A Man…

An excerpt from the book I’m working on now…

Despite Mark’s lighthearted reaction, finding him at the market in the middle of the afternoon told Maria that something unusual was in the air. The sober look on his face as they walked down the street together was further proof. She remembered suddenly about his planned meeting with Eusebius and wondered what had happened. Evidently something unusual had taken place.

She glanced at him while they walked and noticed that he was deep in thought. She wouldn’t disturb him, she decided. He’d tell her when he was ready. She stepped a little closer to him, drawing strength from his presence.

It’s amazing how God brought us together, she thought. I never expected to get remarried after James died. I suppose Mark felt the same way when he lost Lydia. Yet here we are together. Happy.

She looked at him again, noting the wrinkles in his forehead and the bit of grey sprinkled through his hair. His face could have been cut from marble—it was rugged and showed the hard times he’d been through. Yet it was also the face of a man. A man who had faced life and overcome it. A man who didn’t need accolades and flattery to make him feel needed and useful. A man who had looked at the answers to life, evaluated them, and thrown out the artificial ones.

A man who had made peace with his God and with himself.

Who Are YOU to Reply Against God

A Brief Exposition of Romans 9

Romans 9 is a difficult passage—perhaps one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament. In this chapter, Paul uses three illustrations to explain the sovereignty of God over judgment and mercy.

  1. In Rom 9:10 – 14 Paul referred to Jacob and Esau. Before they were born, before either of them had done good or evil, God had already decided that Jacob (the younger) would receive his mercy, rather than his older brother.
  2. In verses 15 – 18 Paul goes on to the account of Pharaoh, inferring that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that His Name would be glorified.
  3. Finally, in verses 19 – 23 Paul uses clay pottery to illustrate the foolishness of a created being trying to tell its creator what it wants to be, or how it wants to be used.  

We should note the context of this chapter. Paul is giving these illustrations to show the Jews that God had the right to decide to bring the Gentiles into His kingdom on an equal basis to the Jews. I don’t believe that he is saying that God decides our destiny in advance, and we have no choice in the matter. In the first two illustrations, God is basing his decisions on the choices He knew Pharaoh and Esau would make.

The third illustration clarifies that God has the right, as God, to call both Jews and Gentiles into His kingdom. He does not make this decision based on race or bloodline. Instead, He insists that God has the right, because He is God, to save some people and not save others, no matter who they are. [1]

This chapter clarifies that God has reserved the right to make decisions concerning mercy and judgment. He says clearly that this is His prerogative, not ours. It is hard for humans to accept that we are subject to an overarching authority in these matters, but that is the point of this chapter.

Throughout church history, people have understood the Bible in various ways. Some, like Origen, believed that hell would be empty someday. Some believed that the second death was an obliteration and that eternal torment was reserved for the devil and his angels. Many evangelicals believe in eternal torment for all sinners.

According to this chapter, I think it fair to say that God has decided this question, and we should simply submit to God’s decision. That statement is furiously disputed by some people, but I don’t see how we say anything else about it.

But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” (Rom 9:20 NKJV)

[1] This should not be understood to mean that we are predestinated to heaven or hell before we are born, and we have no choice in the matter. We must always take difficult scriptures and interpret them considering clear scripture. The NT is clear that any person can come to Christ and be saved.

Looking to Jesus…

~ Of Men and Books ~

* * *

And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of [reading] many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. (Ecc 12:12)

I’ve been off work for most of the past several weeks with an abscessed tooth and a severe infection. During this time, I read a number of books just to try to keep my mind occupied with something else than my pain. But that got me to thinking about books…

I like books with complex characters and plots. Books like Moby Dick that are an allegory if you read below the surface. That is a kind of writing that seems to be almost extinct. Ted Dekker is one of the better ones left, but he’s been straying into left field with his theology in his recent writings.

I don’t read a lot of theology or doctrine anymore. Partly because I have a harder time following the complexity of writers like NT Wright since my TIA a few years ago. I do enjoy practical books and if I write a nonfiction book, that is the course I take. Theology is isn’t a lot of value to most people unless it is made simple and applied to everyday life. For instance, a friend sent me some books about the PSA view of the atonement versus the Cristo Victor view. It was a good discussion and answered some questions I had for a long time, but for most people the discussion is not really that practical.

But, like I said, I got to thinking about all this.

