Lessons from Romans (olive tree)

And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree (Rom 11:17).

I’ve read the above verse several times, but I didn’t understand the full blessing of it until I happened to read about the phrase “wild olive tree”; I had previously assumed this referred to an olive tree growing out in the wild instead of planted on purpose in someone’s garden.

However, such is not the case; the wild olive is, apparently, a different species than the cultivated olive tree. The wild olive tree has thorns and, if it bears fruit at all, bears “imperfect”, “inedible”, and “useless” fruit.

Isn’t this a wonderful picture of salvation and reclamation by our wonderful God!

Before salvation found in Jesus Christ, we were thorny, bearing no useful fruit. But afterwards – we become grafted to Him, Who is called the Root and the True Vine. With a quickened spirit and partaking of the good nutrition of the Root, we can bring forth fruit to the glory of God.

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Thoughts in Luke (Three Men)

These are some thoughts on the following passage:

And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God. 

Luke 9:57-62

This may be very common thoughts, but I have not heard them before, and so I wanted to write them down.

There are three men here, and they are all different, and we can learn from each man here.

The First Man

This man was impressed with Jesus. However, based on Jesus’ response, he did not count the cost. How often have we made a spur-of-the-moment decision based upon emotion, but we never really did think it through? We know that God wants us to plan ahead, and “count the cost” of what we decide to do for Him. He does not want us doing nothing at all — it is good to attempt things for the honor and glory and praise of God, but we should ensure that we have thought it through. It looks like this man was caught up in the excitement and didn’t consider how things would be when there were no crowds around Jesus. I hope he reconsidered and still decided to follow Jesus, but he may have walked away. How about us? I know I’ve sometimes tackled things that I hoped would be to God’s glory, but did not properly think it through. This is a good lesson for us.

The Second Man

This is the only man recruited by Jesus; the first man and the third man initiated the request, but Jesus asked (told) this man to follow him. This man didn’t say no, but he did try to delay his response. He had responsibilities – in this case, family responsibilities, and he put those ahead of God’s call. Although it may sound as though this man’s father were dead, it may be that this man’s father was declining, and he was offering to follow Jesus after his father passed away. How many of us are like that! As teens, we want to do well in school, so we don’t attend church services on school nights. Then we have a job and want to make a good impression at work, so we don’t have time for church. Then we are married, and want to have some “family time”, and Sunday is the only day for that… the list goes on. This is an excellent example of good being the enemy of best. It is good to be responsible, and all of the things just mentioned, but it is best to follow the call of God. If God called us, would we say “yes!” or would we be as this man and deflect.

The Third Man

I’m not sure what to think about this man… by his own profession he was ready to follow Jesus — but he wasn’t ready – he had not yet turned his back on his home life, and this is what Jesus points out to him. He talked a good game; he sounded very spiritual, but he wasn’t really committed to what he said. Do we talk bigger than we are prepared to do? If the second man had said this, it would have made sense; it would be fine to bid farewell to one’s family if Jesus called him. But this man effectively said “I’m ready to follow (but not really)”. Do we want to sound spiritual, but don’t follow through?

Well, there they are: three men, all with different issues regarding following Jesus. We tend to think well of ourselves, but, in honesty, I think I’ve failed in each of these three ways over the course of my life.

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Despised Bible Characters – King Saul

We first meet Saul in 1 Sam 9, and he is mentioned in nearly all of the remaining chapters of 1 Samuel.

Saul is another character whose evil and sinful ways are brought up a lot: I first heard about Saul as a teenager in churches, when I first heard the following well-known passage preached (and I’ve heard it a lot down through the years): Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. (1 Sam 15:22-23)

Let me say at the beginning that there is no doubt that Saul did great evil, but these are generally well-known and I will not dwell on them. In this series about various Bible characters, I’m not trying to call evil good; I’m trying to remind myself (and whoever reads this) to take a balanced look at these characters… and so on we go.

When we first meet Saul, he is a good-looking young man; he was sent by his father to find some lost donkeys (interesting word note: both ‘donkey’ and ‘ass’ refer to the same creature; however, the word ‘donkey’ did not exist until over 100 years after KJV was made, which is why it doesn’t appear in it). This means that Saul was trusted by his father, and he WAS trustworthy — he didn’t hang out with the servant until the money was gone and come back and report that they couldn’t find them – they actually went out and diligently searched.

