Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: November 2017 (Page 1 of 2)

Christmas: In the Beginning the Word

Can you believe it?  Christmas less than five weeks away!  And me without a breath of Christmas spirit.  Maybe writing will help.  So . . . here starts an occasional “Advent” blog.

The best-told Christmas narrative is Luke’s.  But, actually the story starts with John’s “non-Christmas” gospel prologue.  No angels or shepherds or inns or mangers.  Not “folksy” or warm and wonderful.   Mysterious.  Mind-stretching.  He begins with . . .

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning” (John 1:1,2).

“In the beginning”.  Directly connected to Genesis 1:1–“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”.  This One, whom John calls “ . . . the Word”, was there.  And he “was God”.  God.  Yet separate from God.

“Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3).  “The Word” spoke.  And all things came into being.

That decidedly contradicts the most prominent “scientific” view–“the universe as we  know it started with a small singularity, then inflated over the next 13.8 billion years to the cosmos that we know today”.  (These sites discuss that theory further–but have nothing to do with Christmas!)

And Christmas is what I’m writing about, though it doesn’t sound like it  until John 1:14a . . .

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us”.  That’s John’s Christmas narrative.  Four words. “The Word became flesh . . . “The Word”, who was God (therefore, spirit–John 4:24), came to be a flesh-and-blood human.

“The Second Person in God, God the Son, became human Himself:  was born into the world as an actual man—a real man of a particular height, with hair of a particular color, speaking a particular language, weighing so many stone.  The Eternal Being, who knows everything, and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby and before that a fetus inside a Woman’s body . . . He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity . . . down to the very roots and seabed of the Nature he had created . . . But he goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined [believing] world with Him” (C.S. Lewis, The Joyful Christian, p. 51,52).

He came In order to be seen and known . . .

We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

John and others saw “glory”—the outshining of God the Father’s being.  “ . . . full of grace (God’s unmerited love) and truth (God’s covenant-keeping, faithful reliability)”.  In “the Word”, they saw God who loves the unlovable.  They saw God who can be trusted.

“The Word became flesh” in order to shine light in the darkness . . .

In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:4,5). 

“ . . . darkness”.  The realm of death and evil.  Death claims us all.  And evil is rampant, it’s commonplace.  But, thirty years later, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

He came also to make us to be what we can’t make of ourselves  . . .

“He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:10-13).

The world “the Word” created didn’t know him, didn’t want him.  But some welcomed him.  Believed in him.  To those (to us) “the Word” gave the right to become God’s children.  Children not naturally born.  “ . . . born of God.”  By the Spirit.  From above (John 3:3,5).  From where the Word was in the beginning.  He came to make us like himself.

“flesh . . . “  John could have said “became man”.  But, instead “flesh”.  Sarx. Implying weakness.  Vulnerability.  Perishableness.  What we are to make us like he was before.

“God . . .  entered the world as a baby . . . His face is prunish and red.  His cry, though strong and healthy, is still the helpless and piercing cry of a baby . . . Majesty in the midst of the mundane.  Holiness in the filth of [the manger’s] sheep manure and sweat.  Divinity entering the world on the floor of a stable, through the womb of a teenager in the presence of a carpenter . . . This baby had overlooked the universe” (Max Lucado, When God Came Near).

It’s his birth we celebrate.  May we do it with awe.




In View of God’s Mercies

How Should We Then Live?–the title of a bestseller by 20th century theologian and pastor Francis Schaeffer.   His answer was counter-culture.  So is Paul’s to a similar question  as he comes to the application of the gospel he’s written in chapters 1-11.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God– this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is– his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:1,2).

 These verses contain . . .

  • a two-part appeal (“offer your bodies as living sacrifices” and “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this word, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”)
  • the consequence of obeying the appeal (“Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is . . . “)
  • and the reason for the appeal (“Therefore . . . in view of God’s mercy”)

“ . . . in view of” or “on account of” “God’s mercy”, Paul wants the Roman church (and the Holy Spirit wants us) to obey his two appeals.  But not as a rule or regulation.  Nor merely intellectually.  Rather emotionally.  Once we’re immersed in God’s mercy, that mercy should  move us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices and no longer conform to this world’s pattern but be transformed by mind-renewing.

This is critical.  If we’re not motivated by “God’s mercy”, then obeying Paul’s appeals are little more than doing what Scripture says because it says it.  It’s just following rules.  Not much more than legalism.

So:  it’s critical we understand to what Paul refers when he writes “in view of God’s mercy”.

The Greek word is oiktirmown—“mercies” (plural), “tender compassions”.  Paul rarely uses the word, but he writes extensively of “God’s mercies”.  I refer to them below so we might immerse ourselves in them.