Right now, I’m reading a book, Except Ye Repent, by HA Ironside. Good book with some valuable insights. But I can’t help but notice how focuses change from book to book, and author to author, and preacher to preacher. For some, grace is everything. Any kind of work, including repentance or obedience is legalism. For others, repentance paves the way for grace. For still others, grace paves the way for obedience. Some wash their hands of it all and consider God malevolent, and irrelevant.

If you are the kind of person whose thinking reflects the last book you’ve read, this can be a real problem and put you on a spiritual roller coaster. Maybe I’m too cynical, but I’ve sort of shelved many of the debates I mention in the last paragraph. I know that I came to Jesus as a teenager and gave Him my heart. Theology wasn’t any part of that decision. I was an unhappy sinner and I wanted rid of the load of guilt. Jesus gave me peace and changed my life.

But in my library I have books that emphasize repentance, grace, obedience, eternal security or it’s opposite perspective (is there a name for that?), etc. I look around and see people who claim to be Christian but who live in evident sin. I see others who seem to have caught the essence of living for Christ. But none are perfect and if you watch long enough, they disappoint you as well. I even disappoint myself. Its easy to become bewildered by it all and wonder if it wouldn’t be better doing like Dan Barker and walking away from it all.

But then I look at the alternative. And I realize that it isn’t even a consideration. So, I look back to Jesus, and suddenly life becomes so much simpler. Jesus loved me and died for me so that I could be a child of God. He forgives me when I fail and guides me through life. I can trust Him when my favorite authors disappoint me. I can trust him when my favorite preacher falls into sin. I can trust Him when my church or other Christian structure lets me down. I can leave the theology to him, and I can trust my eternal future into His hands. If I go astray, I can trust Him to gently bring me back. I can even trust my family into His care.

Keep your eyes on Jesus! It makes life much easier.

Therefore…  let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:1-2 CSB)

Is God Angry? Vindictive?

For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. (Deu 5:9-10)

About five or six years ago, Dan Barker (a former evangelical pastor turned atheist) wrote a book lashing out at God. Amongst other nasty things, he called God a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

Now think back to the God Job met in the whirlwind at the end of the book of Job. I don’t think the God pictured in that account worries much about what humanity thinks of Him. We are the ones who will suffer for such thoughts. He won’t because what we think of Him won’t change anything. He doesn’t need to defend himself.

God will not force anyone to serve Him. If someone wants to call Him a malevolent bully that is up to them.

However, I think it is only fair to note that God does have two sides to Him.

On the one side,

God is merciful, as the introductory passage from Deuteronomy states. Those who love Him and serve Him voluntarily will continue to live under His mercy.

But God has another side,

— His holiness and hatred for sin, which these verses also portray. This is the side of God that often makes the problem for today’s society.

Many people, even Christians, think God has a neutered personality — like the benevolent grandfather CS Lewis talked about. But that is not what God is like. God is not worried about political correctness or trampling on people’s toes. He is a man’s God, if you want to say it that way. A friend of mine wrote me recently…

Just been thinking about God this morning here in my office while I work. He flat scares the wits out of me… He’s no sissy, emasculated, cuddly thing. He is awesome.

Human leaders of democratic nations worry whether voters like them. They worry about re-election and approval ratings. Sometimes they make changes to their platform to maintain their popularity. Popularity means more than being right.

People don’t understand real leadership anymore. That is one reason that they don’t understand God.

God is on a constant balancing act between mercy and justice. All of us deserve punishment, but God would rather give us mercy. Because of this, He always offers mercy first. But when people reject mercy, they must live with the other side of God.

Does God get angry?


Does God get angry when someone tortures an innocent child?


Does God get angry when someone calls Him a malevolent bully to His face?


But His mercy and patience precede His anger and justice. People see this and they fool themselves into thinking that God either doesn’t exist, or He is some sort of a pansy that they can manipulate as they please.

Society today goes by feelings, not by facts. Punishing sin doesn’t seem nice, so we try to deny God His right to punish sinners. But that isn’t how things work. Someday there will be a culmination of all things, and God’s anger will fall on those who have deliberately snubbed their noses at him.

Hebrews 10:26 – 39 speaks of this, saying, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

We have done a serious discredit to society and the church by trying to hide this side of God. We do not need to be ashamed of Him. He’s not the family black sheep or local madman. He is not a genocidal murderer.

God is God almighty and we will NEVER turn Him into anything else.

