I’ve been typing feverishly all day, and I’ve only come up with ten pages so far. I suppose that this is a lesson in stressful deadlines for writers :) Consequently, I have another copy and paste sample of the work I’m doing this week. This is the first paragraph of my currently untitled fiction story that will be on the table for scrutiny sometime between tomorrow morning and Saturday.

A fondness for distant ships and a mutual enthusiasm for imagination knit the lives of Ethel Ravenhill and Judah Manzy together, a friendship born in the designated swimming area of the Ponce Inlet waters. Their favorite game was to name each ship according to the invented land from which it had come and to describe what magical properties the inhabitants of that land possessed or the strange and wonderful adventures the inhabitants had. Ethel and Judah comforted each other in hard times by making plans about how they might find their way to one of their make-believe lands. Judah suggested that they could sneak away on a dark, clear night, climb a very tall tree, taller than Jack’s Beanstalk, and lasso a shooting star. Ethel didn’t like that idea, because they might have to hold on to the rope for hours or days before it was safe to let go. Every time Judah thought of a new plan, Ethel would find a reason why his plan wouldn’t work. Likewise, Judah found flaws in Ethel’s plans. In this way, their plans grew more and more elaborate until they believed they had exhausted every possibility and stopped playing the game. But one possibility that neither of them had imagined was that they didn’t need find a way to travel to the land of their dreams, because it would come to them.

If you’ve never read the story of Joseph, you really ought to do so.  It’s just as fascinating and dramatic as anything Hollywood might produce.  In a nutshell: Joseph, as a child, is his father’s favorite son, and his brothers are jealous of the special treatment he receives.  To make matters worse, Joseph has two dreams in which his brothers are bowing down to him, and for some reason I can’t imagine, he tells his brothers about the dreams.  They plot to kill him, but the oldest brother, Reuben, talks them out of it by suggesting they sell him into slavery instead.  They take Joseph’s “many colored” coat, put animal blood on it, and tell their father that Joseph is dead.  Meanwhile, Joseph is actually put in a pretty decent position in society under a guy named Potiphar, and Potiphar makes him the superintendent of everything.  But just as things are looking up, Joseph is wrongly accused of attempted rape (by Potiphar’s wife) and thrown in prison.  While he is in prison, he becomes known as someone who is able to interpret dreams.  The leader of Egypt, Pharaoh, has two disturbing dreams, finds out about Joseph, and asks Joseph to interpret the dreams.  Joseph tells the Pharaoh the meaning of the dreams, that there will be seven years of abundant crops and seven years of famine.  Pharaoh not only believes Joseph but puts Joseph in charge of Egypt, second in command only to Pharaoh himself.  Consequently, when Joseph’s father sends his brothers to Egypt for groceries, they find themselves at his mercy, just as they were in Joseph’s dreams all those years ago.  Joseph is eventually reunited with his father, and he forgives his brothers for what they did to him.  There’s much more to the story than this, but for the purpose of this blog, this recap will suffice.

Now, let’s suppose that you were an eyewitness to Joseph’s being sold as a slave.  You see how Joseph’s brothers hate him.  Then someone asks you, “Does God get what God wants?”  You know that God does not want people to hate, yet here is Joseph, nearly hated to death by his own siblings.  How do you answer this?  You admit, no, God doesn’t get what God wants.  You see Joseph thrown into prison for a crime he did not commit.  Yet, you know that God hates injustice.  Then someone asks you, “Does God get what God wants?”.  Sadly, you reply, no.

Joseph eventually stands face to face with his brothers.  Here is part of the account in Genesis:

And Joseph saith unto his brethren, “Come nigh unto me, I pray you,” and they come nigh; and he saith, “I [am] Joseph, your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt; and now, be not grieved, nor let it be displeasing in your eyes that ye sold me hither, for to preserve life hath God sent me before you. Because these two years the famine [is] in the heart of the land, and yet [are] five years, [in] which there is neither ploughing nor harvest; and God sendeth me before you, to place of you a remnant in the land, and to give life to you by a great escape; and now, ye – ye have not sent me hither, but God, and He doth set me for a father to Pharaoh, and for lord to all his house, and ruler over all the land of Egypt.”

