Warfare Worship

Then my head 
Will be high 
Above my enemies around me; 
I will offer sacrifices 
In His tent 
With shouts of joy.
I will sing and make music to the Lord.
-Psalm 27:6


There is a place where God lifts our heads up above our enemies and we give high praise to God with shouts of joy, songs and music.  There is a reality of warfare in our lives with the enemy: God's enemy and our enemy.  There is a key to walking in victory over the enemy, which is simply practicing the presence of God.

There is a place that God has for us, where we are above our enemies, and enjoying God.  Warfare worship is to travel into God and then praise God, sing, and shout from the elevated place of God's presence, where the enemy can not touch us.

The starting point of worship and warfare is that God is our salvation.  The act of God saving and delivering us immediately brings us into spiritual warfare.  When we are saved or delivered, the first thing that is natural to do, is to thank God and enter into praise and and worship as a life style or way of living.

The enemy is irritated with people who become saved or delivered, like hornets who's nest has been poked.  The enemy always has limited resources or assets, so they don't waste energy on those who are captive or deceived, but pursue and war against those who have been set free or are walking in freedom.  They would like to recapture us, or prevent or discourage us from setting others free.

This Psalm starts by saying "The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?"  Fear and salvation are like dark and light.  Light extinguishes darkness.  

There were things that made David afraid and stuff that makes us afraid.  A tactic of the enemy is to get us to fear.  

This is a part of the normal life of the believer.  Having enemies and being saved, delivered, and protected from them, by the Lord is also normal.

Psalm 27 begins with this:
The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom should I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom should I be afraid?
When evildoers came against me to devour my flesh,
my foes and my enemies stumbled and fell.
Though an army deploys against me, my heart is not afraid;
though a war breaks out against me, still I am confident.
This is a warfare psalm and there are a lot of them.  We could easily read this and take in the fact that David was a warrior and had real battles with real people.  We see and learn how he relied on God in his troubles and on the battle field.

If we were soldiers today, we might take comfort from these warfare psalms.  But as civilians, we might be tempted to set aside the warfare and enemy paradigm or scenario and just draw comfort from the fact that the Lord has saved and is saving us, taking care of us; and we do not need to fear, because God is taking care of us.

That is all somewhat true.  But we can not set aside warfare and the reality of enemies.  Part of the Christian life involves spiritual warfare, with the enemy, which is Satan and the demonic realm.

The context of Psalm 27 is warfare.  When we read psalms like this, we have to decide if we are going to just slice out and set aside the warfare part and say that the writer really was a warrior, who was in war, and he wrote some great things about praise and worship, in the midst of where he was (in warfare).  Or, are we going to take the alternative viewpoint, which is the view that I hold, and that is that we see the whole of the scriptures through Christ, and Jesus Christ, who was and is at war with the enemy, who also has become our enemy.

Basically, what I am saying is that is you are in Christ, you are at war, like it or not.  You and I are warriors.  The bride of Christ is a beautiful lady, who is a warrior.

In that light, we see the warfare psalms, like this one, as instructive for the Christian life, which is a life of warfare.  There are thoughts, beliefs or ideas out there that say that the demonic is not real or they are all somehow gone.  But the truth is that the demonic realm is real and are at war with God and God's people.

That is my lens through which I apply the scriptures.  David and we have enemies that God saves, delivers, and protects us from.  With that in mind, this in the next thing David writes:

I have asked one thing from the Lord; it is what I desire:
to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
gazing on the beauty of the Lord and seeking Him in His temple.
For He will conceal me in His shelter in the day of adversity;
He will hide me under the cover of His tent;
He will set me high on a rock.
"One thing", means the main thing or the foremost thing.  Have you ever had one thing you were asking God for?  Something is in the forefront of our minds, and that is how it was with David.

His one thing he wanted, and remember that this is a guy in war, who had enemies after him; the one thing he asked for was to "dwell in the house of the Lord" all the days of his life.  He then fills in his request or vision of his desire by saying that he just wants to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and seek Him in His temple, and be concealed in His shelter.  He then ties this into the backdrop of the warfare he is involved in, saying he desires all this during the day of his adversity, and asks to be hidden under the cover of His (the Lord's) tent and set high (by the Lord) on a rock.

That is a lot of information or a detailed prayer request.  Some questions arise for me:  What is the house of the Lord?  What is His temple?  What is His shelter?  And what is His tent, that David is referring to?  And how does this apply to me?
  • House of the Lord, to dwell in, every day
  • Temple of the Lord, to gaze upon God's beauty and seek Him in
  • Shelter of the Lord, He conceals me in
  • Tent of the Lord that He hides me under the cover of
It is worth noting that the Temple in Jerusalem was not built yet.  But there was a tabernacle, that we call "The tabernacle of David", which was a tent.  David might have had the tabernacle (worship tent) in mind.  But it is interesting, that he does not say that he wants to go there and sing, make music, or dance; but that he wants to dwell there, gaze at God there, be concealed there, and be hidden, made under cover there.

This song begins with the statement that the Lord saves me, so I will not be afraid.  He then could have said that he just wants to sing, to worship and praise the Lord.  But, instead, David uses words to express that he desires to dwell with the Lord and just look at the Lord, and become concealed and hidden, in the Lord.

This is a little bit different than singing praise and worship songs.  He says his number one request, with the backdrop of the warfare he is in, that is fear inducing and that he needs salvation from and through; his one thing he asks is to dwell with the Lord.

And then he unpacks that statement to say, everyday, gazing at the Lord's beauty and seeking Him, coming into the Lord's sheltering concealment, and being hidden and under cover in the Lord's tent.  This is what David means by dwelling in the house of the Lord.

Again, the context of his saying these poetic words, is that he was being hunted by evil predators.  He can look out and see a whole army deployed against him.  We know that David was a great and brave warrior, who had others with him usually and knew how to use weapons and fight hand to hand.

But in the oncoming warfare, David's heart turns to these thoughts about the Lord and rather than praying for victory in the possible oncoming battle, he asks God to let him dwell with Him and life in his presence, everyday; and for him to be able to gaze at the Lord and become wrapped up and enfolded by the Lord, so that he becomes concealed, hidden, and under cover.

The lesson here is that warfare worship can be where we dwell with in the Lord.  It starts with the choice, desire, and action to dwell with the Lord, which often just involves gazing upon Him.  And then what happens, is that we become hidden, concealed, or made to become under the cover of the Lord.

And boom, that is the warfare or a worship warfare lifestyle that this song of David teaches us today.  The dwelling leads to coming up into the place of the Lord, that is above the enemies around us.  From that place, we shout for joy in worship, sing and make music.

We might sometimes have it backwards, when we begin with loud singing and music.  The place to begin with is dwelling, which involves gazing at the Lord and coming into his presence in solemn awe.  It is like the phrase, "peace be still" or "be still and know".

