Don’t Want to Go There

14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!
15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.
17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.”
18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?”
20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it?

Romans 9:14–20 (NASB 1995)

[The following commentary is offered with fear and trepidation.]

Every objection to what logically follows from this passage is offered up by Paul in the succeeding verses in Romans 9. Depending on your theological stripes your reaction will be “that’s what I’m talking about” or “that’s patently unfair.” In the end, you must concede to Paul’s argument because it says what it says. If I’ve been chosen I’ve been extended mercy by God, but if I look to my right and left and could know what God knows, there are those to whom it has not been extended, this all happening before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4).

But what if I share the gospel with these people? You will have been obedient, yes, but it will not change their eternal destiny if it’s already cast in stone it would appear. I say this not to equivocate, but to acknowledge my lack of omniscience and the conundrum we all face.

This truth will not be accepted by half of those who read this regardless the authority of God’s word and the consistency with which this doctrine is taught throughout its pages. They’d rather believe a person needs only to briefly travel the “Romans Road” to arrive at this mercy. It could happen like this, sure, but many never get near this off-ramp as they speed along the Road to Perdition. Someone who will receive mercy will be moved by God to the exact juncture at which this gift will be granted, possibly via someone who spent their Sunday afternoons dutifully taking a class on sharing your faith, and it will be accepted by faith.

But the total sovereignty of God has got to be total. If it’s hard to fathom how it works it’s hard to fathom because our minds can’t handle the cognitive dissonance it causes. God can’t be selective! How can we pray expectantly for heaven’s sakes? The truth is we will never resolve this issue, because God is sovereign and he is susceptible and responds to the effective prayers of the righteous (James 5:16). Two truths unresolvable unless allowed to peacefully coexist.

Nevertheless, there are many who just don’t want to go there, that is to contemplate and accept predestined salvation (Ephesians 1:3-6, 2:10). It you still can’t handle this truth, it will be best to review Paul’s example of the potter and the clay that follows (v. 21), and repeat as often as necessary. Then think about those down through time who seem to have never even got close enough, or better were not drawn to the gospel, or who refused it (e.g., Pharaoh). Could it be that they were not chosen by God?

Granted, all this is mind-boggling, and so it should be.

Posted in Commentary, Romans | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On the Run

10 Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance,
11 persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me!
12 Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

2 Timothy 3:10–12 (NAS)

The concept of persecution, in my mind at least, involves the infliction of some form of pain after one is cornered or captured (v. 10-11), but persecution includes the pursuit as well (v. 12). That’s what the word means there. See below.

Strong’s Greek #1377–διώκω diōkō; akin to a prim. vb. δίω diō (put to flight); to put to flight, pursue, by impl. to persecute.

It is also used by Jesus in his question to Paul (then Saul) as he was relentlessly pursuing Christians in Damascus.

And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting,

Acts 9:4–5

So, the word is often used for being on the run for the cause of Christ. This fluid state was dramatically seen in Paul’s first missionary tour.

Therefore, when we’re persecuted we don’t always stand up and fight, but we move on to greener unmolested pastures for the cause of the gospel. Jesus did until he set his eyes on the cross. The disciples were told by the Lord to dust off their feet and move on when rebuffed. We remember also Jesus was pursued by the Pharisees to the end and Paul the Jews in city after city.

But the Jews incited the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. But they shook off the dust of their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium.

Acts 13:50–51

2 Timothy 3 then seems to suggest that we remain viable by dancing and dodging evil in the ring until “the jig is up.” In other words, it’s realized that we are part of the sect of people “turning the world upside down.”

Yes, the time will come when we speak the words the Lord puts into our mouths as we stand firmly with our backs squarely against the wall.

And like Stephen, our stance and message will have an impact on eternity, as did his testimony on a key witness to his sermon and stoning, who later became the most prolific author of the New Testament.

[Personal Note: In the late 1980s as a “rising star” in a large bank in Florida, I was called upstairs to the executive conference room. There I met the highest ranking lender in the system who had heard that in the classes I was holding with budding young lenders, too much “Christianity” was seeping out. In that conference room, just him and me, he said, “In the past I’ve rated you the highest I can, but this issue is the only blip on the radar. You need to leave your faith at the door.” I said without pondering what appeared to be obvious to me, “If I do that, I don’t come in.” Miraculously, I wasn’t ushered out that door that day. Years later I heard that this same man (6’3″, graduate of an elite college, tight end on the football team, and former Army captain) had gone to an evangelistic breakfast and accepted the Lord. Later, I found him totally out of banking and President and Chairman of the Board of one of the most prominent Christian ministries in the world. I don’t know if my stance provided authenticity to the gospel message, but it’s not often, I would imagine, you have a subordinate hold his ground under those circumstances, i.e., the threat of termination, and basically respond with a flat “no.” I would think it would leave a mark. It did on me.]