  • After condemning all humanity to God’s wrath because all have sinned  (1:18-3:20), Paul announced the gospel of God’s mercy—“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, (or as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away sin) through faith in his blood . . . “ (3:21-25a).
  • After announcing that Gentiles as well as Jews can be made right with God through faith, Paul drew these merciful conclusions—”Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (5:1-5).
  • Then Paul contrasted what we have from Adam and what we mercifully enjoy from Christ—“But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man (Adam), how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (5:15-21).
  • Next, Paul began to unveil what the Spirit is mercifully doing in those made right by faith—”If we have been united with [Christ] like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin–because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (6:5-11).
  • In 8:1-39 Paul continued to enumerate our standing in the mercies of Christ Jesus by the Spirit—a rich chapter containing everything from no condemnation, to incomparable glory, to inseparable love. (The chapter is too long to quote here.  It would be good for us to read on our own.)
  • Finally, in 9:1-11:36 Paul explained even now God is showing mercy to a remnant of Israel and will show mercy to more of Israel at age’s end.

* * *

We’re already  not conforming to “the pattern of this world” by meditating on God’s mercies.  Christian Smith’s research (Soul Searching and Souls in Transition) revealed that a majority of teenagers and young adults see God as merely “watching over life on earth”–like a kindly grandfather or faithful shepherd.  But they have no awareness of our being separated from God and under his wrath because of our sin.  No sense that we’re doomed apart from God’s mercies in Christ.  So, when we contemplate God’s mercies, we’re already out of step with “the pattern of this world.”

I’ve not written this for a “quick blog read”.  I’ve written it for repeated, prayerful meditation. So I pray . . .

“Lord God, my default approach is to read of your mercies as an old pastor, trying carefully to correctly interpret Paul’s words.  I also approach rationally, doing my best to trace Paul’s logic.  Somehow my reading must be more.  It must reach my heart, so I will be moved by emotion from your mercies to offer my body as a living sacrifice and keep my mind from this world’s ways.  In view of your mercies, God, move my heart to move my ways.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

What’s God Doing with Israel–and Should We Care?

Caesar Claudius, not wanting censure for a devastating Rome fire in 49 A.D, blamed the Jews.  Punishment:  expulsion from the city.  So, the church became entirely Gentile.  The edict was eventually relaxed and Jews began filtering back into city and church.  By then however,  Gentiles were boasting of their status as God’s people, especially since so many Jews rejected Messiah Jesus.

In 9:6 Paul argued that God’s word to Israel hadn’t failed.  In today’s text, 11:16-36, he explains that God isn’t finished with Israel.


“If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you (Gentiles), a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. You will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness toward you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And even those of Israel, if they do not persist in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree” (11:16-24).

When the Lord commanded Israel to offer the first “part of the dough” as holy, he considered that holiness to extend to the whole batch (Numbers 15:17-21).  So, Paul implies, the holiness of the believing remnant of Israel will eventually spread to “all Israel” (11:26).

Changing metaphors, Israel’s holy believing remnant is like “the root” of an olive tree.  The holiness of the root/remnant will extend to “all Israel” (11:26 below).  God can “graft in” Israel, “if they do not persist in unbelief”.  Hint:  Meanwhile, Gentiles must not become proud, because God can “break them off” if they don’t “continue in his kindness”.


“So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, “Out of Zion will come the Deliverer; he will banish ungodliness from Jacob. ‘And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins’” (11:25-27).

Paul wants the Gentile members “to understand this mystery” to “save [them] from congratulating [themselves] on [their] own good sense” (New Jerusalem Bible).

The Greek mustayreeown (“mystery”) refers to revelation mediated from God (Friberg Greek Lexicon).  What’s going on with Israel’s unbelief in Messiah Jesus?  Only God knows; but he has revealed it to Paul, who now tells the Roman church.  “ . . . a hardening has come upon part of Israel . . .“.   Implication:  God has done this (as he had hardened Pharaoh’s heart—Exodus 10:1; 11:10).  “ . . . until the full number of the Gentiles has come in”—The sovereign God has an undisclosed “full number”  of Gentiles who will be saved.

“And in this way,  all Israel will be saved . . .”.   Rather than digging into the “theological weeds” of various commentators’ comments, let’s cut to the bottom line.  The majority of New Testament scholars  seem to agree that, once the full number of Gentiles are saved, God will (at the end of the age) lift the partial hardening on Israel and save the full number of his chosen ones from among Israel. Paul cites Isaiah 59:20,21 and a clause from Isaiah 27:9—“Out of Zion will come the Deliverer; he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.”  Some commentators argue Paul is referring to the second coming of Christ, others conclude Paul is referring to Christ’s first coming which “set in motion” the salvation of God’s chosen ones.

“As regards the gospel they are enemies of God for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.  Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience,  so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all” (11:28-32).