Then when we come into God's presence, because his presence has come to us; then we shout, sing, and make music.  Today, we often make music, sing, and shout first before we seek to come into God's presence.

There are a lot of admonitions in scripture to wait on God.  What if more of our worship and lives of worship was waiting and gazing and dwelling in the quiet first, and then singing, shouting, and making music after God lifts us up?  This is a lesson in worship & warfare that is being illustrated here:
Then my head will be high above my enemies around me;
I will offer sacrifices in His tent with shouts of joy.
I will sing and make music to the Lord.
The word "Then" points back to the preceding verses for context.  He is saying, that after he is able to dwell with the Lord, which is gazing upon the Lord's beauty and getting so wrapped up in the Lord, that he becomes hidden, concealed or under cover; he is then in a higher place, above his enemies, and from there shouts for joy, sings, and makes music to the Lord.

But getting to the "then" of having dwelt with the Lord, is a struggle of sorts.  There is a transition from being under attack to being in God's dwelling place and getting lifted up.  The transitional roadway is prayer:
Lord, hear my voice when I call;
be gracious to me and answer me.
My heart says this about You,
“You are to seek My face.”
Lord, I will seek Your face.
Do not hide Your face from me;
do not turn Your servant away in anger.
You have been my helper;
do not leave me or abandon me,
God of my salvation.
Even if my father and mother abandon me,
the Lord cares for me.

Because of my adversaries,
show me Your way, Lord,
and lead me on a level path.
Do not give me over to the will of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me, breathing violence.

I am certain that I will see the Lord’s goodness
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and courageous.
Wait for the Lord.
Previously, David shared where he wants to go, to dwell with the Lord, every day.  He then shares how he believes it will be to dwell with the Lord, and the results it will have, lifting him above his enemies.  But, he comes back to the reality of the struggle to get to the dwelling place.

The last words, "Wait for the Lord", are the key to how he will get to the place of dwelling, gazing, and being wrapped up in the Lord.  The Biblical idea of waiting is focusing on and being at the service of someone else, like a waiter or waitress in a restaurant.  It is active and on alert.

When we wait on the Lord, we have faith in Him and are focused on him.  Waiting on the Lord is the first step to dwelling with the Lord.  And dwelling with the Lord leads to praising and worshiping the Lord with shouts, singing, and music.

And dwelling with the Lord is the key to spiritual warfare as a life style.  We come up above the enemy through dwelling with the Lord and that results in praise and worship.

If you are being threatened or intimidated and being incited to fear by the enemy, the way of salvation from the enemy and all their unpleasantness is dwelling with the Lord: stepping into the place of gazing upon Him.  Tucking your self into the Lord, and being wrapped up into the Lord.

We have been born into warfare and worship.  This is the way and how of Christ to live: practicing God's presence for living, for worshiping, and for victory in warfare.

Longing For God

As a deer longs for streams of water, so I long for You, God.
-Psalm 42:1

Do you long for God?  I believe that a fundamental activity in the believer's life is longing for God.  And we only stop longing for God when we have drank from God.

If we have not drank from God and are not longing for a drink of God, then I believe something is wrong, because I believe longing for God is a fundamental activity in the believer's life.  Just as a deer can not survive without water, so we also can not live without God.

If you say you have God, I would say, show me your longing.  A fundamental activity in the believer's life is longing for God, seeking God, and being with, in, and all wrapped up in God.  If you are keenly in the place of strong longing for God, crying for God, with painful desire for God; and you wonder if something is wrong with you, the answer is no, you are not wrong, but right.

Longing for God is good and you may very well feel immense pain in your longing and even sadness and grief, as one distraught.  All around you, it seems that everyone is doing ok with their various lives, but you are in tremendous emotional pain and part of your picture is that you have an issue with God:  You have this overwhelming desire for God, and this is a massive blessing.

If you are one of the blessed ones, who has a broken heart for God; it really does not matter what else you have in your life, in all those dimensions that we measure life.  You just want God.  If that is you, then you are right on target, on point, on the best path.

You are a blessed one if you have a devastating immobilizing desire for God.  Life is in black and white, nothing looks good, nothing tastes good, because you are hungry for God.  Nothing sounds good, because you want to hear God's voice.  Nothing feels good, there are no creature comforts for you without God.

When will God come to me?  When will I find God?  When can I see God?  These are the thoughts you are preoccupied with.

When you don't have what you want, you are naturally sad.  It is the same with God.

I said that I believe longing for God is a fundamental of the life of the believer.  We need God, we need and desire to be with God, to be in God's presence.  That is fundamental and normal.

To be a believer and to not desire God or to be with God or in God's presence is antithetical to the Christian life.  To not have a longing for God is at odds with being a Christian.  Not desiring God's presence or not pursuing God is inconsistent and incompatible with Christ.

Yet, God loves his people who do not seek him.  Many believers do not realize that this place of intimacy with God, pursuing God, and the hunger that goes with that is their birthright.  The truth is that each of us are as close to God as we choose to be.

Longing for more of God or strongly desiring God is the warp and woof of being a Christian.  Not finding God does not mean you are a failure, but that you have an appetite for God.  Hunger and thirst, with the sadness that you do not have what you are looking for, is a blessed place to be in.

Your unfulfilled desires say something very good about you. To be hungry for God yet unfilled is better than to be filled with something else and not hungry for God.  It is actually tragic to be not be hungry for God, because you are filled up with something else or just don't have an appetite for God.

The presence of God is the fundamental principal on which the Christian life is based.  If you do not have or care to have the presence of God, then you do not have Christ.  Because the crux of being a Christian is being in Christ.

Being in Christ is not like an add-on, but a take-over; a complete renovation of a life.  Being a Christian is not like a club or a party, but a life: Christ's life in my life is a Christian life.  Christ takes me into God: into Father.

I now live through Christ and have his desires taking over my desires.  It has always been this way for believers.  Believers in God desire God.

Let's pray.


God Is Calling Us Back To Simplicity

I have been Yahweh your God ever since the land of Egypt.
I will make you live in tents again, as in the festival days.
-Hosea 12:9

I believe that God wants to bring his people back to a simpler lifestyle.  We have gone down a complicated path, while God has been on the simple one.  We have been living in a busy, over-booked, stressed-out, complicated, burned out life; while Jesus has been beckoning all of us to his life of rest and peace.

God's square one or our doorway to walking with God is his deliverance of us.  He delivers us from sin, death, the ways of the world, and the demons that are loose here.  God becomes and remains our savior and deliverer, for our entire lives, until we transition out of our earthly existence.