When Saul met Samuel, he seemed shy and embarrassed — look at what Samuel said: And on whom is all the desire of Israel? Is it not on thee, and on all thy father’s house?

And here is Saul’s response: Am not I a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel? and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? wherefore then speakest thou so to me? My paraphrase: “Me? I’m nobody; I’m not even from an important family… are you sure you mean me?”

Later, with his uncle, he was still too shy or embarrassed to tell him what Samuel had said. When Samuel came to choose a king, Saul was hiding. Even at the beginning, some of the people didn’t see how a tall kid could help them, and thus despised him, but Saul didn’t have them executed… he was just silent. After Saul’s first great victory, the people spoke about killing the men who despised Saul, but Saul stopped them and gave glory to God. (1 Sam 11:12-13)

Saul’s early years are noble; we hear little about those good years; it seems that mostly what I hear is about the bad things he did. It is a terribly tragedy that he turned away from the good traits of goodness, trustworthiness, shyness, and humility leaving a crazed, jealous, and rebellious egomaniac on the throne. He who started with great respect for Samuel later ordered the execution of the innocent priests of the Lord. After honoring God’s law by ridding the land of witches, it is terrible that Saul would seek one near the end of his life.

Saul had an excellent beginning, but it did not continue. May that not be so for us!

But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of (2 Tim 3:14)

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord (I Cor 15:58)

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Despised Bible Characters – Elimelech

We don’t know much about Elimelech; the bulk of his story is in the first chapter of Ruth. The phrase “we don’t know” is going to come up a lot because there just isn’t a lot of information, but I suspect that he is another character getting an undeserved bad reputation.

I have heard several messages either about him or that mention him, and it is always bad. He is condemned for leaving Israel, the place of national blessing because of a famine, and because of the bad impact upon his family. He is often compared unfavorably with Boaz, of whom it is said that he stayed put and became wealthy.

The usual application I’ve heard is that if one is being blessed in a church, we should not lightly move away just because times are tough.

While that would appear to be a fair application, that’s not the point of this writing: I want to provide some things to think about that may make us judge him less harshly.

We don’t know about his family life; we don’t know what led to the decision to sojourn in Moab. It could well be that Naomi was the driving force behind the move and that Elimelech didn’t want to go, but that she could have nagged him about how poorly they were doing and how much better it would be in Moab. There are plenty of families in which the wife pushes the husband to “succeed” or to better the family circumstances. Elimelech could be one of the many men who sacrifice principle for peace and thus moved to Moab.

One of the reasons I wonder about this is that you will note that his sons did not marry heathen (non-Jewish) girls until after Elimelech had died. We don’t know their ages; while it may be that they were just too young to marry before their father died, it could be that he had been the primary one encouraging them not to marry the Moabitish girls.

Furthermore, if Elimelech was the bad guy and dragged Naomi off against her will, then why didn’t she return to Israel after her husband died? (She didn’t have any trouble leaving later). The end of Ruth 1:4 seems to imply that Naomi’s sons lived in Moab ten years with their wives.

Note too, that Naomi does not appear to have been a very spiritual person; like many whose faith is weak, she praised God when good things happened (Ruth 2:20), and blamed Him when circumstances were not good (Ruth 1:13, 20,21). She seemed to be encouraging both of her daughters-in-law to return to their heathen ways, but Ruth was determined to stay with her.

Finally (a minor point); there is no indication that Boaz became wealthy by staying where he was; he could have been wealthy before the trouble began.

Side Notes

The following are some other thoughts I had while looking through the story of Ruth; they are not pertinent to the main post, but I put them here for your consideration.

  • Who named the children? In an older Bible of mine, it says that Mahlon means “sickly” and the Chilion means “pining” or “failing”. What names to give children! They appear to have been accurate, however, for they both died young
  • It is interesting to read that their purpose in going to Moab was “to sojourn” (Ruth 1:1); this implies that they planned to keep moving around and be back before too long, but before long this became “…and continued there”. This story could be told over and over again in the lives of many believers: they intend to do something that they know isn’t really right, but they only plan to do it “for a little while” and then return to doing right. However, the “little while” often becomes permanent. This is a good warning for all believers.
  • It is interesting that Orpah was the one who obeyed Naomi and returned; it was Ruth who was determined to say with Naomi.
  • Even though Naomi asked to be called “Mara” (Ruth 1:20), the Holy Spirit continued to call her Naomi, as did the people of Bethlehem (Ruth 2:6; 4:3, 17).