Paul (still to the Gentile church members):  The majority of Jews has come under God’s curse for rejecting the gospel, so God has mercifully brought the gospel to you.  But, because of God’s covenant with Abraham (“the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable”), God will show mercy to (his chosen) among Israel.

Big question:  What does Paul mean by “all Israel”?  Possibly Paul uses “Israel” here the way he does in Galatians 6:16—that is, of all the saved, Jew and Gentile–(“Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.” More likely, he uses “Israel” to refer to the nation, or the chosen among the nation, as he has throughout Romans 9-11.)

Many commentators agree that “all Israel” doesn’t mean every individual Jew, but a significant number will be gathered in at the end of the age, just before Jesus returns.  That it will still be just a remnant of Israel seems plain from 9:27 where Paul quotes Isaiah–“Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved.”

Paul began this section of his letter (Romans 9-11) grieving over Israel’s unbelief.  He concludes it with a  . . .


“O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?’  For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever.  Amen” (11:33-36).

“ . . . riches” —Paul likely refers to the wealth of God’s grace to undeserving sinners.  “ . . . wisdom” of God’s salvation plan for both Gentiles and Jews together.  “ . . . [God’s] knowledge” of us, perhaps even a reference to his foreknowledge of us (8:29; 11:2).

Paul marvels that God’s judgments regarding condemnation to sinners and forgiveness to sinners are impossible for the human mind to understand.  His ways of providentially bringing salvation to his people are unfathomable.

God, writes Paul, is exalted high above us.  Who has ever figured out God’s mind?  Who has ever counseled God in what was best to do?  Who has ever given God a gift that made God his debtor?

For “all things” have their source in God.  “ . . . all things” come though God.  And “all things” are to God’s glory.  This is Paul’s benediction:  that, in view of God’s merciful, mysterious way of salvation, he receive the glory (Greek doxa—“honor, praise, power”) forever!


* * *

So, we have a general idea of what God is doing with Israel.  Should we care?  Yes.  Not about prophecy specifics, but about God specifically.  This we can clear care about.  God’s “running the show.”  He’s directing history.  He’s choosing particular Gentiles to be saved—and how many.  He’s hardened Israel in unbelief, yet his chosen ones among them will be saved at the end of the age.

With that general “mystery” revealed, we still can’t figure out God’s mind.  God doesn’t need our input to run the universe or complete his plan to save his people for a new creation.  God isn’t in debt to us to do anything for us.  Yet God has revealed his saving mercy in Christ to me–and you!

Of all things . . . God is the source.  God is the means.  And God is the end.

So our place is to understand what we can of what God has revealed.  To trust him to do what he promised even though our understanding is at kindergarten level.  And to make the climax of Paul’s hymn of praise our song of praise too  . . .

“To him be the glory forever!  Amen!”







In Everything Give Thanks In Christ Jesus

Lois asked if I was writing a Thanksgiving blog.

“Yeah.  But I don’t know what to write.”

“How about ‘in everything give thanks'”?

Right.  Fitting.   Also a sermon for me.  No, for Lois too.  My PLS and cancer are diseases we both have to endure–and give thanks in.

Here are Paul’s words, part of a closing exhortation to the Thessalonica church . . .

“Rejoice always,
pray without ceasing,
give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you”
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

It’s  a triplet of closely-related appeals.  “[G]ive thanks” presupposes we have blessings to rejoice over.  (I do!)  Prayer(spoken or singing) is how we verbalize joyful thanks.

” . . . this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” adds punch to the appeal.  It’s what God wants.  And here, part of the puzzle of knowing God’s will for us is solved:    “give thanks in all circumstances.”

That includes adverse circumstances.  Not only good times, but bad.  All the time, no matter what.

My nature doesn’t work that way.  When I’m hurting, I pray without ceasing, “Father, heal my hurt”–and maybe complain about it.  My default response isn’t “thank you, Lord.” When the dermatologist said, “You have malignant melanoma”, I didn’t hang up the phone and break into thanksgiving.  Paul isn’t telling us to give thanks for all circumstances.  He’s urging us to give thanks in them.  Still, it’s hard.

I have a confession. ( I hope no one’s keeping track of how many I’ve made!)  I’m one of those guys who thinks it borders on fanaticism to give thanks in all circumstances.  I mean, some circumstances are horrid.  Not just a tummy ache.  Deathly.

Then I remember what God is doing.  It’s the old Job-thing.    If I give thanks, even in suffering circumstances, it shows I’m serving him for him, not just for what he gives–and he is glorified.  That means his reputation is somewhat at stake if I limit my thanksgiving to good times and mope in the bad.

But , giving thanks in all things is for me, too..  It lifts my head from the pit up above to the greater One–“my glory and the lifter of my head” (Psalm 3:3).  Giving him thanks sets my eyes on him.