Notice how Joseph explains the situation, that “God sent”, “God sendeth”, “ye have not sent, but God”, and “He doth set me”.  So now that we have the end result, shouldn’t we revisit the question, “Does God get what God wants?”  Yes, God does not want people to hate, and yes, God hates injustice, but God used that hate and injustice to get what He wanted, that is, “to preserve life”.  If God uses actions that are against His will as part of His plan to accomplish His will, then we can answer the question, “Does God get what God wants” with a confident, “YES!”

The reason I began this blog with the story of Joseph is to demonstrate that God accomplishes His will in His own time and His own way.  The scriptures are crammed full of examples just like this, in which God accomplishes His will through the disobedience of His creation.  In fact, we could say the same thing of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  Jesus plainly told His disciples that he would die, yet, after he died and before his resurrection, his disciples were an emotional mess.  If someone had asked them during this time, “Does God get what God wants?”, they might not have been able to say “YES!”  They certainly were not acting like people who had confidence in the sovereignty of God.

In Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, Chan asks, “Does God get what God wants?” in reference to 1 Timothy 2:4 in the NIV translation:

[God] wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Chan’s argument goes like this:

Paul, who said that God wants all people to be saved, also said that God “wants” all Christians to be sexually pure (1 Thes. 4:3).  Ever met a Christian who was not sexually pure?  Does this mean that God is not getting what He wants?

Chan then goes on to talk about God’s moral will (values that please Him) and His decreed will (events that He causes to happen), explaining that God allows His moral will to be resisted in order to carry out His decreed will.  What it really boils down to is the sovereignty of God over the human will.  This is a huge debate in Christianity that has been going on for a long time, in Calvinism and Arminianism.  I actually wrote a lengthy blog series, based on R.C. Sproul’s book, Willing to Believe, which examines these concepts  thoroughly.  Here are the links if you would like to read them: Does God Command Us to Do the Impossible?, A Great Chess Player, Volunteer for Slavery, Picking the Petals Off of TULIPs, and Amazed Exceedingly.

Chan’s argument seems to make sense on the surface – God doesn’t want Christians to cheat on their spouses, but Christians cheat on their spouses, therefore God doesn’t get what God wants.  However, we need to consider this idea further, take it to its conclusion.  Will the Christian who cheats on his/her spouse ALWAYS cheat on his/her spouse?  No, of course not.  At some point, God will intervene, whether it be through grace or discipline, because He disciplines those He loves, He loves everyone, and everyone is disciplined eventually (Heb. 12:7-8, Rom. 5:6-8).  Just because we don’t see the cheating spouse repent RIGHT NOW doesn’t mean that it will NEVER happen.

Why is it that I can see the question, “Does God get what God wants?”, and I can answer it affirmatively, while Chan goes the opposite direction? Because Chan is answering a different question than the one he asks!  Yes, that’s right, Chan asks one question and then poses an answer for a different question.  Let’s look closely again at what he writes:

Ever met a Christian who was not sexually pure?  Does this mean that God is not getting what God wants?

Notice the change in verb tense between the question Chan proposes and the answer He gives in his illustration, namely “does” and “is”.  This may seem insignificant, but it is actually what makes or breaks Chan’s argument.  The statement (I restructured the interrogative into a declarative to make it easier to see how Chan shifts the verb tense), “God does not get what He wants” distinctly contrasts the statement, “God is not getting what He wants.”  The first statement communicates the idea that God NEVER gets what He wants.  The second statement communicates the idea that God is not getting what He wants right now.  Does Chan honestly believe that this Christian man will continue in sin forever?  I doubt that he does.  Yet, he uses this “now” example as a way of convincing his readers to negate the idea that God gets what He wants “never”.  It is so important to know the difference.  Plus, even if God is not getting what He wants right now, in a way, He is getting what He wants, because nothing happens outside of His permission.  He could strike a sinner dead in an instant to prevent the sin if He wanted, but He won’t if it is not part of His sovereign plan which takes into account the fact that we are all sinners.