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Controversy and Explanation

I don’t think I’ve done a post like this one before, and I welcome feedback.

I had an unpleasant experience on social media a while ago, and it was… well, unpleasant.

I want to tell of the events and explain myself more fully that I could at the time. As is my usual practice in such matters, I don’t intend to identify the social media or the people involved; I want to discuss the events.

One more thing before I begin; it has always been my habit to evaluate statements to assess how true they are. Usually, I only respond if I think that my post might be helpful — and most of the time, I don’t think it will, and so I don’t. Obviously, that was not the case this time.

The event

Someone I know from another church posted picture from somewhere that stated: A girl’s body is not responsible for a boy’s thoughts.

I understand the point of the quote: there is FAR TOO MANY TIMES that a wicked man will blame his disgusting/illegal/immoral behavior on how the a girl dresses or acts, and this is just wrong. Period. I understand this and agree with that idea behind the post. In fact, had the post said “A modest girl’s body…”, I would have had no issue with it.

However, it doesn’t change that fact that the statement is not always true: There ARE such things as temptresses and seductresses (Delilah in the Bible was one such women). Women like this specifically dress in such a way and use their body in such a way as to put thoughts in men’s minds, and such women ARE responsible for those actions. I didn’t think anyone would argue this point; it seems so obviously true.

Unfortunately, I don’t remember exactly what I wrote in response: I didn’t intend to write a dissertation, or even as much as the previous paragraph. I assume whoever posted it copied it from somewhere without thinking it through, so I think what I wrote back was something like “While I agree with you in general, this statement is not always true. Her dress and behavior may have some influence.”

The results

As you might expect, that erupted in a flood of hateful posts, with people accusing me of things I did not and have not said (you can imagine). Some told tales of their own experiences with wicked men. Most seemed to think I was taking that the wicked men use of blaming the woman. No one bothered to ask for clarification. I was even threatened by a man I consider to be a friend. Note: I kind of expect that behavior from the overly-sensitive world (the kind of woke feminism that hates men and blames everything on them), but I was disappointed in fellow Christians — people who claim to follow truth.

A friend told me that I just should not have said anything, and he may be right. After consideration, however, if we allow inadvertent false statements to pass without challenge, we are opening the door to give a pass to false statements made on purpose. In hindsight, my judgment was faulty: I assumed people would see the error with the blanket statement made, but that was wrong.

This has been good for me to write about… and I’ve learned a lesson: if such an occasion occurs in the future, I will have to write more fully and explain instead of being quite so terse.

With this written about, I’ll get back to the series about Despised Bible Characters (hopefully another one by the end of the week).

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Despised Bible Characters – Eli

I seldom hear anything good about Eli; his story is in the book of I Samuel, chapters 1-4.

I’ve heard that he had little self-control because he was overweight (“heavy”); that he lacked discernment because he didn’t realize that Hannah was praying (he thought she was drunk); and that he was a failure as a parent because his sons were wicked.

Did you know that all of the above are made up by man?

God Himself never condemned Eli for any of these things; in fact, God singularly honored Eli in that He chose him to raise Samuel.

In what may be a relief to parents everywhere, God did not blame Eli for the wickedness of his sons. Eli’s sons did not know the Lord, we are told, and they behaved wickedly, and this sin is at their feet – Eli was not held accountable for their sins. What he was held accountable for that, knowing that his sons were wicked, he took no action, other than a rebuke to which they took no notice. He should have seen to it that they were removed from office, and that is his sin. Despite their faults, he loved them, but because of this love, Eli is told by God that he honored his sons above God Himself. At another time, God tells him that he did not restrain his sons, though they made themselves “vile”.

To briefly touch on the other charges above, Eli did have discernment – he recognized when God was calling to Samuel and counseled Samuel accordingly. In addition, Eli as priest (some think he was the high priest) must have had to exercise self-control.

In reality, people are a mixture of bad and good, but we have a tendency to put people (especially Bible characters) into “bad” or “good” categories. For the “bad” people, we exaggerate their badness and dismiss their good; we do the same in reverse for the “good” people. This series is examining some Bible characters people normally consider to be “bad”.