But for what to give thanks?  It’s hard to thankfully rejoice over mere food when I’m in pain.  Here’s where “for this is God’s will in Christ Jesus for you” comes in.  I’m in Christ Jesus!  I’m connected to him by faith and the Spirit!  I share in his life!  Here’s what that means . . .

. . .
In  Christ Jesus I was given grace before the world was created,  “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the ages began . . . ” (2 Timothy 1:9b).

. . . In Christ Jesus I was chosen by God before creation.  ” . . .he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love” (Ephesians 1:9).

. . .In Christ Jesus God loves me with a love from which nothing can ever separate me. “For I am convinced  that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38,39).

. . . In Christ Jesus I am redeemed, forgiven for all my sins“In [Christ Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace . . . ” (Ephesians 1:7).

. . . In Christ I am made right with God, Christ’s righteousness imputed to me“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

. . . In Christ Jesus I am a new creation. “So if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

. . . In Christ Jesus I am God’s child.  ” . . . in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith” (Galatians 3:26).

. . .In Christ Jesus I am, here on earth, already seated with Christ in heavenly places“[God] raised us up with [Christ] and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus . . . ” (Ephesians 2:6).

. . .  In Christ Jesus all God’s promises are YES for me“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20).

. . . In Christ Jesus I am being sanctified and made holy like him. ” . . .  you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).

. . . In Christ Jesus all my needs will be provided for.  “And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

. . . In Christ Jesus God’s peace will guard my heart and mind.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

. . . In Christ Jesus I have eternal life.  “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 3:23).

. . . In Christ Jesus I will be bodily raised from the dead when he comes again.  ” . . . for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.  But each in his own order:  Christ the first fruits, then at his coming, those who belong to Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:22,23).

I have more to give thanks for than my mind can contain–even when my “light and momentary afflictions” seem heavy and endless.  But giving thanks in all circumstances doesn’t sound so fanatical now–not when I ponder what I have “in Christ Jesus”.  It makes my heart sing in prayerful, joyful thanksgiving!  Lois and I wish you a rejoicing Thanksgiving! In Christ Jesus.



Remnant . . . Plus

How could we trust God’s promises to his church (8:18-39), if God’s word to Israel had failed?  It had, right?  Look!  The majority of Israel is cut off from her promised Messiah.

But in Romans 9-11 Paul is arguing that God’s word hadn’t failed.

He  pictures God as a longing, rejected lover . . .

“All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people” (Romans 10:21; from Deuteronomy 32:21).

He rephrases the has-God’s-word-failed question . . .

“I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel?  ‘Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars; I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.’ But what is the divine reply to him? ‘I have kept for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’  So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.  But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (11:1-6).

“By no means” has God rejected obstinate Israel!  No matter how it seems! For starters,  Paul himself is an Israelite!  Furthermore, as in the days of Elijah, “ . . . at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.”  Within national, Messiah-rejecting Israel lives a “chosen-by-grace” Israel whom God has kept for himself.

“God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.”   God knew from eternity those he would choose and to whom he would give saving faith.  Those Israelites God has not rejected.

But God didn’t choose them “on the basis of works” .  He chose them “by grace”.  Ethnic identity.  Circumcision.  Possessing and living by the law.  None qualifies a Jew to belong to the chosen remnant.  Only God’s grace.  Only God’s unmerited kindness.

”What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, ‘God gave them a sluggish spirit, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.’ And David says, ‘Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and keep their backs forever bent’” (11:7-10).

“Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking” . . . “Because they did not strive for it on the basis of faith, but as if it were based on works” (9:32a). 

“ . . . the rest (other than the elect among Israel) were hardened”.  The Greek, poro-o, refers to a judicial act of God by which he gives unbelievers a closed mind because they have refused to listen.

“ . . .sluggish spirit . . . “  denotes a senseless, “deep sleep”  mental condition. Thus, Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 29:10) and David’s pronouncement (Psalm 69:22,23) are fulfilled in them.  All this has come upon national Israel.

Is this the end?

“So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their stumbling salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their stumbling means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry in order to make my own people jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead!” (11:11-15).

Much of the rest of the chapter Paul directs to the Gentiles at Rome.  Apparently, in that church Gentiles were bragging about their status as God’s people versus so many Jews who had “stumbled”.

True, admits Paul, Israel failed to do God’s will when Messiah came.  But by no means “to fall”!  No, they’re not utterly ruined before God, like someone who falls to a violent death.

God has brought good out of bad.   Israel stumbled and disbelieved Messiah.  Consequently,  the apostles (Paul in particular) turned to Gentiles with the gospel.  How that makes Israel “jealous” is unclear.  But Israel’s “stumbling”/”defeat” means the riches of the gospel is being taken to the Gentile world.

Since that’s so, “how much more will [Israel’s] full inclusion mean!”  The Greek is playroma—used of what is brought to its desired end, here “fulfillment”.  Paul uses the word again in 11:25—“until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.”