I don’t think that Chan intentionally did this, but this technique of switching the question has a name.  It is a “Fallacy of Distraction” with the subheading “Complex Question”, defined as:

Two unrelated points are conjoined by a single proposition.

My point is that Chan did a wonderful job of proving what we already know to be true.  God doesn’t want us to sin.  We sin.  There you have it.  That is the full substance of his argument which has very little to do with the question of God’s ultimate sovereignty.  God has a purpose in everything that happens.  Everything, including our sin.  How did God send Joseph to Egypt “to preserve life”?  Through the sin of his brothers.  How did Jesus redeem the world?  Through the sin of the religious leaders.

Dr. Sinclair Ferguson (in a guest Q&A on Renewing Your Mind with R.C. Sproul) says,

“The faith that unites us to Christ brings us really into a new order of reality altogether in which the dominion of sin over our lives has once and for all been broken.  Why we need to keep hearing the gospel is because we actually doubt what the gospel says.  When we look in, we see all kinds of evidence that the presence of sin is still very, very real.  We need to learn to distinguish between the fact that the dominion of sin has been broken although the presence of sin remains until the day when the presence of sin is finally banished from our lives.”

God does get what God wants, in His own time and His own way.

 

The LORD does whatever pleases him,
in the heavens and on the earth,
in the seas and all their depths.

(Psalm 135:6)

Next blog in this series: Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Sin Wins

 

In my fiction writing class, we were given some assigned reading over the weekend from the book The Lie that Tells a Truth by John Dufresne.  As I was reading about writing characters, I was struck by the truth, the real life truth, found on the pages.  I’d like to share a bit with you, so that you will be encouraged to see people in a way you might not have otherwise.

The first thing a writer needs in creating a story is tenderness for all of his characters.  Characters are like children.  Love them, be generous, indulgent, and forgiving.  On the other hand, don’t let them get away with lying, with exaggerating, with shirking responsibility, and so on.  Characters need constant attention, reassurance, and love.  You will have to know your characters well in order to love them, and to do so you need to live with them intimately.  They must be with you when you go to sleep at night, when you wake in the morning.  Eventually, they’ll find their way into your dreams.

You can never know too much about your characters.  You know their fears, their dreams.  You know their tics.  Every character, you realize, has an imagination and memories, has suffered childhood traumas, has or has had a mom and a dad.  Every character has regrets.  Every character has secrets.  Every character has a public self and a private self and a self that he doesn’t even know about.  Every character has a history, a formative past.  No character exists in a vacuum.  A character is fully realized only when he or she interacts in a social context.  At work.  At the market.  In traffic. [...]

They need to aspire and to fail.  We understand failure.  Failure is endearing.  We don’t understand whining.  The characters need to be ambivalent most of the time.  Motivation also makes characters convincing – when we know why they do what they do.  What makes mathematics interesting is not the right answer, but where the answer came from and where it leads.  What makes fiction interesting is not what the characters do but why they do it.  [...]

If you find yourself mocking a character, it’s a good idea to think harder about him and find something for which you can respect him.  Maybe the guy who seems so emotionally abusive to his girlfriend, so impatient and sarcastic and all, spends every Saturday afternoon at a nursing home singing for the patients.  They love him dearly.  He does it for free.  On the other hand, if you find yourself admiring everything about your character, it’s time to think harder about her to see what unflattering attribute will humanize her.  She is irrationally jealous of her sister, though she would never admit it, not even to herself.  She things no one notices how she never misses an opportunity to put sister down.  (Where does that jealousy come from?  When in her childhood did it begin?)  We have all learned [...] we cannot stand in judgment of our characters.  We are here to witness their behavior.  And we should remember that it is a character’s faults that make him likable.  We care about people who are scared, who act foolishly, who are driven and derided by their vanity [...]

I imagine that writing fiction, creating people with hopes and failures, who have healthy and emotionally damaging relationships, who amaze readers with their accomplishments or shock readers with their indiscretions, is a glimpse into the mind of God and how God might view us.  As the omnipotent unlimited author (to use literary terms), He sees to the very core of every character in the human story.

