Romans 9-11: The Jews

When we started studying Romans this summer, the opening comment from a friend of mine after reading the opening of Romans was: “I’m not sure what to think about the Jews.”  I love honesty like that.  And Paul continues to touch on the subject momentarily throughout Romans, but then in chapters 9, 10, & 11, he settles down to address this issue once and for all.  Now we are not going to try to understand all that God thinks about the Jews, or even all of what Paul thinks about the Jews.  We are just going to address one thing that broke my heart.

“Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.”  (Romans 11:25)

When I was in college, I took a class in Ancient Hebrew Thought.  It was basically a class on Genesis at a secular institution.  My professor was a brilliant Jewish man.  I learned so much from him.  But at the end of the class, for all his brilliance, he did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah toward which his faith pointed.  I’ve never understood that.  I’ve thought about it for almost 20 years now.  But in studying this summer, it finally started to become clear.  God has chosen to harden the hearts of many Jews to the truth until such a time that “the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.”  It doesn’t matter how brilliant they are.  God decided to harden their hearts in order to save the rest of the world.  That’s why he couldn’t understand.  Not because he was stubborn, but because God is stubbornly pursuing the hearts of the Gentiles.

“Rather through their trespass, salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.”  (Romans 11:11b)

God has made salvation distant to many Jews in order to win the hearts of the Gentiles, but then also plans to use our faith to win the Jews to Him as well.  It makes me wonder if we are living lives that would make Jews jealous?  Or are we just criticizing them for being wrong?  Are we reaching out in love, building relationships, or just treating them like a cult of unbelievers?  Because whatever the current status of their faith is, they are still God’s chosen people.  And if He wants to use us to win their hearts, are we living lives that they would want?  Like the new song by Casting Crowns, do they feel loved by us or do they just know us by what we’re against?

This really changed my heart.  I’d love to hear your ideas.



Fall Tour Set List

Hey guys, I’m a little behind on the Romans blog this week. I’ll try to have it done in the next couple of days. While we’re waiting, I thought I would ask you a question…

What song would you like to hear on the fall tour with Jason Gray?

I don’t think I’ve ever asked before a tour. And I’d love to know which songs you’d like to hear live this fall. It is an acoustic tour, so keep that in mind. If you wanted to hear Least of These with a full rock band, you’re going to have to wait. But seriously, I’d love to hear from you… and then I’m going to play whatever I want to play anyway?



Meet The Teacher

School starts Monday but today was Meet The Teacher.  It was awesome to see all these elementary kids excited about seeing their friends, finding their classrooms, and meeting their teachers.  Just yesterday my kids were talking about how they weren’t ready to go back to school, but now both can’t wait to start.  They see hope and potential in every kid, every class, every day.

Most adults I know are not like that.  We call ourselves more “realistic”, but I think the better word is probably “cynical”.  We say that kids don’t yet know all the things that can and will go wrong, but I might suggest that we have lost view of all the things that go right.  I think we miss the value of every breath.  We are so wounded by the harsh words of people that we miss the treasure in the kind words we hear.  In fact, we usually blow off compliments and hold on to discouragement.  I do, at least.  We overlook the fact that every time we underline a verse in our Bibles, every time we make a note in the margin, the God of the universe is speaking directly to us, for our good.

I met a girl in Delaware last weekend.  She showed me her 10,000 Charms book.  (If you don’t know, Robbie Seay wrote a new melody for an amazing old hymn Come Ye Sinners, and I recorded it on my first record.)  God had opened the door for this young lady to write down every bit of good that happens to her, realizing that every moment of happiness, every laugh, every insight, every time something doesn’t go wrong, is a gift from God.  So she was writing them down.  She was in the 2500’s.  I was amazed to see a few of the things I had said that night written down by their own number.  Each good thing was a gift, recorded.

I hope to develop eyes that see that much good.  That recognize God’s hand in every moment.  And maybe to write them down, so I can better be grateful for them.



Romans 8: Changing Sides

When two countries are at war, a soldier on one side cannot just decide to switch sides.  You can’t just raise your hand, and say, “I’m not an enemy anymore; I’m on your team.”  You can’t just realize that you really agree with the other country’s stance and declare yourself a citizen.  There may be the possibility of your citizenship changing, but it won’t be up to you.  You have to submit to a process and allow someone else with authority to choose to offer you a new home and identity.