Paul makes much of his ministry, so many Gentiles will come to faith, and Jews will be jealous and so some will be saved.  But the apostle to the Gentiles can’t forget his own kindred; he longs for them to believe (9:1-5; 10:1).

Paul seems to see his longing fulfilled.   Israel’s “rejection (of Messiah) is the reconciliation of the world (that is, people from among every language and nation)”; but “what will their acceptance (by God by their faith in Messiah Jesus) be but life from the dead?”

Douglas Moo (Professor of New Testament, Wheaton Graduate School) comments–

“The implication in this case, would be that to the present remnant there will be added a much greater number of Jewish believers so as to ‘fill up’ the number of Jews destined for salvation.”

I take “life from the dead” to mean that a great number of Jewish believers will pass from spiritual death to life.  Others reason this way:  once the full number of Gentiles come in, the full number of Israel will, and then the end-time resurrection will come.

So, does Paul see a greater harvest of believers among Israel?  Apparently so.  How that will occur and when and how many isn’t explained.  Paul, however, certainly implies that God’s people in Christ will include many more from Israel than now.

God’s word hasn’t failed (9:6a)! Not only because he made his promises to true IsraelNot only because in Paul’s day, until now, a remnant of Israel believes.  But also because God’s promises will reach greater fulfillment among Israel by God’s choice and Israel’s faith.  Ultimately, he will save a remnant–plus.

* * *

If you’ve read to this point, you may be asking, “So what?”  One “what” is this.

You may be like me–caught in the middle of a mystery.  What is God doing?  How can this possibly be a good thing that conforms me more to the likeness of Christ?   Why does God seem silent?  Has God forgotten his promises?

God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform . . .



Music Memories

I’m sitting at my computer writing a blog.  Christian instrumental music plays in the background.  Suddenly, my creaky memory kicks in:  we used to worship with many of these songs when I pastored SonRise Community Church. (not counting the occasional commercial mixed in here).

I sat back.  And remembered.  I can hear us (the worship team playing).  I can hear the congregation singing.  I remembered with gratitude.  With longing (how I wish for those days!).  My voice can’t sing along anymore.  But my soul can–and does.

I send this 1 hour 45 minutes of music, so you can join me, even if just briefly.  Prayer with words is good, with music better.  Meditation with quietness is rich, with music sometimes richer.  Praise with words brings joy, with music joy its full of glory.

Maybe this will bring you, too, music memories . . .


Incomprehensibility and No Excuse

Excuse:  attempt to escape blame.   In Romans 10:14-21 Paul addresses Israel’s possible excuses for not believing in Jesus as Messiah.  Incomprehensibility:  the doctrine that finite humans are unable to fully understand God.  I’ll explain its place in this text below.

Paul ended his previous paragraph with this quote from Joel 2:32–“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (10:13).

Paul begins his next paragraph by raising rhetorical questions, which Israel might use for not calling on the name of the Lord (Jesus).


“But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (10:14,15).

 If no one was sent and no one proclaimed, so that no one heard and could not believe and call, excuses would be valid.  However, in the next two verses Paul implies the message has rung out, but did not meet with faith.

“But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’ So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ” (10:16,17).

“Submit” (as in 10:3) might be a better translation of hupopaso, since “obey” often connotes the idea of good works. In any case, Paul tells the church at Rome, that the good new has been proclaimed, but with mixed results.

So faith (obedience, submission) comes from what is heard through the word of Christ.  Charles Spurgeon said . . .

“Faith cannot be washed into us by immersion, nor sprinkled upon us in christening; it is not to be poured into us from a chalice, nor generated in us by a consecrated piece of bread. There is no magic about it; it comes by hearing the word of God, and by that way only.”

Paul now returns to Israel’s unbelief in the promised Messiah.  And, despite God choosing recipients of his mercy, lays the blame for unbelief at Israel’s feet . . .

“But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have; for ‘Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.’ Again I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, ‘I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.’ Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, ‘I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.’ But of Israel he says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people’” (10:18-21).

 Israel heard.  Paul quotes from Psalm 19, where God’s existence is heard throughout all creation. Paul here means that the gospel is being proclaimed “everywhere”, and Israel has heard it.

But did they not understand it?  Paul quotes Deuteronomy 32:31 where the Lord through Moses predicts he will make Israel jealously angry “with a foolish nation.”  He’s preparing for what he will say about Gentiles in chapter 10.

Then he quotes the Lord speaking through Isaiah (Isaiah 65:1)—the Lord will be found by those not looking for him (Gentiles).

Finally he refers to Isaiah 65:2. The Lord had been patient and tolerant with Israel, but Israel remained “disobedient and contrary”.

So, Israel is without excuse.  The nation has had more than enough knowledge in order to believe.  But, despite the Lord’s pleas, she is “a disobedient and contrary people.”  No excuse.  We have none either, if we refuse to act in faith on what we know.


