God is Still Working

One of Eastgate’s logo designs is emblazoned with the words, “A work in progress”, because that’s what we are. We haven’t arrived at what we’re aiming for, and God is still in the process of shaping and molding us into a community with purpose. That’s true of all of us who are following Christ – we’re all a work in progress. Sometimes, however, we may feel like there’s been a labor strike because nothing much seems to be happening. Progress seems to halt, we stumble back into old habits, we face setbacks. Sometimes that happens with those we love and pray for as well. It’s in those times we can be tempted to wonder if God has given up on us or those we care about.

That is what’s happening in the text we’ll be reading this Sunday as we continue our study of Romans. We’ll be reading all of chapter 11. Yes, I agree, that’s a lot of verses to cover. It’s largely a review and summary though, so we’ll be able to handle it in big chunks. Paul is wrapping up his thoughts concerning Israel’s rejection of the Messiah – and in doing so, he poses questions about God rejecting Israel.

What does he conclude about that question – did God reject Israel? In v1, what does he base his answer on – what proof does he highlight concerning Israel? Paul took comfort in something small compared to the majority. How can that comfort us when we are wondering if God has given up on our situation?

Something else that Paul does is remind himself of the story of Elijah when he was on the run from Ahab. What does v4 remind us of concerning God’s providence?

Paul then recaps his thinking through the rest of the chapter – but when using the metaphor of branches cut off of a tree and new branches grafted in, he makes a hopeful statement in v24 about the potential impermanence of Israel’s rejection of Christ. How can his hopeful statement encourage us when we feel like we have stumbled and stagnated in our own journey with God?

We will deal with all the various interpretations of vs 25-26 on Sunday.

The whole section of ch 9-11 has some very discouraging things to say…but all of it ends on such a hopeful note. It’s just a reminder of the truth Paul stated in chapter 8:28 – God is always at work, through all things, to bring about what’s best for us.

Hopefully this will encourage you as well. See you Sunday!

 

 

Good News People

“Today, the term evangelical is a loaded word in American culture, packed with a variety of contradictory meanings. The emotions it evokes in one person can be the polar opposite of how it affects someone else. What evangelical is supposed to mean—bringer of good news—is completely different from what it has come to mean for many in our society: judgmental, misogynist, bigoted, homophobic. How did this happen? How did the “good news” people come to be widely regarded as bad news?”

~Lance Ford,  Revangelical: Becoming the Good News People We’re Meant to Be. Tyndale Momentum

This Sunday we’ll be reading a very famous passage from Romans as we continue our study of that book. We’ll be reading ch 10:14-21.

Paul, still sorting through the dilemma of Israel’s rejection of her Messiah, puts forth a stair-step argument for how people actually receive Jesus as Messiah. His argument is in the form of questions again, and he starts with the desired goal of salvation (based on v13) and works backwards through the process. Before they can embrace God’s salvation, they have to believe. But in order to believe, they have to hear the offer. In order to hear, someone has to tell them the news, and so on.

There is no way around the usage here – the gospel has a message to be shared. The Good News is news. You might find the origins of the word we translate as “gospel” of interest – there is a famous inscription that reveals it’s usage outside of the church. If you read the translation, take note of how Augustus is described, and compare it to the first Christian description of Jesus.

Paul makes an assumption about who was sent to share that news. What does this tell us about our purpose as the church? He quotes Isaiah 52 which forecasts the day when Israel’s exile is over – and how beautiful even the feet of those will be who bring that good news. This clearly indicates to us, as the church, that we have some very good news to share with the people we are placed among. What is the good news, in your understanding? What does v17 indicate that the Good News is about? How can we see to it that we keep the main thing the main thing?

Hopefully this study will get us thinking and pointed in the right direction for how we, as a community of the Gospel, can bring light to the world in which we’ve been placed. I’m really excited about Sunday’s study.

 

Faith > Works

Image result for blue dress or gold dress

Do you remember the buzz a while back about how people could look at the same dress and some people saw a blue dress with black stripes, while others saw a gold dress with white stripes? I’m still amazed that anyone saw anything but a blue dress – but that’s the thing, isn’t it? It was all the same dress. How our brains processed the light and color made all the difference.

