Good Friday

What’s so good about someone being crucified on a cross?

After sixteen centuries and more during which the cross has been a sacred symbol, it’s difficult to realize the unspeakable horror and loathing which the very mention or thought of the cross provoked during the tyranny of the Roman Empire. In the first century, the word for cross, σταυρός (latin crux), was unmentionable in polite Roman society.

When the early disciples talked about the crucified Christ, every listener from Jerusalem to Illyricum (Romans 15:19) knew that Jesus had suffered a particularly cruel and shameful death, which as a rule was reserved for the most hardened criminals, incorrigible slaves, and egregious rebels against the Roman state. Cicero (Pro Rabirio Perduellionis Reo 5.16) decries the crucifixion of a Roman citizen, exclaiming, “The very word ‘cross’ should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes, and his ears.”

The story behind Jesus’ death on the cross discloses that He was rejected by the very people He came to save (Matthew 26:1-5), was deserted by His own friends (Matthew 26:47-4869-75), was strung up by the proper authorities (Matthew 27:22-26), and, apparently, was powerless to save His own skin (Matthew 27:38-44).

Following Christ’s resurrection, Peter served as faithful follower of the Lord proclaiming,

“You know the events that took place throughout Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were under the tyranny of the Devil, because God was with Him. We ourselves are witnesses of everything He did in both the Judean country and in Jerusalem, yet they killed Him by hanging Him on a tree. God raised up this man on the third day and permitted Him to be seen.” Acts 10:37–40

The beginning of Christianity was cradled in what looks like disastrous defeat, and the unspeakable stigma of the cross exposed “Christians” to woeful contempt.  In fact, the word, “Christian” is found only three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28, 1 Peter 4:16) and when it is used, it’s a label formed by people who were not followers of Jesus to designate those who were. It’s a manufactured term with a derogatory slant, meant to be a dig.

Similar to Peter, Paul did not refer to Jesus’ death on the cross with embarrassment or skip over the awkward facts:

“I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)

“Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, because it is written: Everyone who is hung on a tree is cursed.” (Galatians 3:13)

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved.” 1 Corinthians 1:18

The cross of Jesus was central to Paul’s preaching because the resurrection disclosed Christ’s suffering and death as the way of life for His believing followers in the world. Paul taught the early church that followers of the crucified Lord must also share the suffering of the cross:

“The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children, also heirs—heirs of God and coheirs with Christ—seeing that we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:16-17)

“My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead.” (Philippians 3:10)

As followers of Jesus today, we want to share in the celebration of the cross, we would just rather avoid it’s suffering and shame. The message of the cross, however, is about trusting God’s will in submission and sacrifice (Matthew 27:36-46) rather than fighting for control or positioning for comfort. The message of the cross is an antidote to our self-glorification and self-satisfaction. The message of the cross is hope for the tired and weary, rest for the rejected refugee, grace for the humbled, and mercy for the broken sinner.

The Gospel of Christ crucified transforms the cross from a symbol of Roman terror and political domination into a symbol of God’s love and power. The cross shows that the power of God’s love is greater than human love of power. The cross reveals the love of God at its best and the sin of man at its worst. Isaac Watts said it well, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” 

The death of Jesus on a cross on that Friday long ago was good for us.

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.

A Mad World

When did the world get so angry? How did it happen so quickly? As we look ahead to a new year in 2018, we have some serious issues to deal with in the world of relationships - especially relationships in regard to race, religion, and politics. How did we get so full of frustration that the slightest disagreement or difference of opinion overflows to unkind words, unloving hate, and even outright violence?

Read the comment sections on any public news site or dare to scroll down the comments of someone’s controversial FaceBook post or Twitter feed­ and you’ll probably be sorry you did. It’s become painfully clear that racial, religious, and political conflicts are part of a long-simmering, decades-in-the-making anger. In a world that promotes strict tolerance, people seem to be anything but that.

We’re tired of what’s going on in our world and many, including followers of Jesus, are angry about it. What is a believer in Jesus to think in times like these? To feel when life is out of control? To do when we’re angry?

In the Old Testament of the Bible, the prophet Micah, on behalf of his people, asked the LORD a similar question (Micah 6:6-7). In times of social and political turmoil, Micah prophesied about the coming destruction of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) by the Assyrians and the later defeat of the Southern Kingdom (Judah) by the Babylonians. Micah then told the people of God how He wanted them to act, love, and live:

“Mankind, He has told each of you what is good and what it is the LORD requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

This verse contains one of the most succinct and powerful expressions of the LORD’s essential requirements for godly living in a mad world. At first glance, we bristle at the thought of requirements. As people, we don’t like to be told what to do.

Micah explains the essence of spiritual reality that is not just a set of rules; he encourages much more than mere ritual worship. God wants us to obey Him because we want to (for our good), not because we have to.

In Micah 6:8, the Lord wanted each of His people (“Mankind”) to live with Him. There is a progression in these requirements from what is external to what is internal and from human relationships to our relationship with God Himself.  The verse explains, “He has told each of you.” He had already told the Israelites what would be good (beneficial) for them:

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you except to fear the Lord your God by walking in all His ways, to love Him, and to worship the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul… He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner, giving him food and clothing.” (Deuteronomy 10:12,18)

“Above all, fear the LORD and worship Him faithfully with all your heart; consider the great things He has done for you.” (1 Samuel 12:24)

It’s related to Jesus’ “Great Commandment” in the New Testament: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” (Matthew 22:38-40):

A right relationship with God that results in great relationships with others requires three things: to act justly, love faithfully, and walk humbly with God.
1. God wants us to act the right way:  seek godly justice for the fair treatment of others.

Specifically, the Lord wanted them to practice justice rather than continuing to plot and practice unfairness and injustice toward one another (cf. v. 11; 2:1–2; 3:1–3). I realize that in our contemporary society, “social justice” has become a convoluted term meaning different things to different people. So let’s use the term “godly justice” that provides a biblical frame of reference that guides how we act.

The active infinitive (act justly) indicates something “to do” - to carry out or perform an action or course of action. In order for there to be justice, judgement is required in the determination of rights and the assignment of rewards or punishments. In the OT, this Hebrew word for justice (מִשְׁפָּט mišpāṭ) describes it as a rightness which is rooted in God’s character, compassion, and action. In contrast to the anger of injustice in our day (both personal and systemic), the Psalmist said, “How happy are those who uphold justice, who practice righteousness at all times” (Psalm 106:3). In other words, JUSTICE leads to JOY!

The Bible explains that wise people think of justice (Proverbs 12:5), speak of it (Psalm 37:30), seek it (Isaiah 1:17), provide it (James 1:27), and enjoy it (Proverbs 21:15), because God requires it along with a heart of love and a spirit of humility (Micah 6:8). Justice, however, isn’t self-righteous or prideful. Justice is humbly trusting and depending on Him rather than arrogantly defending or depending on our “rightness.”

Justice shows no favoritism nor is persuaded by politics, power, position, or economics. Justice requires empathy as we consider how we would feel in another’s shoes, It doesn’t give preference to the either the poor or to the wealthy (Deuteronomy 1:17). Justice doesn’t favor the citizen or to the resident alien (Leviticus 24:22). Social justice is godly justice.

2. God wants us to love the right way:  be personally committed to meeting the needs of others.

He also wanted His covenant people to love faithfully and practice loyal love (Hebrew חֶסֶד ḥesed) by carrying through their commitments to help one another, as He had with them. This Hebrew word is used 240 times in the OT to describe God’s grace, mercy, goodness, and devotion in His loving-kindness. His love is unconditional, unending, constant, eternal. God’s love is not just sentimental or emotional. It’s based upon His actions, specifically His strength to fulfill His promises to His people (Micah 7:20).

As followers of Jesus, we are to love our enemies – whoever and wherever they may be – just as He has loved us. Christ-like love gives others what they need the most when (based on attitudes, words, or behavior) they deserve it the least, at the greatest personal cost just as He loves us (Romans 12; 2 Corinthians 5:14; 1 John 4:10).

3. God wants us to live the right way:  walk humbly before God in our relationships with others.

He wanted His people to live their lives humbly trusting and depending on Him rather than arrogantly relying on themselves (cf. Micah 2:3). Pride is the enemy of justice and love. Whereas pride divides people; humility cultivates unity. Worldly Pride says, “Look what I’ve done.” Godly humility says, “Look what God’s done.”

In this mad, angry world today, the truth is that sin infects us all, and so we cannot simply divide the world into the heroes and the villains. Only by God’s Spirit will we see justice and experience it, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to do what’s right before God, love others as He has loved us, and remember how His justice was satisfied by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross in our place – my place – for our sin – my sin.

Every New Year’s Day, many people plan their day around watching a couple of fights between grown men. This New Year’s Day is no different. Today at 4:00pm, guys from Oklahoma will travel to the Rose Bowl in California, looking for a fight with some Bulldogs from Georgia. Later tonight, there will be another fight between some guys from Alabama taking on another group from South Carolina in New Orleans. Two football games will take place between two rivals who are enemies on the field with fans representing both in the stands.

But there will also be another group of people on the field. The referees. Their job is to be impartial. Their job is to ensure a fair game. They must be humble to make sure pride doesn’t cloud their vision. Their job is to establish the rules from a rule book given by a higher authority - the NCAA. At times, the referees/officials get yelled at from both teams on the field, both coaches, and from most fans in the stands, but they are to be just in their decisions. If the referee begins to choose sides, it results in chaos. If the referee is influenced by the fans in the stands, there is confusion on the field. But when the group of referees impartially and fairly applies the rules of the game established by NCAA, the game can be played and enjoyed on the field as intended.

In the same way, followers of Jesus are God’s referees here on the Earth as His representatives from Heaven. The LORD has told each of us what is good and what it is He requires of us: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with our God.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.


Kingdom of Priests

telescopeSo often, especially in the US, our identity seems to get wrapped up in our possessions (homes, cars, finances, etc..) and our value is usually related to what we do (teacher, engineer, manager, etc..). But God has called us to find our worth and our purpose in our relationship with Him. He has set us apart as believers in His Son, Jesus, to magnify Him like a telescope (bring God closer) or a microscope (make Him larger) for others to see and trust Him.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)

All the figures that Peter chose to describe the church originally referred to Israel. In contrast with the highly regulated, highly structured responsibilities and duties of the priests of the Israelites, however, the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ today has a direct access to God through the Savior. We are all priests; we can come near the presence of the Lord without an intermediary. Yet our privilege as believer-priests can only really be appreciated against the background of priests under the Old Covenant. When God gave the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai, He said that Israel would be a kingdom of priests (see Exodus 19:5-6) who would stand between God and the rest of humanity representing people before God. Within the tribes of Israel, though, God set apart Aaron and his descendants to serve Him as priests to Israel.

“The Lord told Aaron, “You will not have an inheritance in their land; there will be no portion among them for you. I am your portion and your inheritance among the Israelites.'” (Numbers 18:20)

microscopeReading this passage (Numbers 17-18) in my personal Bible reading this morning, I was reminded that God gave all the other tribes of Israel physical land as an inheritance to possess, rule, and manage, but to the tribe of Levi, God promised to provide for their physical needs through the offerings of His people. Most importantly, God said their personal identity and their real worth was to be found in Him: “I am your portion and your inheritance.” Likewise, as believer-priests today, our identity and our worth is not determined by what we possess or even by how we perform, but by our life is hidden in Jesus Christ. In order to discover our true identity, our real value, we have to look for it, but it’s there, revealed in Christ.

“Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:10)

In Colossians 3:3, Paul, likewise, says, “For you have died,  and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God.” In fact, Jesus is your life (Colossians 3:4). God has provided all we need for acceptance with Him and godly living in Jesus.

“To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. “(Revelation 1:5-6)

White as snow

Fresh snowAs we awoke this morning in Texas to several inches of powdery wonder, it brought a sense of awe and beauty. There’s something mesmerizing about fresh, fallen snow. Something magical as it reflects the sunlight. Clean. Undisturbed. New.

The glory of the snow reminded me this morning of the promise of the Lord:

“Come, let us discuss this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow.” (Isaiah 1:18)

In light of Israel’s condition of sin, idolatry, and rebellion against God (vv. 2–17), there was only one reasonable course of action. They could continue as they were and be destroyed or submit to God’s will and be blessed.

The Lord had given them clear instruction what they needed to do by faith, “Wash yourselves. Cleanse yourselves.” (Isaiah 1:16) As a principle, God required the shedding of blood for forgiveness of the wickedness of sin under the Mosaic Law. The moral cleansing of God’s people was by faith in the sacrifices of blood for the forgiveness of sin.  In Israel, the priest sprinkled animal blood on the altar with a hyssop branch. This ritual symbolized cleansing by sacrificial death (cf. Psalm 51:7). The sacrificial ceremony for Israel was not just going through the motions, it was an attitude of worshipping God exactly as He specified satisfied Him. But if they washed themselves and cleansed themselves morally by faith, they would be thoroughly clean, like fresh, fallen snow.

New snowWhereas animal blood adequately cleansed the obedient worshipers under the Old Covenant, a better sacrifice was necessary to cleanse the realities in heaven for us today under the New Covenant (cf. Hebrews 8:59:22-24). So, Jesus Christ’s death was essential to wash us and cleanse us of sin.

The faith of God’s people in the ceremonial sacrifice was to have an impact in how they lived their lives, too. “Remove your evil deeds from My sight.” the Lord said. “Stop doing evil. Learn to do what is good. Seek justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:16b-17)

If they were willing to obey, God would again bless them. If they decided to refuse and rebel, He would allow their enemies to defeat and destroy them. Behavioral change, the fruits of repentance, needed to demonstrate an attitude of repentance. It always does.

fresh snow“Come, let’s discuss this,” God says to us today, too. We can easily just go through the motions of worship. We can hear God’s word, but forget it or ignore it. We can live our lives with just outward performance, but like the Israelites, our prayers become ineffective because our attitude to God is not right (Isaiah 1:15).

But, as we trust in the Lord Jesus completely for our forgiveness and we worship Him daily with an attitude of dependence, our lives are like fresh, fallen snow. Clean. Undisturbed. New.

Second Chances

Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh

“Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh

The famous Dutch painter, Vincent van Gogh, tossed away the truth imparted to him in his Christian home and sank into a deep depression and destructive lifestyle. By the grace of God, he later began to embrace God’s love again and found he was given a second chance. Van Gogh’s life took on hope, and he gave that hope color: yellow.

The truth van Gogh was discovering is seen in the gradual increase of the presence of the color yellow in his paintings. Yellow evoked (for him) the hope and warmth of God’s unconditional love, unmerited grace, and total forgiveness. In one of his depressive periods, seen in his famous The Starry Night, one finds a yellow sun and yellow swirling stars. But by the time he painted The Raising of Lazarus, his life was on the mend as he began to face the truth about himself and his need for Jesus Christ. The entire picture is (blindingly) bathed in yellow. In fact, van Gogh put his own face on Lazarus to express his own hope in the Resurrection and the way God saw him.

Jesus doesn’t look at us the way others do. We look in the mirror and see our flaws. Jesus looks at us and sees what He can make of us as we trust in Him and His Word. We see our own shortcomings. Others point out our mistakes. But Jesus sees us and says, “I see what you can be.” He sees our potential.

One of the best examples of God’s radical grace and His gift of second chances is found in John 8.

2 At dawn [Jesus] went to the temple complex again, and all the people were coming to Him. He sat down and began to teach them. 3 Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, making her stand in the center. 4 “Teacher,” they said to Him, “this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. 5 In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do You say?” 6 They asked this to trap Him, in order that they might have evidence to accuse Him. Jesus stooped down and started writing on the ground with His finger. 7 When they persisted in questioning Him, He stood up and said to them, “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Then He stooped down again and continued writing on the ground. 9 When they heard this, they left one by one, starting with the older men. Only He was left, with the woman in the center. 10 When Jesus stood up, He said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, Lord,” she answered. “Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” John 8:1–11

The ultimate reason Jesus could forgive the adulterous woman from condemnation is that He would soon take her condemnation on Himself and die in her place (cf. Romans 8:1-2). Her forgiveness was free, but it certainly wasn’t cheap. And God the Father offers that same forgiveness to us because the price for it has already been paid by His Son, Jesus.

Jesus’ act of forgiveness of this woman was also followed by a challenge. He said, “There needs to be a change in your life. Don’t keep living this destructive way. I have a new way of living for you. It’s a life of the greatest freedom available, but one that has clear perimeters for your own protection.”

The adulterous woman needed her life to be completely renovated, rebuilt, restored – repainted. Her life was dark and full of despair. The Pharisees hearts were, also, pitch-black and full of pride. She knew she needed grace; they thought they had the right to judge. Jesus offered forgiveness to all of them, He offered it to van Gogh — and to us, as well.

"The Raising of Lazarus" by Vincent van Gogh

“The Raising of Lazarus” by Vincent van Gogh

Yellow paints the story of second chances: life can begin all over again because of God’s grace and forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ. Each of us, whether with actual yellows or metaphorical yellows, can begin to paint our lives with the fresh hope of a new beginning in Jesus. Our lives can be repainted for second chances.

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.

Holiness is what I need for Christmas

holiness_ChristmasJesus didn’t come just to make us happy, happy, happy. He came so that ruined people could be declared holy, holy, holy before a righteous God.

Happiness is a temporary feeling based on our personal circumstances. Holiness is our eternal standing before God based on the finished work of His Son, Jesus.

The LORD God says, Be holy because I am holy (Lev. 11:44Lev. 11:45Lev. 19:2; Lev. 20:7 Lev. 20:26; Lev. 21:8). And,As He who called you is holy, be holy yourselves” (1 Peter 1:15-16). But, the LORD God also knows that “there is no one righteous, not even one” (Psalm 143:2).

Because of sin, the first couple (Adam and Eve) were driven from God’s holy presence (Genesis 2:16-173:22-24). The prophet Isaiah, confronted with the holiness of God cried out, Woe is me for I am ruined because I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips, and because my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5) Because of our sin, our unrighteousness, our unholiness – we cannot stand in the presence of the holy God – and live.

That’s why we need Christmas.

In His loving-kindness, God sent His Eternal, Holy Son, Jesus, to save us from our sin by dying in our place so that we might live in the presence of the Holy God: For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. (John 3:16-17)

The angel said to [the shepherds], “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: 11 Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. (Luke 2:10–11)

This Christmas, we rejoice not because of feelings of happiness (or loneliness for that matter) which the season brings. We rejoice with the angels because while we were still sinners, Jesus Christ came to die for us (Romans 5:8-9). Jesus didn’t come to make our lives happy. He came to make us Holy. He came so that by faith in Him each one could stand in the presence of the Almighty King, the Lord of Hosts, the Holy God – and live.

Hallelujah, what a Savior!


21 But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed —attested by the Law and the Prophets 22 —that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction. 23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. 26 God presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21–26)

1 Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus, 2 because the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 What the law could not do since it was limited by the flesh, God did. He condemned sin in the flesh by sending His own Son in flesh like ours under sin’s domain, and as a sin offering. (Romans 8:1–3)

21 He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

8 I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ —the righteousness from God based on faith. (Philippians 3:8–9)

21 Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds because of your evil actions. 22 But now He has reconciled you by His physical body through His death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before Him. (Colossians 1:21–22)

24 He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness; you have been healed by His wounds. (1 Peter 2:24)

Is God fair?

All Photos by James Langford;

All photos by

At an early age, we develop a strong sense of fairness. Not long after uttering the longed-for words, “Momma” or “Dadda” comes “mine.” And then, a little while later we learn to pout, “That’s not fair!” The question of fairness arises whenever a coach makes a decision to start an undeserving player over another or director gives a lead role to one over another. As we get older, the stakes get higher. Why does an ice storm break the trees of one house and leave a neighbor’s unbroken? Why do some have electricity and while others are without? Why does a tornado level one house and skip another across the street? Why would God allow a drunk driver to survive a crash while killing an innocent victim?

Life isn’t fair. But what about God? We know God is great, but is He good? Is He fair?

The question of God’s justice is not just a weighty theological issue, it’s a crucial, personal matter of the heart. The issue arises in Scripture with the truth that God sovereignly elects some, but not all, to salvation.

“What should we say then? Is there injustice with God?” (Romans 9:14).

TX_Icestorm_2In courtroom-like proceedings, notice Paul’s intentional choice of the noun “injustice” rather than the adjective “unjust” to avoid posing a question about God’s character. The question is not a matter of denying the truth of God, but rather a question about the fairness of God’s dealings. Why should God choose to love one brother, Jacob, and hate the other, Esau (Romans 9:13)? Is God’s purpose of sovereign election a travesty of justice?

We may not think of it in terms of injustice, but we may wonder just the same, “Why did God allow an event to happen that way?”  “That doesn’t seem fair.”

On November 21, Mike and Julie’s 20 year old daughter, Audrey, a junior at SMU, was broadsided on Northwest Highway and remains in a coma in critical condition. There are countless unanswered questions. Why would God allow this? Why now? Why her? It just doesn’t seem fair.

TX_Icestorm_3“Is there injustice with God?” Paul quickly denies any possibility of unrighteousness on God’s part – ”Absolutely not!”  When life seems unfair, there may not always be a human reason, but there is always a divine purpose.

Instead of watering down God’s sovereignty in order to make it more palatable, Paul restates it more passionately and without apology. God defends His righteousness in mercy and judgment through Paul’s words:

15 For He tells Moses: I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 16 So then it does not depend on human will or effort but on God who shows mercy. Romans 9:15–16

God cannot be unjust because He is Holy. God cannot be unjust because He is Good. God cannot be unjust because He is Righteous. Not so sure about that? Consider Exhibit A: Moses (vv 15-16).

TX_Icestorm_1When the whole nation of Israel rebelled against God by worshipping the golden calf (Exod. 32-33), God took the lives of only 3,000 of the rebels. He could have justly wiped out the whole nation – more than a million. God is righteous when He exercises His mercy. His mercy caused Him to do something that appeared to be unjust. In Romans 9:16, the LORD God reminds us that is not man’s desire or effort that causes Him to be merciful but His own sovereign choice. God is under no obligation to show mercy or to extend grace to anyone. If we insist on receiving just treatment from God, what we will get is condemnation (Rom. 3:23); none of us really wants justice. When faced with reality, we cry out for mercy.

There is nothing we can do to earn favor with God except rely on God’s mercy to draw us close to Himself. No one will be able to point to God’s foreknowledge and say He chose them because He knew they would choose Him. No one will ever be able to stand before God and prove they were chosen because of something they had done. It is not our choice nor our work that gets us to God. Rather, it’s only His mercy. “He has mercy on whom He has mercy. He has compassion on whom He has compassion” (vs. 15). We contribute nothing, absolutely nothing to God’s mercy. It’s not because we’re lovable that God loves. He loves us because He is loving.

Once we come to grips with the reality that we are chosen by God’s mercy and His love, we then are faced with another question of why God chooses some but not all. “Why did He have mercy on Isaac and not Ishmael? Why love Jacob and not Esau?” and personally, “Why me?”

Paul takes up the question of God’s fairness with Exhibit B: Pharaoh. God raised up Pharaoh, hardened His heart so that God’s power would be proclaimed.

“He shows mercy to those He wants to, and He hardens those He wants to harden.” Romans 9:18

TX_Icestorm_4The issue is this: If it is God who harden’s hearts, how can He be fair to punish someone for something He’s done? If we don’t get the answer correct to this question, we’ll have a severely cold view of God…and ice cold hearts.

While the book of Exodus repeatedly says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, there are also many verses that say Pharaoh hardened his own heart. Two realities exist: God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and Pharaoh hardened his own heart.  Both are true. God’s hardening of anyone’s heart, however, is always a response to the sinfulness of the individual person. God used Pharaoh’s selfishness to harden and humble this powerful ruler and display His power and plans to His people and to the Nations. God did it, but it was Pharaoh’s responsibility.

What happened to Pharaoh serves as a warning to us.  Throughout the ten plagues, God gave Pharaoh ten chances to repent and obey God. But each time, Pharaoh chose to resist and reject God’s plans. Somewhere along the way, God “gave him over” to the hardness of his own heart because he wouldn’t accept the truth about the God of Israel. No one does anything to deserve God’s mercy and compassion, but anyone who repeatedly resists the mercy of God has done plenty to deserve God’s hardening.

TX_Icestorm_6Individually, each one of us has the freedom to choose to trust God’s sovereign plans or the freedom to harden our hearts. The same sun that melts the ice will harden the Texas clay this summer. The same God who shows mercy to the brokenhearted also hardens the cold hearted. He gives us the freedom to choose whether or not to trust Him.

“Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” thru the experiences of life that seem unfair. Trust in the God of mercy and compassion in Christ Jesus. When life seems unfair, there may not always be a human reason, but there is always a divine purpose.

Life isn’t fair. But God is.