First of all, don’t let the title of this blog put you off.  As Rob Bell says, “Everything is spiritual.”  So even if you do not consider yourself a spiritual person, but you are interested in keeping a journal, then this blog is for you.  Hopefully, by the time you reach the last page of your journal, you will have discovered that you are spiritual, after all.  God has a way of sneaking onto the page when you least suspect Him, but you probably won’t realize until later on, when you have put some distance between your writing and yourself.  Going back and reading older writing is like seeing your ideas from a third-person perspective.  And the moral of this introduction is write, write, write!   You will be glad you did.

1. Sometimes, when you are listening to music, watching a movie, reading a book, listening to a speaker, having a particularly interesting conversation, etc. something inside of you stirs, and you have this temporary bigger-than-life perspective.  Don’t let that moment slip away.  As soon as you are able, and preferably before you go to bed that night, write down your thoughts, feelings, and ideas.  Even if it is only a few sentences.  Do it.  The inspirational moment will fade sooner than you realize.

2. Everyone has a story.  Take the time to ask people questions.  Write down experiences other than your own.  Remind yourself of the diversity present in the human spirit, evidence of the creativity of God.

3. Write about the natural world.  Something as simple as a bug can be used by God to demonstrate some deep spiritual truth. You don’t really need to go looking for the bug, it finds you, as long as you spend some time outdoors, away from the TV or computer.  You don’t even need to venture far.  Just go outside, wherever.  Have a seat.  Turn your cell phone off.  Observe.  Think.  Ask God to show up.  He always does, if you have eyes to see and ears to hear, you will know.  For those of you who don’t particularly like bugs, another example is a flower, growing out of a brick wall.  How does that happen?  What does that mean?  To me, it means HOPE.  The sound of a bird like a siren warning, “Stay away!”  The bending of a branch, heavy with fruit or a fat squirrel.  See what you see, and write about it.  God pays attention to small details, and sometimes we should practice doing the same.

4. Do something for someone else – volunteer work, mow you elderly neighbor’s lawn, give a construction worker a bottle of ice-cold gatorade, let someone in front of you in line.  These things not only make the world a better place, but they give you something to write about that is right and good and happy, to offset the doom and gloom media bombardment.  These are things to praise God about, whether you are the one doing or someone does something for you.  Take the time to write down and remember, to thank God for preserving love and light and giving you an opportunity to practice living the life of Christ, to enjoy being alive.

5. I have my writing teacher, Ashley Inguanta to thank for the next suggestion: The Junkyard.  What is the Junkyard?  It is the final resting place for your index cards, sticky notes, napkins, printed emails, etc.  God brings something to your attention, so you write it down wherever and whenever, but eventually, you are sure to collect these thoughts into one notebook.  You can call it something other than The Junkyard if you like.  On days when you open your journal and just don’t know what to write about, write a prayer to God, based on the information you saved in your notebook.  For example, I wrote down “Office symphony (noise of computer clicks, copy machines, file drawers opening/closing, etc).”  Comparing the noise of human activity to music, I am able to appreciate the idea that God created us not just to “be” but to “do.”  We are meant to be little creators, imitating our Heavenly Father in the sheer joy of “let there be (fill in the blank)” and “there was (fill in the blank)” and we see that “it is good.”  When we get satisfaction out of doing what we do to the best of our ability, it is a symphony in the ears of God.  It is a way to communicate with Him in the ordinary, without really being all holy about it.

