Saturday, October 29, 2016

Authority & Debt Management

Read Romans 13

Paul continues his counsel on discipleship.  If you thought that bless those who persecute you was a tough pill to swallow, then do what you are told might not go down easily either.

Submit yourself to the governing authorities.  Obey the law.  Pay your taxes.  Do not rebel against authority.  In the words of our Master, render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.

In America, we grumble when our guy or gal didn’t win the election.  This year we are already upset before the election. We get upset over the law that we don’t like.  We sometimes become outright vicious in our speech and especially in our online postings. 

He’s not my president.
She’s not my representative.
That judge doesn’t know his…

We think that Paul didn’t have a clue what today’s world would look like, especially in the United States of America. He had no idea of the authorities that would be in place in the 21st century.  How can he say what he said?

I agree that Paul didn’t have a clue what modern American government would look like.  If he did he might have made an exception for us, not because it is so much harder today; because he would have been amazed at how much influence we have on the authorities over us.

What?  You get to vote for who leads the country?

You elect people to represent you?

You can end a judge’s term by not affirming him?

How could you not put a good system in place?

In Paul’s day, you didn’t get to vote for the emperor or the governor, or the king or the high priest.  You didn’t get to like them on Facebook or make comments about how bad a job they were doing.

That doesn’t mean that people didn’t assemble and grumble about those in authority.  It just means that you got you who got.

Paul tells us it doesn’t matter if it is an emperor or governor who is in power because they had connections or the city councilman who has a seat at the decision-making table because he got enough votes to win, we submit to the civil authorities of our day.

Why?  We are citizens of the Kingdom of God.  Why submit?

Because God is still in control.  If he wants a person to be governor or permits a person to be president for a time, it is all the same to us as far as submitting to the authorities goes. 

These people exist and govern at his pleasure.  Whether we think they are the best mayor ever or that they are depriving a village somewhere in the world of its idiot doesn’t make any difference.  Those in authority are God’s servants.

In this nation, we have more influence over those servant authorities than does most of the world; yet, we seem to complain twice as much as any other place on the planet.  Until the end of the age we will have human authorities and we are to play by the rules.

What if there is an atheist who becomes president or governor?

For most of the history of the world, all of the leaders of nations were without the one true God.  Only God’s chosen people had godly kings and ungodly kings and the latter outnumbered the former even among God’s own people.

Only since the advent, death, and resurrection of Jesus, have we seen what we may call Christian leaders in government and that sometimes didn’t go as well as expected in many cases.

Have you heard of the Divine Right of Kings?  It is or was a political doctrine that said that the authority of the King came directly from God.  It goes back to God using Samuel to select kings and is very strongly rooted in this chapter of Romans.

The premise that we need to understand—not necessarily adopt—is that only God can judge an unjust king.  Kings are God’s lieutenants, his ministers, his chosen patriarchs for nations.

Back in the 70’s, that is the 1770’s, American colonists didn’t like this chapter of Romans very much.  Today we boast that our founding fathers formed a godly nation but they did it rebelling against an unjust king even though Paul said that a king was a servant of God.

We are a nation that was born in rebellion against authority.  Unjust authority for sure in our eyes, but we ignored God’s direction at that time.  All things considered, I am glad that we got away with it.  I like the America that I have known over the years.

But I am not surprised that we struggle with instructions to submit to the authorities of our time.  This is a struggle for most Christians that live in this country.  Submitting to authority is just not our thing.

But that is the exact counsel that we are given if we are to follow Jesus—if we are to grow in grace as his disciples.  Discipleship can be a struggle.  One of those struggles that we often encounter is between our nature and authority.  In this country, we have been able to indulge our nature more than most.  We often get exactly what we want in our leaders and laws or in what we can get away with (even ending a sentence with a preposition).

For us to submit to governing authorities is sometimes more difficult than loving those who do not love us.

I ask you to recall the words of Jesus.  He said his yoke is easy and his burden is light, so if submitting to authority is part of following Jesus, then it will not be too much to bear.  It will not be more than we can handle and even if we have the biggest knuckleheads ever elected to office, what we are called to do will not weigh us down.