Salvation is no just an event, but a process and an ongoing relationship with our God who saves.  The one who saves us keeps us saved and keeps saving us.  If we turn away from God, or treat God's salvation as an event and not an ongoing processional relationship; we get in trouble.

God saved me.  I have a story and a testimony of how God changed me and brought me up and out, and how he delivered me.  But I also have an ongoing story of how God is saving me now, today.

The story of God saving us is the story, the main story line in our lives.  All the other stories are sub-plots.  If we make the side stories into the main story, we are in trouble.

The minute that we are set free, our souls look for, desire to, and seek to attach to something or someone else.  We come into the life of worshiping God.  We were designed by God for relationship with him.

Worship is something we do in our whole lives,  every day, all day long.  When we get saved and delivered, we enter into a saving and delivering relationship, where we worship our savior and deliverer.  We may sing to God much of the time, but worship is not just a worship time of singing, whether with a crowd, or alone.

Worship is a life daily and hourly lifted up and offered to God.  Worship with others is wonderful and is an aspect of what believers enjoy doing, when they gather together.  But the heart or center, the locomotive of worship is our relationship with God, all the time, through all the times.

When we do gather together, each of us is supposed to have been and come from relationship with God, of which continual worship is a major part of.  We come together from worshiping God, from intimacy with God, from walking with God, from learning from God, from partnering with God and being his hands and feet in the world.

When we gather, when we meet others; we come from being with God, and bring the fruit of God to share with others.  This is the way that we were designed to live, with God, and for others.  If we do not put God first, every day and all of the time, then our lives quickly become chaotic, unmanageable, unsatisfying, and filled with idolatry.

We easily fall into idolatry and bondage again, because we were designed to worship. And if we do not continually worship God and cultivate a relationship where we see and experience God as our savior and deliverer for life, continually; then we automatically fall into bondage and need deliverance again.  Many Christians are bound and live in bondage, even mistakenly making friends with their captors.

What God has always done is to call his people back to himself, and that is what God is doing today.  God can not be compartmentalized.  He wants to dwell in the whole lives of each of his people.

God is going to bring people back into a simpler life of loving him and loving others.  It will be like camping or living in tents, in that we will live simpler lives, next to one another, without impenetrable barriers.  Our lives will be more for the sake of others than for our own selfishness or self-indulgence.

When the barriers come down and we stop living as isolated units, imprisoned in a chaotic life of activities to try to make our lives better, forgetting God, living in a spiritual schizophrenia, where we continually forget who we are and who loves us and wants to wear our life like a glove: then we can live in him and rest.  This will result in higher and deeper kingdom lives, true joy and peace that passes all understanding.

We are going to rediscover community, community life, or life together.  That does not mean everyone needs to sell everything they own and move into communes.  But some will do that.

We need to have the gracious heart of God that allows for some people to do things extreme while others go lite.  Neither is wrong.  Being in Christ, and then you working that out, with love from others, is what the call is to.  And the call of God is to worship him and not fall into idolatry and its bondage.

We make a mistake when we think that everyone needs to or has to do the life the way I am trying to do it.  God wants our hearts and then everything else follows naturally and freely and through our choices; and we are all different, yet have similarities.

Hear the call to the gifted life of simplicity, living in freedom, joy, and love where in him there is abundance.  

Live in worship of your savior and deliverer.  

Give away the fruit of his life through you, that contains his life for others.  

Be delivered again from complication through the baptism of God's love.

Big Rain For The Burnt Out People of God

You, God, showered abundant rain; You revived Your inheritance when it languished.
-Psalm 68:9

Big rain is coming.  I was going to say, be prepared, but that's not right.  The word is, be encouraged.

We, many of us, although we have faith and are filled with hope and joy, contentment and gratitude; are tired.  We are weary.  The word that many modern translations use, in this verse is 'languished'.

To languish is to suffer, because you have been forced to remain in an unpleasant situation.  You might feel abandoned, neglected, or forgotten.  Plants languish from lack of water and people languish in prison, from lack of living.

People get weary, even in doing good.  There are a wide variety of causes of weariness.  Many people, including me, are weary and languishing.

The good news is that God sends refreshing, reviving, and restoring rain to his weary people, his languishing people.  It is what God does.  Watch for it, and expect it

It is notable that God just does it for his people, when they are tired, weary, burnt out, or languishing; and not after we have done something.  All we have to do is be in the faith.  You are either a person of faith or not a person of faith, either saved or not saved, in the vine or tree, or not.

I say this, because we can become so weary and depressed that we get the crazy idea that we have to perform somehow and are missing it, to get God's attention or blessing.  The truth is though, that God welcomes us as we are.  He just requires us to have faith or believe in him.

The coming abundant rain will be for you: 
  • restoring
  • refreshing
  • confirming
  • establishing
  • reviving 
This big rain is about to be showered down on God's people, who today are weary and languishing.  It is coming and is going to have a 'rags to riches' affect on your life.  Be encouraged, God is coming to you.

You will dance in the rain and everything will change.

Reflections on Israel's Salvation: Looking at Romans 11

And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written:
The Liberator will come from Zion;
He will turn away godlessness from Jacob.
-Romans 11:26


The Salvation of Israel

All of Israel will be saved.  Does this mean the State of Israel, or all of ethnic Israel?  And is this going to happen at a certain time?  When we study this phrase and then look at it in context, the answer is very simple and clear.

The key that helps us understand are the previous words, that answer the question of 'how?', and they are, "in this way".  What is this way that Israel will be saved?  The answer is: All of Israel that will be saved, may be saved in the same way that Paul and the remnant of Jews in his day were saved, and that is through faith in the gospel.

Israel will be saved as they respond in faith and receive mercy from God, in the same way and through the same mercy, in which God saves any and all peoples.  The offer of mercy has gotten more appealing, interesting, and attractive; in the light of the Gentiles taking God up on his offer of salvation.


The Letter to The Roman Church

What about God's promises to Israel?  Was God's faithfulness to believers in Christ taking over his faithfulness to Israel?  These are questions that Paul addresses in the passage of Romans nine through eleven.

These chapters seem like an aside, for modern Gentile readers.  Chapter 8 ends on the glorious and triumphant expression of Christian faith that says:
For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!
And chapter 12 begins with a big therefore, that says in a sense, in light of all this teaching, here are some thoughts on how to live out the life in Christ:
Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.

Doctrine, Heart, Practice

The section on the questions about Israel is sandwiched between profound orthodoxy (true and correct doctrine) and profound orthopraxy (true and correct practice).  But Romans 9-11 is orthopathy or orthokardia (true or correct heart or affections).  It teaches or imparts to us wisdom about having the right affection or the right heart.

