Divine Will

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah; and they said to him, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt even to this day—in that they have forsaken Me and served other gods—so they are doing to you also. Now then, listen to their voice; however, you shall solemnly warn them and tell them of the procedure of the king who will reign over them.” (1 Samuel 8:4-9)

What’s the deal with this passage? Although God spoke as though Israel was opposing His will in asking for a king, He told Samuel to listen to their voice and do what they asked.  Samuel then warned the people of how a king would mistreat them, yet the elders still insisted they wanted a king.

This is an interesting passage. The elders of Israel seemed to be going against the Lord’s will in asking for a king.  Yet, they were also seeking God’s will in the selection of a king.  They didn’t just go out and anoint their own king.  They asked the prophet, Samuel, to appoint a king over them.

Samuel complied, and based on God’s guidance anointed Saul to be king over Israel. Later, Saul disobeyed God, and God subsequently rejected Saul as king and had Samuel anoint David as king in place of Saul.

What’s going on here? If the elders of Israel are rejecting God in asking for a king, then why are they asking for God’s selection for a king?

Why did God first indicate He didn’t want Israel to have a king…then anoint Saul as king…then reject Saul as king…then anoint David as king? Does God really have that much trouble making up His own mind?  Does God not know His own will?  If it wasn’t God’s will for Israel to have a king, why did God tell Samuel to appoint a king?

In an attempt to make sense out of these apparent contradictions, some people explain this passage in terms of God’s divine will versus God’s permissive will.  The general idea is that God has a perfect divine will He wants us to follow, but also has an imperfect permissive will he allows us to follow.  So, they would say it was God’s divine will for Israel to not have a king, but in His permissive will God allowed them to have a king…and to suffer the consequences of their bad choice.

The whole divine will versus permissive will explanation doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me, though.

This perspective sets us up to try to view God as having multiple wills. Rather than helping us better understand the passage, I think it just makes it more confusing.  How could God have a divided will when everything about Him is perfect?  God knows all things and can clearly foresee future events before they happen.  He is not constrained by time and space as we are.  So how could He have a divided will, or how could He change is mind?

“God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? (Numbers 23:19)

two year old colt

Archie – Our 2-year-old AQHA stud colt

Reading this passage reminds me of the evening I decided to train Archie, our young stud colt, to tail lead.

What I mean by the term tail lead, is simply that if I lightly pull a horse’s tail to the right, I would like him to step his hindquarters right. If I lightly pull his tail to the left, I would like him to step his hindquarters left.  This is not usually considered a super important horse training lesson.  A vast majority of horses go their entire lives without ever learning to tail lead and it doesn’t cause their owners any concern.

I’ve come to like teaching a horse to tail lead, mostly because it is useful when handling, grooming, maneuvering tight spots, etc. Most horses know how to step away from pressure applied by the handler.  Sometimes, it is more convenient to ask the horse to step his hindquarters toward me (rather than away from me) and tail leading allows me to effectively communicate that intent.

Also, tail lead training is a good lesson in building communication between horse and handler. It’s just one of many…but the many small things add up over time to result in big changes for the horse.

On this particular day, I had Archie at our farrier’s barn along with several other horses. While our farrier was trimming and shoeing other horses, I decided to use my time to train Archie.  The timing was intentional on my part.  By teaching Archie something new while in an unfamiliar location, I was also helping him learn to focus on me and respond to my cues no matter where we are.

Holding Archie’s lead line in my left hand, I grasped his tail with my right hand. Then I firmly tugged on his tail.  As expected, Archie promptly stepped his hindquarters right, away from me.  I simply held the same tail pressure and moved with him.

Now, at this point, anyone watching me (like my farrier maybe?) might have questioned what I was doing and why. They might have wondered about my intent…my will for Archie’s behavior.  I set out to teach Archie to step toward me when I lightly pulled his tail.  Instead he was strongly resisting the pressure and continually stepping away from me…while I simply went with him.

After a few minutes of moving around in circles, Archie paused…and I promptly dropped his tail. I petted and praised him like he’d just won the Kentucky Derby!  All he had actually done was stop moving away from me.  Anyone watching me at this point might have wondered if that was my intent…for Archie to simply stand still when I tugged on his tail.  I certainly praised him plenty for simply standing still for a moment!

Still holding the lead line in my left hand, I once again grasped Archie’s tail in my right hand and tugged. Again, he stepped his hindquarters right, away from me.  Again, I simply went with him and waited until he paused moving.  Again I promptly dropped his tail and praised him.

We did this several more times with the same results. Except, with each repetition it took him less time to stop moving.  Each time he acted a little less bothered and was a little quicker to stop moving away from me.

Then, one time Archie only started to move away, before deciding to stand still. I simply held the same tail pressure.  Again, he shifted his weight away and moved one hind hoof away…then he moved the hoof back to his left and I immediately dropped his tail and praised him.

Next time, Archie braced right without actually moving right. After a few seconds, he softened and tentatively stepped left.  I promptly dropped his tail and praised him.

After a few more minutes practice, Archie got to where he would move left toward me fairly quickly when I tugged his tail.

Then I switched things up. I moved to Archie’s right side and repeated everything again, from the right side.  We went through the same process from the right side, and after a few minutes Archie would step right to a right tail-pull.

Then I move back to Archie’s left side…and Archie was totally confused!