Remember that we too have authority.  We have authority from Christ himself to take his gospel to the world—make disciples, baptize, and teach.  Our authority is not lessened by the fact that those in authority in this world are not godly kings.

God is still in control.  Rebellion against civil authority is rebellion against God.  Sometimes when I think about that, I wish I had line item veto over some things in Paul’s letters.  That’s that part of my mind that has not been fully transformed yet.  The pattern or model of the world says that rebellion is fine if you can justify it in your own mind.  Do your own thing.

Part of our problem is that we want the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the World to be on converging tracks.  They are not.

God continues to call his disciples out of this world, but the world itself is getting further and further from God’s Kingdom.  There will come a time when the love of many will grow cold.  There will come a time when Christians will be persecuted on a widespread basis. 

We may be living in that time.  It may not come for decades or centuries, but the authorities of this world will grow further and further apart from God’s Kingdom and his righteousness.

Some of us may live in times when it is very hard to submit to authority.  Unless we are called to worship other gods or idols or take the mark of the beast or deny our Savior; we still comply with the laws and regulations of our society.

We will drive the speed limit, plus or minus a few miles per hour.

We will come to complete stops at the stop sign, well sort of, at least we tapped the brakes.

We will pay our taxes, after taking all the deductions we can find.

Occasionally, we might even use our turn signal.

We might not score 100% on the authority meter in all areas, but some we do.

We stand for the National Anthem or the Pledge of Allegiance.

We respect our police and emergency service workers and even the guys and gals that work for the utility companies when the power goes out and they are out in the rain or snow or ice to get the power back on.

We give honor our veterans.

We might not be very good on going the speed limit but we still understand the part about rendering respect to those who are due respect and honor to those due honors.

For the most part, we who strive to follow Jesus, respect the office of president even if we don’t like the man or woman who is elected.  We respect the office of governor even if we would rather have somebody else. 

We respect our Sunday school teachers and Scout leaders.  Some respect for and submission to authority comes easier than others. 

I have spent some time teaching and writing about accepting authority.  There is a range or continuum of acceptance of authority:  reject, comply, accept, and embrace.  I will not venture that far from the biblical text today and put you through that class, but it is my assessment that in that continuum, we are to comply with the civil authorities of the world if we are to abide Paul’s counsel.

If we are to abide by the words of Jesus to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.  We don’t have to fully accept or embrace, though in some cases will will, but we are to comply.

We are not conformed to the image of the world any longer but we do have to play by the rules that don’t put us in opposition to God.  That is part of discipleship.

Now let’s move on to debt.  I am not going to talk much about money.  So many tell me that is all that they hear in churches any more is how much money they need to give.  Somewhere in the near future, we will just have a money message.

For now, remember that the borrower is slave to the lender and we need to teach that to our kids as part of our parenting.

Now let’s talk about real debt.  Let’s talk about the debt we can and never could pay.  Let’s talk about paying back God for taking our sin and placing it on Christ.  It’s a big debt.  We could try to finance it over time—even eternity—and still not repay it.

So what are we to do?

Make sure that we are the best ever followers of the 10 commandments?

Memorize 613 commands and laws and live without making a single mistake?

Or can we pay our debt daily by loving one another?  The law says love God and love your neighbor.  Jesus said if you want to be my disciple then love one another.  If you do this, everyone will know who you follow.

The commandments—that are all rooted in the love of God—will be fulfilled when you live a life of love.

The darkness of this world that day by day grows apart from God’s ways will not invade your life if you love one another.
The patterns of this world will not have dominion over your heart and mind if you love one another. 

The fullness, completeness of our salvation is getting closer and closer.  We know that we are saved from sin and from death and we are doing our best to be good disciples, but one day the kingdom of this world will completely give way to the Kingdom of God and we will know the fullness of our salvation.

We have blessed assurance that we are saved from sin and death but God has so much more for us as we stay the course of our discipleship.