Listen to Paul's tone, as he begins Romans 9:
I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience is testifying to me with the Holy Spirit— that I have intense sorrow and continual anguish in my heart. For I could almost wish to be cursed and cut off from the Messiah for the benefit of my brothers, my own flesh and blood.
Do you have intense sorrow and anguish in your heart over your unsaved loved ones?  Do you weep over the lost?  Do you share Jesus' heart for those who have rejected him?

As a christian child, pretty much all of my best friends were non-believers, and I experienced this agony for them.  I also had a grandmother, who was a proud atheist.  I worried and agonized over her salvation.  But she or should I say God surprised us one day, by telling us she believed in Christ.


The Heart of God and His Renovation of Our Hearts

The heart of God is filled with love and joy and affection over his children.  We need to experience God in his affection as a way of life.  But God also has great affection and a heart of love for those who are not yet saved and do not yet know him.  His heart both enjoys his children he has, and has great affection for those who are not yet living in his embrace.

It makes perfect sense that this section of Romans is where it is, because after we are given understanding about the truth (orthodoxy), we must first address racial or ethic prejudice, where we lack affection or heart and are prejudiced against people of different race or ethnicity than ourselves; before we address how to live (orthopraxy) under right understanding about God.

We cannot just be knowledgeable about God, but we also must live our lives under the correct thoughts about God.  But that is not the whole picture and leads to disaster, if we leave out the renovation of our hearts.  We must have affection, towards God and towards other people,  created in God's image, before we can learn how to live under truth.

Paul's message, that all Christ-followers need to get in their hearts, "is that there is a new race that has been created by God through Jesus and empowered by the Spirit to live in this Present Evil Age in a different way" (Griffin, p. 249).  Racism has no place in Christ.  Antisemitism and Christianity are antithetical and diametrically opposed.


Questions About Israel

The Roman church was a church of Jewish and Gentile converts to Christ.  The question was naturally coming up of how do we view our selves and our unsaved brethren?  Because of the new covenant, in Christ, are the bearers of the old covenant forever cut off and done, because of their (by and large) rejection of Christ?  The Gentiles in the Roman Church may have held this view, and that is perhaps why Paul wrote these chapters, to which the answer to that question in "no".

The question before the Jewish Christians in the church, was; should they view Jews outside of Christ as apostates, or express such a large degree of solidarity with them, that they were in danger of losing their connection to Gentile Christians?  Another question or a version of the same question, was, are there going to be two kinds of Christians?

Paul's argument, presented in the first eight chapters of Romans, is that the gospel is not a new innovation, but the fulfillment of the promises of God to the fathers in the Hebrew scriptures.  The gospel has always been that the way to righteousness is by faith.  Paul's argument is that it is the same today for us as it was for Abraham.

The question then stands out, why then have many of Abraham's descendants refused to believe the gospel?  How can this paradox be explained: that the nation that had been prepared for Messiah, through whom which Messiah came, would reject him?  These questions are what Paul addresses in chapter 9, verses 1-5.

These questions lead to the next question: Has the word of God failed (9:6)?  And the answer of course is "no".  And the explanation is the simple phrase that says, "Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel".


Determinism?

Calvinists or deterministic advocates like to quote Romans 9 as their proof.  But Romans 9 actually may teach the opposite.  Are people predetermined to a certain destiny, by God?  Foreknowledge does not equate to determination.

People still choose.  God calling out for people to come to him is not an act with scripted, predetermined outcomes.  That is a human perspective that looks at life as predetermined.

God has a different perspective that sees choices.  There has been a debate about how election works, with vigorous proponents with different perspectives (2).

God can choose, like how he chose Mary and Joseph.  God's choosing is for God to do his wider work through you.  So, God's choosing or calling has always been about getting his mission accomplished through people, and not for individual salvation's.

One God in The Whole Story

Jesus Christ is God.  Father God is not a different God, with a meaner, harsher personality.  And Jesus  was not different before he had his incarnation.   If Jesus came to show us the Father, then Jesus is the lens that we must see God through for the whole story, Genesis to Revelation.


Hyperbole

Much of the Bible, including some of Jesus' words were hyperbole.  Hyperbole is like exaggerating, to make a point.

Two common hyperbolic expressions that we use are like these: "My wife is going to kill me when she sees what I did to the kitchen", and, "I am so hungry, I could eat a horse".  The husband does not really believe his wife will literally kill him, and most of us do not know people who could eat a whole horse.

"Jacob I loved and Esau I hated", and, "No one can be my disciple unless he hates his mother and father", are both hyperbole.  The first one does not teach the predetermination, and the second one does not teach that Christians must literally hate their parents.


Choice and Faith

At the end of Romans 9, which is the first of three chapters that asks, 'what about the Jewish people?', Paul says that the issue is their choice and their faith.
What should we say then? Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained righteousness—namely the righteousness that comes from faith. But Israel, pursuing the law for righteousness, has not achieved the righteousness of the law. Why is that? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. As it is written:

Look! I am putting a stone in Zion to stumble over
and a rock to trip over, yet the one who believes on Him will not be put to shame.  
-Romans 9:30-33

This was not predetermined by God, but determined by themselves.  People get mercy in response to their faith and people receive hardened hearts due to their unbelief.  We have it backwards, if we say that God arbitrarily hardens some hearts who in turn, have unbelief, while arbitrarily having mercy on others, who in turn have faith.


Hardness of Heart

The famous person in the OT, with the hard heart was Pharaoh.  God did not script the man to be obstinate, but worked despite the man's obstinence.  God hardened his heart, because of his unbelief.

At the end of Romans 11, Paul writes:
A partial hardening has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. 
-Romans 11:25c 

Hardness of heart is not fatal or terminal, because there is always hope and God's mercy stands, available, and may always be chosen.  The calling of God still stands, but will they choose to hear the call and come?  They may and they will.


Jesus Saves

The answer to how "all Israel shall be saved" is Christ, the grace of Christ, acted upon in faith; or faith in Christ, acted upon through grace. The whole "this is how" is explained in the whole of chapter 11, which fits into the whole discussion of chapters 9-11, which fits into the whole of the book or letter to the Romans, which fits into the whole of the New Testament, which fits into the whole Bible.


The Letter to The Romans

The message of Romans is: "God has created a new humanity by the death of Jesus".  The first half of Romans (1-11) is about salvation by faith, while the second half (12-16) is about Christian living.  Another way to look at Romans is that it has 4 sections: Slaves to sin (1:18-3:20), slaves to God (3:21-8:39), salvation of Israel (9:1-11:36), and service to God (12:1-16:24).


How Will All Israel Be Saved?

When Paul  writes that "all Israel will be saved", he prefaces that by saying, "in this way".  And "the way" is the same way everyone gets saved, and that is through faith in Christ by grace.

"All Israel", means Israel, as a whole.  This means comprehensive, but not all inclusive.  This means the people already saved, with all the yet to be saved, or who may come into salvation, as a people.  Just before Paul writes, "And in this way, all Israel will be saved", he mentions, "A partial hardening has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in."