At that point he was totally lost on which way I wanted him to step when.  He understood I wanted a step and he was willing to do what I asked, but he was very confused on the proper response to a cue from left or right.

So, we kept working on first one side and then the other until Archie was able to tell the difference between a left cue and a right cue…and the proper response to each.

At that point, Archie understood what I wanted and responded fairly well. However, his first response was to brace against the tug, before deciding to soften and go with me.

So, we continued to work on it with lighter and lighter cues.

By the time we quit for the night, I could stand to Archie’s left and lift his tail. Before I even applied any pressure, Archie would softly shift his weight left.  Then when I actually started drawing his tail toward me, Archie would smoothly step over before any real pressure was even applied.  And he responded just as softly and promptly working from his right side.

It was a really fun training session in which we accomplished all I had hoped for!

If anyone had been watching the entire training session, by the end it would have been pretty obvious Archie and I had accomplished what I had planned from the start.

Early on, that would not have been as obvious. The first time I tugged Archie’s tail, he stepped away from me and I simply went with him.  At that stage, it didn’t look like I was teaching Archie to tail lead.  It looked more like I was just letting Archie drag me around by his tail.

Then when Archie paused his movement for just a moment, I dropped his tail and profusely praised him, as though he had done exactly what I wanted…even though it wasn’t anything close to what I really wanted. If we paused the scene at that one spot, it would have looked as though I didn’t know my own mind and was doing a poor job of communicating my intent to Archie.

In actuality, I had a specific intent for that training session, and the entire session went according to my plan. Archie exercised his free will in accordance with his instincts throughout the whole training session.  Yet I had anticipated his choices in advance and had already planned for them.  Even as I allowed Archie to do what felt comfortable to him, I was working out my plan to bring about my will and purpose for Archie.

Furthermore, at no time in that training session was Archie rebellious toward me. Archie simply followed his natural instincts to respond to my cues in the way that felt most comfortable to him.  Archie was not intentionally subverting my will.  In fact, he seemed perfectly willing to do what I asked once he came to understand my intent and was allowed time to become confident doing what I asked.

The training session was never about punishing Archie or forcing him to conform to my will, nor was I ever angry with Archie. From start to finish, I worked with Archie in what was comfortable to him, even as I taught him to understand my desired response and helped him become comfortable doing what I asked.  I broke the task into small training segments that Archie could understand and helped him learn one stage at a time until he had accomplished all I wanted for that training session.

I am a novice amateur horseman. Yet I was able to plan well enough to incrementally work out my will and purpose through my horse’s imperfect choices, to bring about my will in his life.

God is creator of heaven and earth…the great I Am…the one who is, who was, and who is to come. How much more can God incrementally work out His will and purpose through our imperfect choices, to bring about His perfect will in our lives!

Throughout the Old Testament narrative, a primary objective of God’s will was to bring a Savior into the world. The first messianic prophecy was given in the third chapter of Genesis, right after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, when God foretold the seed of woman would crush the serpent’s head.  From there, God continued to unfold further revelations of His plans for the coming Messiah (Christ).  Among those revelations are several prophecies that Messiah would be a descendant of King David, that He would inherit David’s throne, and that He would rule over all the earth.

This was God’s divine plan from the beginning.

God always wanted Israel to have a king. That King is Jesus Christ, direct descendant of King David and heir to David’s throne.  What we see in 1 Samuel is the incremental unfolding of God’s divine plan being worked out through the imperfect choices of His people.

Samuel was offended the people wanted a king to take care of them. God simply went with them as they sought comfort in a king, much as I went with Archie as he initially moved away from me when I tugged his tail.

God personally selected a king based on what the elders were looking for. They wanted a strong domineering king who would build up an army by force and defeat Israel’s enemies in battle.  God responded by giving them Saul, who was all they asked for.

Several years later, the people came to realize they wanted more from a king than what Saul offered. After Saul died in battle, they wanted a godly king…a king who pursued God’s heart…a king who acted justly and loved mercy.  They were ready to covenant with David to be king.  And, eventually, Jesus became heir to David’s throne.

God was not being double minded nor was He changing his mind. God simply worked with the elders of Israel from their perspective at that time, to bring about His perfect will in their lives, through their imperfect choices.

This is what God does. This is what God still does, today, in the lives of His children.

God works thru the imperfect choices of His children to bring about His perfect will. Click To Tweet

Perhaps someone reading this post is in an abusive relationship. Perhaps you have been living in quiet despair, believing you must have taken a wrong turn and made choices outside God’s will for your life.  Perhaps you have stopped believing God’s best plan for your life is even a possibility and have simply been hoping for some measure of God’s mercy in trying to live out a second-best life in God’s “permissive” will.  Perhaps you have even started to believe maybe you deserve the abuse as punishment for your wrong choices.

If that’s the case…if you are in a situation similar to what I have described…then let me assure you God’s perfect plan for your life is not off track. Nothing you have done has taken God by surprise.  He has known His plan for you from the beginning and is continuing to bring about His purpose for you through your imperfect choices.  Just as I worked with Archie from where he was, God is working with you from where you are.  If you belong to Christ, you can trust Him to bring about His perfect plan for your life.  And God’s perfect plan includes your walking in liberty in Christ, free of any abusive covenants of bondage.

God established Saul as king over Israel based on their imperfect choices. Yet, when the time was right, God removed Saul from the throne and established David as king…with the ultimate goal of establishing Jesus as king.