Posted in Devotionals | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Our Only Hope

Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:8 (ESV)

Every day another shoe seems to drop. Emotionally, like the men with the Apostle Paul on the boat bound for shipwreck, all hope for things to improve is jettisoned. Yet we must stay on what’s left of the vessel to survive. Acts 27:13-44

Everyone seems to say it must get much worse for the Lord to return, but that thought is unbiblical. His return has been imminent since the day he left. Reading through prophecy we do get a sense that conditions for his return are ripe, and that they are no longer confined to pockets of the earth but are global. Communication is global. The “pandemic” is global. Chaos is global. Etc. And when the last vestige of good in the world is teetering on the edge of self-destruction, the scenarios for the Lord’s return become way more plausible.

Whatever the case, our options for hope have really been reduced to that final day when he takes us out of here. Until then, we don’t bury our head in the sand but live with the expectancy that at any moment he will commence the “end of the world” as we know it.

But we get credit for loving his appearing. It’s all we’ve got.

Posted in Devotionals | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

This is Amazing Grace

For My hand made all these things, thus all these things came into being, declares the Lord.
But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.

Isaiah 66:2

Who is a true believer? He or she is one who is convinced and aware there is an all powerful, all knowing God in heaven and on earth. More so, this God is the creator of all things at the mere speaking of His word, especially of all humankind, and therefore of our intellect and capacity to create and to build. That only He causes every breath to be drawn and every heart to beat. As such, a true believer hangs on every one of His words in fear and trembling, and lays bare his or her’s innermost being for inspection and correction. A true believer is broken-hearted, debased and repentant, yet at the same time joyful that in spite of His lofty state, He see us and responds with amazing grace.

Posted in Devotionals, Isaiah | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Going Your Own way

I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people,who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts.

Isaiah 65:2

Let it be known that God is gracious and merciful. Above all he is long suffering. In spite of our rebelliousness, he spreads out his hands all day long, that is, he makes himself available and approachable to those who are disinterested, to those “who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts.”

Our case study here is that of the people of Israel, who rebelled against God in every imaginable way, and who, in the end, were severely punished, with debilitating effects reaching into generations to come (God “will even repay into their bosom”). People today have no excuse either, with the greatest story ever told available at their fingertips, i.e., the Bible.

Here’s a smattering of what the Israelites did or didn’t do. They did not ask for him, seek him, or call on his name. They provoked him to his face, offered strange sacrifices in secret places, and ate forbidden food. Perhaps the worse, they kept themselves aloof from God. They were worse than a bad cold.

These are smoke in My nostrils, a fire that burns all the day.

Isaiah 65:5

The problem is not that the temptations were so besetting like those is Sodom and Gomorrah that they were sucked into them involuntarily. No, the temptation was simple and started with the decision to live their lives on their own.

We can do the same thing, to decide early on “his thoughts will not be our thoughts.” While the pages of God’s word remain open and discoverable, the decision is made to not allow them to judge the thoughts and intentions of our hearts.

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

Isaiah’s words clearly outline the plusses and minuses.

My servants will eat, but you will be hungry.
My servants will drink, but you will be thirsty.
My servants will rejoice, but you will be put to shame.
My servants will shout joyfully with a glad heart, but you will cry out with a heavy heart, and you will wail with a broken spirit.
My servants will be called by another name. You will leave your name for a curse to My chosen ones.

In the “immortal” words of Fleetwood Mac,

You can go your own way
You can call it
Another lonely day
You can go your own way.

And the truly immortal Isaiah says,

Because he who is blessed in the earth
Will be blessed by the God of truth;
And he who swears in the earth
Will swear by the God of truth;
Because the former troubles are forgotten,
And because they are hidden from My sight!

Isaiah 65:16

Loving you is the right thing to do!

Posted in Devotionals, Isaiah | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Pulling the Strings

The stars fought from heaven, from their courses they fought against Sisera. Judges 5:20

While Deborah summoned Barak to take on Sisera with his 900 iron chariots and many troops, and Barak enlisted 10,000 men to help him, it might be easy to miss the hand of the Lord in the victory. In Deborah’s song in Chapter 5 she elaborates on the activity of the Almighty in the background.

First, he drew Sisera down to the river Kishon with a “tip-off” from a credible source.

Second, for twenty years this man terrorized Israel with these menacing chariots, but as fate (hand of God) would have it, they weren’t much use in the water and mud, as an unexpected violent storm with torrential rainfall caused the river to overflow.

