am full of tossing until dawn.
5 My flesh is clothed of worms and lumps of dirt,
my skin hardens then flows [from my sores]
6 My days are cursed/as light as a [weaver’s] shuttle,
and finish without hope/thread.

7 Remember that my life is like a breath,
my eye will not return to see good.
8 It will behold me no more – the eye that sees me,
Your eyes [are] upon me, but I [will] no longer be.

  • Job continues to lament his sufferings. He compares his life to days of slave labour (vv1-2), and nights full of misery (v3-4).
  • We’re reminded of what Yahweh afflicted Job with in verse 5 – he is clothed with sores that attract worms, dirt, that harden and then break out with pus (see Job 2:7).
  • There’s some achingly beautiful Hebrew wordplay in verse 6. Job could be saying that his days are “as fleeting as a weaver’s shuttle, and ends for lack of thread” (here’s a video of it zipping along). Or it could read that Job’s days are “as cursed as a shuttle, and ends for lack of hope”. The verb root for to be fleeting and to be cursed is the same (both קלל / qll pointed differently), and the noun תִּקְוָה means “cord, thread, end, hope. What does suffering feel like to Job? Like being caught in the warp and weft of a tapestry of sorrow, shuttling back and forth in vain, hoping for the thread to end.

9 As a cloud breaks up and disappears [lit: completes and goes],
thus the one who goes down to Sheol does not come up.
10 He no longer returns to his house,
and his place does not recognise him.
11 Furthermore, I myself will not refrain my mouth,
I will (or, Let me) speak in anguish of my spirit.
I will (or, Let me) lament in the bitterness of my soul.
12 Am I the sea, or a sea monster,
that you (sg) set a guard over me?
13 For I say, “my bed will comfort me,
my couch will ease my complaint.”
14 Then you dismay me with dreams,
and from visions you terrify me.
15 So my soul would choose strangling;
death from my bones.
16 I reject [my life], I would not live forever,
Refrain from me, for my days are “hevel”.


  • Job closes his reply to Eliphaz by insisting he be allowed to keep anguishing and lamenting (v11) – it could also be translated “Let me speak… let me lament.”
  • Job accuses Eliphaz of treating him like a sea monster to be guarded and caged (v12). Ironically, when God finally replies in the closing chapters he will parade monsters before Job to remind him that He rules over creation.
  • Remember Eliphaz’s righteous-sounding vision in chapter 4? They’re scary and terrifying to Job. Don’t pull that out again, please.
  • Job basically says in verse 16: “Leave me alone, Eliphaz”, because his days are hevel. I leave it untranslated because it’s the same slippery word the Teacher uses in Ecclesiastes 1:2, and should bring to mind all the various translation possibilities. Are Job’s days now meaningless? Vapour? Vanity? Fleeting? Bubbles? Suffering has a way of making us question the purpose of life, doesn’t it?

17 What is man,
that you grow him,
and that you set upon him your heart,
18 and visit him [in] mornings, in moments test him?
19 How long will you not gaze [away] from me,
[or] leave me alone to swallow my spit?
20 [Say] I have sinned; what would I do to you, watcher of humankind?
Why have you set your mark on me?
[Why am] I a burden to [you]?
21 And why do you not pardon my transgression,
or pass over my iniquity?
For now on the earth I will lie down;
You will seek me, but I will not be.


  • There’s echoes of Psalm 8 in the “What is man” questions that close chapter 7. From the description of what the 2nd person does (grows him, sets his heart upon him, watches humankind), I think Job is now addressing Yahweh.
  • Here is Job’s first halting attempts at questioning God. We will see this grow and expand in his later speeches as he gets bolder and starts to litigate God and appeal for His justice. But for now, Job asks a couple of dark questions, then resigns himself to lying in the ground again.
  • Verse 21 ends in a similar way to verse 8. Want to know what suffering feels like? It feels like people / God looking for you, but you’re not there.

I decided to respond a bit differently today. Here’s a prayer of lament:

“Lord,

Life seems so hard now in lockdown.
The days come and go
come and go
come and go
and I can’t see the end.
I’m waiting for the thread to finish.
How long Lord?

And life outside my bubble seems bleak,
full of fears and anxiety and hopelessness.
How long will You let all this pain and sorrow continue?
When will You fix all this brokenness?