You can trust God to do the same for you. God is faithful!

Escaping Abuse

The topic of divorce to escape abuse has been much in the news this week.

Over the weekend, Paige Patterson’s comments in an audio tape from 2000 resurfaced.  In that tape, Patterson (president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas) purportedly said abused women should focus on praying and “be submissive in every way that you can” and not seek divorce.  He went on to say, “I have never in my ministry counseled anyone to seek a divorce and that’s always wrong counsel.”

According to the Washington Post, Patterson pushed back this week, claiming he had been misrepresented and mischaracterized.  He went on to clarify he has counseled “on more than one occasion” women to leave abusive husbands, and that physical or sexual abuse of any kind should be reported “to the appropriate authorities.”

Patterson then reaffirmed his position on divorce, “I have also said that I have never recommended or prescribed divorce. How could I as a minister of the Gospel? The Bible makes clear the way in which God views divorce.”

According to Christianity Today, many evangelical Christians agree with Patterson’s perspective on divorce.  Even the many recent strong statements against abuse mostly fall short of taking a strong position in favor of divorce as a godly response to abuse.

Yes, the Bible does make clear the way in which God views divorce…which is drastically different from how Patterson seems to view divorce.

In Deuteronomy 24:1-4 God makes clear His intent that divorce should include an official certificate of divorce to ensure both parties are declared legally free of obligation to the covenant vows, with both parties free to marry another if they so choose.

In Matthew 19:3-9, Jesus reaffirmed the words of Deuteronomy, declaring the law given to Moses made provision for just divorce, because of hardened hearts…the heart of one spouse being hardened against their covenant partner.

In Jeremiah 3:8, God boldly proclaimed He has divorced the Kingdom of Israel, issuing a Certificate of Divorce in accordance with the law in Deuteronomy, for this very reason…because Israel had continually hardened their hearts against Him, their covenant partner, in repeated abusive violations of their covenant vows.

And in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul clearly states that a divorced person is free to remarry, and that marriage is preferable to undue temptation.

When the nation of Israel was enslaved by Pharaoh who abused them and issued orders for their infant sons to be killed, did God stand idly by, encouraging them to submit to their covenant partner?  Did God tell them they must remain true to their covenant no matter how abusive their partner might be?

No!  God was not idle.  He actively worked to deliver Israel from bondage.  God redeemed and delivered Israel from their covenant with an abusive partner!

When we were enslaved to Satan, did God stand idly by, encouraging us to submit to our covenant partner?

No!  Jesus redeemed and delivered us from our covenant with the kingdom of darkness, delivering us into the Kingdom of Heaven!

Yes, the Bible is very clear on the way in which God views divorce.

So…why is Patterson, like so many evangelical Christians, so confused on the topic?

Maybe it’s time to stop viewing scripture through the lense of our religious cultural perspective and pay closer attention to what it really says.  Maybe it’s time to stop treating scripture like it was a legal document to be studied and interpreted by lawyers digging for rules, loopholes, and exception clauses…and start reading scripture as a revelation of God’s character.

 

Your thoughts?

 

 

Three Days

“The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later.” (Matthew 9:31)

This week, Christians around the world are celebrating the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bible has much to say about these events.  Four eyewitness accounts are given of these events in the gospels, and the New Testament epistles provide further elaboration.  These events are the cornerstone of the Christian faith.

Yet, we’re told surprisingly little about what happened in Sheol (or Hades…the place of the dead) during the three days Jesus was in the grave.

The four gospel accounts are based on eyewitness testimony by the apostles and others. Since all the eyewitnesses were living, we have no direct account of what transpired in Sheol.

We are told Jesus preached to the spirits in prison, that He now holds the keys of death and of Hades, and that many of the dead were raised.  Yet we know very little of what actually transpired in Sheol during those three days Jesus was in the grave.

Since I often write on the topic of redemption, it is not surprising I am sometimes asked what I think happened during those three days of silence from the tomb. It is a topic I have somewhat avoided, because the Bible simply does not provide an authoritative answer.  Although I certainly have my own speculations, they’re exactly that…speculations.

But maybe it’s worth speculating…

Although the Bible is largely silent on what transpired during the Great Exodus from Sheol, it provides rich details of what transpired during the Great Exodus from Egypt. Since the Great Exodus from Egypt is clearly a prophetic precursor of Christ’s work in Sheol, let’s see what we can learn from it.

God’s covenant people were enslaved in Egypt, held in bondage by covenant to an abusive ruler. While enslaved in Egypt, they occupied a separate region called Goshen, where they experienced God’s protection even while enslaved.

In much the same way, God’s covenant people were enslaved in Sheol, held in bondage by covenant to Satan. While enslaved in Sheol, they occupied a separate region called Abraham’s Bosom (or Paradise), where they experienced God’s protection even while enslaved.

God told Moses:

Furthermore I have heard the groaning of the sons of Israel, because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant. Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. (Exodus 6:5-6)

What transpired afterward is the well-known Exodus story we are all familiar with…the story that is commemorated in the Jewish Passover feast…and which has inspired numerous movie depictions.

What transpired was that God showed up in Egypt…accompanied by ten plagues…each more devastating than the last. Each plague specifically targeted one of the false gods of Egypt, exposing them as frauds.  God countered the false gods, not with empty arguments, but with power and judgment.  The truth of God’s identity rolled over the lies of the false gods like a tidal wave of destruction.

