Day 090: A Bee, A Mother, and a Woman of Torches (Judges 3-5)

“The villagers ceased in Israel: they ceased to be until I arose: I Deborah arose as a mother in Israel.”  Judges 5:7

Deborah is one of my heroes in the Old Testament. Her name means “Bee,” and she’s absolutely a queen bee of the judges. Not only is she the only female judge and the only “judgey-judge” (meaning she heard disputes and settled them); but she is also the only judge in the book who is also described as a prophet.

I read a fascinating Hebrew word study of the phrase “wife of Lappidoth” from Judges 4:4 that raised the possibility that Lappidoth was not the proper name of her husband, but instead was related to the Hebrew word for “torches.” And, since “wife” and “woman” can be interchangeable words in Hebrew, “wife of Lappidoth” could be translated “woman of torches.”

Mind. Blown.

And she certainly lit a fire under Barak, didn’t she? I really love how Deborah and Barak team up in today’s reading. Barak is the muscle. He puts the “arm” in army. But he recognizes the wisdom and the prophetic word the Lord has given Deborah. And while many interpret Barak as being wimpy and timid, I prefer to see him as understanding how necessary Deborah was to the battle. It is as though Barak said, “All my muscle won’t make a difference, Deborah, without your heart and mind.”

In the song of Deborah and Barak (Judges 5), Deborah sings about her motive for rising up to save Israel. Check out v. 7:

“The villagers ceased in Israel: they ceased to be until I arose: I Deborah arose as a mother in Israel.”

Deborah thinks of herself as a mother before she’s a prophet or a judge or anything else. And when she sees village life—community—disintegrating, she rises up as a mother.

(side note: The Song of Deborah is probably the only song to ever praise the virtues of a woman driving a tent peg through a man’s skull (See Judges 5:24-26). And while it probably wouldn’t have made it into the top ten on American Top Forty, it would have been huge at Ozzfest).

I think this is part of the unique and precious contribution women make to the body of Christ. Men tend to look at the church with a warrior mindset– the next hill to take, the next battle to fight, the next territory to claim, the next enemy to defeat. All good things. All necessary and vital.

Women tend to look at the church with a mothering mindset– a community to be preserved, faith that is to be nurtured, relationships that are to be strengthened. Also good and necessary and vital things.

My wife is fierce when it comes to protecting our family. She is a warrior against anything that would threaten our unity. And as gifted as she is in so many different areas, she identifies first as a mother.

During the Covid shutdown, I saw the moms in our neighborhood working the hardest to maintain community. It’s almost always the moms I saw walking with their kids down our street, helping them find teddy bears in windows, drawing on the sidewalk with chalk. Like Deborah, they saw “village life ceasing,” so they rose up. And I am so thankful for strong women who will “fight like a mother” when their family is threatened!

Have you got a “warrior mom” in your house, church, or neighborhood? Thank them today. Are you a woman who fights to preserve the village? Thank God for you. Lord, lead the men in our church to value the women in our church!

Day 089: Making Sense of the Cycles in Judges (Judges 1-2)

18 Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. 19 But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. 20 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel… (Judges 2:18-20)

If you are new to the Bible, fasten your seat belts. The book of Judges is one of the most action packed and exciting books of the Bible. But it is also one of the most tragic and depressing, because it records the downward spiral of God’s people once they entered the Promised Land.

Judges is the perfect book for people who like to see patterns in history. It proves the cliché about what happens when you don’t learn from the past.

A helpful tool for understanding the repeated cycle of Judges is the acronym SWORD:

  • S tability
  • W ickedness
  • O ppression
  • R epentance
  • D eliverance

So there are six major SWORD’s in Judges, with some minor variations. Pay attention to the phrases “Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” That will be your sign that a period of stability is ending, and a new cycle of Wickedness is beginning.

Here are some other patterns to take note of:

  • The periods of oppression trend longer as you go through the book: 8 years before the first judge, 40 before the last judge.
  • For the first five judges, the periods of stability last about 40 years each. Then they take a downward turn: The four judges after Gideon combine for 31 years of stability. The period of stability before Samson, the last judge, was only twenty years.
  • Over the period of the judges, the size of the army raised up against the enemy shrinks. Early in the book, Deborah and Barak have a normal-sized army. Later, Gideon is instructed by God to reduce his army to 300 men. And Samson is an army of one against the Philistines. Some commentators have seen in this a foreshadowing of the Messiah, who would redeem Israel not with a mighty army but with His own sacrificial death.
  • Significantly, there isn’t any repentance before Samson. In every other cycle, the people cry out, and God raises up a deliverer. So Samson is literally the judge nobody asks for. And he is the worst.

All of this leads up to God doing a new thing in the books of Samuel. The period of Judges is perhaps the darkest in Israel’s history. But it gives way to Israel’s Golden Age, the United Kingdom under Saul, David, and Solomon. God allowed His people to hit rock bottom before He ushered in a new kingdom.

Which is another pattern to pay attention to as we journey through Scripture. Keep reading!

Review of “Committed: Dispatches From a Psychiatrist in Training” by Adam Stern, MD

This was a quick, easy memoir about a young psychiatrist, detailing his four years of residency at Harvard-Longwood school of Psychiatry. Adam Stern details his relationships with his fellow, high achieving, insecure classmates, his love life, and, most interesting to me, his experiences with his first patients. It’s a little like Gray’s Anatomy, without the blood.

But it is also the story of developing empathy, not just for one’s patients but also for his colleagues. And this turned out to be my favorite part of the book.

As a pastor, I resonated a lot with this book. Pastoral counseling has a lot in common with psychiatry in that they are both highly subjective, and at times you wonder if you are really making much of a difference. Broken people don’t get fixed very easily, and they don’t always stay fixed.

I loved Stern’s description of the Imposter Syndrome. That even when you have the title and the lab coat and the degree on the wall, you feel woefully unprepared to be the expert your job says you are. And yet, you learn by doing, you get better at it as you go, and at some point you give yourself the grace to say “Maybe I’m not such a train wreck at this as I thought I was.”

There are differences, of course. For one, pastors can’t prescribe drugs, and self medicating is generally frowned upon. Also, in my field, not everyone who hears voices is delusional. We actually encourage it. In all seriousness, pastors really do believe that God is guiding us and can provide wise counsel to those who seek him.

And while I can’t imagine doing my work without this core conviction that a benevolent God guides my steps, there is a point at which we pastors could benefit from the kind of cohort Dr Stern describes. I wonder how much more effective I would be as a pastor if I had had a period of residency, where I was closely supervised by veteran pastors. Where we would meet once a week with our colleagues to process the difficult cases that came our way that week. Where we would meet once a month for a “Morbidity and Mortality” review of how we responded to losing a church member. Without a doubt, we would have healthier pastors, and it is highly likely that we would have healthier churches as well. If pastors could adopt the “Never Worry Alone” maxim of the Harvard school of psychiatry, I’ll bet we would have fewer burned out pastors who need a psychiatrist.

Don’t get me wrong. I love being a pastor. I hold to the conviction that God guides me. But just because God is all I need, that doesn’t mean I have to act as though God is all I have. I need to find me a feelings class.

Day 088: Who Are You Mentoring? (Joshua 22-24)

“Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel.” Joshua 24:31

We come to the end of Joshua with some grim foreshadowing of what is to come. In chapter 24, Joshua lays out the challenge to the people: choose whom you will serve. And all the people say, “We’ll serve the Lord.” (15-18)

Then Joshua dies, and verse 31 says that the people continued to serve the Lord “all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua.” 

But how many were those days? Based on what we are about to read in Judges, they didn’t last long. And I have to wonder: did Joshua mentor anyone the way Moses mentored him? The first time we hear about Joshua is all the way back in Exodus 17:8-9. He is called Moses’ assistant in Exodus 24:13. He is with Moses on the mountain when Moses receives the Commandments from God (Ex. 32:17). And when Moses speaks to God in the Tent of Meeting, Joshua, “a young man”  stays in the tent even when Moses goes back to the camp (Exodus 33:11).

But if Joshua invested in anyone from the next generation to that extent, we don’t read about it in Scripture. And so while the elders were able to keep Israel on track, we will see in Judges that when that generation dies, Israel goes off the rails in a big way.

Joshua did not pour into someone the way he himself was poured into.

The lesson for me here, both as a middle aged man and as a pastor, is to develop the next generation of disciples. I can look at my church and be content that all the leadership positions are filled. A full choir, no vacancies on any committees, all volunteer teams up and running. A healthy turnout at midweek prayer meeting. Good attendance on Sunday morning.

The problem is, with a few exceptions, they are all people my age or older. What happens when our generation dies out? What happens to the next generation when they grow up and their parents are no longer “making” them go to church?

Where is the next generation of leaders? On our worship team? In our volunteer base? What am I doing to invest? If I can’t point to anyone from the next generation that I am pouring into, then I fear I am making the same mistake as Joshua. And that the church will have the same results as Israel in Judges.

Day 087: Two Joshuas (Joshua 19-21)

49 When they had finished distributing the several territories of the land as inheritances, the people of Israel gave an inheritance among them to Joshua the son of Nun. 50 By command of the Lord they gave him the city that he asked, Timnath-serah in the hill country of Ephraim. And he rebuilt the city and settled in it.

51 These are the inheritances that Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun and the heads of the fathers' houses of the tribes of the people of Israel distributed by lot at Shiloh before the Lord, at the entrance of the tent of meeting. So they finished dividing the land. (Joshua 19:49-51)

Joshua is a consummate servant leader. As the two faithful spies from the previous generation, Joshua and Caleb had their pick of the land. As we saw a couple of days ago, Caleb picked one of the toughest places—the hill country where giants still lived. And Joshua, although he could have picked first, picked last. He graciously waited until everyone else’s needs were met, and all the land was conquered, and all the enemies were defeated, before he rested in his inheritance.

How amazing that this Old Testament Joshua (Hebrew for Yahweh Saves) foreshadows the servant heart of our New Testament Joshua! Of course, we know him better as Yeshua, or Jesus. Same name, same heart.

As the firstborn of all creation (Colossians 1:15), Jesus was entitled to first pick. And the truth is, He was already enjoying the Promised Land, in eternal fellowship with the Father and the Spirit.

And yet, Paul tells us in Philippians that Jesus,

... though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,[b] but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[c] being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8)

Like the Old Testament Joshua, Yeshua fought every battle and defeated every enemy. He was crucified so that we could obtain our inheritance. And when the last enemy was defeated, only then did the New Testament Joshua sit down at the right hand of the Father:

3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (Hebrews 1:3) 

That’s the kind of leader I will follow. That’s a leader I would give my life to. He waited until I had my inheritance before he claimed His! Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Justification by Faith: Two Case Studies (Romans 4:1-12)

March 27, 2022

Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, Alabama

4 What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in[a] him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered;
8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

9 Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 

Good morning! Please open your Bibles to Romans 4.

One of my favorite movies is Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can. It’s the true story of a lifelong con man named Frank Abegnale who, over the course of his career posed as an airline pilot, a medical doctor, a lawyer, and a college professor, all the while passing millions of dollars in fraudulent checks before finally getting caught.

In the movie, Frank idolizes his father, who in the opening scene is making a speech to his Rotary Club after accepting their Businessman of the Year award. His speech is simple. I’ll show you the clip—it’s just about a minute long.

[show clip]

There’s a reason I showed you this clip. This story of the two little mice wasn’t just the story Frank’s dad told himself. It became the story we tell ourselves all the time.

When I was trying to find the clip so I could show you, I actually found another video telling the story. Here’s a couple of screen shots from that video.

[With Great effort the mouse climbed out]

Then, the video gave what it saw as the moral of the story:

[The mouse realized God helps those who help themselves]

A 2000 Barna research poll asked over a thousand people, representing 30 different faiths whether they agreed with the statement: “The Bible teaches that God helps those who help themselves.” 75% agreed that it did. [1]  

A 2016 survey conducted by LifeWay research found that three-quarters of Americans (77 percent) say people must contribute their own effort for personal salvation. Half of Americans (52 percent) say good deeds help them earn a spot in heaven.

And while I want to believe that we in the church know better, I can’t help but wonder if we’ve bought into the same myth of the two little mice—that somehow we can paddle and paddle and paddle and paddle until we churn that cream into butter and save ourselves.

Paul was facing the same issue in Romans 4. He’s taken us through the argument that neither Jew nor Gentile is righteous. All are equally under condemnation and judgment.

In other words, every one of us us in the position of these two little mice. That’s Romans 3:23: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

But then, there’s 3:24: and are justified by His grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

God’s word does not say, “And are justified by their hard work and their perseverance and their commitment to paddle and paddle and paddle and paddle until they can crawl their way out of the hole.

In verse 28, he goes on,

28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 

So maybe the Jews at this point were going, “Okay… okay… so GentiIes are justified by faith apart from the Law. But we Jews—we circumcised—we get there through keeping the law, right? We’re the second mouse!

And Paul says, no, no, you’re missing the point. Romans 3:30:

30 since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.

And the Jews are like, no. God gave us the law. Every Jew ever is  righteous because he keeps the law and unrighteous if he doesn’t. He gets circumcised on the eighth day, he doesn’t work on the sabbath, he doesn’t eat bacon, or shrimp. It’s always been that way, it always will be that way. Tradition!

And I imagine there were some people in the church in Rome—remember that this was a church made up of both Jews and Gentiles.

And maybe they had heard all of the theological, doctrinal, academic arguments that Paul had been using in the first three chapters, and maybe they’re saying, “Okay, Paul. We’ve heard your intellectual arguments. But now we want you to prove it. Show us someone who is righteous apart from the law.

And what Paul does next is brilliant. Look at it with me, beginning in Chapter 4, starting in verse 1:

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”

Now, there’s two possibilities of translation with verse 1. The option the ESV and most other translations take is that the phrase “according to the flesh” refers to Abraham—that is, Abraham is the physical ancestor of the Jewish people. However, the word order in the Greek has the phrase “according to the flesh” immediately after the verb that’s translated “gained, or found, or discovered.” Which would mean the verse ˆshould read, “What then, shall we say that Abraham our forefather gained according to the flesh?”

What did Abraham gain by his own efforts, according to the flesh? The answer—nothing! Verse 2: If Abraham was justified by works, by something he did, then he would have something to boast about, but not before God.

Can you imagine Abraham pulling God aside and saying, “Hey, God—I know why you picked me to be the father of the Jews. I mean—who wouldn’t pick me? I am pretty awesome, after all.”

The truth is, Abraham, according to the flesh, would have been the last person God would pick to be the father of a multitude. Why? Because when God chose him, he wasn’t a father at all, much less of a multitude. Abraham wasn’t even his original name. The name Abraham means “Father of Multitudes.” What was his name before God changed it to “Father of Multitudes?” It was Abram—“Exalted Father.”

And for the first 75 years of his life, even that was a joke. Abraham and Sarah had long since given up on the idea that they would have children.

Until one night, God appears to Abram in a vision. This is in Genesis 15, if you want to turn there.

God tells Abram in verse 1,

“Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 

And Abram pushes back on him. He basically says, God, ever since Genesis 12:2 you’ve been telling me you’re going to bless me and make me a great nation. You told me that my descendants would be as numerous as the dust of the earth (Genesis 13:16). Now here we are, decades later, and I still don’t have any kids.

But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue[a] childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son[b] shall be your heir.” 

That’s when God takes him outside to look at the stars.

And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

Now let’s zero in on verse 6, because this is the whole reason Paul brings up Abraham. Abraham believed God—he placed his faith in the fact that God would do what He said he would do.

By the way, you know what that word “believed” is in Hebrew? This is on the back of your listening guide. The word in Hebrew is “Ah-mahn.” Yeah—its where we get our word “Amen.” And it means “confirm, support, uphold, be established, be certain of.”

Abraham “amened” God. He said, Ok. I’m going to be certain of what you are telling me. I don’t understand it; it doesn’t make sense to me; it surely isn’t going to happen by anything I am able to do according to the flesh, but so be it, God!

And look what happens: Abraham “amened” God, and God counted it as righteousness.

The word counted is anaccounting term, meaning to confer a status that wasn’t there before. Your translation might say reckoned, considered, imputed, computed. It all means the same thing. Abraham wasn’t considered righteous before, and now he was.

Why? Because he kept the law? No. What book of the Bible is the story of Abraham found in? Genesis.

What books of the Bible contain the law? Exodus. Leviticus. Numbers. Deuteronomy.

Abraham was considered righteous BEFORE THE LAW WAS GIVEN!

And just in case there were any slow learners in Paul’s audience, Paul also reminds them in verse 10 that this was before circumcision was given.

Beloved, don’t miss this: Abraham was counted righteous not because he kept the law. The law wasn’t given yet. He wasn’t counted righteous because he was circumcised. That wouldn’t come for another 25 years.

When he was 99 years old. Which, wow. I don’t even want to think about that.

So why did God choose Abram in the first place? We don’t know. There is nothing in Genesis 12 that suggests there was anything special about Abram when God called him to leave his home. Only that God called him, and Abram answered.

And this is the gospel. God has chosen to pour out his grace on you. Not because you deserve it, not because you’ve always tried to live a good life, but because He chooses to. It’s not about your obedience to His law. It’s not because you paddled and paddled and paddled until you could make enough butter to stand on.

But God sent His son Jesus, who kept the law perfectly. Jesus shed His blood for us, and Romans 3:24 says that we are justified by his grace as a gift.

It is a gift. Verse 4—Justification is not the wages we earn through hard work.

Notice verse 5:

And to the one who does not work but believes in[a] him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 

Notice that word “ungodly.” It isn’t that God gives grace to people who try to be good. God gives grace to people who know they’ve been bad.

See, Paul doesn’t stop with just one example from Jewish history. He doesn’t just hold up Abraham. He goes on to quote David. David, the greatest king in Israel’s history. The one who was described as a man after God’s own heart.

Look at verses 6-7

just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

Here Paul is quoting Psalm 32, which most scholars believe David wrote after he committed adultery with Bathsheba.

David broke three of the ten commandments in this episode. He coveted another man’s wife—the Tenth commandment. He committed adultery with her—the Seventh commandment. And he murdered her husband to cover it up—the Sixth commandment.

David deserved death. Unlike Abraham, he had the law. And he broke it. But when he confessed his sin, God did not count his sin against him.

This is the gospel. When we say yes to God—when we say Amen and believe that God will do what He says He will do, God pronounces us righteous. Not because of the good that we’ve done. And in spite of the bad we have done.

We are justified by grace through faith. Period.

So here is where we bring this to a close. There is only one thing that can be on the resume of a follower of Jesus.

When you ask people if they follow Jesus, they give you their resume. I go to church. My parents took me to church. I try to be a good person. Blah, blah, blah.

Romans 4:16 tells us the only thing that can be on the resume of a child of God:

16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 

Can you imagine what a miserable place heaven would be if people got there by their good works? For all eternity you would have to hear people bragging about how they got there because of such and such, or my mansion is so big because I did this for God.

You know what it would be like? It would be like sitting around with a bunch of old out of shape fat guys who played high school football, and they’re all talking about their glory days.

“Remember that tackle I made against Stanhope?”

“I could throw this football over them mountains.”

For ten thousand years.

You know what it going to make heaven so amazing? It’s that every single person who’s there is going to say, “I’m here because of the grace of God.”

From the apostle Paul to the thief on the cross, everyone is going to have the same answer. From Billy Graham to Billy Carter. From Abraham to David to you and me.

My salvation rests on grace, through faith. My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

[1] “You May Swear on the Bible, but It’s Not in the Bible.”,the%201%2C002%20survey%20respondents%20agreed.

Day 086: Take Possession of What’s Promised (Joshua 16-18)

“So Joshua said to the people of Israel, “How long will you put off going in to take possession of the land, which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?” Joshua 18:3 

If you’ve ever bought a new car, at what point is the car yours? Is it when you sign your name on the dotted line? Is it sixty months later, when you’ve made the last payment? You could make a case for either of those. But most people would say that at that magical moment when the dealer hands you the keys, shakes your hand, and congratulates you on the purchase, you feel like the car is yours. Or if not then, certainly the point at which you get behind the wheel, start it up, and drive away. You hear that giddy voice in your head, This is mine.

Imagine signing all the papers and making all the payments, but never driving the car away from the lot. You would own the car, but you wouldn’t have the car. The car is yours, but you haven’t taken possession of it. And there’s a difference.

In Joshua 18, we find that there are still seven tribes that have not received their inheritance, even though, according to verse 1, “the land lay subdued before them.” Apparently, they had gotten comfortable living as nomads in the lands of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Judah. Sort of like a thirty-something who still lives in his parents’ basement.

So God rebukes the people through Joshua: I’ve given you this land. How long before you step into it? How long before you take possession?

There are a lot of things in my spiritual life that have been promised to me, but I don’t fully live into them. Romans 8:15 tells me that I’ve received the spirit of adoption as a son by which I can call out,  “Abba! Father!” I have received the right to call the creator of the universe “Daddy” (that’s basically what ‘Abba’ means in Aramaic).  But have I taken possession of this right? Or am I still hesitant to bother God with requests that seem too trivial for Him?

Or how about this one: I have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). That means that I have access to the wisest decision maker, the most discerning counselor, the greatest philosopher that has ever been. But how often do I agonize and hand-wring and sweat over decisions I have to make? I may have it, but have I taken possession?

There are so many things we are promised as children of God! The peace of God (Philippians 4:7)! Abundant life (John 10:10)! Salvation. Power. Comfort. This article from Got Questions lists many, many more of God’s promises to His children, but even then they are only scratching the surface. Paul sums it up in his first letter to the Corinthians:

21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.

Beloved, it is time for us as believers to step into the Promised Land! Take possession of the promises.

Day 085: Caleb’s Different Spirit (Joshua 12-15)

“I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.” Joshua 14:11-12 ESV

This is one of my favorite scenes in the book of Joshua. Caleb and Joshua are the two oldest people in Israel. They are the last men standing from the generation that came out of Egypt. And Caleb, 85 years old, is still spoiling for a fight!

At the time in his life when most men are comparing brochures for gated retirement communities with golf cart paths, Caleb points to where giants still live and  says, “I want this.”

Caleb is a great mix of “I can do” and “only God can.” He is confident of his own strength, but cognizant of the fact that his success is totally dependent upon God’s good pleasure.

Remember God’s description of Caleb back in Numbers 14:24. God told Moses that Caleb would live to see the promised land, “because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully.”

This morning, I am thankful for the senior adults in my life that have “a different spirit.” The church I pastor is still young enough that many of the pioneers that built the church are still around. There are men and women that can point to the drywall they hung, the tile they grouted, the bathrooms they plumbed. Many of them are as strong now as they were then.  And many of them are still ready for the next fight.

They are the ones that encourage the next generation to believe God’s promises. Because there are still giants in the land and hills to be taken.

Oh, how we need your different spirit!

Coming to Terms (Romans 3:21-31)

Part 10 of Romans, The Power of the Gospel

March 20, 2022

Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, AL

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

(Romans 3:21-31)

Good morning! Please turn to Romans 3. We are going to pick up where we left off last week. Last week we talked about the Grand Finale of Paul’s argument that no one is righteous before God. And I realize that it’s a hard thing for people to accept, that there’s nothing we can do to earn our salvation.

Speaking of things that are hard to accept…

There’s a phrase that has been used in the Jackson household for several years now. It is uttered at the point at which our beloved Kentucky Wildcats get knocked out of March Madness. And that phrase is,

“It’s baseball season.”

Usually, we don’t utter that phrase quite this early. Most years, we can expect the Cats to make it at least to the second week of the tournament. Every once in a while, Kentucky will have a team that is projected to go deep in the tournament. Maybe the elite eight. Maybe the Final Four. Every so often, Kentucky will field a team that the Big Blue Nation thinks has what it takes to win it all.

This was going to be one of those years. But, guess what?

It’s baseball season.

And I know that many of you are baseball fans. Donna Parker is my fellow Braves fan. And Donna, this wasn’t an easy week to be a Braves fan either, was it? We lost our best player to our biggest rival.

Now, here’s the reason I am talking so much about baseball. In baseball, what is considered to be a good batting average? 300? 350? What if you had a player that was batting 400? Where would you put him in the lineup?

Here’s the strange thing: We think a player batting 400 would be awesome! But what does that number represent? It represents someone who gets a hit 40% of the time he comes to the plate.

Anyone know who had the best career batting average in the history major league baseball? It’s Ty Cobb. Anyone want to guess what his career batting average was?

.367. So a little more than every third time Ty Cobb came to the plate, he got a hit.

One out of three! There’s really no other sport where being successful one third of the time would be thought of as good. If a quarterback completed just a third of his passes, he wouldn’t be in the game very long.

What about life?

Let me ask you this: Would you trust an airline that landed one out of every three planes safely?   

What would you say to a surgeon who, when he came to you in pre-op, said, “I’m feeling pretty good about this surgery. I’m one for three this week?”

There are areas in life where we require something much closer to perfection. Even 99% would be too low. What would you say to a spouse who promised to be faithful 99% of the time?

So maybe this makes it a little easier to come to terms with God’s standards of perfection. We would love God to judge us the way we would judge a hitter in baseball: I did the right thing one out of three times! I’m going to the hall of fame!

But God’s standard is much more like the standard we have for airline pilots, and surgeons, and police officers. We expect them to do the right thing 100% of the time, And when they don’t—if they mess up even once, we get righteously angry. Ready to sue someone.

We have to come to terms with the fact that we look at righteousness like baseball. We step up to the plate, and we try to do the right thing, and we most of the time we mess up, but we just keep trying to improve our batting average.

God views righteousness more like surgery. In medicine, there’s no margin for error. One mistake could be enough for a doctor to lose his license. In the same way, One sin is enough for God to reject us and not allow us into His heaven. And the truth is, no human being has ever done the right thing, every day, every single time, for their entire life time.

And that’s why “the turn” that we started talking about last week is so amazing. This week, as we look at Romans 3:21-26, we’re going to look at what some people have called the most important paragraph in the bible.  This passage is dense, and it has lots of theological terms that can make your head spin. That’s why I’ve called this sermon “Coming to Terms.”

But if we can spend time on these terms and really understand them, we will understand why Paul calls the gospel the power of God for salvation.

So let’s dive in. And as we do, I want you to remember what we have said is the overall theme of Romans: The Righteousness of God. You see it four times in this paragraph: verse 21, 22, 25, and 26.

  • It’s manifested apart from the Law
  • It’s available to us through faith in Chirst
  • It’s demonstrated through his sacrifice
  • It’s available to us now.

And the point of it is to show how a sinful person, who can barely even manage to do the right thing one out of every three at bats; who stands condemned and guilty, can be considered right in the eyes of God. How we could actually make it into the Hall of Fame, no matter how bad our batting average is.

Let’s look at these.

Verse 21 says,

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—

Now, you remember from last week that just before this section, Paul quoted one OT passage after another to show that none of us are righteous under the Law.

But notice what he says in verse 21—God’s righteousness has come to us apart from the Law, but the law and the prophets bear witness to it.

In other words, the law both pronounces the guilt and announces the grace!

Throughout the Old Testament, God foreshadowed His ultimate plan of redemption. Do you remember the story of Abraham and Isaac? Way back in Genesis 22, God told Abraham to take his only son and offer him as a sacrifice. They’re climbing up the hill together, and Isaac looks around and says, “Dad, we’ve got the wood for the sacrifice, but no sacrifice. Where’s the lamb? And Abraham said, “God will provide the lamb, my son.” And sure enough, at the point Abraham is ready to sacrifice his only son, God stops him, and provides a substitute sacrifice.

In the next book, Exodus, God warned Pharaoh that every firstborn in Egypt would die because he refused to free Israel from slavery.  But God told every household in Israel to kill an unblemished male lamb and to smear its blood over their doors so that the angel of death would ‘pass over’ them when he came and killed all the firstborn in Egypt.  The fruit of their trusting God was freedom from bondage to Egypt. 

As they celebrated the Passover each year to remember the Exodus, God’s intent was to show them that in the same way they needed God to deliver them from bondage to sin by the blood of a perfect sacrifice, the coming Messiah.

If we had time this morning, I could take you through every Old Testament book and show you something that would point to the coming Messiah.

Samson, the Judge who delivered Israel from the Philistines through his own death.

Ruth, the foreigner to Israel who found redemption through a kinsman-redeemer from the tribe of Judah.

David, who fought the battle against Goliath in the place of the entire Israelite army.

In Isaiah 53, God prophesied that one day there would come a suffering servant, on whom God would lay the iniquity of us all. By whose stripes we could be healed.

And so Paul says that the Law and the Prophets bear witness to the righteousness of God. At the end of this passage, he writes,

31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

This right here is why we cannot “unhitch” from the Old Testament. There are some Christians who wonder whether we even need the Old Testament any more, when the New Testament contains the gospel. If you’re reading through the Bible chronologically, you’ve been slogging through Numbers and Deuteronomy for weeks now, and you’re ready to get out of the Law and into “the good stuff.”

But remember that Jesus said, “I haven’t come to abolish the law or the prophets, I’ve come to fulfull them. Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the least stroke of the pen will disappear from the law.”

Friends, we need the whole Bible. Old and New Testament. I love the quote from AW Tozer—nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.

So now, let’s look at the second thing this passage says about the righteousness of God.

Verse 22-23 says that

22 the righteousness of God [is] through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Now this verse actually says two things about God’s righteousness. First, that it is available to all who believe. There’s no distinction between Jew and Gentile, between barhopper and church goer, between disciple and thief on the cross.

It is available to all because all need it, Jew and Gentile alike. Paul unpacks this even more in verses 29-30, when he says that God is the God of both Jews and Gentiles, the circumcised and uncircumcised.  In the same way that all have sinned, all need God’s righteousness.

But second, it is only possible through faith in Jesus Christ. This is where the paradox of the Christian faith is: Salvation is incredibly inclusive. It is available to anyone, at any time.

But at the same time, salvation is incredibly exclusive. It is only available through faith in Jesus Christ.

A lot of people get hung up on this. The popular view is that all religions lead to God, like a mountain where God is at the top and we are all just taking different paths up the mountain.

Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Our form of government makes no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”

But that isn’t the gospel. The power of the gospel for salvation isn’t having faith in something. It says you must have faith in Jesus Christ. That is the one and only way we can attain the righteousness of God. And as Paul has made abundantly clear with everything that has come before this, our only hope is the righteousness of God. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Think about it—Ty Cobb, the player with the best batting average in history– .366– still missed the ball more often than he hit the ball. So on our best days, we fall short.

Which is why these next few verses are considered the greatest paragraph in the entire Bible. Let’s break it down, term by term:

We are justified by his grace.

To be justified before God means that we are declared righteous by God based upon Christ’s sinless life and death on the cross. We are acquitted on all charges. It is more than “just as if I had never sinned;” but it’s also “just as if I had always obeyed.”

If I can stretch the baseball analogy a little further, Jesus had a perfect batting average. He never fell short. He never missed the mark. He always made contact with the ball, he always got on base, he always made it home.

If he was a pitcher, not only would every game be a no hitter, but Jesus would face 27 batters, and throw 81 pitches. Strike one, strike two, strike three, 3 up, 3 down, every inning, all season, for his entire career.

And justification means that we get in the Hall of Fame based on Jesus’ stats. God no longer views us as guilty, condemned, and under his wrath; we stand approved and receive the gift of God’s righteousness.

We are justified by His grace as a gift

Grace is unmerited favor. It is kindness shown to one who is utterly undeserving. It isn’t as though God saw potential in us, and decided to give us a spot on the team because of our great arm, or on base percentage. We bring nothing to the game. It’s all grace. 

…through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus

Look at your glossary on the back of the listening guide. Redemption, according to one theological dictionary, is the purchase of a release by means of the payment of a ransom price. It carries the idea of a substitution—a price paid on behalf of or in place of another.

The term was very common in the Ancient Near East.  For example, people could be redeemed from slavery.  Say you could not repay a loan or you lost your business so you would sell yourself and maybe your whole family into slavery.

However, let’s say you had a wealthy relative who lived in a far country. And he found out about your predicament.  So he comes to your city to make a deal with your master to redeem you, to purchase your freedom back. 

Paul picks up on this concept. In verse 25, he says that God put Christ Jesus forward to be like that wealthy relative from the far country. Christ followers have been redeemed from slavery to sin. 

Without Christ, we are in bondage to our sin and guilt and unable to liberate ourselves.  But Christ redeems us, bought us out of slavery, shedding his blood as the ransom price.  The result of this ransom and redemption is that we belong to him. 

How does this work? In what sense are we redeemed?  The answer is that God put Christ forward as a propitiation. This is probably the toughest term in the whole glossary. I would be willing to bet that none of you used the word “propitiation” in everyday conversation this week. Am I right?

So what is Propitiation? Well, to be propitious to someone else means to be favorable to them. And so Propitiation is the act by which God becomes favorable toward us.

How does a holy God become propitious—favorable—to sinful man?

A sacrifice had to be made. God’s wrath had to be turned away. It is a propitiation by the blood of Jesus.

And this is why we had to spend nine weeks talking about the wrath of God. Without that conversation, without that foundation of understanding that none of us are righteous, all of us are condemned, then we would think God is petty to demand a sacrifice to pay for our sin. Why can’t a loving God just overlook sin?

Some people prefer the word “expiation” to describe what God does with our sin. “Expiation” means blotting out, or removing sin. You’ve probably seen the ads for ServPro—the company that will come to your house and make things right after a flood or a water main break or whatever. You know their slogan? “Like it Never Even Happened.” So can’t God do that with our sin? Can’t he just wipe it away, like it never even happened?

And the answer is, no. A sacrifice has to be made. That’s another reason we can’t just toss the Old Testament, because the OT makes it clear that there has to be a sacrifice. There has to be the shedding of blood. Our sins offend God’s holiness. They can’t just be blotted out. They have to be paid for.

For several years now, every Good Friday I’ll watch the movie The Passion of the Christ. It’s not something I want to do. I don’t pop popcorn, its not a date night movie. But I do it because I need to be reminded of the price that was paid for my sin to be forgiven. Blood was shed to buy my pardon. As Isaiah 53 says, the punishment that brought me peace was laid upon Jesus.

Why did Jesus have to go through all that He went through? There are those who watch something like The Passion and come away seeing God as a cosmic child abuser because He poured out all His wrath on His son.

But if that’s how you see the agony that Jesus went through on the Cross for you, you are missing the point of verse 26:

26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

The shedding of Jesus’ blood demonstrates God’s righteousness. It shows that God is just. But it also shows God’s incredible love for us, because Jesus—God Himself—took the punishment for my sin.

The Cross proves that God is both just and the justifier. Through the Cross, as the song says, the wrath of God is satisfied. But at the same time, through the cross, the love of God is magnified.

We did nothing to deserve it. That’s why Paul says in verse 27 that boasting is excluded. But through the Cross, we are made righteous. We have a place in glory. You might have heard the acronym GRACE—God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense.

Christ did the work. Christ had the perfect batting average, the flawless pitching record, the error-free season.

But we get the Hall of Fame. We get the Cy Young. We get the Golden Glove.

It’s baseball season.

Exit mobile version