Romans 11-13

Among the usual deep and helpful words of Paul to the Romans there are a couple of comments that I have a hard time explaining….Read Romans 11-13
Right in the  first chapter of today’s reading (11:7 and following) the topic of “hardening of the heart” comes up.   I was taught, and often use the phrase “the same sun that melts the ice hardens the clay”  meaning of course that God is always the same, and hardening of the heart is more a reflection of the person.   Yes, God is the one who actually hardens them, but it’s only in response to our pre-existing beliefs and values. 
I wonder what beliefs “hardened” the majority of the Israelites?   I think it could have been national pride; thinking that they were the only ones that God favored.  It could have been arrogance, and it might have been control…or the preference to control.   Do you know what I mean?   I’m thinking that the Israelites became very comfortable with the laws and structures and began to feel that when they performed them they had some “control” over their destiny.  Perhaps they began to rely on the practices they were taught, and that’s what tripped them up.   Actually, in verse 9 with the mention of “their bountiful table has become a snare” I think it could have been their success that caused them to become hard hearted.    
How could success, which is a blessing from God…lead to being resistant to His will?    It has been my observation that not everyone can handle the flood of emotion and desire that comes from having wealth.   Some of us handle “being wealthy” badly.   We are wonderful compassionate and loving people when we don’t have much and are barely getting by…but when our cup begins to overflow, we become self absorbed, suspicious and stingy.   I know, it doesn’t make sense….but think of wealth like medication.  If you have too much of  something that you need, it could kill you just as easily as the disease.    There are some who can handle the responsibility of wealth quite easily, and I have also observed that God makes them “needy” in other areas…probably to help them remain humble.
The law of Moses wasn’t ever intended to save the people from their sins, it was only designed to point out the fact that a price had to be paid, and that we were constantly in need of rescue from them.   Clearly, the blood of animals didn’t take away the desire to sin…because we kept doing it.
But when Christ came and shared the new covenant, the old law became a stumbling block.   In fact, Christ himself became a stumbling block…and I think there were times He did it on purpose.   I think He performed some miracles on the Sabbath simply to prove He was greater than the Sabbath.    What hardened the hearts of the people is that their desire was for order and control, not a relationship with the Creator.
11:26 says that all Israel will eventually be saved.   I take that as truth, but I cannot see how it’s possible at this time.   Most Israelites today have no relationship with God.  I mean, they can’t have one….on one hand they believed they interacted with God through the temple, and it no longer exists, and on the other hand they deny the deity of the Son (Jesus) so they don’t pray to Him.   I am positive that God still loves them, and has compassion for them….I just don’t see how they can be saved when they are so completely blind.
This is the same passage that says “the gifts and the calling cannot be withdrawn” (verse 29).   I’m not sure I understand that completely.   Is this saying that if I am gifted as a teacher and called to ministry that I will always be so gifted and called?    What does that mean for those who have a moral failure, are they still called?   What about a teacher that chooses an alternative lifestyle…are they still gifted?    if we choose to be disobedient, the gifts and calling must evaporate along with God’s favor in our lives, right?      I guess it’s safe to say that if God calls you to something, and you remain obedient to Him, then your calling…and your spiritual gifts, will always  be with you.    That bears more thought, right?        It makes verse 33 seem all the more appropriate!
This is getting long.   I think I’ll switch to making some bullet comments of important thoughts.
12:1-2   Transformation of our thoughts is true worship.   When we work to think  differently, we are worshipping.
12:6    God has given each of us abilities to do certain things well.   If you read just above this passage it reminds us to remain humble and remember that each of us are only a small part of the body of Christ.
12:6 (again).  God didn’t give us abilities to do things “so-so”…he gave us ability to do them well.   Find what God has called you to do and be excellent at it.   And since the gifts aren’t revoked, plan to be excellent for a long time.
12:9 summarizes the rest of the reading for today “don’t just pretend to love people, really love them”.   I find it amazing that Paul would write this.  I mean, I just assumed that people “pretending” to love each other was a modern day phenomena…but I guess it’s not.    My mother (rest her soul) used to have two different tones of voice.   The one she used to raise four boys, and the one she used when she answered the phone.   It’s funny….I was just thinking of that this morning as I sat down to read….   If the people around us (like our children) see that we have two (or more) different behaviors  they will imitate them, and we will end up with people who “pretend” to love each other.    To avoid that, we need to unmask love and describe it as it really is.    True love for others can be upset with them, true love can raise it’s voice, be angry and frustrated.   True love can say “you have disappointed me” or “you hurt me” or “I don’t trust you right now.”     Because true love is what all those things are built on….trust is built on love….love isn’t built on trust.    Yes, you can love someone that you don’t trust completely…ask any parent of a wayward child and they will tell you it’s true.
Love is the basis.   If we love each other, truly, honestly love one another….there aren’t any laws that we will violate.   Think of it….all of God’s laws are to guide the people who live in close quarters but don’t love each other.    If we love each other, and express it in God’s way….we don’t ever have to worry about laws.   I don’t take things from people I love.  And if I love someone, they can’t steal from me anyway….my stuff is their stuff.   Love shares.   And as for the things that cannot be shared, such as a spouse…true love for my neighbor wouldn’t dream of harming them by taking what isn’t mine to have.    On the opposite side, true love would never give away to another that which is precious to someone I love.    And anyone who truly loves me wouldn’t ask for it.
There’s a great deal more to contemplate, but I need to be done for right now….