When we repent, God could refuse us.  He could say, “Well, you can be on my side, but you are the lowest rank.”  He could declare us lower class or servants.  But He chooses a more beautiful path.  He not only changes what side we’re fighting on; He changes our identity.  He doesn’t just allow us to immigrate; He makes us His sons and daughters.  He adopts us.

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”  (Romans 8:14)

Adoption is not a Jewish concept. Paul is pulling it either from the Romans or Greeks.  The Greek definition of adoption is  “being granted the full rights and privileges of sonship in a family to which one does not belong by nature.”  F.F. Bruce says, “An adopted son was a son deliberately chosen by his adoptive father to perpetuate his name and inherit his estate.”  I love that.  The believer is admitted to the heavenly family to which he has no rights of his own.  And we have been chosen for a purpose.

Karl Barth said, “God exists.  God leads from death to life.  God will, and a necessity is laid upon us.  This is the real situation.  We are not debtors to the world of time and things and men (8:12)…  By the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, by the knowledge of God, we are invariably disposed and orientated from west to east, from death to life.  God, in that one moment, completely changes us.  He makes the impossible possible.  There is no way for us to change sides, but He does it for us.

Aaron and Jamie Ivey, our worship pastor and friends, have adopted two children from Haiti, Amos and Story.  Fortunately, Haiti is not at war with the United States, but that still doesn’t mean a child can just change which country he is from.  A child of Haiti must grow up and then apply to immigrate.  After being a permanent resident of the US for 5 years, being a continuous resident for 5 years, having 30 months of physical presence in the US, 3 months in a specific district or state, being of good moral character, having knowledge of English and Civics, and being attached to the Constitution, they may apply to become a citizen of the United States.  They are not guaranteed acceptance; that is the minimum to apply.  Someone else must still approve them.  But when Aaron and Jamie adopted Amos and Story, at that moment they became citizens.  Not because of anything they did, but because of the love of another, they became US citizens.

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons,” (8:19)  We have not been given a new set of rules.  We have been given a new heart.  We have been redefined.  Not a spirit of bondage unto fear, but recreated as a son in whom fulfillment and joy is found in pleasing his Father.



The Inevitable Space

I was reading a novel the other day and came across a passage that struck me.  A girl is seeing her father in a new way.  She fears he is cheating on her mother.  And she says that she sees “…the inevitable space between father and man.”  What a description.  There is an image we always project as fathers.  And eventually every child has to realize that his dad isn’t really that guy, he’s just a normal guy.  A guy who is hateful sometimes.  A guy who struggles.  A guy who loses his temper.  There is an “inevitable space” between how we portray ourselves as fathers and who we really are.

I don’t think that’s a good idea.  I think we may need to be honest with our kids.  I don’t mean we need to expose them to things they are not ready for.  I just think we should tell the truth.  I think we should show them that we fail.  So that when they fail, they don’t feel they need to hide it.  They may have even learned what to do.

So when I screw up with my kids, which I do fairly regularly, I apologize.  I go back and say “I’m sorry” and give them the opportunity to forgive, another valuable skill.  I want them to see that I have made a mistake and also to see that this is what you do when you make mistakes.

I don’t want them to grow up and one day realize that I’m not who they thought I was.  I want them to learn from my successes but I also want them to learn how to fail.  To fail well.  I’d like to close that space between father and man.  Maybe it’s not so “inevitable.”



Youth Ministry Nuggets, pt. 3: Things I Learned from Great Youth Ministers

Youth Ministry Nugget #7: Build from the foundation up.

This nugget is also known as “Your students may not be ready for Piper if they don’t know who Noah is.”  This generation of youth ministers has become fascinated with brilliant theologians.  I know, I’m fascinated with them too.  And I’m not saying don’t teach your kids deep theology.  I’m just saying make sure they know the gospel.  Just because you’ve heard a story a thousand times doesn’t mean they have.  Sometimes we get so excited about what we’re learning that we fail to ask what our students need to learn.  Beautiful roofs are awesome, but a good house needs a foundation too.  I don’t want to see a generation of kids who can explain Christian hedonism, but when they hear about Abraham, they assume we mean Lincoln.