6. In Bible study and in life, write down as many questions as possible.  Be willing to admit that you don’t have all the answers.  You may never have time to find all the answers, but asking the questions is important.  Don’t filter or censor yourself, either.  I constantly ask God, “Why did you do that?  Why do you allow yourself to appear so mean and angry sometimes?  Don’t you care about what happens to those people?”  I still don’t have answers to many of these questions, but by asking them, I am honest with God.  I am not judging God, I am trying to understand God.  He loves this.  I hope that He will give me the answers this side of the grave.  It would be nice to declare with utter certainty, “This is God’s reason for XYZ.”  And everyone nods and has a collective a-ha moment, satisfied with the answers.  Sometimes, I stumble upon the answer to a question I might have forgotten about, had I not written it down.  In keeping a journal, you will begin to see a pattern of your questions and God’s answers.  Sometimes there are months or even years worth of pages that separate the question from the answer.  But it is so satisfying to know that God does not just ignore our questions, or always say “No.”  Sometimes He says, “Wait.”  And then He shows up later, with answers you never would have guessed way back when you asked the question.  It is through this process that I have learned to think BIG.  I used to ask God questions about my church, and His constant answer was, “You are not thinking BIG enough.”  I had no idea what He meant at the time, but now I do.  I was asking questions on behalf of a small group of people, when I should have been asking questions on behalf of the whole world.  Anyway, think BIG.  Ask hard questions.  Expect answers.  Be patient.  Trust God to know what you are capable of hearing/understanding during each season of your life.

7. Sometimes (not very often) there is just too much important stuff happening all at once, that writing it all down seems impossible.  During these times, use bullet point or brief synopsis to highlight what matters.  You can always go back later and elaborate.  There was a period of several months where God was so busy doing so many amazing things all at once that I grew weary of journaling about it all.  My hand literally felt like it would fall off, and I was staying up half the night to put it all on paper.  I am very glad that I did, because what was going on during that time is crucial to a very wide audience – this information will eventually become a book.  God keeps closing the door to this book every time I go to write it, though.  So I am just waiting on Him.  Anyway, if God is really wowing you, and you don’t want to forget who, how, when, what manner, etc. just write enough to trigger your memory later.

8. Set goals.  Here, I am preaching to myself.  I have been sporadic in my journaling lately, because of being busy with school and keeping this blog going.  A very realistic goal even for a busy person, is to write once per week, even if it is only one paragraph.  As a writer, one paragraph is a near-impossibility for me.  But telling myself “just one paragraph” helps me to actually sit down with pen and paper and DO IT.  If you get good at once per week, you can reset your goal to twice per week or every other day.  Eventually, you will find yourself in the habit of writing each day, sometimes more than once per day.

9. Write your dreams, if you can remember them.  Sometimes God communicates through dreams.  Don’t get all hokey about it, assuming that every dream has some deep spiritual meaning, though.  Dreams are the subconscious way of sorting through the sensory input of each day, along with emotional states, and other psychological concepts which I will not explore in this blog.  We are created in the image of God, and God does not sleep.  Whatever happens in our skulls during the wee hours of the night, can be equated with some aspect of being created in His image.  Perhaps God allows us to defy the boundaries of time, space, and matter in our dreams just so that we can have a playground for our imaginations.  Who knows.  But it certainly doesn’t hurt anything to record dreams until we figure it out, right?

10. Do your homework.  Research spiritual matters.  Keep a record of what you find.  The Reign of God is like a treasure hidden in a field.  God has all kinds of wonderful discoveries planned for you, but you must participate in His divine game of “hot – hotter, cold – colder” to locate them.  You have to be student, and He your Teacher.  You have to be the patient lying on the couch spilling your guts, and He the Doctor, helping you sort through your feelings.  You have to be the detective, picking apart what religious leaders teach, separating the little bits of truth often encased in worthless error, and He is the Spirit of discernment in you, showing you the difference, the magnifying glass to help you see the clues that otherwise go unnoticed.  Don’t be lazy; use your journal as a record-keeping tool to inventory spiritual evidence and follow up on spiritual leads.

 

Although strangers as well as friends and family sometimes think it strange, I tell them that God talks to me.  I suppose that they think I have elevated myself above them, somehow, since most of them say God does not talk to them (although I suspect He does, and they don’t hear Him).  Or maybe they just think I’m a strange woman with a vivid imagination.  But I’ve never hear a big booming voice from the sky or even a small whisper.  I don’t hear Him at all, using the normal sense of the word “hear.”  His voice is more like a thought in my mind that I recognize as originating from somewhere other than myself.