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Series thought

I notice that I haven’t written anything here for a while; I have had a few ideas, but none that I really liked. However, I recently thought of doing a series about Despised Bible Characters. I have noticed that many people have a tendency to look at people as “good guys” or “bad guys”; the good guys seldom do anything wrong, or anything they did that was wrong is trivialized. And nothing the “bad guys” do is good. The reality is that all people have done things that are right and things that are wrong. So, in this series, I’ll bring up people that I usually hear bad things about. Some of these people I may have written about before.

I hope you enjoy it!

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Lessons from Romans (willing, running, mercy)

So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. (Rom 9:16)

In context, this verse is in a passage discussing people whom God chose to use or to bless in one way or another: specifically mentioned are Isaac, who was chosen over Ishmael, and Jacob, who was chosen over Esau. (As a side note, these verses are often mis-applied to salvation; some attempt to show that God chooses some to be saved and others to be lost).

We first have “him that willeth” – this is the man who says “I WANT THAT!”. It is not wrong to be used of God; in fact, it is quite honorable. However, God is not bound to honor our desires and wants, even if the are for good things. Such a person must guard against bitterness in this form: “God’s not being fair: I wanted it more than he did”… the “it” could be a position in the church, a promotion, financial blessings, some honor, etc — anything that one is/was bitter about not having.

Next we have “him that runneth” – this is the man who is actively doing things; good things. It is very clear from other Scriptures that there are rewards for those who good things. But again, God is not bound to use someone merely because he has done a lot. This person must guard against bitterness in the form of: “God’s not being fair; I’ve done so much for Him!”

And so we come to the truth of the matter: it is first, last, and always “of God that sheweth mercy”. It is His decision and choice to show mercy: if it were something owed to a man, it would not be mercy. No one is owed anything be God; if He chooses to show mercy, it is to His glory and honor that He has done so. Let us return to honoring God more than we honor men!

As a final note, it was pointed out to me that the two types of people here (“him that willeth” and “him that runneth”) could point to the people mentioned earlier in this chapter. Abraham, Isaac, and Rebekah all fit into the first category: they desired God to bless and use a particular son; Esau and especially Jacob fit into the second category: they both did “stuff” to try to obtain the blessing.

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Knowledge

that the soul be without knowledge, it is not good (Prov 19:2)

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee (Hos 4:6)

It is a shame that Christians are ignorant about their faith; this lack is due in part to people not wanting to take the time to study the Scriptures, but an equal part is the superficial preaching – assuming that the preaching even has anything to do with Christianity.

Many conservative-leaning churches teach the basic tenets of Christianity; that our authority is the Scriptures, which have been given by God. They reveal that man is lost and can only be reconciled to God because of the death on the cross of Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God. These things should be taught, but these are elementary Christian knowledge. It seems to be the idea these days that any teaching beyond this is only for church leaders. Sadly, the average member in the pew has very little knowledge. Thus, when the leader leaves that church, the people choose a poor replacement – awed by technique or personality, but with no real wisdom in the choice. This sad occurrence has happened repeatedly in once sound churches. One must have knowledge in order to have wisdom and understanding. Yes, the basics need to be taught; they are the foundation, but good preaching will build on the foundation.

Of course, as better writers that I have pointed out, studying is hard work; it’s much easier for a preacher to unload whatever happens to be “bugging” him at the moment.

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Nice guy

Often times, when a caution or warning is given about some, the response But he’s a nice guy is given.

That response irritates me because it usually never to the point. As an example, a man goes to a company VP to say that a certain director is micro-managing the people under him. For the VP to respond with, Yes, but he’s a nice guy is not helpful… the point under consideration is not whether or not the guy is nice, but whether or not he is micro-managing people (with the less-than-desirable results of such a practice).

I heard this irrelevant feedback in all kinds of areas; in the Christian realm, pointing out that some evangelist’s teachings don’t seem to follow Scripture often results in the (defensive?) feedback He’s a great guy — I’m perfectly willing to concede that he is a better Christian than I am: can we talk about the point under discussion now?

Here’s another case: a friend told me about his friend’s church (I know his friend, but not well). He mentioned that the church had lost the pastor (I had heard this). When I asked how they were doing, he said that they had a new pastor now. When I asked what the new pastor was like, I get the He’s a really nice guy response. While it is good that a pastor is a nice, there is next to no information there. He could, for example, be a dictator; many dictators are “nice guys” to everyone except those resisting his dictatorial ways. He could be a great Bible teacher, and/or one who diligently studies the Word, and/or have an outgoing personality. Even I don’t really know anything about him seems to me to be better than He’s a nice guy.

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