"Full number of the Gentiles", does not mean all or every breathing Gentile, but the comprehensive harvest of Gentile souls.  It means a comprehensive harvest.  We will have a full harvest of Gentiles and then Jews, or ethnic Israel, before the end.

These are like layers of sound in music.  One part comes in and gets loud, while underneath the second part comes in, softly at first, then gets louder and louder, until the two parts are both loud, and the piece of music ends.

There is a school of thought or lens or grid, that some people use to interpret Romans 11, that sees a massive harvest from the Jewish people after the Gentile church flies away, in what they call "the rapture".  That is not at all what Paul is teaching here.



Romans 11 and The Olive Tree As The True Israel

The message of Romans 11 is to Gentile and Jewish Christians both.  And that message is that you can be cut out, cut in, cut out after being cut in, or cut in after being cut out of the figurative olive tree of the believers, or people of God, who are the true Israel.

Earlier, I noted how the context of Romans 11 falls into the whole piece of chapters 9-11, and of course 9-11 fits into the whole letter, which fits into all of Paul, which fits into all of the NT, which fits into the whole Bible, which fits into God, who is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, who is alive, and building his church in the world today.

In that light, I gave some notes about chapter 9, with an emphasis on the thought that God does not predetermine for people to sin, express unbelief, or do evil.  You have to interpret texts with a bias or a man shaped grid, to believe that God determines that some people will do bad and are only born to eternally never get it.  That is not the Father, nor the Son, nor the Spirit; told of in the Bible and history.


The Way of Salvation, Not The Predetermined Time

I started my discussion of Romans 11, with the verse that says, "all Israel will be saved".  We make a mistake, if we read that line to say, "at a time, all Israel will be saved", because it does not say that.  Paul is writing about what was happening then and into the future.

Paul makes the case, argues or illustrates, that he is hopeful that the hearts of ethnic Israel will soften, as the Gentiles come into Israel, and the gospel goes out and through all the Gentile nations.  'All Israel will be saved", is similar in expression as, "the full number of the Gentiles".  It does not literally mean 'all', but means 'whole', as in 'fullness'.

Every person who comes into the kingdom, becomes saved, has faith, and becomes a part of true Israel, which in the church; has to come through Jesus.  A very incorrect way to read this verse is to think that at a magic time, God will save all the Jewish people, outside of the faith of Abraham in Christ.


Romans 11, Verse by Verse
1I ask, then, has God rejected His people? Absolutely not! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham,from the tribe of Benjamin.
-God has not rejected Israel, even if they are disobedient or defiant (10:21).  Paul says, look at me, as an example.
2God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he pleads with God against Israel?

3Lord, they have killed Your prophets
and torn down Your altars.
I am the only one left,
and they are trying to take my life!
4But what was God’s reply to him? I have left 7,000 men for Myself who have not bowed down to Baal.
-Foreknew means 'believer' or 'christian': Christian Jews who will become saved, like Paul.  The point is, some Jews are Christians.  Paul uses this story about Elijah, to illustrate the concept of the remnant.  Elijah says, in hyperbole, "I am the only one left!", but God says, "Not true, there are many others".
5In the same way, then, there is also at the present time a remnant chosen by grace.
-Paul says, that it is the same now.  There is a remnant, from the whole.
6Now if by grace, then it is not by works; otherwise grace ceases to be grace.
-Salvation is by faith in Christ, but by birth, nor by works.

7 What then? Israel did not find what it was looking for, but the elect did find it. The rest were hardened, 8 as it is written:

God gave them a spirit of insensitivity,
eyes that cannot see
and ears that cannot hear,
to this day.
-The elect are those that choose God and love God.  Election is not something prehistoric, where God predetermines people's choices.  We are not 'scripted' to choose a certain way, but God might know how we will choose.   The elect are at times, the minority or a remnant.

The hardening is judgement for lack of love for God, and lack of faith or the continuing expression of unbelief.  People can be religious, even very religious, and not love God.  People can be religious and not be living in or believing in salvation through faith in God's faithfulness, but living in a legalistic, works-righteousness that is paradoxically, a style of unbelief, that lacks trust, love, and faith in God.  The law abiding religious person may experience hardness of heart toward God and the gospel, because of their unbelief.
9 And David says:

Let their feasting become a snare and a trap,
a pitfall and a retribution to them.
10 Let their eyes be darkened so they cannot see,
and their backs be bent continually.
-Paul quotes Psalm 69, where David is speaking against other Jews.  This is the word of God, the voice of Christ, speaking about Jewish people who are temporarily blinded; with the exception of a remnant.  Psalm 69 is quoted many times(1), by the NT authors, regarding the passion of Christ; including applying Ps. 69:25 to Judas Iscariot.
11 I ask, then, have they stumbled in order to fall? Absolutely not! On the contrary, by their stumbling, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel jealous.
-The stumble of ethnic Israel is not an irrevocable fall.  God is not done with them nor run out of mercy.  Paul here is making an interpretation of the words of Moses, that he quoted in chapter 10, from Deut. 32:21:
But I ask, “Did Israel not understand?” First, Moses said:
I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation;
I will make you angry by a nation that lacks understanding. (Rom. 10:19)
-God is provoking ethnic Israel to jealousy, by the salvation of the Gentile peoples.  From a practical perspective, Paul is saying that the Gentiles have ended up coming into salvation, because the Jews, by and large, have rejected the gospel.

This was not God's script or predetermined iron-clad plan.  This was God working, in spite of Israel's rejection and hard hardheartedness.  They made their move, their choice; and then God made a counter move, his choice.

But, their move away from Christ, their rejection of the gospel, is not irrevocable.  The door, the path, the way, and repentance and the softening of their hearts, as a people, is still an option.  God's mercy stands.
12 Now if their stumbling brings riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full number bring!
13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. In view of the fact that I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if I can somehow make my own people jealous and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection brings reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?
-These verses do not predict the future.  The key word, in verses 12 and 15, is 'if'.  'If' means it is an open question, a hopeful possibility.  This is Paul saying "what if?", or "can you imagine?".  And, it is God saying it through Paul.

God acts, yes.  But God calls people to act.  God gives us a playing field to play out our lives, calling plays and running plays.  God does not give us a micro-managed script or program us to live as his robots.

God lets us choose, but says consider the possibilities.  In every negative move by other people, by the enemy, or by bad circumstances; God has good provision or blessing for those who love him and have faith in him (Romans 8).

God has always had the desire to bring something spectacular out of the tragedy of the Jewish people rejecting Jesus and the gospel, and he has been doing it.  But there's more, says Paul.  God still wants to get all the Jewish people saved.

