the letter iconSo today we continue this walk through the book of Romans.  What an incredible letter that Paul wrote to the Church of Rome!  I have to tell you that I am having a blast inside this series.  I have enjoyed my time in this series, whether that is teaching in it, or listening to what Ken and TJ have brought out in this series, there is just so many amazing truths in this book, and it has been awesome not only to slowly sit in God’s word but also hear how it impacts them, and what they pull out of it too!  I thought over the last few weeks Ken did a great job of bringing us through Romans 9 and 10.  Ken brought out some really awesome imagery over the last few weeks.  Remember the Monet painting vs the cute little kid drawing and how he walked around with markers?  Do you remember that?  What an awesome illustration of how we try to take over and run the show.  We just can’t grasp the enormity, and unbelievable complexity of God’s master plan…yet somehow we think we should finish His masterpiece.  Then last week Ken jumped into Romans 10 and asked us a question that really hit my heart, and I hope it hit yours too…

 “After months and years of the God stuff, church, religion and activities, what do you have to show for it?”

I loved this question, and the answer to that question is so key to where you are.  The reality is that if you can be very energetic about following the rules but not experiencing God’s grace.  If you can’t say that you have a deep and profound relationship with Christ, you might have things backwards.  You see we try so hard to fix ourselves.  We try so hard to figure out what we need to do, and in the end the reality is that we need God.  The answer to your big life problem is God.

I keep telling you that this book just keeps on building off of itself, and over the last few weeks we have heard Paul talk about how his heart is just broken for the Israelites.  He feels a real burden for the Jewish insiders, even as God has called him to minister and reach out to the Gentiles or “outsiders.”  Why does he hurt so much for them?  It’s because they are missing out on the life that God has offered them and he explains why that is.

Romans 9:32 How could they miss it? Because instead of trusting God, they took over. They were absorbed in what they themselves were doing. They were so absorbed in their “God projects” that they didn’t notice God right in front of them, like a huge rock in the middle of the road. And so they stumbled into him and went sprawling. (MSG)

So this leads us today into Romans 11, I’m going to level with you, we were only supposed to be focusing on a small portion of this chapter today but as I read through and studied it, I just felt there were some points in Romans 11 that were just too important to ignore.  When I read through Romans 11 I think there is two ways to engage it.  You can dive into the details of it, and really get lost in this whole thing about why and whether or not the Jew’s are still loved by God.  Or whether or not the Israelites are going to be invited back into God’s good graces…I mean you could focus on that because it is the literal words written on the page, but can I be really honest with you.  I’m not really too focused on what the Jews in Israel are up to.  I’m sorry, I know that you are driving around Dillsburg getting your kids to and from everything they do and as you run from one thing to the next you are stressing over God’s opinion of the Jewish people, but frankly…I’m not losing a lot of sleep over that.  I mean seriously did you wake up this morning hoping that I would be teaching on God’s opinion of people in Israel today?  I think if we can take a step back from this text and look at it from around 30,000 feet there are some incredible things happening here, things that we must look at today.  Before we get into this text I want to ask you a question.  I want this question to land in your heart and I want you to answer it honestly.  Here’s the question that is really on my heart for us to examine today…

Is your relationship with God more about God and His desires for you or you and what you want or need from Him?

I want you to answer this question honestly to yourself.  Think it through.  When is the last time you went to God, slowed down, quieted your soul and just listened?  Has that ever happened?  Is it even possible to slow down and allow God to speak into your life or is this God thing all about what we need next from God?  I know that we live in a cluttered, busy culture…believe me with four children I understand the chaos and multitasking world that we all live in, but what is funny is that over and over and over again the Bible tells us that we must rest, slow down, and engage God.  God wants us to focus on Him…and somehow we live in a world that just keeps that from happening doesn’t it.  I go to conferences and leadership trainings and get to hear older Pastors and leaders speak, and they all talk of wishing they would have had been able to have rest, boundaries, and health in their life.  It’s a recurring theme, don’t do what I did…but we do.  I read books that say the same thing.  Over and over and over again I hear the message.  Slow down, quiet your soul, focus on God, that is where real life is.  Yet my life continues to fly by.  It becomes such a foreign idea, that the idea of stopping, getting quiet and allowing the focus to be on God just doesn’t seem possible.  All through scripture we are told of what matters, and who matters, yet we just can’t seem to go there.  We don’t think rest, peace, quieting our souls is even possible do we?  Yet if we could hear these wise words and act on them, if we could listen to God’s voice and allow Him to lead our lives, we could have life and life to the full.  We just struggle to get there.  Earlier this week I was reading the prophet Jeremiah and I was amazed by these words…

Jeremiah 6:16 This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.  But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ 17 I appointed watchmen over you and said, ‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’ But you said, ‘We will not listen.’ NIV

These words from the prophet Jeremiah ring so true to me today.  We can have rest for our souls.  There is a good way, a right way, there is an ancient path that we can follow that leads to life, but we will not listen.  Then look at what God says there in verse 17 I have appointed watchmen over you but we just won’t listen to them.   Well Paul is one of those watchmen, and when we get our heads out of the details of Jews and Gentiles there is a greater theme in what he is saying here.  That theme is really the core truth for you and I to live by.

So let’s stay focused on today’s big question…Is your relationship with God more about you and what you get, or Him and what He does?  Can you quiet your soul, and allow Him to speak or do you do all the talking?  Ok, let’s get into Romans 11.

I want to start by looking at the first 10 verses here…

Romans 11:1 Does this mean, then, that God is so fed up with Israel that he’ll have nothing more to do with them? Hardly. Remember that I, the one writing these things, am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham out of the tribe of Benjamin. You can’t get much more Semitic than that! 2 So we’re not talking about repudiation. God has been too long involved with Israel, has too much invested, to simply wash his hands of them.  Do you remember that time Elijah was agonizing over this same Israel and cried out in prayer?  3 God, they murdered your prophets, They trashed your altars; I’m the only one left and now they’re after me!  4 And do you remember God’s answer?  I still have seven thousand who haven’t quit, Seven thousand who are loyal to the finish.  5 It’s the same today. There’s a fiercely loyal minority still — not many, perhaps, but probably more than you think. 6 They’re holding on, not because of what they think they’re going to get out of it, but because they’re convinced of God’s grace and purpose in choosing them. If they were only thinking of their own immediate self-interest, they would have left long ago. 7 And then what happened? Well, when Israel tried to be right with God on her own, pursuing her own self-interest, she didn’t succeed. The chosen ones of God were those who let God pursue his interest in them, and as a result received his stamp of legitimacy. The “self-interest Israel” became thick-skinned toward God. 8 Moses and Isaiah both commented on this: Fed up with their quarrelsome, self-centered ways, God blurred their eyes and dulled their ears, Shut them in on themselves in a hall of mirrors, and they’re there to this day. 9 David was upset about the same thing:  I hope they get sick eating self-serving meals, break a leg walking their self-serving ways. 10 I hope they go blind staring in their mirrors, get ulcers from playing at god.  (MSG)

So really this first chunk of scripture picks up right where Ken left off.  As you read through this we get a lot of name dropping here don’t we?  We have Abraham, and David, and Elisha, and Isaiah and Moses…I mean Paul is really bringing it here.  Again if we can pull out of the details and words and look at the big picture what is being addressed here?  Paul is using the words of these amazing men of God, these watchmen to prove his point.  These were the watchmen of their time, trying to point out that the people were completely focused on themselves.  They weren’t focused on God.  When we can step back there is something absolutely bursting off the page here.

I love the story of Elijah, he might be my favorite person in all of scripture.  This was the part of the story where Elijah is having a bit of a meltdown if your remember…he is telling God that he is all alone, and that there is no one left that loves God…and God lovingly points out that, no Elijah, you are not alone there is still 7,000 good people, a royal remnant, a chosen people.  Now look at why these people and those today in the remnant were the chosen ones that God protects…this is huge!

11:6 They’re holding on, not because of what they think they’re going to get out of it, but because they’re convinced of God’s grace and purpose in choosing them. If they were only thinking of their own immediate self-interest, they would have left long ago. MSG

So the whole point of these 10 verses is less about who is Jewish and who is not and more about where your focus is.  This is all about your interest.  Are you interested in you or are you focused on God and his amazing love for you?

Paul would say it is no different today than it was in the days of Elijah.  There is a fiercely loyal minority of people who are focused on God, and not on themselves.  These people are able to find rest for the souls, they are able to quiet themselves and to allow the focus to shift off of them and onto God.

I don’t know about you but I would love to say that I am one of the chosen ones, the royal remnant.  I want to be able to kill my selfish, fleshly desires and focus on God.  I know this, it will not happen for any of us until we can find rest, until we can slow down, and engage God for Him, rather than for me.

Can I ask you again?  Is your relationship with God more about God than it is about you?  Are you one of the few, the chosen ones, who can stay focused more on God’s love and grace in choosing you, or is it more about what you can get out of it?  Can you quiet your soul and listen to the voice of God?  Or do you do all the talking with no time for listening?

How many times have we heard this…the focus has to be on God.  Ok, let’s get into the next chunk of Romans 11…

Romans 11:11 The next question is, “Are they down for the count? Are they out of this for good?” And the answer is a clear-cut no. Ironically when they walked out, they left the door open and the outsiders walked in. But the next thing you know, the Jews were starting to wonder if perhaps they had walked out on a good thing. 12 Now, if their leaving triggered this worldwide coming of non-Jewish outsiders to God’s kingdom, just imagine the effect of their coming back! What a homecoming! 13 But I don’t want to go on about them. It’s you, the outsiders, that I’m concerned with now. Because my personal assignment is focused on the so-called outsiders, I make as much of this as I can 14 when I’m among my Israelite kin, the so-called insiders, hoping they’ll realize what they’re missing and want to get in on what God is doing. 15 If their falling out initiated this worldwide coming together, their recovery is going to set off something even better: mass homecoming! If the first thing the Jews did, even though it was wrong for them, turned out for your good, just think what’s going to happen when they get it right! 16 Behind and underneath all this there is a holy, God-planted, God-tended root. If the primary root of the tree is holy, there’s bound to be some holy fruit. 17 Some of the tree’s branches were pruned and you wild olive shoots were grafted in. Yet the fact that you are now fed by that rich and holy root 18 gives you no cause to crow over the pruned branches. Remember, you aren’t feeding the root; the root is feeding you. 19 It’s certainly possible to say, “Other branches were pruned so that I could be grafted in!” 20 Well and good. But they were pruned because they were deadwood, no longer connected by belief and commitment to the root. The only reason you’re on the tree is because your graft “took” when you believed, and because you’re connected to that belief-nurturing root. So don’t get cocky and strut your branch. Be humbly mindful of the root that keeps you lithe and green. 21 If God didn’t think twice about taking pruning shears to the natural branches, why would he hesitate over you? He wouldn’t give it a second thought. 22 Make sure you stay alert to these qualities of gentle kindness and ruthless severity that exist side by side in God — ruthless with the deadwood, gentle with the grafted shoot. But don’t presume on this gentleness. The moment you become deadwood, you’re out of there. 23 And don’t get to feeling superior to those pruned branches down on the ground. If they don’t persist in remaining deadwood, they could very well get grafted back in. God can do that. He can perform miracle grafts. 24 Why, if he could graft you — branches cut from a tree out in the wild — into an orchard tree, he certainly isn’t going to have any trouble grafting branches back into the tree they grew from in the first place. Just be glad you’re in the tree, and hope for the best for the others.  (MSG)

Ok so in this section of scripture we hear more about the Jews and the Gentiles, and who’s in and who’s out…but to me I see a beautiful bigger message here that we need to focus on today and that message is this:  God won’t give up no you!  The answer to the question of are they forever rejected is a resounding no!  God does not give up on us!

So we see here that the Israelites chose to walk out on God and when they did that the outsiders or Gentiles were able to walk in.  Again are you going to Giant wondering what they Jews are up to?  Yeah me either, but to me in the middle of this illustration of the pruning and grafting branches there are three wow moments in this scripture and I want to spend some time in them today.

Wow moment number one verse 20-But they were broken off because of unbelief NIV

The first thing we see is that the original branches (Israelites) were broken off because they chose unbelief and were removed.  Remember Jeremiah and countless others begged them to leave their selfish ways and what did God say through Jeremiah?  “You would not listen.”

Wow moment number 2 again from verse 20The only reason you’re on the tree is because your graft “took” when you believed, and because you’re connected to that belief-nurturing root. So don’t get cocky and strut your branch. MSG

So they were removed because they chose not to believe, and we are grafted in because we do believe.  Again what is it that we believe?  We believe that everything centers around God, that He created all things, and that He loved us enough to send His son Jesus to die on the cross for all of our sins.  We believe that God did what we could not and cannot do.

Wow moment number 3 and the key to it all (verse 18)-Remember, you aren’t feeding the root; the root is feeding you.

I love that line, and once again we see Paul reminding us who this is about.  It is simply not about you.  It is always about Him, so don’t get cocky, or so caught up in your amazing level of holiness that you forget what should be central.   Every breath you breathe is a gift from God.  This is all about Him.

So can I ask you something again?  When was the last time you slowed down, quieted your soul, and listened to God speak to you?  Is your relationship with God more about you and what you can get from it or God and his incredible grace?

I want to skip ahead a little bit in chapter 11, to one more thing that really stood out to me and it’s found in verses 30-32.

Romans 11:30 There was a time not so long ago when you were on the outs with God. But then the Jews slammed the door on him and things opened up for you. 31 Now they are on the outs. But with the door held wide open for you, they have a way back in. 32 In one way or another, God makes sure that we all experience what it means to be outside so that he can personally open the door and welcome us back in. (MSG)

So once again we can focus on the Jews vs Gentiles thing here…or we can take a step back and look at the bigger picture here, let’s personalize this scripture.  When I read this all I can think about is the feeling I had when I realized that God loved me, and was allowing me into His loving arms.  I can still remember the days of pain, of drugs, and loneliness.  I remember the anger and the hurts that I felt when I was far from God and I also remember the incredible joy, and love that I felt when I asked Jesus into my life…and you should too!  Do you remember that feeling when you realized grace paid your bill?

Paul is reminding us to hold our salvation close!  This is so huge!  God allowed you in!  Earlier we were talking about how cool it would be to be part of his royal remnant…well guess what, you are in!  Think about how much grace and love and mercy he has shown you.  Forgiving you of your sins!  Isn’t it unbelievable!?!?!  There was a day when you felt that love.  I know it.  You know what grace feels like don’t you?  You have felt grace and believed!  You know what is funny is that over time that incredible feeling, that awe of God’s grace can kind of erode away can’t it?  Those feelings and memories can become more distant over time, and what Paul is doing here is talking about that time in your life.  You have felt what it was like on the outside, and you have felt what it was like to be placed on the inside with God!  Never, Never, Never lose sight of that!  Hold that close, and it will put joy and love in you that will not fail!

You know what is really interesting?  Paul would say that God is making sure that everyone experiences being out, so that they can truly appreciate what it feels like to be in!  When you hold onto your salvation and you have been saved by God’s grace, you can’t help but feel joy.  You can’t help but show that same grace to others that may need to feel more loved and less judged!  As Christians we can never lose sight of the beautiful gift that was given to all of us!  I think that a lot of the religious nonsense and hurts that people feel come from Christians who have forgotten how it feels to be on the outside…and that is tragic.  We must never lose sight of this!

Quite frankly though, we will lose sight of it if we aren’t careful.  We live in a world that pushes in on us from all angles.  It takes and takes and takes.  God all through the Bible and even today has sent watchmen to warn us, to help us see the paths before us.  The question is what we choose to do with it.  I started this sermon today reading to you what God said through the prophet Jeremiah and I would like to close by reading it again…

Jeremiah 6:16 This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.  But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ 17 I appointed watchmen over you and said, ‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’ But you said, ‘We will not listen.’ NIV

If we would just listen to God and follow his ways we would find rest for our souls.  But our reply is, “I’m good…I’m just going to keep doing things my way.”  So I can read all the books of better men than me wishing that they would have done things different at my age…and years from now I can teach the same message of wishing that I would have.  I can hear them speak, I can listen to the watchmen, I can read scripture but I must choose to live this out.  Think about what slowing down and listening to God could do for you.  We just won’t walk in the rest for our souls that is needed to allow us to hear clearly from God.  Paul is one of those watchmen, and while many get so caught up in the Jews vs Gentiles thing I think there is something much, much bigger at work in what this amazing watchman is saying.  What stands out to me in Chapter 11 is this…

  1. We must stay focused on God and not us.
  2. God will not give up on any of us.
  3. We must never lose sight of our salvation.

So let me ask you the question again.  How is your relationship with God?  Is it more about you and what you need from Him than it is about His amazing love and grace in your life?  When you spend time with God are you able to quiet your soul and allow Him to do the talking and the leading or is this all about you and what you say and what you need?

Think this through, everything is about Him.  For many of us we have been told, and told and told what to do and we just refuse to do it.  We say we want God leading our lives yet our relationship with Him is completely one sided…and it will continue to be that way if we can’t stop, slow down, and rest in Him.  Maybe today you are standing at the crossroads, God is saying one way there is rest for your soul…the other is not going to lead you to rest and life, frankly the choice is yours.  The watchmen have spoken and the Lord speaks daily.  You know I really have to wonder what we are missing because we can’t quiet ourselves and hear Him speak.  More than that, I really have to wonder what would happen if we did.

What would happen if our focus shifted off of us and onto Him?  Well that is where we pick this thing up next week in Romans 12.