Youth Ministry Nugget #8: Lead by example.

Lead by example.  It’s a fairly obvious idea, but it’s a little more complicated to put it in to practice.  It means that whatever you’re asking your students to do, they should have some way to see it in your own life.  They need to see your reading your Bible.  They need to know that you pray.  They need to hear the verses you are memorizing.  That shows them the path you are walking down, and maybe helps them to walk it themselves.  If you are asking them to live in community, in openness and honestly, then they need to see you do it as well.  It doesn’t mean confessing every sin to your youth group, but it may mean that they meet your accountability partner.  That your community group, discipleship group, comes to spend time with the students some time.  I know, I know.  When I was a youth minister, I didn’t have time to be in community, to add another group to my week.  But if I’m asking them to do it, I need to, too.



Romans 5: Rejoicing in Suffering

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, becuase God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”  (Romans 5:3-5 ESV)

Most of us live in the idea that suffering is to be avoided.  In fact, we avoid most of the things that Jesus says we would be blessed for: being poor in spirit, mourning, being meek, being persecuted.  We’d rather skip those.  But here Paul says we should rejoice in our sufferings.  Not just out of duty or obedience, but because they actually have value.  They produce hope.  I don’t know that living a life avoiding pain produces anything but fear.

Martin Luther said, “He who has faith indeed has all the excellent things but in a hidden way.  Through tribulation they are tried and purified to the highest degree.  Whatever tribulation finds in us, it develops more fully.  If anyone is carnal, weak, blind, wicked, irascible, haughty, tribulation will make him more so.  On the other hand, if one is spiritual, strong, wise, pious, gentle, and humble, he will become more so.  Tribulation does not make people impatient, but proves that they are impatient.”

If I am strong, and suffering makes me more so, then it is strengthening me through building endurance.  By continuing on, I develop character.  And by seeing how God is succeeding through me and shaping me, I receive hope.  If I am weak, and suffering reveals that, then hopefully I will turn to God.  I will learn to lean on His strength, to hold on with endurance.  I develop the character of dependence.  And in finding that I have leaned on Him and He has never let me go, I find hope.

Acts 14:22 says, “…through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”  We MUST.  There is no other way.  This is where our path lies.  “Those are ignorant, childish, and indeed hypocritical who outwardly venerate the relics of the Holy Cross, yet flee and detest tribulation and affliction,” (Luther).

But I think we miss that these comments on suffering follow verse 1: “…we have peace with God….”  Every bit of our suffering is within the peace with God.  It is not separate.  We do not hope for resolution someday.  In the midst of our suffering, we have peace with God.  We are His, and He is in complete control.  Which means that somehow this path of suffering is for our good, even for our best.  It is the path of peace.



Romans 5:1 – At War

One of Webster’s definitions of the word “peace” is “a state of tranquillity or quiet.”  Another related definition is “freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions.”  And some people assume that is what Paul means in Romans 5:1.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (5:1)

But Paul starts with “Therefore”.  He is connecting this to all his teaching on the gospel, Christ’s imputed righteousness by faith.  And I’m sorry, but I just don’t see the connection that God sacrificed His Son so I could avoid “oppressive emotions.”  I think the problem being resolved is much greater than that.

The verse also has a mirror in Romans 8:1:

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

If there is “therefore now no” condemnation, then at one time, there must have BEEN condemnation.

And I think it’s the same in chapter 5.  If “therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace,” then at one time we must have been at war.

At war… with God.  That’s not a very comforting thought.  And most of us don’t feel that way.  Well, yes, we know that Jesus died for our sins, but we weren’t at war with God.  We love God.  We have tried our best, and just fallen a little short.  But I don’t think that’s an accurate picture of our situation.

Let’s say you are a wife.  I know that may not be true for you.  You may be single.  You may be a man.  But for the ease of the illustration, let’s say you are a wife.

If you are a wife, how many affairs is it okay for your husband to have?  10?  5?  1?  I believe the answer we are looking for is NONE.

If your husband chooses to give his love and affection to another even just one time, are you at peace or at war?

You are at war.  And Jesus is much more deserving of our loyalty and love than any wife could ever be.  Every time we choose something else over God is an act of war.  Every sin, every failure, an act of war.