That’s similar to what Paul will be talking about in our text this Sunday, as we read Romans 10:1-13.

Paul will be talking about how Israel looked at the promise of God and saw something that had to be worked out by honoring the Old Testament law. Yet, as Paul will explain, that was seeing the promise in the wrong light. God always intended for salvation to come as His gift to human-kind, not as something we earned.

In this section, Paul provides us with the profound declaration of how salvation is bestowed on us. The message of faith that Paul preached is found in v9. How do you understand this combination of speech and belief in the inner person? How would you explain to someone unfamiliar with Christianity what it is that Paul is driving at here? What distinction, if any, do you see between faith in the heart and understanding in the intellect? How do you think someone who struggles with the tension between the two can resolve on faith without committing intellectual suicide?

Sunday is a special day – we will only have one service at 10 am – then we’ll go to St Andrews State Park to have a cook out and baptize those who wish to be. This is the very declaration of faith Paul is getting at in our text. If you haven’t been baptized and want to know more about it, you can go to this page on our website, and sign up there if you’d like to make that declaration this Sunday!

See you then!

God’s Family of Grace

family of grace

A question that has occupied a lot of people’s attention throughout the history of the church, and I’m sure other religious formations, is the question of who is “in” and who is “out” when it comes to God’s acceptance. I think one of the reasons we seem to like to decipher an answer to that question is because, for the most part, it reinforces our own sense of “in”-ness. It would be the rare person who works hard to identify himself as an outsider. No, we like to differentiate between insiders and outsiders because it usually makes us feel better about ourselves.

God, however, doesn’t seem to validate that quest. At least not so far as the New Testament is concerned.

In the section we’ll be reading in Romans, chapter 9:24-33, Paul will be looking at what God has intended for humanity all along, and what will characterize his intended result.

Paul begins this section with rapid-fire quotes from the Old Testament – from the minor prophet Hosea and Isaiah. The actual quotes are in reference to Israel, how, because of her unfaithfulness, she had been disqualified from being God’s people. Still, the prophet forecast a time when she would return from exile and be His people once more. Paul restructures this to be a picture of God’s plan to include the gentiles.

People who were not God’s people who become God’s people. Based on that quote, what does that tell us about the make-up of the church? What has God’s plan been all along, and who should we expect to be included? How easy or difficult is it for you to accept people who aren’t exactly like you in their beliefs, place in life, ethnicity or culture? How can we pursue God’s intended diversity as the church?

A contrast is made between the gentiles who are made right with God even though they never set out to achieve that, and Israel who worked so hard to get right through the works of the law, who never experienced it that way. What lesson do you think Paul driving home about the nature of salvation as well as the nature of the church?

Who is the rock which makes people stumble in this text? Why would the Jewish people have stumbled over Jesus? How do people stumble over Jesus, even in the church, today, based on v 30-33?

Hope to see you this Sunday – and remember, next Sunday (Aug 26th) we will only have ONE service at 10am – after that we’ll head to the beach for Surf-N-Grill!

Is God Fair?

Do you have kids? Do you remember being a kid? When my kids were little, they had an innate sense of fairness that they would share with me at the moment they sensed some form of inequity. Usually expressed in the revolutionary cry of “it’s not FAIR”!

“I need you to do the dishes tonight Jessica.”

“It’s not FAIR! I did the dishes LAST time!”

This would then lead to a long and tedious (to the parent anyway) negotiation about balanced and impartial chore assignments, all of which would lead to me snapping back with “LIFE’S not fair!” That’s the response my parents taught me…and to my delight, I heard my youngest daughter speak those same words to her daughter not long ago. My work here is done.

The thing is, as we get older we become far more cynical about fairness. We encounter way too many situations where the game is rigged and we are helpless – but even then, in our most sardonic state, we still hold out hope that God is fair. Someone may put us at a disadvantage but we hold on to a hope that God knows and will one day vindicate us.

But what if God isn’t fair? Or more frightening, what if his idea of fairness is completely different from ours? What an existential kick in the head that would be!

That’s a concept we’ll delve into this Sunday as we continue our study in Romans, reading ch 9:14-23.