This message says to the Jewish Christian, "don't lose heart"; and to the Gentile Christian, "don't disrespect the unbelieving Jew, because not only were you once in darkness, but your proud judgmental attitude can give you a hardened heart and get you cut off from God".
16 Now if the firstfruits offered up are holy, so is the whole batch. And if the root is holy, so are the branches.
17 Now if some of the branches were broken off, and you, though a wild olive branch, were grafted in among them and have come to share in the rich root of the cultivated olive tree, 18 do not brag that you are better than those branches. But if you do brag—you do not sustain the root, but the root sustains you. 19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.”
-The tree is Israel and the church, or believers.  The root are holy people of faith, rooted in God.  Not all Israel is Israel (Rom. 9:6).  The broken off branches are unbelieving, ethnic Israel.

Jewish believers are in the tree.  Gentile believers have been grafted into that same tree, sharing the same root with the old branches.  In ancient Israel, there were always Gentile proselytes, who were in, and Jewish apostates who were out.

Israel as a people has always been defined as Jewish and Gentile people who are faithful to God.  All of the believing people are in the tree.  There was once more Jewish people in the tree, but now there are more Gentiles and less Jewish.  This can, may, and will change.

There is not a 'replacement' for the people of God.  The tree has always been one tree, that represents the people of faith.  God has always had one people who are called the people of faith, who love him.

The root of the tree is the faithfulness of God, finally expressed in love, by the coming of Jesus, and is the source of the one faith, and one path of salvation, from the one God.
20 True enough; they were broken off by unbelief, but you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you either.
-The danger for any branch/people is the pride of being in the tree, thinking that the favor or grace of God was somehow merited, as if they were born superior and are entitled.
22 Therefore, consider God’s kindness and severity: severity toward those who have fallen but God’s kindness toward you—if you remain in His kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.
-"If you remain", is key.  God's kindness is available, if  we continue to abide in it.  Salvation is conditional on our remaining in the faith, or in the tree.  Salvation is an event and a process.

If we do not remain, abide, or continue in the faith; then we are opting out or ceasing the salvation process.   If we no longer continue in a faithful relationship with God, then we are no longer saved.  The righteous live by faith, which is lived out through action based upon confidence in God.
23 And even they, if they do not remain in unbelief, will be grafted in, because God has the power to graft them in again.
-Any Jewish person can become a person of true Israel, a person of faith, who loves God; just by faith.  Being cut off from the tree does not have to be permanent.
24 For if you were cut off from your native wild olive and against nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these—the natural branches—be grafted into their own olive tree?
-Curiously deciding to pursue faith is always an open question.  We do not do the saving.  We step into faith or step out of faith.   God does the saving while we express faith or unbelief.

God can both take a former non-believer, who decides to believe, into salvation and belonging to the people of faith; and he can take a person or people who formerly or who's ancestors formerly had faith, but who have been in unbelief, but now have come to faith; he can make them saved also and cause them to belong also to the one people of faith, again.
25 So that you will not be conceited, brothers, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery: A partial hardening has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written:

The Liberator will come from Zion;
He will turn away godlessness from Jacob.
27 And this will be My covenant with them
when I take away their sins.
-Paul has been writing about what is happening now.  This whole message, teaching, or argument is present orientated.  It is what has happened, and is happening.

What has happened and now is, is mentioned or answered in verse 7 and then expounded upon in the following verses.  Verse 7 reads:
What then? Israel did not find what it was looking for, but the elect did find it. The rest were hardened
This is where they were when Paul wrote this and he has been explaining how it works and how it can be and hopefully will be remedied.  Gentiles will continue to come into the people of faith, all the way up until the second coming of Christ.

"In this way", is now, and refers to the parabolic illustration of the olive tree, that Paul has been expounding on.  Paul is saying "this is how it is working, or can work".  There has been this hardening of the Jews and the Gentiles are coming in, who in turn will spur the Jewish people to jealousy, as in a softening of hearts and a curiosity, to take another look and see if something is there.

"In this way", means the method.  There is one olive tree of believers.  The wild one and the cultivated one are now one.

There have been branches of unbelief from the cultivated olive tree that were cut off and the wild branches that were cut in have given the original tree new vitality and fruitfulness.  Seeing this will cause, will hopefully cause, can cause, and the door is open to, the cut off branches to being re-grafted back in.  God can do this and will, if faith is expressed.

There is one people of God, one people of Faith, one Israel that is the true Israel, one church, Jew and Gentile.  This is how it is and always has been.
28 Regarding the gospel, they are enemies for your advantage, but regarding election, they are loved because of the patriarchs, 29 since God’s gracious gifts and calling are irrevocable.
-Paul says that the rejection of the gospel, by the majority of the Jews has been a blessing in disguise for the Gentiles.  God's plan has always been to get everyone saved that wants to be saved.  But Paul is speaking to the present condition and questions that the Roman Christians found themselves in.

Do not make the mistake of hearing Paul say that ethic Israel is saved by the faith of the patriarchs.  What Paul is saying is the invitation that the patriarchs took God up on, still stands, is still available, because of God's loving faithfulness.  The whole letter is woven through with the treatise on why merit from lineage or good works does not bring forth salvation.
30 As you once disobeyed God, but now have received mercy through their disobedience, 31 so they too have now disobeyed, resulting in mercy to you, so that they also now may receive mercy. 32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience, so that He may have mercy on all.

33 Oh, the depth of the riches
both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!
How unsearchable His judgments
and untraceable His ways!
34 For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been His counselor?
35 Or who has ever first given to Him,
and has to be repaid?
36
 For from Him and through Him
and to Him are all things.
To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
-The key word is may.  The question has been about unbelieving Israel.  They may receive mercy, and this is how they all will be saved.

It does not say that they all will receive mercy.  This is not a prediction, like a prophetic word; but a promise that is an invitation, that depends on the invited one to accept the invitation.  The word from Paul is that the door is open and will open more and more as the time goes on towards the end of the age.

This whole chapter explains how they will be saved.  Paul explains it and gives hopefulness for how it can come about in the best case.  "They also (with the Gentiles) now may (depending on their volition) receive mercy."


God Wants All To Be Saved

Paul's doxology that closes this chapter says that God wants to save everybody.  Paul was a hopeful universalist, hoping for everyone to be saved through believing in Christ.

This final statement by Paul does not mean that God controls everything, as if we are all living out his script for us, for good or bad, faithful or faithless.  "From Him, through Him, and to Him are all things" means that God works through giving us all free will.  Even though and when some people resist God's will, God's invitation, or God's plan; God still works to make his overall purpose come about, and gets glory no matter what happens.



