Thoughts on Romans 11:11-12

Paul writes in Romans 11:11-12 (NIV),

“Again I ask: Did they (Israel) stumble so as to fall beyond recovery?  Not at all!  Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.  But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!”

In this passage, Paul is asking if Israel, or more specifically, the Jewish people, have fallen so far that they do not have an opportunity to return to the Lord.  Paul adamantly states, “Not at all!”  This is amazing news for Israel (even today) and is monumental evidence for advocates of free will everywhere , but it’s the verse after this that I would like to draw our attention to at the moment. In the second part of verse 11, Paul reveals that it is because of the transgression of the Jews that salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel jealous.

Although subtle, this verse reveals much needed clarity regarding the sovereignty of God.

In the church today, there exists an idea that everything that happens is a direct result of God’s divine choosing.  The extreme adherents to this idea preach a message that nullifies man’s freewill and argues that God is the puppet master behind all of the outcomes of our life.  If this were so, one would expect Paul to say that God was divinely orchestrating the outcome of both Jews and Gentiles, but he doesn’t.  Paul instead reveals that it was “because of their transgression” that an opportunity for salvation was presented to the Gentiles.  Their transgression…not God’s divine choosing, not God’s sovereign will, but their choice, their sin, and their will.  This is important.

First, it shows us that we play a major part in the outcome of our lives.  In a world where it seems that most try to shrug off their responsibility, the Bible is reminding us that our actions, decisions, and will matter – immensely!  Second, it shows us that God loves Israel so much that he constantly leaves the door open for their return.  But it doesn’t stop there – he loves us that much too!  Like the prodigal son, we may wander away, but the Father never stops watching for us, waiting for us, and hoping that we might come to the end of ourselves and return.

What are you choosing today?  Are you choosing life?  Are you moving in a direction that is going to lead you into greater blessing, understanding, fullness, and joy 0r are you chasing after your own desires, temporal gratifications, and short lived pleasures?

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Is God Rigging the Election?

“God is in control,” shouted one church-going woman recently in a conversation about politics when a man suggested that someone other than her candidate might win the election due to millions of Christians’ lack of political involvement.  But is she right?  Is God really in control?  And if this statement is true, then what does it really mean?  Is the election rigged…by God?  Are our efforts in voting, campaigning, and sharing our various political platforms meaningless and unfruitful?  Does the real outcome on November 8 belong not to the American people, nor corrupt politicians, but really to God Almighty?

If you ask many Christians, I think they may answer yes.  But is this what the Bible says?

As I mention in my book,   Good God ; The One We Want To Believe In But Are Afraid To Embrace, the Bible never states ‘God is in control’.  Rather, the Bible portrays a world where personal responsibility matters and where humankind receives the fruit of the seeds that we plant.  But this biblical truth of personal responsibility is often eclipsed by what I refer to as “the doctrine of the extreme sovereignty of God.”  And although the idea that

HEMPSTEAD, NY - Democratic Nominee for President of the United States former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Republican Nominee for President of the United States Donald Trump meet for their first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York on Monday September 26, 2016. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

“God is in control” has become a normal way of viewing God, it sadly leaves people to assume that everything that happens in the world, including the outcome of elections, was either approved by God or directly caused by our heavenly Father.

The reality is that the doctrine of extreme sovereignty is birthed out of convenience.  If everything that happens is “God’s will”, then it’s easy to divert the attention off our personal shortcomings, or political apathy, and chalk up the outcome of life, and the upcoming election, to God’s master plan.  I suggest that this is exactly the line of thinking which has allowed and perpetuated the current anti-Christian culture and lack of biblical values in our society.  Christian apathy in political participation has resulted in the passage of unconstitutional laws, which have unduly and illegally separated church and State.  Christians have falsely concluded regardless if they get involved in the political process, the outcome is divinely rigged.  Whatever God wills will happen.

Because of this, corruption has thrived, values have become distorted, and all the while the church is mostly silent – after all, God is sovereign.

Or is he?

Some might be surprised to discover that the word sovereign never appears in the King James Version of the Bible.  While it is found over three hundred times in the Old Testament of the New International Version – as in “sovereign God” – it is simply used a moniker equivalent to what is translated in the King James Version as “Lord God.”  In fact, never in one instance, even in the New International Version, is “sovereign” used to describe God in the sense of “controlling everything”.

With regard to politics, some would argue that Romans 13 definitely substantiates the idea that God is responsible for “establishing all authorities”.

However, the Message bible shines some additional light on the meaning of Romans 13:1-3 which reads,

Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it’s God’s order. So live responsibly as a citizen. If you’re irresponsible to the state, then you’re irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible. Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you’re trying to get by with something. Decent citizens should have nothing to fear.

Another translation (J.B. Philips bible) provides additional insight by stating “all legitimate authority is derived from God’s authority”.

Paul never intended this passage to be a blanket endorsement from God for all those who are in power.  He simply stated that legitimate authority comes from God.  This isn’t referring to particular candidates and specific individuals, as if every politician has been hand selected by God, but rather it’s speaking to the benefit of the rule of law, and how godly laws help protect society from an infestation of evil and those who participate in it.

Some might attempt to prove God’s hand in the political process by referencing Old Testament passages in the Bible that mention God appointing certain men to be rulers in the Old Testament, like King David, Jeroboam, or even the prophet Jeremiah.

But we have to take note that these men were in a nation that actually recognized God’s directives and leadings.  Israel, when they weren’t in rebellion, gave God a say in the governance of their nation and, as a result, God’s voice was often heard and the people affirmed his leading through their acceptance of his choice.  Today is no different, throughout the earth, God is still preparing and elevating people to lead and govern, but this doesn’t mean that every nation always accepts his choice or acknowledges his plan.  In fact, a perfect example of this would be 1 Samuel chapter 8, where Israel demands that Samuel appoint a king over the people.  In this instance, the people rejected God’s form of government for the nation, and instead forced Samuel to appoint a king for the people – a king who’s reign was full of lies and ended in corruption and rebellion against God, I might add.

God’s will for Israel was originally rejected, causing him to pivot and eventually give the people what they wanted – an earthly king.  But think of all of the pain and hardship that could have been avoided, however, if Israel had sought God’s plan for their country from the beginning.  How many lives would have been spared?  How many wars would have been avoided?  We may never know, but what we do know, is that the people played a role in the outcome of the nation.  The same is true today.

We stand at the crossroads of one of the most important elections our country has ever had.  The media wants us to believe that it is a circus and a laughingstock, yet the potential results are anything but funny.  The next president will most likely appoint three or more Supreme Court justices who will define the rule of law regarding moral and social issues like abortion, sexual identity, and religious freedom.  In addition, they will be at the forefront of perhaps one of the greatest oppositions that this country (and perhaps the world) has ever faced – radical Islamic terror.  Who stands in office matters.  Your vote matters.  Your political involvement matters.  There is no separation of church and State, because the church is filled with individual private citizens with a right to vote, speak out, and be involved.  Should we do so in love and respect?  Absolutely!  But whatever we do, let us not for one second succumb to the lie that God is in control of the outcome of this election or any election for that matter – because God doesn’t rig elections and he loves mankind enough to allow us the freedom to decide our future, our politicians, and the outcome of our nation.

What will you decide?

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The Flea and the Acrobat: A Spiritual Lesson in Stranger Things

(Spoiler Alert – Stranger Things Season 1 Details Below)

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On the Netflix hit series, Stranger Things, an over-eager middle school science professor, Mr. Clarke, explains to three of his young pupils about the nature of dimensional travel. He reveals that our current dimension is like a tight rope and mankind is like an acrobat carefully walking the line. Limited by our nature, we are only able to walk across the line in a single direction. But he reveals that a smaller creature, like a flea, might be able to walk along the line, moving freely, forward and backward, and even “upside down”, where it would then enter a sub-dimension. But that’s a flea? What about humans? Humans, according to Mr. Clarke, could only ever experience this “upside down” sub-dimension if there was some tremendous release of energy that opened a portal to this other world.

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Hmm, that’s interesting.

This morning while studying I read Ephesians 2:6 that reveals that “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus”. This got me thinking.

In the beginning, God created us in a world of perfection; that we know as the Garden of Eden (or the top side of the tight rope). But when we fell, a tremendous amount of energy was released, and we were forced through a portal into a lesser reality – a sub-natural existence, much like the upside down world of Stranger Things.

Sadly though, upside down begins to feel “right” after you’ve stayed that way for so long, so that now many who are still trapped in this upside down post-fall world are unaware that they aren’t right side up. I’m confident that even for the believer, as we finally enter into the full reality of eternal life, that only then will we realize how very sub-natural we actually were.

But according to Ephesians, we don’t need to wait until we die to enter this world. For the believer, we are there now – seated with Him! Through the power of the resurrection, a new and living portal was reopened by which all who believe on the name of the Lord Jesus may pass freely from darkness into light. What an awesome truth! (And a pretty cool comparison for all of the Stranger Things geeks out there like me.)

What do you think?  Any other connections between Stranger Things and faith?

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The Greatest Display of Jesus’ Obedience to God

One of the greatest displays of Jesus’ obedience to God is witnessed in his continued faithfulness to God despite mass rejection from his disciples and followers after he taught that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”  Shortly after Jesus fed the five thousand in John 6, we read that he traveled across the lake to Capernaum where he began to teach his disciples and the crowds that gathered about “the Bread of Life”.  His words offended the masses and caused a great number of them to abandon him.

Jesus went from ministering at one of his largest and most successful meetings ever to losing the majority of his followers in one 24 hr time period.  From a human standpoint, this would be reason to quit.  His reputation was tarnished, most likely  his funding dried up, and he had every reason to give up himself, but he didn’t.  He kept going, rooted in the knowledge of who he was, and the importance of the call that was on his life.

I love what he asks his 12 disciples, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”  But Peter’s response is perhaps even better.  He says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Not sure what you are going through in your life or if you feel like giving up, but I want to encourage you to look to Jesus.  He was rejected, abandoned, dismissed, cast aside, and eventually killed, but he kept going.  He didn’t quit and he refused to allow anyone else to dictate his place, position, and passion to follow God with his life.

You got this.  Better yet, HE’s got you!

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Why America is in love with the doctrine of God’s Sovereignty.

In my book, Good God:  The One We Want To Believe In But Are Afraid To Embrace, I tackle one of the most widely held false notions about God – his sovereignty.

For some time the church has held to this idea that God is divinely controlling all things – the bad and the good – and that our lives are the result of his choice, will, and dominion.  Although this might sound spiritual, it’s actually a form of Gnostic teaching and rooted in pagan mythology.  The Gnostics believed that “god” was both light and dark; that is that he embodied both good and evil.  In fact, they taught that the father was “dark” and the son was “light” and that the son came to save us from the father.  This is why John writes in 1 John 1:5, “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”  This would have been revolutionary to the Gnostic people.  John proclaimed that the God of the true gospel is all light and that there is no darkness – no confusion, nothing hidden, no ill intention.  From his biblical understanding, in Christianity, we understand that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all one in the same – God in three persons.  Gnosticism taught their separate identities, much like the various deities that dwelt together on the Greek’s Mt Olympus.

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Today, this Gnostic teaching, has resurfaced in Western theology through the doctrine of extreme sovereignty.  I believe one of the reasons why sovereignty teaching (and hyper-Calvinism) is so attractive is because of its removal of personal responsibility on the life of the believer.  As Christians, many are frustrated today by the continual devaluation of personal responsibility in our society.  According to today’s world, crime is due to guns and not criminals, sexual perversion is due to nature and not sin, the list goes on and on.  So removed is the idea of personal responsibility that in several countries in Europe pedophiles actually received disability benefits.   But it’s important that we see that this loss of personal responsibility does not exist only in the world today – it’s also in the church.  Through the doctrine of sovereignty, adherents distance themselves from the power of their own decisions and behavior, by claiming things like God “has them in this season”, “is leading them through a desert time”, or “trying to teach them something”.  Cloaked in spiritual language, religious minded individuals unable to come to grip with their own depravity, cling to the idea that God is in control of the outcome of their lives, and hide from the reality that, outside of the impact of others’ freewill and the result of a fallen world, their lives are the summation of the choices they make.

This is the exact same belief system that Job was rebuked for in the last chapter of the book of Job.  Job, a man who faced massive amounts of suffering and loss, mistakenly thought that God was the source of his pain.  Job, overconfident in his own righteousness, was unable to see how his fear and pride (two of the biggest themes in the book of Job) affected his life.  He was also completely unaware of the existence of Satan.  Job saw all things (light and dark/good and evil) as existing in the Godhead and would rather blame God than himself, nature, or the enemy.  But in the end of the book, upon finally seeing God face-to-face, Job saw the error of his ways, repents and says, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.  You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’  My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

In reality, God’s goodness is displayed in the freedom to choose that he bestows upon his children.  Personal responsibility should actually empower us, not condemn us.  When we realize that God is not the cause of our pain, it frees us to draw near to him, rely on his grace, and seek his guidance in our life.  If the problems of life are God’s will for us, what hope do we have?  But if God is really “for me”, then I can stand firm, resist the enemy’s advances, and walk in victory.  This doesn’t mean that bad things will never happen, but if and when they do, I can rest in the knowledge that God is not the source of my pain.

