June 28, 2010


The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocableRomans 11.29

There are few things, in this fickle world of ours, that are irrevocable. Doctors can have their certification stripped. Ministers can be defrocked (many times rightfully so!). Drivers can have their licenses taken away. Pensions that were supposed to last a lifetime suddenly vanish. Marriages often dissolve as fast as March snow. And now, even some children are being granted ‘divorces’ from their parents! And, therefore, it is wonderful news to find out that something out there is not revocable; that someone, somewhere really is going to be faithful to the end. And that is, of course, exactly what we have – not only in Romans 11.29, but in all of the Bible. God does not turn back on His promises. He does not revoke His purposes. He never has to start over from scratch. “The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.”

Now, of course, Paul says this in the context of several paragraphs in which he has been arguing that God has not forgotten the Jewish people. He called them to Himself in times of old. And now, though so many of them have turned away from Him, He has not forgotten them. There will, again, be a mighty and soul-saving work amongst the Jewish people (see v.26). That is mainly what Paul has in mind when he writes that “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” But verse 29 is not limited to a Jewish application. He does not say that God’s gift (singular) to the Jews is irrevocable … but that God’s gifts (plural) are irrevocable. In other words, God is just as faithful to all His people as He will someday prove to have been to the ethnic Jews! So there is great and widespread application to be made from Romans 11.29. Let me mention three things that we should draw from this deep well:

1. God is faithful. That is the main point, isn’t it? Whether he calls a Jew, or an American, or a Nigerian, or a Togolese … God won’t revoke His calling. God won’t renege on His commitment. He will not take away the blessings that have been purchased with precious blood and once for all delivered to the saints. He won’t un-call those who have been called. He is absolutely faithful. In fact, Paul elsewhere stated that even “if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2.13). God does not change simply because we do. That is the point of 2 Timothy 2.13 … and of Romans 11.

2. We are secure. That is to say, if we are in Christ; if we have truly repented of sin; and if we are really trusting in Christ alone for our salvation (and those are big ifs, to be sure!) … God will not take that salvation away; nor will He allow us to fumble it away! If you are truly in Christ, He who began a good work in you will complete it (Philippians 1.6). No one will snatch you out of God’s hand (John 10.28). God will keep you believing in His Son, all your days, by his own power (1 Peter 1.5). If God called you; if God gave you the gift of faith in His Son, He will keep you believing. For “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable”!

3. The future is bright. Paul argues, in Romans 11.12 and 15, that if the Jews’ turning away from Christ made marvelous room for the Gentiles to be saved … how much more will their eventual return to Jesus prove a blessing to the Gentiles? He says that the eventual large scale turning of Jews to faith in Christ will be as “life from the dead” to the Gentile world (v.15)! I confess I am not exactly sure what Paul means by “life from the dead”. Some think that the final ingathering of Jews will immediately precede the return of Jesus and the resurrection of His people’s bodies from physical death. Others believe that “life from the dead” is a metaphoric way of say that the eventual repentance of the Jews will be so marvelous that it will set off revival among the rest of the people of God. As I said, I am not sure which Paul means. But I know this – I’m game for either eventuality … the coming of the Holy Spirit in power; or the coming of Jesus in His glory! And therefore I am so excited that Romans 11.29 is true! God has not forgotten the Jews. And, somehow, their turning to Christ is going to mean even greater blessing for the church of Jesus - :life from the dead”! It will happen! Great days are ahead for those who trust in Christ! For “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable”!

VBS is July 26-30!

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June 21, 2010

A Remnant

I do not pretend to know all that the apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote about the great, future ingathering of ethnic Jews in Romans 11. The theories are quite varied – some of them plausible; some of them, it seems to me, so far out in left field as to undermine the gospel of Jesus. But there are a few things, from this chapter, of which I am fairly certain …

1. We should be thankful for the remnant of Jewish believers that still exist … and have existed in every age. What Paul said of his day is true of our own. “There has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice” (Romans 11.5). Thank God for that! Though God’s people are now made up of the multi-ethnic, multi-national body of Christ (and not simply of a single geo-political nation) … it is not as though Jewish people have been rejected (11.2). No! Many of them are still coming into God’s kingdom, by faith in Jesus … just like we are. That should thrill us … and should make way for my second assertion:

2. Jews are saved in precisely the same way as Gentiles. Paul has already said that Jews and Gentiles alike are saved by calling upon the name of the Lord (10.12-13); by “grace” and “not on the basis of works” (11.6); by confessing that Jesus is Lord (10.9). So any of our Jewish friends who are saved are saved just like we are … by calling on Jesus in faith, and trusting in His grace; trusting that He has kept the Law of God for us … and died because we have not. I repeat: Jews are saved by faith in Jesus, just like everyone else! That was true in Paul’s day. It is true today. And it will be true when, as Paul says, “all Israel will be saved” (11.26). Does “all Israel” mean every single Jew alive at the time the prophecy is fulfilled; or maybe the majority of world Jews at that time; or simply a very large number of them? I am not sure. But one thing I know: Romans 11.26 will be fulfilled, not because the Temple may or may not be rebuilt; not because national Israel may or may not experience political peace; not because of any other reason but that “all Israel” (whatever large number that represents) will come to faith in the Messiah, Jesus! That is what Paul was prophesying … and that is the only way men can be saved. A fact which brings me to my next statement:

3. Any preacher who asserts that ‘we do not need to evangelize the Jewish people’ is extremely wrong-headed. There are popular TV preachers, as well as regular Joe’s who make just such an assertion. The logic is that: ‘Well, the Jews were God’s chosen people. And God would not abandon them. So they must be OK. God must have a different plan for Jews than He does for Gentiles. We Gentiles need to believe in Christ in order to become God’s people. But the Jews already are. So they are OK so long as they remain faithful Jews!’ NOOOOOO!!! If that were the case, Romans 9-11 would never have been written! Paul’s whole point, in these three chapters is that He longs to see His Jewish brethren come to Jesus! “My heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.” Why write that if Paul thought that just being a good Jew was enough? Why pray like that if they were already saved simply because of their ethnicity? The fact is that Paul prayed like that because he knew that salvation is not based on one’s ethnicity, but on Christ! And therefore we must pray for and share Jesus with our Jewish neighbors and co-workers all across this city … and nation. And that brings me to my last point:

4. We should be thankful for those who do make every effort to reach Jewish people with the good news of Jesus. We should thank God for organizations like Jews for Jesus who seek “to make the messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to … Jewish people worldwide” (JfJ’s mission statement). We should pray for them. And, as I said, we should join them. Jesus is infinitely worthy of the praise of the Jewish people – and the Chinese, and the Germans, and the Kyrgyz, and the Turks, and the Brazilians, and the Navajo, and the Ethiopians, and the run-of-the-mill Gentiles who live all along our streets. Let’s make the messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to all of these men, women, boys, and girls.

June 14, 2010

What Beatiful Feet you Have!

Last week Tobey and I took the kids to Jungle Jim’s, our local international grocery that is, in point of fact, one part geography lesson, one part zoology lesson, one part aquarium, one part farm field-trip, and two or three parts carnival all rolled into one. We bought German chocolate and whole sugar cane. We ate Ostrich jerky (animal lovers should probably just skip the rest of this paragraph!). And we saw some animal parts that just aren’t supposed to be seen without fur and feathers on them … pig brains, a platter of duck heads (not the khaki’s!), and a carton full of chicken feet.

I had never seen chicken feet before – not in a grocery store, anyway! And it got me to thinking … why would anyone want to eat chicken feet? There surely can’t be much meet on those tiny little metatarsals! And they are just downright ugly, too! In fact, why would anyone want to eat the feet of anything? Feet – even human feet – are one of those body parts that just don’t usually make us sit up and call them beautiful. They are not the first thing on a woman’s list of attractive qualities she’d like to find in her future husband, are they? Muscles? Probably. Eyes? Usually. Teeth? Perhaps. But feet? Not usually high on the list … and for good reason!

And so (I know I am weird) it struck me as unusually noteworthy that Paul would say, in Romans 10.14: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news”! Beautiful … feet? Two words that we don’t normally hear together. And yet here they are, side-by-side. And, though I am sure Paul did not pause to consider the strangeness of the phrase (I’m probably the only bizarro who ever has) … I find Romans 10.14 another example of how different God’s ways often are from our own!

What do we look for when we consider beauty? Form and face. Eyes. Pearly white teeth. And the list could go on (indeed, it does in The Song of Solomon). But when God looks at us, “He doesn’t look at the outward appearance”. He looks at the heart … and strangely enough, at “the feet”! That is what makes the Christian beautiful … a heart that loves God fully, and its neighbor as itself; and feet that love the gospel, and carry it to work, to school, to the ballgame, to the family picnic, and to the ends of the earth! “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news”!