But how can national Israel be liable for rejecting the Messiah, if God hadn’t chosen her to believe?  The question nags at me.  I know I can never fully understand even one single thing about God.  He is incomprehensible.  But this seems totally illogical.

Nor is this just a matter of “theology”.  I don’t understand God’s ways with my health.  Why primary lateral sclerosis?  Why, on top of that (literally), melanoma?  I’m reminded of Scripture texts, such as . . .

“Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom” (Psalm 145:3).

“Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure” (Psalm 147:5).

“Such knowledge (of God) is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain” (Psalm 139:6).

When it comes to fully understanding God’s ways, I have only two options:  (1) reject his Word as irrational, or (2) humble myself before him and trust though I don’t understand.

I chose #2 and will echo these words . . .

O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
‘For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?’
‘Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?’
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever. Amen.
–Romans 11:33-36





Being Renewed

“Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16b). 

I’ve pondered this verse, because my outer nature is wasting away.  The Greek, diathiero, is used of a moth slowly consuming clothing (Luke 12:33).  And here of my body becoming increasingly weak.  I loathe it, of course. It always rages in my mind.  I’m facing death, however far off it may be.  And the thought of leaving my beloved Lois and my family behind makes me sob with sorrow.

But I want to think about my “inner nature”.  Paul says it is “being renewed day by day.”  The Greek is anakaino-o, referring to causing something to be made new and better.

Paul uses it in Romans 12:2—“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Again in Colossians 3:9.10—”Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.”  And in Ephesians 4:22,23—”You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds . . . “

In each case “renewed” is passive.  Being made new and better on the inside is something done to us.  One can argue that we are not passive, that we participate—and I won’t disagree.  But Paul implies that the force doing it is greater than both our participation and the wasting away of our outer nature.

“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17,18).

We’re familiar with Paul’s affliction, most of it the result of his preaching the gospel (both persecution and travel-dangers), some of it physical illness.  To call it “light” seems a gross understatement; but he’s comparing it with eternal glory (“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us”—Romans 8:18).

What’s incredible about his statement here is this:  light, momentary affliction is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory”.  The Greek is katergaomy—“producing, achieving, accomplishing”.

God the Holy Spirit is actually using our affliction to produce for us an exceedingly great eternal weight of glory.

Does Paul mean the greater the affliction the greater the weight of glory?  That’s unclear.  But this much is certain:  not one hour of affliction is to be wasted;  God will use all of it in the renewing process toward glory.

And this production-process is occurring right now!  “ . . . our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”  

“ . . . . while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen . . . “The Greek says only, “looking not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.”  Paul isn’t saying our looking makes the inner renewal happen, but that the inner renewal makes the looking happen.  Day by day the Holy Spirit is turning my eyes off my outer wasting away and onto my inner renewal working toward an eternal weight of glory.

Of course, I can (and do at times) resist.  He tenderly takes my chin and lifts my head toward the unseen—and I force my eyes back.  Down instead of up.  Outer instead of inner.  Seen instead of unseen.  Light, momentary affliction instead of eternal glory.

Nevertheless, the inner renewal process continues unabated . “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit”  (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Of course, it’s to my benefit to look at “the things which are not seen”.  Fixing my eyes on my weakening body is depressing, even frightening.  But fixing my eyes on inner renewal is hopeful, even comforting and joyful.

So, it’s to that, by God’s grace, I will look.  Not so much to the “eternal weight of glory”.  For that is more than I can see, beyond what my mind can take in.  Even as my body wastes away a bit more, I will look today to my “inner nature being renewed”. I can’t really grasp that either.  But to know God is actually at work in me, creating something new and better–well, that’s exciting and full-of-wonder.

How great is God’s grace!  Even while I’m complaining about my body growing weaker, he’s making me new and better on the inside.  And someday that process will climax in an “explosion” of an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure!

So, old man, smile!  You’re being made new right now!









Christ–End of the Law

God’s promises are extraordinary.  Take just two from promise-rich Romans 8. The glory about to be revealed to us will be incomparably greater than present sufferings (8:18).  Nothing in all creation can ever separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord (8:38,39).

But suppose God’s word had failed before?  How could we trust his promises to us now?

This is what makes Romans 9-11 so important to us.  And why we must understand God’s ways, as much as humanly possible.

Remember the problem Paul addresses in those chapters:  Israel, upon whom God lavished privilege after privilege (all pointing to the Messiah), rejected the Messiah and were, consequently, cut off from him.

What happened to all those promises?  Israel didn’t get what God had promised!  Had God’s word to Israel failed?  “By no means!” shouts Paul.  Because “It is through Isaac that [Abraham’s] descendants shall be named . . . it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise . . . “ (9:7,8).  That means that within national Israel lived true Israel.  To them God made those promises.  And to them God was keeping them.  God chose to “ . . . have mercy on whom [he would] have mercy” (9:15).  And that includes Gentiles!  Good for us, huh?