The final plague, the death of the firstborn, targeted Pharaoh himself…the Egyptian sungod…cutting off the inheritance of the Egyptians much as Pharaoh had attempted to cut off the covenant inheritance of the Israelites by murdering their infant sons.

God redeemed Israel from their covenant with Pharaoh…bringing about their just divorce from Egypt and dissolving all legal ties and all covenant obligations to Pharaoh.

Most redemptions require a payment on behalf of the person being redeemed from slavery.  However, in Israel’s redemption from Egypt, the only payment made to Egypt was the ten plagues…while Israel was paid Egyptian silver and gold.  These were the payments deemed by God as just redemption from Egypt.

In the end, Pharaoh was so desperate for God to leave Egypt that he ordered the Israelites to leave, thereby dissolving their covenant.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for under compulsion he will let them go, and under compulsion he will drive them out of his land.” (Exodus 6:1)

I speculate that Christ’s redemption of His people from Sheol was similar to the redemption from Egypt.

Sheol is described as a place of darkness, despair, and torment. Into that dark kingdom of death strode the Lord of Light and Life.  The lies of Satan were steam-rolled by the power of the living Christ.  The pillars of deception and despair were vaporized by the truth and hope of Christ.  Satan’s stronghold began to crumble and those enslaved found new hope.

And I speculate that Satan was so desperate for Christ to leave that he begged Jesus to take all His chosen ones out with him, thereby dissolving his covenant claim.

“…for under compulsion he will let them go…”

Here is what Isaiah prophesied about the coming Messiah’s dual work of judgment and redemption:

Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death, and with Sheol we have made a pact. The overwhelming scourge will not reach us when it passes by, for we have made falsehood our refuge and we have concealed ourselves with deception.”

Therefore thus says the Lord God,

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, a costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed.

“I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the level. Then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies and the waters will overflow the secret place.

“Your covenant with death will be canceled, and your pact with Sheol will not stand.  When the overwhelming scourge passes through, then you become its trampling place.

“As often as it passes through, it will seize you. For morning after morning it will pass through, anytime during the day or night, and it will be sheer terror to understand what it means. (Isaiah 28:15-19)

Glory! What a Savior!  Our Redeemer lives!

He joins us in our place of bondage.  He protects us as He judges our oppressor.  He redeems and delivers us into liberty in Him.  He resurrects us to new life.

 

Your thoughts?

 

Aslan’s Redemption

“You have a traitor there, Aslan,” said the Witch.

“Well,” said Aslan, “His offense was not against you.”

“Have you forgotten the Deep Magic?” asked the Witch?

“Let us say I have forgotten it,” answered Aslan gravely. “Tell us of this Deep Magic.”

“Tell you?” said the Witch, her voice growing suddenly shriller. “Tell you what is written on that very Table of Stone which stands beside us?  Tell you what is written in letters deep as a spear is long on the fire-stones on the Secret Hill?  Tell you what is engraved on the scepter of the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea?  You at least know the Magic which the Emperor put into Narnia at the very beginning.  You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to a kill.”

“And so,” continued the Witch, “that human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me.  His blood is my property.”

“It is very true,” said Aslan, “I do not deny it.”

In my current rereading of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, I was struck by this passage in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

Those familiar with the story will recall that Aslan goes on to forfeit his own life in exchange for Edmund’s. However, Aslan later comes back to life…through the power of the Emperor’s older deeper magic that the Witch did not know.

What a clear illustration of our redemption through Jesus Christ!

Notice who Edmund’s accuser is…and who his defender is:

“You have a traitor there, Aslan,” said the Witch.

“Well,” said Aslan, “His offense was not against you.”

Edmund betrayed Aslan. He betrayed his own brother and sisters.  He betrayed their woodland friends.  Edmund sought out the Witch to tell her where his siblings were hiding, who was hiding them, where they were going, and where they were to meet Aslan.

Edmund became a traitor to Aslan by allying himself with the Witch.

Yet, Aslan offered Edmund forgiveness while the Witch accused him.

Lewis’ illustration is consistent with biblical teaching. The Bible calls Satan the accuser of the brethren…who accuses them before our God day and night and says Jesus Christ is our Advocate with the Father.

Realizing we have sinned against God, too often we mistakenly act as though God is angry with us, looking for any excuse to condemn us to Hell for any unconfessed sin. Yet the Bible clearly says Satan is our accuser and Jesus is our defender.  God’s position toward His children is loving concern and a desire to deliver us, rather than of angry vengeance.

Even for those who have not believed in Christ, we are told, “God demonstrates His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Like Edmund, we were all traitors. We all treacherously allied ourselves with Satan in his war against God.  Yet Jesus, in accordance with the Father’s will, died so we could be rescued from Satan’s dominion.  Even while we were still traitors against God…still allied with Satan…Christ died for us.

Why was it necessary for Aslan to be killed?

The Witch had valid legal claim over Edmund. Edmund belonged to her.  She owned him, as a slave, to do with as she pleased.

“You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to a kill.”

“And so,” continued the Witch, “that human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me.  His blood is my property.”

“It is very true,” said Aslan, “I do not deny it.”

The Witch had valid legal claim over Edmund’s life. Aslan gave his life in exchange for Edmund’s.