So our justification by faith is a huge deal.  It is not just accomplishing peace of mind; it is putting us on the same team as the almighty God of the universe.



Youth Ministry Nuggets, pt. 2: Things I Learned from Great Youth Ministers

We are continuing our series on youth ministry.  These is not a how-to manual on doing ministry well.  They are just little nuggets of wisdom that I’ve picked up along the way.  If you missed part one, it was about loving your students well, and you can find it here.  Now on to part two.

Youth Ministry Nugget #4: Teach the Bible.

Now again, we are living in the obvious, but I just can’t skip.  Yes, I know you know this.  But I also know when I was a youth minister, I spent a vast majority of my time doing something besides teaching my kids the Bible.  This needs to be the focus of our ministry for a number of reasons, but to me the main one is this: The Word of God can change the lives of students.

That IS what we’re trying to do.  And this is the way that happens.  Not through games, or songs, or videos.  The Word of God brings life.  All the other things we do should be enabling their connection to the Word.  I see teachers go to school for however long they choose to, in order to teach basic concepts to students, to understand how a specific child learns and help them.  Youth ministers learn how to do all these other things, and then we throw the Bible out there and hope that it sticks.  Now I’m not saying you’re a bad preacher.  That’s not it at all.  I have no idea.  I just think the Bible has to be a huge part of youth ministry.

Youth Ministry Nugget #5: Trust in the Gospel.

We try so often to spice it up.  To make it attractive.  It’s not.  The gospel is a stumbling block.  A life preserver is only beautiful to someone who realizes they are drowning.

We don’t need to make the gospel something it’s not.  We need to trust that in its simplicity and complexity, God will draw those hearts He desires to Himself.

Youth Ministry Nugget #6: Be careful about teaching what you learned that day.

When we learn something, we get so excited and we want to teach it immediately.  But honestly, we’re not really qualified to teach that yet.  Does that mean God cannot use that? Of course not, but then, God spoke throught a donkey as well.  When you learn something, commit to study.  Dig deeper.  Understand it in the context of the whole Scripture.  Share it with your community, not your students but your peers.  Let them challenge it.  Begin to walk it out.  See what this truth looks like in real life.  Then let God birth a teaching that is full and whole, not just a t-shirt slogan.




Romans 3-4: By Faith

In the third and fourth chapters of Romans, Paul seems to be pretty hung up on the idea of faith…

“…the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” (3:22a)

“For we hold that one is justified by faith apart form works of the law.” (3:28)

“…his faith is counted as righteousness.” (4:5b)

“For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” (4:13)

“That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace…” (4:16a)

I don’t know if you noticed the theme, but it’s faith.  Why must we be saved by faith?  Well Paul touches on that in the last quote from Romans 4:16, “in order that the promise may rest on grace.”  By faith we are trusting that God will do every single thing required for our salvation.  None of it depends on us; it all rests on His grace.  Why must it rest on grace, you ask?  Great question, and Paul digs into this a little deeper in chapter 8.

“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.  By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3-4 ESV)

We must have faith that God will save because we cannot save ourselves.  The law can show us where we have failed, but cannot help us change that.  Imagine, if you will a married couple, we’ll call them Tom and Jane.  If Tom lies to Jane one time, and then tells her the truth one time, should she trust him?  No!  (Or as Paul would say, “By no means!”)  Tom has only told the truth 50% of the time.  He is a liar and not to be trusted.  What if Tom told one lie and then told the truth 10 times?  Better but still very untrustworthy.  1 out of 10, still a liar.  What if he told the truth 100 times?  1000 times?  1,000,000 times?  Well, a million is a lot.  We’d probably trust him then.  But does the million times change the fact that he lied?  No.  By lying one time, he is by definition a liar, and there is nothing he can do to change that.  He may become more trustworthy, but he cannot change the lie.

We are by definition sinners.  We have fallen short of the goal of perfection that God has set.  And we now, by faith, believe that God will act on our behalf.  We trust that He will do the one thing we cannot; He will change who we are.  He will erase the lie. He will place the lie on His Son Jesus at the cross and condemn it.  God makes us righteous, not because of what we have done, but because of what He has done.  And we believe.