And people are dying Lord.
Thousands and thousands, finishing their days without hope.
Their life’s thread cut off by coronavirus, by cancer, by suicide.
Please have mercy on them.
And on the unreached.
And on my family.
And my friends.
More thread.
Please.

As brother Jesus lamented in the Garden of Gethsemane
As He felt forsaken and crushed to pardon our sins
Father help me lament with my Saviour.
Give me fresh eyes to see how Christ
is the scarlet thread of hope
I can follow in my failures
trust in my trials
and come
and go to.

Father,
Pass over my sins
let me rest
in peace.
Amen.”

“Lament for thread” by WHC, 7.4.20

Lockdown thoughts from Job 1:13-22

Using Day 3 of our nationwide lockdown to lock down some rusty Hebrew. A rough translation and thoughts on the way. Some of it will be familiar to friends who have journeyed through Kirk Patston’s classes.

Previously: Job 1:1-5 | Job 1:6-12


1:13-15 Now there was a day,
When his sons and daughters [were] eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house.


And a messenger came to Job, and said:

“The oxen were plowing, and the donkeys were feeding beside them…
and Sabeans fell [upon them]
and took the servants
they struck them by the edge of the sword.
And I have escaped — only I, alone — to tell you.”


  • This section starts the same as verse 6: “Now there was a day…” – the camera’s shifted back from heaven to earth.
  • The Sabeans literally “fell” – in the same way fire from God will fall from heaven in v16. The narrator emphasises that each , as horrifying as it is, was heaven-sent as previously decreed.
  • The Hebrew captures stammering speech: “I’ve been delivered… I alone… only me…” – and highlights the severity of the calamity

1:16 [While] this one [was still] speaking, [another] came and said:

“Fire of God fell from the heavens,
and it burned the flock and the servants and consumed them.
And I escaped — only I, alone — to tell you.”

1:17 While this one was still speaking, another came and said:

“Chaldeans appointed three captains (lit. heads)
and they fell upon the camels
and took them
and the servants they struck with the edge of the sword,

and I escaped, only I, alone to tell you.”


  • The key word in the Hebrew that connects all the calamities is niphal (נפל), “it fell”. They were not just chance accidents, but they fell from heaven. It’s a difficult truth.
  • The narrator saves the worst news for last…

1:18-19 While this one was still speaking, another came and said:

“Your sons and daughters [were] eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house,
and behold, a great wind came from across the wilderness

and struck the four corners of the house
and it fell upon the servants [actually, Job’s children].
and they died.


And I escaped, only I, alone to tell you.


  • “And they died.” The servant can’t bear to say what Job dreads: his ten treasured children have died.

1:20 Then Job arose.
And he tore his robes
and shaved his head.

And he fell to the earth, and worshipped.

And he said:
“Naked I departed from my mother’s womb,
And naked will I return there.
Yahweh gave and Yahweh took;
May Yahweh name be ‘blessed’.”

1:22 In all this, Job did not sin. And he did not give offence to God.


  • His actions are impeccable – he falls to the ground, he worships.
  • Yet his own speech verse 21 is ambiguous. Remember how barakh could mean “blessed” or “farewelled”, and how it’s been used as a euphemism for “cursing” God (see previous discussion).
  • Perhaps that’s why the narrator has to emphasise that Job does not sin or do wrong (v22).

My own reflections:

  • Suffering often occurs in a relentless cluster. Job barely has time to catch his breath before the next messenger announces disaster. Many of us in NZ have shared this feeling this week – Alert Level 2 introduced on Saturday, Level 3 on Monday, a Level 4 nationwide lockdown by Wednesday night. That’s what it’s feeling like for healthcare workers on the frontline – the next patient arrives, then the next one, then the next one.
  • We talk about blessings falling from heaven, but how comfortable am I with believing that our sufferings also fall, fall, fall, fall from heaven?
  • How will I respond when everything is taken away from me – work, study opportunities, freedom to move around? Job falls to the ground and gives a faithful answer (that’s enshrined in Matt Redman’s song) we can follow – “Blessed be the name of the Lord”. Yet the ambiguity of barakh raises the possibility that those who suffer will not always stoically “bless” God. When troubles fall upon me, will I “farewell”, even curse God? Which route will Job take in the chapters to come? That’s the riddle of suffering.