How long do you spend in front of the mirror each day – making sure your hair is in the right place; making sure your mascara is not clumped on the ends of your eye lashes; making sure you have just enough blush, but not too much; making sure your you didn’t miss any spots with your razor, and so on? How long? I’m not here to criticize! I like a clean shave, too! But when you are standing at the vanity (interesting name!) … ask yourself this: ‘Will my feet be beautiful today? Will I bring glad tidings of great joy to the people I encounter today?’

In fact, let me just ask you: Is there someone in your life, right now, toward whom you know those lovely feet of yours ought to be moving? Someone with whom you know God has given you opportunity to speak for Jesus, whose feet were pierced for our transgressions? Then get those feet of yours going! Make them beautiful this week … for Jesus!

June 10, 2010

Praying - Before and After - you Sin

Luke's version of the Lord's prayer (from Luke 11.2-4):

2. Father, hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
3. Give us each day our daily bread.
4. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.

Could it be that the reason some of us end up praying verse 4a more often than we'd like is because we pray verse 4b less often then we should?

June 7, 2010

No (Il)logical Leaps

‘If you believe that, you’ll be as cold-hearted as a stone. If you take that to its logical conclusion, you’ll never share the gospel with anyone.’ That is what is often said when someone begins unpacking the argument that Paul lays out in Romans 9. He says there that God can show compassion on anyone He chooses, and that He can also harden anyone He chooses (v.18). He says that men, women, boys, and girls are saved, not ultimately as a result of something they do with their wills (v.16), but because of something God does with His will (v.11). He implies that we only ever choose God because He first chooses us … and says flatly that God does not have to choose us (v.21)! That is Romans 9. And that is the doctrine which is often the target of statements like the ones with which this article began.

‘If we really believe that God chooses people for salvation’, the argument goes, ‘and that all that He chooses will ultimately be saved (John 6.37); and if the salvation of certain people was already decided “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1.4) … then why do we need to go out and preach the good news? God is going to save whom God is going to save. It has already been decided! So why preach? Why share with your co-workers? Why even pray for souls, really?’

Now those are valid questions! And some people, who wholeheartedly believe the doctrine taught in Romans 9, come to just those conclusions … and do, indeed, sit on their hands evangelistically. And then there are other people (who do not believe Romans 9 means what I just said it means) who use the above ‘logical conclusions’ to dissuade others from believing what Romans 9 says: ‘If you believe that stuff, you’ll lose your soul-winning edge, brother! You’ll become a member of the frozen chosen!’

But both groups, while believing that they are taking the doctrines of election and predestination to their logical conclusions, are actually making a leap that the Bible emphatically does not make! For, after Paul devotes an entire chapter (Romans 9) to the sovereignty of God in saving whom He chooses … he follows immediately with another whole chapter (Romans 10) on the responsibility of man … to pray for the lost; to witness to the lost; and to believe the gospel, each of us for ourselves!

Did you ever notice that? Paul believed, as strongly as anyone, that God elected people for salvation “before the foundation of the world”. He’s the one who wrote those words! But he also said, of his unbelieving kinsmen: “My heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is their salvation” (Romans 10.1). He longed to see people saved … even though he knew that it was already as good as done! And it was this same Paul, who believe strongly in God’s predestining grace, who gave us those famous lines about evangelism and world mission: “How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” (verse 14). That doesn’t sound like a frozen chosen to me! It sounds like someone who understood that, while God is sovereign in salvation, He uses human means to achieve His ends … which requires us to be involved praying, sharing, going, giving, sending, preaching, and so on!

And notice also that Paul turned to the sinner, in Romans 10.13, and said, famously: “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved”! These are the words of the same man who just finished saying that salvation “does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (Romans 9.16)! And now he says “Whoever will …”? Yes! Why? Because he was unwilling to make the so-called logical leaps that we are so often tempted to make. He understood that, just because man’s willing and running are not the ultimate cause of his salvation, does not mean that missionaries (and lay-people) don’t need to run with the gospel; nor does it mean that sinners don’t need to will to believe!

So let’s not jump to our own ‘logical’ conclusions! Let’s follow, rather, the logic of Paul and of the Holy Spirit! “It does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” … and yet, at the same time: “how will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” That is the logic of the gospel … and must be the logic of the Christian, too!

June 2, 2010

Tweets from Ethiopia

Anthony leaves this afternoon for another round of training pastors in Ethiopia. If there is power and internet at one and the same time (a significant if!) ... you may be able to pick up some updates and prayer requests via Twitter. Even if not, do pray!