Theology is simple, “If it’s good, it’s God. If it’s not, it’s not.”

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Sparks and Seeds

I had an opportunity to talk about some challenges in my life recently with a close friend of mine.  Like many of you, I wanted them to validate all of my insecurities, agree with all of my self-focused opinions, and just all-around tell me what I wanted to hear.  But they didn’t.  Instead they listened, they asked questions, they didn’t always feel the need to response to every question I asked, and at times, they just let the weight of what I shared hang there so that I could hear what I was saying.

Man, was it frustrating.  But man was it beautiful.hand-holding-oat-seeds-thumb11587108

In the end, instead of validated or vindicated, I just felt peaceful.  I realized that many of the things I felt like I needed, I didn’t require, but they helped me see and reminder, that God is my source and supply in those areas, and that my trust is in him, and not my job, my career, my businesses, my family, or friends.

That conversation reminded me of some wise words that a mentor of mine once shared.  “Words are like seeds,” he shared.  Continuing he added, “Every word that is spoken will either produce life or death.  The job of a good friend is to catch them, and help you sort them, to ensure that seeds of life are planted in your heart, and that words of death are dealt with and discarded.”

As I grow older, friendship like this means more and more.

On the contrary, I heard a story once about two friends that accidentally set a field on fire while playing with fireworks.  It was just a small spark -but under the right conditions, the right environment – it Field_in_Fire_by_Yolenzogrew into a blaze of destruction.

I’ve had conversations that blew up like that field did too.  Sharing words before I’ve had time to process how I really feel, saying things out of frustration, or jumping to conclusions or judgments without giving the other person time to articulate their thoughts are all words that behave like that small spark.  It might not seem like a big deal at the time, but left alone and not addressed, these words can grow into a field of frustration, disappointment, and burnt bridges.

It may sound simple, but we all have a choice.  Are we going to be seed catchers or fire starters?

 

 

 

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Cuba, Communism, and Codependency

Obama landed in Cuba this week and, as such, is the first US President to set foot in the country since Calvin Coolidge in 1928.  His trip included attending a baseball game with the Cuban president, as well as holding a live press conference alongside the Communist leader, taking turns sharing applause and grievances for life in both countries.

But contrary to Obama’s public admonition prior to leaving Cuba that our two countries should abandon the “last remnants of the Cold War”, the president’s actions in Cuba this week did not mark the end of the effects of the Cold War, but rather continued the already sliding progression of which side of the war against Communism our nation sits.

This was perhaps best seen in the President’s response to Castro’s criticism against the lack of social services our country provides it’s people.  Castro stated that it is “inconceivable that a government does not defend and secure the right to health care, equal pay and the rights of children.”  Instead of seizing the opportunity to encourage their nation to explore individual freedoms and personal responsibility (encouraging a move toward democracy), Obama followed this up with, “In [Castro’s] view, making sure that everybody is getting a decent education or health care, has basic security in old age, that those things are human rights as well. I personally would not disagree with him.”

It’s easy to hear comments like this and miss the real nature of the issues.  I want us to understand what this is really all about.

It’s about determining the source of our hope.

From a faith standpoint, socialism and communism look to the nation itself to do what only God can. It’s a misplaced hope and it can never produce the utopia that we are promised. While the world is hailing the uniting of two nations, I believe we should grieve for the continued and unnecessary distance that we are placing between God and man.

In Genesis 11, Nimrod wrongly commissioned the building of the Tower of Babel to fortify the people against God (in case he would decide to send another global flood) and as a result, Nimrod led the people to depend upon himself and the strength of the tower, rather than to depend upon God to meet their needs.  This is the nature of Socialism and the Communist State; a misled reliance on the institution to try to do for the people, what only God can do.

It’s time we wake up America.  This isn’t about politics, it’s about placing our trust together as one people under God.  This is our only hope for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

 

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