Lydia’s First Glimpse of Heaven

For the living, Death is a gigantic leap into the unknown. The Bible describes it as our last enemy. People seldom face Death without some misgivings. But for the Christian martyr Death is also a release from the torture they are facing. It is their doorway to glory. As their pain fades away and they enter eternity, everything changes…


It was like gazing into the sun, only more so. Lydia had never seen so much light. It almost knocked her over. Yet it didn’t hurt her eyes like she would have expected. Instead, as her eyes adjusted, she started to see people.


As their features became clearer, she saw a few people she had known while on earth. But they had changed. They were almost… transparent? No that wasn’t the word. They had form and features. Yet she could see through them? She couldn’t put it into words, and she was too bewildered to try.

But she sensed clearly that she was welcome, that they had been waiting for her. In fact, she realized that she had come home. She belonged here in a way that she had never belonged on earth. Everyone was smiling, waving, reaching out hands to her in welcome.

Then she realized that she wasn’t alone. Irene was close beside her. And others were joining them, blinking their eyes as the light hit them. Fresh from the trauma of the flames, the group clung together at first. But the human need for security drained away as they gradually acclimatized to their new surroundings.


Lydia’s second impression was the sound. The cheers mixed with vibrant music in a beautiful chaos of harmony. Some were crying out in welcome, some were singing, some were dancing. The sheer exuberance of the welcome was overwhelming.


But Lydia’s strongest impression was the love the seemed to flood from every nook and cranny. Back on earth a large crowd had gathered to enjoy the spectacle of twenty people being burned in one large fire. The spectators were filled with hatred. They would have torn them limb from limb but for the soldiers surrounding them. The contrast couldn’t have been greater between the hatred they had faced an hour ago and the boundless love welcoming them here.

Lydia would have cried. But she was too happy to cry.

The contrasts between time and eternity are so overwhelming that an entire book wouldn’t cover it. It was no wonder that it took the martyrs some time to catch their breath and orient to their new surroundings. And this was only the beginning…

Perhaps the most difficult part of stepping into eternity is learning how to handle living in a state with no past, and no future. The earthly barrier of “now” that stands between the past and the future on earth will be inexplicably expanded in eternity. All three elements of time will be blended together in an incomprehensible state of utter timelessness.

Is God Fair?

Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do innocent children need to suffer? Why do good people get sick?

All these bad things and many more happen every day. Is that fair?


Some people will tell you that He doesn’t care enough to stop them. Others will tell you that He can’t—He doesn’t have the power to do it.

Neither of these answers are true. The Bible clearly indicates that God loves us. His heart aches when bad things happen to good people. The Bible also indicates clearly that God is all powerful. It isn’t the lack of initiative or power that stops God from wiping out evil and evil doers.

So what is it?

Sometime, before time existed, God made a momentous decision. He would allow intelligent beings to have the power of choice. The angels would have this power. Lucifer, the beautiful and powerful leader of the angels, would have the ability to turn against God.

Lucifer made this choice, and a third of the angels followed him. The first thing they tried to do was overthrow God. The Bible doesn’t give us any details about this war in the heavens, except to tell us that Lucifer and his angels lost the battle, and they were driven from heaven.

The chronology of all this is a mystery. But somewhere during all of this, God created the universe and man. He decided that even humans would have the power to choose against Him. We are not told why, but it seems that God wants all intelligent beings, whether angels or humans, to serve Him voluntarily. He has never forced anyone to serve Him and He never will.

The ability to choose led to the beginning of evil. Lucifer and his followers were the first to take advantage of it, probably soon after creation.[1] When he was turned out of heaven he came to earth, determined to take revenge on his loss by persuading Adam and Eve to also choose against God.

He persuaded Eve that having the knowledge of good and evil was worth the risk of offending God. He didn’t warn her that the only way to receive the knowledge of evil was through experience. Every human since then has lived under the curse of the knowledge of evil. That is why evil things happen.

God will judge evil. He will eliminate it. But in His own time. Until then, we must live with the choice that Adam and Eve made to allow evil to enter this world.

Is this fair? It doesn’t seem that way to us. But God will not coerce people to do His will. He only reserves the right to give them the destiny that they have chosen for themselves. God is holy and God is just. He is merciful and He is love. God is good and He is great. He is fair.

It’s a matter of perspective. And it’s a matter of trust.

[1] I suppose it could have been a little before creation as well. But it appears that Lucifer fled to earth when he was cast out of heaven.