The torrent of Kishon swept them away, the ancient torrent, the torrent Kishon. Judges 5:21

In our finite minds we rarely anticipate the unexpected, or contemplate God’s intercession in a miraculous way. Here he used the swords of Barak’s men and a flash flood caused by a rainstorm.

The Lord routed (or confused) Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword and this flood before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot. Judges 4:15

It’s about time we go to our knees and plead with to the very same God to intervene in a world gone insane. The chariots are indeed surrounding us!

We should pray that he confound evil and cause it to turn on itself, as we learned from Gideon’s experience in the Midianite camp.

When they blew 300 trumpets, the Lord set the sword of one against another even throughout the whole army. Judges 7:22

All’s not lost with the Lord pulling the strings.

Posted in Devotionals | Leave a comment

Terms of Engagement

And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Hebrews 11:32-34

Barak was one of those “if-then” people. Truth be known, so am I. When asked by Deborah to take on Sisera with his 900 iron chariots, he said, ”I will if you go with me.” This position was understandable to me since Deborah was judging Israel at the time and was a prophetess. Some might say it wasn’t a good look. I think not. Since Sisera severely oppressed Israel for 20 years, it makes good sense that Barak wanted all hands on deck, especially someone with a direct pipeline to God.

The sons of Israel cried to the Lord; for he had nine hundred iron chariots, and he oppressed the sons of Israel severely for twenty years. Judges 4:3

Rarely do you find someone willing to do something without conditions. If certain terms are met, they’ll do it. Then after what is asked is accomplished, their job is done. So the decision to participate is both conditional and provisional. This to me is good. You know where you stand, if your volunteer has proven trustworthy.

Deborah agreed but warned Barak that he would not have the honor of taking out Sisera. A woman would deliver his head instead. He apparently didn’t care, as long as Deborah was with him. As far as can be seen in the account of Barak’s actions, he energetically and faithfully followed through (with the help of others) in his mission against Sisera.

Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali together to Kedesh, and ten thousand men went up with him; Deborah also went up with him. Judges 4:1

And yes, Sisera singlehandedly fell to Jael, a woman, who hatched a shrewd plan and bravely carried it out.

“Most blessed of women is Jael,
The wife of Heber the Kenite;
Most blessed is she of women in the tent.
“He asked for water and she gave him milk;
In a magnificent bowl she brought him curds.
“She reached out her hand for the tent peg,
And her right hand for the workmen’s hammer.
Then she struck Sisera, she smashed his head;
And she shattered and pierced his temple.
Judges 5:24-25

From a leadership standpoint, you should appreciate faithful people who are willing to set the terms of engagement, and then act. On the other hand, there are those who talk a good game but never get into it, like the tribes of Reuben, Gilead, Dan and Asher. They verbalized ”great resolve” and ”searchings of heart“ but were no shows when the trumpet sounded.

Among the divisions of Reuben
There were great resolves of heart.
“Why did you sit among the sheepfolds,
To hear the piping for the flocks?
Among the divisions of Reuben
There were great searchings of heart.
“Gilead remained across the Jordan;
And why did Dan stay in ships?
Asher sat at the seashore,
And remained by its landings.”
Judges 5:15-17

Barak made the Hall of Faith by faithfully keeping his commitment. He just wanted access to a word from the Lord and senior management. A shout out was enough, and he got it.

Posted in Devotionals, Hebrews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Impetuosity and Other Impediments

And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Hebrews 11:32-34

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Hebrews 12:1

While described as a valiant warrior, Jephthah’s backstory was not sterling. As the son of a harlot, he was banished from Gilead by his brothers to live in Tob. He drew a band of worthless fellows to his side. Birds of a feather flock together.

So Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob; and worthless fellows gathered themselves about Jephthah, and they went out with him. Judges 11:3

But he was recruited back by Israel to fight against the sons of Ammon, which he did with a vengeance. In the lead up to war, the new judge was most impressive, though, in his command of Israel’s history. In Judges 11:12 to 27, Jephthah through messengers to Ammon justifies his pending actions against them based on the failure of nations to allow Israel free passage through their countries in the past. His conclusion was that Ammon was indeed squatting on some of Israel’s promised land.

Here’s the point from his ranging argument for war. Can you–can I–make a case for carrying out God’s will from scripture? Are we well versed enough to make a spiritual point? Can we vocalize a defense of the faith? Jephthah could, despite his colorful background.

Back to the story, in his exuberance to assure victory, Jephthah made a rash and senseless vow to God that had tragic consequences.

Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If You will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” Judges 11:30-31

His only daughter was first out the door to greet him and he was laid low because of the vow he had made. Many commentators believe he followed through on his vow and offered her up as a burnt offering. But others believe that the loss of her chance to bear children was what was sacrificed. I believe the latter. The law of Moses forbade human sacrifices and it’s hard to rationalize taking another’s life as a consequence for my sin. Judge for yourself by her response.

So she said to him, “My father, you have given your word to the Lord; do to me as you have said, since the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the sons of Ammon.” She said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me; let me alone two months, that I may go to the mountains and weep because of my virginity, I and my companions.” Judges 11:36–37

It appears that she clearly understood that what was at stake was her virginity (a horror in that day) and it was in that state she remained, and for that sacrifice she was honored. I also find it hard to believe that Jephthah made the Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith list having such a horrific entry on his resume.

So what have we learned from Jephthah? We should know and account for our proclivities. We should ward against drifting into known pathways to sin. The Spirit’s empowerment of our lives allows us to live above these impediments with power derived from strong faith.

In the context of Hebrews 12:1, Jephthah’s encumbrance was that he was not of good stock. His entangling sin, his impetuousness and lack of forethought. I ask myself what’s my encumbrance? What’s my entangling sin? What is keeping me from running with endurance the “faith” race set before me? Think about it.

Posted in Devotionals, Hebrews | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Most Unlikely to Succeed

And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets. Hebrews 11:32

Gideon is mentioned along with other stalwarts of the faith in Hebrews 11:32. When I hear of Gideon I immediately think of a fleece and a trumpet, yes, but more so of a consummate hand wringer. My impression of a true man or woman of faith is someone who apparently throws caution to the wind. But there was no reckless abandonment with Gideon. He seemed to demand full assurance before acting, and the Lord obliged.

“If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who speak with me. Judges 6:17

We’re urged to have faith but we want to lay out our markers too. We order a fleece on Amazon and set it out and nothing happens. Most people I know caution against the use of fleeces in one’s Christian life. Nevertheless, we constantly look for signs of probable success before we move. What I give Gideon credit for is that he ultimately acted. Still he liked the cover of night and a companion by his side, but he took the steps and followed through. In the end he pulled down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah, and cleared out the Midianites with only 300 men with clay pots, torches and trumpets. He was a man of valor but voted most unlikely to succeed.

He said to Him, “O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.” Judges 6:15

One tiny problem with Gideon. Always the Achilles heel of our heroes pops up in Judges. He liked to collect souvenirs and erect monuments to past accomplishments.

So Gideon arose and killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and took the crescent ornaments which were on their camels’ necks. Judges 8:21

Gideon made it (and the peoples’ spoils of war) into an ephod, and placed it in his city, Ophrah, and all Israel played the harlot with it there, so that it became a snare to Gideon and his household. Judges 8:27

Let’s not do this. What God does through us is his doing. Please, no Midian’s Worse Nightmare tee shirts showing Gideon blowing a trumpet! All glory to God!

Posted in Devotionals, Hebrews | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Considering the Possibilities

19 He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.

Hebrews 11:19

Abraham was in the act of plunging a knife into the chest of his son Isaac from whom he was promised descendants as numerous as the particles of sand on the seashore when God suddenly stopped him. While emotionally he was undoubtedly in turmoil, his faith, remaining rational and logical, caused him to consider God fully capable of raising Isaac from the dead after the fact.

My faith, probably your faith, has never been put to such a test. If and when it is, we need to “consider the possibilities,” and with God, all things are possible. Yes, we know that, but easier said than done.

I always try to focus on his ability to make something out of nothing, to pull things out of thin air. We, in our frailty, think we’ve got to go with what we’ve got, to make the best of things we can see. Try considering, as Abraham did, the inconceivable, the impossible.

But the point of Hebrews 11 is yes, he can do the impossible, he can pull a rabbit out of his hat, but is that in his grand scheme of things?

I ask the question, in this instance, if Abraham had to follow through, and had to bury his dead son on that mountain, was God still faithful? We read that not all the stalwarts of faith in this chapter met a happy fate. It’s one thing to believe God can make it right as we would want, or hope, or believe, another for us to stomach him allowing the worse case to happen.

Fact is, we are told and reminded that these greats of the faith are greatly to be praised for their faith alone, not so much for their heroics.

Our faith should contemplate God’s infinite, creative, and inscrutable power absolutely. But we should be far more like Daniel’s three friends before they were tossed into the fiery furnace. They left the outcome to him. That’s what we get credit for.

17 “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 “But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Daniel 3:17–18

What he wants out of us is more abiding trust and less calculation. He’s got everything.

Posted in Devotionals, Hebrews | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment