Monday, November 19, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of November 18, 2012

Today's topic involves "mystery".  Now we should recognize that "mystery" is not so much a problem to be solved, as it is a greater reality to be appreciated.  We should appreciate that God's ways are not our ways, and that His ways are beyond our ability to trace out.

So with this in mind, let's dive deep into the mystery of this week's reading.

(Read Romans 11:1-36)

It is very timely for us to discuss these things right now.   This weekend attacks have occurred between Hamas in Palestine and the Israeli military.  Unfortunately, many civilians on both sides of the "fence" have suffered loss.  So it is of utmost importance that we embrace this mystery regarding the "remnant of Israel" even as we pray for peace in that region of God's world.

So clearly Paul says, "God did not reject His people", but why?  Some might argue that it appears God has indeed rejected His people since earlier Paul had said, "What then shall we say?  That the Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness has not attained it." (Romans 9:30-31)  So why can Paul now say, "God did not reject His people"?

Well, the reason is because of the remnant.  The "remnant" is the "7,000" who have not turned their backs on God, but have instead embraced His promise in the person of His Son Jesus.  Jesus is the true "seed" of Abraham (see Galatians 3:16) and the fulfillment of all of God's promises.

This is how we can also understand the imagery of the olive tree.  (see verses 11-24)  Jesus is the olive tree.  Wild olive branches (Gentiles) were grafted into Jesus through FAITH (i.e. believing God; particularly His promise fulfilled in Jesus), and the natural branches (Jews) can also be grafted in through that same FAITH.  (see verse 23)  However, without FAITH no one is included in Jesus, and no one is grafted in, no matter whether they are "wild" or "natural" branches.  The Bible says clearly, "Without FAITH it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:6).

So back to today's situation in Israel, and the conflict between Hamas and Israel.  We should not believe that Israel has a divine right to do whatever it pleases.  Yes they can defend their borders, their citizens, and their interests.  However, we should not think that the current nation of Israel has God on their side.  The question, as has been asked time and time again, even when Joshua encountered the "commander of the army of the LORD" is not "Is God on our side?" but rather "Are we on God's side?"

All who place true FAITH in Jesus (Believing God; particularly His promise fulfilled in Jesus) are on God's side, but all who persist in unbelief have rejected God and His promise fulfilled in Jesus.  This is the bottom line, and it is, in my humble opinion, the best way to embrace this "mystery".

So what do you think?  Do you agree or disagree?  Why or Why not?  Let's discuss.

p.s. I will take the week off next week due to the short week and the Thanksgiving holiday, and I will start fresh in December with a new focus.  I would like to wrestle with real questions your family, friends, and neighbors have asked when you have spoken about your FAITH.  What are their objections?  What questions have they asked that you feel ill equipped to answer?  Let's discuss those questions together.  So either comment on this blog, or comment on Facebook.  Together we will seek God's answer as we continue to go deeper into God's Word together.  Thank you!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of November 11, 2012

How can anyone (no matter who they are) be saved?

(Read Romans 10:1-21)

How can anyone (no matter who they are) be saved?  Paul cuts through the controversy and confusion by offering a clear answer in verse 13, "Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved."

So calling on the name of the LORD, and more specifically believing God's promise fulfilled in Jesus is the ONLY way to be saved.  And that way is open to "everyone" no matter who they are!

Unfortunately, too many folks try to make things more complicated than they need to be.

Some will promote the idea of "replacement theology" when it comes to God's relationship with Jews.
"Replacement theology" says basically that Christians have taken the place of Jews as God's people.
"Replacement theology" has unfortunately been used to commit many atrocities against Jewish people from pogroms to the holocaust some form of "replacement theology" has been used to justify injustice.

Others will promote the idea of what I will call "two covenant theology".  In an attempt to avoid the pitfalls of "replacement theology" they posit that God has two covenants (unbreakable promises), which are ongoing and exist side by side still today.  They believe God's promise to the Jews will yet be fulfilled.  They will once again receive the promised land, the temple will be rebuilt, and the Jewish religion will flourish in the sovereign nation of Israel.  In addition, they believe Gentiles (non-Jews) have been "grafted in" to the people of God through faith in Jesus.

However, this does not make sense either.  If this were true, then why would Paul make it his "heart's desire and prayer to God" that the Israelites might be saved?  If they were already going to inherit God's promises through being Jewish, then why would they also need to be saved?

There is much more to say here, and I hope some of you will take time to respond and offer your own thoughts, but before I end let me offer you mine.

Paul is very clear in Romans 10:13, "Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved."  He is also very clear that the identity of the LORD is Jesus (see verse 9).  So anyone who calls on Jesus  (believing God's promises fulfilled in Christ - see II Corinthians 1:20) will be saved no matter whether they are Jew or Gentile, everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved!


p.s. While I would appreciate your comments on today's blog post, I would also request that you share with me some real questions you have been asked by non-believers or skeptics when you have engaged them in conversations about Christianity.  I would like to offer a series of posts, which grapple with some of these very difficult questions and propose a framework for discussing them with grace and truth.  So please share your questions.  I would love to hear what challenges you have been facing in your attempts at bringing Jesus to others, and I would be honored to join you in that significant journey.
Thank you!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of November 11, 2012

The identity of the true people of God has been up for debate for quite some time.  We have seen in Paul's letter to the Galatians how this issue has shaped the discussion concerning the "good news".  Is it the natural children of Abraham (i.e. Jews) who are the people of God, or some other group?

As I have come to understand God's Word, the true identity of the people of God is found in Jesus. Jesus is the true Israel (Abraham's seed) and all who are in Christ (by God's grace received through faith) are also the people of God.

So in order to further support this understanding I invite you over the next few weeks to join me in
"going deeper" into part of Paul's letter to the Romans; specifically chapters 9 to 11.  This first week we will "go deep" into chapter 9.

(Read Romans 9:1-33)

Let me start by saying this is a very complex part of scripture.  It is filled with mystery because it deals with something as unknowable as the mind of God.  We cannot fully know God's mind, but guided by the Holy Spirit and with God's word as our compass we will seek to "go deep" into truth.

Also to frame this discussion it is clear that Paul is passionate and filled with anguish in his heart as he speaks (v. 1).  These are not easy subjects, and they are not intended to be handled without emotion.

I think for this first week, the key components for our discussion are found in verses 1-8 and 30-33.

In verses 1-8, Paul speaks of all that belongs to the people of Israel: "Theirs is the adoption as sons, theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises ..." (v. 4-5)  Clearly the people of Israel have had a special relationship with the living God.

But not all of them.  This is where the argument gets difficult.  We must imagine Paul holding back tears as he says the following words.  "For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.  Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children ... In other words, it is NOT the natural children who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring."  (verses 6b-8)

As Paul has said in Galatians, "Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham." (Galatians 3:7)  Clearly those who believe in Jesus (specifically God's promises fulfilled in Jesus) are the children of the promise and regarded not only as children of Abraham, but also children of God!

Now we will move to verses 30-33 to see how Paul sums this up.

"What then shall we say?  That the Gentiles (non-Jews), who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it.  Why not?  Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.  They stumbled over the "stumbling stone".  

And the "stumbling stone" is Jesus.  So then all who place true faith in Jesus (specifically God's promises fulfilled in Jesus) are the true people of God.  Jesus is the narrow door which leads to God.

We will talk more about this next week, but for now what are your thoughts?  Do you agree?  If not, what is God's relationship to the "natural children" of Abraham today?  Also, if this is true, how does it make you feel to know that in Jesus you have become forever a child of God?