One time, when I had a very vivid dream, the details of which I may share in another blog someday, where I distinctly heard a voice that has continued to echo in my mind across the cavernous expanse between consciousness and dreams.  It said, “Come and see this.”  In my dream, I left the place where I was and found myself at a yard sale where there were massive, elaborate chandeliers for sale for five dollars each.  These chandeliers were exquisitely crafted, the kind of grand lighting one might expect to find in a royal palace or a world famous opera hall.

Most of the time, I think of dreams as random synapsis firing as the brain reboots itself during the still of the night, sorting out all the input from waking hours, and preparing itself to accept more input upon waking again.  However, sometimes I believe dreams have significance.  In this case the significance or meaning became obvious to me in two separate seasons of my life.  The first attempt at interpretation, based on my spiritual understanding at that time as a church-attending church-centered believer, is that the chandeliers are “revelation/light,” like an earthquake in the spiritual understanding of believers, which would soon become available in a very public way to not only my church, but all churches, to whomever He gives eyes to see and ears to hear.  Since then, I have come to understand that this interpretation, although correct for the most part, is inadequate.

In real life, chandeliers are grand, beautiful objects through which humanity channels energy/light.  The cost to create them, install them, and use them is great, but in my dream they are at a yard sale as if they have little value.  If someone were to ask you to think of a grand and beautiful system which humanity uses to plug in to God and channel spiritual understanding to people who are in darkness, perhaps you would think of the institutional church.  I can tell you from experience that she most certainly thinks of herself in that way.

Now, consider this.  A parable in the New Testament describes how God arranges an abundant feast of spiritually delightful food, only once it is prepared, the people who have been invited refuse to attend.  So, what does He do?  He invites anyone and everyone – strangers passing by on the streets, the poor, the outcast, the uneducated – it does not matter who they are, the invitation now belongs to them.  Theologians take this to mean that salvation is given to the Gentiles, since the Jewish religious leaders and the nation of Israel in general reject their Messiah.  Although this interpretation is correct, it is inadequate.  Over the course of time, the institutional church picks up where Israel leaves off and rejects the Messiah over and over again saying He did not accomplish His mission to seek and save the lost, that His redemptive work is “sufficient” but not “efficient,” and denying either His Sovereignty or His Character in order to explain away their beloved doctrine of fear – eternal torment in Hell.  They have returned to a form of the law, where salvation depends upon man’s will or man’s decision.  They give lip service to salvation belonging to God, but if man can mess up God’s plans, then their doctrine nullifies either God’s ability to save or His willingness to save.  The orthodox Good News is a Jekyll and Hyde version of God who says “Love me or burn in Hell forever.”

God has decided to take the Good News away from those to whom it has been entrusted, His unfaithful servant, and give it to anyone and everyone, the strangers to spiritual things, the spiritually poor, the spiritual outcast, the spiritually uneducated, the spiritually hostile.  These are the ones who will come to Him as children, who will be enter into His Reign (first) before these others (last) who have returned to the curse of the law, like a dog returns to its own vomit.  We may not see the far-reaching effects of His Plan at this time, but this snowball has been put into motion, it is rolling down the hill, and it is becoming more significant with each passing day, weak, month, and year.

The institutional church no longer holds the position it once held in this world, because the old wineskin is bursting.  It is unable to contain the new wine (which is actually aged, fine wine that had been forgotten in the cobwebs and dust of the Dark Age wine cellar).  The institution may continue, and God may in His mercy continue to do good things through it, just as He uses other organizations like the YMCA, Salvation Army, United Way, etc.  But for all intents and purposes, this system has lost its spiritual value.  Who carries a huge chandelier to the beach on a brilliantly sunny day?  God is no longer allowing His Light to be distributed to the world in this limited way.  Think about it.  A chandelier is an indoor item.  It exists within walls, lighting an area that is dark.  But God is doing His thing outside the walls now.  He is not abandoning those inside the walls, just as He did not abandon Israel when they abandoned Christ.  Jesus looks on them with mercy, and says, “Father, forgive them.  They know not what they do.”  Father forgive those people who choose the chandelier over the Light itself.  He may cut off the branch, but He is able to graft the branch back in.  He may blot out the name, but He is also God who gives new names.

You see that I now understand this dream to mean that this light-distributing device (the institutional church) will have very little spiritual value in the days to come.  I’m sure people who are currently very invested in it will disagree, and that is fine.  One day when they have eyes to see and ears to hear, what I am saying will make sense.  In the meantime, just as in the days of Jesus’ ministry, God is speaking to His people, His people are killing His prophets, rejecting Him, and trying to snuff out His message.  But He always reserves a remnant – a bit of yeast to work though the whole batch of dough.  I understand this with intense satisfaction, because I see Romans 10-11 repeating in history, as so many other prophecies/fulfillments have done throughout the ages.  Here is the message, with Israel/Jews replaced with the “churchians,” an affectionate term for those who are believers trapped in a system of righteousness that sucks the life out of them and “salvation” means being freed from the curse of the law and “good news” actually is good news, the Victorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.  See if this rings true to you:

Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for churchians is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.  Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.”If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between churched and unchurched—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

But not all church attending people accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

Again I ask: Did church people not understand? First, Moses says,“I will make the church envious by those who are unchurched; I will make the church angry by unchurched people who have no understanding.”

And Isaiah boldly says, “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.”

But concerning churchians he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”

I ask then: Did God reject churchians? By no means! …God did not reject churchians, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”?

And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”

Here it is very important that I pause to point out the significance of Baal, from Jeremiah 32: “They turned their backs to me and not their faces; though I taught them again and again, they would not listen or respond to discipline. They set up their vile images in the house that bears my Name and defiled it. They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom [aka Gehenna, the word erroneously translated "Hell"] to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molek, though I never commanded—nor did it enter my mind—that they should do such a detestable thing…”  Please watch this video called Molech, less than two minutes, which gives very important information about why the worship of Molech ought to be associated with the erroneous doctrine of eternal torment.  And now I continue in Romans:

So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.  What then? What church people sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened, as it is written: “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear, to this very day.”

And David says: “May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them.  May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see and their backs be bent forever.” (BTW, churchians, aren’t you glad the word for “forever” is “aion” which means “age,” a period of time with a beginning and an end?  Otherwise it would be your backs which would be bent forever, not the unchurched like you think.)

Again I ask: Did church people stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the unchurched to make churchians envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the unchurched, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!

I am talking to you unchurched people. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the unchurched people, I take pride in my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my church-friends to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Churchians have experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the not-yet-believers become believers, and in this way all Churchians will be saved. As it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from church people.  And this is my covenant with church people when I take away their sins.”

As far as the gospel is concerned, churchians are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!  “Who has known the mind of the Lord?  Or who has been his counselor?”

“Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” For from him and through him and for him are all things.  To him be the glory forever! Amen

Edward Said, in Culture and Imperialism says,

In the late twentieth century the imperial cycle of the last century in some way replicates itself, although today there are really no big empty spaces, no expanding frontiers, no exciting new settlements to establish.  We live in one global environment with a huge number of ecological, economic, social, and political pressures tearing at its only dimly perceived basically uninterpreted and uncomprehended fabric.  Anyone with even a vague consciousness of this whole is alarmed at how such remorelessly selfish and narrow interests – patriotism, chauvinism, ethnic, religious, and racial hatreds – can in fact lead to mass destructiveness.  The world simply cannot afford this many more times.

One should not pretend that models for a harmonious world order are ready at hand, and it would be equally disingenuous to suppose that ideas of peace and community have much of a chance when power is moved to action by aggressive perceptions of ‘vital national interests’ or unlimited sovereignty.  The United States’ clash with Iraq and Iraq’s aggression against Kuwait concerning oil are obvious examples.  The wonder of it is that the schooling for such relatively provincial thought and action is still prevalent, unchecked, uncritically accepted, recurringly replicated in the education of generation after generation.  We are taught to venerate our nations and admire our traditions: we are taught to pursue their interests with toughness and in disregard for other societies.  A new and in my opinion appalling tribalism is fracturing societies, separating peoples, promoting greed, bloody conflict, and uninteresting assertions of minor ethnic or group particularity.  Little time is spent [...] studying the map of interactions [...] No one can hold this entire map in his or her head.

No one, except God that is.  And under His direction, people will learn how to live at peace.

And He hath judged between the nations, and hath given a decision to many peoples, and they have beat their swords to ploughshares, and their spears to pruning-hooks, nation doth not lift up sword unto nation, nor do they learn any more – war. (Isaiah 2:4)

While it is true that no one can fully comprehend all the complexities of one-on-one human interaction, let alone the interaction of all the various people-groups (subcultures), societies, and nations, we can submit ourselves to the One Who is able to understand how and why we clash and how it is we can get along.  The real war is not between one person and another, one nation and another.  The real war is internal.  Regarding His Reign, in Jesus’ own words:

“To what shall I liken the reign of God?  It is like leaven, which a woman, having taken, did hide in three measures of meal, till that all was leavened.”

There is much more to be said about this, but that is another blog for another day.  Let’s continue with Jesus, on His way to Jerusalem:

A certain one said to him, “Sir, are those saved few?”

and he said unto them, “Be striving to go in through the straight gate, because many, I say to you, will seek to go in, and shall not be able; from the time the master of the house may have risen up, and may have shut the door, and ye may begin without to stand, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, lord, open to us, and he answering shall say to you, I have not known you whence ye are, then ye may begin to say, We did eat before thee, and did drink, and in our broad places thou didst teach; and he shall say, I say to you, I have not known you whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of the unrighteousness.  There shall be there the weeping and the gnashing of the teeth, when ye may see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the reign of God, and yourselves being cast out without; and they shall come from east and west, and from north and south, and shall recline in the reign of God, and lo, there are last who shall be first, and there are first who shall be last.”

Many believers read this passage and believe it to speak of Heaven, with all those outside, in the flames of Hell, unable to enter in.  But this is not consistent with the rest of scripture.  Notice what Jesus description of the Reign of God:

And having been questioned by the Pharisees, when the reign of God doth come, he answered them, and said, “The reign of God doth not come with observation; nor shall they say, Lo, here; or lo, there; for lo, the reign of God is within you.”

It seems to me that God has the academic community on a journey similar to that of the Gentiles in Jesus’ day.  Philosophy was the “science” of that age, and it was stirring the masses, making people think about spiritual things, even though they did not realize that is what they were doing.  When the institutional church obtained political power, the whole world went dark for hundreds of years.  Scientists were punished for speaking truth, just as those who recognize the Victorious Gospel of Jesus Christ have been punished.  We are comrades in persecution.  And then God began doing something new, but something old –  the Enlightenment, the Reformation, the Industrial Revolution, the Technological Revolution, ideas that have been possible for all of human history, reserved until the appointed time of revelation, along with the idea that we are all in this together, the entire human race, whether we like it or not, whether we like each other or not – this is part of God’s Plan of the Ages.  The Kingdom of God (the Reign of God) is within you.  No matter who you are.  Perhaps you recognize this now, and you are saved from the curse of the law that tells you that you have to do something to be saved.  Perhaps none of this makes sense to you, but you want to know more.  Perhaps you are so pissed off that you stopped reading this blog after the first few paragraphs (your loss).  God will have His way with you, sooner or later.  He will outlast your rebellion, open your eyes, and give you a new heart that see Him for Who He really is, a heart that praises Him for what He has done.  He is making all things new.  He is the Light.

For centuries, religious leaders have taught that believers accept Him and unbelievers reject Him.  In reality, most believers appear to accept Him but actually accept a distorted version of Him, while unbelievers appear to reject Him but actually reject the distorted version of Him that is presented to them by the believers.  The blind lead the blind and they both fall into a ditch.  It is no wonder Jesus said, “Many of the last shall be first, and the first last.”  Things are not as they seem.  Take comfort in knowing Jesus calls Himself the First and the Last, and consequently, no matter what order you enter into His Reign, He will not give up on you.  First or last, the Shepherd will be there with you.