How NZ Baptist churches responded during the 1918 influenza outbreak

These are unprecedented times for families and churches – none of us have never experienced anything like the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in living memory.

Yet at the close of World War I, as armistice celebrations took place throughout New Zealand, a deadly virus was also on the loose. The 1918 influenza epidemic (dubbed the “Spanish flu”, though its origin is still debated) infected 500 million people worldwide, killed millions, and took 9000 Kiwi lives between October and December that year.

So how did Baptist churches respond? Here’s an unfiltered glance, thanks to the 1918 and 1919 issues of the New Zealand Baptist (available as part of the Digital Baptist archives here). I’ve edited lightly for language and brevity.

Outbreak described

“The arrival of the great epidemic coincided roughly with the arrival of Peace. The cup of rejoicing was dashed rudely from our lips. Auckland was silenced quite by the great fear. Christchurch rejoiced with circumspection, for the evil was not yet in full blast. The other towns managed rather better. But everywhere for the nonce [meanwhile] theatres and churches, and other places where men most do congregate, are shut by authority. A gloom lies on the land, such as has never before been known. Some of us have been reading De Foe’s “Journal of the Plague Year” for a parallel. The death roll was heavy, and includes many well-known people …

Unexampled efforts to meet the need have been made. The organisation of relief in our cities has been wonderful. There can be no doubt that the disease had its origin in the shambles of Europe. Sanitation saved us from the Black Death. It could not save us wholly. Wireless makes the world one by its magic. But there is a magic in Nature that can race man’s crafts. “Like warp, and woof all destinies are woven fast.” …

…The great thing for Christian people is the peaceful heart. There is no better specific. The 91st Psalm talks of the absolute immunity of men who dwell under God’s shadow. The New Testament does not encourage us to expect to escape the human lot. Let us, as followers of Him who evaded nothing, minister fearlessly and gladly for His sake.

– “The Influenza”, NZ Baptist (December 1918), 179.

News from Baptist churches: November 1918

AUCKLAND TABERNACLE: “…As the influenza epidemic has just set in, the congregation was below the average. Since that time we have been holding brief Sunday morning services only; no evening services, and no meetings during the week. The city has been linked up in a great fellowship of suffering. The Pastor has given his whole time for close on three weeks to visiting, and assisting those in need and bereavement, and a large number of volunteer helpers from the Tabernacle have been working under his direction. The Church and Sunday School officers offered the local authorities the School Hall for use as a temporary hospital, if required.”

EPSOM: “…At present all Church work is at a standstill, owing to the epidemic of influenza which prevails, and the S.S. anniversary, which was to be held on November 10th. is postponed indefinitely.”

MT EDEN: “… In compliance with the request of the Public Health Officer, only morning services (conducted by Mr. F. Cade), have been held in the church the last two Sunday mornings.”

NEW PLYMOUTH: “…We have not escaped the influenza epidemic, so on Sunday, November 17th, we held the morning service in the grounds adjoining the Church.”

GONVILLE: “We have held no services or meetings recently on account of the prevailing epidemic… We pray for God’s healing hand on the community, and for His comforting Spirit to those who have suffered the loss of loved ones.”

PETONE: “…For the first time in our Church history no Sunday services were held on November 16th, owing to the serious influenza epidemic. A united service was held in the Recreation Grounds, when the Presbyterian and the Methodist ministers conducted the service.”

RICHMOND: “…Owing to the influenza epidemic, all Church services are being held in the open-air.”

NELSON: “For three Sundays in November the services were held in the grounds opposite the church, the weather, fortunately. being fine and mild, so that the attendance was not interfered with. It was noticed that several passers-by stood and listened, so it has been decided to hold a short open-air meeting prior to the service each Sunday evening, in the hope that some people may thereby be induced to come into the church.”

OXFORD: “During the epidemic we held open-air services in the Church ground, and missed no service. The attendance was very encouraging …” “On November 13th, in common with the other Churches in the district, we held a special Thanksgiving service in the Church [for the end of the war], when in spite of the influenza there was a capital congregation. The service throughout was most hearty, and hymns suitable for the occasion were sung. At the close a collection was taken up in aid of the Armenian Relief Fund.”