Eye has not seen and ear has not heard what the Lord has in store for those who love him.  How do we love him?  We do it by loving one another—by truly being his disciples.

When we respond to the grace and mercy of God by loving each other, we are fulfilling the law.  Love completes the law.  We were never meant to be a rule-bound people, but in our love, we abide by rules and directives and commandments.

Some might say that love is just second nature to us.  We are charged to make it our first and only nature.

Our rebellious nature must stop its work.  We are to give God’s nature given free reign in our lives.  How could we not live his way?

We live in this world playing by the rules that the authorities have put in place.  We know not to sacrifice out faithfulness to God.

We render honor and respect where it is due.

We do our best to live debt-free in the things of this world and to teach our kids God’s wisdom concerning money and things.

And we pay our debt to God the only way that we know how, by loving one another.

I have decided to follow Jesus.  Sometimes that means I will follow rules and laws that I don’t particularly like.

I have decided to follow Jesus.  Sometimes that means the only rebellion that I display is to vote for somebody else, but I will give respect to the office without defaming the individual.

I have decided to follow Jesus.  I will love one another.

I have decided to follow Jesus.  I will continue to love my brothers and sisters until the Kingdom of God is the only kingdom that I will know for the rest of eternity.

I have decided to follow Jesus.  No turning back.  No turning back.


Saturday, October 22, 2016

Discipleship--Romans 12 Style

Read Romans 12

How we respond to God’s infinite mercy is our discipleship.  We sing I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.  Do we know what we are saying when we sing?

Do we understand that our response to mercy and grace is our discipleship?  Having been rescued from sin and death by the love of God, what will we do?

Paul concluded this 12th chapter by saying, don’t let evil get the best of you.  Overcome evil with good.  That’s a good executive summary but there is a whole bunch packed into the intervening 20 verses.

Let’s start unpacking.  We won’t even get through the first sentence before we need to stop.  Here are three things right from the start:
·     Therefore
·     In view of God’s great mercy
·     I urge you

Therefore tells us that there was something before.  It could simply refer to the fact that all who come to know God will come the same way, by his mercy; but more than likely it means considering everything that has been said up to this point—in the previous 11 chapters—something will follow that connects to it.  This seems logical because Paul in the next few words addresses God’s mercy directly.

In view of God’s mercy is a condition we should consider in what is to follow.  Considering that we fell short, couldn’t fix ourselves, were under God’s condemnation and wrath in that state, but God did everything that had to be done to make us right with him—he chose mercy for us—then shouldn’t we have an appropriate response to such great mercy?

I urge you is a personal appeal.  Paul used plenty of expository appeals along the way.  He uses analysis and builds his argument with his prose much of the time, but this time it’s personal.  I urge you!  Paul wants this to be a personal challenge to his readers.  He is saying, with my whole being I beckon you to respond to the grace and mercy that you know in Christ Jesus.  God loves you more than you can comprehend.  Do something about it.  Respond.

How do I respond?  Let’s finish the sentence.

Offer your bodies as living sacrifices to God.  Your whole life should be holy and pleasing to God.  Everything you do should bring glory to God.  It is as simple as Jesus paid it all.  All to him I owe.

How do we pay this debt?  With our entire lives—with everything that we are.

In the Old Testament, the only sacrifice that got to live was the scape goat, and it got dumped in the desert with a year’s worth of sins to carry around.  For the rest of the warm blooded animals lined up for sacrifice, their time as a living thing ended at the altar.

Those sort of sacrifices are no longer needed.  The blood of Jesus was a once and for all sacrifice for sin. Now our everything is to be given to God and in this sacrifice we find life.  Paul didn’t know what an oxymoron was but he surely wanted to get people’s attention with this unique combination of words.

In one sense, the words don’t go together.  The sacrifice by definition does get to live.  But in sacrificing our entire lives to God, we finally come to know life in the full.

And we haven’t even finished the sentence.  This response is our spiritual act of worship, reasonable act of service, true worship—the only acceptable response to love so great is everything that we are.

Are bodies are a living sacrifice, but we respond mind and body.  The second verse is as full as the first.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world any longer tells us that we have already been conformed to the world to some extent.  The words any longer tells us to put the brakes on.

Up to a point, the world has shaped all of us.  We are the clay but in many ways the world has been the potter.  The patterns of the world have shaped our lives.  Some of those patterns are tolerable.  When you are driving on the interstate, get in a lane and stay in it.  Quit texting and roaming across 3 lanes.

Do not conform to the patterns of the world does not mean drive in the pasture instead of on the highway.  Sometimes if my GPS does not have the updates for a new segment of highway or interchange, it shows me driving across open country or a body of water.

Paul is saying what the proverbs said centuries before.  There is God’s way and there is everything else.  Enough with the everything else.  We will do this God’s way.

We seek his kingdom and his righteousness and that means turning away the things of this world that want mastery of your life.  We have one Lord and he alone is our Master.  We can’t serve two, if we find that there is someone or something in this world that calls us to serve him or it, turn away.

Turn away.  The patterns of the world that want to be our master don’t get our loyalty or attendance or support.  They don’t get to mold us anymore.

So we put the brakes on and do a 180 degree turn.  We don’t let the wrong potter mold us.  Great metaphors, but how do we do that?

It begins in our minds.  We begin with wherever we are and become transformed by the renewing of our minds.  Transformation is a process.

Salvation may come in an instant but transformation is a process.  I am getting out of my car an onto my tractor for my next metaphor.

Visualize a plowed field before anything has been planted—row after row of plowed sandy loam and clay just waiting to blow into Kansas.  If it rains, the water that doesn’t soak in will run off, mostly down the rows, occasionally breaking over a row as contour and gravity have a little dance. 

Sometimes it makes a rut—not a row but a rut cut out by the water itself.  If the field doesn’t get reworked before the next rain, the water will go the same way and the rut will get deeper.  Rain will follow existing patterns.

For that to change, the farmer has to get back on his tractor again.  He might have to break out a blade and reshape the contours and terraces.

Our mind uses patterns.  When our mind gets new information, it automatically tries to fit it into an existing pattern.  That’s the way the mind works.  For many things it is absolutely wonderful.  To undergo a transformation, it takes a very concerted and deliberate effort.

We must renew our minds.  We must plow the field again ready to receive a new pattern—a new way.  We have to change not only the way we think, but we must manage the information that comes into our minds.
If it doesn’t belong, don’t let it in. 

But what about that stay thought that just showed up?  I don’t know how.  It just popped into my mind.

What do I do?  Kick it to the curb.  Elsewhere Paul would say capture it and if it is hostile to the Lord get rid of it.

  Take it captive.  Don’t give it freedom to roam among the other good thoughts going about their business in our brain housing groups.

Wow!  Gotta love all the metaphors and analogies but I need some nuts and bolts.  Here are some nuts and bolts:

·     Come with a teachable spirit.  You must want God to plow the entire field.
·     Read your Bible.  That’s more than the verse of the day.
·     Study your Bible.  Think of Bloom’s Taxonomy or variations thereof.
o  Knowledge—I know what it says and can generally remember it.
o  Comprehension—I understand what it says.
o  Application—I can do what it says.
o  Analysis—I can make connections, see relationships, identify categories.
o  Synthesis—I can break it down and put it back together again.  I can write a midrash.
o  Evaluation—This is not a test as we often think.  I can find the value in what I have learned.
·     Meditate upon God’s word.  That can be the verse of the day.  This is different than study.
·     Engage fellow believers in growing in God’s word.  As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.
·     Listen during prayer.

·     Find a time to be still—not just silent—still.  Just be in God’s presence.

Then you will start to realize transformation through the renewing of your mind.  If nothing seems to be happening, go back to the first step.  Come with a teachable spirit.

We are almost through the first two verses.  Do these things and you will begin to see what God has in store for you.  We like to say what God’s will is.

We sometimes use not knowing what God’s will is or what he has in store for us as an excuse to do nothing.  We feign the words, “I sure wish that God would reveal his will to me.  I sure wish he would tell me what he wants me to do.”

If we want to know what God’s will is, Paul says here is what you do.  Give your whole life to God and renew your mind, then you will know what God’s will is.

Sometimes we think, what if I get the sorry end of the stick in God’s will?   Then we need to understand that God’s will is good, pleasing, and perfect.  We need to stop asking questions formed by the patterns of the world and accept that God’s will is good, pleasing, and perfect.

The third verse you have heard throughout Paul’s epistles. You have nothing to boast in other than Christ.  You don’t need to get puffed up or claim victory on your own. 

Sober up!  Engage a sound mind.  Sing Jesus Paid It All.  Even the measure of faith that brings us to the salvation that initiates this thing called discipleship came from God.  In this thing called discipleship we are to judge ourselves knowing that God has given us both faith and gifts. 

We are sober—of a sound mind if you will—and ask, “What am I doing with what God has given me?”

Get ready to set your dictionary aside and read in context.  Paul will use the terms faith and grace in multiple contexts.  If you look up grace in the theological dictionaries you will find something along the order of unmerited forgiveness from God

That’s a good definition, but grace does not restrict itself to that definition.  In the grace we have received we find that God’s favor is poured out upon us beyond being saved from sin and death.  We have gifts that come from God that are realized in his grace and manifested as we act upon the faith we have been given.

You might be thinking that this explanation doesn’t make things any clearer. Let’s break it down.

Grace is big!  It is more than just a get out of hell free thing.  It is about being free to live the life God has wanted for us since before we knew we existed.  Grace is big!

With our salvation, God gave us gifts.  He’s like that.  Giving is his thing and he is good at it.  Our gifts produce fruit only when we use them. But he has equipped us to use them.

Paul includes a familiar discussion and analogy.  We are one body and have many functions.  That’s the way our human body works and Paul says that’s the way the body of believers work as well.  And we are specially equipped with gifts from God. 

Paul enumerates:  prophecy, service, teaching, encouraging, helping others, and giving.  He could have continued.  This list is not to the exclusion of other lists.  His intent was not to make a list of all of the gifts that God gives with his grace.

His intent was to tell believers that discipleship requires those who have received faith and gifts to use them.  If God gave you the gift of encouraging, take the measure of faith that you have and use the gift.

You don’t need anything else to put the gift to use.  You have the faith.  You have the gift.  Use it!

What if I don’t know what my gift is?  Find out!

I will go a little further here.  You already know what your gift is or gifts are.  God’s Spirit that resides within you has been telling you.  If you don’t know then take some Be still time.  Start listening. 

Stop listening to the expectations set by the patterns of the world and listen to the Spirit that lives within you.  Then take the measure of faith you have been given and put the gift to work.

I left one off of Paul’s list:  mercy.  I don’t know that I have the spiritual gift of mercy but I am called to practice mercy several times a week, and Paul’s note on mercy hit home.  Do it cheerfully.

There has to be a Burns Flat exception to that counsel.  Time and time again I talk with people when their lives have become unmanageable because of a series of bad decisions and they need help.  After some conversation, I find that they don’t really want to change the way they live they just need someone to help pay their bill.

You might think that a semester or two at the school of hard knocks might be the best course of action but what about the 3 or 4 or 8 kids in the household that will be taking cold baths at least until the water is cut off too.

Sometimes, I just have to pray to God to help me fake being cheerful.  He doesn’t grant that request.

Love must be sincere.  It must be genuine.  I am permitted no dissonance between mercy and joy.  I can’t grit my teeth and be cheerful at the same time.

Does that mean that I don’t speak the truth in love?  
Absolutely not.  I am to hate evil and hold tightly to what is good.  In me that translates to passion towards God’s ways.

Some probably put me in the permanent nut case category after I spent a year preaching the Proverbs.  I did not get this classification because I preached proverbs but because they brought out a passion in me.

There is God’s way and there is everything else!

How can I be cheerful in being merciful to someone who surely doesn’t deserve anything?  It’s God’s way and that’s how I want to live.  That’s discipleship.

That’s responding to God’s great love that we did not deserve.  Now as followers of Jesus—disciples—we look out for each other in every way.  We honor and value and respect each other more than we have ever done before.

Here’s one that I want you to put in your lexicon of oxymorons:  Lukewarm disciple.    You might think that there are a lot of those, but such a person should not exist.

In response to God’s great love and mercy, we are to respond passionately—with zeal.  We are on fire for Christ.

Here’s a term for you—On fire Christian.  It is not an oxymoron.  It should be a redundant term—on fire and Christian.  Some people think that being on fire for Christ means jumping up and down with your hands raised high and they don’t’ want any part of it.

That’s exactly what being on fire for Christ is for those people.  For me, I am equally combustible for Christ with both feet on the ground.  My passion for him often manifests itself in my writing, my preaching, and my service.

What are some symptoms of being an on fire and zealous follower of Christ?

·     Being joyful in hope
·     Patient in affliction
·     Faithful in prayer
·     Caring and sharing with fellow believers
·     Hospitality

Once upon a time I wrote an article called Metrics for Christians.  I had a little fun postulating how we could measure our discipleship.  You have to have metrics, right?
How about attendance?  Surely that had to be one.  I even offered that people out to get extra credit for staying awake during the sermon.

Knowing the words to the songs.  That has to count.

Keeping both eyes closed during the prayer.

Of course the tithe.  Yes, it is 10% off the top.  Max points for strict adherence.  Extra points for giving beyond the tithe.

The list went on.  I don’t remember how many I put out there to bait the reader.  Those who did not know me probably wondered if I was serious or not.  Then out of the blue, I added:  Love you enemy.

Love your enemy.  Now there’s a truth teller.  What’s the point of having an enemy if you can’t hate them?  Note that Jesus was not telling his disciples to love “the enemy”, but those people who just don’t like us.

So Paul throws in a little graduate level discipleship here in this 12th chapter as well.  Bless those who persecute you.  Bless and do not curse.

I can get motivated about being a living sacrifice.  I can sing All to Jesus I surrender.  All to him I freely give.  I can sing it.

I love the thought and process of renewing my mind.  Digging into God’s word, listening to what he has to say when I convince my whole being to be still, and taking my faith and my gifts and getting after it is just cool beans.

But this bless those who persecute you—there should be other options.  How about I wring your neck and throw your funeral in for free as an act of compassion?  That could work.

But what I want—or think that I want in my mind still conforms to the patterns of this world—and is not the good and pleasing and perfect will of God.

My whole life is given as a sacrifice to God.  I willing surrender my will to his, especially in view of the undeserved mercy that I have received and now live in.  So as joyfully as I share with the body of believers, I need to want my enemies to know that same joy.

I have decided to follow Jesus.  I will not repay evil for evil.

I will even go so far as to consider the thoughts and opinions of others who do not believe and probably don’t like me very much and do my best to live in harmony with them.

I will not compromise being a living sacrifice and re-plowing my mind to receive the mind God has for me, so I will fully trust God to deal with the wicked.  If he wanted me to do it, he would have put it in my commission.

Maybe, just maybe, in being God’s love by meeting some basic needs in those who pretty much hate me, they won’t be able to sleep until they figure out what is going on with this crazy Jesus follower.

Maybe, somewhere in the discord that my mercy and compassion creates in their world-ordered life, their hearts will break and they will receive the Holy Spirit.

That’s knowing God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will and letting it have its way in my life.

And we come to the end of this very packed chapter on discipleship and this final statement.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

So what do we say?

It’s all yours.  My life is yours.  My mind is yours.  Plow my field.  I will take my gifts and leverage them with the measure of faith that you have given and produce good fruit.

I live for and in your will—your good, pleasing, and perfect will; and in so doing I will overcome evil with good.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Bound over to disobedience so that all come to know God by his mercy

Read Romans 11

Next to the election and college football, it is the most talked about subject in 21st century America.  You guessed it—Jews and Gentiles. 