Paul begins right off posing that question. How do you understand his answer? It is very important to read Exodus 32-34 to really get the atmosphere Paul is trying to set this dilemma in. Did you read it? If so…what is the context of God’s statement that He will have mercy and compassion on whom he chooses? At the moment of Israel’s greatest disobedience, God expresses His own personal freedom to have mercy on anyone he chooses to, including the guilty. How does this help Paul work through his initial question?

Paul then uses Pharaoh as an example of God’s sovereign freedom to work through even those who resist his will to accomplish his will. Do you think this was meant to destroy Pharaoh? Is there anything in the text that indicates there was something permanent about Pharaoh’s hardened state of heart? To what end was all this happening? What is the goal of the whole Biblical narrative?

This is a very complex bit of writing by Paul – it will take some careful navigation, which we’ll attempt this Sunday! Hope to see you then!

God’s Unexpected Faithfulness

mennorah

We are heading into a complex and challenging section of the book of Romans as we continue our study this Sunday. Romans is divided into four distinct sections – and this week we’ll be starting the third section, ch 9-11, which deal with the question of Israel’s history and place in the overall narrative of God’s plan to restore all things.

Chapter 9 of Romans is a powder-keg of doctrinal volatility. People have broken friendships over differing interpretations of that chapter, pastors have been removed from churches, churches have split and veritable oceans of ink have been used to vent opinions about this difficult part of the book.

We’ll be reading ch 9:1-13 as we begin this section.

We certainly seem to go from a high point about God’s faithful love in chapter 8 to a serious lament in ch 9, don’t we? IN v 1-4, Paul is quite passionate and dramatic in expressing his heartbreak – what lengths does he say he’d go to if it would mean Israel’s acceptance of Messiah? Paul is setting the tone for ch 9-11 – it is structured as a lament

From there he lays out the dilemma – why do the people who received the promise reject the Promise?

To address this, Paul poses rhetorical questions and then sorts his way through the facts that he knows from the Old Testament stories about how God was fulfilling his purpose through Abraham and his family.

He highlights a pattern where God isn’t interested in making sure the DNA match is there – that repeatedly, God chose specific individuals through whom he will advance his plan to redeem all things, while setting others aside.

How does this passage make you feel? What do you think it’s communicating to us about God’s faithfulness to his promise? What would you describe as the theme of this passage – personal salvation or God’s big picture plan? Those are things to mull over as we dig into this passage on Sunday. Hope to see you then!

Redeeming Love

Stories are an integral part of the human experience. They help us define and navigate this often confusing world we exist in. A good story is one where characters evolve as they maneuver through difficulties, struggles and pain. The action rises around the complications until it reaches the climax, then falls to the resolution. The most beloved stories of our present culture follow this arc – and they bring us a lot of joy.

God is a great story teller and our lives are intricately woven into a grand narrative he’s been unfolding through the ages. At least, that’s the way the Biblical narrative seems to set it out. God’s great story also has a resolution, a good ending which puts all of the struggles of the larger narrative in a different perspective.

That’s what Paul will be presenting to us in our passage in Romans this Sunday as we read Romans 8:18-39.

Most scholars put the whole of chapter 8 into a special category of inspirational text, but especially so with the last half of the chapter. Paul hits a high water mark with these words that really don’t get repeated anywhere else in the New Testament.

He begins by expounding on his previous statement about suffering (v17) – reminding us that present struggles won’t even register when weighed against the glory that will be revealed to us. What do you think he means by that statement, what do you understand that glory to be?

There are three participants in the “groaning” Paul describes. Who are they? Why are they groaning, what is anticipated? The third “groaner” (not a word, but I’m sticking with it) is remarkable to me (v26). What does His groaning tell us about God’s priorities and intent?

V28 is quite famous. What confidence are Christians meant to have about the events in our lives according to this verse? Do you read this as God being an architect of trouble, or an artist who can use anything to make something beautiful?

The last section of chapter 8 is so encouraging and beautiful, it hardly needs any commentary. Read it, then read it again. Read it in multiple translations. Linger on the words, play some cinematic orchestral music and read it out loud. What are those words saying to you? How do they effect your understanding of yourself in this difficult and struggle-filled life?

This Sunday, we’ll hear the Lion roar out His love to inspire unshakable HOPE. Can’t wait to see you there!