“Well then, what shall we say about these things? Just this: The Gentiles have been made right with God by faith, even though they were not seeking him. But the Jews, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded.  Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law and being good instead of by depending on faith. They stumbled over the great rock in their path. God warned them of this in the Scriptures (Isa. 28:16) when he said, ‘I am placing a stone in Jerusalem that causes people to stumble, and a rock that makes them fall. But anyone who believes in him will not be disappointed’” (9:30-33, New Living Translation).

Gentiles, not seeking God, have been made right with God by faith.  Jews, who tried hard to get right with God by keeping law, failed.  Why?  Because they didn’t seek the righteousness that comes by faith.  So they “stumbled” over Jesus Messiah—the one to whom God’s promises pointed and the one in whom Abraham’s line through Isaac culminated.  He was crucified—crucified!—in abject weakness as the sacrifice for their (and our) sins.  But they thought they didn’t need a Savior. They were building their own righteousness by trying to keep God’s laws. So, they stumbled and fell in unbelief. 

Yet, Paul still longs for their salvation and admires their zeal, even though it’s enthusiasm without true knowledge of how to be right with God . . .

“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I can testify that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness” (10:1-3).

. . . . submitted”—interesting word-choice.  He could have written “received God’s righteousness”.  But he wrote “submitted”, maybe because receiving God’s righteousness requires humility, a confession that, no matter how hard we try, we cannot keep God’s law and be declared righteous.

“For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (10:4).

“ . . . end” is English for the Greek telos. Three meanings are possible.  Christ is the goal of the law—the One to whom the law is intended to bring us (Galatians 3:23-26).  Christ is the termination of the law—the One who ends the Law Covenant and ushers in the Covenant of Grace (Romans 6:4; 7:4).

But this is best:  Christ is the fulfillment of the law (“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill”–Matthew 5:17).  Jesus perfectly obeyed every law of the Father.  Therefore, he can impute his righteousness “for everyone who believes”. 

This leads Paul to contrast “the righteousness that comes from law” with that which comes by faith in Christ.

“Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that ‘the person who does these things will live by them.’ But the righteousness that comes from faith says, ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” (that is, to bring Christ down) or “Who will descend into the abyss?'” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (10:5-9).

Pastor (Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City) Sam Storms comments . . .

“Paul’s point seems to be that even the Law itself proclaimed salvation by faith and not by works. Salvation is not a matter of searching high and low or of working to win God’s favor. God has already made provision for us in Christ Jesus. We do not have to scale the heights of heaven to procure it: Christ Jesus has already come down from heaven with it. We do not have to descend into the depths to bring it up: Christ Jesus has descended into death and has been raised on our behalf. In other words, salvation is not a matter of performing some magnificent physical deed. It is already here, present and available. All one need do is believe.”

Righteousness by law-keeping requires actually doing all the law’s commands.  I’m not certain exactly what Paul means by citing Deuteronomy 30:11-14.  But this much is clear:  righteousness by faith doesn’t demand herculean effort on our part.  Still citing Deuteronomy 30:11-14, Paul writes “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart”—then identifies that word as “the word of faith that we proclaim”.

We’re saved by confessing “the word of faith””.  One, that “Jesus is Lord”.  Two, believing in our heart that “God raised him from the dead”.

When we proclaim “Jesus is Lord”, we’re acknowledging that he is God (the Son), the one who possesses absolute sovereign authority over everything and everyone. When we proclaim “God raised him from the dead”, we’re declaring that he conquered death and that his death was accepted by God as sufficient payment for all our sins.

“For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’” (10:10-13).

This is the mercy God sovereignly lavishes on those he chooses.  A mercy that results in salvation from his rightful wrath and in righteousness, not by our efforts at being good, but by believing God’s Word is true.

Paul bolsters his argument with two Scriptures.  The first, from Isaiah 28:16, reminds us that God will do everything he said he would.  We won’t be put to shame for trusting him.  The second, from Joel 2:32, reminds us that we must express our faith by calling on him, and “all who call on him” reminds us that the “saved” will be people from every “tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

* * *

“God wants us to be good.”  That’s what most people think.  But how can we know if we’re good enough?  That’s why “Christ is the end of the law” is such good news.  He says to everyone (including you and me) who try so hard to be good by keeping his laws . . .

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30, NRS).

“Christ is the end of the law”–
the end of our trying to be good enough,
the end where we can rest in his righteousness,
and receive his glorious promises.






Angry at God?

Tuesday I lay on a narrow strip of  table inside a PET Scan machine.  In I slid.   I was in this tube because last week the dermatologist’s nurse phoned with my biopsy result:  “Malignant melanoma”.