Notice there was not a question of strength. The Witch knew Aslan was powerful enough to take Edmund by force.  Her claim to Edmund relied completely on legal rights for which she called on Aslan’s righteous justice.  If the situation were reversed, she would not have followed the path of justice.  Yet she relied on Aslan to be just.

So, Aslan offered his life in exchange for Edmund’s.

Aslan died to redeem Edmund from the Witch’s claim…one life exchanged for another…so Edmund would be free of the Witch’s claim…free to live a life of honor, love and justice in right relationship with the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea.

The Bible has much to say on the topic of redemption.  Today, we often use the word redeem in a rather loose manner to refer to anything good that comes from a bad situation.  However, scriptural use of the word redeem is much more specific.

In Leviticus 25, Moses gave us the Law of Redemption, in which redemption clearly refers to transfer of legal ownership being restored back to the rightful owner.  In biblical context, redemption means to justly bring about the end of a covenant of bondage by which someone or something belonging to God is being held captive.

According to Leviticus 25, right of redemption is a reserved right by the rightful owner.  When an Israelite sold land or sold themselves into servitude, they retained right of redemption…the right to cancel out the purchase contract by refunding the purchase cost.  The reason given for the right of redemption is that they belong to God.

What Aslan did for Edmund is what Jesus did for us.

Jesus gave His life in exchange for ours. Jesus died and descended into that shadow world called Sheol (Hades or Death) to redeem us from Satan’s valid legal claim over us.

I once belonged to Satan. Satan once had a legal claim over my life which the Father acknowledged to be valid.  Satan could not hold me by strength, as God is much stronger.  Rather, Satan held me by legal claim, for which he completely relied on Father’s justice.  So Jesus gave His life in exchange for mine.  Jesus redeemed me from Satan’s legal claim, so I could cease to be a slave to sin and can now walk in righteousness and love, as a child of God.

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

 

Your thoughts?

 

Life!

I don’t usually make a big deal about New Year’s resolutions, and I’ve never participated in the Word of the Year blogging trend.  New Year’s Day seems like a good time to start a goal with a twelve month cycle, such as reading through the Bible in a year.  However, most resolutions seem to me to be more applicable as daily life-style choices.

This New Year’s Day, however, I find myself very much contemplating lifestyle choices and what changes may be on the horizon.  It’s a matter of timing, really.  During the last two weeks of 2015 I received a cancer diagnosis and underwent two surgeries.  So, I am naturally starting 2016 with a certain level of new resolve.

In 2016…and every year thereafter, I choose life!

It’s not a new resolution…actually it’s been a daily choice for most of my life.  But current circumstances make it a fresher, newer, stronger resolution.

I’ve lived most my life with an awareness of both the brevity and fragility of this life.  Life is full of unknowns and unexpected turns.  We have much less control than we tend to assume.

The cancer diagnosis doesn’t change the unknowns, but it does put them front and center for me, right now.  My prognosis is very good.  I have every reason to expect a long, full active life after completion of treatment.  At the same time, there are numerous unknowns.

Right now, the right side of my lip sags, my right shoulder sags, and my right arm is weak.  No, it’s not a stroke…just post-surgery status.  Most likely, some or all of these symptoms will improve or disappear with time.  But there are no guarantees.  I’ve adopted an attitude of hopeful acceptance…I hope it improves, but see no reason to enjoy life any less if it doesn’t.

I still have radiation treatment coming up.  I don’t yet know exactly how that will play out…how often, how intense, how long, or how uncomfortable…nor what long-term effects may linger.  My intent is to make prayerful informed decisions then leave it in God’s hands.

I also don’t yet know what lifestyle changes may be required.  Advice from family and friends include everything from never drink another glass of wine to never eat another dessert…everything from slow down and taking things easier to throw myself into continual positively energetic activities.

Overall, I think I’ve lived a fairly healthy lifestyle thus far, and can’t see anything to point to as a source of cancer.  Post-diagnosis certainly merits more careful assessment.  I’m certainly willing to make whatever changes are likely to result in improved health.  I am not willing to live in unnecessary fear.

I choose life!

For me, choosing life means choosing Christ.  Jesus said,

I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? (John 11:25-26)

Yes, Lord, I believe!  I believe you are life.  I believe choosing you is choosing life.  I believe choosing life means choosing you.

I choose life! I choose Christ! Click To Tweet

I choose faith over fear.

I choose hope over despair.

I choose joy over sorrow.

I choose thankfulness over complaints.

I choose righteousness over sin.

I choose love over selfishness.

I choose forgiveness over bitterness.

I choose health over toxicity.

I choose life over death.

I choose godliness.

I reject Adam’s covenant with sin and death from which Christ has redeemed me.  I embrace the new covenant with God which Christ has enacted on my behalf.

I choose life!

 

Your thoughts?

Why I Speak Out

wedding band on open bible[This is a repost, with minor edits, of my guest blog on Dan Erickson’s site December, 2012.]

I am a Christian.  I believe the Bible is the inspired word of God.  I prescribe to a literal, conservative interpretation of God’s word.  I love studying biblical covenants and find a deep richness of covenant references throughout the Bible.  I view covenant as a common thread woven through both testaments, tying promises in Genesis to prophecies in Revelation.  I often describe our God as a covenant God for Whom all interactions with mankind are based on covenant.  Covenant relationships and the keeping of covenant vows are a very big deal to me.