_____________________________
Footnotes
1. Jn 15:25, 2:17; Rom 15:3; Matt 27:48; Acts 1:20; Rom 11:10; link to Bible Gateway
2. Grudem, Systematic Theology (1994), pp. 669-90; 

Bibliography
Romans, F.F. Bruce (1963, 1983 reprint), pp. 181-224
God's Epic Adventure, Winn Griffin (2007), 248-50
How Do You Respond to Romans 8:29-30, Greg Boyd (2008)
How Do You Respond to Romans 9?, Greg Boyd (2008)
Rethinking Election, part 1, Greg Boyd (2015)
How Do You Respond to Romans 9:18?, Greg Boyd (2008)
How Do You Respond to Romans 11:36?, Greg Boyd (2008)
The Hard Sayings of The Bible: All Israel will Be Saved?, Manfred T. Brauch, pp. 566-72
Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, Hawthorne & Martin, Eds.: Letter to The Romans, J.D.G. Dunn, pp. 847-9
Steve Gregg, Romans 11: video, audio (2015)

Let The Son Shine In

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord shines over you.

“You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden.No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lamp stand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
-Isaiah 60:1, Matthew 5:13-16

Do you know the Cowboy Sunday School song, that says this?:
So let the sun shine in, face it with a grin.
Smilers never lose and frowners never win.
So let the sun shine in, face it with a grin
Open up your heart and let the sun shine in.
Every Christian ought to know that the Christian life is about letting the Son of God shine into and out of their life.  I saw a cartoon, the other day, that showed a solemn seeker of Christ, who climbed to the very top of the mountain, seeking the deeper wisdom and knowledge.  When he got to the top, Jesus simply said to him, "God back down there and love people."

Did you know that smiling makes you feel better?  Did you know that laughter is an antidepressant?  Did you know that there is a spiritual law, that says that when you give, something will be given to you?

Some people are more natural smilers than others.  I have had seasons in my life where I was either very unhappy and did not smile much or smiled constantly.  God actually took me from darkness into light and I had been very depressed, but God healed me and I was very joyous, and so much so, that people commented that I was a smiling person .

I do understand depression and I do know about plastic smiles.  I have learned though, that smiling is, to a large degree, a choice.  We can choose to smile or not smile.  

People that frown often, who are otherwise "normal" are pretty much choosing to frown.  I can not guess why they make the choice, but from my own frowning, or "refusal-to-smile-even-though-I-have-Christ-living-in-me", I would say it is a learned behavior, from inner workings having to do with our selves.

Psychoanalyzing, asking, "why?", is not my quest or point to make here.  

Another question that is relevant, because of who Jesus is and that he is in my life, is, "Did Jesus smile all the time?"  There is a Jesus film, and in it, Jesus smiles most of the time.  I can think of about three other Jesus films: and they range from having him not smiling at all, to having him smiling much of the time, but not always.

It is a creative, speculative decision on how much Jesus smiled.  He certainly was full of joy and love, but also serious and intense.  Bono described his saying, "Let the dead bury the dead", as being punk rock.  In other words, straight up, direct; not smiling.

Every day, I have to walk down a long hall, from the parking structure, to my office.  I walk past a lot of people, and many days I attempt to make eye contact and smile with as many as possible.  And the reactions are diverse, but mostly positive.

Smiling at people or even smiling and letting people see your smile, if they are looking; is a gift and a blessing.  Despite all the entertainment and consumption, we really do not have a happy or joyful world.  Many people live in authentic joy, but many do not.

Happiness and joy are contagious.  It is a good thing to share and spread.  Everybody has the ability to turn from frowns to smiles, from gloom to happiness.

One of the greatest gifts that every Christian carries, and we need to give it away as much as possible, is hope.  Smiling signals hope.  I have a lot to be thankful for and a lot to smile about, but the big one is that I am in love with Jesus Christ.

I smile when I think about him.  He is not like a simple love, but he is my savior and my king.  He knows me and he is very good to me.

I smile because of this.  I do believe that this has to be cultivated and practiced.  There are tons of things that the enemy does to try to rob us of our joy and our simple standing in Christ, where he loves us.  We have to practice the joy.

Our love can cool off, and the fire that burns within can dim.  But it can always easily be brightened.  Repentance like rest, is a lifestyle.

There is a time to grieve and we don't smile the same way when we are full of grief.  And we love people by weeping and grieving with them.

But most of the time, is smiling time, because I am happy.  Frowning and doing the gloom, anger, or arrogant sarcasm thing is what makes the enemy pleased; and is not who I really am, but a nasty caricature.   Bye bye evil spirits, I am gonna smile.


How We Learn in The School of Jesus Christ

I wrote the first narrative, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day He was taken up, after He had given orders through the Holy Spirit to the apostles He had chosen. After He had suffered, He also presented Himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during 40 days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
-Acts 1:1-3

Jesus ministry is not just a teaching ministry.  Intellectual learning is only one part of the whole package.  We receive teaching, then we have a transformational experience, and then we do something about it.  That is real learning, Jesus style.

The things Jesus said and did provoked or invoked a response in people.  His teaching was experiential, in that it always invited his learners to have an experience.  The passive classroom or passive theater setting of church is not Jesus' way of teaching and learning.

We may have an interior experience that is deep and marvelous, when we learn or are taught.  But the proof is the exterior manifestation in our lives.  And some people are good at saying good things, but they do not do any good things. 

Today, we have an emphasis on teaching, but we do not teach the way that Jesus taught.  Jesus' teaching invited participation or experience from his learners, resulting in doing something, as in working it out.

Many Christians do emphasize experience, and have vibrant experiences in and with God and other believers.  Other Christians who only emphasize learning, who become knowledgeable, without emphasizing experience, sometimes criticize the ones having experiences, whether or not the 'experiencers' do also emphasize knowledge or learning, while giving equal time to experiencing.

All three of these groups: singular learners, singular experiencers, or learners who also experience; are incomplete, because they do not do the works of God.  Simply put, the works of God are to love people.  And service to God, is to care for Jesus' people.

Yet another group are people who are taught, gain knowledge and learn something, but skip experience, and then move into doing good works.  These folks are in legalism.  Legalists end up serving their doctrine rather than loving God and loving people out of God's love.

Then, there are people who emphasize spiritual experience, and don't care to learn apostolic truth: the foundations about God.  These folks are like the Gnostics of the 1st century, who basically said that the body does not matter and the spirit is all that is important, denying Jesus' incarnation and the fact that we live sanctified lives through Jesus Christ.

Finally, there are people who do not receive apostolic teaching and do not have experience with the living God, but move straight into the works of God. These are religious people and often good people, but not Christian, or what we call "Christian in name only".

The Jesus way is to receive his teaching, have a transformational & redemptive experience, and then live in his new life, doing his works among people.  People who get it, give it away to others.  These other people get taught, have an experience, and join the party.