SPREYDON: “We have just celebrated the fifty-second anniversary of our Church, with a happy and successful series of gatherings… The severe epidemic that is passing through the country is interfering with all our meetings. We held one service last Sun- day, in the morning, on the lawn.”

GREENDALE: “Unfortunately, influenza had many of us in its grip, while still others were only in the convalescent stage, so that the congregations suffered severely, as regards numbers… We are glad to report that Mr. C. Adams, our Sunday School Superintendent, who has been seriously ill with the prevailing malady, with complications, is making satisfactory progress.”

ASHBURTON: “Services were not held on the last two Sundays in November, or during the weeks, owing to the influenza epidemic, which has taken rather severe toll in our town and district.”

GORE: “All gatherings of Church find Sunday School have for the present been suspended, at the request of the health authorities.”

– “News of the Churches”, NZ Baptist Vol. 35 (Dec 1918), 189-92; NZ Baptist Vol. 36 (Jan 1918), 15.

News from Baptist churches: December 1918 – January 1919

AUCKLAND TABERNACLE: “We were glad to resume our Sunday evening services after the interdict resulting from the epidemic. November was a strange, sad month. We are glad to say that the health of the city is now good, and most of our members and workers are back in their old places. A number of our Tabernacle people gave splendid help as voluntary workers, and one of our Wednesday evening services was given up to a Conference with a view to ascertaining how to continue our ministry to the poor, the sick and the needy of the neighbourhood, so many of whom had been visited during the past weeks. Mr. Kempton [the Pastor] spoke on Sunday morning, December 15th, on “The Church’s New Opportunity”, and the practical points he brought forward will be followed up by the officers [ministry leaders]…”

NEW PLYMOUTH: “In common with all Churches in the Dominion we closed our building during the epidemic. On two of the Sunday mornings we held a service in the grounds adjoining the church, and had real spiritual blessings. Amongst those who gathered with us were members from nearly all the Free Churches. Truly it was the time to wait upon God for His help. The Church re-opened for public worship on Sunday, December 8th […] On Sunday, December 15th, our Pastor was sufficiently recovered to occupy the place where we love to see him […] All our Church organisations are again in full swing, and we trust there will be no more epidemics to stop their activity.”

WANGANUI: “On account of the influenza epidemic, our Church and Sunday School services were suspended for several weeks, open-air services being held on Sunday mornings. Many of our people were laid aside for a time by the sickness, but we are pleased to report that all have recovered. During the epidemic our Pastor laboured untiringly among the sick folk of our town. Our Church services were resumed on December 8th, and it was, indeed, with hearts full of gratitude to God that we again attended His house. Our pastor’s message at the re-opening service was based on the words of the Psalmist, “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord.”

PALMERSTON NORTH: “Sorrow and rejoicing seem to go hand in hand in these strange times. We rejoice that thus far, although we have had much sickness with the influenza epidemic, most of our friends are quite well again. This is indeed worthy of thanksgiving. Our sympathies, however, are with Mrs. J. W. Stedman in the death of her husband…”

VIVIAN ST: “Owing to the influenza epidemic and the restrictions of the Health Department, our Church work has been practically at a standstill during the past month. We have cause for great gratitude to God in that while many of our members have been ill, the lives of all have been spared.”

BROOKLYN – “During the influenza epidemic, a strong local committee was formed, and the suburb divided into four districts, with one of the local clergymen in charge of each. All the Churches are proud of the way their ministers and members united with each other and with men and women of no religious professions, and worked for the common good. Mr. Rollings and his brother ministers visited all day, and far into the night. Mrs. Rollings, when the shortage of doctors was acute, rose from a sick bed, and devoted her medical knowledge and nursing skill to the alleviation of suffering and the saving of life, working with great success until she too fell a victim to the epidemic. (We are pleased to say she is making a good recovery.)”

SYDENHAM: “After having our church closed for three weeks on account of the epidemic, we were very glad to meet again for service on December 8th.”

[HANOVER STREET, DUNEDIN]: “For the past six weeks the most anxious and harried man in the Dominion has been the Rev. R. S. Gray. […] While the “flue” was ravaging in Dunedin, and his church [was] turned into a hospital…”

“News of the Churches”, NZ Baptist Vol. 36 (Jan 1918), 14-15; “A Diplomat”, NZ Baptist Vol. 36 (Jan 1919), 1.