Workspaces, coffee shops, up and down the halls in the high school it is all that people are talking about, right?

I’m sure that in the next and thankfully final presidential debate the topic will surely occupy at least half of the time.  How is God dealing with the Jews and the Gentiles?

I will concede that Israel does come up in the news on a regular basis but the conversation about Jew and Gentile is mostly confined to Bible studies and sermons.  Can’t we just skip this chapter and get on to more relevant stuff?  This is 2016, almost 2017!

I would think that there were many Roman believers that initially lost interest or may have even been offended at this point.  Jew and Gentile were a Jewish perspective of the world.  Paul was writing to believers at the seat of power in that day’s empire.

There was Rome.  There were Roman colonies.  Everyone else was just a conquered nation.  Paul was writing to a people whose thinking was or at least had been that there was Rome and there was everyone else and everyone else didn’t matter so much.

In fact, to say Jew and Gentile might even be a little offensive to the Hebrew people as well.  These people were not really called Jews until Babylon and thereafter.  The Hebrew people taken from Jerusalem were second or third class citizens to the Babylonians.  Many of these people rose to high positons in Babylon and remained faithful to the one true God, but they were generally despised.

So what’s up with this Jew and Gentile stuff?  Why does it matter to me?

Jesus is Lord.  I have decided to follow Jesus.  I have professed with my mouth and believe in my heart.  I want to love one another.  Yes, I know that Jesus was born into this world as a Jew to parents who lived by the law.  Do I really need to know the whole Jewish kit and caboodle?  Let’s just take the New Testament and run with it.

I agree!  Let’s take the New Testament and run with it, but let’s do it fully equipped for every good work.  We who live in this age where we don’t read a Facebook post longer than a paragraph or watch a video if it takes more than 15 seconds to load need to understand that we are part of a very big story.

Some hear the word story and think fiction, but the story is just one way to communicate.  Only some stories are fiction.  Jesus used stories, many are called parables.  God has been telling a story since the creation of the world.
We are grafted in to His Story that he has told since he spoke everything into existence.  God created then God chose.  

Adam and Eve were not Hebrews.  They were people, creatures made in a divine image.  Out of this human race he chose a people to know more closely and through which to tell his story.

Israel was chosen by God to receive an identity as a special people—a treasured people if you will.  The men were chosen to receive a sign in the flesh.  The entire nation was chosen to receive God’s law.  Paul even called it a trust.  These same people were chosen to receive a land promised long ago to them.

And they were the people chosen to deliver the Savior of the world to the world.

For God so loved the Jews that he sent his one and only Son that whichever of his chosen people would believe in him….   Wait one minute!  That’s not the way the verse reads.

Why not?  Was Jesus not sent to the lost sheep of Israel?

Yes!  And he was sent to save all who would call upon his name and believe in him!

God’s desire is that none perish and all come to salvation in Christ Jesus.  This is a love story—the greatest love story if you will.  Now in this great love story there may be some tragedy, and hurt, and pain as we often find even in love stories authored by men, but God’s love and his salvation are extended to all.

We have been grafted into this tree.  We were a wild branch and now have been grafted into this tree and we find that it’s a good thing. 

But unlike an actual branch, we want to know where the goodness comes from.  We want to know where our life sustaining fullness comes from.  We want to know how deep the roots go.

We who do not have the human blood of Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob want to know that we truly belong in God’s family.  We want to know that we are connected all the way to the roots.

Jesus said that he was the vine and we are the branches.  Without him we can do nothing.  Paul used an olive tree to illustrate our connection to God.

But to get His Story from one chosen people to the world, it would take a hardening of his own people and an atoning sacrifice of divine blood.

The Savior came from these chosen people but most would not know him.  They were drunk, in a stupor, blind to the salvation to the world.  Prophecy foretold this with words such as stumbling block and cornerstone.

We may wonder why it had to be this way but we must not doubt that God is the author of this story—of His Story.  He wrote it start to finish.