Jesus did not systematically indoctrinate people.  He continually spoke about the kingdom of God, in pieces, in pictures, in parables.  Being in the kingdom is transformative.

Every teaching, every piece, from him is an invitation into kingdom life and a license to explore the kingdom, with permission to live in, through, and under it.  Going in transforms you and when you are in, you do kingdom stuff (good works) because that's what we do, in the kingdom, out of the King's love.

The first Apostles taught the kingdom and so should we.  Apostolic teaching is about the kingdom and the King.  Apostolic teaching is a cultivation of the culture of the kingdom of God.

Jesus teaches, and today, men and women, and boys and girls, teach Jesus.  People are invited to have a transformational and redemptive experience.  And that experience, if it was real, results in the reality of "doing something about it", or doing the works of God, which is simply loving people.


Pain, Suffering, and Jesus

Jesus wept: burst forth into tears (cried).
-John 11:35



Jesus is with us, each one of us, in our pain and loves us.  He said, "I will be with you, even to the end of the age".

Jesus burst into tears.  Jesus cried from the grief he felt on more than one occasion, and his crying was neither fake nor out-of-control.  He authentically cried.

Sometime between the age of 12 and about 30, the most important man in his life, Joseph, died.  Later, when Jesus had to leave home and his family's business, that must have been hard.

And his brothers, who grew up with him, thought he was crazy when he began his ministry that we read about.  That had to be painful.

The majority of the people around him either did not get it, did not get him, or did not believe; and were hostile towards him, even wanting him dead.

At the end, the crowd roared, "Crucify him!".  It was real and authentic hate.  Rejection.

And, in a sense, we were in that crowd.  Something to ponder.

Jesus faced and received persecution and he suffered.

We have a savior who is familiar with grief, with suffering, and with gut wrenching pain - physical and emotional.

The way for us in pain is the way with him.  The life for us is a life of walking with someone who understands.

The challenge for us is to trust God, to let ourselves live in surrender to him.  Hear God say, "I've got this and I've got you".  He does not promise that we will not suffer, but he promises to be with us in our suffering.

Being with him is the key.

The only way in suffering is fellowship with Jesus Christ.  He is the rock to stand on in trouble.  And from that place, we can get help, wisdom, counsel, and possibly miracles.

The faulty position is to seek all that and more, but not be wed to him.

We find ourselves in a crisis, a challenge, a set-back, a disappointment, a failure or defeat.  "Help!", we cry.  We pray desperate prayers and we want to know how to escape this thing and get deliverance and relief.  "Is there perhaps a special way to pray?", we wonder.  "Is there a book I can read that will tell me what to do?", we ask.

We look at each other's lives, from "over the fence", so to speak; and think the other one has it better.  But when we get closer and hear and see, close up, we find out that our neighbor has their own troubles or challenges, losses, and the crisis they are now facing.  In fact, all of life is filled with challenges punctuated by celebrations.

I can give you two examples of how we look "over the fence", and assume they are happier or have the life we wish we had, and this, "ain't necessarily so".  Money and fame.

Money, more money, does not bring happiness; and people with more money are not happier, on a case by case basis; because happiness is an 'inside job'.  Contentment is the issue.  Saying, "If I had more money, I would be happy (or happier)", is a delusion, because of this simple principle: Wherever you go, there you are.

Fame or success does not bring happiness or anything close to peace, but mostly stress and trouble; for those who are not prepared for it.  Most of us are like dogs chasing cars.  If we catch up to and grab or hop into fame, we will not know how to handle it and crash it.

Preparation time and being equipped, in your personal, secret, intimate, behind the scenes life is key or unconditional to managing success when it comes your way.  Pride and arrogance, gluttony and avarice, meanness and sarcasm are all easy and found in the 'get rich (or famous) quick', style.  But humility, meekness, love, kindness and generosity are cultivated, over time.

The sustenance for any and every crisis, loss, failure or injustice is in him.  He will not tell you specifically why it happened, but he asks us to give up everything and trust him with our futures, and walk intimately with him.

He still says, "Follow me".  Obedience to his call leads to your destiny and after obedience comes all the answers you have been seeking.

The life is Christ is a life of unbridled joy and celebration.  But it is also a life of sobriety, in suffering and grieving in fellowship with Christ and often weeping with others who are going through pain.


Wake Up Call

“Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”


“To the angel of the church in Sardis write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.  Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.
-Ephesians 5:14b, Revelation 3:1-3 (NIV)


We had two different phone calls that woke us up, while sleeping, this week.   This got me thinking about God's wake up calls.  We say to someone who is not engaged or is in denial, "Wake up!", and that is how the phrase is used in Ephesians 5 and Revelation 3.

In Ephesians 5, Paul is teaching that there are two ways to live, and one is the way of death and the other is the way of life.  He metaphorically says that the death way is akin to being asleep.  We wake up, "Arise and shine", and begin living awake.


Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness,righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said:

“Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. -Eph. 5:1-20 (NIV) 
He says that those who have been awakened and begin living in the way of Christ can go back to sleep or go back to living in the death way.  Try reading the above passage two or three times, to let the whole thing sink in.  This was written to Christians and applies to Christians today.


And this is the same kind of thing going on in Revelation, chapter 3, with the church in Sardis.  Jesus actually calls them out as being, "Christians in name only", and calls them a dead church.
To the angel of the church in Sardis write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.
Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes.They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. -Rev. 3:1-6 (NIV)
It sounds kind of judgmental when we point at any church on the scene today, and say it is a dead church.  I believe when we say this, we are often wrong, because we judge by our standard, rather than Jesus' standard.


These two chapters basically tell us that Christians can fall asleep and become dead.  That tells us that many people who say they are Christians might be asleep or be the living dead.  If Paul and Jesus addressed it, it is real.

How do sleepers awake?

From a wake up call.

"The call" is God's work.

What should the people of God, who are alive and awake do?


What we all need to do is make sure we ourselves are awake and then prepare and arrange our lives to make room for awakened people that God wants to send us to and send to us.  It is that simple.

There is a very wide freedom in how to live this out.  How much blessing do you want?

Some people will completely change their lives, as in selling everything, and live communally with other Christians.  At the other end of the spectrum, others will begin taking an hour or two, over and over, to get together with another Christian brother or sister, having coffee or a meal; discovering the joy of learning Christ and sharing life.

What Jesus has to offer people that wake up, whether it is a rude awakening, or an epiphany; is simply loving people.  Jesus' church are people that love one another.  We are welcoming, inclusive, helpful and hopeful.

When the wake up call comes and people awaken, the net that will bring them into Christ are not programs or better ecclesiastical models, but simply love.  Christians either have love or lack love.  We are either loving or not loving.

Live the simple life of the most profound person, Jesus.  Love one another.  Awake, alive, loved, and loving.