Not what I wanted to hear. I’ve had a spot on my bald head for years.  A decade and a-half ago, another dermatologist told me it was an “age spot”.  In the last month, a small bump formed. The dermatologist removed it for biopsy.  Melanoma.

Besides the extent of cancer (which we won’t know until Monday), the PET Scan tested my endurance.  Ninety minutes.  In a tube with my nose almost touching the top.  Lying still.  Every five minutes the table slid out–six inches.  I counted minutes.  Prayed.  Tried to sleep (nope).  Fantasized about food (only 2 eggs at six a.m. and it was noon).  Thankfully I was in feet-first, so my head escaped first.  Then came a brief (thankfully) CT Scan.

The PET Scan will show the cancer’s extent.  At this point, to me, all outcomes seem bad.  Only if the test shows nothing (because the Lord drove out the caner), will it be good.

But, why was I on that table  at all?  I’m a child of the King!

Honestly?  Some days I feel like I’m left to suffer like an orphan.

To make matters worse, “cancer” has suddenly shown up everywhere–in books, on TV shows, on the Internet and in conversations.  For example, among the books I’m reading is, Same Kind of Different as Me. It’s  an entertaining read until the husband’s wife dies of cancer at a young age.  After the funeral and burial, he writes . . .

“My fear gave way to anger, and I had plenty to go around.  But as I fired arrows of blame—at the doctors, the pharmaceutical industry, cancer researchers–clearly the bull’s eye was God.  It was he who ripped a gaping and irreparable hole in my heart. Without a gun or mask he robbed me of my wife and stole my children’s mother and my grandchildren’s grandmother.  I had trusted him, and he failed me.

“How do you forgive that?” (p. 203).

I identified.  I’ve found anger rising in me.   After all, isn’t Primary Lateral Sclerosis, with all its rotten symptoms, enough?  Now melanoma.  Like husband, Ron, “I had trusted [God], and he failed me.”  Angry?  I’m ashamed to admit it.

Some say it’s a sin, like John Piper . . .

“ . . . being angry at God is never right. It is wrong – always wrong – to disapprove of God for what he does and permits. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25). It is arrogant for finite, sinful creatures to disapprove of God for what he does and permits. We may weep over the pain. We may be angry at sin and Satan. But God does only what is right. “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments” (Revelation 16:7).

I add to that Paul’s rebuke quoted in my last blog . . .

“But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? ‘Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?'” {20 Isaiah 29:16; 45:9}

Okay.  Disapproving of “what God does and permits “, “talking back to God”,  is arrogant.  But what about my feelings?  Should I pretend I’m content when I’m shaking my fist?  And what about the psalmists?  I always assumed their “why” questions came from desperation.  But, couldn’t they be expressing anger?

“Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1).

“How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?” (Psalm 13:1,2).

“Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?” (Psalm 44:23,24).

“Why have you rejected us forever, O God? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?” (Psalm 74:1).

“Why, O LORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me?” (Psalm 88:14).

Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe the psalmists are  just despondent.  Maybe the psalms’ contexts rule out anger.  It’s still hard for me to think that, when  boldly expressing emotions in suffering,  these psalmists don’t have a bit of anger mixed in.

In any case, there are days when my anger rises.  Piper tells me what to do with it . . .

“But if we do experience the sinful emotion of anger at God, what then? Shall we add the sin of hypocrisy to the sin of anger? No. If we feel it, we should confess it to God. He knows it anyway. He sees our hearts. If anger at God is in our heart, we may as well tell him so, and then tell him we are sorry, and ask him to help us put it away by faith in his goodness and wisdom.”

So:  that’s what I’ve got to do.  Tell God I’m angry at him for allowing another affliction.  Then tell him I’m sorry and ask his help to get rid of anger by faith in his goodness and wisdom

By the way, Tuesday, for this old body, was a wearying one.  But I had my beautiful wife and daughter, Missy, with me.  They brought smiles and laughter and support.  They helped get me into and out of our truck, out of my wheelchair and onto the narrow PET Scan table, off that and back into my wheelchair,  out onto the CT Scan table and back  into my wheelchair, and finally out of the chair and into the house!  A herculean task when I have no strength in my legs!

And the Holy Spirit’s presence surrounded me though it all.

Plus, my stomach outweighed (no pun intended) my weariness:  after the test ordeal, we stopped at Cracker Barrel for a meal I long-wanted–“Momma’s French Toast Breakfast.”  We often stopped at a Cracker Barrel on vacation trips; so it brought back warm memories (and momentarily alleviated my anger).  But this prayer is still needed . . .

“Lord, cancer is too much on top of PLS.  How could you allow it?  I confess I’m angry..  And I’m sorry for it.  Please help me get rid of it by faith in your goodness and wisdom, which has always blessed my life.  Amen.”





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