So why does someone, with my background and convictions, write posts titled “Divorce is Sin…Says Who?”  “Free to Remarry,” “God of Divorce” and “The It-Takes-Two Lie”?

I have been accused, by people who don’t know my story, of trying to justify the divorce of my first marriage.

I have been asked, by people who do know my story, why I’ve felt compelled to change my perspective on biblical divorce.  “Joe,” they say, “you clearly had biblical grounds for divorce.  Your situation met the criteria of every exception clause as being permissible.  Why do you continue to search scriptures regarding marriage and divorce?”

And that’s just it.  My situation did meet the criteria of every “exception clause.”  I lived seventeen years in an abusive marriage to someone who intentionally and repeatedly inflicted deep emotional wounds, who seemed drawn to the intrigue of lies when the truth would have served her better, and for whom every word and action seemed designed to manipulate…even though I would have done anything for her without the need of manipulation.

Yet, I wasn’t seeking a divorce.  I wasn’t asking whether divorce was “permissible” or if my situation met the criteria of “exception clauses.”  My heart was not pursuing divorce.  My heart was pursuing a healthy marriage based on love and mutual trust.  My heart was pursuing a stable, loving environment for our family of four precious children.  My heart was pursuing what I understood to be God’s will for our family.

I wasn’t concerned with what was “permissible.”  I was only concerned with the relentless pursuit of God’s will and God’s best for our family.

My heart was broken…over and over again.  I was wounded and hurting, crying out to God for help and healing.

I saw many answers to prayer in that marriage….many miraculous softenings of her heart…many steps appearing to lead toward healing.

I also learned a lot about myself and improving communication.  The many counseling sessions were, in general, a healthy thing for me…and seemed a step in the right direction at the time.

And yet…each positive step turned out to be so temporary…

As the years passed, new lies surfaced, exposing deeper and more recent betrayals.  The lessons learned in counseling became tools used for the purpose of deceiving me further, while continuing to deeply wound me with betrayal of covenant vows.  New communication tools were used, not for strengthening relationship, but rather for giving the appearance of deepening intimacy while actually concealing deeper betrayals.

I prayed fervently and continuously.  Yet, as the passing of time continued to reveal ever deeper deceptions and betrayals, there was also a need to face the facts…to realize that no matter how much I wanted to see healing of the relationship, that might not be the end result.

One person in the relationship seeking God’s will is not enough for relational healing. Click To Tweet

The summer of 2000 was, for me, a time of intense prayer and fasting.  I was doing a lot of running, and as my feet wound out the miles, I continually begged God for healing.

“How long, Lord, must I wander in this wilderness of pain and trauma?  Please, Lord, I need your healing touch.  My heart is broken.  My marriage is broken.  My soul is crushed.  Lord, I don’t know what to do.  Please, Lord, lead me out of this wilderness into a place of healing!”

And I began to hear God’s answer…softly at first…then stronger and more persistent, “Go in and possess the land” (Joshua 1:11).

“Lord, you can’t mean that!  You know how many times I’ve been deceived and how deeply I’ve been wounded!  You want me to put aside all my legitimate fears and act as though my marriage and heart are healed?  That’s crazy!  It makes no sense!”

And yet, I felt His consistent prompting, “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be discouraged or dismayed.  Go in and possess the land.”

I recalled the many stories of God’s miraculous work.  I was heartened that perhaps this is what God was going to do in my marriage.  Perhaps, this was my Jordan River to cross before seeing God’s miraculous victories!

So, I asked Him, “Lord, are you saying you’re going to heal my marriage?  That her heart will be changed toward me and our relationship will be restored?”

“Go in and possess the land.”

“Lord, what does that mean?  You want me to make myself vulnerable with no promise from you?  You never did that in the Bible!  You always gave a promise when asking for obedience in difficult circumstances.  Lord, what is your promise to me, today?”

“Be strong and courageous.  Do not be discouraged or dismayed, and the Lord, Your God, will be with you, wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

So I began, once again, to change my attitude and behavior toward her.  I began to draw in my boundaries and lower my defenses.  I dropped the wait-and-see attitude I’d held since the last major betrayal, and began, yet again, to actively pursue her heart.

And she responded by withdrawing further.

Over the course of that next year, as I attempted to open up toward her, she drew further back from me.  I still faced each new issue head-on, refusing to sweep anything under the rug, wanting true healing of our relationship.  I was actively engaging in the relationship while refusing to side-step or ignore any known issues.  Finally, one evening while discussing a recent issue, she asked for a divorce, saying, “I just don’t want to do this anymore.”

There were still a lot of steps toward healing.  God was faithful through the divorce and later custody battles.  Not every battle was victorious from my perspective, but He continued to lead me and guide me…and to comfort and heal me.

A counselor asked me once, “You do realize, don’t you, that there is absolutely nothing you could have done differently to prevent this divorce?”

“Yes, I can see that.”

“And you do understand,” he continued, “that the divorce had nothing to do with you, personally?  That no matter who she married, it would have ended in divorce?”

“Yes, I can see that, too.  Thank you!”

And that’s the thing…the thing that so few Christians really understand…that I did not understand, myself, before experiencing it.

The health and longevity of a relationship cannot be determined by one individual.  Yes, we must each do our own part and be willing to love sacrificially.  Yet, no amount of sacrificial love, by one party, can ensure a healthy or lasting relationship.

In a marriage, we are each responsible for wholeheartedly living out our covenant vows in faithfulness, for the duration of that covenant.  However, neither partner is responsible for the longevity of the covenant.

I entered that marriage as an idealistic young man, believing if I loved deeply enough, believed strongly enough, prayed fervently enough, somehow God would always intervene to heal and restore the marriage relationship.

I learned, although God is always faithful to His promises, He does not violate human free will.  If one marriage partner refuses to surrender their will to Him, He will not force them to…and the marriage will not be healed.

I learned divorce is not always outside God’s will.  Rather, in many situations, divorce is God’s direct and perfect will.

In my case, God asked me to follow a difficult path of obedience.  That path did not lead to the marital restoration I hoped for.  Rather, it led toward further hardening of her heart, resulting in divorce.

God redeemed me from that marriage of abusive bondage in much the same way He redeemed Israel from their covenant with Pharaoh.  That divorce was a part of God’s perfect plan for my life, just as surely as deliverance from Egypt was part of His perfect plan for the nation of Israel.

God has used these experiences to drastically change my view of His heart toward His children who are enslaved in covenants of abusive bondage, or who have experienced divorce.  In recent years, I have become more outspoken about my views on these topics.

I’m speaking out, not to justify my own actions, nor because of emotional pain or bitterness in regard to that marriage.

My actions in that marriage and divorce don’t require justification, and I am now happily married to a godly woman, with whom I enjoy raising and loving children and grandchildren.

I’m speaking out against a system of biblically unsubstantiated myths regarding divorce believed by many Christians, today.

These myths lead to legalistic judgmental attitudes toward God’s children who have experienced divorce or who are currently enslaved in an abusive marriage.  They hold Christians in bondage and do not reflect God’s heart of love and redemption.

I speak out in an attempt to shine the light of God’s truth and hope in an area of blindness within the church.

I speak out in the hope someone in an abusive marriage will understand, in some situations, divorce is God’s perfect will and the godliest course of action.

In some situations, divorce is God’s perfect will and the godliest course of action. Click To Tweet

I speak out in the hope someone who has experienced divorce will better understand God’s heart of redemption and will draw closer to His heart of love.

Who do you know in need of encouragement through divorce?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Dear Anna Duggar

An open letter to Anna Duggar…and to others finding themselves in similar situations…

Dear Anna Duggar,

You don’t know me and I don’t know you or Josh.  I have, however, frequently thought of you and prayed for you over the past few weeks, as the daily news has dissected your marital relationship while exposing Josh’s infidelities.

According to reporters, your friends say “Anna will not leave him,” “She is fully and permanently committed to her marriage and her children,” and “Divorce is not even something that will be discussed.”  Your friend reportedly went on to say that you will try “on some level” to “absorb some of the blame…Maybe not publicly, ever, but privately, there will be some suggestion of whether or not she should have been more aware of the pressures Josh was under, of the issues he was facing, and how she could have better counseled him or helped him.”

Anna, your decisions and struggles during this time are yours alone, and I (a complete stranger) would not be so brazen as to attempt to tell you what decisions are right for you in this situation.

I want you to know my heart breaks for you.

I have some idea of the pain and confusion you must be experiencing, because I have faced similar situations.  Like you, I was raised believing that marriage is godly while divorce is ungodly…that divorce is always the fault of both parties…that God hates divorce…and that divorce is not an option for a true Christian.  And like you, I was faced with the reality of a repeatedly unfaithful spouse.  Although that marriage eventually ended in divorce, for many years I held the position your friend reportedly says you hold.  Determined to choose what I believed was the most godly course…to do what I believed was best for my family…I repeatedly renewed and restored fellowship, determined to avoid divorce.

My prayer for you is that you will learn of God’s grace through divorce more quickly than I did.  I pray the Holy Spirit will guide your reading of scripture and open your heart to understand God’s tremendous heart of grace and redemption toward His children who are in a covenant relationship with an oath breaker.  For your sake and the sake of your children, I pray you will at least seriously contemplate the possibility that divorce may be your best and most godly course of action.

I don’t know if divorce is the best choice for you.  How could I?  I do know you have some very difficult decisions before you.  I do know there is no easy path before you…that whether you choose divorce or reconciliation your path is filled with sorrow and anguish.  Divorce at least limits the anguish to a finite period of time allowing you and your children to heal and get on with life.  Reconciliation to an unrepentant adulterer is a path of never-ending pain and sorrow…lies continually renewed with freshly broken vows.

And therein lies the wrestling with your most difficult question, “Is Josh truly repentant?”

Your instinct will likely be (as reported by your friend) to believe he is truly repentant…because believing otherwise turns your entire life upside down.  And maybe he is…only God knows.

I pray you at least consider the very real possibility Josh may not be truly repentant…that he may go right back to the same traitorously adulterous behavior.  As harsh as that reality is to face, it is a very real possibility meriting serious exploration before making final decisions in regard to you and your children’s welfare.  Josh has repeatedly proven himself to be completely untrustworthy and entirely willing to egregiously violate his sacred marriage vows, fully realizing both the pain that causes you and your children as well the damage inflicted on your relationship.  Josh did not unintentionally ‘fall’ into an adulterous relationship with an acquaintance…rather he used the internet to actively seek out and pursue adultery.  To now take his word at face value would be neither wisdom nor faith.  Rather, it would be a refusal to accept reality.  Choosing to fully trust the proven untrustworthy is not inviting God into the situation.  Rather it is shutting the full reality of the situation out of the decision making process.

I pray you will not allow yourself to carry the burden of Josh’s guilt.  To do so is both unhealthy and unbiblical.  Yes, I’m sure you have made mistakes yourself.  That does not make you responsible for Josh’s sin.  There is a huge difference between unintentional minor mistakes and intentional egregious violations of sacred covenant vows.

Finally, my prayer for you is that God will use even this experience for your good and for His glory.  That whether this marriage is renewed or ends in divorce, you will learn God’s faithfulness in all of life’s circumstances.  I pray you will emerge from this with a deeper understanding of God’s heart of love and redemption and a fuller grace toward all of His children.

May God continue to richly bless and keep you, now and through eternity.

 

Sincerely,

Your brother in Christ, Joseph J. Pote

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

Guilty Stain

The Guilty Stain of the God-slayers
A poem by Joseph J. Pote
[republished from April, 2014, with minor revisions]

It began in the Garden of Eden,
With fruit from the forbidden tree.
Adam chose to disobey God,
Believing sin would set him free.

No longer desiring to hear God’s voice,
Nor willing to be God’s slave,
Adam conspired to usurp God’s throne,
To claim what his heart did crave.

Oh, the horrible guilt; the burden; the pain!
Paradise lost, and nothing to gain!

Rejecting the morals of his creator,
Seeking only to make himself greater,
By denying the Truth of God’s word,
Adam became a traitor.

Adam displaced God’s authority,
Though God’s Spirit dwelt in his heart.
He slew the best of man’s spirit,
Forcing God’s Spirit to depart.

Oh, the horrible guilt; the sin; the shame!
Emmanuel’s dead, and Adam’s to blame!

And so the killing continued.
Cain murdered his brother, Abel.
Fleeing his guilty conscience,
Cain treated God’s law as a fable.

Cain’s hands were covered with blood;
Abel’s blood cried out for vengeance.
Yet God showed Cain His mercy;
Though marked, Cain was not sentenced.

Oh, the horrible guilt; the sin; the shame!
Abel is dead, and Cain is to blame!

In Noah’s day, man’s wickedness spread.
Their hands were covered with blood.
Seeing how corrupt the world had become,
God slowed the infection by sending a flood.

One lie leads always to another;
One murder demands another’s death.
The stain of sin just keeps on spreading.
A contagious disease, it infects with a breath.

Oh, the horrible spread of that bloody stain!
We all are dead, and ourselves to blame!

The Israelites sacrificed blood
To pay for the guilt of their sin.
Seeing the stain on their bloody hands,
They confessed the lost state of men.

The sheep’s blood did not remove guilt,
But acted as promissory note.
A lamb’s blood cannot pay for sin,
Nor can the blood of a goat.

Oh, the horrible guilt; the sorrow; the pain!
Who can remove this awful stain?

God gave his word through the prophets,
But all of the prophets were slain.
Killing God’s prophet was easier, far,
Than facing the guilt and the pain.

God belongs on the throne of man’s heart,
But all have gone their own way.
We’ve all conspired to usurp God’s throne,
And now there is Hell to pay!

Oh, the horrible guilt; the sorrow; the pain!
All hope is lost; God’s spokesmen are slain!

Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
Oh, hear the angels sing!
Unto us a child is born;
A Savior, Christ, the King.

Jesus is the Word of God;
God, born in human flesh.
He gave sight to human hearts,
God’s truth conquers death.

Oh, the wonderful joy; the hope; the life!
God’s Son has come, to end all strife!

Jesus died a criminal’s death,
Nailed to Calvary’s tree.
The immortal slain by a murderer’s hand;
Now, who can set us free?

Men chose darkness rather than light,
Because of their wicked ways.
They hated God’s truth; it showed their sin.
Darkness conceals the stain.

Oh, the horrible guilt, despair, and shame!
God’s Son is dead, and we’re to blame!

Jesus died to pay for my guilt.
‘Twas my sin He bore on that tree.
He gave his life to pay off my debt.
He died so I could be free.

The nails which tore so cruel through his flesh
Were driven because of my pride.
My rebellion was the cause of his death.
My sin thrust the spear through his side.

Oh, the horrible guilt; the sin; the shame!
Christ Jesus has died, and I am to blame!

Jesus, save me from this horrible guilt!
Forgive the deeds I have done!
I’ve removed you from the throne of my heart;
I’ve murdered God’s only Son!

When I confess this most loathsome of sins,
I am cleansed from the guilt and the pain!
The very blood which should seal my fate
Removes all my guilty stain!

Oh, the wonderful joy in confessing the blame!
I’m free from my guilt, since I called on His name!

Adam tried to conceal his sin;
He said that Eve was to blame.
We must confess the sins of our heart,
If we want to be cleansed of the stain.

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.

Oh, what a glorious irony!
Emmanuel’s death brought the guilty stain;
His blood brings the victory!

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Condemned or Redeemed?

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This past week, I was reminded anew how arrogantly self-righteous and legalistic church leaders can be in dealing with situations of abuse. Persistent Widow, at A Cry for Justice, has been posting her story of escape from abuse and her … Continue reading

God of Divorce

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And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also. (Jeremiah … Continue reading