Branches stripped off of his chosen people so that wild branches might be grafted in—that’s how the hook to the story on the back of the book would read.

The transgression of the chosen made way for the salvation of the many might get you to read the first chapter.  This is the story of our great and mighty God working within his own creation.

Sometimes, we who are part of that creation and part of that story wonder, why did it have to be this way?    Did his chosen people really have to stumble for us to be brought into the favor of God?  These are some interesting plot twists.

C’mon God, you could have just started with everybody.  You could have made us right with you in the beginning.  You could have given the law to everyone.  If you would have given the law before the people made the Tower of Babel we wouldn’t even have to translate it.

Time and again it seems that we as the crown of God’s creation question God’s ways.  We want to know the why.  We want some answers.  What sort of answer do we get?

We get what Jesus told Peter as he prepared to wash his feet.  “You won’t understand this now, but later you will.”

Of course when Jesus gives Peter a little bit of the explanation, Peter wants an entire bath.  We have a hard time being satisfied with the part of the story that we are given.

We want the why and some answers and we get Isaiah.

God’s ways are higher than our ways.  His thoughts are higher…

Being a Gentile, I guess I can live with that as I am the beneficiary of the way the story went.   In His Story, God’s love and salvation has come to me. 

Don’t you wish that Paul had known—that he might have had foreknowledge—that one day there would be a United States?


Then he could have classified people as Jew, Gentile, and Americans.  Why should we get lumped in with the Gentiles? 

I may not quite understand His Story completely, but I am glad that God’s love was for the Gentiles and Americans, but it seems that God’s chosen people were just used and then kicked to the curb.  Bummer.

Paul reminds his readers in the 1st and 21st centuries that the story of God’s chosen people is still playing out.

When the number of Gentiles and Americans—I sure hope that I don’t bite my tongue while it’s stuck in my cheek—becomes complete, then God’s people will come to know the fullness of God that we know in Christ.  They are surely not left out.

Now if we who are like a wild branch grafted into a cultivated tree know the abundant love and life rooted in that cultivated tree, how much more will the original branches know that life and love and abundance when they are brought back in?

But it all seems to be a rather circuitous route.  What did God think he would accomplish by telling His Story this way?  It’s not like he couldn’t have hired a couple dozen studio consultants to polish this story of which we are now a part.  What did he accomplish by doing it this way?

That all would come to know God through his grace and mercy.  Hebrew, Gentile, and even American all have the same route to life, life abundant, and life eternal.

It is the grace, favor, and mercy that we know in the person of Jesus Christ.

The Hebrew people—Israel—would have and continue to have a special part in His Story but they would come to truly know their God as we know him, by his mercy and grace.

Paul ended this chapter with what many of your Bibles label a doxology.  Why would he do that?  It is not the end of the letter.  Why bring in this special insert of glory and praise now?

Perhaps it is because up to now he has intertwined so many things—knowing there is a God, sin, falling short, grace, salvation, discipleship, and being a part of His Story

If you grew up a Hebrew, this was always a part of the story that you knew.  As a Gentile coming into God’s family, this is what Paul Harvey used to call, the rest of the story.  As the apostle Paul continues, we will spend most of our time in the area of discipleship.

How are we to live in response to God’s fantastic mercy and grace?  We are going to get into some discipleship in the chapters to come.

For now, know that God continues to be directly involved in his creation working with both those he chose through Abraham’s lineage and those whom he has called out of the world by his Holy Spirit to follow Jesus and take his good news to the world.

Be thankful that the Author of all things has written us into His Story not as an extra but having very much a lead role in working out this wonderful gift that we know as our salvation so that we too may bring glory to God.

Living out our salvation to bring glory to God is our part of His Story.

Let’s finish as Paul did, with that doxology.

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
    How unsearchable his judgments,
    and his paths beyond tracing out!
 “Who has known the mind of the Lord?
    Or who has been his counselor?”
 “Who has ever given to God,
    that God should repay them?”
 For from him and through him and for him are all things.
    To him be the glory forever!